Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sony DSC-RX100 III: Effective Aperture Comparison

                                                                                        Sony USA

Depending on how you look at it, the combination of a large sensor and large aperture in a small camera body is either the Holy Grail of photography... or its the unicorn. The Sony DSC-RX100 III is probably the closest thing to that ideal, having a maximum aperture range of f/1.8-f/2.8. It's easy to be seduced by numbers; this is a fairly bright lens, but it is mated to a sub-DSLR/mirrorless sensor. As large as the 1" 20mp Sony sensor is for a small camera, how "fast" is the RX100M3 in terms of equivalent aperture and depth of field in comparison to the "real thing" (i.e, enthusiast-level APS-C cameras)?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nikon Zooms: 70-300mm VR versus 70-200 f/4 versus 70-200 f/2.8 II

Left to Right: Nikkor 70-300mm, 70-200mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 II

There's a long(ish) zoom lens for every budget in the Canon and Nikon lineups. Nikon's catalog is perhaps a bit simpler and more straightforward; you pay more, you get more. Naturally, when users upgrade to full frame, they feel compelled to go with the "pay more option" because they feel that they need to "get more" from their FX body. There's a certain logic to this as it makes little sense to spend a lot of money on a FX body only to try to save money on an inferior lens. Note: "inferior" not "cheaper." While everybody wants the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens, few can justify it. Surely, the consumer grade 70-300mm VR can't be spoken with in the same breathe... can it?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bokeh Shootout: Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G vs Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM was the lens that launched the reputation of the refreshed Global Vision ART series of lenses. That's no small feat for a third-party manufacturer, but the key advantages of this lens can be summed up in two words: cheaper and better. Against its Canon counterpart, the Sigma is most definitely cheaper and and it is demonstrably better; the Canon design is getting on in years whereas the Sigma has the benefit of the latest in optical design.

Compared to the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G, the comparison is not quite so black and white. The Nikon lens is also a "modern" design, so you would expect it to be at the top of the class regardless of price. Ordinarily, you would think of the Sigma as being an alternative to Nikon's second-tier lenses, namely the Nikon AF-S 35mm F1.8G ED in this case. However, despite being more expensive than the f/1.8 Nikon, Sigma shoppers are skipping past the entry level and directly comparing it to the pro-level lens. So how close does the Sigma come?

Bokeh Shootout: Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G vs 50 mm f/1.4G

The Nikon 58m f/1.4G was an immediately controversial lens when it was released at the end of 2013. Even though it is the dream of every enthusiast photographer, there are fewer opportunities to shoot wide-open at night than in more reasonable lighting conditions during the daytime. Thus, the 58mm lens immediately developed a reputation for under-performing relative to its price tag. That in itself is not new; none of the Nikon f/1.4 primes are truly justifiable if you aren't shooting for a living. However if there is one malady that gear-heads suffer from (just one?) it is that many fall into the trap of thinking that if something is not good for them, then its also not useful for others.... and so, vast quantities of forum chatter are generated based on this logical fallacy.

For examples of what the 58mm as a NOCT lens is good for, have a look at these nighttime shots. Otherwise, read on for what this lens does under daylight conditions. As with all good stories, there's nuance to this one:

(Updated May 2014: Additional bokeh samples by aperture.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sony A6000 Review

Familiarity is a good thing when it comes to tools. Cameras are tools, and too often, people look for wholesale change for change's sake with each new generation. The Sony A6000 is the replacement for the NEX-6, and even though the NEX-6 was a continuation of sorts for the well-regarded NEX-7, the new Alpha-branded series of cameras (A5000/A6000) are the true second-generation of the E-mount. New for 2014, the headline features for the A6000 are:

  • 24.3mp APS-C sensor
  • 179 phase detection points
  • 11 fps with subject tracking
  • Electronic diffraction correction
  • Clean HDMI output
  • NFC and WiFi connectivity

This amounts to a capable camera, considering that the MSRP is just under $800 USD for the body + kit lens option, but do the additional specs actually make for a better camera? (For an in-depth explanation of the A6000's autofocus system, go here, otherwise continue after the jump for the complete review.)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fujifilm X-T1 Review

The sign of a successful launch is if the pre-order season is successful. That certainly has been the case for the Fujifilm X-T1 here in Canada, though it helps that Fujifilm Canada was including free vertical grips with camera pre-orders. Even if that weren't the case, the X-T1 (from a product design standpoint) is still a success that can stand on its own two feet. With the X-T1 one, Fujifilm has simultaneously managed to step closer to the mainstream middle of serious-enthusiast photography while further cementing their unique take of doing things.

Updated May 2014: Amp glow section added to image noise discussion.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Review: Hands on with the 5D Mark III

You cannot buy a full frame camera without also considering a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom; the two go hand-in-hand. This might not be true of everybody's shooting style, but it certainly is true of the market dynamics given how popular fast normal zooms are. This especially true of the 5DmIII and the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM; the 24-105L f/2.8 is serviceable as the kit lens, but the camera doesn't really sing until the to-dog lens is mounted.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II Review

The Canon G1 X Mark II is the kind of cameras that many people are looking for: large sensor, compact body. It's the camera for people who want to leave their DSLR's without leaving the image quality that DSLR's give. The headline specifications of the Mark II are:

  • 12.8 megapixel sensor
  • Digic 6 processor
  • 24-120mm f/2-3.9 zoom lens
  • 5 fps shooting
  • Touchscreen control
  • WiFi and NFC connectivity

A lot of what this camera represents is not only about competing in the current large-sensor camera market, but also about redressing the legacy of he first G1 X. It's hard to mention the current camera without mentioning that it's predecessor was lukewarmly received. The mystery to that is that on paper, the original G1 X should have been a hit because it was what people were asking for at the time... a large sensor in a small compact body. This was back in 2012, just when mirrorless cameras were staring to gain attention in the North American market. The most immediate problem with that first camera was that it was slow, both in operation and in terms of autofocus performance. A more frustrating issue for experienced shooters was that it was also limited in terms of minimum focus distance, being only able to come as close as 40cm at widest angle or a positively distant 110cm with the lens zoomed all the way out.

The problem with the original G1 X was that it was the type of camera that camera nerds were asking for, but in execution, it was an example of how specs aren't everything. If you didn't mind the bulk of the camera and its limitations, the G1 X delivered in terms of image quality. Funny, thing: with some many people clamoring for high ISO performance, wide dynamic range etc... things that camera people think will make a camera, it was the overall usability aspect of the G1 X that broke it. In other words, specs don't make the user experience. There's always room for a second life in the camera market; the original EOS 5D Mark I was a breakthrough for its time but it hasn't withstood the passing of time. Rather, it was the 5D Mark II that cemented Canon's place in the full frame market. To that end, is the G1 X Mark II the solid second act for Canon's large sensor compact efforts?