Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Leica Q (Type 116) Review

Leica Q (Type 116)

While the classic M camera is an enduring given for Leica, the German company has been quite adventurous with expansion into new niches outside of its traditional mainstay. They have gone higher to the S medium format series, but more often than not Leica has ventured lower to more accessible luxury. If the M is for the 1%, cameras like the X and T series are for the aspirational 19% that follow. However, nothing seems to endure like the M; the forays into accessible luxury always seem temporary at best. With the D-Lux and V-Lux cameras, it is very plainly about reaching as large a mass market as tolerable for a premium luxury brand. The X series was innovative at the time of its introduction, but as larger sensor cameras have becomes the normal, Leica has had to look higher to differentiate themselves from the mass market. The Leica T fits that bill, but is so innovative it's quite a bit off the beaten path.

To be perfectly honest, all of the downmarket forays have had to deal with the stigma of not being "real Leica's"; the fact that they aren't always made with the latest technology hasn't helped matters. However, that's not the point; for the users of these cameras, it's about the enjoyment of the camera rather than about outright perfection.

The Q is different. It is as contemporary and up to date as anything that has come out of Japan, but still maintains the core virtues of simplicity and superb optics. If it were a person, it would be the capable and self-assured new comer to the office, the one whose ambition and confidence come across in a palpable but understated way.  It's a camera that is comfortable at what it can do, but at the same time has the haughty air of timelessness that Leica cameras tend to portray.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

The  Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is something of a joke in the photographic world... a light-hearted positive joke but a joke nonetheless. The punchline is that it's a remarkably sharp lens with toy-like build quality that comes at absurdly low retail price. It's the closest thing in the camera world to a piece of fast-fashion clothing; you never get the sense that they intended fro you to keep it forever. Many people who bought this lens did so with a smile on their face because of how little they were paying. It's a lens that was in dire need of upgrading... and in a way it wasn't. While it is true that you need to continuously improve in order to maintain brand loyalty, there is something to be said about offering ridiculously low prices.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is a fitting step up from the older f/1.8, and in every conceivable way, improves upon the previous lens. It's still cheap, just not as jokingly cheap as the the last time. So has Canon maintained the magic "so cheap it's good" formula or has something changed during the upgrade?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD Review

Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD

Image stabilization is the closest thing photographic-wise to Pavlov's conditioning stimuli experiments. Just the mere mention of it gets people salivating, even with lenses that don't particularly suffer without it. Normal-zoom lenses fall into that particular category; the two pro-spec lenses by Canon and Nikon don't have it and many people get by well with out it. Still, the thinking goes that more must be better; if a constant f/2.8 zoom is good than adding image stabilization must be better.

To that end, we have the Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD, the first stabilized full frame professional-quality 24-70mm lens, though likely not the last. If you read between the lines, neither Nikon or Canon have introduced image stabilization into their designs because of compromises that it would introduce into the optical quality of their lenses. This also seems true for crop lenses as well; early Fujfifilm roadmaps had the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR including an image stabilization feature, only to be left out in favour of outright optical quality. Tamron themselves are perhaps the most classic example of this; the venerable original  17-50mm f/2.8 was a near-pro quality lens, at least in terms of image quality; the VC version lost a bit of something and became more of a hobbyist's lens.

So, we all want image stabilization and a fast aperture. Did Tamron get it right this time?