Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 - A Year in Review

2012 is no doubt the year of Full Frame cameras.  We have had no less than 9 full frame cameras introduced in 2012 from Canon, Nikon, Sony and Leica, and the price of an entry full frame has finally come under $2000 (D600) for a new and current model.  I expect 2013 we will see the price will drop further to around $1700 for a full frame body.

On the mirrorless front, it's equally exciting. Great offerings from Sony with NEX-6, Fuji with XE-1, Olympus with OM-D EM-5 and Panasonic with GH-3.  All are fantastic and very capable cameras.

The most innovative camera company of 2012 has to be Sony.  The RX-100 basically redefines the premium point & shoot category and has made a lot of damage in sales to the likes of Canon G and Panasonic LX series of cameras.  The LX-7 has been on fire-sale.  Canon's G1X is basically selling at the same price as the RX-100 but simply can not compete with the RX-100's portability and great lens.  Let's not forget the mouth-watering RX-1.  What a marvelous camera and it's without peers!

The most disappointing company to me, is Canon.  I have invested heavily in the Canon system, but I haven't seen much in ways of innovation.  The EOS-M is so lame that it's been often made fun of. I simply can't imagine how a big company like Canon can make a mirrorless camera like the EOS-M in the year of 2012. What happened to its innovation, the technological lead that it enjoyed for years?  If you haven't read Roger Sicala's "A Corporate Connotation", it's an enlightening read. For me, I voted with my wallet and bought an NEX-6 and the E-mount 50mm f1.8 OSS this year.

Shamefully, I did not accomplish my goal of completing two photo-books. One of them is near completion, though, just working on a design for the cover and some final fine tuning, but this proved to be difficult for me as I am not artistically inclined.

One thing I am quite happy with is that I took a lot of pictures in 2012 and updated this blog with more frequency than 2011.  Sadly, my photographic skills hasn't improved much, if at all. Either I have reached the plateau or I haven't been trying hard enough.

In terms of gear, not much has changed.  Got rid of all entry level Canon bodies (XSi & T2i) and gave my NEX-5N to Dillon.  We can now share a pool of lenses and lens adapters.  Still have my Canon 1D Mark III, which will be my action camera for a while. Strangely, I no longer have a strong urge to buy a full frame camera, though I would still like to buy a 5D II or 6D, but in no hurry. With money from the XSi/T2i and some other stuff I sold, I bought a Sony NEX-6 with the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens, an E-mount 50mm f1.8 OSS lens (what a fantastic lens it is!) and a Pentax Q with standard lens. The only camera I want in 2013, is a full frame camera. This may even be a 5D classic, which I came very close to buying at $530. As I said, there is no hurry for a full frame. I am completely happy with the NEX-6.

Megan - NEX-6 & 50mm f1.8 OSS @ f1.8. Click for larger.

Pentax Q - First Look

One thing perplexes me for a long time is how camera manufacturers set initial prices for some of their products.  The Sigma SD1, Nikon J1/J2, Pentax K-01, and the Pentax Q are all examples of setting the price very high initially, and some of these products would eventually dumped at less than half the price of the original price less than a year later. The Pentax Q is no doubt a unique product, but other than being very cute and small, is has no attributes that can compete with slightly larger mirrorless cameras in the same category, and yet, it was priced at more than $800 with a kit lens. I do understand that manufacturers need to recoup their R&D investment by setting the initial price higher, and there will always be early adapters who would buy them.  My view is that, unless the product is truly unique, like the Leica M9/Monochom or Sony RX-1, where there are no competitors in their product segment, setting the initial price too high will just alienate their loyal customers and ignored by new buyers.

The American Falls - Pentax Q with 8.5mm f1.9 lens. Click for larger.

The Nikon J1 and Pentax Q cost about the same when introduced, and at the end of product life cycle, less than a year later, both are selling at less than half of the new price.  If both of these products were something like $400 to start with, I think the situation would be very different.  Enough rant, on to the Pentax Q.

The Pentax Q is a neat little camera.  Cute as a button, and almost toy like in appearance, but it's a very well built camera, similar to the Panasonic LX series.  In fact, holding both the LX2 and Pentax Q with the 01 standard lens at the same time, both weigh about the same and have similar heft, though the LX-2 is actually slightly larger. The selling point of the Q is of course its lens interchangeable feature.  Mine comes with the 8.5mm (about 50mm) f1.9 standard lens.

Salt Truck - Pentax Q & 8.5mm f1.9 lens. Click for larger.

Despite its small size, handling is surprisingly good.  Better than a lot of point & shoots with similar size.

Image quality is nowhere near the NEX-6.  If image quality is your primary concern, this is not the camera for you.  But, I find it very good for the small sensor, especially when shooting RAW, up to ISO 400 is very usable.  The 01 standard lens that came with my Q is not particularly good, not sure if it's the sensor or the lens, but pictures taken with the combination is not very sharp.  Since I don't have other lenses, I can't say if it's the lens.  I have ordered a C-mount and D-mount adapters for it, but it will take a few weeks to arrive from China.

Is it worth the money?  It depends on how much you pay for it. This camera does allow you to use some very wide angle c-mount lenses which are not usable on M4/3 or NEX.  Even the smaller D-mount lenses can be used.  So, it's a fun camera.  Buy it for its fun factor, but not for its image quality, which is not bad but not on-par with M4/3 or APS-C sensors.

Mellow Yellow - Pentax Q & 8.5mm f1.9 Lens. Click for larger.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sony NEX-6: Working with Manual Focus Lenses

The NEX-6 is my third NEX camera.  I started with the original NEX-5, then the 5N and now the NEX-6. The lack of a built-in viewfinder for the 5/5N was an issue for me.  I later acquired the external EVF for the 5N and was quite happy with it, except that it acted like a hook and often caught on to things.  Another issue for me was that there is no locking mechanism for the up/down movement and it often moved when I wanted it stayed put. As soon as I saw the NEX-6, I knew I had to upgrade.

The EVF on the NEX-6 is essentially the same as the external one for the 5N/5R/F3.  Very high resolution and eminently usable, particularly when using manual focus lenses. Now that it's built into the body of the NEX-6, it's even better.

Though the peeking function has been a blessing for using very long lenses on the NEX camera, it's unfortunately not precise enough when depth of field is thin.  Focus fine tuning is still required and I almost always do, and do it with MF Assist feature, which enlarges (zooms in) the area of focus.  On the 5/5N, this was an awkward thing to do, as the MF Assist is button "C" at the bottom.  Engaging it means shifting your thumb down.  On the NEX-6, the AEL button can be reprogrammed to MF Assist.  This button is much closer to the thumb and it takes no efforts at all to engage it.

The changes above have made using manual focus lenses a lot easier.  One feature I wish Sony would add as a firmware update, is to allow the wheel under the mode dial to be programmed as exposure compensation if an auto focus lens is not detected.

Overall, I am very impressed with the NEX-6.  It's by far the best NEX camera Sony has made.  I like it even more than the flagship NEX-7.  Well done, Sony.

Waiting for the bus - NEX-6 & Jupiter-9 85mm f2.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sony NEX-6: Initial Impression - Part V: Image Quality

Continued from Part IV.

Any one who owns a NEX-5N will pretty much knows what kind of image quality can be expected from the NEX-6.  The image sensor on the NEX-6 is based on the one from NEX-5N, with the exception of on-sensor phase detect pixels. In theory, these phase detect pixels should count as dead pixels since they don't produce picture elements and have to be mapped out in firmware when picture is created, just like mapping out dead pixels.  

I was very happy with the image quality of the NEX-5N.  Superb dynamic range and very good high ISO quality. The only thing I didn't like much, was the jpeg from the camera. It just wasn't anywhere as good as what can be obtained from RAW conversion. The NEX-6, however, has a very good jpeg engine. If you shoot only jpeg, you will be very pleased. The colour fidelity is improved and noise/compression artifacts have been mostly eliminated in low ISO. Comparing NEX-6 jpegs to my 5D classic jpegs, I still see some difference, that the Canon is slightly better, but not by much.

Even though the camera can shoot to ISO 25600, I wouldn't bother with anything higher 6400.  I would be comfortable with ISO 3200 and use ISO 6400 if I have to, but anything over that, is basically for marketing claims.  Sure you can make pictures with it, especially with black & white, but the noise level would be too much, and details too little.

I can't claim the NEX-6 has the best image quality of all mirrorless cameras, because I haven't used the others, but it's better than any Canon Rebel/60D/7D can produce. It's good enough for me.

Elevator on Skylon Tower - NEX-6 & Minolta RF Rokkor-X 250mm f5.6, ISO 800.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sony NEX-6: Initial Impression - Part IV: 16-50mm Kit Lens Continued

Continued from Part III.

Couple days ago I was photographing some night scenes with the NEX-6 and the 16-50mm lens.  The camera/lens was consistently unable to lock focus so most of the time it just focus itself to infinity, but sometimes doesn't.  So I thought, no problem, I would focus the lens by hand. A strange thing happened.  When I turn the focusing ring, the lens zooms.  It turns out, I had to set the focus method to DMF in the menu.  What this does, is that once the camera finishes focusing, you can turn the focusing ring to focus while half-pressing the shutter button.  The camera will automatically enlarges the focus area and you can then do the focus fine tuning.  Not exactly intuitive like the Canon USM lenses where you just turn the focusing ring to do focus adjustment after the camera achieves AF.

Skylon Tower - Sony NEX-6 & 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 @ 16mm f8. Click for larger.

I also had a chance to put the camera/lens on a tripod.  This is the preferred method of testing lenses.  I did find that the lens is slightly sharper when used on the tripod, especially on lower speeds.  On the wide end of 16mm at f8, the image quality is nearly as good as the 16mm f2.8 pancake lens, especially at the edges where both lenses are about equal.  The 16mm pancake is much better corrected for distortion though.

The lens is progressively better as the focal length increases, both in terms of sharpness and distortion.  It's very good at the long end of 50mm.  Very little distortion and is quite sharp wide open.  But then again, wide open is at f5.6.

The American Falls - NEX-6 & 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 @50mm. Slightly cropped. Click for larger.

After a few days of use, my take on the lens is that if you ignore the very bad distortion at 16mm, which Lightroom 4 has a profile for this lens and can correct it easily and quite effectively, the lens is very versatile.  The small size and wide angle have a lot of appeal as a kit lens, and it's not too expensive when bought as a kit with the NEX-6.  In fact, I am starting to like this little lens.

Light Shades - NEX-6 & 16-50mm f3.5-5.6. Click for larger.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I would like to wish all my readers a safe and very happy holiday season.  May little elves make whatever you have wished for, and Santa will deliver them to you. Don't forget to take lots of pictures in this joyous season. You will treasure them later, guaranteed.

Megan & William in snow - Canon 5D & EF 85mm f1.2L

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sony NEX-6: Initial Impression - Part III: 16-50mm Kit Lens

Continued from Part II.

The Sony 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 lens has two very desirable features: wide angle at 24mm (35mm full frame equivalent), and it's a pancake zoom, thus very small.  I am not a lens snob, but I don't have fondness for kit lenses that come with cameras.  The very worse ones that I have used, unfortunately, are Sony E-mount kit lenses.  They are relatively sharp, but the distortion is horrendous.  This include the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6.

The 16-50mm kit lens has an electric zoom, which I don't care for. I very much prefer mechanical zooms. The zoom action is actually quite noisy and not very precise. It's great for video, but not for still photography in my opinion.  In terms of build quality, I think the 18-55mm kit lens is better.  The 16-50mm lens feels more plastic and cheap, not to mention is has a weird 40.5mm filter thread. Why not make it 49mm like the others?  The lens is not exactly small in diameter.

My particular copy of the 16-50mm kit lens is not very sharp at the wide end of 16mm, even at f8.  At longer focal lengths, it performs much better. What really turns me off, though, is the barrel distortion at 16mm.  Have a look at the picture below:

RAW vs JPEG - NEX-6 & 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS. Click for larger.

On the left, is a thumb nail from the RAW file, and on the right is the jpeg version (I shot RAW+JPEG in B&W).  Just look at how bad the native distortion is.  Yes, correction is easy, and Lightroom 4.3 has a lens profile for it, but after correction, the lens is no longer 16mm wide, as you can see in the picture above in the jpeg version.

The other major defect is how severe the vignetting is at 16mm.  You can see the (very) dark corners in the RAW picture above.  Perhaps that's why the lens doses not come with a hood, as a hood might make it worse. Again, it's easy to correct, but it tells you how much compromise was designed into this lens.

In actual use, if you don't shoot pictures with straight lines, it's not so bad. At 16mm f8, it's almost as good as the 16mm f2.8 pancake at f8, though the 16mm f2.8 is slightly sharper at the center. The wider angle of 24mm equivlant is definitely a plus, but if you are going to use this lens as your everyday, primary lens, you may be disappointed, especially if you care about image quality.

New condos - NEX-6 & 16-50mm kit lens @ 21mm f8. Click for larger.

In Part IV, I will have more to say about this lens.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sony NEX-6: Initial Impression - Part II

Continued from Part I.

If you are upgrading from the NEX-5/5N, you may find yourself looking for the on/off switch on top of the camera when you try to turn off the NEX-6.  On the NEX-5/5N, the power switch is on top of the camera, separate from the shutter release button, but on the NEX-6, the switch is located around the shutter release. Much more convenient, but take a few days to get used to its new location.

A welcome change I LOVE is the flat bottom of the camera. On the NEX-5/5N, there is a hump over the tripod mount. That was a silly design as you can't securely put the camera on the tripod, especially with an Arca Swiss style quick release plate.  The bottom is now flat on the NEX-6, like every other camera on earth except the 5/5N.

Urban Landscape - NEX-6 & 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 Kit Lens. Click for larger.

One thing that drove me nuts with the NEX-5N and the external EVF, is how slow it is to switch between the rear LCD and the EVF when waken up from sleep mode.  The NEX-5/5N is already slow waking up from sleep, and with the EVF on, it was nightmarish.  Even when you have your eye on the EVF when you wake the camera, it would first turn on the rear LCD, and then turn it off and switch to the EVF.  I cursed it with clenched teeth more often than I had liked.  The NEX-6 has fixed all this.  First the turned on time has been significantly reduced, and waking up from sleep is also very fast.  If your eye is already on the EVF when you wake it up from sleep, it goes right to the EVF, almost instantly.

In general, the NEX-6 is slightly more snappy in operation, compared to the 5/5N, but the menu structure is still a mess.  The menu system in the NEX-5/5N/6 seemingly has no organization.  Various settings are spread all over the place.  Finding less often used items in the menu system is an exercise in frustration.  Perhaps Sony should take a look at how Canon organizes its menu system in its cameras.

Next time, I will talk about the 16-50mm kit lens in Part III.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sony NEX-6: Initial Impression - Part I

I am very thankful that I was able to buy the NEX-6 for a very low price yesterday, thanks Deano.  The low price was mostly due to a scratch on the LCD screen, but it doesn't bother me at all.  Played with it and shot a some pictures.  Below is my initial impression.  I will update as I get to know the NEX-6 better.

The NEX-6 has more in common with the NEX-7 than the NEX-5/N/R.  It's physically larger (thicker and taller) and heavier than the 5 series, but fits better in my hand, mostly due to the chunkier hand grip.  The built is excellent.  It looks stronger and more upscale with its matte finish than the shiny and plastic-like finish on the NEX-5/5N.

Size with kit lens: NEX-5N on the left, NEX-6 on the right. Click for larger.

In addition to the mode dial, which I like a lot, there is a wheel under neath it.  The position of the wheel is near perfect as that's where my thumb rests when holding the camera.  Depending on which mode you are in, say Aperture Priority (A), Programmed (P) or Manual (M), turning the wheel will change the aperture.  In Shutter Speed Priority (S), the wheel changes the shutter speed.  During playback, it can be used to zoom  in and out of the picture.  Very convenient.  There might be other functions that this wheel does that I haven't found out yet.

There is also a new AEL (exposure lock) button right above the menu button.  This button is programmable and I have it set to MF Assist.  When using manual focus lenses, pressing this key will enlarge the focus area to aid focus fine tuning.  One of the complaints many NEX-5/5N users have, is that the menu key and Delete/MF assist key can not be swapped, and the menu key can not be re-programmed.  The reason is that the MF assist key is at the bottom of the camera.  When you need to enlarge the focus area, your thumb has to shift down to press it, but because the camera is so small, this action will cause your grip on the camera to loosen.  It's very awkward.  I have gotten used to it, but never liked it.  But now the new AEL (MF Assist) button is placed above the menu key, my thumb does not have to travel very far to engage it.  In my opinion, this is one of the best new features on the NEX-6 for anyone who uses the MF Assist feature alot.

I have hate the new strap lugs.  They dangle and make noise when the camera is moved, since I don't use a strap.  Very annoying.  I like the fixed lugs on the NEX-5/5N.

Eggs anyone? - Sony NEX-6 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2 @ f1.2. Click for larger.

That's it for today.  Will continue on the next post.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Resistance Is Futile - Here Comes the NEX-6 & Pentax Q

Thanks to Deano who tipped me off that the Henry's Outlet store has a 25% off on everything, and told me that they had an NEX-7 on sale.  Seeing that we have survived the Apocalypse of December 21, 2012, I went to the Outlet store today but didn't find the NEX-7.  There was an open-box NEX-6 as well as as a Fuji XE-1 with the 18-55mm lens, but I was a bit late, only the X-Pro-1 body is available in the Fuji section.  Tried it, and didn't like it much, though the price was good.

The NEX-6 with the 16-50mm kit lens that was there, unfortunately, had a deep scratch on the LCD near the bottom.  Maybe that's why it was still there.  So, $350 more for the new body, or an open-box one with a scratch?  For me it was easy.  That $350 would pay for a nice Sony 50mm f1.8 lens.

On my way out, I noticed a tiny little Pentax-Q sitting in the display case.  Couldn't resist and bought that as well as the price was reasonable.  Purely impulsive buy.  I may return it if I don't find it suit my needs.  Cute as heck though, but I find it too small for my hands.

Tomorrow I will post some initial impressions on the NEX-6, but I can tell it now that I love it.

Sony NEX-6 with 16-50mm kit lens & Pentax Q

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Must, Resist...

I am weak when it comes to camera gear purchases.  The situation is made worse now that I don't have my old NEX-5N, which I am enamored of.  It has excellent image quality and dynamic range.  The Panasonic G1 that I am using now was a good camera, but I find that its high ISO capability leaves me wanting.  The noise over ISO 400 looks like two generations behind the NEX-5N.  In fact, it reminds me of the Canon 1Ds I used to have.  Excellent low ISO, but noisy over ISO 400.

More than a few times I almost pulled the trigger and bought the NEX-6, but kept reminding myself that it would be cheaper after Christmas, and that the Panny G1 will tie me over.  But, I have been spoiled by the NEX-5N.  Sigh.

"Girls" - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5. Click for larger.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Camera Pricing War Continues

I just checked Henry's Camera, one of Canada's largest photo retailer, and it has lowered the price of the Olympus OM-D EM-5 to $1100CAD with the 12-50mm kit lens.  That's $200 less than what it was few days ago.  As for the Sony NEX-6, it's now $50 less at $950 with the 16-50mm kit lens.  The difference between the two systems is only $150.  I am pulled to the EM-5 because of the in-body stabilization, but I love the larger sensor of the Sony NEX-6, and it's cheaper.  Decisions, decisions!

Colours in Winter - Panasonic G1 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2 @ f2. Click for larger.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Camera Pricing

It seems to me that most of the camera prices are dropping.  Is it just me, or camera manufacturers are facing some real tough times that people are not willing to spend too much on cameras?  I don't know about others, I was very excited to see camera makers introduce new lenses, and then the unbelievably high prices that immediately damp that excitement.  Most of Canon's new lens prices are way out to lunch.  Every time they have a replacement for an existing lens, the price sometimes doubles that of what the current lens sells.  I am sure there are improvements, but does that warrant such price increases?  For me, I will just use my existing lenses, or get alternative third party equivalents.

One exception is Sigma.  Sigma produces some very good, but reasonably priced lenses.  One example is the new 35mm f1.4 lens.  If I had a need for a fast 35mm lens, I would not think twice buying the Sigma 35mm f1.4, which is in many ways better than the equivalent lenses from the big guns, at half the price.  

To some degree, the camera are facing similar market pressure.  With ever shorter product cycles, most of the cameras produced in the last few years are not that much different in terms of image quality.  They are still excellent today.  Shelling out a thousand bucks or more to replace one that still works perfectly is a tough choice.

For me personally, I will buy a new camera at the end of the year, but that's probably going to last me at least two to three years, unless something revolutionary happens.  I have my eye set on the Sony NEX-6, but if the price comes down on the OM-D EM-5, or the Fuji XE-1, I will have a tougher time deciding.

Ornaments - Panasonic G1 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2 @ f1.2. Click for larger.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shooting Swimming with Canon EF 135mm f2

Shooting swimming is hard.  For good shots, you need to be in the right position.  I used to be able to go on deck of the pool and shoot straight on as my kids swam toward me, but the staff no longer allow people on the pool deck during competition, so I have to shoot from the side, or from the balcony, which I find very difficult to get shots I like.

For Saturday's swim meet, my choice lens was the EF 200mm f1.8L, which I used on every swim meet, but too bad the lens stopped working.  I had to use the EF 135mm f2, which proved to be too short, especially when my kids are on the other side of the lane.  I shot mostly wide open at f2.  As anyone who has used the EF 135mm f2L lens would know, this is one of the sharpest lens, in the world, and f2 is a working aperture.

For me, at least in the facility of the swim meet, the 135mm focal length is  too short for shooting swimming. 200mm is optimal.  Of course, your situation may be different.

Ryan - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 135mm f2. Click for larger.

Megan - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 135mm f2. Click for larger.

Waiting for turn - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 135mm f2. Click for larger.

Taking a break - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 135mm f2. Click for larger.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lens Woes, Again

I have been happy that my Canon EF 200mm f1.8L lens kind of fixed itself, after I found out it stopped working a couple of months ago.  The day before, I used it to photograph my kids' school concert, and it worked so perfectly.  Today, I took it to my kids' swim meet and it went dead at the as soon as I mounted it on the camera.  Everything else works, even the aperture, but no AF or manual focus.  Because this lens has the focus-by-wire mechanism, it needs electricity to engage and is not mechanically coupled to the focusing ring.  If AF does not work, manual focus will not work either.  The EF 85mm f1.2L works the same way too.

I guess I will take the lens to repair shop like I said I would.  The malfunction of the lens might be caused by moisture, as the swimming pool was very hot and humid.  I will give the lens a test again later to see if it rights itself again or not.  In any case, this is very frustrating, as it is the main lens I use for my kids' sporting events. I used the EF 135mm f2 for the whole event today, but it just did not have enough reach.  Hopefully, the lens can be fixed.

Dillon the Piano Man playing accompaniment for the school choir - 1D III & EF 85mm f1.2.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Prelude to Christmas

Unbelievably, the Christmas season is already here again.  Time does seem to fly by when you are getting older.  I remember when I first came to Canada more than 30 years ago, my father would put up the Christmas tree and lights at this time, with presents under the tree, even though we are not Christians.   He would do this every year until he passed away.   I didn't inherit his Christmas spirits and we don't put up a tree for Christmas.  Wonder if he's disappointed knowing this.

The Grinch at Kensington Market - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Walk-Around with Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5 C-Mount Lens

Now that I no longer have my NEX-5N, I am back to the good old Panasonic G1, which I have had since it was first introduced.  It's not correct that I don't have the NEX-5N, as I can always borrow it from Dillon, but I am using the G1 as an interim solution until I get a new camera.

With the smaller sensor, the Wollensak 50mm f1.5 Raptar looks quite a bit better at the corners, but it also loses some of its charms - the blurred corners and vignettes.   I have noticed that the G1 has very strong colours, particularly on red, whereas the NEX-5N has more neutral colours.  This can be good or bad depending on your preference.  Doesn't bother me.  I can always dial it down during RAW conversion.

The Wollensak 50mm f1.5 remains one of my current favourite c-mount lenses, but I prefer it on the NEX-5N better than the Panasonic.  The lens shows more character on a larger sensor.  Regardless, it's a very sharp lens but at the same time renders pleasing colour tones.  A little long on M4/3 but still nice.

At the street corner - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5. Click for larger

Mean looking Eagle - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5. Click for larger

Yellow Peppers - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5. Click for larger

Nick Nack - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5. Click for larger

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sony E-Mount 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 Lens - A Dud?

I am very close to buying a new camera, as I have sold Dillon's Canon T2i and few pieces of photo gear to raise money for this purchase.  He is now the owner of my NEX-5N, so I need a camera for myself. Scouting the web for reviews on the new 16-50mm power zoom lens, I found one review which gave the lens very low points.  I handled this lens briefly in the Sony store and liked it quite a bit, but of course I could only see the jpeg version of the file from the camera.

Basically, if you shoot RAW, this lens is not very good with vignetting and distortion, and sharpness in the corners are not great either.  This reminds me of the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the NEX-5/5N.  Horrible distortion and similar soft corners.  But, I think as a kit lens, the faults of the 16-50mm lens is bearable.  It does offer a much wider angle than the 18-55mm at similar prices.  When bought as a package with the camera, this lens is only $150, less than half the price of buying by itself.

It is disappointing that the 16-50mm lens is not better.  Sony relies on software correction for the design flaws but this does not do any good for RAW shooters like me.  But, I will probably buy it with the camera anyway, if I decide to buy the NEX-6.

Pink Tulip - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 100mm f2.8L IS. click for larger.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fire Station No. 17

This fire station is one of the many historic fire stations in Toronto.  Each of these have its own characters and is very different from the newly built ones which are plain and uninteresting.  Station #17 is located near the Beaches area on Woodbine & Queen streets.  It looks great both in the day and at night.

Fire Station #17 - Sony NEX-5N & Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 HFT @ f2

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vivitar 35mm f1.9 - A Second Look

I think this Vivitar 35mm f1.9 deserves more credit than it receives.  Many people who search for the Vivitar wide angle would usually look at the Cult-Classic: the 28mm f1.9.  A few years back, I shot the Vivitar 35mm f1.9 on the Canon 5D full frame without a hood, and the image quality was only so so.  Contrast was not very good.  Today, I put a very long hood (the one used on a Minolta MC 135mm f3.5) on the same lens and the result is quite different.  Not really sure if it has anything to do with the sensor or the hood, but the images are very nice.  Sharp and has much more contrast than I remember having before from this lens.

The bokeh probably won't win any awards, but it's not really bad.  It resembles bokeh from the 28mm f1.9. You can see another sample (second picture) of bokeh from this post I wrote couple years back.  But, at f5.6 to f8, the lens is very sharp.  Even at f1.9, the lens is usable in most situations, but not very contrasty at this apreture.

When I bought this lens, it wasn't very expensive, and is quite a common lens.  I seem to pick one up once in a while at the photo show and now have three or four of them, of different mounts.  If you come across one of these beauties (they are extremely well made), be sure to test it out.

Self Portrait - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9. Click for larger

Bokeh - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9 @ f1.9

Window - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9

New and Old - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9

Saturday, November 24, 2012

B&W Photo Conversion From Colour

I noticed that some pictures, when viewed in colour, look very ordinary or even bad, but when converted into black and white, they look very different.  This is especially true for very high ISO/grainy shots.  The chroma noise in the colour photograph is usually what makes it look disgusting, but in black & white, the noise becomes monochromatic and it sometimes even enhances a picture.

The picture below looks pretty bad in colour, but I think it is much nicer in black and white. All the colour fringing and chromatic aberrations and noise are no more.

Jimmy Simpson Park at Night - NEX-5N & JML 50mm f0.95, ISO 1600

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG HSM - The New King?

One of my favourite bloggers, Roger Cicala at Lens Rentals has posted a first look at the new Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens.  The first of Sigma's Art lens line.  Like anyone who has been around the photography block a few times, I have had my share of the Sigma lenses.  Few of them didn't work with newer Canon bodies, so it was always a gamble when buying a Sigma lens, since Sigma does not pay Canon any loyalty on the EF lens protocols, they just reverse engineered it.  But the new lenses have gotten better.  I have had the Sigma 50mm f1.4 for a couple of years and it's one fantastic lens.  I have kept it even when I already have a Canon 50mm f1.2L, because it's such a good lens.

But, that was then, and this is now.

Since the passing of Mr. Yamaki, the founder of Sigma, his son, Kazuto Yamaki has taken over the helm at Sigma.  We have already seen many changes from him and this is a good sign.  I am excited about the new lenses that Sigma is introducing, for a few reasons.  One of them is price.  The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is about half the price of the Canon version.  The other is optical performance.  From the test performed by Roger, the Sigma is actually better than the Canon equivalent.  Lastly, the aspect of connecting the lens to a computer and do all kinds of fine tuning intrigues me.  Apparently, all new Sigma lenses can be tuned by the user with an optional USB dock.  Even zooms can be adjusted for focus accuracy at different focal lengths!  Imagine that.

Should I sell my Canon 35mm f1.4L?  Likely not, since it's one of Canon best wide angle lenses.  But if you are looking for a new lens, the Sigma is worth looking into.

Megan & William, 2007 - Canon 20D & EF 35mm f1.4L. Click for larger.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Ashbridge House - 2012

This is one of the oldest houses in Toronto and it's beautiful all year round.  I especially like it in the fall and winter.  On the south east side of the house was a garden a few years back, but I guess it was too much work, or cost the city too much money to maintain it, so it is now just a parkette with grass.  The parkette is surrounded by willow, maple and other trees on three of the sides except south.  The park is open to all visitors, but the house is rented out and people are actually living inside.  So if you do visit, be sure to respect people's privacy.

I have always wanted to take a picture from each season, and I think I have done it, but always seem to be missing a season.  May be I should make it a small project.

Ashbridge Estate - NEX-5N & Olympus OM 35mm f2. Click for larger.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Makes Us Upgrade

Let's be honest.  I have a weakness when it comes to buying camera gear.  If I were single, I would probably spent all of my disposable income buying cameras and lenses.  Back in the film days, upgrading a camera usually involved a 5-year plan.  A film camera was made to last at least 5 years before an upgrade was considered, because most camera models had multi-year life span.  Some of them, like the Pentax K-1000, was in production for decades.  My Pentax Program Plus lasted about 12 years for me, and it was still in perfect working order when I traded it in for my last film camera, the Canon Elan II, which lasted about 5 years before digital came along.

Digital fulfills our instant gratification desire. We push a button, the picture shows up on the screen.  We no longer need to wait hours, and sometimes days, before we see the pictures.  We no longer had to count and consider before pushing the shutter, because we are no longer restricted to 36 frames of film.  We can now scrutinize the pictures to the pixel level, versus looking at a 4x6 print.  We get more and more dissatisfied with image quality because we pixel peep, and the newest camera must be better, or so says the marketing department of the camera companies.

Last week I shot Dillon's school concert, with my Canon 1D Mark III, at ISO 1600 and 3200 and the 85mm f1.2L.  I pixel peeped at the meager 10 Mega Pixel files, and I am actually very happy with the image quality.  Seeing images from the 1D III has suppressed the desire to upgrade to a very large extend.

For those of us who are short on disposable income for camera gear, we should take a step back, look at the pictures we have taken with the cameras we have, and ask ourselves, are we really unhappy with the image quality, and really need to upgrade our cameras?

King Street Social - NEX-5N & Tamron SP 17mm f3.5

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Allure of Olympus' New Lenses

Olympus, like Pentax, have been making small and wonderful lenses for decades.  Back in the film days,  Pentax was more popular and common, Olympus lens lovers are a more cult-like following.  In their OM days, the 90mm f2 macro, 21mm f2 wide angle, to name just two, were, and still are, phenomenally good lenses.  Lately, they are on a roll with superbly designed lenses: 12mm f2, 45mm f1.8, 60mm f2.8 macro, 75mm f1.8, and now the 17mm f1.8, all excellent lenses.  I can't say I am not attracted to these lenses, despite how much I like manual focus lenses.  This is making it even harder for me to choose between the OM-D and the Sony NEX-6.

"Rose Glow", Last Bit of Autumn - NEX-5N & Olympus 35mm f2 @ f2

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Electronic Level on the NEX-6

I failed to mention one of the neat new features on the NEX-5R/NEX-6 is the electronic level.  This should be an invaluable tool for those of us who are alignment challenged.  On my NEX-5N, I have the grid lines turned on to aid me line things up when taking pictures, but the electronic level is much better idea and much more accurate.  Basically, the level is a horizontal bar with green arrows on both ends.  When the camera is level, both arrows will turn green.  Very neat!

Sidewalk of Spadina Ave - NEX-5N & Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Next DSLR Might Be a Sony

While I spent quite  a bit of time on the Sony NEX-6 at the Sony Store, I also briefly handled the full frame A99.  Personally, I like it better than the 1D III.  The only thing I don't like about the A99 is that it has too many buttons at the back.  This is the extreme opposite to the NEX-5 series, which does not have enough physical buttons.

Maybe I am used to the NEX-5N's viewfinder, looking into the A99 electronic viewfinder does not remind me of a EVF.  I am as comfortable looking through the Canon 1D III's 100% optical viewfinder as with the A99's EVF.  In many ways, I prefer the EVF, which contains much more information and is more dynamic.

What impresses me the most is the AF capabilities, specifically, the accuracy.  The A99 I was looking at had a 50mm f1.4 lens attached to it.  I shot some frames at f1.4 and the focus was quick and spot on.  Even on the 1D III, this is not always the case.

Since I had never handled a Sony DSLR with Translucent mirror before, the A99 really changed my perception of Sony DLSRs.  I wish Sony would make a scaled down version of the full frame camera, like A77, but with a full frame sensor and the A99 focus system, but minus the enhanced video features, and price it the same as the Canon 6D or Nikon D600, it would be a camera a lot of people would buy.  I feel that Sony should deserve more credit, for it has done more than Nikon and Canon in terms of innovation in the camera industry.  Unlike the conservative Canon, Sony is not afraid to try new things.

Sonic Bike Shop - NEX-5N & Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8

Monday, November 12, 2012

What to Do with Useless Lenses

One of my favourite past time is to dismantle cameras and lenses that I consider useless.  Sometimes this turns out to be a costly mistake, because at the time I considered them useless, but few years later, they magically become hot commodities.  The reason I do this, is to savage parts that I think I might use later on.  I have a large jar that contains hundreds and possibly thousands of small screws of all kinds. I never failed in finding a right screw for any kind of job when I need one.  It's probably the most valuable parts from these unfortunately cameras/lenses.

Sometimes, I only disassemble the lenses half way, because they make great looking pen holders, tools holders and whatever that you want to put on.  The picture below shows one of my lenses converted to a tools holder.  Prime wins for this purpose, as zoom lenses have too many parts that are hard to take out and put back together.  The relatively simple construction of prime lenses are much easier to work with.

Nothing is worthless, it seems.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brief Encounter with the Sony NEX-6 - Some Impressions

I went in the Sony store today to check out the NEX-6 and the A99.  Before I start, I have a rant.  I despise how cameras were secured in the electronic/Sony stores.  There were Velcro tapes, plastic fasteners, and security sensors/wires attached to the cameras/lenses.  I tripped the theft alarm twice while trying the cameras.  Seriously, is that all necessary?

On the happier note, I really like the NEX-6.  In fact, I think I like it better than the NEX-7.  It definitely feels more upscale and better than the NEX-5N/5R.  The chunkier grip makes a more secured holding of the camera.  The materials used feels less plastic.  Here is what I like the most from the 20 minute fiddling of the NEX-6:

Built-In Viewfinder - Although it's the same viewfinder as the external one I use on the NEX-5N, I preferred the built-in one.  I can see more of the screen.  Having it built-in also means the viewfinder won't hook onto everything, and moves up/down when you want it to stay.  I think this alone will be reason enough for many to upgrade.

Mode Dial - Finally, we get a mode dial on top of the camera.  The dial feels good and has very firm clicks, which is means it won't be accidentally turned easily.  Somehow, to me, without a mode dial, it does not feel like a real camera.

The Wheel - I really don't know what Sony calls it, but this is one of the best features next to the built-in viewfinder.   This wheel sits under the mode dial, and complements the wheel at the back of the camera.  This wheel basically duplicates the function of the wheel at the back, but is positioned near your thumb so it's much more natural to use this wheel the the back wheel.  Don't laugh, but this might be the feature that pushed me over to upgrade from the NEX-5N!  Very well done, Sony!

Fn Button - Like the Q button on the later Canon DSLRs, this button brings up the most used functions.  Very handy to have.

16-50mm Kit Lens - Very compact kit lens, and from the shots I made at the store, it seems about as good or better than the 18-55mm kit lens but wider.  Just slightly thicker than the 16mm f2.8 pancake lens, it extends when zoomed.  I have never been a big fan of zoom by wire (electronic zoom) and this lens has it.  You can zoom by the zoom button, or using the ring.  Definitely a good lens to have if you do a lot of video, as the it zooms pretty smoothly.

Over all, I like this camera a lot.  It will be torturous for me to decide between the OM-D EM-5 and the NEX-6.  I am more tilted to the NEX-6, for two reasons.  Larger sensor and cheaper, but the EM-5 has built-in body stabilization, which I really want.  We will see by Christmas and see what the price is like for both cameras.

Fancy Bike Bell - NEX-5N & Taylor-Hobson 75mm f2 TV Lens. Click for larger.

Please Remember Those Who Sacrificed for Us

In Flanders Fields 
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) 
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses row on row, 
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Minolta RF Rokkor-X 250mm f5.6 Shoots the Cemetery

On my way driving Ryan to his DR. appointment this morning, I saw Mount Hope Catholic cemetery nearby.  Since the appointment was long and I did not need to be there, I decided to shoot some pictures in the cemetery. As it turned out, the cemetery is more than a 100 years old, and is one of the most beautiful I have seen. From Eglington avenue, where I saw it, it looked pretty small, but it's actually huge inside.  It's very deep.

I stayed there for about 90 minutes, and shot a few hundred frames, using only the Minolta RF Rokkor-X 250mm f5.6, and a tripod.  I always have a small, travel tripod in the car, in case I need some support, and today it came in handy.  Unfortunately, the tripod is not strong enough, coupled with strong wind, it was better than nothing, but not as steady as I wanted.  Still, I got a lot more keepers than hand holding this lens.

Still amazed at the small size of this 250mm f5.6 mirror lens.  Too bad it's not the easiest lens to use on the NEX or M4/3 cameras, due to its effective focal length.  Having a tripod really helps and perhaps that's how it's meant to be used.

Under the Tree - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Angel - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Angels and the Man himself - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

In Loving Memory - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Double Cross - Sony NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Under the Tree #2 - Sony NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.