One Camera, One Lens – The Evolution

Unknown

Canon 5D and 24-105L

Around three years ago I lugged with me the following whenever I went on a day trip or vacation with the family:

– Canon 5D Mk2
– Canon 24-105L
– Zeiss 35mm
– Zeiss 50mm
– Zeiss 21mm
– Canon 430EX
– Filters
– Ipad

I had on hand – other than for wildlife photography – a lens for most occasions: landscape, portrait (the 24-105 was pretty good for this), walk around, architectural. All were catered for with some of the best glass that money can buy along with a fantastic body incorporating the a full frame sensor in the shape of the 5D Mk2.

What was not to like? Well, as I have mentioned in previous a blog, the biggest downside was the weight and bulk.

We would regularly take two trips to Canada and the States each year and from where we live this would invariably involve two or three flights. This big bag of camera gear had to be lugged on and off various aircraft with three tired children to manage and cajole with their assorted paraphernalia.

And then it got to the point where I didn’t want to carry this bag with me at all and so the decision was made was to downsize but get the best “small” camera I could that would rival the 5D’s full frame sensor and the quality of the Zeiss optics.

DSCF3210

The M9 followed the 5D Mk2

The way to go? Leica (of course!). So I assembled a system around the Leica M9 with a 50mm Summicron, 35mm Summarit and 24mm Elmar. This little lot in small Billingham bag came to around half of the weight of the Canon/Zeiss kit in a much smaller bag. Oh and probably cost around twice as much! initial review of this camera is here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-as

I used the M9 for around 6 months. From an image quality perspective I will still say that in the right conditions it gave me the best “look” I have ever had from my photographs. Sharpness, contrast and colour were all superb. The Leica glass really lived up to it’s legendary reputation.

The M9 with it’s quirks – average sensor, poor screen, poor high ISO to name a few – was fun to use and really reconnected me with photography. It slowed me down and made me think a little more about shots.

But then the frustrations started. Whilst the size of the camera and the associated lenses meant I could take it anywhere I realised that I was missing more shots than I was getting. As I said above the majority of my photography takes place whilst vacationing with the family. It is one thing taking your time for a landscape shot but quite another taking pictures of the children playing, running or even moving.

Also, If the light wasn’t right getting focus was a pain using the rangefinder.

Also, when changing lenses the M9 seemed to attract more dust and dirt on the sensor than any other camera I had owned (it doesn’t have any form of dust reduction system) and post processing to remove the spots and splotches was becoming a chore.

So, despite the superb image quality and lightweight yet another system’s flaws start to outweigh the benefits……

fujifilm-x-e1-18-55mm-f2_4

Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 Lens

And so the M9 went and the 5D Mk3 was ushered in with history quickly repeating itself over size and weight. Eventually it was replaced by the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55 lens a review of which can be read here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-eY

The system fit the bill in terms of size and weight and now, owning one camera with one lens (albeit a zoom lens which offers a degree of flexibility) I am liberated.

Everything is simplified. No longer is there a requirement to consider which lens for which shot. With the Fuji 18-55 ( 27-82mm 35mm equivalent) lens, I have found is good enough for 99% of the situations I find myself in and the images I want to capture. From landscapes to portraits to cityscapes I have never felt short changed.

Admittedly it is not appropriate for sports or wildlife but for most other situations it is fantastic.

No more worry about dust or dirt on the sensor. Not happy with the field of view? Be more creative and find an interesting new one.

The other issue I had with all the lenses I used to own is that I was always looking for the next one to buy. One that could fit into a small segment of photography be it macro, portrait, wildlife, super wide angle etc. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a very expensive condition that always makes you feel as though you need that next fix, err lens.

Now I am happy with the one lens – if it doesn’t do exactly what I want I consider a way round it. I have enjoyed photography more than ever and for me, the sheer enjoy,eat of capturing an image you are later proud of, is what it is all about.

Advertisements

Fuji X-E1 – Compact System Brilliance

fujifilm-x-e1-18-55mm-f2_4
When I told my wife that I was to go from the Canon 5D MkIII to the Fuji X-E1 she thought I had lost my mind.

Why did I do it? Well for several reasons.

Firstly, I grew tired of a DSLR’s bulk. I am no professional photographer by any means but on days out I do like to carry a camera everywhere with me. Whether in or out of a bag the Canon simply becomes unwieldy and tiring (or rather tiresome) to lug around.

As I stated above I am not a professional photographer so why take a pro camera around with me? I wanted a camera that would give me images that I could ooh and aah over but not where I would need to be submitting the images to National Geographic. I want images that are good enough for me and can take some tweaking in Photoshop. I don’t need to have file sizes that I can aggressively crop and still be able to print off A1 sized prints.

I don’t shoot sports (so no need for dozens of focus points, focus options or super fast frame rates), I don’t shoot wildlife so no need for the capability to strap on huge telephoto lenses. In fact I want to be able to keep lens changes to a minimum or not at all. I used to tire of dust spots on my sensor and having to touch images up and repetitively clean the sensor after being out for the day.

DSCF0966

No, my personal brief was for a camera that would provide me with excellent image quality – edge to edge sharpness, great colour out of the camera, light, easily portable, no temptation to try out a dozen primes to squeeze the best image quality from that full frame sensor (because in my experience unless you do you are missing out on what the 5D’s sensor can produce). 

After trying a number of CSC’s over the years including the Sony NEX 5n and Olympus E-P3 both of which were okay the Fuji X-E1 seemed to fit the bill with the kit zoom lens. Incidentally, saying the 18-55 is a “kit” lens does it an injustice. Most kit lenses I have used be they from Nikon, Canon or Pentax are invariably average at best. The Fuji 18-55 on the other hand is superb and worthy of its almost £600 price tag if bought separately.

Anyway, with the 5D gone I was left with this small, portable and light camera package that I was hoping would deliver.

And, boy does it.

It has been compared to full frame cameras and fared extremely well despite the perception that the bigger the sensor the better. Fuji, when the sensor was first released, suggested that it was better than that found in the 5D Mk2. Take this as typical marketing headlines but I have owned the 5D Mk2 and Mk3 and I do not feel short changed by the Fuji in any way.  

Another comparison was by Steve Huff. He compared the Fuji with the Sony RX1 and found that in good light he preferred the Fuji and in poor light the Sony. He also preferred the build quality of the Sony.

DSCF1036

What frustrates me with this review is that he doesn’t mention that the Sony with a prime Zeiss lens strapped to the front, a full frame sensor and a retail price over two and a half times that of the Fuji should be better. A lot better. In fact if I had the Sony I would expect it to trounce the X-E1 in EVERY area. Not just one or two!!            

In some ways this comparison was a lot like the comparison in high end audio. The more money you spend my get you a better made component with beautiful brushed steel finish or real wood veneers but the engineering inside the boxes is similar a lot of the time and the sound not significantly better.

So back to the X-E1. It fits the bill in terms of size and weight and convenience. It challenges some of the best cameras around in terms of image quality.

DSCF1113

So what are the downsides?

For me there are none. Really!

For other users, however, they may find the following slightly disappointing:

  • Build quality. Without the battery and lens the camera feels a little lightweight and it is clear the materials used are not the same as the X-Pro 1. Don’t get me wrong fully loaded it feels solid in your hands but without it could prove a disappointment.
  • Video quality. This is just average. At the end of the day this is clearly designed as an image making machine and not a replacement for your video recorder. Expect slow focus and occasional rolling shutter artefacts.
  • Lenses. Compared to the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Olympus reasonably priced lenses are hard to come by.

I have no issue with any of the above. I did not buy the camera as a lightweight alternative to a DSLR only to then fill my bag with assorted lenses. There is a lot to be said to with sticking to one camera and one lens in terms of improving your creativity. In any case the 18-55 lens does everything I want and I am more than happy. In fact I am delighted with the image quality.

Once my wife saw the quality of the X-E1’s images and the fact I wasn’t lugging a huge Billingham bag full of gear on holiday she finally got it.

Good job too!

Worldscape Photography

I thought it was worth pointing you in the direction of a sister blog to this one: worldscapephotography.wordpress.com

The site features a number of photographs taken on my travels over the years from Scotland to France to North America.

A number of the images featured on the Blog were taken with the cameras I have reviewed here.

It would be great if you could take a trip there and let me know what you think.

Thanks!!

Yosemite National Park – Paradise in California

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

We love holidaying in North America and over the past 10 years have seen as much as we possibly can with our three children in tow.  From  bustling cities such as New York and San Francisco to National Parks such as The Grand Canyon and Shenandoah we have tried to experience all that represents American cityscapes and landscapes.

There is one state though that we consistently gravitate back to: California. And there is one place in California that draws us back every single time and that is Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite was designated a World Heritage site back in 1984 and was one of the very first National Parks in the USA. It covers over 760,000 acres straddling the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The 3.7 millions visitors per year tend to keep to a 7 square miles of Yosemite Valley.

The park is a reasonable 4 hour drive from San Francisco and it is more than worth the effort to get there. Even on paper the valley is impressive:

  • It was one of the first National Parks in the USA
  • Yosemite falls is the highest waterfall in the US with a drop of 2,425ft
  • The park has three groves of ancient Giant Sequoia, the largest trees on the planet: Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove. Photographs of these trees cannot do them justice. They are truly awe inspiring in the “bark”.
  • El Capitan is the largest single monolith of granite in the world
  • The park is home to one of the biggest bears in the world: the Grizzly.  It is essential that you read and heed the notices and warnings about these animals and be “bear aware”
  • Ansel Adams, arguably one of the world’s best landscape photographers did some of his best work in the valley and it is not hard to see why he was consistently drawn back

In the heart of the valley sits Yosemite Village. This is a great place to stop and has a decent cafe and store. The store is particularly useful if you are lodging or camping in the park itself. It has a good selection of food and drink along with souvenirs, t-shirts and books. There are other interesting things to see and do in the Village including a visitor centre,an art centre and bookshops.

Map of the valley

Most people’s first view of the valley is at Tunnel View where you are presented with an incredible view that will have you instantly reaching for your camera. With El Capitan to your left, Yosemite falls to your right and half dome in the distance it is time to reflect for a minute on what has got to be the perfect picture postcard landscape. In the summer it can get very crowded but there is a decent sized car park. In all the times that we have been we have never failed to find a space.

From here the road winds down into the valley and before long you are in the one way system that loops through the valley and towards the village.

In addition to Yosemite Valley itself there are many distractions including the groves of Giant Sequoia, Glacier Point (with not to be missed views of Half Dome), Taft Point, Toulemne Meadows, the list goes on with dozens of trails to take you off the beaten track.

El Capitan in all it’s glory

Once on the road on the way into the valley itself there are are lay-bys and car parks next to trails, stunning meadows, glimpses of mountains and sheer granite rock faces. Essentially, everywhere that you turn takes your breath away.  It is a area of visual riches that we never, ever tire of.

We have been in Spring when there is still snow on the ground and parts of the park closed; Summer when the weather is beautifully hot and clear; and Autumn where the colours of the trees adds a special dimension.

If you are a photographer, hiker or climber you are in seventh heaven here with so much to photograph and climb that you are spoilt for choice. For photographers my advice would be to take plenty of memory cards with you – you will need them. Also if you venture into the the Ansel Adams Gallery (highly recommended) you may get an inferiority complex so please be warned!!

There is plenty of accommodation around and in the park from campgrounds to plush hotels. Be warned though that in peak season it gets booked up pretty quickly. Also accommodation outside the park is generally cheaper too although you will have a reasonable drive to get to the park.

We have always stayed in a small town called Oakhurst. It is south of the park and around a 45 minutes drive to the entrance. It has some great restaurants with Crab Cakes and Sweetwater Steakhouse being particular favorites – no prizes for guessing what they specialise in! Hotels and Motels are reasonably priced too. We have stayed in both the The Best Western Yosemite Gateway Inn and the Comfort Inn. They were both clean and comfortable although the Best Western doesn’t include a breakfast in the price.

So all in all it is a piece of paradise in California – a State that seems to have more that its fair share of stunning places to visit.

All photographs taken with a Canon 5D MkII and 24-105L lens.


Leica M9 Review – The Conclusion

The Stunning M9 and 50mm Summicron

Before I got the Leica I had a one question that I was hoping the M9 would be able to answer: was it possible to get a camera system that was portable, flexible and would provide the kind of image quality that I had enjoyed with the Canon 5D and Zeiss combination?

The bottom line is that, with the M9, the answer is an emphatic yes. It has it’s flaws and in terms of flexibility and features it cannot match up to most point and shoot cameras never mind high-end DSLR’s. But also by giving you less it gives so much more.

More than any camera since I owned an M6 many years ago, the M9 has reconnected me with photography again. It makes you stop and think about framing, composition, light, exposure, focus, depth of field. Yes with any camera you have to think about these things but with the M9 it is no point and shoot. Something that a lot of DSLR’s seemed to have turned into with their different modes and automatic settings. I often see lot’s of people wandering around with an expensive Nikons or Canons weighed around their necks and wonder if they have ever been out of auto mode before and really used their camera properly.

The M9 has also made me stop examining the LCD so much and reviewing what I have just taken. I now get the shot and invariably move on looking for the next thing to photograph. All the things I used to do before cameras turned into computers. The simplicity of it all is empowering.

Simple to use freeing you to take photographs

Don’t get me wrong in the right situations the 5D has it’s place. It’s low light capabilities are superb for example and you can capture truly stunning images especially with the Zeiss Lenses. If you shoot a lot in low, low light and live view or video is your thing then the M9 is clearly not for you.

But I think that the 5D as with most modern DSLR’s make the process of taking photographs just that: a process. As I have said before it is highly sophisticated computer that is easy to get lost in when taking photographs. There are so many variables that it is easy to get confused with which is the right one for you and the image you want to create.

On the other hand I pick up the M9 switch it on, check the battery and away I go.I don’t have to wade through page after page of settings to ensure that I haven’t left it on a setting I didn’t want to. There are no custom functions to review which always left me confused.

To me the M9 hands back the photographic control back to the photographer and produces images of stunning detail, colour and balance.

As I stated previously I usually do most of my photography when I travel which is invariably with the wife and three children. Lugging the 5D around was becoming a burden to the point where I contemplated on many occasions not actually taking the 5D it and the assorted lenses away with me.

Now I have a 2 lens system (M9 with 35mm Summarit and 50mm Summicron) that fits very easily into a small Domke F-803 bag. There is so much room left over that that I can also get my X1 or X100 in there plus chargers, cards cables AND my iPad and it is all still significantly smaller and lighter than the Billingham filled with Canon gear.
I know that I am not compromising in quality and whilst the Zeiss lenses are hard to beat I just love the way the Leica lenses render an image with such depth and colour.

 

 

A Picture Taken Recently when at Windermere

A screenshot from my Mac showing 100% of part of the Windermere photograph – click for full size

I have read about a lot of people moving from Nikon and Canon DSLR’s to the M9 and at first thought that they must be deranged. Deranged or not I can happily say that I am joining them in that journey and loving every minute of it.

Leica M9 Review – First Impressions and Musings

Okay this thing of beauty has been unboxed and now sits in my hands ready for shooting. Well almost but not quite. First things first – the battery needs a good charge.

Okay, battery charged and rewind. After removing the bottom plate and inserting battery and memory card it is now time for lift off. And to switch the thing on.

The very first impression then? It was actually, is the M9 on? Testing, testing….. one two three….There were no whirrs of machinery, flashing of lights or other indications that it was powered up.

I have to admit that the first 5 minutes with the camera were frustrating to say the least. You see I rarely read manuals.  Most of the electronic equipment I have ever played with has been reasonably intuitive to muddle through and have fun discovering the various elements of operation. Reading the instruction manual is always a last resort to discover access to some hidden menu.

Not so this camera. What confused me is that there are two menus. One under “Menu” (obviously) and one under “Set” (not so obviously). It took me a while and then even then it wasn’t that clear in the manual about how to set compression etc. Maybe I was having an off day……

Up until the M9 acquisition I had a pretty impressive set up: a Canon 5DMkII and a handful of Zeiss glass – 21mm 2.8, 35mm 2.0 and 50mm 1.4. It is hard not to love the image quality, sharpness and colour rendition of the Canon and Zeiss combination. I will be honest and say that it was a set up that I could have continued with for years without feeling I was being short changed in any way.

Most of the performance was thanks to the amazing Zeiss lenses and the world class images they help produce with the aid of the 5D’s full frame sensor.

The main issue I had with it was that it was all so damn heavy and cumbersome to carry around in the Billingham bag I had for it all.

Side by side comparison of the 5D Mk2 and M9

Most of the photography that I love to do – landscape – is done whilst I am on vacation with my young family. I have, over the past five years, struggled to lug the 5D, tripod and lenses along with vacation luggage for a family of five across the “pond” to the USA where we spend most of our holiday time.

So, I came to the conclusion that I needed to downsize.  After researching for a few months I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t want to compromise on the quality I was getting from my current set up the Leica M9 would be the best and most flexible way to go. Coincidently it would be the most expensive way go too. Doesn’t that always seem to be the way?

Back to back it is easy to see just how much more bulk there is in the 5D and Zeiss lens

On paper the Leica is comprehensively trounced by the Canon. More mega pixels, bigger LCD, higher resolution LCD, more FPS, more flexibility, better low light capability, live view, cheaper.…………the list goes on.

But after a while using the Leica you came to appreciate it’s simplicity and realise that actually some of the pro’s of the Canon can start to be slowly pulled apart:

More Megapixels? Well surely the 18 of the Leica are enough? There is a school of thought that says 6 is enough. There are also apparently imaging issues with the way light hit’s the sensor above 18MP –  a coincidence?

Bigger LCD? 2.5” seems enough for me. Better than I had on my M6.

Higher resolution LCD? At first glance the LCD on the M9 is appalling. Then in use you realise that it is good enough. In any case shouldn’t you be just getting on with the job of taking pictures and not constantly referring back to the LCD? Also I have found with high resolution LCD’s they can lull you into a false sense of security. They can make an image look too good. I have downloaded images confident in the fact that they were perfectly in focus only to find that although they looked like they were reality was something totally different.

More FPS? I don’t shoot sports or anything particularly fast moving.

More flexibility? Yes. But only if you want to start digging through menus or setting up custom profiles (none of which I can remember once set). I want to take pictures not play with a computer with a lens strapped to the front.

Live view? Only really useful if you have the time to fiddle with it and a tripod. I have a tripod but time is precious. I have also found that the stability of holding the camera to your eye far exceeds that of live view performance unless, as stated previously, you are using a tripod.

Cheaper? Err. Yes, the 5D is cheaper.

The Leica 35mm Summarit 2.5 and Zeiss 35mm 2.0 – good things come in small packages

Another lens size comparison this time without the Leica’s lens hood on

But when it all comes down to it the bottom line is could this camera achieve the brief that I had set it in that I wanted a light, unobtrusive camera that was easy to carry around with a couple of lenses and have a world class imaging?

If there were such thing as a M9 wish list I would put on it automatic sensor cleaning and some weather sealing. That’s it. Keep everything else simple. I wouldn’t want anything else that would detract from the straightforward userbility of the M9.

The short answer is a resounding yes but check out my next blog where I will go into some more detail on using the M9 and upload some images for you to check out and see what you think….

All images taken with the Fuji Finepix X100

Zuckerberg Island, Castlegar, British Columbia

On our recent trip to Canada we visited Zuckerberg Island which is located on the outskirts of Castlegar.

This tiny island is located where the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers meet. A Russian Civil Engineer by the name Alexander Zuckerberg built the little chapel house on the island around 1931. He died in 1963 and is buried at the back of the house with his wife.

It wasn’t until 1984 that the suspension bridge was erected to allow access to the island on foot.

There is also a Hiroshima Memorial on the island where Japanese maples have been planted in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of the bombing.

20110430-093749.jpg

Not everyone enjoyed the suspension bridge!

20110430-093455.jpg

An old timer shows how it’s done

20110430-092513.jpg

A view from the bridge


20110430-092528.jpg

The Kootenay River from the bridge


20110430-093956.jpg

The Zuckerburg’s house. Note the Russian influence on the roof. Husband and wife are buried behind the house.

20110430-094134.jpg

A view from the front.

20110430-094231.jpgTo us it looked like a fairytale cottage…..

It is a beautiful place to visit and well worth making the short drive out of Castlegar if you are in the region.

All photographs taken with a Canon 5D MkII and Zeiss 21mm ZE lens. An awesome combination.