Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Want a Better Camera!

I sometimes get asked by non-camera hobbyists, "I'm looking for a better camera than my point and shoot, but I don't want anything big and bulky. What should I get? I don't want to spend too much either"

Well there are a bunch of new cameras that might fit that mold, with larger sensors and interchangeable lenses. They aren't DSLRs (because they don't have a mirror box), but they can produce similar image quality. I think the industry is still searching for the best name for these cameras, but you might hear the term "mirrorless". While smaller than DSLRs they typically have slower autofocus speed than a DSLR (but faster than your P&S).

Here are some options for smaller cameras with better images which cost below $1,000 including both a camera and a lens. 

  • This is Nikon’s new small interchangeable lens system.
  • It’s very small and offers a reasonable step up from the point and shoot world in terms of image quality. Of all the cameras listed, the Nikon has the smallest sensor, which would likely produce slightly worse photos.
  • Right now there are only 3 lenses available for it.
  • The more expensive V1 offers an electronic viewfinder (useful in bright sunlight) and higher-resolution screen, while the smaller J1 features built-in flash and significantly lower price tag.
  • Of the cameras listed here, only the V1 includes a built-in electronic viewfinder, but these are potential add-on accessories for the Panasonic GX1 and Olympus EP3. You don’t need one, but its nice in bright sunlight.

Nikon J1 with 10-30mm lens. $600.
Nikon V1 with 10-30mm lens. $847.

Micro Four Thirds

• Panasonic, Olympus, Cosina, make up the four-thirds consortium, which is a lens mount size. The advantage is that there are lots of people making lenses and accessories for these cameras.
• The Olympus Pen Lite produces the same image as the E-P3 but it lacks a built-in flash and other do-dats.
• The Panasonic GX1 is significantly better than the GF3 in both image quality and useability, but the GF3 is very small.

Panasonic GX1 with 14-42mm lens- $700.

Panasonic GF3 with 14-42mm lens - $450

Olympus E-P3 Pen with 14-42mm lens $850.

Olympus E-PL3 Pen LITE with 14-42mm lens $650

  • Sony really lacks in additional lenses for this system even though its been around for a few years now. It doesn’t have a built in flash.
Sony Nex-5n with 18-55mm lens $700.   


  • Canon has yet to release a large sensor, mirrorless camera, with interchangeable lenses, but they did release one with a fixed lens. This a fixed lens camera, that is slightly larger than a point and shoot, but it produces much higher image quality. Given the price and other options, I don’t see the value in this camera.
Canon G1X-$800


Buying into a system is a good idea. While you may only use the a camera and normal lens today, you can add things in the future (i.e., you are going on vacation and get a wide angle lens). Normally I prefer a fixed (non-zoom) lens that has a wider aperture, but for most of these cameras, the kit with the standard zoom lens is only a wee bit more than the body alone, so it makes sense just to get the zoom lens at the start.

Of the options, I prefer the Panasonic GX1 given all the variables (image quality, price, availability of extras), but it would be best to go to a camera store and get a feel for them.


Friday, April 6, 2012

50mm Lens Test Round 3

So this round focuses (first round, second round) on two very different things: whether the image is pleasing, and corner sharpness.  Clinical sharpness is not always desirable in portraits. Since I don't have a subject to sit still in the same pose, I decided to use my daughter's bitty baby doll, which is reasonably life-like.

Test Setup
4.5 ft away, no crop, ISO 640. Light is provided by a window behind the camera to avoid the risk of flare.

The Results

The Summicron, whose "flare?" harms the technical quality of the image in previous tests, it actually improves the portrait. Some Leica enthusiasts have called this "Leica glow". They may be right. Based on the test setup with the image being front light, I don't see how stray lights enter the lens.

 Nokton 50/1.5 at f2

Heliar 50/2 at f2

Summicron 50/2 DR at f2

Summitar 50/2 at f2

Corner Sharpness

This is the same image as above and cropped to the writing on the side. I'm not sure if the letters are within the depth of field of the image, but you can notice that the Summitar is clearly much worse than the others.


Heliar 50/2 at f2

 Summicron 50/2 at f2
 Summitar f/2

50mm Lens Test - Round 2

Following up the first round of tests, I decided to look at center sharpness again, but in a room lighted by a window to the rear of the camera (to avoid flare)

Test Specifics
ISO 1000, 1/20 shutter speed, tripod mounted.

The Results 

Center sharpness is surprisingly similar between the lenses. The "flare?" on the Summicron makes the blacks look not quite as black and a little washed out. However, the lettering is still crisp.
Full frame (Nokton image)
Nokton 50/2 at f2

Heliar 50/2 at f2


Summicron 50/2 at f2

Summitar 50/2 at f2

50mm Lens Test - Round 1

The nice thing about a digital camera with interchangeable lenses is the ability to test lenses for free. I have several 50mm lenses in LTM or M mount. I decided to compare them. This is round 1 (round 2, and round 3)

Test Setup

The camera (a Fuji X Pro-1) was mounted on a tabletop tripod with self timer and photos were at ISO 400. I used the Kipon M adapter. The objects were about 4 feet away from the camera and light was provided by a chandelier which was above and offset from the camera.

The Lenses

Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 Asph: Made by Cosina, this lens was introduced in 1999. With two aspherical elements, it is the most modern lens of the bunch.

Voigtlander Heliar Classic 50mm f/2: Also made by Cosina, this lens (introduced in 2006) is designed along the parameters in keeping with the spirit of Carl Harting's 1900 Heliar design, with 5 elements in three groups. It is not supposed to be the most clinically sharp lens, but is intended for portraits.

Leitz Summicron 50mm f/2 Dual Range: Introduced by Ernst Leitz  (now Leica) in 1957, this lens has 7 elements in five groups. With a special adapter, this lens can focus down to 19 inches. The brand "Summicron" is still in use by Leica today, so you have to be sure to know which model is used.

Leitz Summitar 50mm f/2: Introduced by Leitz in 1939, this lens also has 7 elements in five groups. Post war versions are coated, which help reduce flare.

The Results

The Nokton is clearly the sharpest.

The Summicron is sharp, but it suffers from what appears to be flare. The black lens board doesn't look black. The first time I took some Summicron shots, I didn't have a lens hood, so I thought it was suffering from flare, but I don't see much of a difference

Nokton 50/1.5 at f/2

50/1.5 Nokton at f/2 without lens hood

Heliar 50/2 at f/2 with hood
Heliar 50/2 at f/2 without hood

Summicron 50/2 DR at f/2 with hood

Summicron 50/2 DR at f/2 without hood

Summitar 50/2 at f/2 with hood

Summitar 50/2 at f/2 without hood

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Once in a while, this blog can have actual photos! (instead of just gear and technical stuff)

Spring in Texas means bluebonnets, which are great photo settings for little ones:





All taken with the Fuji X Pro 1, Fuji 35/1.4 in Velvia Simulation mode. (gotta have some technical info!) The Velvia simulation isn't as saturated as Velvia 50 film, but that at least makes it useable if photographing people.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Fuji X Pro 1 is here!! - First Impressions

So the camera still hasn't arrived in US stores. However, last Friday it got to Canada. On Monday I ordered mine, and today (Thursday) it arrived, much to my pleasant surprise!

Although my wife has a D-lux 4 (fancy point and shoot), this is my first real digital camera. (Real = better than a camera phone quality)

I think I'm hooked, but I must say, I'm glad I waited for this camera. I'm not sure if I would have been happy with other earlier digital releases. I haven't done a side-by-side, but I bet this camera's quality at least beats the $8,000 cameras of a few years ago (Nikon D3).

First impression after a night of shooting? This camera rocks!

Performance: The photo quality at high ISOs is amazing. At screen resolution, I can't see noise at ISO 6400.

Jpegs: Look fantastic. Can't see how I could improve with shooting Raw.

Autofocus: It's fast and snappy when there is a reasonable amount of light, at about a Light Value (LV) 8 or higher). At LV -3, it was quite slow, perhaps 1-2 seconds.

Using M lenses: I was a little slow in focusing, but I think it will improve over time. I didn't exactly focus an optical rangefinder quickly the first day I picked it up. You can use magnification to get correct focus if your subject is sitting still. Regardless, I was able to focus without any real issue.

The camera with the Fuji 35/1.4:
Fuji X Pro 1 with 35/1.4

The following with the Fuji 35/1.4

ISO400 at f/1.4:
Fuji 35 f1.4 ISO400 1

ISO640 at f/2.2
Fuji 35 f2.2 ISO640

ISO3200, at f/1.4
Fuji 35 f1.4 ISO3200 2

ISO12800, at f/1.4 and 1/7 shutter speed, hand held. This is a Light Value of -3
Fuji 35- f1.4- ISO12800- LV-3

ISO25600 - this is the level of noise seen at ISO 800 on many vintage 2007 digital cameras, and for the grain of Fuji 1600 color film (now discontinued).
Fuji 35- f1.4- ISO25600

The camera with a Kipon M mount adapter and a Leitz Summicron 50/2 DR:
Fuji with Summicron 50/2 DR

The following with Summicron 50/2 DR

ISO 3200 at f/2
Summicron 50 f2 ISO3200 3

ISO2500 at f/4
Summicron 50 f4 ISO2500 4

Film simulation:

I like the film situation modes as I have a reference to the look I want. I need to try out Velvia on a nice sunny day and see if the colors are as punchy as the film. Right now I see a small difference in color saturation, but may not as different as the film.

Astia sim

Velvia sim 

Black and White:

The camera has settings for not just black and white , but "B&W plus yellow filter, "B&W plus green filter" etc. I'm still not a huge fan of digital black and white, but I think it has made some improvements

Monochrome - ISO 1250

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pulling Provia 400x

 So we were headed to the zoo, I grabbed my Rollei and a roll of Provia. Only after I finished shooting did I realize it was Provia 400. Doh! I shot the roll at ISO 100.

I sent it to the developers requesting them to pull it 2 stops. They said they only could do a one stop pull. So I said okay as I had little other choice.

The results were not that bad. There is definitely a color shift toward magenta, but the images were saved with the help of Photoshop (Elements 8)

Original Scan:

After Photoshop
26Feb12- Provia- Rollei 006