New Medium Format Digital Back Company Survey


Hello everybody, you may have noticed that my internet presence has been greatly decreased in recent months. This has been because I have been working very hard on a new company Square Cameras. Square Cameras is going to be a new entrant into the world of medium format digital backs. Currently, we have received an initial round of funding and have begun building prototypes of our first product.

At the moment we are currently to look to raise a second round of funding to finish the current prototype and then prepare everything for production. As part of this, I have created a survey to help establish the demand for the product that Square Cameras will be introducing. Below you will find a link to the new website which features the survey. I would greatly appreciate it if you could take this survey and let me know the products you want to see us produce. Thank you!

Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens Brief Review (Updated)


Canon 5D Mrk III and TS-E 17mm f/4L lens ~ 1/100s – f/11 – ISO 100

As primarily a Nikon shooter, there really aren’t that many lenses that Canon has that we don’t have. However one glaring exception to this is the Canon TS-E 17mm f4/L Tilt-Shift Lens. Nikon’s PC-E Tilt-Shift lenses come in 24mm, 45mm, and 85mm varieties while Canon’s TS-E’s are offered at 17mm, 24mm, 45mm, and 90mm.

Previously I have had some exposure to the Canon TS-E lenses when I reviewed the Hartblei HCam B1. With the larger image circle of the tilt-shift lens, the Canon TS-E’s held up remarkably well showing that they had more then enough resolving power to stand up to my 80 megapixel PhaseOne IQ180. This is rather remarkable for any 35mm lens, and personally though I have not tested it I suspect that the Nikon PC-E’s wouldn’t have held up as well to 80 megapixels as they do at 36mp on the D800e.

So suffice it to say when using the Canon TS-E 17mm on the Canon 5D Mrk III its possible to get some very nice results. As far as I’m concerned, 17mm is very wide for a 35mm camera and this lens preforms very nicely and has very good edge-to-edge sharpness which can be an issue on some tilt-shift lenses.

Using a tilt-shift lens to stitch and create a larger FOV or a high-resolution image is very easy, especially when taking the images from a tripod. Adobe Photoshop’s Photomerge function (File > Automate > Photomerge) has no problem chewing through the files to get you your results.


As for this specific image, it was a bit of a difficult situation (that I think actually came out very nicely). Because of time constraints for this image, I had to take it with the Sun directly behind the building (and in the frame). I took some initial images and saw that there was lens flare happening (which really isn’t surprising when you have an ultra-wide angle lens shifted and shooting directly into the sun).

I noticed however that the Canon TS-E 17mm at f/11 did a really good job handling the area directly around the sun itself but there was unacceptable lens flare on the building. I knew I would need a card to block out the sun and get the building image. Not having anything terribly photographic, I opted for a small raincoat that I keep in my bag at all times. As you can see this allowed me to capture the sky (with the nicely rendered sun but with flare on the building) and then a second image with the jacket blocking the sun and preventing the lens flare on the building.

Thanks to the images being taken on a level tripod and taking advantage of the perspective correction of the tilt-shift lens, it was very easy to merge the two background images and then use Auto-Align (Edit > Auto-Align Layers) to align the sky image with the two background images and then mask out the building so that I had a pretty sky, and a flare-less building.

All-in-all I’m new to architectural photography so I think there is still a bit of a novelty factor present, and I hope to (always) create better images in the future. However, I think this image helps to illustrate some very interesting qualities of the unique Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift lens.

Update: This article was written prior to the announcement of the Canon 5Ds and 5Ds R which are two amazing ultra-high resolution 35mm DSLR cameras. A lot of talk has surfaced about these being medium format “killers” which as I’m sure you already know, I don’t believe to be true. As we know from my use of this lens with my PhaseOne IQ180, this lens will be great for high-resolution imaging on the Canon 5Ds. Medium format digital backs and technical cameras and lenses will always have their place at the pinnacle of image quality but these will certainly be interesting options for the lower end of the architectural market and for hobbyists.


PhaseOne IQ250 does Christmas @ Rock Center (with Sample Files)


Crop – Digital Perspective Correction

Schneider-Kreuznach 28mm f/4.5 LS @ 1/100s – f/4.5 – ISO 1600

To all of those out there celebrating, Merry Christmas!

Before starting this article I should note, for some reason the uploaded pictures didn’t show so you can view them on flickr here. So please download the full-resolution sample files (See below) before jumping to any conclusions or thinking I’m out of my f-ing mind with what I’m saying.

I was lucky enough to be able to be on the ice for the 2014 Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting, but even more excitingly, my good friend Lance Schad from Digital Transitions was nice enough to lend me the very special PhaseOne IQ250, and a Schneider-Krueznach 28mm f/4.5 LS for the event which meant I was able to get some hands on real world experience with this digital back, and the results absolutely blew me away. For the purposes of this particular article, I’m not going to get terribly involved in reviewing this camera. Basically, all you need to know that this is a killer crop 50mp Sony CMOS sensor housed within PhaseOne’s IQ2 series digital back housing meaning that you get everything that you love about your IQ series digital back, with the wonders of a medium format digital CMOS sensor. The results are absolutely stunning.

As you will see the results from this camera are absolutely insane. ISO 800, ISO 1600, ISO 3200 are all highly usable, and even the results at ISO 6400 are amazingly usable as well (albeit with some qualifications). The absolutely amazing thing about the results out of this camera AT ALL ISO’s is that there are is almost no color noise. At ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 is there noise? Of course, but because it is not color noise it is shockingly inoffensive. There is some loss of sharpness / smudging of details which is only apparent when zoomed in at ISO 3200, and even at ISO 6400 zoomed out fully you would be hard pressed to notice it.

While there are a number of cameras out there now with the Sony crop censored 50mp CMOS medium format chip, I believe that the image processing skills of PhaseOne really shine through here. FULL-DISCLOSURE: I have not been able to review sample images from the Hasselblad H5D-50c or CFV-50c, or the Pentax 645z or other PhaseOne owned variants of this camera. However that being said, I believe if compared to the competition with the same sensor the PhaseOne IQ250 would wildly out class them because of Phase’s image processing abilities.

A Few of the sample images might suffer from a little bit of camera shake, because well, I was hand holding at relatively slow shutter-speeds…and it was cold out….and I may have had a little to drink… give me a break. But the point remains that these images are exceedingly clean, especially from a technical perspective. Below I will show some sample images as well as a couple of ISO series. But….

Please download through this dropbox link the full JPEG and .IIQ files of these images for your edification. I’m making these images available for you free for personal use and not to be republished anywhere without my permission. If you don’t have CaptureOne, you can download it here.

To all a happy holiday and a happy new year, thank you for making this year so great for my website. I know I am behind on posting a number of articles, but look at it this way, you have some fun stuff coming your way in January!

High ISO Series Taken with the PhaseOne IQ250

Press Release: PhaseOne A-Series


Today, as part of their long-term partnership with Alpa of Switzerland, PhaseOne announced the A-series.

It should be noted that although the PhaseOne A-Series does contain Alpa components, it is being sold at all PhaseOne authorized dealers, even if they do not carry the full Alpa product line. My preferred PhaseOne dealer, Digital Transitions ( located locally in NYC will be one of the first to have the new PhaseOne A-Series. I will be working extensively with Digital Transitions as well as PhaseOne to help bring more content about A-Series in the near future.

The A-Series is more then it appears at first glance. On the surface, it is an Alpa TC (travel compact), combined with a one of three flavors PhaseOne back and three Rodenstock lenses, and it is all of these things, however it is also a lot more.

While still usable, the PhaseOne A250 (IQ250), PhaseOne A260 (IQ260) or PhaseOne A280 (IQ280) sold with as part of the A-Series kit, will feature LCC’s for each specific lens applied in camera meaning that what you see is what you get on the back of the camera. This can be accomplished because the Alpa TC which the A-Series is based off of does not have movements. I believe that this is a huge boon for this as a compact travel system because there is much more certainty that you have got the shot, as well as the fact that it makes editing much easier. Most importantly however, it means that you can take pictures in rapidly changing conditions without having to worry about capturing an LCC (which requires a second exposure to be made, identical to the first in every way immediately after an image is taken). LCC’s vastly improve resulting images (especially with movements, but also for single-shots), however they are time consuming to capture. Being able to know that you have three lenses where your resulting images will be the absolute best on the planet straight out of the camera with no further steps required is huge.

The PhaseOne A-Series is pretty much the newest, latest and greatest “Most expensive point and shoot in the world”, not only does it capture this title, but it also captures the title of “most expensive mirrorless camera”. It does require manual focusing, however this is aided both by live-view on the camera’s rear screen (and live-view soon to be available in PhaseOne CapturePilot 1.8) as well as via image review on both the cameras rear screen and on iOS devices via CapturePilot. Further mitigating any complications presented by manual focusing are the PhaseOne IQ-series’ premium features including a focus mask available during image review that shows you which part of your image is in focus, as well as flashing highlight warning. Further, with all three of the lenses 23mm, 35mm and 70mm the PhaseOne A-Series can easily be set to a hyperfocal distance ( where the focus distance can be calculated and set such that maximum DoF can be achieved at any aperture making shooting a breeze.

Since the PhaseOne A-series is sold as a package is has a number of other advantages. First, since it is delivered as a single package, its 5-year warranty is extended to all components of the package. The Rodenstock lenses are calibrated at the Alpa Factory with their HPF focusing rings which means that they will be as precise as humanly possible. Also the PhaseOne digital back will be shimmed by Alpa. Shimming is a very meticulous process where effectively an offset is created spacing the digital back and the lens just precisely to yield the sharpest possible image. Considering the extremely high-tolerences that Alpa products are manufactured too this is a process where changes are happening at the level of fractions of a millimeter with extremely thin pieces of metal being placed in the digital backs mount to create the required distance for the ultimate image quality for the PhaseOne digital back.

Another great thing is that, while this is a kit, the parts can be used with other camera systems. For instance, if you decide you want more control over your photography, you can opt for an Alpa body with movements, like the STC (stitch travel compact) or SWC (Super wide compact) as well as add additional lenses and accessories for more creative control. Also you can take the IQ2 series digital back off of the PhaseOne A-Series and put it on any Mamiya M mount medium format camera like the PhaseOne 645DF+ and enjoy the full range of autofocus and leaf shutter lenses from PhaseOne and Schneider-Krueznach.

Alpa’s are often compared to fine Swiss-watches or luxury performance automobiles because of their absolutely impeccable mechanics, finishing and attention to details. Alpa’s are well loved by commercial and fine-art photographers for their luxurious feel and absolute precision. Combined with PhaseOne digital backs they can produce some absolutely stunning results.

the PhaseOne A-Series is not a technical camera, it is a compact medium format digital travel camera. If you are looking for a technical camera, you can read my review of the Cambo WRC-400 or my upcoming review of the Arca-Swiss RM3Di. All of these cameras are distributed by my PhaseOne Dealer, Digital Transitions and comprehensive information as well as their proprietary online visualizer application for technical cameras can be accessed through this link.

PDN PhotoPlus 2014 Coverage

Last weekend, I attended PDN PhotoPlus 2014, and recorded a number of videos with various manufacturers that interested me. These include, Digital Transitions (PhaseOne, MamiyaLeaf, Arca-Swiss), Cambo, Alpa, and Arca-Swiss as well as Blazing Editions a print making service. Don’t really have much of a set up for this but I think the videos give a nice look at some of the new products that were announced at Photokina 2014 that we haven’t gotten to see in the flesh yet. If you weren’t able to make it to NYC for PDN PhotoPlus 2014 then I hope these videos will help you get to see and better understand some of the products that where on display.

Capture One 8 Pro Tips from Digital Transitions


My PhaseOne dealer, Digital Transitions ( and my friend Doug Peterson present 6 tips for the new CaptureOne 8 Pro software from PhaseOne. CaptureOne 8 produces a lot of important workflow and efficiency improvements as well as introducing a updated user interface to Apple’s refined interface in OS X Yosemite. Aside from the features highlighted above some tools have also been improved, however you will come across most of these in the course of your use of the software which can be downloaded here (

A couple of other notable features are the improved Shadows/Highlight and HDR features as well as the new Black and White / Grain features. Shadows/Highlight controls in capture one have had their algorithms refined to produce more realistic and natural looking results. This is especially apparent when there are bigger exposure differences between the foreground and background (like you might encounter with a landscape).

Generally regarded as a joke, pieces of software that attempt to introduce grain into a digitally converted black and white image (or even a monochromatically captured one) fail to produce anything resembling the true character of the real silver-nitrate grains that make up actual film. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that PhaseOne has cracked the code for this in their latest software but they have created a very nice feature. Getting overly obsessive about minor details as PhaseOne is want to do, they chose to attempt to create a better, more realistic model for grain in CaptureOne 8. They started by studying the physical grains of film under microscopes, and eventually wound up researching the way that those grains behave in gradients and different lighting situations. From this they created an algorithm that produces much more realistic grain. That being said, its not real grain, and it never will be. However, there are a few situations where I can see this feature being very helpful. For starters, one of the cameras I own and use is the Leica M9 Monochrom, at low ISO’s this camera produces files that are almost “too” clean for certain applications. The way that I generally get around this is that I simply shoot the camera at higher ISO’s where there is some grain introduced, since it is rendered very differently in a monochromatic image and generally gives me the results that I want. However, I am going to be interested in testing out this new feature to see if it yields more pleasing results. Pleasing results in the sense that the image looks more natural, not that it looks like film, but that it looks more natural. This is a very important distinction and is also the other situation where I think that this feature may come in handy. If we have converted a color image into black and white and want to make it look more pleasing and natural this feature will help (I believe) in making interesting results and nice images, but not replicating actual film grain which is entirely different and not something that to date a computer has been able to replicate.

Alpa Switzerland


In an exciting change of pace for the PhotoPlus, Alpa was here again and showing off their full line or products. At Photokina 2014, they presented a number of potentially very interesting mounts for the Alpa FPS (which can be used in conjunction with all of their Alpa 12 cameras including the TC, SWA, SWC, STC, MAX and XY or on its own as a separate camera). These mounts are for a number of different medium format digital lenses. Alpa has had adapters for Canon and Nikon lenses, and the Canon Tilt-Shift’s have been particular favorites of owners of Alpa FPS’s particularly because of the Canon 17mm TS-E’s ability to cover a full medium format digital sensor. These new mouths include Hasselblad H, Rollei 6000, and Contax mounts with electronic communication planned for them in the future to allow for some potentially very interesting control of these electronic lenses which could lead to stepping which would be great for focus stacking.



Rene Rook from Cambo (and also my host when I toured the Cambo factory in the Netherlands) presents the new Cambo Actus miniature view camera. This is an extremely small, extremely rigid view camera platform for both 35mm and medium format mounts. Here it is shown with the Sony A7R and a medium format digital back, both of these configurations are interchangeable on the same camera as well as a number of lenses, there are a number of interesting options for using this camera in conjunction with the Sony A7R since you can use medium format and large format lenses to get a lot of area out of the image circle of larger image circled lenses. And further as a miniature view camera, with a medium format digital back and digital lenses from Schneider-Krueznach and Rodenstock this presents a very compact and portable option for using movements on the go, very tempting in both configurations. I hope to get a sample of this camera soon to review.

Digital Transitions (PhaseOne, MamiyaLeaf, Cambo, Arca-Swiss)


My preferred PhaseOne dealer, Digital Transitions ( was showing the full line of PhaseOne and MamiyaLeaf backs. I asked Lance to help go over some of the differences between the PhaseOne and MamiyaLeaf models, especially since now we have the IQ1 series (including the new CMOS IQ150), the IQ2 series (new CMOS IQ250) as well as a CMOS censored camera from MamiyaLeaf (as well as standard CCD models). Its important to understand the differences between these models to help decide which camera is right for you.

PhaseOne has also relatively recently released the PhaseOne 40-80mm LS f/4.0-5.6 Zoom lens which is an absolutely massive zoom lens that is not to far off in size from the Hasselblad 50-110mm f/3.5-4.5 HC AF Zoom Lens. Hopefully I will be able to do some testing soon, but I have been told that this lens preforms very nicely, this is something that I will be interested to see since zoom lenses are particularly difficult to make. Hasselblad has had some real winners, especially with the Hasselblad 35-90mm f/4-5.6 HCD lens which was one of my favorites for the system when I owned it. 



Arcs-Swiss released a number of extremely exciting products at Photokina 2014. Most excitingly they announced a number of new electronic accessories including two new shutter modules that work with all of their cameras! Arca-Swiss released a number of new products that I will detail below;

- The Arca-Swiss Central Shutter (CS) this is a direct replacement for Copal mechanical shutters which are the industry standard though no longer being made. The Arca-Swiss CS can take Copal 1 and Copal 0 lenses (which covers almost all modern digital lenses) and is controlled by their dEx Controller. The CS can go up to 1/250th of a second with a Copal 1 lens, and higher with a Copal 0 lens (since the opening is smaller). The CS can be used with all Arca-Swiss cameras, including the new Universalis, all R-series technical cameras, and all Arca-Swiss view cameras through their proprietary screw mount used on all of the lens boards for these various cameras.

- The Arca-Swiss Focal Plane Shutter (FP) mounts between the digital back and the camera, and thus can be used on all Arca-Swiss cameras up to 6×8 (possibly 6×9) and tops out at 1/3000th of a second which is very impressive as well. This allows for shutterless lenses to be used like older “vintage” lenses as well as the potential to start being able to use 35mm lenses like Nikon and Canon’s tilt-shift lenses (among others with lens mounts coming soon).

- The Arca-Swiss Cloud DM Wireless Distometer (DM) is a much more compact (and wireless) followup to the eModule Cloud and helps you find the distance you should focus the camera (its effectively a rangefinder). This becomes a powerful tool when coupled with a few of Arca-Swiss’s other new products.

- The Arca-Swiss dEx which includes the Arca-Swiss Remote Control Unit (RCU) and Micro Power Unit (MPU) allows for wireless control of devices attached to the dEx system and will display information from the DM module as well as the FP and CS shutter modules. The MPU is a better pack that will power the whole system, Arca-Swiss is selling a special mount with an AS plate on the bottom so that they system can conveniently be mounted to the bottom of a camera next to the tripod head where it is accessible and out of the way. This system, again, can be used on the Arca-Swiss R-Line, M-Line, and F-Line system cameras as well as the new Universalis.

- The Arca-Swiss Focus Rail Readout (or trolley) is probably my favorite of the new products because of its implications for use with the system as a whole. This is a small item that mounts on the rail of a rail system camera like the M-Line or F-Line and most importantly the new Universalis. It then will communicate with the dEx command module and display the distance that the camera is focused at digital allowing for precise focusing when combined with the DM module.

- The Arca-Swiss Universalis is very similar to the Cambo Actus (though the Universalis is slightly larger, and the Cambo is impressively robust for its smaller size) and also very compact. However a defining difference between these two cameras (for me anyway) is the ability of the Arca-Swiss Universalis to communicate with all the new goodies detailed above from Arca-Swiss. Arca-Swiss’s new products have radically changed the medium format technical market with their modularity and complex set of features which combines for endless possibilities and the most digital control in a sector that was caught between the analog and digital world. Now the Universalis brings all of these benefits in a small package that is compatible with both 35mm cameras as well as medium format digital backs. I actually think that there is a place in the world for both the Cambo Actus and the Arca-Swiss Universalis since they will appeal to people who want different things (as well as those who are already committed to one system or another). I’m very happy about these cameras, because while technical plate cameras are very nice, versatile, and compact nothing beats the control or tactile feedback of a rail camera, and now that these have been effectively miniaturized they allow for themselves to be much more user friendly.

Blazing Editions – Metallic Printing


Immediately behind Digital Transitions Booth (where Arca-Swiss was housed as well) was Blazing Editions ( who offer a number of printing and photographic services but also interestingly a wide array of printing options on Metal. Metal can produce some very interesting effects (which some may see as kitschy) however Blazing Images also offers printing on a metal substrate without the metal showing through and their process (explained in the video) yields some extremely detailed results. Digital Transitions had provided a number of medium format digital files for Blazing Editions to print and show off at PDN PhotoPlus 2014 and the files looked amazing printed. Anecdotally a fun little detail is that Blazing Editions can CNC Machine a photographer’s signature onto the print for a very interesting (and I think very fun affect).


I hope you have enjoyed my PDN PhotoPlus 2014 conference, it was very exciting because there were a number of medium format players there in force and ready to show off their new products that we all lusted after from Photokina 2014. If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR for Shooting Hummingbirds

Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4 and Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR @ 1000mm

1/1600s – f/7.1 – ISO 6400

 I apologize for my absence as of late, however I have been working on a number of very large long term projects that I hope will pay off for me and my website in the future. That being said, I have still been shooting (in fact more then I was previously was it seems) and I have a number of exciting reviews coming. I’ll briefly outline some of them at the moment, they include the Lytro Illum and Sony RX1r two new pieces of equipment I have, as well a number of other topics including using the Nikon D800e with tilt-shift lenses, a review of the Arca-Swiss RM3Di, and a review of my experiences as a Nikon shooter, shooting Canon 1Dx’s at the 2014 US Open Tennis championships and sort of in tandem with this a review of Photo Mechanic 5 a very powerful ingestion tool I was introduced to to sort through the 1000′s of pictures I took.

But lets face it, that was all very self aggrandizing and presumptuous as to the number of dedicated followers I have as compares to visitors who found me through google. Your here because well Nikon 800mm enough said right? I don’t own this lens, I rented it because I thought it would be fun to try out for my now annual summer hummingbird shoot at my house in Connecticut. I rented this through, I only mention this because they are where I chose to go for all of my online rental needs, I haven’t tried anyone else, but Lensrentals and their support has always been perfect, and to be clear they are not paying me to say that, but they totally should ;). Moving on, this article is going to be pretty short, because its about something pretty specific, this isn’t an overarching review of this lens, but rather a review of my experiences using it for a very specific task, shooting hummingbirds.

Both Canon and Nikon’s (though notably Nikon’s) 800mm lenses are very good, and they better be for their five digit prices. From a little bit of other playing around I did with this lens it offers superior sharpness and exhibits no aberrations to speak of. Unfortunately I shot these images with my Nikon D4, when my D4s arrived about a week later, I can only imagine with its improved AF this lens could have been an even more powerful image making tool in this situation. The Nikon 800mm comes with a very special 1.25x Teleconverter. This is no ordinary teleconverter for a number of reasons. First of all its a weird magnification size (most TC’s are 1.4 / 1.7 / 2) and brings the lens to a clean 1000mm which leaves it with a reasonably sized aperture of effectively f/7.0.  But what really makes this teleconverter stand out is how it is made. The 1.25x teleconverter is build from the same glass, and as if it is part of the Nikon 800mm lens that its been made in tandem with. That means it has been ground and tested as if its elements were elements of the lens itself. It also means DON’T EVER LOSE IT. Firstly, it can never be replaced. You can send back you lens and have a new one made but assume this will be very expensive and a yield less then ideal pairing then the original. The pairing of teleconverter and lens in production is absolutely genius, and something that you can do with a high-price low-volume product like this that makes it really stand out. Aside from being rather poetic, it also means that the image quality of the teleconverter when used in tandem with the its matching Nikon 800mm (also it should be noted, It can’t be used with any other telephoto lenses) yields insane results that you would never expect from a teleconverter. Practically speaking there is absolutely no degradation of image quality or introduction of risk to chromatic aberration when adding this teleconverter like there would be with almost any other teleconverter on almost any other lens. It’s simply stunning, maybe the autofocus is a hair slower but nothing noticeable like when adding other teleconverters.

The title image, is probably my favorite image from this year, and it happened partially by chance. I was attempting to pan with a moving hummingbird (no small feat) and was spraying and praying and upon review later found this really great image, it was in focus, a great position and well lit, triple score! Jumping from last years Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR to this years 800mm was a bit of a jump. A 400mm, and even a 600mm lens can be reasonably used on a monopod (not in this situation but speaking generally), however using an 800mm on a monopod is exceedingly difficult for the inexperienced user (me) and it took some getting used to. You working with such a restricted FoV (duh) that sometimes you can get “lost” looking for your subject. Another issue with the 10 degree angle of view is that any slight movements you physically make move the lens (which can lead to the aforementioned problem) but also can make using the lens difficult since its hard to clearly see what your composing and shooting at if your not completely stable. The best solution I have found for this is to place my left hand on the lens hood to add stability. Now I was shooting on a large tripod with a gimbal head, and this was still necessary but worked very effectively.


Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4 and Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR @ 1000mm

1/1600s –  f/7.1 – ISO 3200

In last years great hummingbird shoot I learned some very good shooting technique through research which I believe is worth a read since it synthesizes a number of online source into what I found to be true from my personal shooting experiences. I didn’t deviate from this technique much this year, other then I added a number of new feeders which helped to bring in more hummingbirds, and luckily a ruby-throated hummingbird which thrilled me since this is what I had wanted from last year but didn’t get. Other then that the system I developed worked pretty well. It’s unfortunate but the best way to get great hummingbird pictures (and I know its clichéd) is to put in the time. More so then just from the practice side of things, when you think about it considering how fast hummingbirds move, and how how long they stay in one place for only a few seconds usually, you have to be there for as many of those ~20 second episodes as possible. Finding out when the hummingbirds are most active for you will be pretty obvious after a day or two, then the only really limiting factor is how long you can spend out there and how long before its too dark for you to shoot at a fast enough shutter speed with good image quality (ISO wise). Hummingbirds seem to be most active in the later afternoon, and early evening. Also apparently they are active in the early morning, but I wouldn’t know because well I’m asleep then). 

In conclusion, is it necessary to use a $20,000 lens and an $8,0000 camera to get images of hummingbirds? no. But lets face it, its fun and it yields some unique results. There are many examples out there of people accomplishing amazing results with much more affordable equipment, most of which are as good or better then some of my images. Like anything specialization helps and if you commit yourself to it with whatever gear you have you can get amazing results. Not does a super-telephoto lens help? in my estimation absolutely. Does an advanced autofocus system in a Nikon D4 help? absolutely, but people once shot images of hummingbirds with manual focus lenses, so remember that whenever you question whether you can do this with your equipment. Buying a super-telephoto lens isn’t necessary (and 90% of the year would gather dust for me) but renting one is good fun and can also let you get some great images; I’m a strong proponent of encouraging people do try and rent things so that they can experience these sort of things for themselves. These sort of lenses can often seem out of reach however renting lets you access them and get some great experiences and most importantly some great images!

The Story Behind “Bliss” the Iconic Background for Windows XP


I’ve been very busy lately and I didn’t have time to share my thoughts about this when it launched, but this video points out a number of very interesting things about cameras. The Image was taken with a Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Film on a tripod, near the photographers home, and was never was delivered without any retouching or editing.

The photographer Charles O’Rear believes that possibly the most recognizable image and most viewed image in the world, wouldn’t have been possible if he were using a 35mm SLR. While there are perpetual debates about the value of medium format photography in todays digital world, we can certainly all agree that in the world of film, bigger is always better, and that the larger film size of a 6×7 negative yielded the incredible detail, clarity and dynamic range present in this iconic image.

For some reason, people often forget in the digital age, that larger sensors still have more dynamic range and an innate ability to take better pictures in certain situations. People compare the Nikon D800(e) to $60,000 cameras from PhaseOne which is not right. In a setting where the the PhaseOne is capable of taking a good picture, it will outperform the D800 100% of the time, I will tell you that right now. However, you’ll notice a big caveat to that statement being “[where the camera] is capable of taking a good picture”, yes medium format digital cameras have a lot of limitations both because of their sensor and the relatively outdated camera bodies that they are mounted on. The Nikon D800 shouldn’t be compared to the PhaseOne IQ280, because really, it compliments it. If one were to draw a venn diagram and look at areas where the two cameras overlap, the IQ280 will take a better picture. However, if you look at what the IQ280 cannot do, you see that the D800 offers the most resolution. If you want to use f/1.4 glass for portraits or lowlight, well then the Nikon D800 is your resolution king, if you want to just shoot in low light, it has the most resolution in a camera with high ISO capabilities, if you want to shoot telephoto images with the most resolution, these are all areas where a medium format back, whether it be from PhaseOne, MamiyaLeaf, Pentax, Leica or Hasselblad falls short, and for the foreseeable future will fall short.

I think this video serves as a nice reminder, that different formats exist for different reasons and that there are times when you want to use one format versus another. People certainly become polarized with discussions of modern cameras of different formats because they are expensive purchases, the person who bought a D800 wants to defend their purchase to themselves, and so does the person with the medium format digital back, and it is unlikely that either of these people will concede that the other side is correct. Well in reality, they are both wrong, it depends on the situation and what you are trying to accomplish. Interestingly, this argument doesn’t exist around film, no one is going to question that a 8×10 negative trumps a 4×5 negative which is better then a 6×45 which is better then a 35mm and people used the camera which allowed them to take the best image possible under the circumstances given the strengths and limitations of different film formats, camera brands, and camera systems, and aspect ratio’s based on their situation and this is something that we all need to remember still holds true in the digital world, despite wider differences in price and fewer sensor formats.

Leica T-Type – First Look and Overview


Above you can view my video overview of the new Leica T-Type camera where I go over the camera, accessories, and features as well as an in-depth look at how the new touchscreen works on this camera. Below you can read some more of my thoughts on this camera and view sample images as well as download full-resolution sample images from this camera to further scrutinize.

Full-resolution sample images can be viewed and downloaded via my Flickr page here and RAW sample images will be available by Dropbox tomorrow.

General Thoughts

On the whole when rumors of this camera started surfacing, I was disappointed, though it was not un-expected. As leaked product images came to light I became even more concerned. As a purist, this camera is in no way similar to Leica’s heritage, and I don’t like this camera. With that out of the way, I will say that this is a great interchangeable lens compact system camera which is over-engineered in a number of respects. The Body feels extremely good in the hand and the 45 minutes of post CNC finishing are much appreciated especially with the hand grip. One other small critique is of the two multifunction dials on the top of the camera, they don’t have hard stops which makes it difficult to know when you are really changing things with them, not a big issue but something to take note of and something that you have to focus on when you are in the field. Unlike many Leica cameras, the rear screen on this camera is excellent (we will get to it as a touch screen later), images are displayed crisply and when zoomed in focus and camera shake are easily diagnosable. The screen is also highly visible moderately harsh daylight (conditions tested in).

This is good since the EVF isn’t great, at 2.4 million (I believe) it’s relatively up to date, however (and this may be personal prejudice against EVF’s but) the EVF still isn’t great in terms of responsiveness or detail though it is usable. While some may think that I am holding EVF’s to too high of a standard, I don’t believe I am. Maybe we have been spoiled by the responsiveness and clarity of optical viewfinders…(withering sarcasm)…but I will not accept EVF’s until they are as responsive and detailed as my eyes are physically capable of perceiving, and I have no doubt that in my life time we will get to this point…and I will still prefer optical viewfinders. There is just a difference between looking at a little TV screen and looking at the real world through either an SLR or a Rangefinder which physically connects and grounds you as the photographer in reality in a way that EVF’s will never be able to do. Diopter adjustments and GPS bring included in the articulating $595 Leica Visoflex EVF are nice touches which can help to justify the high price of this particular viewfinder over some viewfinders, like say for the Sony RX1r (which I am considering purchasing) that offer very basic features at a premium; but here you get some nice features along with basic EVF functionality which is sometimes required when the screen could potentially fail in harsh sunlight.

Image quality is pretty great out of this camera as you can see below, it is certainly a step up from the X2 and Leica X Vario (which I review here) and you can see my thoughts on the ISO range as well. I didn’t really futz around with the settings too much on the camera however there are two functionality based critiques I will offer. Firstly, there is the fact that (like the Leica X-Vario) you cannot just shoot RAW images on this camera and you are forced to choose between RAW + Fine or RAW + Super Fine (or whatever it says) which is annoying since this takes up extra-card space. The reason Leica has chosen to do this is because it is much easier to convert a JPEG to be viewable in playback on the back of the camera then it is to convert a RAW file to be viewable in playback. However, this is simply an issue of firmware and processing capability, with a nice 16GB of internal memory there is certainly space to temporarily store these files and I am sure the camera has the requisite processing capability. Consequently this is unacceptable laziness that I would have never expected from a Leica product. I know I am making a big deal out of a small thing, but again when you are paying top dollar you shouldn’t accept anything less then perfection. This issue could easily be fixed in firmware. Second, now let’s talk about the touchscreen.

I’m the kind of person that likes dials and buttons for everything, be it in my car or on my camera. I don’t like digital displays and touch screens, because, well … they will all eventually fail either the physical component or the computer driving it. This is why I prefer the manual nature of say a Hasselblad 503CW, or a Land Rover Defender 90. But I know that that is not the reality we live in and for things like this, it really doesn’t matter, since the components put into this camera are great and there will be absolutely no issues 99.999% of the time. Beyond that the touchscreen is very responsive and easy to use. Once you learn the menu system and how to set up and customize your camera home screen it is very enjoyable to use this feature in the field. I found that most of the time while I was shooting this camera, I could use my right hand thumb to access all of the rear menu’s and change settings while comfortably still holding the camera at shooting distance in front of me (when shooting it like a point and shoot). The novelty value of the touchscreen is high, and I really don’t think that it will wear off (especially not for anyone who is buying this camera). The touchscreen on this camera, along with the menu system design is the best touchscreen implementation in a high-end digital camera yet. It is daring and respectable that Leica chose to fully commit to this strategy, since there are no buttons on the camera. My PhaseOne IQ180 is a “touchscreen” camera but it still has 4 buttons which are used to navigate some parts of the camera. These buttons are very helpful, but dictate the way that the camera is set-up. It is very well implemented on the Leica T-Type. The only issue lies when browsing through the images on playback you have to be a bit careful with the way that you scroll through the images but this is something which can easily be fixed in future firmware since we can see that the touchscreen is pleasantly responsive when panning and zooming on an image.

Now onto the lenses. Focusing is improved on this camera over the Leica X-Vario, but it still isn’t insanely fast, but it is very usable. My biggest complaint about these lenses is the fact that they do not have aperture rings. Leica lenses are supposed to have aperture rings. plain and simple. This is one of the unique features which helps to make the user feel that they are part of the camera when shooting the Leica M system, there is just something about it and it’s an iconic feature that I think that Leica should be following through with in all of their cameras. The 18-56mm lens is basically the lens straight off of the Leica X-Vario which as I observe in the video is fine since this is an ILC camera, and if you need something faster you can swap it out for the prime if you choose to buy both lenses. The zoom ring still goes in the opposite direction to what most people are used to, like on my Nikon zoom lenses. Curiously, the 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T has a butterfly lens hood unlike the hood available for the Leica X-Vario, don’t read into that too much I guess, because as I said in my X-Vario review, flaring was never an issue when reviewing the lens sans lenshood. Using M-lenses is a bit of a moot point in my opinion because of the crop factor. However, if you want to use them the functionality is there, personally I think this is the wrong way to make an argument that you are linked to your heritage since most M-users won’t want to use this camera, and most users of this camera (myself included) would only want to shoot it with autofocus lenses anyway. I look forward to seeing what optics Leica comes up with in the future for the Leica T-Type.

The new strap system is actually very nice and very sturdy, personally I would wait for a leather strap for the camera but the included rubber strap is pretty good on it’s own. Note, there is nothing proprietary about the Leica-provided tool for releasing the strap and a paperclip or really anything will do as long as you can put it in the hole and apply pressure.

On the whole the Leica T-Type is a very pleasing camera, and if you want an interchangeable lens system camera from Leica with automated features and good optics then this is the way for you to go.

 Leica 23mm f/2.0 Summicron-T

Sample image taken with the Leica 23mm Summicron-T on the new Leica T-Type APS-C Camera

Close Focus Distance

Leica T-Type with 23mm Summicron-T – 1/320 – f/2.8 – ISO 400

The Leica 23mm f/2.0 Summicron-T is a welcome addition to this system. The lenses Launched with the Leica T-Type mirror the focal lengths available on the Leica X2 and Leica X-Vario. However, with the case of the 23mm lens (a 35mm equivalent on full-frame) the lens has received an ASPH make-over while also becoming an f/2.0 versus the relatively slow (only in the world of Leica) f/2.8 Elmarit lens on Leica X2. This lens performs very well, however in harsh sunlight you will see some chromatic aberrations. Also, there will be green / cyan halo’s in some situations (particularly with strong highlights) in the bokeh of images. All of these issues are correctable with the chromatic aberration correction tools in either Photoshop ACR or Lightroom 5 (included with this camera).

There is one curious thing to note about this 23mm lens. While the lens is rated at f/2.0, when it is at its minimum focusing distance (~0.3m) the lens is an f/2.8 lens, backing up a little bit, the lens will become an f/2.5 and then an f/2.2 lens and then finally an f/2.0 lens. This is a little bit deceptive and something that users should take note of. This is not anything particularly unique to this lens, other lenses like the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G macro lens suffers from a similar difficulty which is something that you must be aware of when shooting. Now, with this particular lens, this is not an issue since its already an ultra-fast f/2.0 lens but it is something that you should be aware of.

This lens is being lauded as being a competitor with Leica’s 50mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron lens, without performing any scientific tests, I can say that this lens is very sharp, with nice detail resolution and a fast aperture. However, I will leave it to the experts to conclude whether this lens is in the same class as the Leica M lens.

ISO Series

The Leica T-Type offers an improved ISO range over earlier German made Leica CMOS APS-C offerings with results being very good up to ISO 3200. ISO 3200 in some situations can be better or worse then in others, but is generally pretty good. ISO 6400 will only due in a pinch and you won’t be getting the best results from this camera, however for a social situation they are more then adequate, they would improve with a black and white conversion.  at ISO 12800, vertical banding is very obvious and generally speaking images are unusable and very blotchy and soft with high amounts of color and pattern noise. These 12800 results are what you can expect from any camera when its sensor sensitivity is maxed out, however I will say that we have come a long way in terms of ISO performance and if your documenting a Cloverfield monster, or like trying to record someone committing a murder (Rear Window or Blowup, take your pick), or photographing the toppling of the Berlin Wall or something else momentous these 12800 results will be usable, but certainly not for any fine art print purposes.

Over on my Flickr page, there are a couple of other high ISO comparisons.

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 100

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/40 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 200

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/80 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 400

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/200 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

 ISO 800

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/400 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 1600

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/800 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 3200

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/1250 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 6400 

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/3200 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 12800

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/4000 – f/3.5


Dynamic Range  

Sample Image from the new Leica T-Type APS-C Camera from the Leica Store SoHo in NYC

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/1250 – f/3.5 – ISO 100 

The Leica T-Type’s new 16mp APS-C CMOS sensor is a clear improvement over the Leica X-Vario’s sensor, as you can see from the very nice dynamic range available in the Leica T-Type’s RAW files, in this file you can see that I brought back both the shadows and highlight’s using the recovery sliders in Adobe Photoshop CC Camera Raw to yield an image with very nice tonal qualities. The sky was seemingly blown out and highlight recovery was fully applied, and after a vibrance adjustment color was restored. 

Sample Image from the new Leica T-Type APS-C Camera from the Leica Store SoHo in NYC

Leica T-Type with 23mm Summicron-T ~ 1/3200 – f/2.0 – ISO 100

In this next image, taken with the 23mm Summicron-T, we have a much harsher contrast between the dark and light areas being both almost completely black and blown out respectively. However, we can see that there is a large amount of recovery possible in the highlights, and while the shadows had less able to be recovered we were able to do a very decent job and be able to use a lot of this image without any imperfections.


Leica X-Vario Review

First of all, before we get started, I would just like to extend a big thank you to the folks at the Leica Store SoHo (and especially my friend Ulas) who helped arrange for me to be able to have access to this camera for my latest trip to Oregon to put it through its paces. I look forward to working on more reviews in the very near future.

The Leica Store SoHo is located at 460 West Broadway, New York, New York 10012 and is open Monday through Friday 10:00 am to 7:00 pm as well as Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm


Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in Bend, Oregon

Leica X-Vario @ 70mm – 1/250 – f/8.0 – ISO 100

The Leica X-Vario is a very difficult lens to review. It has a number of good things about it while simultaneously having a number of less good things about it. First, I am going to explain an idea which I have had in my head for a very long time, and which has really been hammered home to me on my latest trip to Oregon. For this trip I left my PhaseOne IQ180 home, and brought a Nikon D800e along with the Nikon PC-E lenses along with the Leica X-Vario;

(Note, if you are only here for the Leica X-Vario review you can skip the next two paragraphs, fair warning.) 

Before the rise of digital, there was a higher degree of delineation between cameras (and when I say camera’s I’m really referring to formats) they all had different attributes, strengths and most importantly limitations. Thought went into equipment choice, because there were advantages to say using 35mm over medium format (or visa versa) or a 6×7 vs a 6×9 and so on. Because the film you were putting through these cameras (especially in the case of medium format) was the same, or at least could be held as a constant, cameras and lenses were chosen for their qualities which helped to create the image a photographer wanted and image quality was a known and relatively constant quality. With the rise of digital, we have lost specialization in cameras. Due to the way that the market has developed cameras are (in the eyes of the majority) meant to do as many things as possible, with less mind paid to their ability to execute a specific task. Convergence between still photography and video as well as consumer and professional models has not helped this yet. At face value, specialization is lost beyond the portability of point and shoots (<35mm full-frame), DSLR’s which offer increased versatility and image quality (~35mm full-frame) and the ultimate quality of medium format. Note, I exclude mirrorless cameras from this evaluation because they straddle the line between point and shoot and DSLR and can fit into either category depending on the situation. From the perspective of a lover of cameras and different formats, this paints a very bleak picture of the camera landscape; personally I would love to see more specialized consumer / professional cameras which are good at one thing and focused on a specific task (it was admirable of Nikon to drop video from the Nikon Df no matter what you think of the rest of the camera). However, lately, especially with some newer camera releases, I have come to a nuanced view of different photographic tools (cameras) across different formats which paints a similar picture to the landscape I have just described in detail of film cameras in a bygone era. Starting from the top down, when you look at the majority of medium format, it’s just CCD’s of various sizes ranging from less then full-frame to full-frame 645. Looking a bit closer at something I have expounded on earlier (see my article from the launch of the PhaseOne IQ250) you can see some very nice specialization in the latest line-up provided by PhaseOne. Across the IQ2 series range they now have the 80mp giant (IQ280), the long-exposure king (IQ260), a black and white masterpiece (IQ260 Achromatic) and now the IQ250 a CMOS MFDB which offers a greater ISO range to MFD shooters, MFD is helped by PhaseOne’s open system adding greater versatility and specialization with the ability to use MFDB’s with Tech Cam’s like those from Cambo, Alpa and Arca-Swiss. Within 35mm your basically stuck to DSLR’s and Leica, but thats okay, and it is great that Leica presents an (in my opinion good) alternative to DSLR’s. The only obvious specialization comes in the form of top of the line models like Nikon’s D4s and Canon’s 1Dx which are differentiated from “lower end” models by their speed and ISO qualities. The Nikon D800(e) shakes this up a bit, ostensibly it is a lower end model to the nikon D4s since it costs less, and on some levels can do less. This last point is where the boundaries get blurry, the Nikon D800 is better then the Nikon D4s…if you need resolution. The Nikon D800 is a bit of a problem child in this model since it can also blur the lines between 35mm and medium format. This is a hot topic, in the past I have been adamantly pro-medium format, however I have recently come to fully appreciate what the Nikon D800 is. To some (I’ll call them “simple folk” or if you prefer you can call them “touched”) the Nikon D800 is as good as a medium format camera, because the Nikon D800 has a 36mp sensor and some medium format cameras have comparable megapixel counts on their sensor. Of course we know that the size of a medium format sensor provides intangible attributes which we will never be able to convince the simple folk of. BUT that is really not the point of the Nikon D800. The point of the Nikon D800 is that you can take a 36mp image with an 800mm lens, or a f/1.4 lens, that you can capture fast moving subjects, and use high-ISO’s. These are things which you cannot do (in the same way) in medium format. THAT is why these cameras are not competing and co-exist within my dystopian (and possibly imaginary) realm of camera specialization.

But where do point and shoots and mirrorless cameras fit into this you ask? Mirrorless cameras are, as I have said, a bit difficult, but lets just say that they have benefits like portability and the advantage of limitless lens choices at the cost of features and image quality (in some cases). Point-and-shoots are currently an interesting market because, well, they are struggling. Point and shoots are for many people difficult for many people to justify now since they have smartphones which have increasingly great cameras in them. Consequently the sector has languished on the low end. Interestingly it has flourished on the high-end. Camera’s like Fujifilm’s robust X100 which offers a hybrid viewfinder/rangefinder like shooting experience or Sony’s RX1r offer different shooting experiences only possible in their formats which make them specialized. These cameras are particular standouts. This is also where the Leica X-Vario fits into the equation offering strengths and limitations which will make it ideal for some applications while not a good option for others, namely it is a specialized camera.

(Note, if your here for the Leica X-Vario review, you’re now in the correct place.)


Leica X-Vario @ 22.6mm – 1/500 – f/4.3 – ISO 100

Okay, anyway, back to the camera at hand the Leica X-Vario a $2,800.00 non-interchangable lens camera with a 16.1mp APS-C sensor and Leica Vario-Elmar 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 Lens (equivalent to a 28-70mm lens on 35mm full-frame). Now, lets be honest, at first glance that does not sound very good…well, thats okay, it does in fact get better as you delve deeper (that’s not withering sarcasm, its true it has some good qualities to it).


Let’s get the general aesthetics out of the way first, this is a very very well made camera. It is on par with Leica’s other German bred offering in most regards. It is in no way compact, but it is a very light package which you would have no problems toting around with you all day on your adventures, its high-quality metal body is a joy to hold and and largely to use. My sample was provided with the extra-grip option which vastly increases shooting comfort on this camera, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this camera. From a tactile perspective this camera offers nothing but delight, the buttons on the rear can be a little bit finicky but this is not a major issue and doesn’t detract from the camera.

Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in Bend, Oregon

Sahalie Falls, Oregon

Leica X-Vario on tripod @ 25.3mm – 1/25 – f/16.0 – ISO 100

A number of this camera’s problems stem from it’s lens. First of all, let’s all agree that this camera is just begging to be mirrorless and judging by what we have seen leaked of the upcoming Leica Type-T, it is rather perplexing why it isn’t. Leica’s claim is that they chose to pair this lens and sensor together because they are optimized to be together (similar to the tune they sung with the Leica X2′s fixed prime lens, and similar to arguments made more compellingly by Fujifilm) and that is actually okay. I accept this in theory and understand the merits of a fixed lens which is designed to match a specific sensor. Leica is world renowned for their optical prowess and high-quality lenses are their thing. Optically the Leica Vario-Elmar 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 preforms very nicely resolving details nicely, and displaying what I believe to be some nice micro-contrast which helps to bolster the performance of the sensor. Of course optical performance must come at the sacrifice of something, here it is aperture in a big way. Leica said that they chose the aperture of this lens because they believe that it allowed them to design a lens with the best image quality possible. Off the record, I have also been told (a la PDN 2014) by a Leica rep that if they had chosen to make this lens a constant aperture, or even a wider aperture at the long end that “it would have become to large”. Well lets be real about this, it’s already very large, so I question how much larger it would’ve had to have been to either let it be f/2.8 on the wide end or a constant say f/4 aperture throughout the zoom range. If you are shooting in any sort of challenging light, well then you better have a tripod with you and hope that you can shoot it since you don’t have a very large usable ISO range, though for most users this probably will not be an option since you won’t think to, or want to carry a tripod with you to the places you would be taking this camera generally. Also, focal length range provided by this camera is not very long, I always found myself wishing that it could go wider and longer in almost every situation where I was using it at one of it’s extremes. In fact, I put the camera down and didn’t take many pictures because of this. 28-70 is very similar to the 24-70 I usually keep on my Nikon’s so this wasn’t a major let down for me, the most limiting factor of this lens is its aperture which I believe Leica could have done a better job with. Personally I would have accepted larger aperture and slightly less sharpness from this lens.

Staying with the lens and moving to functionality there are a couple of big problems with this lens. Firstly, for anyone shooting most normal cameras (for me Nikon’s) we are used to our zoom lenses offering a zoom ring closest to the body and then manual focus as the next option down the lens barrel. On the Leica X-Vario this is not the case and is very confusing to get used to (I’m not sure I ever really did in my short time with the camera), if nothing else it is jarring. If you want to make the argument that Leica has established the focus in rear, zoom in front functionality from Leica M Vario-Elmar lenses thats fine, until I offer my next point. This lens has no hard stops on different focal lengths. Personally, I would have preferred to have hard stops at the different focal lengths instead of the smooth zoom range. This would have lead to much more thoughtful choice of focal length when composing and been a very “Leica” quality to the design of the function of this lens. Since your really not going to be catching any action with this lens where a smooth zoom range might have been helpful, even soft stops would have been appreciated. A third and bridge issue between lens design and camera design here is the aperture dial. The aperture dial of the Leica X-Vario is the furthest dial to the right on the top plate of the camera. Okay, this is strange. It is a physical dial, on the top of the camera, that selects the aperture for the lens. As a Leica M user and someone who appreciates the tactile nature of manually setting things on cameras, I would have loved to see an aperture dial on the lens itself. I assume Leica chose the easy route of putting it on the top of the camera because an aperture ring on a zoom lens with a variable aperture could have been a bit difficult to pull of (maybe as you zoomed out and were forced to stop down the mechanics of the lens could have moved and limited the aperture ring to the widest possible aperture for the focal length, this could have been even easier if the lens had hard stops). Frankly, the dial is weird and it would have been a lot nicer to have a multi-function dial like on DSLR’s and selected the aperture via this in conjunction with the rear screen of the camera. In the pro column, I will say that the manual focus feel of this lens is very nice and completely in line with the pleasures of using manual focus on Leica M lenses (though less comparable for many other reasons).

Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in Bend, Oregon

Perspective digitally corrected

Leica X-Vario @ 18mm – 1/400 – f/5.6 – ISO 100

 Okay, lets look at some other things about this camera. Battery life on this camera if fine, I used it fairly intensively and left the camera running a lot and was never left wanting for battery, that said if I bought this camera I would carry a spare battery just in case. While I was shooting the camera (at Sahalie Falls) I wanted to shoot at a small aperture and a long exposure to get the waterfall to become silky smooth. While out in the field with the camera however, I could not find any way to make the camera shoot longer then 1 second, though apparently it can shoot up to 30 seconds long exposure, this would have been nice, but oh well apparently it does it, it must have been hidden in the menu’s. The menu’s are, well, very…Leica…which means simple and dated. On a model like the Leica M where there are not that many extra-features and most things have buttons assigned to them anyway this is not a problem. It gets a bit more annoying here but it is not a major issue. What is a majorly ANNOYING issue is that you cannot just shoot this camera in RAW mode, you can only shoot it in RAW + JPEG mode which eats up memory card space and is just annoying, theres no reason why you shouldn’t be able to shoot just RAW, and I couldn’t find any way not to. Because I wound up using this camera on a tripod a lot, it would have been nice to have the option to add a cable release (which would’ve helped with that whole long exposure thing). It certainly couldn’t have been too much to put a threaded cable release into the shutter of this camera, like Leica does on the M, and Fuji as well as Sony have done on their cameras which are equivalently or even lower priced. There are a number of areas (I won’t overtly name them, but I have mentioned them) where Leica seems to have skimped, which is not something you want when your spending almost $3,000.00 USD on a point and shoot camera. And don’t get me wrong this is a point and shoot, its gussied up and has a number of nice qualities which make it better then many point and shoots but where it counts, this is a point and shoot camera. One area where this is shown is in the cameras AF which is actually just fine, I’m not going to knock it, its not the fastest but its not the slowest, it works and generally finds its target. BUT it does behave in a very point and shoot manor and clearly there wasn’t much time spent on it as a feature, which is kind of a big deal in a point and shoot.

 Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in SoHo, NYC.

28mm is a great focal length for stuff like this, faster aperture would’ve been nice. 

Leica X-Vario @ 18mm (28mm equiv.) – 1/50 – f/3.5 – ISO 800

Image quality with this camera is very strange. It has some very strong attributes and some very weak ones. Starting off simple, the ISO range is fine, its very usable up to ISO 800 and for certain applications it can be used above this. Of course because of the slow lens your going to be leaning on the ISO a lot and the 16.1mp APS-C sensor just doesn’t deliver the goods to back up the slow lens. If you can keep it under 800 the files are very clean and very usable, not something to be discounted thats for sure. Resolution is good at 16.1mp and the sharpness from these files is also very good. Unfortunately this APS-C exhibits very “point-and-shoot-like” characteristics, it’s sort of difficult to describe really, but in my experience point and shoot files have this magenta hue to them which comes through in the mid-to darker tones of the image which you can see exhibited in the lead in image for this article which I don’t think there is any way to fix. Maybe spending a bunch of time in photoshop with the color replacement tool you could find a way to reduce this, but thats a lot of work and I would expect more from a camera in this price range. Also, sometimes at edges, especially in things like tree branches, things get sort of muddled and edges go kinda weird. I really don’t have a better way to describe this, but you can look at the image above for reference. There might be some CA, but I don’t really think that is it because the lens does do a very good job of reducing CA (Oh, side note, I didn’t have the lens hood for this lens and never needed it in my testing, the lens is well coated to reduce flare), but it is something that I have noticed in point and shoots before. When all the stars align however you can take some very nice images and when you process your RAW’s you will be pleased by the dynamic range provided by this camera which can yield some files with nice tonality if well exposed (even if there is high contrast in a scene). So, in some ways the image quality of this sensor is good, and in other ways it’s lacking. Its difficult to draw a firm conclusion on the image quality because the “bad” elements are only present some of the time, and sometimes the image quality can be really quite good. As we head towards the conclusion though, I would expect more out of the sensor of this camera based on it’s priced and given the limitations of it’s lens….but considering the fact that it is the same somewhat old sensor as in the Leica X2 it still holds it’s own and is relatively robust, you won’t be disappointed when you use this camera correctly.

Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in ESB, NYC.

 Leica X-Vario @ 46mm – 1/250 – f/6.4 – ISO 100

With a camera like the Leica X-Vario it is very important to understand it’s limitations going in if you are going to use it to get the best images possible from it. When you do, it can produce some great image quality. However, there is a long list of things that you cannot shoot with this camera which might leave you asking “well then what CAN you do with it?”. The answer to this question is a bit difficult, but when given the correct lighting conditions and good shooting practices, images from this camera can be very nice. You won’t be shooting anything thats fast moving, you won’t be using it for bokeh, what you will be using it for is extremely-high image quality in well lit situations. While this might sound a bit limiting, and it is, there are still many situations where you can use this camera. The best way that I can come up with to think about this cameras is as “a thinking mans point and shoot”. I think this accurately describes this camera within the Leica universe and within the context of cameras as a whole.

Now, the biggest hang up is the price. At $2,800.00 I want more from this camera and it does not deliver. It has a number of very nice qualities to it, but it does not live up to it’s price which is a major issue. It is a very good camera which can make some nice images, but when you consider comparably priced cameras, you can get the Sony RX1r a 36mp full-frame fixed 35mm Ziess lens, or for the same amount you could get a number of different mirrorless camera’s with premium lenses that will most likely out class this camera. The Leica X2, which features the same sensor and comes in at around $2,000.00 presents a better value proposition to me sporting an equivalent  24mm f/2.8 lens with the same lens this could be a very nice walk around / travel point and shoot package if that is what you are looking for from a Leica. This camera is a bit of a strange decision for Leica, and I am not really sure where they plan to go with it; but if you are looking for a camera which can make some great images in good lighting in a compact package, this could be your camera.

Just Announced: PhaseOne IQ250, The Rise of CMOS

the all new just launched PhaseOne IQ250 medium format CMOS digital back

Its been common knowledge since the second half of 2013 that 2014 would be the year of medium format digital CMOS sensored cameras. It was announced on January 21, 2014 that Hasselblad was developing the H5D-50c, which they did giving Nikon D4s levels of detail about their product. To be fair, at least Hasselblad’s press release sounds like it was written by a person (unlike Nikon’s)…who was rushed. And now we see why that is, as was uncovered via info within Photoshop CC , which peaked the interest of many (okay well at least myself).  Hasselblad, currently only has a sensor for their CMOS camera, though they have not developed a fully functioning digital back. Their announcement was basically that they have conducted research into CMOS and will eventually be producing a product. PhaseOne has countered with the announcement of their IQ250 CMOS MFDB, based on the same Sony made 50mp 1.3x crop CMOS medium format digital sensor, which is now in production and will be shipping on Monday, January 27, 2013.


You can check out information about the new PhaseOne IQ250 in a series of videos launched today along with the product. 

First lets look at some of the knowns between the PhaseOne and Hasselblad versions. Aside from the fact that PhaseOne actually has a production digital back and Hasselblad doesn’t, we come to the issue of live view. In the Hasselblad press release they already state that their live view will be coming through the live video feature of their Phocus software and not be available through the digital back. Where as PhaseOne’s IQ250 CMOS digital back will be an improved version of the live view feature already available on the IQ series. Currently, on backs like my PhaseOne IQ180 the CCD based sensor is not the best for live-view, though in good lighting conditions it works relatively well, though the refresh rate is still relatively slow.  However, with the IQ250 there is an improved refresh rate thanks to the CMOS sensor, which provides a refresh rate between 20-24 frames per second, with very low latency. Of course the improved ISO sensitivity of the sensor means that it will perform much much better in weak lighting (and apparently better in high-contrast and bright light as well. This could be very helpful, especially with view cameras but we will get to that.

The IQ series have great rear screens. We all know that, and I have always felt that the quality of live-view did not do justice to the quality of the screen that the IQ series has. This is simply an affect of having milked the CCD technology to allow some semblance of live-view. Which as we have said, has some merits but also could be vastly improved in the medium format arena.

Further the IQ250 will feature an improved CPU and RAM to handle the extreme data load of the 20-24 FPS refresh rate (this is not to be confused with the shutter of the camera which will still be the ~1.x FPS that is currently is). This could help when inserting big cards into the camera (which you may want to do now if you are planning on shooting a time-lapse with the greater flexibility of this platform).  Personally, I like big cards. Especially when I am out for a day of shooting I much prefer to keep a backup card or two in my pocket but not much more then that. With cards larger then 32GB my PhaseOne IQ180 and other PhaseOne digital backs take a little while to start-up when using 64GB cards and up. Especially when I’m shooting my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO (i.e a nature / wildlife setting) this can sometimes be annoying. Consequently I tend to just leave the camera on which then hurts battery life. This is something else which the IQ250 promises to improve.

One of my first thoughts when I learned about this project was that it would be an absolute drain on the digital backs power supply. However, I have been told that this is not true since apparently CMOS sensors are much more efficient energy users, which could make this really great, and possibly a boon.

One of the main uses of live-view on the CCD based IQ series cameras (all of them up until this point) has been for focusing and composition when using technical cameras. Since its more efficient (and safer) to leave you back on the camera, if you want to precisely focus you would generally look to ground glass on your large format camera. Since technical cameras were spawned by medium format digital backs, while most feature some small ground glass attachment, it is not practical on a number of levels. Foremost of these being that you don’t want to be taking on and removing your expensive medium format digital back in the field. Thus PhaseOne’s CCD based live-view was a great thing. However, I have been told that the Sony based 50mp MFD sensor in the IQ250 (and the Hasselblad H5D-50c) has very strong microlenses on the sensor, which will be a problem when shooting wide-angle lenses and when utilizing camera movements. This will undoubtedly be upsetting to some since the improved live-view sounds great on paper for technical cameras. I will report back once I have gotten to use a IQ250 on this issue.

Image showing PhaseOne's IQ series open platform on Hasselblad V-series cameras like the 500EL (pictured) and 503CW, Mamiya RB67 / RZ67, Contax 645, Hasselblad H1, H2 and H4x as well as the PhaseOne / MamiyaLeaf 645DF platforms latest iteration the 645DF+

Moving on from live-view we come to the elephant in the room. ISO range. As we have all whispered about a CMOS medium format digital sensor for a few years now we have all talked about the endless possibilities of the increased ISO performance of CMOS over CCD. It seems that the IQ250 will feature excellent ISO performance, which is said to be usable up to the top of its range at ISO 6400. Of course, as of yet I cannot comment on this, however I can say that it will be very interesting to see where this goes. My general rule for medium format digital back ISO range usability is you take the top number and subtract to stops from it. So if the back is rated to ISO 6400 then the usable ISO would end at 1600. This isn’t a bad thing, it just seems to be a universal fact of life that I have discovered. In fact this is a good thing since backs like the my IQ180 and the IQ2 series top out at ISO 800 at full-resolution and ISO 3200 in sensor+ mode. It seems that the IQ250’s lauded ISO range obviates the need for sensor+ in a CMOS PhaseOne back.

Another improvement on paper of the IQ250 is that it should feature very good long exposure performance. It is rated to the same 1-hour max long exposure as the PhaseOne IQ260 which is currently class leading for a 60mp medium format digital back, and now the IQ250 looks to set a new standard. While it does not feature a longer “max” exposure time, it looks to improve noise performance at all ISO’s. Thanks to the IQ250’s assumed high-ISO performance long exposure times will be able to be dropped increasing the chances of getting usable results by decreasing sensor heat which generates noise in long-exposures. The most important addition that goes hand in hand with this is the ability to do long exposures at all ISO’s. For the long exposure mode the IQ260 raised the base ISO from ISO 50 to ISO 140. With the IQ250 you will be able to shoot long-exposure pushing an 1 hour with the full ISO range of ISO 100-6400.

Other then these (major) improvements this medium format digital back is typically PhaseOne sitting in their industry leading IQ series body and featuring the same great firmware etc. Also coming soon will be some firmware improvements (available to IQ2 series backs, and IQ1 series backs as well). This features, moveable guides on the digital back for composition purposes, which is a nice touch and will make live-view composition that much better on the IQ250. Also coming to IQ2 series and possibly the IQ1 series is GPS logging via the iOS Capture Pilot app. This last feature sounds cool, but again I see some problems with it. Namely battery life, whenever you ask the IQ series digital backs to do anything beyond taking pictures (i.e Live-view or wireless tethering) it sucks an incredible amount of battery. I have also found that the Capture Pilot app is very battery intensive as well. So as far as I can tell this feature will not only drain your MFDB batteries but it will also drain your cell-phone’s batteries since not only will you be using the Capture Pilot app but you will also be accessing and updating GPS information constantly. Of course, they may have implemented some amazing new system, which makes this a non-issue, but I doubt it personally. Still it’s always nice to have more features available, and I certainly wouldn’t ask for less in a system like this. And for a digital camera costing tens of thousands of dollars there should be as many features provided as are humanely possibly that could possibly be useful.

Hopefully I will be getting my hands on this back to play with very soon, and of course I will report back with my thoughts along with RAW and sample images for your pleasure.

If your interested in this digital back you can head over to my PhaseOne dealer of choice Digital Transitions to read more information on the PhaseOne IQ250 medium format CMOS digital back and get pricing and trade-in info here: