Sunday, June 10, 2012

Voigtlander Bessa R2a

A video review?!

Yeah, I thought why not. I'm testing out a Panasonic Lumix GH2, and I figured I'd make a short little video where I talked about the Voigtlander Bessa R2a and see how that goes. Sorry about it being a little rambling; it's not like I made a script or anything.

Anyway, should you not feel like watching an echo-y and poorly planned video narrated by a total goober, you can just read the following few paragraphs where I elaborate on this camera.

I do actually really like the R2a, even though it's not a Leica. It's compact, relatively well made, easy to operate, fairly unobtrusive, and reasonably inexpensive. I think, instead of wasting a bunch of time shooting with pocket rangefinders of the 1960s and '70s, people would be much better served if they'd just spend a little extra and pick up one of these cameras and get the real rangefinder experience from the get-go. No it's not a Leica, and that's obvious the first time you pick one up, but the rangefinder is so many times better than even a good pocket rangefinder like a Canonet QL17 or Electro 35, and so close to an actual Leica M that it makes the shooting experience so much more worthwhile. In fact, knowing what I know now, if I had it to do over again, I would probably have bought this camera first instead of an M2 and saved my pennies down the line for an M6 or MP or the like. Don't get me wrong, I love my M2, but the R2a has it where it counts and is honestly a better day-to-day camera.

All that being said, I don't really shoot the R2a much, partially because most of my shooting is done with my M8 (I just prefer working digitally), and when I do want to shoot film I want that connection with the older ways of doing things and I prefer to use my M2. I do, however, keep the R2a as a good backup, and it's easier for me to switch from shooting the M8 to shooting the R2a largely because of the built in light meter...the viewfinder also doesn't scratch my glasses like the one on the M2. You know, if Voigtlander would see fit to produce a digital version of the R2a for a lot less than an M8 or M9, I think I could be compelled to buy it (but no, I'm not interested in the old RD-1).

Oh, and one other thing, why did I get the R2a and not the R2m or R3a or R4a? Because for one, I don't find any extra comfort in having a mechanical only camera like some of the people that choose the "m" models claim to have. And I also use a 35mm lens as often as I use a 50mm lens and the R3 cameras don't have 35mm framelines, and the R4 models have too small of a 50mm frameline area. Also, I don't think any of the other models came in gray paint, and I just like the way it looks.

So yeah, if you're looking for a nice film rangefinder, I would most certainly recommend the Bessas, and I honestly would say, don't bother spending the money on the actual Leica bodies, spend it on your lenses instead. And don't even begin to consider getting the Leica CL thinking it'll be the real deal; the Bessa is easily the better camera. I'd also guess that a Zeiss Ikon would be a nice option as well, but I've never handled one. And in closing, I'll reiterate what I said at the beginning, before you go spending hundreds of dollars collecting all the best '60s and '70s pocket rangefinders and shooting a bunch of film trying to figure out which is best, why don't you consider just buying a Bessa and just get to shooting.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Leica M9-P »Edition Hermès« & M Monochrom

Just a tad too rich for my blood, Leica has announced the $50,000 Leica M9-P »Edition Hermès«.

Looks to be a recycled concept for the M9 Titanium that was released awhile back, but trimmed with Hermès leather and packaged with a set of chromed lenses that are normally sold in black only. It's definitely exclusive and probably a worthwhile investment given Leicas' general increase in value with age.  Anyway, my reason for posting this isn't because I'm in love with this camera or anything--the new Leica M Monochrom is much sexier--but Leica posted this video of the manufacturing process of this little kit, and I'll just say that I'm impressed.
And speaking of the M Monochrom (and no, I'm not forgetting the "e," Leica just decided to use the German spelling), it is a black and white only version of the M9-P with all manufacturer logos deleted save for "Leica Camera Made in Germany" on the back and "M MONOCHROM" engraved in the hot shoe.

Now, when I say black and white only I mean the camera only takes black and white, or monochrome, pictures. This results in pictures that have a resolution rivaling the 36-megapixel D800 and having a greatly increased ISO range over the standard M9 (ISO 320 to 10,000). Now I know, it sounds pretty stupid to spend that much money on a camera that only shoots black and white, but what can I say except what I've said before, owning and shooting a Leica is something you do more with your heart than with your head. And boy howdy, I'd love to shoot one of these puppies, especially since a lot of my stuff winds up as black and white in the end anyway.

But you know, one thing that I didn't notice until I went to Leica's website this morning is that they have a black and white printing service set up through WhiteWall in the UK exclusively for M Monochrom purchasers that uses baryte photographic papers for prints that are "hardly distinguishable from their analogue counterparts printed from negatives." I'd like to see some of these in person, but I guess that'll have to wait until the next time I make it to Washington, D.C. to check out Leica's new store there.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Canon PowerShot G1 X

Woah!  What a big sensor you have!

I thought I'd put down a few thoughts on the new PowerShot G1 X from Canon since it's a camera that's got a lot of people all bent out of shape.

This camera marks Canon's first timid step toward what has now become known as the mirrorless camera segment.  In it's slightly bulkier-than-a-G12 body it houses a nearly APSc-sized sensor with a 4:3 ratio, which is a dramatic step up from the relatively tiny sensor in the previous G-series bodies.  That means that you can now, honestly, get DSLR image quality out of one of these cameras at any ISO setting, and because the sensor appears to be basically a cut down version of the 18mp sensor that appears all they way up the line to the EOS 7D, your pictures ought to be nigh indistinguishable.  All this from a camera that fits in a jacket pocket, and still retains the highly successful DNA of the G-series cameras.

Now, why would this have people upset you might wonder; to me this sounds like a pretty great camera.  Because people aren't happy unless they're complaining about something.  Well no, that's probably not a fair thing to say even though it certainly seems like it.  No, people are upset because they wanted something more akin to the Sony NEX7, and I'll admit, I'd like to see something like that come from Canon, but this ain't that camera.  No you can't interchange lenses on the G1 X, yes the maximum aperture dips down to f/5.6 at full telephoto, no there's no EVF, yes the OVF is super basic, yes it's on the bulky side of things, no it doesn't give you much control over video settings, yes the battery is a tad small, yes it costs $800--I could go on.

The biggest problem for the G1 X is that there are a lot of other cameras on the market, often for less money, with the potential of interchangeable lenses, and up against those cameras people often worry that they'll be disappointed with a single built-in lens.  And that maybe true, but for someone like me, the 28-112mm-equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens covers more than what I usually work with, and it's certainly of higher optical quality and faster aperture than most basic zoom lenses in that range for entry level DSLRs, so when I look at this camera, I think about how it would fit in with how I shoot, and I think it'd be great.

So who is this camera really for?  If you're a fan of the G-series cameras you'll probably like the G1 X.  The only thing you might notice in using the G1 X is that it won't focus as closely as you might be used to with a small sensored G-camera, but you should notice that your pictures look a lot better, like they were taken with a real camera.  If you're looking for a travel camera that won't force you to compromise on the picture quality of your DSLR, the G1 X might be a good replacement if you're shooting with something like a Rebel and a kit lens.  If you're a street photographer, the G1 X is probably worth taking a look at, and I know Michael Reichmann doesn't care for the flip out screen of the G1 X when he's trying to be discreet, but there are other ways of shooting where this doesn't matter.  Or if you're someone that just like cool toys, the G1 X certainly has plenty's say rugged good looks.

What don't I like about it?  I don't like the flip out screen, and I haven't liked it since it first reappeared on the G-series bodies.  I think it adds unnecessary bulk, forces design compromises that squish the buttons too close together, and I don't really ever find myself using it flipped out.  I also don't care for the optical viewfinder and I wish they'd get rid of it, or make it nicer, or probably better yet would be to replace it with a nice electronic one; although, to be fair, I don't really care for EVFs either.  I also don't much care for the fiddly scroll wheel on the back of the camera, but the front dial is pretty nice, so no biggie.  I don't really mind the increase size and weight compared to the other G-series cameras, but it may be a consideration for some people.

So all in all, I find a lot to like about the G1 X, but it might be a tougher call for some people, and certainly, if you're looking at this camera, the nicer Micro Four-Thirds cameras are probably worth a good look as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Leica R4

What what?!  A film SLR?

Yup, that's right, the Leica R4.  We took a trade-in at work, and as part of our process of checking over the camera we normally run a roll or two of film through them to make sure everything functions like it should.

I haven't yet gotten the film back from the lab, so I'm just putting up this picture to prove that I am still alive and still blogging.  I'll come back once the film is scanned and finish this post off with my thoughts and some samples.  But I'll just say, what a camera.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fujifilm X Pro-1

The next best thing to a Leica.

So no, I don't have any insider information regarding the upcoming Fujifilm X-Pro 1, and I swiped that image from Steve Huff's website, but I am pretty excited about it as it looks to be everything I've wanted in a mirrorless camera body: it's compact, has at least an APS-C sized sensor, has analog-styled controls, well-built, and has high quality, fast aperture fixed-focal length lenses.  I'm hesitant to say that this camera would make a good replacement for my M8, but...but this is the camera that Leica should have been developing, or perhaps the camera that Kyocera should have released as a Contax G3.

Anyway, I'm impressed Fuji, and I'm impatiently awaiting the official announcement and the first user reports.  And I'll update this post with any future thoughts once we know a little more about it.  Exciting stuff.

The Specs (possibly):
- 16 megapixels APS-CMOS "Xtrans" sensor with better than fullframe picture quality
- no anti-aliasing filter
- new Fuji X-mount with flange distance of 17.7mm
- launches with three lenses: 18mm f/2.0, 35mm f/1.4, and 60mm f/2.4
- second generation hybrid viewfinder like the one on the X100

UPDATE Jan. 09, 2012:

Well it's official, and wow what a camera!

Quite simply, if I could have designed a camera like this, this would have been the camera I would have designed.  It would really do Leica well to look closely at what Fuji accomplished with this, because I think a lot of people looking at used M8s are now going to be looking at this camera instead.  I love my M8, and I don't think I could ever bring myself to sell it, but if I was buying from scratch today, the M8 would be off the table.  Now, Leica has sort of hinted around that they might be getting ready to release just such a camera later this year, but I sort of wonder how far they would go towards producing such a strong competitor to the M9 level camera.

But anyway, after reading through a lot of the previews on the internet I'll add a couple of thoughts. 

One of the best things I've seen on the X-Pro 1 is the inclusion of a PC-sync port.  I can't imagine why Leica decided that this was a feature that isn't necessary on their cameras anymore, but considering that you occasionally need the hot shoe for a viewfinder or other accessory, it's very annoying to not have a PC-sync port if you're using off-camera flash or working with studio strobes.  In fact, it's such a glaring omission on the Leicas that I really question whether Leica believes that the M-series are truly professional calibre cameras.  Fuji on the other hand, must really be commended for including this very useful feature, and it leads me to think that they may be committed to this new system on a professional level in a way that none of the other current mirrorless makers seem to be positioning themselves.  Service and support would be the way they drive that point home, so we'll have to see if they offer something similar to Canon's CPS for X-Pro users--I sort of doubt that they will.

One thing that I'm still not too sure about is the viewfinder.  And I know that was one of the biggest selling points of the earlier X100, but it seems to me that an all electronic viewfinder would be much cheaper to manufacture and probably more useful to the majority of photographers.  That said, I've got a couple of objections to electronic viewfinders.  For one I've always felt so much more disconnected from the scene with an EVF, but I'll admit I still haven't gotten to use the newest EVFs on the Sony NEXs and Panasonic GHs, so maybe things have changed.  The other thing that bothers me with EVFs is that in very low light shooting situations staring at a very bright LCD tends to make it that much harder to see in the dark when the camera is away from your eye.  So there's pluses and minuses to both optical viewfinders as well as EVFs, and maybe Fuji's taken the best approach to viewfinders in general; however, it still seems like it might be an unnecessarily complicated solution.  I'd like to get one in my hands and see what I think; it might turn out to be the best thing since sliced bread.

Anyway, there's plenty of reading on the internet if you want to look over all the hands-on previews that were posted today.  I'll probably post another update once we start seeing some good image samples.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Canon PowerShot SD1000 Digital ELPH

Best designed point and shoot...ever!

I purchased this camera new in early 2007 for almost $400, and looking back now, I can't believe I spent so much money on a point and shoot.  This was actually the first brand new camera that I'd purchased since 1996, and I bought it because I needed something to take with me when I traveled visiting friends, going to shows, for taking snapshots when I really just didn't feel like dragging out the big DSLR.  I came very close to buying the G7, but when I saw the first press images of this camera, I knew immediately that I was going to buy this as soon as it was available.  Now, I'm not usually the sort of person that's terribly image conscious, but the original Canon Elph (you remember, back when APS was a film format rather than a sensor size) was what I considered the best looking point and shoot of the 1990s, and here was a wonderful little digital point and shoot that brought back everything I loved, style-wise, from the original.

Of course, aesthetics aside, I do expect a camera to have some basic performance capabilities.  I knew from borrowing this camera's predecessor (the SD600) that these little cameras were to a level that I felt the picture quality all the way through the ISO scale was what I considered good enough for a pocket camera.  I didn't really need a camera like this with manual control, because I don't honestly see the point in a camera with this small of a sensor (DOF wide open is already tremendously deep, and there's not much benefit with respect to resolution from stopping down).  At the time, things like 24mm equivalent wide-angle lenses, HD video, image stabilization, sweep panoramas, and the like didn't exist--or at least didn't exist in anything but the top tier of cameras--and weren't even on my list of criteria for picking a camera.  The only thing I wished at the time that this camera had was RAW capability, and I still wish it had it (I'm not into the CHDK hacks either).

So anyway, like I said, I traveled with this camera visiting friends back east.  Looking back through the photos that I took with this little guy, I took quite a few daytime snapshots and they're pretty much what you expect.  My camera's lens has always been kind of soft at the edges, but the colors and contrast were great, and for your typical snapshot there wasn't anything wrong with them.

But the photos that stand out to me are the ones that are far from perfect.  Many of them are blurry, taken at high ISO in very low light, and often slightly out of focus.  None of that's the camera's fault of course, but I was shooting in very low light, at night on the street, in bars, at shows, late night trips to the supermarket, places that I really should have had a DSLR for the best pictures.  And that's the thing, I would have never taken these photos without the SD1000, because I wouldn't have bothered to.  I suppose, I just felt more free to snap away, because I wasn't using a serious camera and didn't expect much of it; however, I think these photos capture a much greater sense of the feeling of being there than a more descriptive photo would have.  And some of these...I almost hate to say...are some of my most favorite photos that I've taken in the last few years.

So you know, it's worth considering whether you really need to be purchasing all this bulky, complicated photo equipment, when possibly you'd be taking pictures that you'd be happier taking with something much cheaper, and much less fussy.  Naturally, I've had people look at those photos and say, "oh, these are terrible, too bad you didn't have a better camera," but they're the photos that I wanted, and I'm always happy to look at them again, so to each his or her own.

Would I buy this camera again?  If it were still 2007, absolutely.  Today in 2011, I'd probably be looking at something like the Canon S100 or the Ricoh GR Digital IV, but not for the manual control, mostly just for the RAW capability and a better quality lens with less CA and unsharp edges.  I'll always have a special place in my heart for the SD1000, however, and it still works as good today as it did a few years ago even if today's cameras easily out-shoot it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The Brownie Box Camera for the 21st century?
I've always said that if someone could build a digital camera that was as simple to use as an old box camera, they'd have something that'd work for 98% of the point and shoot market, and this might be as close to that as we get.  You can read all about how the Lytro light field system works on the internet so I won't bother going into all the details here, but suffice it to say, the system lets you refocus images after they've been taken so all you have to worry about is framing up the picture and pressing the shutter release at the right time.  Perhaps the one niggle in the whole potential endeavor is that you must interact with a computer to do anything with your pictures, and if I understand correctly, you must also upload them to Lytro's servers.  For most people that's not such a big deal and it actually fits in well with how they'll use their pictures, but it would certainly limit the system's appeal to some.

So it works like this.  You plug the camera into your computer's USB port just like you do with your iPod or similar music player and let it charge; the batteries are not user replaceable, nor is the memory, so you just keep it plugged in and don't worry about it...simple.  When you want to go take some pictures, you grab your camera and just point and shoot, no worries about whether something is in focus or not, or whether the camera settings are right, just frame it and press the button...simple.  There's a touch-slider for zooming, but the only other button is the one that takes the picture, and it does so nigh instantaneously...simple.  Your picture pops up on the rear touch screen and you can refocus it there at your leisure, or you can wait until it's automatically loaded onto Lytro's servers the next time you plug your camera in...simple.  Once the pictures are on the server you can share them to facebook, your blog, email them, etc...simple.  And that's how we use pictures these days, we share them on the internet, and we need to think about how we design cameras with that objective in mind and how we can accomplish this the most simply

Now, certainly if you consider yourself a serious hobbyist, or you're thinking about photography in a semi-professional manner, or your goal is to make large prints, this is probably not the camera system for you.  But if you don't fall into that category, and you just want to take snapshots, I think we've found a winner.  I know some people will want to get prints from their camera as well, and I don't think I've seen where Lytro's addressed that yet, but it seems that it would be fairly easy for them to offer that as a service integrated into their website (and possibly integrated into the camera), and who doesn't love square prints?

So yeah, this is a pretty exciting new camera, and really represents some different thinking when it comes to camera design.  I'll be interested to see how well they do with it, and it's refreshing to see some new innovations in the camera industry (perhaps unsurprisingly coming from an American tech start up).  I think there's some room for improvement, but this is just the first camera released by them, and anything they add to it will surely add complexity if not executed well.

Will I be buying one?  Probably not, I'm more of a traditionalist I suppose, but it might be the perfect camera for my mother-in-law.  We'll have to see what people think when these things start shipping early next year.