REVIEW: Olympus OMD-EM1

I have not done a gear review in a frightfully long time.

Over the past year I have moved away from the constant gear upgrade-cycle (despite what I was upgrading was generally not to the latest-and-greatest, but old film cameras), and my gear has not changed a lot. As many people who take photographs are, I was focusing more on equipment than actually taking photographs, and often relying on gaining inspiration to go take photos from the excitement that having a new camera can provide. Photography relies on gear, but that can often become a crutch. All artistic pursuits rely on gear to make art–painters need paints and brushes, musicians need instruments, and photographers need cameras–but to have one’s vision eclipsed by the constant need for new equipment is not healthy for any artist.

Camera companies rely on people buying constantly new cameras to boost their bottom line, and marketing is designed to urge people to consume more and more. The internet is full of message boards, review sites, and forums, and all of these reinforce the idea that whatever the newest camera is will be the magic bullet:

This next camera will be the one that makes your images better.

Except that it won’t. Your images will only get better through practice, critique, and dedication to your craft. I would argue that greater familiarity with the gear you use¬†will do more for your images than the newest sensor from your friendly camera manufacturer. That’s a hard thing to understand, I think–I know it has been for me.

I have done a number of reviews of various types of equipment over time on this blog, and they are always wildly successful. Almost all of my top-viewed posts of all time are camera reviews. What does that tell me? Does that mean my photographs are not anything special? Or perhaps that my gear reviews are particularly amazing? Maybe I’m reviewing cameras that are especially interesting to readers? Actually, I suspect it’s none of those. Like I did, people read gear reviews incessantly. Most of the time now, when I do read reviews it’s idle curiosity more than a desire to actually purchase; I follow the trends in camera technology, but don’t plan to really purchase any of them.

So the title of this post is “REVIEW: Olympus OMD-EM1”. I suppose I should actually talk about the camera in question at some point, so here goes: the camera is great. It is small and light, it has so many customizable functions and buttons I can’t even use them all, Olympus has a great selection of lenses to use with their micro four-thirds bodies, it has fast autofocus, it is weather-sealed, it has an app for your phone or tablet that allows you to control the shutter remotely and transfer images via built-in wi-fi, and it makes great images. I’m not sure what else to say about it, really. Dedicated review sites have dissected the camera to a degree that I have neither the expertise, time, or interest to do. If that is what you want, I’d encourage you to google one of them. Except that you probably won’t, because this is an “old” camera now, released almost two years ago. In digital camera terms, it is positively ancient.

Ever wonder why there are so few negative camera reviews? Most camera review sites make their money by contributing to the hyperbole created by marketing departments, and they get paid when you–spoiler alert!–buy the cameras they have reviewed so well. They generally have a convenient link within their review to find the camera they are discussing on Amazon, B&H, Adorama, etc. By clicking the link in that page, and buying something, they get a cut of the money you spend. Some reviewers are open about this, some are not. Other review sites take perks from camera companies (free access to new gear, review samples, preferential treatment or access at events) and review things well in a quid pro quo arrangement. There are also many people who simply review things because they like to, which is what I do. I don’t get a penny from this blog in any way.

Rant over. Now back to previously scheduled programming…

I have really enjoyed this camera, and have used it for months. The only limitation to making great images with this camera is my own talent with photography and skill with this camera. I have yet to come upon a situation where I thought the camera was somehow inhibiting my creative output. Far more often are situations where I have discovered yet another capability of the camera that opens up new possibilities for what I can create–I suspect that is the case for the overwhelming number of camera users.

This review is most likely not what you were expecting, and if you made it this far, I’m surprised. I had intended to write a more “normal” review of the camera but as I wrote, the words didn’t seem to want to come out that way. I have really enjoyed using this camera and would recommend it to just about anyone who is looking for a camera; for some people it is surely even too much camera: it has so many settings and functions that some users would surely find it overwhelming. But to someone with a background in photography, this is likely all the camera they would need.

On that note, let me address two real issues with this camera. First of all, there is no way around the price: this is an expensive camera. Olympus released the camera with a retail price somewhere around $1300, which is expensive. Even for what you get with this camera, I’d say it’s overpriced and should have come in a bit lower. That said, I got mine used and saved some money, and I don’t regret the purchase. It’s a great camera.

The second thing is not an “issue” so much as a perception of the sensor. For those who don’t know, this is a micro four-thirds camera, which means the sensor is half the size of a traditional 35mm-sized (“full frame”, the size of a 35mm negative) sensor. There are some trade-offs which come with a smaller sensor. First, the effective focal length and depth of field must be double from their full frame equivalents; a 35mm f/2 lens becomes a 70mm f/4 lens in real terms, but retains the visual properties of a 35mm perspective (for more on this, or to clarify, try Google). This means getting super shallow depth of field is very difficult, and many photographers use this (often as a crutch)¬†to establish subject isolation in images. It also means that extreme wide-angle lenses are rare–since all focal lengths are doubled–but not impossible to find. Again, wide-angle lenses are often not used well, which makes me often discount this as a valid issue. Both aforementioned trade-offs do have legitimate uses, but they aren’t huge problems, and can certainly be overcome.

Finally, the size of the sensor puts a restriction on the number of megapixels which can be crammed into the small space. The more megapixels that are put into a sensor, the more it can exhibit noise. Olympus has managed to pack in 16 megapixels into this sensor, which seems plenty for anyone, especially since most people only exhibit their work on computer monitors anyway–I know I do. What printing I do is generally limited to 8×10 or smaller, meaning my phone does a fine job, let alone the Olympus OMD-EM1. There are certainly people who need the 36 megapixels in the Nikon D800 or Sony A7R, or even the more than 50 megapixels announced in the upcoming Canon DSLR, but for most of us, 12-16 is more than enough.

I find the advantages of a small sensor–smaller, lighter camera bodies and smaller, lighter lenses–to outweigh the advantages of larger sensors. Additionally, I like the weather-sealed body and the electronic viewfinder (EVFs have advanced by leaps and bounds in the past few years and are now more advantageous than OVFs in most circumstances for most users). I find Olympus’ suite of lenses to be excellent as well, easily surpassing those offered by Sony at the moment for their a7-series cameras.

Having used the OMD-EM1 since late October 2014, I can say I am happy with the decision I made. This “review” was non-traditional to say the least, but hopefully some will find it useful, and maybe some will realize that the constant desire for more, newer cameras is a facade–the real issue is not a lack of satisfaction with your gear, but with your images. Getting a new camera won’t fix that.

That’s all for now.

-Trevor

REVIEW: Leica MP

“Eye” – Saint Paul, MN

To preface this review, let me talk a little about my photographic evolution. I became interested in photography about 10 years ago, and got a small digital Kodak point-and-shoot. It had sever limitations, but I spent some time taking photographs after I moved to California. In 2006, I got a super-zoom point-and-shoot, and in early 2007 I moved to my first DSLR, a Nikon D80. I spent 2007 working with (what were at the time) high-end professional Nikons as I worked as a photographer for a newspaper. I got the film bug in 2008, and used an old Nikon N80, and a Nikon FM2, at first. I also used a Nikon F4, an Olympus ME Super, and other film SLRs. During that time I also experimented with a series of old fixed-lens rangefinders–Yashica GSN, Canonet QL17 G-III, Olympus 35RC, and others–that I enjoyed but for one reason or another didn’t quite click.¬†However, I continued to use the D80 digital SLR until late 2009 when I upgraded to a full-frame D700. I have used a variety of Nikon lenses, but have disliked zoom lenses almost since the start; primes have been better for me in many ways.

I became frustrated with the size and weight of the Nikon, and got into the Micro Four-Thirds system early on in 2009 with the Lumix GF1. I enjoyed that camera, and used it quite a bit. When it came time to upgrade, I was faced with a world of new cameras. It seems, at times, like there is a new camera every week from a whole suite of manufacturers. I tried the GF3, thinking I could use my old lenses; I tried the Sony NEX-5n, with a larger sensor and the ability to mount older, “legacy”, glass. Finally I made a decision that has shaped my photography ever since: I tried the relatively new Fuji X100.

“Red Light” – Provo, UT

I immediately loved the X100, and you can read my review of that camera if you want to know more about it, and my feelings toward it. I still use the camera to this day and it is easily my favorite digital camera ever; it is my most-used digital camera day in, day out.

And just like that, I was hooked. I caught the rangefinder bug. Shortly thereafter, I got a great deal on a local Minolta CL, complete with 2 lenses: the M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 and the M-Rokkor 90mm f/4. The size and compactness of the system was wonderful. The near-silent sound of the shutter was similar to my X100, and I loved shooting film again. I had been shooting less and less film over the year before that. It was great to get back to it. I then moved on to an M3, then to an M6TTL, next a Zeiss Ikon, and finally, most recently, a Leica MP. The CL had been harder to focus and the film-loading was a pain; the M3 was great but had a limited 0.91x viewfinder and no light meter; the M6 had been a 0.85x magnification, which was still a little too tight for me; the MP has a 0.72x, which is the Leica standard. It also has no ornamentation, and since it’s a used one–not at all mint–I got a great deal. In fact, due to the scuffs and brassing it exhibits, I’m not afraid to simply throw it in my bag and shoot it. That’s a big relief; many people are so worried with the exterior of their Leica M that they forget that it is a very sturdy mechanical machine built to be used, and used hard. For many, the M is a “shelf queen” for fear of ruining the resale value of their investment.

“Mirror, Mirror” – Saint Paul, MN

The MP, is, as you may know, an exquisitely-crafted tool. It brings together the best point of the decades of Leica M cameras into what is surely the last film camera that will be made by Leica. The MP is still made and sold new to this day, along with the more automated M7. The MP is all brass construction, and mechanical; it uses a battery only for the light meter inside. If the batteries die or if one removes them, the camera operates as normal, leaving the exposure to the user. It has no ornamentation on the front–the red dot that has become standard with the M6 is gone in favor of the simpler design of older M cameras like the M3 or M4–which is refreshing. Personally, I find the red dot a bit distasteful. There is a simple engraving on the top plate.

The exterior of the MP looks great, but that is not, ultimately, what one buys a camera for (well, some do, but that is silly). Looks are part of the package, but what really matters is how it works. So how is it in actual usage?

The camera is heavy. An all-brass interior and exterior construction means there is a heft to the MP that there isn’t, for example, with my Zeiss Ikon. Even my M6TTL was lighter than the MP. As I said before, the MP brings together decades of Leica rangefinder design into the pinnacle of the series; it looks very similar to the cameras that have come before it. Due to the weight and the lack of a real grip, it can be difficult to hold for long periods of time (I generally use a wrist strap, so my hand is actually carrying the camera the entire time I’m shooting). For a day of shooting in the streets, for example, this can be taxing. A neck strap might take care of this, however. The film advance lever of the MP is the one used on the M3, and I prefer the plastic-tipped lever of the M6, which is what my MP has (they are¬†customizable). It makes operation much smoother, but others may prefer the all-metal M3-style lever. The film rewind is done with the M3-style crank instead of the spinning dial of the M4/M6. Some say this makes it slower to rewind, but honestly, who shoots a Leica M for speed? Not me. I prefer the more solid-feeling crank of the MP. But again, personal style has something to do with this. With an investment of this magnitude, it is nice that there are some options to customize the Leica to suit its owner.

“Angles” – Minneapolis, MN

Film loading is the same as all previous Leica M cameras. The Zeiss Ikon, for example, has the more common swing-back that is associated with most film cameras that you will have ever used. The MP, or any other Leica M for that matter, has no window to let you know what film is loaded into it. Many other cameras have this feature which is nice if you don’t finish a roll for a while–as I sometimes do. These are mostly things that one is familiar with if one has previously used a Leica M, however.

The viewfinder of the MP is very nice. However, I prefer the viewfinder of the Zeiss Ikon for most situations. The Ikon is bigger, brighter, and easier to focus a lot of the time. I find the MP’s finder to be cramped at times, especially when I wear my eyeglasses; the framelines can be difficult to see, depending on which focal length is selected.

However, I am happy to report that the MP is a joy to use. It’s simplicity of use makes it fast and effortless to use. After a bit of time with it, I find that its operation becomes second nature. I have enough experience with exposure that I can assess a scene by adjusting shutter speed and aperture before I bring the camera to my eye, and use the internal light meter for slight adjustments once I am looking through the viewfinder by sliding the aperture as needed. It’s generally a single stop, if less. Focusing is fast and easy, but this also depends to a large degree on what lens is mounted on the camera. The maximum aperture, available light, and the length of the lens’ focus throw all play into how fast one can focus.

“Sunlight” – Minneapolis, MN

The film rewinding and film loading do not take that long, and with practice are just as simple as any other film camera. Loading my Hasselblad 501CM, for example, is much slower. Like I said, if you have used a Leica M rangefinder before, you will be aware of what you’re getting into.

The Leica MP is built to withstand heavy usage, and not reliant on electronics for the operation of the camera. This is one area where the M7 and the Zeiss Ikon fall behind the MP for me. Without batteries, the MP works as normal; the other two do not work at all if you lose battery power. Electronics can fail with exposure to extreme temperatures, or moisture, and will eventually fail in time regardless of how careful one is with them. With the Leica MP costing what it does, I intend for this camera to be the last film rangefinder I will ever need to buy. As such, I need many years out of it.

The shutter of the MP is near-silent, helping to stay inconspicuous when shooting people up close. In fact, the Leica rangefinder is touted by many as the “ultimate street photography camera” due to the fact that it does not attract attention when shooting it in public like a big, heavy DSLR does. To an extent, I agree with this assessment. While the compact design and discreet shutter to indeed help one avoid catching the attention of anyone being photographed, the Leica brand has become well-known over the last few years, and many people who are even marginally interested in photography know what a Leica M looks like. They are expensive and not often seen; this attracts attention and questions at times. On the other hand, while my D700 is clunky and has a shutter like a small pistol, DSLRs are now so ubiquitous that many don’t give them a second glance, allowing the shooter to fade into the background. So I can go either way on that argument.

“Watching” – Minneapolis, MN

The biggest reason for me getting my MP was the fact that I simply love the experience of shooting with a rangefinder. The process is more enjoyable, and since photography, for me, is about ¬†more than simply creating images, that matters. The final image is not all that counts, as some would have you believe. Just ask the guy who travels overseas with his heavy DSLR, collection of expensive zoom lenses, flash, and tripod, among other accessories. He may have gotten the images, but his back hurts from carrying all that gear and he didn’t enjoy himself on his trip. Contrast that with traveling simply with a Leica M body and a Fuji X100 (as I did this past year in Portgual for two weeks); not only did I get nice images (as least I think they’re nice!) but I also had a light bag to carry my gear in, and I didn’t have to spend time setting it up. I also wasn’t a target for thieves with an obviously expensive collection of gear–unless they know something about cameras. Even then, it’s a film camera. As I would ask any thief who tried to take it: “what would you do with that?”

Seriously though, the MP is enjoyable to use, easy to carry, and does not suffer from “digital rot” (the term for the rapid depreciation of digital cameras). It uses film and will continue to work as it does today forever, as long as I have it CLA’ed (cleaned, lubed, and adjusted) periodically, and take reasonable care of it. I am not concerned with the resale value of it, as I do not plan on ever selling it.

“Transaction” – Minneapolis, MN

But the one question on your mind, if you are reading this (and you are), is: is the Leica MP the right camera for me? If you have to ask, then probably not. The MP is a fine camera but you can get alternatives that are much cheaper and work just as well if not better. On the used market, you can get a Zeiss Ikon for around $1000, or a used M6 for slightly more. Then why would you pay double or triple that for a used MP? Well, the differences between the MP and the M6 are very slight and not worth worrying over for most people. I don’t mean that to be condescending in any way, it’s just a fact. Most people won’t care about the brass construction, rather than the zinc of the M6. Most photographers won’t mind the red dot on the front, or if they do–they will find that electrical tape takes care of the red logo just as well, and is far cheaper. Others will not be interested based on the fact that this is not a digital camera. Still others will want the automation of the Zeiss Ikon or the M7.

If you desire a rangefinder, and can justify the money, then I think you’ll find the MP is an excellent tool. There are slight differences to the M6, and it is also–in some cases–20+ years newer than many M6s.It may not suit your needs like it suits mine, but I can highly recommend the Leica MP to anyone who is interested. The camera will not make you Henri Cartier-Bresson. If you want to capture the “decisive moment”, you can do it just as well with another camera. I would say that the Leica MP is not a camera you buy simply for the end result; rather, it’s a camera you buy to enjoy the experience of making photographs. I find that in actual usage, the camera is a joy and fun to use. It’s slower and more deliberate than any autofocus camera I have ever used. But that is fine with me. I understand that it isn’t ideal for all situations–“horses for courses”, as they say. But it works for me most of the time. And when it works, it works very well.

“Bloom” – Saint Paul, MN

For me, it was worth it, and I’m happy I did. I look forward to many years with the MP, which I think of as less camera and more of a companion every time I use it. Either way, it’s a tool that works for my needs and it will be the last film Leica that I ever buy…unless I can get a nice M3 as a backup to my MP ūüėČ

Cheers,

Trevor

REVIEW: Zeiss Ikon (ZI) Rangefinder

Recently, when I had my old M6 in the shop for some adjustments, I was without an M-mount camera for several weeks. I missed shooting with my film rangefinders, and had recently sold my M3. I decided to take a flyer on a camera I had been curious about for the past year: the Zeiss Ikon (ZI) rangefinder. A good deal came up, and I jumped on it!

I’m not a professional gear reviewer, and I don’t pretend to be. All I can do–in fact, all I intend to do–is to give my thoughts on the camera having used it for a few months now, and provide comparisons with other similar cameras I have used in the past. I also will not provide the technical specifications of the camera, as there are many other wonderful sites which will do so. One excellent review which I read, and which ultimately pushed me toward getting a Zeiss Ikon, can be found here. Many of the points are very good, but I will add onto them where I can.

When I first took the Zeiss out of the box, I was immediately struck by several things. First, the size; it’s about the same size as any other Leica M. To me, this is a positive. Secondly, the weight of the camera. It is much lighter in the hand than any other Leica M that I have held. The front layout of the camera is similar, with buttons and levers pretty much exactly as you would find them on a Leica M from the 1950s.

The rear of the camera is different, in that the back swings open as pretty much every other film camera you have ever used (expect for the Leica Ms, which have a bafflingly difficult film loading system–in practice it is pretty quick, but at first it is pretty quirky). It also allows a window so that you can see what kind of film is loaded; I appreciate this feature, as I do often forget what is loaded in the camera (black and white or color, slide or negative film, etc). Some may not care, but I like this little feature, which–again–is similar to many other film cameras anyone will have used.

The controls on the top of the camera are nice, which include a shutter speed dial (which goes up to 1/2000, a full stop better than the Leica M cameras), exposure compensation and ISO are also built into the shutter dial. It is easy to select each of the features. Naturally, the Zeiss Ikon also has automatic exposure (AE). The Leica M7 also has this feature, but costs about twice what the Zeiss does on the used market–new, the M7 costs triple what the ZI does.

Finally, the viewfinder. And…wow. The viewfinder is pretty stunning. It is larger and brighter than any Leica M I have ever used, and it is a real pleasure to look through the viewfinder of the Zeiss Ikon. I wear glasses, and the 0.72x magnification of the Leica M’s can be difficult for me. Not so with the Zeiss; I can see all the framelines just fine, and focusing is a breeze. I can safely say that the viewfinder is head and shoulders above any Leica M I have used to this point, which includes the M3 (0.91x), M6TTL (0.85x and 0.58x), and the MP (0.72x).

All in all, the Zeiss Ikon has a lot of things going for it. It is easier to load and change film. It has a faster top shutter speed, exposure compensation, automatic exposure, and a bigger, brighter viewfinder. In fact, I have to say that the Zeiss Ikon is quite a camera, and in actual usage, is better than any Leica I have used to this point (it is at this point I should say that I have not actually used an M7 so it is, to a minor degree, apples-to-oranges, but only in terms of the AE; everything else fits). Using the Zeiss has been a pleasure thus far.

There are definite advantages, in my mind, of the Leica M over the Zeiss Ikon. How important these are is really up to the individual. As I said just above, most people will surely find the Zeiss a better camera to actually make photographs with.

  1. The Leica has a far better build quality. To me this makes the Leica attractive, to a point. The Leica M is an electronic camera on the inside, and its build quality is negated by the flaky electronics inside of it, much like the digital Leicas. I’d imagine the electronics of the Zeiss Ikon and Leica M7 will wear out around the same time, meaning the build quality is no longer an advantage. For non-electronic Leica M’s, however, build quality is better than the Zeiss. This also makes it heavier, but I find it sits in my hand quite well.
  2. Although the viewfinder in the Zeiss is better, it only comes in one magnification. There is some advantage in the flexibility (sort of) of the Leica M (certain models).
  3. In terms of shutter noise, the Leica is stealthy. The Zeiss Ikon is…well, not quite so stealthy. The shutter is not as bad as the M8 or M9, honestly, but it is not as inconspicuous as the classic film Leicas. Most of the time, this is not a huge deal; admittedly however, there are times when I have been in close quarters shooting without much noise around, and the quieter shutter was a distinct advantage.
  4. It’s a Leica. Period. The problem with the Zeiss Ikon is that it isn’t a Leica. As the review that I linked to above also said, it’s hard to imagine someone breaking into the world of film rangefinders and not getting a Leica. It’s the classic, and for a host of reasons, the standard bearer. If you want a Leica, having a Zeiss isn’t going to quench your thirst for that Leica until you’ve had one. (My advice? Get the Leica, use it, and then get the Zeiss; most likely, you’ll be happier with the Zeiss and then sell the Leica!)

If you are interested in the Zeiss, I would encourage you to give it a shot. I really, really like the camera. Since I have gotten the Zeiss Ikon, I have used my Leica M’s less (part of that is the fact that the ZI is new, but still!); I have since sold my M6 TTL 0.85x to another owner, and have moved to a 0.72x magnification with the MP I picked up for a really good price. The Zeiss gets used regularly.

There is also a whole line of excellent Zeiss lenses, which I won’t go into too much here, but are worth a look. At sometimes just a fraction of the price of Leica-branded lenses, these use excellent optics and are real standouts. Cosina (the company which makes the lenses, and the camera, under the Zeiss name) also manufactures a whole line of cameras and lenses under the Voigtl√§nder name. These are, in many cases, also quite good and often even cheaper than the Zeiss-branded lenses. If you are in the market, take a long look at both.

Hope you enjoyed my quick review. Any questions? Put them in the comment section below.

I’d also love to hear your comments on how the Zeiss Ikon has been for you!

-Trevor

Review: Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI-S

"Beautiful" - Fargo, ND

 

A few months back I acquired an older beater of a lens: the legendary Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AIS. ¬†It is in pretty rough shape, but it was dirt cheap, so I took it without hesitation. ¬†As I have mentioned before, my old D700 doesn’t get used very much anymore. ¬†Since I bought the X100 last fall, I have really moved away from carrying the big, heavy, bulky Nikon around at all. ¬†While not unmanageable, the size and weight of it definitely present a set of concerns when I reach for a camera. ¬†It’s simply not a carry-everywhere camera for me, and I have been tempted to sell it a few times–but I have resisted thus far. ¬†Part of the reason is that I have literally zero interest in purchasing the successor model, the Nikon D800/800E. ¬†Another big, heavy camera with some insane amount of megapixels and ISO that goes to unprecedented (and I’d argue not very useful) levels? ¬†No thanks.

But I digress. ¬†Back to the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AIS. ¬†This lens is, certainly by today’s standard, incredibly small. ¬†It’s built very well, which one expects from a lens of this age; no plastic on this puppy, as the newer, more cheaply-made Nikkor lenses are. ¬†This is solid metal, and as such does possess some heft. ¬†It is only a few millimeters longer than my Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-D, but heavier. ¬†It features a built-in hood, which is a rarity among SLR lenses, but can be useful. ¬†Personally, I can never be bothered with carrying around lens hoods (it’s easier to just use your hand, and saves space in your bag) so this is a benefit.

Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AIS

 

One of the things I like about this lens the most is it’s size. ¬†Frequently, portrait lenses are massive. ¬†In Nikon’s own lineup, one would only have to point to the rather large Nikkor 85mm f/1.4, the Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8, or the behemoth Nikkor 135mm f/2 DC to see this play out–anyone who has used these lenses (especially the last one) knows that they are very large, very heavy, and quite cumbersome. ¬†Beautiful as the results from those lenses can be, if it is that big I simply won’t reach for it. ¬†And at 1/10 (10%) of the cost of the Nikkor 135mm f/2 DC, this lens is reasonably priced. ¬†So…a great lens with a reasonably fast aperture for less than $100? ¬†There must be a catch! ¬†Well, that depends on you. ¬†Read on and see…

You will have to focus the lens yourself, which some people are not used to and can’t be bothered to do. ¬†In fact, since most people put their DSLRs on “Auto” mode and shoot away with their 18-200 f/dark kit zooms, one might hardly expect them to focus the lens. ¬†If the camera does everything else for you, why not let it focus too? ¬†If that’s you, move right along. ¬†For the rest of you, manually focusing your glass is very easy, and can be quite satisfying. ¬†Older lenses also will not couple properly to some of the lower-end Nikon DSLRs, so make sure yours can take this type of lens before taking the plunge.

I find myself putting this lens on my D700 about half the time I take it out now, and I have also used it on my older film-era Nikon (FM2) as well.  It produces excellent results on both film and digital.  It is sufficiently sharp without being too sharp; these days it seems that lens sharpness is almost an obsession.  In fact, behind ever-higher ISO power (the holy grail of digital cameras nowadays), lens sharpness is the second-biggest thing people are after, it seems.  Anyone who has taken portraits will tell you that a good portrait lens should not be razor-sharp when shot wide open.  It should render the out-of-focus areas pleasantly, while also being a bit soft overall; the last thing you want are unflattering details on your subject.

Overall, I can recommend this lens highly–especially for the money you are likely to shell out for it: not much.

PROS:

  • Very compact
  • Built-in hood
  • Fast aperture (though not as fast as some)
  • Very pleasant bokeh, or out-of-focus background areas

CONS:

  • Older lens, which means it is all manual; some cameras won’t recognize the lens
  • Aperture not as fast as some (though this helps in size and weight)

 

If you have any thoughts or feedback, I’d love to hear it. ¬†Get in touch in the comments down below, or drop me an email. ¬†Also, feel free to share this post, or other posts on my blog with others who may enjoy my work too, using the social network buttons below, or simply emailing the link. ¬†Thanks in advance!

-Trevor

 

What’s In My Bag?

"What's In My Bag?" - February, 2012

I recently did an “In your bag” shot for the amazing Bellamy Hunt over at Japan Camera Hunter, and thought I would put it here as well, for anyone who is curious what I carry with me when I’m out shooting. ¬†So here it is, going clockwise and starting top left:

  1. Bag – It’s a Domke F-803. I got this bag a few months ago, and love it. The size is great; it holds two bodies, some lenses, a waterbottle…everything I need for a day of shooting. I used it every day when in England for 2 weeks and it held everything I needed day in, day out.
  2. Fuji X100 – I just did a review on this camera, and as of now it is really the only digital camera for me. I love it. I could not spring for the Fuji filter + hood combo (rip off!) so I got the generic version.
  3. Leica M3 DS (double stroke), Zhou leather half case, leather strap; Summicron 50mm f/2 – I am a big fan of this camera. It’s very old school, no meter, no electronics, but it’s a classic. The viewfinder is 1:1 and really great for the 50mm lens, which is my favorite focal length. Based on the serial #, made in January 1955.
  4. Leica Tele-Elmarit 90mm f/2.8 – Just recently acquired, it’s the lightest and smallest 90mm Leica makes. Great lens, very good for traveling.
  5. Film – These are some of the films I have been carrying lately: Kodak Ektar 100, Ilford HP5+, and Fuji Superia 1600. I carry 1-2 rolls of each, which covers any lighting conditions I might run into. The grain on the Superia is very nice, in my opinion.
  6. Leica M6TTL 0.85, Artist & Artisan cloth strap, soft release; M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 – I can’t decide which of the Leicas I like more–they are both amazing. I love the slightly wider viewfinder on the M6 over the M3, and the meter is handy at times too. It is one of the last M6TTLs made, ca. 2002-03, judging by the serial #. The M-Rokkor 40/2 is a great lens, super small and light and always gives me great results.
  7. Spare Digital Items – memory cards and extra battery for the X100.
  8. Bikkuri Film Case – Another great item from Japan Camera Hunter! I just got this in the mail but it will for sure be in my bag from this day forward. Holds 10 rolls of film in the Fujifilm hard plastic case, which are now discontinued. Oh, and Bellamy Hunt informed me that I got THE LAST ONE!
  9. Rocket blower – this is a leftover from when I carried around my D700, but I keep it around. It’s light and you never know when you might need it!
  10. Water Bottle – You have to stay hydrated!
  11. iPhone 4 + headphones – ‘Nuff said.
  12. Notebook/Pen – It’s a moleskine and my all-time favorite pen…it’s a Parker something-or-other, but it’s great. And I’m picky about my pens.
  13. Gum – I’m not really loyal to any brand, but it has to be cinnamon.

I tried to be as specific as possible, if you have any other questions, let me know. I’d love to hear what you all carry in your bags too!

-Trevor

REVIEW: Fujifilm Finepix X100

"Billboard" - Fargo, ND

 

Today I am going to do something a bit different.  I have said in the past that I do not intend for this blog to be too focused on gear.  Unfortunately, the constant, unquenchable thirst for more gear to help us take better photographs usually ends up wasting away our time in a cesspool of nerdy gear forums or deep in a pit of lust for the next big thing, especially at the rate technology is moving these days.  However, it is also true that photography is more centered around equipment than, say, painting; it is one of the more technical art forms.

In this post, I will share my views on a camera that I have really enjoyed for the past several months, the Fujifilm Finepix X100 (hereafter known by its shorter name, Fuji X100, or just X100). ¬†As an aside, this review is in no way intended to drive you to buy one, or start an Internet battle over this bit–or any other bit–of gear. ¬†The online communities that I frequent these days have turned ever more into a polarized cesspool of rather heated rhetoric, and instead of a healthy, helpful debate we end up with an Internet-forum “scorched earth” policy, from which no one ultimately benefits. ¬†You may be shocked to hear this, but the X100 is neither the greatest camera ever invented, nor will it eat your babies if left unsupervised.

Throughout the spring and summer of last year (2011), ¬†there was a ton of buzz over the Fuji X100, which had seemingly come out of left field and taken the Internet forums by storm. ¬†As has become the norm, there was an immediate, vitriolic backlash when people found out that the X100 did not contain all of their hopes and dreams, neatly wrapped around an APS-C sensor (although there were some serious issues surrounding the launch of the camera, which Fuji has since addressed with firmware updates and excellent service for problems encountered under the warranty). ¬†The next phase brought the discussion back into the center, and people recognized what the X100 was, and what it was not. ¬†For those of you who stumbled upon this blog mistakenly, and have no idea what I am talking about, the Fuji X100 is a fixed-lens camera, with a large sensor, an optical/electronic viewfinder, and “retro” styling. ¬†I will shy away from the technical aspects of the camera, so if you wish to know more, you can find more than you’d ever want HERE.

"Festive Favourites" - London, England

For as long as I have been seriously interested in photography, I have enjoyed prime lenses over zoom lenses. ¬†Prime lenses are generally smaller, lighter, and have a larger maximum aperture, all of which are big plusses for me. ¬†I have used several fixed-lens 35mm rangefinders in the past, including the Yashica Electro 35, Olympus 35RC, Canonet 28, and the excellent Canonet QL17 G-III. ¬†I enjoyed all of them, and what I really wanted was something similar with a digital sensor instead of film. ¬†Although I quite like film and shoot quite a lot of it, sometimes I want the convenience of digital. ¬†When the X100 came out, I was smitten; only the price tag held me back. ¬†Instead, I upgraded my old Panasonic Lumix GF1 ¬†to the newer Lumix GF3, which I quite liked for its small size, good image quality, and lightning-quick AF. ¬†Next I tried the Sony NEX-5N, which I also quite liked, especially for it’s low-light capability. ¬†None of these other cameras was quite to my liking, and ultimately I returned them all and decided to stump up the extra cash for the X100.

As soon as I opened the box, I was in love with this camera. ¬†I happen to quite like the way it looks (call me vain), and the way it handles (call me romantic). ¬†It has the same feeling that I enjoyed with older film cameras: it’s built very solidly, has a good weight to it, and just feels really good in the hand. ¬†Additionally, it has lots of dedicated manual controls on the body: a dial for the shutter speed on the top plate, an exposure compensation dial, and a real aperture ring around the lens. ¬†Finally, it has a very nice OVF/EVF viewfinder which I find quite enjoyable to use.

Fuji X100, Optical Viewfinder Example

Once I began using the camera, I found the optical viewfinder to be a revelation. ¬†Instead of looking at a miniature screen, you are looking through glass to see the world around you; thankfully in the 21st century, the X100 also projects information onto the viewfinder for you (focus, shutter speed, aperture, ISO) so you have all the information that you need and can focus on making images. ¬†The X100 excels at street photography, which happens to be what I quite enjoy. ¬†The X100 is small, and the shutter is the quietest I have ever heard–so quiet, in fact, that I am not always sure when I have taken a picture!

That said, the X100 is a quirky camera. ¬†Many have found that its quirks are something that they cannot live with, especially for the price range that Fuji has positioned the camera in. ¬†For a premium price, you could argue, one should get a premium camera. ¬†While that is true, not even the indomitable Leica M9/M9-P is without problems, and at quadruple the price, no less. ¬†The AF on the Fuji can be frustrating, especially at close distances; there are times when it tells you focus is good, only to find out later that it isn’t. ¬†However, I have not had this happen all that often, so in practice I have not found this to be a serious issue. ¬†The write speed can be frustrating at times: I shoot primarily in RAW, and after a series of a few shots, I have to wait a few seconds while the files write to the card. ¬†In the meantime, the camera does not let me do anything. ¬†In theory, this sounds worse than it really is in practice, and I can’t think of a shot that I missed because of it.

I have taken the Fuji X100 everywhere with me for the past 6 months–to school, to work, to the store, and to England–and I enjoy it now more than I did the day I got it. ¬†I find it perfect for what my style of shooting has become, and although I find myself occasionally wishing I had a slightly longer lens to slap on the front of it, knowing that I can’t has freed me up to use the 35mm focal length to the best of my ability and forget about the camera and just focus on making photographs.

Here is a quick round-up of what I have found to be some of the pros and cons of the Fuji X100:

PROS:

  • Well-built, solid body
  • Excellent OVF/EVF (viewfinder)
  • Very sharp, fast lens
  • Near-silent shutter
  • Relatively small (compared to DSLRs, or an M9)
  • Image quality is superb, and dynamic range is very good as well

CONS:

  • Operation can be quirky (however, it is noticeably improved with the most recent firmware update, v. 1.13 in February 2012)
  • AF is not incredibly fast
  • Write speed isn’t the quickest, and the buffer might require you to wait a second (especially if you’ve just shot a series of RAW images)

When all is said and done, only you know if the X100 is right for you. ¬†For me, the 35mm focal length is not ideal, as I find myself more of a 50mm guy. ¬†Many people prefer 35mm, but my preference is a 50. ¬†With the Fuji X100 being what it is, it has forced me to get closer to the action than I might otherwise have done, which is good practice and makes me a more well-rounded photographer. ¬†I find that when I have the X100 with me, I see the world in a 35mm focal length, which I quite enjoy. ¬†I would recommend trying the X100 out before buying. ¬†Take a trip to your local camera store and hold it in your hands, look through the viewfinder, and see what you think of it. ¬†In order to take good images, you have to have a certain connection with your camera; having gear is all well and good, but if you don’t connect with, or understand, your gear, then it is all for naught. ¬†After 6 months of taking the X100 everywhere with me, I understand its strengths, weaknesses, and operational quirks, and I find that it does not in any way prevent me from realizing my vision for making photographs. ¬†A good camera should facilitate making your vision come true–it should get out of the way and let you put your vision on to the frame.

 

"Zebra" - Fargo, ND

 

I’d love to hear what you think about the X100, so leave a comment down below. ¬†If you liked or hated my review, if you want to see more of them or never again, or if you think I missed something–just leave a comment down below and let me know! ¬†If you liked what you read/saw here, please feel free to re-blog, share via some social network, or consider “following” the blog by clicking the “follow” link to get notified every time there is a new post here.

If you would like to see more of my photographs with the X100, go check them out and let me know what you think!

Happy shooting, and talk to you soon,

-Trevor