Tag Archives: review

Sony NEX 6 and 16-50 Kit Lens

Good things come to those who wait.

I wasn’t really looking for another camera…especially not the NEX series. They are not really small when you take into account their lenses. Besides, I already have my Olympus E-M5. The camera wasn’t really for me and since JB HiFi was practically giving away the NEX 6 and 16-50 kit lens for $509 AUD, I bit the bullet. The store that I went to actually sold out all their stocks; three just on that day alone. It was selling like hotcakes. The very helpful sales lady had to call four other branches to find a stock for me. After about half an hour over the phone, she found one about 45 minutes drive from where I was.

This is not really a review of the NEX 6 and there is no point in reviewing something that is already discontinued and replaced by the A6000. But anyway …

There are a few things that I don’t like with the NEX 6. The menu is just terrible. It’s not even divided into sections so there is no way to quickly navigate to a particular setting. However, the there is a display mode in the rear LCD that allows you to change important settings such as the output quality, focusing modes, white balance, etc… Unfortunately, there are no custom presets that you could save for easy recall and since the image stabilisation setting is hidden deep in the menus, there really is no quick way to switch from casual shooting to landscape photography. The kit lens is also the electronic zoom type and there is a significant lag in response time when you zoom in and out. It’s quite difficult to precisely get to a particular focal length by feel alone. I’m a very tactile person and this is what irritates me the most. However, the size of the 16-50 kit is very much preferable to the gigantic 18-55 kit that came with the other NEX releases. I think that the trade-off between irritating, inaccurate zoom and lens size is fair.

What I do like about the NEX 6 is that it has enough knobs and buttons to do real photography. It’s got the mode dial on top and a wheel under it to configure settings depending on the shooting mode that you are in. There is another multipurpose wheel behind the camera that allows you to set different parameters such as exposure compensation, focus points, ISO, etc… Quite neat really. What I really like about the NEX 6 and Sony cameras in general (I used to own an A700) is that the AEL button can be configured to be persistent. You can meter the seen, click on AEL and it will keep that exposure until you click it again. You do not have to hold it unlike other camera brands. Very handy when you are doing panoramic stitching or when you decide to shoot in pseudo-manual mode.

Anyway, what really matters is how this camera captures what you’re aiming at. I notice that it tends to underexpose so I have the exposure compensation set to +0.3 most of the time. The kit lens is also amazingly sharp. Here is a sample output at ISO 1600, 16mm at f4, completely untouched straight from the camera:Image

I think this toy camera is a keeper. The way it fits my hands is just right. I don’t mind if the shutter sounds like a paper stapler. It fits in my small bag and I can bring it anywhere and it takes nice photos. For me, that’s what matters most.

 

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Olympus E-M1: Fatal flaw kills it

Before I start, let me be very clear about this. I am a fan of Olympus and micro 4/3rds cameras in general. I purchased their E-P1, eagerly awaited for the E-P3 (which I luckily got for free by winning a photo contest), bought the OMD E-M5 … and acquired the OMD E-M1. I firmly believe that m43 is just the right size for cameras to be very portable without sacrificing image quality. I am a fan and I could probably sustain this expensive hobby of mine with just m43 cameras and their tiny but fantastic lenses.

I have always felt that the E-M1 was THE perfect camera for my needs. I don’t have to repeat the awesome reviews of this camera in this blog. I would even predict that it’s bound to become the camera of the year for 2013. And that’s why I bought it.

I am a landscape of photographer by heart. My portfolio will tell you that. It means shooting in low light and long exposures at possibly insane ISOs are my thing. It is with a heavy heart that I’m telling you that the E-M1 fatally, terribly, horribly fails in this area of photography. The E-M1 has the noisiest sensor I have ever seen in my entire life.

Let me show you a sample dark image (lens cap on) taken by my older E-M5 at ISO 400, 60 seconds:

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And here is the image captured by the E-M1 at the same ISO 400, 60 seconds:

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Zoom in and you will see the horrible mess that the E-M1 is. I have never seen worse chroma noise in ANY camera EVER. My iPhone 4S takes better, cleaner photos at ISO 1600, 8 seconds.

Hey, if you don’t believe me, there is an entire thread in Flickr discussing this problem: http://www.flickr.com/groups/om-d_user/discuss/72157637548153684/

It is quite obvious that the E-M1 is targeted at landscape photography otherwise it won’t have extreme weather sealing and live-bulb mode. It is a fatal flaw that they neglected to test the sensor in shooting conditions that it was meant for. 

Even at native ISO 200, shooting for 20 seconds will result in very noisy images. This is very unacceptable. 

I decided to move on and promptly returned the camera in just 4 days from the day I got it. The sales person at JB HiFi was very helpful. He did not question my integrity after we tested another stock in store and he saw for himself how bad the images were. 

Thank you for the short ride Olympus. Maybe the next iteration of the OMD will open up my wallet again. As for now I will continue shooting with my E-M5.

 

Update:

It turns out that the E-M1 uses a Panasonic sensor and NOT the awesome Sony sensor that is in the E-M5. This explains the huge difference in image quality.

Read about it here: http://www.43rumors.com/surprise-olympus-e-m1-uses-a-panasonic-sensor/

Nikon Df Initial Impressions

Last Monday I managed to quickly test the very new Nikon Df in one of the retail stores here in Brisbane. At that time I also happen to have my old Nikon FM3A with 50/1.4 AiS with me and still loaded with an unfinished roll of the discontinued Kodak Ektachrome slide film. The good thing is I actually got to test my fully manual lens with the Df to check if I can at least nail the focus without the help of a split prism finder. 

The salesperson was very kind and very helpful and he was there to teach me how this camera works. The Df is not your typical digital SLR. It has way more physical dials than my FM3A and each one of them behave differently. 

My initial impression was “wow this is lighter than I thought!”. Being a D700 owner, the Df is definitely light. It probably weighs closer to my much smaller Pentax K5. I have mixed feelings about this. Light is good but then you can’t help but think if the Df has more plastic than metal in it compared to the tank that is the D700. I wonder…

My second impression was that the Df is thicker and taller than my FM3A. It’s bulkier. The size matches the new 50/1.8G that was attached to it quite nicely. The grip though does not feel right. There is no “catch” for your middle finger that would help you grip the camera when you are fiddling the multiple dials with your index finger. 

I couldn’t help but to start taking shots inside the shop. Since this is a display unit, naturally it won’t have any strap. I had to be very careful not to drop it. Like I said, the grip isn’t quite right so I made sure that both my hands were always holding on to the camera. I am a very tactile person. Touch is very very important for me. This is why I’m still using a very old IBM Model M keyboard for my iMac. That is why I suck at any ballgame that I do not have direct contact with the ball (tennis, baseball, etc…). Unfortunately the Df is one of those cameras that doesn’t feel right for me unlike the Olympus E-M1 that fits like a glove. In practice, this may not be much of a problem because you will be using a neck strap so the chances of it dropping while shooting is almost nil. It will be a problem though when you are setting it up on a tripod or when you attach the heavy 70-200/2.8 and have to rely on your weaker left hand to carry the whole weight of the camera and lens. Basically, your right hand is just there to work on the dials and buttons and not much else. I have a theory on why they made the grip this way which I will discuss later.

Dials. I love physical dials. I have never felt this way since I bought my Canon G10. Dials for ISO, aperture, shutter speed, shooting mode, exposure compensation. What’s not to like? If only they behave the same way. What I mean is, to turn the shutter dial for example you have to push a button on top of the dial. To turn the shooting mode dial, you have to pull it up first. To turn the ISO dial you push a very tiny button outside of the dial. And so on… The most annoying is the awkward aperture dial which is situated in front of the body and quite small for what it does. Hello! Aperture adjustment is probably one of the most important dials for adjusting exposure. People who are used to shooting with film cameras for example usually peg the shutter speed to the film’s rated speed and adjust the aperture accordingly as the light changes. That small aperture dial doesn’t cut it. And if you have short fingers like I do, adjusting it without taking your right hand away from the grip is not good. And what the hell is with that tiny PASM dial?! It only adds to the confusion. For example, if the mode is set to A but the shutter dial is set to 125, which one is the source of truth? You are forced to double-check that you are indeed in A mode and check in the viewfinder if the shutter speed does automatically change as you change the aperture with that clumsy dial. If you feel macho and set it to M mode but the shutter dial is set to the weird 1/3 speed, where is the source of truth? That PASM dial is totally unnecessary. My FM3A doesn’t have it. The FM2 doesn’t have it. Nobody shoots in S mode anyway (those who do are those who do not understand exposure). 

I can probably live with the dial annoyances (except for that aperture dial) but for me the biggest annoyance is the grip. For a camera as bulky as the Df, it deserves a better grip. My theory is that the grip has to be made that way so that they can position that awkward aperture dial in that location. That’s two really annoying “features” put side by side. It’s no use complaining when you can’t offer a suggestion so here’s mine: the aperture dial should have been positioned on the left hand side of the body near the lens mount so you can operate it with your left thumb. That way it would feel more natural for us film shooters because that is how we adjust the aperture wheel in our lenses. Or better yet, make the aperture dial big and concentric with the lens mount so that it will feel exactly like how real lenses with aperture adjustments work. By doing this, you can now have a grip that has a catch for your middle finger so you can hold the camera with just your right hand without fear of dropping it. Both problems solved!  You’re welcome.

The sensor would have been nice. At 16Mp, it’s really not bigger than my 12Mp D700 in terms of image size but a significant increase in terms of file size. I have not compared a D4 image with a D700 so I can’t comment on the quality. What I can say though is that I really love the film-like noise profile of my D700.

My verdict? I’ll pass until they redesign the aperture and PASM dials and improved the grip.   

 

On Ken Rockwell

Why oh why would I even write about Ken Rockwell?

He is easily one of the most hated in the industry. That’s why.

If you haven’t read or heard about him then you are one of the lucky few. It probably means you are out there shooting instead of lurking in forums and hurling shit at other “photographers”. Some forums even have strict rules of “no KR discussions”. Some “togs” are very quick to tell n00bs not to read Ken Rockwell.

But WHY?!

Here’s my own conclusion based on common observation: Those who hate him are primarily jealous gear heads who can’t stand the blunt opinions of KR.

Hey, Rockwell isn’t perfect and some of his views are kinda outrageous. Consider his opinion on not using tripods for example. I’m not sure if he is just masochistic but I will bet my unused Nikon D700 that I can take better photos than him if we go on a one-on-one photoshoot contest on the same location as long as he doesn’t use a tripod. I can guarantee that I will have more keepers and more interesting shots than him. Does that make me a Rockwell hater? Far from it. Have a read on his other articles especially those that tackle composition and FARTing and why your gear does not matter. Every newbie should read them. If you visited Rockwells page and totally missed his excellent tutorials then there is no denying that you are a gear whore. Yes, Rockwell is a gear head. What differentiates him from other gear heads is that the guy can shoot. Compare him with FroKnowsFoto or Kai of DigitalRev (if you don’t know them then consider yourself lucky for the second time). Compare him with those “photographers” who hate him. If you don’t believe me then check out his gallery at 1x.com. Now try submitting your own shots to that group and see if you can even get one image approved by their expert curators. Gear whores, on the other hand, think that Rockwell can’t shoot. Guess what, he owns everyone’s dream gear. So if you think that he can’t shoot then truly gear does not matter if you suck at photography. So touche. Every gear whore who hates him is shooting himself on the foot. Gear heads hate him because they can’t beat him. Rockwell is everything a gear whore wants to become but can’t. Rockwell can buy any gear he wants yesterday. Heck he could probably get any camera before they are even released. I said BUY. Not borrow. Kai or Fro don’t even own the gear they “review”. Rockwell BUYS his gear. He buys them and make very blunt reviews about them. Fan boys will kill anyone who makes blunt criticisms about their chosen brand. That’s why they hate him. Gear whores feel like Rockwell just told them that their mothers are ugly. They feel that it’s cool and that it makes them more credible if they hate Rockwell. They can’t accept the fact that after they upgraded to the latest and greatest camera and acquired the holy trinity of lenses their photos still suck. Rockwell was right after all!!!

I’m not saying that Rockwell is God but some say he is the Chuck Norris of photography. If you have not read about that then consider yourself unlucky. It’s easily one of the funniest posts I have read.

I’m not saying you should believe whatever Rockwell says but he is more credible than any other “photography” magazine when it comes to gear reviews. It’s quite funny because there won’t be Rockwell haters if they did not visit his website frequently. How could you hate someone at first glance? You have got to be a frequent visitor to develop a hatred for the guy. These same gear whores keep coming back for more! And rightly so. Rockwell is easily one of the most honest reviewers out there unlike magazines who are scared to say something bad for fear of being abandoned by gear manufacturers.

So you really hate Rockwell? Then I would like to see your photo gallery.

In Praise of the Pentax K5/K5II

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I have been using my Pentax K5 for roughly 20 months now. During this time, I got one lens glued to the K5: a cheap Sigma 17-70mm/2.8-4.5 that you can buy brand new for more or less $300. I did buy a no-name fully manual 50mm/1.7 but it didn’t really get used at all. It was practically 20 months of one camera one lens.

To be honest, I did not expect much from the K5. After all, I already have a Nikon D700. I was in a store (which I wouldn’t name) wanting to test the K5. It was their only stock. I would have been buying a display model. I asked if they could give me a discount for the “used” item. The sales person didn’t give in but instead he mockingly said “trust me, it’s good as brand new. It’s a Pentax. Nobody wants to touch it.“, to that effect. No, I didn’t buy my K5 from that store. The only reason I bought the K5 was that I was about to go on a vacation to the Philippines and didn’t want to bring my heavy equipment. Philippines is not the safest country for photographers either so in case the K5 got stolen it won’t hurt much. It was a risky decision; a month of holiday with a camera that had a bad track record for reliability (remember the sensor stain and mirror flapping issues?) and one that I was not familiar with. Those issues have been fixed already and Pentax were very supportive of those unfortunate customers who recieved faulty units. Nevertheless, I went on with the purchase.

It was during that month long holiday that I became very close to the K5 and the Sigma lens. I quickly learned all the features and limitations of my equipment. Since it wasn’t CaNikon, other photographers didn’t bother with my gear either so I got to concentrate on just making photos. I didn’t have to pretend that I knew what I was doing just because I was carrying CaNikon gear. I was carrying a Pentax so I must be clueless 🙂 One photographer even (jokingly) commented that I should get a real camera. Such is the joy of being different — you get to do your own business without the need to defend your gear from fanbois.

To summarize the rest of this post, the K5 is the best camera for landscape photography…and then some.

You might want to read my post on essential settings for landscape photography because it supports the rest of this article. Here’s why I strongly think that the K5 is one of the best, if not the best, landscape camera at present.

Let’s tackle the easy one first: resolution. Believe it or not but 16Mp is plenty. I have a 12Mp JPEG shot at ISO 800 with an old camera that I cropped to 2×1 format and printed it at 1m x 0.5m and it looks fantastic. That’s roughly 8Mp printed at 1 meter long. When was the last time you printed that big? At 16Mp, it means I will have 12Mp 2×1 panos or 8Mp 3×1 panos. That’s a lot.

I won’t even bother discussing about high ISO noise because in landscape photography, if you are shooting above ISO 400 then you are doing something silly or you are just too lazy to carry a tripod. I won’t expect people of this kind to even wake up early or stay up very late to take photos. Needless to say that the performance of the K5 sensor is very good. The interwebs should be able to provide you with all the technical measurements and results.

Now for the important features ….

Intelligent timer and mirror lock-up mode. I can see that the engineers at Pentax really used their brains here. MUP is a very important setting for capturing landscapes. With the K5, the moment you engage the timer, it automatically activates MUP to avoid camera shake. Not only that. Since the K5 has in-body image stabilization, the timer also automatically disables SR. Genius!!! I have never seen that being done by other brands. Timer and MUP are usually two entirely separate modes. To disable image stabilization in other camera brands, you will have to remember to turn them off or dig through the menus.

Very flexible exposure bracketing. You can have up to 7 brackets with infinitely flexible intervals. That means you can do, say, 5 frames at 1 stop intervals to span -2 to +2 or use 2.5 stop intervals for a really wide -5 to +5. It’s the HDR photographer’s dream! Wait, there’s more. You can do fully automatic single click bracketing or single-shot type multiple click bracketing. With the former, just click once and the camera goes through all the bracketed exposures unattended. No need to hold the shutter or click multiple times. Wait, because there is even more. You can couple bracketing with the timer and MUP. What does that mean? It means you do not need a shutter release cable even. Just set your brackets, then use the timer mode and since the timer is coupled with MUP you get absolutely shake-free automated bracketing. Photographers of other camera brands do not know what they are missing.

Very easy full manual exposure. Ok so you want to be a pro. Pros shoot only in full manual mode. Automatic modes are for n00bs. So you set your camera to M mode (M for macho), your ISO to it’s lowest native sensitivity and your aperture to the sharpest for your lens. What about your shutter speed? With other cameras, you will wear out your thumb rolling that thumbwheel. Not so with the K5; it has this magic green button. Click it once and it automatically closes the aperture to your intended value and get a metered reading all in one go thus giving you a shutter speed that is very close if not perfect for the intended exposure. Another genius!!! Hey, this feature works with fully manual lenses as well; it simulates stop down metering but in a split second and with a touch of genius. I call that green button the instant pro button.

Five custom setting banks. These are real custom settings banks that persist unless explicitly overwritten. Sorry Nikon folks but unless your camera has U1/U2 then you do not have this at all. Even the most advanced D4 and D800 are crippled in this respect. Why would a landscape photographer need these custom banks? Well, I know several photographers who unintentionally shot an entire session in high ISO because they forgot to set their cameras. Landscape photography may involve people in the scene as well so you need to be able to switch quickly between long exposure and instant capture modes without wrestling your camera.

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Very efficient live view mode. When your camera is a foot above the ground, you wouldn’t want to use the viewfinder. Live view is not only advisable, it will also save you on trips to the chiropractor. The K5 is a very efficient machine. Even with hours of shooting in live view I could get more than 500 hundred shots in a single charge. That’s a lot of shots. As a comparison, my D700 drains batteries in live view mode like a camel drinks water from a bucket.

Full professional-grade weatherproofing. Landscape photographers take their cameras everywhere and whatever mother nature throws at them. Having a camera designed to withstand harsh conditions gives you that extra confidence that you will come home with keepers and get to shoot the day after.

DNG RAW files. Heard about photographers complaining about Photoshop not supporting their RAW files? It’s not the end of the world for them really but it does hurt the bottom line if they have the older version of Photoshop that Adobe abandons as soon as a newer version is released. Getting new RAW file support for the previous version of Photoshop is futile. Forget it. It won’t happen. I, on the other hand, am not worried because my K5 shoots in DNG RAW. Every worthy photo editing software supports DNG out of the box. You want proof? Lightroom 4 is happily editing the RAW files from my unsupported K5 II. How awesome is that?

Of course there are other features that do not mean much to landscape photographers but it would be nice to mention them as well:

Very fast autofocus. Landscape photographers use hyperfocusing. Nonetheless, the K5II can autofocus in complete darkness.

In-body image stabilization. Landscape photographers carry tripods but there are times when you need to shoot in tactical situations like when human figures add a point of interest in the scene.

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It is light. For a camera built like an M1 Abrams, the K5 is light. You can carry it around your neck during long treks.

Sensor dust reduction. For those times when you absolutely need to change lenses during a shoot because absolutely need to bring your holy trinity of lenses plus multiple primes on your family holiday trip.

Seven frames per second. So you can capture the minute movements of the tectonic plates and improve your spray and pray technique. Seriously, you don’t need this.

So that’s it, dear readers. The Pentax K5/K5II in real world scenarios. The best landscape camera you can buy NOW.