Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Last days in the pottery factory with my X-T1

The first thing that struck me about the pottery factory was the whiteness. Everything was covered in a thin layer of white clay dust, even the floors in the hall on the way to the front door. Once inside, I wanted to capture that white-on-white look with a bit of subtle color peeking in from beneath the clay. I have my Fuji X-T1 with me with the ubiquitous 18-135mm zoom on it. Below are a few of my favorite compositions from the shoot.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fuji releases major firmware update 4.0 for the X-T1

Fuji continues to follow up on its promise of continual firmware updates for its X-T1 cameras. The company just released firmware update version 4.00 for the X-T1 and X-T1 Graphite cameras. The update dramatically improves autofocus capabilities of these camera bodies by adding professional features to equalize many of the AF functions that are expected standards on high-end, pro DSLR cameras, and provide the X-T1 series with an entirely redesigned AF system.

Click here to download FUJIFILM FIRMWARE UPDATE Ver. 4.0 from the Fuji site. 

Improvements to the AF System:

For a detailed explanation of the various focusing options now available with Ver. 4.0 on the X-T1, visit this site where Fuji explains the functionality of each AF mode.

Zone and Wide/Tracking modes for effortless capture of moving subjects:

The AF System complements the fast and accurate 49-single-point autofocus system with new Zone and Wide/Tracking modes, which use 77 autofocus points across a wider area to substantially improve the camera's ability to capture moving subjects.
The Zone mode allows users to choose a 3x3, 5x3 or 5x5 zone from the 77-point AF area. When combined with the AF-C continuous focusing mode, the camera continues tracking a subject at the center of the selected zone. The 3x3 and 5x3 zones at the center, in particular, offer extra-fast focusing with the use of the built-in phase detection pixels.

In the Wide/Tracking mode, the camera displays the area in focus, identified automatically out of the 77-point AF area (Wide in the AF-S mode) and tracks the focus area's subject across the entire 77-point AF area (Tracking in the AF-C mode). This makes it possible to maintain focus on a subject that moves vertically, horizontally, and back and forth.
Wildlife and sports photographers will appreciate this change for tracking fast-moving, unpredictable subjects across the image frame. 

Improvement of AF accuracy:
Single-point AF divides the focus area into smaller sections to more accurately determine the distance to the subject for even greater focusing accuracy. The built-in phase detection pixels have the detection range of 0.5EV, an improvement from the previous 2.5EV, delivering phase detection AF performance that enables fast focusing in low-light conditions and on low-contrast subjects.

Eye Detection AF:

The firmware update provides Fujifilm's Eye Detection AF, which automatically detects and focuses on human eyes. The function allows you to easily focus on the eyes even in difficult conditions, e.g. when shooting a portrait wide open to obtain a beautiful bokeh background.
This is a significant improvement for those of us who do lifestyle photography where the subject is moving quickly about the frame and we need to retain pinpoint focus on the model's eye. You can also choose between left eye, right eye, or auto. This feature only works in AF-S mode.

Auto Macro mode:
The firmware update introduces the Auto Macro function, which automatically switches the camera into the Macro mode while maintaining the conventional AF speed. You no longer have to press the Macro button to initiate a close-up shot. This update eliminates the Macro function assigned to the Macro Button, allowing you to assign a different function to the button.

I don't know about you, but I am constantly hitting the Macro button by mistake, particularly because I have the other three buttons set to control movement of the auto focus point about the frame. Now I can set the final up-arrow button to move the focus point up. This makes for a speedier change of AF point about the frame, and is very similar to the way my Nikon cameras function. 

AF improvement in the Movie mode:
The optimized algorithm delivers a more natural and smooth AF action during movie recording.

Other system improvements:
Improved Shutter Speed Dial operation:
When the Shutter Speed Dial is set to T and the Shutter Type to Mechanical + Electronic, you can use the command dial to set a full range of exposure times from 30-1/32000sec. Previously, this was limited to 30-2 seconds. This means you can change the shutter speeds across a broader range without having to change camera position. This is particularly useful when shooting in the portrait orientation with the Vertical Battery Grip VG-XT1 attached.

Exposure Compensation control in Manual:
You can use the Exposure Compensation dial to make exposure adjustments while shooting in the Manual exposure mode with the ISO Auto setting.

Finer lines on the framing grid enhances visibility:
The lines on the framing grid, which you can choose to display in the Screen Set-Up menu, have been made finer making it easier to view the subject.
I use the framing grids in all my cameras so this is a much appreciated feature for me, and one that shows Fuji's attention to detail as the company continues to pay attention to the needs of its customer base. 

Name of Silent mode changed to avoid confusion:
The Silent Mode has been renamed to “SOUND & FLASH OFF”.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Legends -- Leica IIIg, a pinnacle of design elegance

The Leica IIIg was the last of the screw-mount Leicas, and to my mind one of the most stylish Leica cameras ever made.

The viewfinder window had significant improvements over prior III models. It was enlarged and added brightline frames for both a 50mm and 90mm lens. Plus, these frames were parallax correcting as the lens focused. The split-image rangefinder window was still separated from the viewfinder window.

The IIIg was a transitional model bridging the original screw lens mount and bayonet models of the M-series. It co-existed with the new Leica M3 for those stalwarts who were more comfortable with the older technology. To make the transition easier for photographer, Leica made the M-mount so that it could adapt screw mount lenses with an adapter.

A mechanical gem, the IIIg is as much pleasure to use as it is to admire for its practical beauty.  It derives its no-nonsense good looks by wearing its functionality in its design in a form-follows-function sort of way.

The IIIg had a brief lifespan of three years from 1957-1960, when it succumbed to the more modern configuration of the Leica M3 introduced in 1954.

Mine is one of the earliest models from 1957 with a serial number of 905551. It is equipped with a Leicavit accessory base plate for rapidly advancing the film. The lever folded up into the base plate when not in use. In the down position the photographer could rapidly advance the film one frame by pulling the lever. Advancing the film was very fast. 

The Leicavit rapid advance lever extended for use. One rapid pull on the lever with several fingers advanced the film one frame. The system is quite fast, maybe even faster that the standard thumb advance lever system that replaced it. 

A film type and ASA (the former ISO) indicator was added to the back, a design that became standard on Leica M film bodies. 

The shutter speed dials of the IIIg were still separated to access the full range. High speeds of 1/60 and above were accessed by the top dial. For speeds of 1/15 second and slower you used the front dial, and for 1/30 second both dials were set to the same setting.  The large self-timer lever provided a ten-second delay. 

The two lightning bolts on the shutter speed dial correspond to electronic flash sync speeds of the 1/50 or 1/30 second. 
I always found the separation of rangefinder and viewfinder windows to be a bit cumbersome, but there was some method to the madness. It was quite an accurate way to focus, since the rangefinder window actually magnified the subject size. This made focusing the spit image finder both easier and more accurate. Moving your eye from one window to the other becomes intuitive, once you are used to it. 

The IIIg still maintained the separate windows for rangefinder and viewfinder. The viewfinder window on the right had brightline frames for 50mm and 90mm lenses. 
Handling a IIIg is a thrill akin to driving an old, finely-tuned sports car.  You know you have something substantial in your hands. You can literally feel the precision of  Leica design and build quality. With a Leicavit accessory attached and larger viewfinder the camera is quite fast in use -- the only major drawback being the separation of veiwfinder and rangefinder windows. 

Leica IIIg shown here with a 5cm f/1.5 Summitar lens, shade, and Weston Master III light meter.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A two hour weather change delivers some dramatic skies

What a difference a couple of hours can make. Just after 6:00 yesterday evening a thunderstorm grew with angry clouds and passed rapidly over the city. It had been a nice day and I had planned on photographing the sunset with a Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus lens I was testing on my Nikon D810. As the storm grew overhead, I gave up on my plans and settled down to an early dinner.

Around 7PM the clouds began to dissipate and color returned to the western sky. By 8PM the lingering clouds were thinning out even more and lingering over the southern sky where I hoped they might pick up some of the reflected light from the setting sun. Luck was with me as the sky lit up and the while it was still bright enough to record nice detail in the city buildings.

The storm clouds grew and passed over the city rapidly. I had my Fuji X-T1 ready as always with the 18-135mm zoom, but changed over to the 10-24mm zoom to include the drama of the full sky as it darkened the Empire State Building. There was enough reflected light from the southern sky to brighten the building windows with reflected light. 

The new Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus lens has been receiving raves as one of the sharpest lenses ever made. I wanted to test it with a high end camera, like the D810, for the series of giant panoramas I am creating of the city. The panoramas are stitched together from multiple images. In the photo below, I took ten images with the camera in its vertical position on the tripod. Five images in a row to capture the sky, and then a second row of five for the city. I gave the images about a 20% overlap so the PTGui software I used could find similar information to match them up into one giant photograph.

The final image is over six feet wide and can go much larger in a print. The color of the sky and city were not altered. A very soft haze in the city absorbed color from the sky and carried it into the bottom half of the photo. The full drama of the color and clouds didn't last very long, maybe five minutes. I had enough time to capture two passes with the camera before the scene began dulling down.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dawning of the first days of summer

Summer has officially begun with the longest days of the year, which translates into very early sunrises and late sunsets. The first two days of summer greeted me with these dramatic skies around dawn. Both were taken with the Fuji X-T1 and 18-135mm lens, which I keep always on the ready set to auto so I can just grab-and-shoot any fleeting moment.

This panorama is actually two images put together to gain a higher resolution final image. 

The pre-dawn cloud colors didn't last very long. I had just enough time to pick up the camera and snap off a few shots with the top of the Chrysler Building before the sun came up and the scene dissipated. 
Happy summer, everyone!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Special low price on the Fuji X100T - $1099

B&H has announced a special low price on both the silver and black version of the Fuji X100T. They are selling for $1099. You will need to add the item to your shopping cart to see the special price.

The silver X100T is available for $1099 here at B&H
The black X100T is available for $1099 here at B&H

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A little of this, and a little of that...

Today's post is a bit on the rambling side. I've been playing with a lot of miscellaneous items this past week. I've been doing some of my macro work with the old Kern Macro-Switar 50mm f/1.8 lens adapted to fit my Leica M 240. Some of the equipment shots I did for this blog recently were taken with it. The lens is sharp, but, in keeping with an old lens on a new digital camera, it has a very soft, hazy quality to it that I like. I'm planning to do some more still life work with the combo.

This close-up was taken with the Macro-Switar with a wide open aperture on the Leica M 240. 

A Leica Standard of 1932 taken by the Macro-Switar. There was quite a lot of haze in this backlit shot. Much of it still remains even after I tried the new "Dehaze" effect in Photoshop CC. 
I have fully integrated the Fuji X100T into my workflow. It's the camera I now carry with me the most when I'm just walking around. It has also been affecting the way I shoot lifestyle situations. My sequence of most used lenses always started the 56mm f/1.2 doing about 80% of the work, followed by the 35mm f/1.4, and occasionally the 23mm on the X-T1. For the past few weeks the 56mm has become my least used of the three focal lengths, as the X100T has had me moving in closer with it and the 35mm for more of a candid look that integrates the foreground better with the subject. The other thing I like about the X100T is its ability to take close-ups that have a very unique look.

I found this worn flag on the back of a fire truck parked in the street and took this close-up with the Fuji X100T. The muted color is a result of processing the image as Fuji Classic Chrome in Photoshop. 

Yesterday I received a Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Distagon lens to try out on some panoramic experiments I've been doing combining multiple images. I want to see how how sharp it is when combined with my Nikon D810.

The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens is a real monster. It actually weighs more than the camera. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Replacing the shutter in a Nikon D4 camera

The shutter in a Nikon D4 camera is rated to go for 400,000 actuations. When the camera is new it is hard to believe I'd even hit the 400k mark, but with a shutter blazing away at 10fps it's easier to get there than you think. Recently, as with my D3 before it, I was coming very close to the end of the rated shutter life span. My D3 gave me indications that it was dying with intermittent malfunctions that never could be fixed by Nikon even after several visits to Nikon repair. In the end, I bit the bullet and replaced the shutter, and was glad I did.

Replacing a shutter sounds like a big deal -- read "expensive".  Turns out it wasn't. At the time of my D3 repair the cost was in the $300 range -- not really bad when you consider this gives the camera a completely new life. This time around, as my D4 shutter began approaching the 400k mark, I decided to take some preventative medicine and replace the shutter before it began to go bad.  Yes, it is possible the shutter would never have gone bad, but, recalling the shutter trouble I had had with my D3,  I didn't want to take the chance of the D4 suddenly dying on me in the middle of a shoot due to an exhausted shutter. To spur my decision along, Nikon began offering a 25% discount on Nikon service repairs for NPS members,  So off my camera went to Nikon to have the shutter replaced. It was returned a week later fully serviced in addition to the shutter replacement. Looks and feels just like a new camera. With the 25% discount it came to $336.

If I had tried to sell my D4 with that many actuations, I never would have received much for it. With that in mind, I consider the expense of the new shutter an investment in the value of the camera.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Creating large panoramas using multiple images from the Leica M 240

I have been experimenting lately with creating high res panoramas by stitching individual images together into one large photo. For those of you who have been following my blog, you may recall that I was testing the idea of combining a Sony A7R II with Leica lenses to use for this purpose. I am trying to find the best camera/lens/software combo to provide the highest resolution images to use for the final assemble panorama.  The A7R II would give me a 42.4mp image and the Leica lenses would provide the high quality optics, thus combining the best full-frame sensor available with what I consider the best full-frame optics.

The Sony A7R II isn't available yet so I decided to do some experimenting using just the Leica M 240 with its 24mp sensor. Below is an image I took last night of lower Manhattan at twilight. It is comprised of ten vertical photos, 2 rows of 5 photos each, and stitched together into one file using PTgui software. The lens was a 50mm Summilux with aperture set to the sweet-spot of f/5.6, ISO was at its its lowest, which on a Leica is 200, and shutter speed was 1/3second.

Ten images put together to form one giant panorama. The native size of the final photo is over 4' wide, but it could easily make a much larger print. 

Download the full res image (322mp) by clicking here.
Download a med res version of the image (100mb) by clicking here

The Leica was mounted in a vertical position on the tripod and centered for the nodal point of the lens. It was fairly easy to adjust the camera position for the nodal point by aligning a foreground object with a distant building and rotating the camera on the tripod to make sure that the two objects kept their alignment. It only took some minor adjusting by moving the camera back and forth to stabilize the alignment.

This is a typical rig I use to take the multiple images. The Leica M with Summilux 50mm lens, Really Right Stuff L-bracket, and a slider mounted on the tripod head.  The camera position was adjusted so the nodal point of the lens is centered over the tripod to give all ten images the same vantage point. When I need to do multiple passes that require the camera to also be tilted up or down, I also add a vertical slider. 

The rig I used is fairly simple, but then the Leica with 50mm lens is a very light camera so I didn't need anything more substantial. It consisted of a slider mounted on top of the tripod, plus a Really Right Stuff  L-bracket for the camera. I also have L-brackets for my Fuji X-T1 and Nikon D810 for doing similar work.

The ten images formed a grid of 5 across and two down. They were taken with the camera in a vertical position and allowance was made for approximately a 20% overlap of the images so the stitching software had similar reference points in neighboring images to make a smooth transition. 

The ten images need to be consistent so the camera is set to manual focus, and manual exposure. I shot the images in RAW and processed them as 16-bit tif files, which were then brought into PTgui for combining into one image. PTgui is very simple, drag-and-drop software that does a really quick and accurate alignment of the images but allows for later manual adjustments. I didn't need to adjust anything because the tripod was fully leveled beforehand.

I took this photo on a weekend evening, but it would be better to shoot during the week when more of the building windows are lit.

The sharpness of the Leica lenses and lack of anti-aliasing filter on the sensor often causes moiré patterns in buildings when shooting citiscapes using the Leica M. It is apparent here in the gold top of the building on the left -- something I'll have to deal with later in the final image.

The final image is 322mp in size, with a width of 51" (112.8cm). I have also tried some similar tests of combining ten images taken with the Fuji X-T1 and 35mm lens. Even though the X-T1 is a 16mp camera vs. 24 for the Leica, the final image was not much smaller (48" vs 51").

Saturday, June 13, 2015

First thoughts on the new Leica Q (Typ 116)

Leica's latest surprise is its new, full frame, 24.2mp "Q" model with a fixed 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens. Although it may look like a typical Leica M 28mm, this lens has been specifically designed for the Q camera and has the extra niceties of autofocus, and optical image stabilization unusual for a wide angle lens. Couple that with the fast f/1.7 aperture and 100-50,000 ISO range and this baby should be able to take handheld shots in almost total darkness. The lens also has a macro mode that focuses down to 6.60" (17cm).

The lens is very obviously modeled after the typical Leica M lenses. Given its advanced specs, we can always dream that Leica would make an interchangeable version to fit the the M.
It looks great with that understated classic simplicity of design that is quintessentially Leica. And, in case you miss the point, there is the distinguishing Leica red dot to remind you. 
Some photographers, including me, might find a 35mm lens on a fixed lens camera to be more of an all-around practical tool. Leica gets around this objection by providing two crop modes, one of 1.25x for 35mm framing, and the other of 1.8x for 50mm framing. The appropriate cropping frames are visible in the viewfinder. A drawback to this system is that it effectively reduces the sensor size down to about 19.4 megapixels for the 35mm crop, and 13.4 megapixels for the 50mm.  I suppose that a a little like having a Fuji X100T with both the TCL and TWL built in.

The rear of the camera is as exciting as the front, especially when we see that large viewfinder window with its best-of-class high resolution 3.68 MP electronic viewfinder, and the  3.0" 1,040k-dot LCD touch screen below it.  I also like the recessed thumb area on the right to help with quick orientation to the nearby controls. 

The full-frame 24MP CMOS sensor, is powered by the Maestro II image processor borrowed from the S camera series to provide sharp, high-resolution images and full HD video with exception low noise and ISO speeds up to 50,000.  The Q camera can shoot a continuous burst rate up to 10fps.

The nearest other full-frame, fixed lens camera out there for comparison is Sony's RX1, although that is getting a little old and will probably be replaced with an update soon. Surprisingly, Sony did not introduce a model II to replace the RX1 when it announced its latest A7R II and RX100 IV recently. As they now stand, the newer features of the Leica Q run circles around the RX1, but in terms of weight and size the RX1 is a much smaller package. In fact, the Q is less that a half inch shorter than an M.

Other features:

The camera is sturdy enough with its solid machined aluminum top plate and a magnesium alloy body. 

The built-in Wi-Fi module allows linking the camera to a smartphone, tablet, or computer. The Q also has an NFC chip for tap-to-connect functionality with certain devices. There is a free Leica Q app that further allows remote control of the camera for adjusting exposure while shooting from difficult or inaccessible locations.

Flash sync is up to 1/500 second. There is an auxiliary hot shoe for accessory flashes. 

The Q can record full HD 1080p video at 60 or 30 fps, as well as 720p at 30 fps.
The top and rear control layouts look a lot like those of the Leica M 240, although I don't see any screw-in cable release socket in the shutter release. 
The $4250 price tag appears typically Leica expensive, but the Q includes a built-in viewfinder and 28mm Summilux lens. The lens alone is probably worth the price if we compare it to similar interchangeable lenses for the Leica M series.

I will be posting a full, hands-on review of the Leica Q once I have put it through its paces.

Even going back to this first Leica I of 1930 we can see the roots of the classic Leica body design in the current Leica Q. 

The Leica Q Typ 116 is available for pre-order now with delivery expected after June 16th.

You can pre-order one here: BH-Photo   Adorama    

Friday, June 12, 2015

Adapting a Nikon super-telephoto to the Fuji X-T1

During the month of June the sun advances to its most northern point in Manhattan, as we approach the summer solstice on June 21st. On two of those days, 21 day before and after the solstice, the sunset is in perfect alignment with the grid layout of the city streets, and New Yorkers are treated to an event that is gaining in popularity called Manhattenhenge because it mimics the alignment of the summer solstice with the stone monuments of Stonehenge in England.

For me this period is a fun time to photograph the sun and its effect on buildings, streets, and environs of New York. Last night I was thinking about the 100-400mm zoom predicted to come out sometime in late 2016 -- a long way off. In the interim this leaves us with 200mm as the current maximum tele focal length in the Fuji lineup. For shooting close-up, dramatic shots of the sun or moon, or animals for that matter, 200mm simply isn't going to cut it. I have mentioned in the past that one thing Fuji needs in its optical lineup to really attract professional converts is going to be some super-tele lenses.

While I am waiting, impatiently, for Fuji to deliver us a super-tele option, I slapped a Nikon-G-to-Fuji-X adapter on the superb Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom and took some photos of the sun as it set into clouds above the horizon. The 400mm zoom extension gave me a long tele focal length equivalent of 600mm, and coupled with the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E it was further pushed it to an equivalent length of 840mm. This is a manual focus setup so I won't be photographing any birds in flight coming towards the camera, nonetheless I can still have some fun with more static subjects and parallel moving objects. Below are a couple of shots I did with this combo last night.

With the sun setting directly to the west of Manhattan it is in line with the flight path to Newark Airport. For this shot I had only the Nikon 80-400mm zoom mounted on the Fuji X-T1 and was able to capture some to the jets passing in front of the sun on their final approach into Newark.  This shot was taken with an equivalent of 600mm lens, perhaps even a bit more, since I did crop it a bit into a more panoramic format. 

As the sun dipped into the clouds I added the Nikon 1.4x tele-converter to the lens resulting in an 840mm focal length, and with the square crop it is probably equivalent more to 1000mm. 
I really wish Fuij would step up production of some long telephoto offerings. Don't they know how many birders and animal photographers are out there chomping at the bit for a lens like this?

This is how the whole contraption looks  when assembled. Left to right: Fuji X-T1, Nikon-G to Fuji-X adapter, Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E, and Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom. 

In the meantime, there are several Nikon G to Fuji X adapter options out there. Some are more expensive than others, but they all do essentially the same thing. The real trick with a G lens is that there is no external aperture selector ring on the lens itself. (This is one reason I often prefer D lenses instead.)  To get around this the adapter must have its own ring coupling with the Nikon lens to open and close the diaphragm. This is a fairly simple operation. Personally, I use one of the more modest adapters, and it gets the job done. For anyone interested,  here are some options:

Metabones $139.00:  BH-Photo   Amazon
FotodioX $59.95:    BH-Photo   Amazon 
Fotasy $22.71:  Amazon

Thursday, June 11, 2015

First thoughts on the Sony A7RII 42.4mp digital camera

A little while back I began performing tests with a Sony A7 series cameras in anticipation of the A7RII, which everyone knew would be announced soon, and probably in June. Turns out the rumor mill was right. Yesterday, Sony announced the new A7RII, but instead of a 36mp sensor or an anticipated 50mp sensor it will have a 42.4mp sensor. Sony has been ahead of the pack with sensor development in their A7 series, and undoubtedly this new one will be a top-of-the-line winner. Sorry, Canon. I know you announced a new 50mp sensor, but Canon sensor track record hasn't been in the same league with Sony So, yes, I'm betting on the Sony sensor here. Plus, the A7RII will accept Canon lenses -- along with the lenses of many other manufactures --  with AF to boot.

In my first report on the Sony A7 series cameras, I was critical of the fact that the camera came out with no solid lens support. On top of that, I was skeptical of a full-frame mirrorless camera in general. I always thought that it would take a typically large full-frame lens to cover the full frame senso thus defeating its purpose. Sony fooled me. Apparently, all along their strategy had been to make the A7 series adaptable to the vast lineup of high quality lenses from other manufactures -- an idea smartly echoing back to the old Alpa 35mm cameras.

I wouldn't need an A7 with a 24mp sensor because I already have that file size with my Leica M 240, but a larger sensor -- particularly with Sony quality -- such as that in the new 42.4mp of the A7RII, is another story entirely.

When I began my recent tests with the A7 cameras, it was to determine how smoothly it worked with Leica M-mount lenses. Why? Because every time I am surprised by the sharpness of one of my older photos and I check to see what camera was used, it always turns out to have been taken with a Leica lens. I am sold on Leica optics. Yes, the lenses are ridiculously expensive, but when sharpness matters above all else, and the inconvenience of manual focus can be tolerated, for me Leica wins every time. At present I am planning a series of super-high resolution images of New York City, and Leitz lenses are one of the top runners in my tests. If I can marry the optics with a camera like this new Sony A7RII, it might be a marriage made in heaven. We'll see.

Of course, this is just my reason for wanting an A7RII camera, but there are many new ground-breaking innovations that may move this camera to be leader of the mirrorless pack.

The α7R II has the first  35 mm full-frame CMOS image sensor with back-illuminated structure. This delivers a 42.4 megapixel resolution, plus expanded sensitivity and extra-low noise performance. On top of that the new architecture speeds readout resulting faster AF performance and continuous shooting rate of 5fps, quite fast for a sensor producing 42.4mp images.  Sony A7 cameras are already the lowest in noise at high ISO's. This sensor will be even better.

The XGA OLED viewfinder advances the optical finder another notch, especially when coupled with the world's highest mirrorless magnification of 0.78x. 

I have a feeling the A7RII is going to appeal big time with film makers. The thing all videographers have been lusting for, 4K, is not only here, it can record at 4K resolution in a 35mm full-frame format also. Plus it can do so in a camera body that can accept almost any form of quality optics. 

There are 399 focal plane phase-detection AF points covering 45% of the image area. This is coupled with 25-point contrast-detection AF coverage for very impressive AF capabilities.

The A7RII will have 5-point image stabilization built right into the camera. This system is built to compensate for five types of camera motion that generally occur in handheld shooting and will be magnified by the high res 42.4 high res sensor. 

Hmmm...I wonder what this will look like with a Leica M lens on it?

The list of ingredients in this camera is impressive, but I will say what I always say: Without quality and convenient lens support even the best camera is worthless. The A7 series has been around long enough to have established the lens support it needs. Interestingly, this came from a wise Sony strategy of creating an open architecture making it convenient to adapt other manufacturer's lenses. This still leaves one big problem. Mirrorless is expected to be a small, convenient format. Full frame mirrorless cameras negate this feature by requiring super-sized optics -- unless the optics are M-Leica in size, which takes me to my main reason for looking to this camera as a high res vehicle to very small, very high quality Leica lenses. 

That said, I may be one of the first photographers picking up one of the first A7RII cameras when they become available in August. I have been burned by this eagerness in the past with problematic first editions. So I'll be going into this with fingers crossed. 

Tha A7RII is expected to be out in August and sell for $3199. Check back here for leads on early offers and ordering information. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD lens -- a hands on review

My favorite full frame lens for shooting lifestyle is an 85mm wide aperture. On a Fuji X camera this translates to the 56mm f/1.2.  A main reason for this choice is that I want to keep the background very soft so it doesn't interfere with the main subject, while at the same time retaining some story-telling detail in the out-of-focus area. I am often afraid of using full frame lenses at a full aperture of f/1.4, since it often means sacrificing some detail in the focused area. The Fuji 56mm lens is different. I find I can use it at f/1.2 with no loss in sharpness in my main subject.

I have already posted a full hands-on review of the Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens. Since it is the same lens used to create the APD model, I will spend my time here in discussing the only difference between the two models, the effects of the apodization filter, and refer the reader to the other review for a fuller explanation of the similarities the two lenses share. 

The profile of the APD version of the 56mm f/1.2 lens is identical to that of the standard R version. Looking pretty nice here on an X-Pro1. 

The only way to tell the two lenses apart from the their profile is the writing on the lens barrel. The new APD adjusted aperture markings are in red below the actual diaphragm markings, and the lens is marked with a red "APD" next to its size. 

The newer iteration of this lens, the APD model, is the exact same lens as the R model, except for the inclusion of a special apodization filter inside of it next to the diaphragm. They probably would not have done this had they not started with such a good lens. 

The main reason this lens works well with a softening filter is that it remains optically sharp at f/1.2 where it is focused. I regularly use my standard 56mm R lens wide open at f/1.2 even when photographing close-up portraits. The APD filter performs its magic with a wide open aperture. To help maintain f/1.2, even in bright light, the lens comes with its own 3-stop ND filter. A red scale beneath the white aperture ring indicates the effective aperture value caused by the APD filter as it relates to depth of field. 

The background blurs gradually melt into one another creating a softer transition than a standard aperture lens. The sample images below tell the story better than words. 

The softer bokeh effect caused by the APD lens is due to the graduated neutral density of the apodizaiton filter along the edges when the lens is used at it wider apertures. This effect gradually diminishes as the lens is stopped down and disappears totally by f/5.6 at which point it behaves like the regular 56mm R version. 

The shape of the aperture will be echoed in the out-of-focus blurs. If the aperture were star-shaped, the blurs would also assume the star shape. Because the aperture is made up of individual metal blades that form a circle the shape of the blurs are circular when the aperture is wide open.  As the aperture closed the shape becomes typically six, seven, or eight sided depending upon the number of aperture blades.

The out-of-focus blurs with the APD lens are smoother in their transition, but they are also smaller because at f/1.2 the APD is actually f/1.7 due to the addition of the darkening caused by the ND softening area around the aperture, and f/1.7 is almost a full stop closed down from f/1.2. That is going to affect both the exposure and the size of the out-of-focus blurs.

Note the differences in the sizes of the out-of-focus blurred shapes. The apodization filter inside the 56mm APD lens causes the aperture to be smaller (f/1.7 instead of f/1.2) resulting in smaller shapes to the blurs. On the other hand, the blur shapes from the standard lens have a harder edge to them, while those taken with the APD version have a much softer transition at the edge. This is what this filter is all about. Note also how both images are tack sharp on the model's face even with the wide open aperture.   Download a high res version of this image here.

In the photo below with the aperture stopped down to f/2.8 the blurs take on a seven-sided shape because the Fuji 56mm lenses have a seven-sided aperture.

This file shows the bokeh effect at f/2.8. Download a high res version here.

Both images shot wide open at f/1.2. Compare the softness of the blurred circles caused the by the apodization filter in the left image with the harder edge of the blurred lights with the standard aperture lens on the right.    Download the high res version here.

This lens works particularly well for portraiture when we want a sharpness to the face but a high degree of softness in the background to minimize distracting details.

Even in very close the lens is very sharp at full aperture. In this photo the model's eyelids and eye lashes are completely sharp as the rest of the image drifts off into a soft blur. 

Moving in tight while still at f/1.2 the lens shows off its abilities to juxtapose sharp detail with soft bokeh backgrounds. 

The wide open aperture of this lens completely blurred the very distracting background in this close-up, candid snapshot, while leaving the girl's face very sharp. 

Lens used at f/1.4. 

Working at f/1.2, even pulled back to include more of the subject, keeps the background soft enough not to interfere with the subject, but with enough detail to tell the story. The lens maintains sharp detail in the subject even with this wide open aperture. The ability to maintain focus while moving along with the model and  the model moving directly towards the camera is always difficult, especially at f/1.2. For these walking shots I had the X-T1 set to face recognition mode, and it seemed a good job of returning mostly in-focus results. 


This specialized lens is not for everyone. It performs its best magic when used wide open and when the background is mottled with light. The standard R lens will still provide a very soft bokeh effect but the transition edges will be a little harder edged.  If you require a sharp lens that can maintain an ultra smooth transition in the out-of-focus area, then spending an extra $500 for the APD version might be worth it to you. One trade-off is that it does lose almost a full stop of light wide open.

I think the image samples above tell the story better than words. If this ultra-smooth blurring effect is important to you, then this lens may be for you. Otherwise, the standard R lens still does a magnificent job of creating pleasing softness while remaining super sharp at wide open apertures.

The price of the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 APD lens has recently been reduced to $1374.60, but is still $500 more that the standard R version, which has received a similar price reduction.

If you are planning on purchasing this camera or 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 XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD lens is available for ordering at:   BH-photo  Adorama  Amazon

If  you are content without the extra softness offered by the APD filter, the standard R model is now available at a 15% discount for $840.80:

The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens is available for ordering at:   BH-photo  Adorama  Amazon