Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Leica SL (Type 601) Review: With Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me..."
                                                              - F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rich Boy

It is difficult to enter any discussion regarding Leica without at least once visiting the reality of the prices that they charge. That has never been more true with the SL (Type 601), which commands one of the starkest prices of any Leica south of the medium format S series. For the purposes of this writing, it will remain the elephant in the room.... these days, one merely has a Leica or one does not. It's not rational to justify it. If you come across somebody and this is their camera, then there will probably be some truth to the fact that they will be "different from you and me".

The SL is like the Leica Q in that it is a surprise. The Q is a harbinger of a more automated and user-friendly form of the M-series rangefinder format... the surprise was how willing Leica was to go in this direction given it's history. Likewise, the SL is ostensibly another dive into uncharted waters for the company; the Leica T was one experiment, and the SL feels like another. For a "conservative" company, the SL shows a surprisingly willingness to be modern. That said, even if the concept of the SL feels like a grand experiment, it's form and operation are already evident in the S-series medium format cameras: the SL is that in miniature. This is a camera with a much heft as a Nikon D810 or Canon 5Ds, and it's "kit" lens is just as imposing. As cliché as it is, this is a camera that would not be out of place in a fashion shoot out on the streets of Monaco.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

How Does Light Travel Through Glass?

This will be a bit of a diversion post. Photographer's these days are concerned with many technical things... how many megapixels their cameras are, how much dynamic range they can fit in an image, how many stops of aperture they can manage. On a deeper and more edifying level, there is a lot of science behind how modern cameras work, but perhaps the most elemental is the fact that glass is transparent. "It just is" you may say, but the physics of why some things like camera lenses let light through, and why other things don't, is explained in this link to Brady Haran's excellent Sixty Symbols channel on YouTube. Professor Phil Moriarty explains:

But camera lenses don't just pass light through unimpeded.If if the photons do make it through the glass, they will travel through the glass 40% slower than they would in a vacuum. This is where the concept of diffraction comes in, the basis of how camera lenses work....

Monday, October 19, 2015

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Review

Even though photography is a "classic" pursuit,,,timeless and discovered by each new generation... the commercial market for photographic equipment is driven by novelty. We, as photographers, tell each other that the smart money is in lenses... that lenses will be useful long after bodies have become obsolete. If that were true - and it mostly is - then the camera manufactures would have a tough time selling anything. The truth is that lenses don't become obsolete, but they are getting better as time goes by.

Unfortunately, "better" also means more expensive. Working with precision optics isn't like working with electronics... there isn't a "Moore's Law" of camera lenses. If you want a better camera lens, i8t will almost invariably be more expensive. Today's lenses are sharper and better corrected than their predecessors, but the average selling price has gone up accordingly. Which brings us to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. Not a red-ring lens. Not a new lens. No fancy coatings. No aspherical elements. Not sexy like the Sony Batis 85mm f/1.8, yet this is almost a no-brainer as far as portrait lenses go for Canon users.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Nikon Camera Settings: ADL, Sharpening and Clarity

Nikon D7200 with ColorChecker Passport

Every camera manufacturer sets their image defaults differently from each other. This leads to the general impression that one camera will have one particular "look" compared to another, or that one brand has better skin-tones than the competitor. While this can be the case, the truth is that much of a camera's default JPEG output can be tuned to one's taste with a dive into the menus. The following is with regards to Nikon cameras, but the principles apple to all digital cameras.

We;'ll be focusing on three specific optimizations: Active D-Lighting (dynamic range optimization), and from within the Picture Controls menu, sharpness and clarity. The reason why is that all three settings can be used to produce a crisper and punchier looking image, but at a cost of low-level image quality. The key is knowing how much to use and when to use it.

(Just as an aside, the use of the ColorChecker Passport is a bit of a camera-reviewer joke. These things have a proper use, but you almost always see them as part of ISO targets.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sony RX100M3 vs Sony A6000

Left: Sony A6000       Right: Sony RX100M3

The Sony RX100M3 and A6000 are two of the best received cameras for first time shoppers and young families looking for something to take quality photos with...

If you think that these are supposed to be cutting-edge enthusiast-oriented cameras, you would be right. Neither are inexpensive, but since the very beginning they have been universally well regarded. The funny thing about well-reviewed serious-level products is that the good word filters down to the general consumer level as well. Even if they are loaded with specs that appeal to hardcore enthusiasts, both product lines have successfully crossed over from high-end enthusiast to mass-market consumer. This is is no small feat; there are many good cameras, but few at the higher end compel casual shooters.

Taking a step back, the camera industry has gone through a sea-change these past few years. It used to be that if you wanted quality you bought a DSLR, and if you wanted portability you bought a compact. Mirrorless and high end compacts have changed that and made for more choice in between. Whereas before casual shoppers spend somewhere between $500 to $700 USD for an entry-level DSLR, they are now more likely to spend the same amount on a mirrorless camera or a RX100M3. It's a rational choice; for almost the same quality as a DSLR from 3-4 years previous, you get a smaller and more compact system.

The Dilemma:

Which to choose? The RX100M3 is physically smaller and has better lens specs, albeit with a smaller sensor and no fancy motion-tracking phase-det4ection autofocus. The A6000 is one of the smallest of the APS-C mirrorless cameras on the market, but would be considered large to a user accustomed to point-and-shoots. It's only serious weakness is the SEL1650 kit lens that it is paired with, which is one of the most electronic-0correction reliant lenses on the camera market. In fact, the A6000 menu blanks out the option to turn-off in-camera lens corrections when this lens is mounted.

Both are good, both are small. One is smaller, one is more capable. If you wanted one camera, which to chose and which trade-off is better?