Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunset and sunrise on the Mediterranean taken with various Fuji X lenses

All of the photos here were taken of one sunset and one sunrise. The various interpretations are a result of using different Fuji lenses on the X-T1, by varying the timing of the scene, or by adding some post-processing technique in Photoshop.

Taken just after sundown as the first stars appeared, this image was shot with an ISO of 1600 with the Fuji 18-55mm zoom. Shortly afterwards I switched to the Fuji 35mm to take advantage of its faster f/1.4 aperture, which allowed me to keep the ISO low.

I didn't bring a fisheye with me on this trip, opting intead to add a fisheye distortion in Photoshop instead. This image was taken with the Fuji 14mm. 

This panorama is a composite of two photos assembled with Photomerge in Photoshop. Doing this instead of simply cropping a photo resulted in a much larger image size (70mb) for the finished photo.

The same scene as those above, but taken with the Fuji 55-200mm zoom at the 200mm (300mm eqivalent) focal length.
I am at sea most of the time and have very poor to no internet service so posting to the blog will be sporadic at best for the next few days. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100 III braking even newer ground - a hands on review

If you've read my prior review of the  RX100 II, you know that I am a huge fan of the Sony RX100 series and have been recommending it to anyone requiring pro-quality results from a tiny, pocketable camera. Sony continues to improve this handy camera and this time has added and improved some features that go deeper than just the mechanical conveniences.

The Sony Bionz processor has been upgraded to a Bionz X, adding sharpening and noise improvements to jpg images, as well as better autofocus performance.

Although it feels the same in your hand and still fits easily into a pocket, the RX100 III is 3mm wider and 9 grams heavier than its predecessor, the RX100 II

The RX100 III with EVF and lens extended. Simply using a switch on the side that pops-up the EVF finder will also turn the camera on. Closing the EVF by pushing it down turns the camera off.  This is in addition to a normal on/off button on the top of the camera.

The RX100 is small enough to easily fit into a shirt or pants pocket.
There are two distinctive differences between the new model III and prior models, namely the pop-up EVF viewfinder -- a first on any camera -- and the new zoom lens, a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 8.8-25.7mm (24-70mm equivalent) with an impressively fast f/1.8-2.8 aperture range.

The effective zoom range of this lens, while shorter than the 100mm telephoto reach of its predecessors, should be familiar to professional photographers who are used to having a 24-70mm f/2.8 focal length as a main-stay zoom lens on their high powered DSLR cameras, and here it has the advantage of a starting variable wide angle aperture of f/1.8. At first 70mm might seem limiting for portraits, but the close focus range at this focal length is 11.81" allowing you to get close enough to fill the frame with just a head shot and eliminate the shoulders.

Having a fast aperture lens and being able to use it in bright daylight is not always possible with a base ISO of 125 coupled with a top shutter speed of 1/2000sec. The RX100 III has a built-in ND filter that can be turned on, off, or set to Auto. I have not found any documentation mentioning the amount of ND, my experiments show it to be equivalent to a very practical 3-stops. This should allow you to work at full aperture for maximum selective focus shooting even in bright light.

This shows the new pop-up EVF on the RX100 III compared to using the auxiliary finder on a RX100 II.
How does the EVF display compare to the Sony FDA-EVM1K viewfinder accessory adaptable to the RX100 II? As you might suspect from the huge price difference, the pop-up SVGA version has a smaller image and is not as sharp as the XVGA version in the accessory clip-on. That said, there is something to be said about the convenience of a pop-up that rests flat for storage as opposed to a rather large and cumbersome clip-on. In other words: Given the choice in this case, for me convenience trumps quality.

The RX100 III has a fully articulating screen that can even be flipped up 180 degrees and viewed from the front of the camera -- a boon to any "Selfie" photographers out there. 

The new features on the RX100 III add about $150 to the price over the older model II, however, if you had added a Sony FDA-EVM1K viewfinder to that model, the finder alone would cost $448. Looked at that way, the price increase of the model III is more reasonable.

One thing that has changed is the way the Fn button works. On the prior model it called up a rotating wheel of options on the screen. I found that to be quite convenient.  Now the Fn calls up a menu, like the one above, and you have to scroll through it to select your control. I found this much more time consuming than the older method.
The RX100 Model III comes with built-in WiFi connectivity for both Android and iPhone using its Playmemories phone APP. Once the camera and phone are connected through WiFi, you will be able to see through the camera as if you were operating it. From the phone, you can operate the zoom feature on the lens, turn the flash or shutter on and off,  and snap the shutter. A low res image is then transferred to the phone while the higher res version resides on the camera. Of course, you can then upload the image on your camera to social media or send it by text or email. You can also use the WiFi to simply transfer any image from the camera to the smart phone for further uploading to social media.

I received this camera for testing the day before I was about to leave on a two week trip. consequently, I did not have time to include many sample images. I will continue testing the camera on the trip and add to this blog post as I go along so check back in a few days for further updates to my review. I am really intrigued with the possibilities of the Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens and can't wait to run it through its paces.

The built-in ND filter allows the lens aperture to be opened to its full f/1.8 even in daylight. 
The fast apertures of the RX100 III come in handy for travel photography where you want to capture natural scenes without relying on a flash.. For this indoor market scene in Spain the fast aperture zoom feature allowed me to shoot comfortably at a very low ISO of 125 and a comfortable shutter speed of 1/200 second.

The zoom length may only extend to 70mm, but it can focus rather close at that focal length, as this photo shows.

A fast aperture zoom lens is a really attractive feature on such a small, portable camera.

The Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom adds very high level of image quality to the package.

This is the type of situation where having a fast aperture lens and the extra wide angle focal length comes in handy. it was taken at 24mm eqivalent and base ISO of 160.

In this scene the foreground fountain was in total darkness. To fill it in with detail I set the RX100 III built-in flash to slow sync and took the photo hand-held using an exposure of  f/2.5 at 1/30 second and ISO 800. The camera did this totally on automatic setting.

I have recommended the Sony RX100 cameras to my friends, mostly professional photographers looking for something easy to carry but capable of delivering a quality image when the need arises. With the model III Sony continues to embellish and improve this concept and raise it up several notches. The pop-up EVF finder in such a tiny camera is a minor miracle. Add to that the superb quality of Carl Zeiss optics in a comfortably familiar zoom length with fast apertures, and you have something that is hard to beat even with a larger camera.

Details, such as the inclusion of an ND filter to couple with the fast apertures, show that Sony is fully tuned into how serious photographers like to work.

The different focal length ranges of the Model II and Model III zooms is probably going to be a big deciding factor for many. It's going to come down to personal preferences based on shooting style. I like wider lenses and fast apertures so the new lens is fine for me, particularly because it can also focus much closer than the older one. Others will miss not being able to reach out with a bit more of a telephoto.

I think the bottom line on the new Model III is that we have reached a point in camera manufacturing where the new model does not necessarily replace the older one through its updates. In the case of the two RX100 models, I see no reason why the two should not continue to be available separately, and provide a choice for consumers based on features. The RX100 series of cameras is an amazing group of ultra-compact instruments with the capability of producing pro-quality image results from something that fits easily in your pocket.

If you are planning on buying this camera, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III camera can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon   

Of course, if you are  in New York and want to visit the Photo District where most of the pro photographers shop, drop by FotoCare at 41 West 22nd Street and ask for Jeff Hirsch.  Tell him Tom sent you, and he'll take good care of you.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A brief day in Barcelona

I had only a short time to spend in Barcelona and wanted to pay a visit to La Sagrada Familia basilica by Antonio Gaudi to see how it has progressed since my last visit. The interior is almost completely finished, but the exterior was covered with scaffolding for renovations limiting the photography considerably.

My photo kit for the day was the Fuji X-T1 with a Sony RX100 III thrown in for testing.

The Fuji 14mm was sufficient for a sweeping shot of the full interior and the fast f/2.8 lens help in keeping the ISO down.

This scene was taken on a walk along the Ramblas.

The Cathedral of Barcelona

This photo was taken with the new Sony RX100 III. All the rest were done with the Fuji X-T1,

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Arriving in Barcelona

Yesterday I posted some aerials on the day I left New York for a two week trip to Spain and Portugal. Today I am posting some images taken at sunrise coming up through the clouds as our plane approached Barcelona. It is to capture spontaneous events such as this brief sunrise that I always like keeping the Sony RX100 III within easy reach.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New York aerials in platinum

I am taking off on a two-week trip to Europe today and thought I would post a few "good-bye" aerials taken of New York City. All were done for my platinum print portfolio using the Fuji X-T1.

Tug boat with the Verazzano Bridge.

New York Harbor

Lower Manhattan and the new World Trade Center

Sailboats and lower Manhattan

Mid-town Manhattan with Empire State and Chrysler Buildings

Monday, June 23, 2014

Putting together the perfect mirrorless camera travel kit

I am packing my bags for a two week trip around Spain and Portugal, and for the first time ever, I will not be taking a Nikon system with me. Instead, I will be traveling completely mirrorless. I really only need one system, but because I will be conducting a number of equipment tests along the way I will be carrying three different cameras.

My main system will be the Fuji X-T1, and because I always travel with a safety camera body backup I will also have the X-E2. Second, I will have a Leica M (240), and finally a new Sony RX100 III. I will also be carrying the Sirui T-025X carbon tripod, which I had recommended in a previous blog as a perfect compact tripod to carry with a small mirrorless system.  Let's look at each system separately:

Fuji X-T1:

I will have five lenses including the 55-200mm, 18-55mm, 35mm f/1.4 because I always want to have at least one really fast aperture lens with me, and both the 14mm and 10-24mm, although these last two are redundant. I am taking both because of tests I will be doing with them and a Zeiss Touit 12mm I can borrow from a traveling companion.

For filters, I have a polarizer, ND set in case I need to slow down some water, and a close-up filter for the 35mm instead of carting along a macro.  I rarely need a macro on a trip like this, but sometimes do like to take some closeups.

I am carrying the extra battery extension for the X-T1 even though it adds extra weight and bulk. I am terrible about remembering to have spare batteries, and this way I will at least have two with me always.

The whole system fits into the Jill-E Messenger bag I reviewed in a prior blog post. A photo vest would also suffice to carry the basic kit, since normally I wouldn't have both the 14mm and 10-24mm lenses or spare camera body at the same time as the basic outfit. The tripod is also optional during the day, but does come with a carrying sack that has a strap for wearing it messenger-style slung around onto your back.

This looks a little busier than it needs to be because there are several redundant items, such as the two super-wide lenses I will be taking to compare, and the X-E2 which serves as an emergency back-up camera that will remain in the hotel unless something really happens to knock out my X-T1. 

Leica M (24):

Some of my favorite travel shots have always been done with a Leica, and I often lug it along as a spare system whenever I travel. I will have five lenses -- the 135mm Telyt, 90mm Elmarit, 50mm Summilux, 35mm Summilux, and 21mm Elmarit. I debated whether to take a Leica-R 80-200mm instead of the 135mm and 90mm, but the sensational optics of the 135mm Telyt won out.

I have a set of close-up filters to use with the 50mm Summilux because close-up photography is now quite convenient with the EVF Leica finder and the M-lenses, having been made for a rangefinder camera, do not focus very close.

I have a very light weight older Lowepro messenger bag that is similar, but even lighter, to the Jill bag I am using for the Fuji. The Leica kit is so compact that I often carry it entirely in my photo vest.

This system really looks good, and practical. I only hope I don't regret not substituting the versatility of the Leica-R 80-200mm zoom for the shorter, but better quality, 135mm Telyt.

Sony RX100 III:

The new version of the compact Sony RX100 series, the model III,  just arrived in time for me to test it out on the trip. It is entirely self-contained with a Zeiss 24-70mm equivalent focal length f/1.8-2.8 zoom, plus pop-up EVF finder. This is the camera I always have with me when I think I don't need a camera or can't carry one conveniently. The RX100 fits comfortably into a pocket, has a 1" 20mp sensor, and delivers pro-quality images in a package the size of a typical point-and-shoot. The entire kit with spare battery, charger, and filters fit into the Mountainsmith Focus II gear pouch that is no longer available but has been replaced with a newer model.

Typically I would fit the RX100 with the Sony VFA-49R1 49mm Filter Adapter so I could carry a polarizer and close-up lens for it, but the newer fast aperture lens means a larger front opening and the current adapter will be too small. Guess I'll have to wait for an update to that accessory.

Sometimes I have to wonder if this is the only camera I ever really need.

Now that my camera systems are all squared away, I can turn my attention to packing some clothes. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Honing skills of composition re-photographing the same subject

The Empire State Building has been the main symbol of New York ever since it was completed during the height of the Depression in 1931. It sits on a major crossroad at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue in the middle of Manhattan and its spire can be seen from almost anywhere in the city providing a reference point and stabilizing comfort to those of us who life here.

I did a limited edition of black and white prints of the Empire State Building from various perspectives throughout the city, but continue to find myself drawn back to it whenever I catch a side glimpse of it during my walks in the city.  So I have begun a new series of images on the same theme, this time as platinum prints. Here are a few I did in just the past few days taken with my ever-ready Fuji X-T1 and 18-55mm lens. When the new Fuji 18-135mm becomes available I might be tempted to switch to it as my walk-around lens. It will only add 4 ounces to the weight and one extra inch to the length.

There is something to be said about photographing the same subject over and over again and causing a concentration more on the composition than on the object itself.

This photograph and the one below were taken from almost the same vantage point on two different days, yet they are completely different compositions of the same subject.

A jet contrail provided a strong compositional line lasting only  a few moments before evaporating. I had only enough time to capture a few exposures before it was gone.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Always prepared with a Fuji X-series camera

 I pretty much never go anywhere without a camera in case I happen upon something I want to photograph. More often than not, I use the camera to capture spontaneous moments I hadn't anticipated, and each time I do I feel vindicated for having carted the equipment with me.

Fortunately today, with the down-sizing of high quality mirrorless cameras, having one with me is no longer a burden. At the very least I have a Sony RX100 tucked in a pocket, but more than likely it will be a Fuji X-camera and usually the X-T1 with a 18-55mm lens attached. This might change after I try out the recently announced 18-135mm zoom, but for now the Fuji short zoom does the job.

While crossing 42nd Street on my way to an appointment in mid-town Manhattan the scenes below grabbed my attention.  After waiting for the traffic light to change I went to the middle of the street and captured both images for my platinum portfolio on New York. It helps that I usually keep my Fuji camera set to square crop mode and black and white.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Choosing between the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 zoom or Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 and Fuji 14mm f/2.8 primes

A recent comment made on this blog posed a question that had been troubling me as well, particularly because I am currently in the process of assembling a travel kit for a two week trip to Spain and Portugal. It has to do with making a decision between the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 zoom and a single prime wide angle lens, such as the Zeiss Touit 12mm or Fuji 14mm, both with faster f/2.8 apertures.

The question is:  

"Hey Tom, between the 10-24 and Zeiss Touit 12 2.8, which would you recommend? I'm leaning towards the fuji 10-24 as it gives 15mm on the X-E2 whereas the Zeiss would be 18mm, but the f2.8 and image quality of the Zeiss is very tempting." 

Normally this would not be a too difficult a decision because super-wide zooms typically do not deliver the same image quality as a single super-wide prime. Fuji made the decision difficult by delivering such an excellent zoom with its XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS Lens. So the decision comes down to a comparison between focal length preference, size and weight, aperture, and price. Each of these qualities (except for price) depends on how the lens will be used. Let's look at each element separately.

Focal Length Preference:

Unlike longer lenses, the differences in focal length between super-wide angles varies greatly with just a few millimeters difference. A 10mm focal length has an angle of view equal to 110°, whereas the angle of a 14mm is 89°, and a 12mm is 99°.  This is a considerable difference and one that depends upon personal preferences and usage. Personally, my favorite full frame super-wide angle focal length has always been 21mm, which is the same as using 14mm on an APS-C camera like the Fuji X-series. That said, there are times when I appreciate the exaggerated sweeping effect of something much wider.  Nonetheless, in most circumstances I find I can make due with a fixed prime super-wide simply by adjusting my distance slightly. 

This photo of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul was taken with a 21mm lens on a Leica M-9. This would be equivalent to using a Fuji 14mm and is typical of the what I want to achieve with a super-wide lens. An even wider angle might have taken in more of the scene, but I doubt it could have made the final image any more dramatic.


If you plan on shooting indoors a lot with available light, then the full stop aperture difference between  f/2.8 and f/4 could make a difference. Doing a travel shot handheld inside a dark cathedral, for instance, could mean the difference between using an ISO of 1600 and 3200, and on a large print that would be considerable. 

For more general outdoor photography a faster aperture on a super-wide lens does not make much of a difference. In most instances, particularly in landscape photography, we are going to want to stop the lens down for f/8 or even more to maximize depth-of-field, a quality in which a super-wide excels.

Size and weight:

For anyone lugging around a heavily equipped camera bag all day while walking through a city, this could make a difference. The Fuji 10-24mm zoom is considerably larger and bulkier than the other two primes and takes up a large chunk of space in an already too-cramped camera bag. Here is where you might appreciate going with a single fixed prime. 


Recent deals on lenses for the Fuji X-series -- particularly the huge savings offered by Zeiss on its Touit lenses -- have equalized pricing to a point where it is not currently a large factor in choosing one over the other.


In the end the deciding factors come down to how the lens will be used. Indoors and hand held argue for a fast aperture. Landscapes, where fast aperture is not a factor, argue for the flexibility of a zoom. Travel, where portability comes into play coupled with some hand-held interior shooting, argues for a smaller, fast aperture prime. 

My full review of the Fuji 10-14mm zoom can be read here.
My full review of the Fuji 14mm lens can be read here.
My review of the Zeiss Touit 12mm lens can be read here.

If you are planning on purchasing any of these lenses, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm XF14mm f/2.8 lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon
The Fujifilm XF10-24mm f/4 zoom lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon
The Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

FUJINON XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 weather resistant lens -- a first look

Fujifilm just announced the release of its XF18-135mm high magnification zoom lens, the XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR for availability in July and features a dust-proof and waterproof structure with weather resistant sealing applied to more than 20 different areas of the lens. Typically zoom lenses of such extreme focal ranges are aimed at broader consumer markets. Fuji instead chose instead to target this professional-grade lens for its X-series cameras.  Its zoom range covers a wide shooting range full frame equvalent of 27mm wide-angle to 206mm telephoto.

Fuji continues to improve the AF of its lenses with each new lens and update. The XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR uses an inner focusing mechanism for rapid autofocus speeds.

The optical design incorporates four aspherical elements and two extra-low dispersion elements to minimize chromatic aberrations and distortions throughout the zoom range while also lessening the overall size and weight of the lens. At 490 grams it is almost 100 grams lighter than the current 55-200mm lens. Helping to keep the weight and cost down is the f/5.6 aperture at full extension. Fuji boasts of a 5-stop vibration reduction to compensate for the slow aperture.  Even so, f/5.6 as a maximum aperture is not going to appeal to those of us who like using selective focus in our images. At least on the 55-200mm zoom the aperture at 200mm is f/4.8, and at its 135mm focal length it is f/4.4.

The lens barrel features 20 distinct seals across its design to resist dust and moisture from entering the lens. Additionally, further contributing to effective weather resistance, an internal ventilator ensures smooth zoom adjustment and prevents dust particles and moisture from reaching the interior of the lens.

An enhanced optical image stabilization system, which includes dedicated OIS Unit Lenses with a wide range of corrective movements, compensates for the appearance of camera shake by an effective five stops to benefit working in low-light conditions and with slower shutter speeds.

Generally, zoom lenses made to cover an extensive focal length range do so by making compromises in the resolution and aberrations. Such lenses are usually aimed at the amateur consumer market. So it is something of a surprise that Fuji added weather resistance to the XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 lens and also intended it for a a more serious camera user. Having been constantly and pleasantly surprised by the quality level of all Fuji zooms, I expect this lens to meet a higher standard than the usual comprised level of the breed. We shall see. I will definitely looking at this lens closely, testing it, and reporting my findings here. There is something to be said for a lens that can do it all. Just imagine adding this lens to a travel kit with the 10-24mm zoom -- you'd have a complete package in two lenses!

The Fuji XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 can be pre-ordered now for delivery in July.

If you are planning on purchasing this  lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 lens can be pre-ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon