Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘accessories’:

Old Friends, New Perspectives (or: From Exoskeletons to ExoLenses)

Over the past weekend, I had a long catching-up phone conversation with my friend of several decades, former assistant, and great photographer Jock Pottle, who now lives in North Carolina. A few years ago, I wrote in this space about Jock and his Digging Man series of illustrations…

Jock Pottle: Free Me

I still think the conception and execution of Digging Man are truly unique and the finished works are absolutely phenomenal. I also wish I had a connection to the art director of The New Yorker because that is one publication (among many) where the fit would be perfect. Hope you visit his site and agree.

Anyway, after our phone chat, Jock emailed this photo. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how it was done, although that may just speak to my lack of imagination at the time. Can you figure it out? (If you prefer to believe it’s simply one of the great photobombs of all time, I won’t try to stop you.)

Jock Pottle: grasshopper

On to another matter… Earlier this year, during our annual trip to the NAB show in Las Vegas, I spent time at the Zeiss optics booth. As always, their lenses for virtually every format in motion picture, television, and still photography continue to be at the pinnacle of optical design and manufacture (just look at this “sliced Zeiss” they had on display). Over the past 50 years, I’ve used Zeiss lenses on almost every camera I’ve owned and many of those I still work with.

But here’s the reason for this bit of unrestrained fan mail: I discovered that Zeiss has designed a series of three accessory lenses for the iPhone. Not one of those cheap 3-in-1 clip-on lens sets you’re probably aware of; think of these as prime optics (they certainly don’t come cheap.) The brand name on the lenses is Exo and you’d do well to check them out at exolens.com. I carry the iPhone 7, and the inherent macro capabilities of the phone’s camera are really impressive. However, mounting the Exo Macro-Zoom lens (with its integral diffuser) takes iPhone macro shooting to a whole new level.

There is a range of options for mounting the lenses to iPhone models going back a few generations. I use the case with a threaded screw mount into which each of these lenses mounts. The wide-angle and portrait (2x) lenses are just as impressive… here are some before-and-after demos of each:

This is as good a time as any to invoke the old adage that any professional photographer has used to answer a question asked hundreds of times — “What’s the best camera?”

And the answer, true now as it has always been — “the one you have with you.” And since I always have my iPhone at hand, it’s what I rely on every single day.

A Minor Rant on Camera Straps

The weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal is always full of great articles in the Off Duty and Review sections, but a recent small feature on camera straps got me really riled up.

Last week I offered to photograph an extended family visiting one of the beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. When I was handed their Canon EOS 5D, my willingness to take what became a very nice photo was accompanied by my insistence that they replace the strap as soon as possible. (“It came with the camera,” is—invariably—the response I receive for my earnest pleas.)

I’ve noted before the unfortunate (and dangerous) practice of wearing a ‘steal me’ advertisement around your neck, where the strap included with your camera lets the whole world know exactly which high-dollar camera you’re carrying. All manufacturers seem to be guilty of this; from their perspective, it’s simply Branding 101. For the customer, though, it begs an extra measure of vigilance while out and about.

WSJ camera strap feature So back to the WSJ: the photo shows a roundup of so-called “dapper” straps—none of which looks particularly comfortable—priced from 29 to 140 dollars. You’d be far better off with a strap from OP/TECH, superbly designed and made in the USA. I have found their Envy Strap to be perfect for both my mirrorless Fuji X-series bodies and my full-frame Nikon SLRs with long lenses. And the price can’t be beat: under 20 dollars. They’re comfortable, reliable, and they don’t attract the wrong kind of attention.

OP/TECH camera strap on Fuji X-E2

Raj, our technology director and blog contributor in his own right, goes one further and uses our microGAFFER tape to obscure the logos on his Fuji X-E2. Not only does it make the camera look more generic to thieves (perhaps even a touch dilapidated); since it leaves no residue, there’s no need to worry about ruining the camera’s finish when time comes to peel and resell.

Raj's Fuji with microGAFFER

Back in the days when I carried as many as three cameras around my neck and two more on my shoulders (zoom lenses didn’t exist), the strap of choice was known as the “Schwalberg Strap”, likely purchased from Marty Forscher’s Professional Camera Repair in New York. Now, it’s two cameras at most, with zoom lenses that can cover just about any optical range.

The bottom line is to spend your money on the things that really help you make better images, rather than just looking the part. More about that shortly, when I address the remarkable supplemental iPhone optics from ExoLens, which feature Zeiss glass.

Allen shooting Nikon tele lens

“My X-Trans-Formation”: First Impressions of the Fuji X System from a Canon DSLR User

Once again, here are thoughts from our Technology Director, Raj Tavadia, on recent changes he’s made to his gear, and in a larger sense, his approach to photography. — AG

So there I was, making the leap to mirrorless after years of lugging various Canons everywhere.

Unboxing Fuji X-E1

It was a surreal moment when I first held the box containing my new Fuji X-E1. Obviously, I knew the camera would be vastly smaller than my beloved Canon 5D Mark II, but I was still taken aback by the sheer tininess of the thing. And the weight — wow. Things were going to be different.

The second indication that I was living in a different world was, upon connecting my Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens to the X-E1, I was prompted by the camera to download and install new lens firmware. Not the sort of thing I’m used to, but I’m not complaining. One of the reasons I took the plunge was the chorus of “Fuji is leading the way in post-purchase support” I’d heard over and over. For example: recently — literally years after releasing the X100 — Fuji posted new firmware for the camera that makes major improvements, even though the X100 is long-replaced by the X100s (which may itself be supplanted next year, if the “X200” rumors are correct).

Fuji X-E1 firmware update message

The X-E1’s ergonomics are near-great. The body itself feels solid and confident, being based on the classic Leica rangefinders. The rear screen and electronic viewfinder are slightly laggy, and would benefit from an upgraded CPU (which has recently become available in the form of the just-released X-E2). Compared to the grip on the Canon 5D2, though, the Fuji’s grip area is lacking. Perhaps this was deemed less important as mirrorless bodies and lenses are so much lighter than those of DSLRs, but I believe they fell short here. There are aftermarket grips from Fuji and others, but those come with various caveats. The most egregious mistake comes via Fuji’s own HG-XE1, which feels great in the hand, but — inexcusably! — blocks access to the battery/memory card door. For a camera with fairly dismal battery life, this should never have happened. The Really Right Stuff grip kit comes highly recommended, but at nearly $200, is quite a bit more spendy than I’d like. I’m sure it’s very, very well-made. Just not for me.

Top view: Fuji X-E1 and Leica M3

Making pictures with the X-E1 feels very different than doing so with the 5D2. I haven’t been a “Green Mode” (a.k.a. “Idiot Mode”) shooter for years, but there is definitely a learning curve associated with this camera. The biggest difference is with autofocus. It is, to be very kind, weak.

The X-E1 uses Contrast Detect Autofocus (CDAF) while high-end DSLRs usually use Phase Detect Autofocus (PDAF). One of the hallmarks of CDAF is that awful period where the lens travels up and down its focal range, attempting to maximize sharpness at some AF point. Usually this period lasts about one second, although it often feels like twenty minutes. To someone dutifully trying to capture the critical moment of cuteness, the CDAF hunt is the bane of his existence. The new X-E2 goes a long way toward solving this, bringing on board the PDAF system from the X100s and thereby a much faster time-to-focus, particularly in low light. While no one is claiming that the X System cameras are suited to sports photographers yet (and their less-well-paid counterparts: parents of small children), there does seem to be hope for the future.

The practical upshot of this situation is that X-E1 and X-Pro1 shooters need to become comfortable with manual and zone focusing. An interesting side note to this is that a significant portion of our community (and it really is one) enjoy taking vintage glass and adapting it to the X System. There are adaptors, at various quality and price points, for hundreds of lenses from Nikon, Canon, Leica, Voigtländer, Olympus, Sony, Yaschica, and others. You’ll usually lose autofocus abilities connecting via these adapters, but if you’re already focusing manually, you’ve effectively lost nothing.

An embarassingly over-shot pose

Capture speed is also a weak point. Even with the fastest SanDisk Extreme SD card, I spend entirely too much time glaring at the Card Access light. Yes, I have lost shots thanks to it being impossible to resume shooting once the “buffer flush” begins. I suspect the X-E1’s on-board memory buffer is both smaller and slower than that of the 5D2… which I didn’t expect, given that the Canon is a camera from 2008, and those particular pieces of hardware should be much smaller, cheaper, and faster by now. Of course, this might be a blessing in disguise, as I absolutely used to abuse this ability to play “papa razzi” with my baby. After having edited tens of thousands of almost-identical images taking up hundreds of gigabytes of space, though, I have learned my lesson. Promise.

However! On the whole, my experience has been positive. The lenses in particular have been wonderful. As I mentioned in my previous post, my walkaround lens was the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L (Mark I). Now, I head out with the 35mm (effectively 53mm) and the 18mm (effectively 27mm) Fujinon primes. My standard bag is the Domke J-5XB (loaded with a couple rolls of microGAFFER, of course). But yes, it is quite possible to spend a day out with a couple of lenses (and spare batteries) stuffed into various pockets.

The “weaknesses” of the system have forced me to become a more competent photographer; as in any kind of art, putting constraints on yourself can be invigorating. Back when I used the Canon, I already did “zoom with my feet”; now I have no choice. I was a somewhat-competent manual focuser; now I’m getting better at that, too. I already knew predicting where to stand was a crucial part of action photography; now that discipline is even more top-of-mind. I’m excited and inspired again about the craft, and can’t wait to see what the future holds for me, Fujifilm, and the rest of the industry.