Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘mirrorless’:

Objects of Desire (or Vigorous Want, at Least) at PhotoPlus Expo 2016

The exhibits have been taken down at NYC’s Javits Center, and PhotoPlus Expo 2016 is now in the past. It’s always a pleasure to run into friends and dealers while touring the show floor, as we all oooh and ahhh at the shiny new gizmos on display, and start to make mental notes of which ones we’re going to start saving for. Here’s a recap of some of what’s new and what is changing in how we’ll shoot pictures and video this year…

nikon-booth-at-ppe-2016

A Death Spiral for DSLRs?

Well, probably more like a steep loss of altitude. As always, Nikon and Canon were out in force, and lots of fans were there to see and play with their new toys. But the real action was to be found at mirrorless vendors like Sony, and Fuji, and Lumix. I’ve never seen a presentation like Sony’s before. Their range of mirrorless cameras and the vast array of optics they showed drew crowds from the moment the doors opened.

Sony booth at PPE 2016

Sony lenses at PPE 2016

The capabilities of these cameras, both in still and 4K video, are astonishing. It’s why my full-frame DSLRs now spend much of their time on the shelf. It’s also why these cameras are being widely used in professional video production and why companies like Zeiss are making feature-worthy optics to fit them.

It’s no surprise that Fotodiox (about whom I’ve written before) is continually expanding their range of adapters to ensure that virtually any lens can be used with any of the new cameras, in most cases transferring their auto-focus technology at the same time. I love being able to use vintage Leica M-series optics on my Fuji X-E2, particularly for portraiture.

And I’ll never be smart enough to figure out how Lumix (and others) can offer a camera with a 24-480mm optical zoom and a host of other phenomenal features that weighs not much more than my 43-86 Zoom-Nikkor from the late ’60s (still languishing in a desk drawer).

Lensbaby Trio28 at PPE 2016

Accessories of Note

Even though I had very high regard for the unique products they brought to photographers, I’ve never owned a Lensbaby product. It’s probably because, through decades of photojournalism work, I avoided anything that modified the images I produced. But things change, and I was intrigued to learn about their Trio 28 for mirrorless cameras. It produces three versatile effects on a rotating mount over a 28mm lens (effectively 42mm on my Fuji). I played with it at the show, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with it soon.

ThinkTank Red Whips at PPE 2016

I’ve been using Think Tank memory card wallets for years, but wasn’t aware of their full range of products. Here’s one that everyone needs: Red Whips adjustable elastic cable ties. Managing cords and cables at home or on location is a real pain, and a package of these would be the perfect stocking stuffer (along with a pack of our microGAFFER – a favorite on holiday shopping lists year after year!)

Op/Tech USA is a company with a vast range of accessories, some of which I’ve been using for a long time. At PhotoPlus Expo, I tried a new camera strap they call the “Envy” on my Fuji mirrorless. It’s got a slim profile and is padded with memory foam. Op/Tech makes hundreds of products, and I plan to put the Envy strap on all my camera bodies. You’ve gotta love that—just like us—they’re proud to stamp the “Made in the USA” banner on practically all their products, and even produced a behind-the-scenes look into their workshop.

Phoxi FriendsMy best-in-show award for accessories, however, would have to go to Phoxi Friends. Marie Murray, a Canadian children’s photographer, has come up with a range of delightful creatures (with built-in squeakers) that wrap around the barrel of any lens and instantly engage any subject, particularly small children. Any photographer who’s struggled to get and hold the attention of a kid or pet knows how tough that can be. At her modest booth on the fringes of the exhibit floor, I watched dozens of attendees walk away with their new Phoxi Friends.

“Your New York Minute” Photo Contest

Not to forget what all this stuff is for — helping great photographers capture great images — PPE’s first official photo contest was held at the show, with the City of New York as its subject. Some magnificent images were chosen, both in the Amateur and Professional categories. Take a look, and be inspired!

Keep Your Mirrorless and Superzoom Camera Stable with the New Steadybag SB-4

Long exposure of Grand Central Terminal, camera stabilized with

It seems that point-and-shoot cameras have become almost obsolete, now that mirrorless and compact zoom models have filled the gap between the iPhone and full-size DSLRs. We decided that a new Steadybag® was needed to give these new cameras the same kind of support and rock-steady imaging photographers have been getting for many years from our other Steadybags.

So here’s our SB-4, weighing just over a pound and measuring 9.5 x 5.5″. It fits in just about any case or shoulder bag. Whether you’re on a long trek or just shooting locally, image sharpness is one of the basics.

On a recent trip to New York City, I carried my Fuji X-E2 (never without it) along with the new Steadybag. Just as a quick test, I positioned the SB-4 on one of the marble railings overlooking the main concourse of Grand Central Station, set the camera on its lowest ISO and its smallest aperture, and here are the results. The exposure was around 4 seconds, and while the commuters were in motion (who in NYC ever stands still for that long), the rest of the image is tack-sharp.

Steadybag SB-4 for mirrorless cameras minimizes camera shake

Some of the new ‘super zoom” compacts have lenses with optical zooms up to 65x (35mm equivalent of 1200mm or more), and I defy anyone to hand-hold at that magnification and come back with a really sharp image.

At PhotoPlus later this week in New York, I’m going to see just how well our new Steadybag performs with a range of the newest cameras… look for photos here.

“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.