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 Lensrentals.com, 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.

Hummingbird-2014-Nikon-D4-800mm-f5.6-2

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

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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

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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

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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.)

L8900188

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).

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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.

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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: http://www.digitaltransitions.com/blog/dt-blog/phase-one-iq250-11-things-to-know

Leica M for (RED) by Jony Ive and Marc Newson (Update: Sold for $1.8M)

The unique Leica M Camera for (RED) by Jony Ive and Marc Newson which will be auctioned off at Sotheby's next week at the Leica Store in Soho, NYC

The unique Leica M Camera (RED) on display at Leica Store Soho, NYC

Update November 23, 2013Sotheby’s (RED) Auction website confirms that the Leica M240 (RED) edition designed by Jony Ive and Marc Newson has sold for $1,805,000 USD (including the buyers premium approx. 20%) so thats a wrap. I assume they are donating the buyers premium….

A digital camera that aspires to be a “collectors camera” is at least in my mind still somewhat of a peculiar thing. We live with digital cameras use them every day and rapidly, seemingly with every second they become fractionally more obsolete as new cameras are announced and old cameras (generally speaking) tossed aside. However, following in Leica’s tradition of film and digital limited edition cameras, they have now banded together with Apple exec Jony Ive and designer Marc Newson to create a piece unique for Bono’s (RED) charity which will be auctioned at Sotheby’s next week. Currently it is on display at the Leica Store in Soho.

I cannot say I am appreciator of industrial design as an art (a blanker stare then the one normally occupying my face when visiting MoMa forms on my face when there is an industrial design exhibit) but a pretty thing is a pretty thing and while there are many different opinions about this particular item I happen to think it is a pretty thing. That being said, I don’t think its a practical thing, and lets face it is not meant to be. However this is somewhat ironically contrasted with Leica’s minimalist, function first aesthetic defined by the Leica M system, but again it’s hard to critique something that there is only one of….and further a “camera” which I highly doubt will have its shutter fired or a battery put in it. Let’s not forget that this is something for charity, and when you bid on something for charity you are not bidding on the item but choosing the amount of your donation to the charity.

The camera has a pre-auction estimate of $500,000.00 to $750,000.00 USD but seemingly (or as much as I could gather) no asking price. However, I suspect that with the popularity of Leica at the moment and the seemingly bottomless pockets of certain groups of collectors this camera will go for much more then that to someone who is a collector rather then a charitable person, but again, it really doesn’t matter since the money will go to the charity regardless.

This is the only camera I have ever seen which has its own bodyguard, yes Sotheby’s has provided a private security professional for the security of this camera. While if this were an object which had an intrinsic value of $500k-$750k I would certainly understand that it sort of seems like overkill to feel you need to protect this camera that much. I mean think about it, its not a piece of jewelry where the component (jewels and precious metals) are intrinsically valuable outside of the piece itself….this is yes, a uniquely designed camera and produced as a unique piece, but still simply a Leica M camera at heart. Consequently why would anyone bother to steal it? Of all of the valuable things you could possibly steal this would certainly rank amongst the most stupid. You can’t melt it down and you basically cannot resell it. Consider that yes, there is a certain group of people who might pay to have something stolen so they could have it in their personal collection for far below the value of an item….however you could not display this particular item because well theres only one of it, its highly documented and all you need is to show it to one wrong person and the jig is up. You only steal the item to show it off, and unlike a painting or similar work where provenance can become opaque, that would not be the case with this particular item. So really its a bit silly to have someone specifically protecting a $7k camera in a pretty housing. Still a fun camera to see in person after all the “hype” about it.

But if you care, its a Leica M240 with a Leica 50mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron lens and thats pretty much all she wrote.

Top view of The unique Leica M Camera for (RED) by Jony Ive and Marc Newson which will be auctioned off at Sotheby's next week at the Leica Store in Soho, NYC

Top view showing the Leica M Camera for (RED) showing the 50mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron Lens

Information-Sotheby's-Leica-M-Camera-(RED)-by-Jony-Ive-Marc-Newson

Sotheby’s listing for the Leica M Camera (RED) piece unique

Information-Sotheby's-Leica-M-Camera-(RED)-by-Jony-Ive-Marc-Newson-2

Some information about (RED)

PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 Report

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC

Yes its an Instagram photo, deal with it, I have a social life

To be perfectly honest, I was very excited for the PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 and expected it to be a really interesting trade show with all of the latest goodies on display to look at and interview people about. I walked away a bit disheartened from a number of the major exhibitors who had booths which were too small, over-filled (with people and stuff) and generally staffed with lackadaisical and disinterested staff, oh and there wasn’t a wonderland of photographic goodies to feast my eyes upon. While there have been some interesting camera announcements lately (and don’t worry we will get to those), I was faced with an what (to me) seems like a stagnant industry with zero inspiration or innovation in a time when that is exactly what it needs more then ever. BUT that being said, I still managed to find some cool stuff to talk show you and talk about especially from Olympus, Zeiss, Leica and Rolleiflex (wait what? scroll down to find out more).

I will break this article down into sections by company so it is easier to read, or find what your interested in.

1. But where was Pentax?

Before attending the PDN PhotoPlus Expo I posted on the forums, that I was going and that I would be happy to visit any booths that anyone (who was unable to attend the show) wanted to see. The main response I got to this asked me to go visit Pentax and ask them whats up with the medium format digital camera? Will we ever see a Pentax 645Dii? Well, I walked into PhotoPlus all happy that I had a mission, and something to go see for someone because in that moment I knew my website was doing some good in the world. Well, the world threw me a curve ball because guess what?! There was no Pentax (Ricoh Imaging). It is really hard to answer a question that you can’t ask because there is no one there to ask it to. Though, I suppose, in a way that is in and of itself an answer eh? Frankly its surprising to me that Pentax would not attend PDN PhotoPlus Expo since it is one of the larger photo conventions servicing the large tri-state camera market, but even more so because they JUST released the Pentax K-3 their new “flagship DSLR”. Anyway, I don’t know whats what with them or frankly whose buying their cameras, but again I am one man and only know so much. It seems like they are sort of dead in the water as it were, this is sad because the Pentax 645 system has some wonderful AF lenses, especially some of my favorite type of lens, Telephoto’s yes, thats right! Pentax has made AUTOFOCUS medium format TELEPHOTO lenses in the past, as well as many other nice optics so it is sad to see them languish in the digital age. Though, that being said the Pentax 645D is a nice camera at a decent price for a medium format camera, and they seem to be reasonably well priced on the used market so if you have Pentax 645D lenses you still have a viable digital options of sorts. As I said, unfortunate but oh well.

2. Sony

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC featuring the new Sony A7r mirrorless full-frame camera

Sony A7r sporting the Zeiss Sonnar T*  FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens 

Sony WOULD have made a splash with the announcement of the Sony A7 and the Sony A7r, however the fact that sony was working on a full-frame mirrorless digital camera  was leaked oh I don’t know 6 months to 1 year ago sort of took the edge off of things. I watched a couple of YouTube videos covering these two cameras and concluded I really wasn’t terribly interested in them for myself. That said, they are unique, and they have some great Zeiss glass to help their great sensors along. Of course, all sorts of people are (and should be) excited about this camera because it means that they will be able to use all sorts of new (old) lenses on the D800′s 36mp sensor which is housed in the Sony A7r’s petit body. The Body is a bit small, it fit reasonably well in my hand. Even with my small hands the dial positioning was a big problem and I could see this being a major issue down the line.

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC featuring the new Sony A7r mirrorless full-frame camera

Sony Premium Services and PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013

While almost creepy, it was terribly fun to watch this two little men (okay they were normal height but they felt smaller because they were in a glass box) work away on some cameras. Though I am not really sure what the purposes of them was or why they were there. Maybe this is their secret mobil laboratory where they create their cameras of mass destruction? I don’t know, but I do know what kind of laptop they were using (hint it was Sony). Maybe it was free sensor cleaning if you brought in your Sony camera? I don’t know, but I’ll just assume.

3. Leica

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC featuring the new Leica X-Vario

Leica X Vario with optional EVF and grip

Leica didn’t have anything terribly new to show the world (would have been cool if maybe they had that one of one (RED) Leica designed by Apple exec Jonathan Ive) but they did have some relatively new stuff on display including the Leica X-Vario. While I (and many other people) find this camera bit strange, I must say, when its all done up with its EVF and hand grip, it looks much more reasonable and like a little camera you might actually want to tote around town with you.

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC featuring the Leica M240 with a PL mount Leica Summicron-C cinema lens attached via an adapter

Leica M240 with PL-mount adapter and Leica 50mm f/2.0 Summicron-C Cine Lens

I also managed to grab this cool (spy-ish) shot of a rarely-seen-in-the-wild Leica Summicron-C 50mm f/2.o PL mount cine lens mounted on a Leica M240 via some adapter. While indeed rather strange looking, its also a good bit of fun when you think about it really. While I don’t really know what this was doing here or why there were three guys huddled around it, here we have it and I’m sure, with a bit more of a rig built out around it, it can take some cool video.

4. OlympusMy report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC including the new Olympus OM-D EM-1 micro four-thirds camera

Olympus OM-D EM-1 with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 Lens

Personally, I found Olympus to be the most interesting consumer brand exhibiting at PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 this year. I must say, the Olympus OM-D EM-1 is a spectacular camera and one that I am very interested in. Being the bigger brother of the Olympus OM-D EM-5 it has some interesting upgrades which help to make it a more usable camera. Even for someone like myself, someone who does not have big hands, the added grip is a nice ergonomically touch. And unlike the majority of the mirrorless cameras out there the dials are somewhat rationally placed which is a nice touch. There were very few things that I found to complain about with this camera, the only real complaints I can find on a personal level are: 1. Its mirrorless (well duh) which is something that I am not to fond of, though to be honest the better EVF’s are getting extremely good, both the Sony A7r and the Olympus OM-D EM-1 have very good EVF’s 2. I think it may be somewhat lacking in resolution, granted it has approximately the same MP count as my Nikon D4, but of course its quite different in a number of significant image quality making areas.

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Demonstration of Olympus OM-D EM-1 5-Axis image stabilization 

One of the interesting new features of the OM-D EM-1 is its 5-axis image stabilization which works incredibly well (more on that in a second). In hind-sight I should have taken a video but I hadn’t broken out my “video rig” yet, but I didn’t feel bad since there have already been videos showing off this same trick. You can find one here and here if you are interested. It works very well and seems like a major boon to this camera.

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC including the new Olympus OM-D EM-1 micro four-thirds camera

Olympus OM-D EM-1 with optional battery grip and Olympus M.Zukio Digital 45mm f/1.8 Lens in black

While the Olympus OM-D EM-5 was a remarkably compact system with good lenses, people obviously found it too small and were desiring a Panasonic Lumix GH3 type size variant and that is exactly what they god in this camera. When you add the battery grip onto this camera it becomes remarkably well sized (in my opinion) and certainly opens itself up to pleasing a lot more people with its larger form factor. Also, in this picture you can get an even better idea of the size of this camera when you look at how small the Olympus 45mm lens looks as its dwarfed by the body of this camera. I don’t mean to say the Olympus OM-D EM-1 is professional DSLR sized large, because its not. Also the Olympus is extremely light and packs some pretty good autofocus and very good autofocus tracking especially with the micro-four thirds lenses.

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC including the new Olympus OM-D EM-1 micro four-thirds camera and Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED Lens

Olympus OM-D EM-1 with MMF-3 adapter and Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED Lens

As I have gotten more and more into wildlife photography, the biggest barrier for a number of personal reasons is the size of the equipment. I am well aware that when I am taking my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses out  that I am not in for an easy time, but even Nikon 35mm gear can get pretty heavy pretty fast, especially as you get into the telephoto end of things. For this reason I have been very interested in the Olympus system since the MFT cameras have a 2x crop in them making their Olympus 150mm f/2.0 lens into a 300mm f/2.0 (35mm equivalent) and the Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED into a 600mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent) which of course are two such lenses which do not exist. Even further, you can use the Olympus 1.4x and 2.0x TC’s to make these lenses max out at a 600mm f/4.0 and 1200mm f/5.6 (35mm equivalent) which is pretty spectacular. The Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED lens is by no means a small lens, it is approximately sized the same as all other 300mm f/2.8 lenses (be at Canon, Nikon, or even the Mamiya) but considering it is really a super-telephoto disguised as a “normal” telephoto its pretty cool. The exceedingly nice Olympus staff were nice enough to take this lens out of the case and put it on the camera for me (since its impossible to see this combination anywhere and very difficult to rent). In the Javits center, which isn’t the best lit, this camera still did a pretty good job autofocusing. Its was by no means the fastest, but it wasn’t atrociously bad like putting a Canon AF lens on the Sony A7r. The camera will retain autofocus even with the 2x TC at 1200mm f/5.6 though I am told the quality begins to degrade here since its a 2x TC etc. The thing that impressed me most, was the image stabilization. I was shocked at how well the stabilization worked as I was looking around the convention center popping off frames at slow-ish shutter speeds, when I zoomed in on the images on the back of the screen, despite my hands shaking because of the size / weight of the lens and its imbalance with the small camera body, the images were seemingly tack sharp. Very cool, not sure how practical it is considering it isn’t the fastest AF, but hopefully I will be able to rent it soon and see for myself.

5. Sandisk

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC

Sandisk CFast 2.0

Sandisk had a small booth, staffed by very nice people showing off their latest cards, which was nice. Having not really read that much about CFast 2.0 I was curious about its potential max speed of 450 mb/s and if there were plans at the moment to have this standard begin appearing in any photographic cameras. However, I was told at the moment CFast 2.0 looks like it will be remaining in the cinema market with cameras like the Arri Alexa taking the card. This makes sense since digital movie cameras move so much data, that they need fast cards. But, I’m just saying it would be nice to see this in a PhaseOne camera or even a Nikon D-series camera even though I suspect there are diminishing returns with each of these as you get into smaller and smaller formats.

6. Kodak

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC

Kodak Alaris

Kodak’s newly rebranded (post-sale) “Kodak Alaris” was present at PDN showing off a range of print products, as well as some of their film still. Oh how the mighty have fallen. I think one of the reasons this year was pretty depressing was because when you look at the the show, it felt like a good 60% of it was taken up with a billion different print companies all trying to hock papers and various print products. I don’t have any problem with these companies, but I’m just saying I would love to see more independent and smaller camera making companies and things like that showing their stuff at the shows rather then every single printing company and all of their kitschy products.

7. Samsung

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC Samsung

Samsung’s 85″ UHD-TV “worlds largest 4K TV”

Further adding to the depression setting in for me was the fact that Samsung brought along their TV’s to the show. I get there is an argument to be made for why they might want to show this off, but its ridiculous, its a camera show, not an electronics show. I know Samsung makes cameras (my first point and shoot as I began to get into photography was a Samsung) but they seemed to have languished (or at least not make anything I care about) since then and I just think thats wrong. Especially considering this is approximately at $40,000.00 dollar TV it makes it even more offensive. THAT SAID it’s totally awesome man, its crazy good looking and I want one, or three. Digressing for a second, the only annoying thing to me is that it seems you have to leave it in their frame, which sucks since its better to have these things wall mounted and no one has stands for TV’s anymore. Also apparently it has some way you can control it with your hands, IDK crazy stuff, I just want my TV to let me watch TV, movies, and play video games and this would totally be awesome for all of those things. Do you know what this screen has nothing to do with? PHOTOGRAPHY which one would assume is the point of a photography expo. Anyway….

8. Panasonic Lumix

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The tiny Panasonic Lumix G DMC GM1KS

By all accounts the Panasonic Lumix cameras are pretty decent, I wouldn’t know, its not really my thing. This is pretty impressive though considering this thing is absolutely tiny, and its a decent looking ILC. Thats really all I had to say about it, its just impressive sometimes to see where technology has gotten us. I did however want to see the Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm F/1.2 lens which will be the fastest autofocus lens for MFT cameras (which means it could be used on an Olympus OM-D EM-1 just saying) which looks pretty interesting. But of course, in the disappointing vain of a lot of this show it was not even present as a prototype behind glass. Bummer.

9. Carl Zeiss

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC

Carl Zeiss NEX 50mm f/2.8 Touit Macro lens

A very nice man from Carl Zeiss showed me a prototype of an upcoming lens for the Zeiss Touit line of lenses, the Ziess 50mm f/2.8 Touit Macro. This lens will be available in Sony NEX and Fuijifilm X-mount’s at the beginning of 2014 for a price of somewhere around ~$1,000.00. Since this was a prototype the autofocus wasn’t the best but I was assured and expect this will improve before the final version considering how well most mirrorless lenses are focusing now. The lens was very sharp and got down to 1:1 and I wish that it would come in the MFT mount, though I understand why it won’t. My main complaints (which many share) are that these lenses don’t seem to be weather sealed or weather proof or really weather anything and that the focusing ring is lackluster at best. My main concern / complaint which Zeiss is apparently aware of (but not doing anything about?) is the absence of a focusing scale which would have been especially nice on a macro lens considering there is no way to know you are at the minimum focusing distance which is super annoying. This seems like a big oversight to me, but oh well.

10. Yasuhara Nanoha

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC

Yasuhara Nanoha 5:1 Super Macro Lens for Micro-four Thirds

I had seen this lens a few times on the B&H website and found it to be very curious and interesting considering its insane capabilities. It is really cool and is essentially slapping a low power microscope objective on to the front of your camera. This lens is very sharp, owing to its small aperture, which is why there are three LED’s tacked onto the front of the lens to help light a subject, of course these can be turned off. It is both smart and a bit strange that this lens has its own USB (good idea) power for the lights via any USB battery pack. This is, I suppose a bit of a strange concept but it totally makes sense on saving camera power to have these energy sucking lights powered independently of the camera. To use the lens you can literally put it flush with a surface you want to focus on and get in focus results, you can zoom in insanely close and see your skin, and you can also zoom in on tiny text and see the individual paint splatters from the printer head that make up the text.

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC

Yasuhara Nanoha 5:1 Super Macro Lens showing off its close focus

This is a pretty cool lens and some of the most striking images it can create come when utilizing focusing stacking. Examples of this can be found on their website here. The most interesting thing I was told was that they were in fact working on a variant of this to be used with full-frame 35mm cameras which I think could be really cool and would be something that I would absolutely love to see happen since its a really cool lens concept which is pretty different then a lot of stuff out there. This is the kind of stuff I like to see at PDN, the smaller independent stuff that is trying to make a name for itself, or just simply show off its humble wares.

11. Sinar

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC sinar p3 in Lieca s2 mount

Sinar P3 Digital Focus in Leica S mount with Leica S2 mounted

I did not know this, but apparently Sinar released a version of their P3 camera in the Leica S mount which they were showing off with a Leica S2 mounted to it. This is pretty cool and helps to expand the capabilities of the Leica S camera which I happen to like a lot. This camera offers a full range of movements for both the front and the rear of the camera exactly like a traditional studio 4×5 camera. Everything is nicely geared and clearly marked. I would have loved to have asked some questions about this set up, however the Swiss-German gentlemen clearly assigned to this camera was clearly too busy having a love affair with another German speaker (unclear if he worked for Sinar too) and wouldn’t have even given me the time of day. There were some other Sinar reps showing off their other cameras, but I was so putt off that I lost interest.

12. Digital Transitions

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Arca-Swiss Rm3Di at Digital Transitions Booth

Digital Transitions, my PhaseOne dealer of choice was of course present at PDN PhotoPlus showing off all sorts of cool gadgets from the likes of Arca-Swiss, Cambo, MamiyaLeaf, and PhaseOne. Its always good fun to see all of this stuff out and about in the world and its nice to see the number of people who are interested in medium format digital backs even though smaller sensored cameras are catching up in MP’s and MFDB’s run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Also that said, it should be noted that a number of very capable last generation backs are available on the market (and from Digital Transitions) in the sub-$15k and sub-$10k market, and even a PhaseOne P25+ (Sub-$10k) will blow smaller sensored cameras out of the water.

Digital Transitions 10 year anniversary

PhaseOne PhotoPhase and LightPhase “vintage” digital backs

The highlight of my week was the really well executed Digital Transitions 10 year anniversary party which was really well executed and brought together photographers and manufacturers intimately for some product demos and discussion as well as a pure celebration of the past 10 years of the companies history. Considering my intimate relationship with the company over the past few years and my belief that they are truly the best at what they do made this a nice and enjoyable occasion. It was nice to meet fellow photographers as well and hopefully will have opened up a number of opportunities for more interesting content for this website. One of the opportunities that I am most excited about is the chance to get some products from Rollei to review…

13. Rolleiflex

My report from PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013 at the Javits Center in NYC showing the Rollei Rolleiflex FW 50mm f/4.0 version

Rolleiflex FW 50mm f/4.0 TLR

Eric Hiss from Rolleiflex US was at both the Digital Transitions party (sporting the Rollei Hy6 Mod2, more on that later) and at the PDN PhotoPlus Expo sporting this Rolleiflex FW 50mm f/4.0 TLR. The Rolleiflex FW is a $6,700.00  $5,375.00  (available here) film camera which is still traditionally and expertly made. It is an updated version offering modern features while still having the functionality and aesthetic of the classic Rollei TLR’s that the likes of Vivian Maierr and countless other photographers have used. Even while I was standing around with Eric, a number of people came up and asked “is this a digital camera?” and of course it is not which is something special in a way, and although there are few reports on it out there both the Rolleiflex FW 50mm f/4.0 and the Rolleiflex FX 80mm f/2.8 are supposed to be great cameras. I look forward to hopefully getting my hands on them to review soon so we can see what they can do.

The Rolleiflex hy6 Mod2 medium format film and digital camera in my hands!

Front and side views of the Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod2

Eric also had the Rolleiflex Hy6 mod2 on hand at the Digital Transitions 10 year anniversary party on Wednesday night to show off this very interesting camera. The Rolleiflex Hy6 camera is currently not very big in the US, though it is popular overseas even though it offers some unique features. It looks as if it is a cross between a Hasselblad V series camera and a modern SLR. It features autofocus and modern controls with some interesting caveats and features. First of all, its really cool to be looking down a classic medium format top-level viewfinder and holding down the shutter and watching the lens magically autofocus, this is a very nice feature. At the top of the viewfinder you find a digital display which shows all of the requisite information that you would expect to find on any professional camera. The grip is particularly interesting, it is adjustable to two different positions which allow for the most comfortable shooting possible when using the camera with the pop-up viewfinder (pictured on the camera) as well as with the 45-degree and 90-degree viewfinders where you can move the grip into a classic vertical position. The camera body is very solid with metal construction, yet is very light. I only played with it with a film back mounted, but of course the weight would increase when you put a digital back on it. The Rolleiflex Hy6 can currently only be used with Sinar and Mamiya backs. Mamiya probably has the best digital back options for it including the AFi-ii 10 (currently available through a special promotion at Digital Transitions) and MamiyaLeaf Credo 60 and 80 digital backs (see below for more on this). As we can see from the side view, a number of key camera settings can be easily accessed from the left hand side of the camera via actual knobs and dials which is extremely nice and refreshing and something that I really liked. Also of note is a very interesting feature, that I frankly think should be on all cameras, which is focus bracketing. On this camera you can electronically control the focusing distance and program the camera to take shots autonomously at varying focal lengths to combine later for increasing the in-focus area of an image. Also the Rolleiflex system has some really nice lenses including the Rollei APO-Symmar 90mm f/4 Makro PQS which is touted as being one of the best lenses ever designed and the Rollei Zeiss 110mm f/2.0 Planar PQ Lens (which is the same as the Hasselblad version) which is a very unique lens at a very fast aperture. Unfortunately these two lenses are manual focus, but you can easily change out the focusing screen for a nice micro-prism focusing screen which will make manual focus that much easier.

Update on options to use the Rolleiflex Hy6 with a medium format digital back: Eric Hiss informed me of some more of the particulars regarding various medium format digital backs (from MamiyaLeaf and Sinar) on the Rolleiflex Hy6, these include the Leaf AFi and AFi-ii backs and the Credo’s, you can also use older as well as current Sinar backs on the camera without a problem. Also worth noting is that the Rolleiflex Hy6 mod2 does not lock out customers who had say purchased the Sinar Hy6 variant with an older Sinar digital back, you can still use it on the Rolleiflex Hy6 mod2.

Conclusion

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Me and my host from my Cambo Factory Tour, Rene Rook at the DT Party

While I will concede I was a bit surly for some for some of this report, I think the comments were mostly valid, although at time hyperbolic, but still what can I say there were a lot of very uninspiring things out there this year. I’m sure it will get better as the digital camera market better adjusts to consumers demands but of course there were still some nice things out there which I hope you found my coverage of interesting. Please leave me comments letting me know which of these products you would be especially interested in reading more about and I will be sure to follow up with them.

 

Looking Forward to PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013

PDN PhotoPlus 2012 Summary Montage image showing Arca-Swiss E-Module, Hasselblad H5D, and Multistich

Arca-Swiss E-Module Cloud, Hasselblad H5D, Multistich @ PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012

Later this week, I like many other photographers will shuffle into the Javits Center for the annual PND PhotoPlus Expo trade show where all of the latest and greatest technology from most manufactures of note will be on display for the world to see. I will be attending again, possibly with video reports (again ~ see last years here on YouTube or on my website here), and will be checking out all of the cool new stuff. I will of course be making the rounds to see whats what at all of the major booths from Canon, Nikon and Leica etc and will attempt to highlight some of the smaller exhibitors like I did last year with Arca-Swiss, Multistich, Zeiss, Schneider-Krueznach and so on.

 There have been some rumors of a new compact professional Nikon camera though now it looks like this while not be shown at PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2013, though it looks like an absolutely stunning camera. There were also some rumors that Leica may release a new consumer grade camera at PDN and while I suspect this will be something along the lines of a new super-zoom or d-lux type camera, you never know it could be something cool and as an eternal camera optimist I will be hopeful that it is some sort of new and unique camera.

I’m looking for some help and guidance from you to help me make sure that I cover everything that everyone is interested in at PDN PhotoPlus 2013. I know there have been a number of camera announcements as well as new products brought to market lately so please leave comments and let me know if there is anything that you would like to specifically like to see, and I will do my best to get my hands on it and cover it while I am at the show.

Shooting Hummingbirds with the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR & Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Lenses

Image of a Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4 and a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF Lens

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens – 1/1600s – f/4.0 – ISO 1000

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that shooting hummingbirds, even if its in your backyard is exceedingly frustrating and certainly requires some practice. If you put in the time though, you can get some super cool shots out of it which (almost) make up for the time, effort and mental anguish required to take pictures of them. We got a hummingbird feeder since they are my mothers favorite bird and had had great success with it all summer. In late summer, the hummingbirds seemed to be most active around our feeder, and having run out of other things to distract myself with I decided I would focus my creative energies towards capturing some hummingbirds. Sounds simple enough right? Well, you work, its not. Thankfully there are many many many good websites with all sorts of helpful hints and tips about photographing hummingbirds. Generally speaking these articles are very good, but you should really read a handful of them before arriving at your final strategy since there was no “complete” guide anywhere that I found. Also it will help to know your camera inside and out, there are many settings that can be tweaked to ensure the best autofocus speed possible (which you will need), and if you are not fully-aware of your cameras capabilities there are also many many resources which can help discover these features buried deep in your menus. For this “project” as it were, I used my Nikon D4, along with an SB-900 flash unit (at times) and initially my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens sometimes with my Nikon 2x teleconverter II; later on in the project I rented a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens from lensrentals.com which helped me achieve some of the best results of this project. In this article, we will look at the technique, camera settings, and equipment that I used. We will look at images chronologically from my initial captures, through to the cover image.

Early images taken of hummingbirds with my Nikon D4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Lens

 Nikon D4 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII – 1/1000s – f/2.8 – ISO 2000 @ 200mm

These very early examples were highly ambitious (since I really wanted to get the bird on a solid background) because of the limited equipment, camera settings, and experiences I had. In fact, I am shocked that I managed to capture these images early on. Hummingbirds move exceedingly fast and don’t stay anywhere for terribly long (except for when the are feeding) so even more so then good technique it is very important to have your camera settings optimized for the task, since if you do not then you are throwing away advantages that you have in being able to capture images of them. The images above are crops of photos taken at 200mm’s which is in no way long enough (from my experience) to capture hummingbirds. There are people who use remote setups or people who seem to be able to get inexplicably close to hummingbirds when photographing them, but that is not the way that I found to photograph them.

Image taken of a Male Ruby Throated Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens, and Nikon 2x TC Teleconverter II

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, Nikon 2x TCII – 1/1250s – f/11 – ISO 2000 @ 400mm

As we  can see from the image above you can get some somewhat decent shots without too extreme of a setup with the help of a teleconverter. The Nikon 2x TCII teleconverter is excellently paired with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII and I have not found there to be an significant degradation of image quality when using this combination. This somewhat pleasant image above (also the only image I have of a male) is also a crop and comes from one of my first days of shooting the hummingbirds. Here, even though I had the ability to “reach” to 400mm, I had not spent enough time to understand that I can position myself closer to the hummingbirds (even if it scares them away initially) and then sit there and wait and eventually they will get acclimated to me and come back (since apparently hunger outweighs chance of capture / and or death to these guys) because they are always hungry.

Image taken of a female Ruby Throated Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens, and Nikon 2x TC Teleconverter II

taken with Nikon-SB-900 flash unit

Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, Nikon 2x TCII - 1/1250s – f/5.6 – ISO 2500 @ 400mm

Now we are a few days in to my great outdoor (backyard) adventure and I have done some research and a lot of small tweaks have been made to my setup. Firstly, as we can see, now I am using a Nikon SB-900 flash mounted on the camera for some fill light to allow me to use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the hummingbird. Of course, this brings in its own set of challenges while I tried to balance flash power (fairly low power settings) with shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get enough light on the background as well. Overall, I would say that flash is not your best bet for photographing hummingbirds, especially from a plastic feeder. Flash will obviously illuminate everything and this can be a major issue when you have a glossy red feeder which also happens to be positioned in front of a cast-iron fence which means that there will be a shadow behind the birds. But more about this later. For now, we will focus on the camera settings I eventually used with my Nikon D4 to make the following images possible.

I realized early on that my camera was letting me down, I certainly wasn’t doing myself any favors by not taking advantage of everything it has to offer. I mean, come on, its a Nikon D4 theres no way a little bird can get the best of it right? On the stock settings, yes, yes it can. But with some tweaking its possible to give yourself that extra little advantage. One of the more important minor little details that should be noted is that you should / can put custom settings into “Custom Settings Banks”. I have my “Normal” settings on A and then I created a custom settings B for “Action”. First we will start simple, It was recommended to me, to do something that I normally do not like (though some people love), I moved my autofocus control from being a half press of the shutter button to being the “AF-ON” button on the back of the camera. This allows for autofocus to be controlled via my thumb, and lets the shutter button be simply used for its namesake. This is extremely helpful since if you rely on locked autofocus to take the picture, then you will almost never get any pictures of hummingbirds. For me the best solution was to pair “Continuous High” (CH) shooting mode with this first AF tweak, which allowed me to get 10 fps continuous shooting for as long as I needed. I found that using “AF-C” with “d-21″ (21 point AF) to work best. This setting is accessed by the “AF/M” button on the left side of the camera. Within the menus, “AF-C priority selection” was set to “release”. “Focus tracking with lock” on was brought down to “1 (Short)” I did this because I found that while its good to have a little bit of stickiness in the autofocus, I was better served by having the camera constantly refocusing allowing for the slight variations in movements of the hummingbird, which especially when shooting at f/2.8 can be the difference in the world between sharp and out of focus. Luckily with modern cameras like the Nikon D4, it is possible to use high ISO’s and get very clean results, while you cannot be too aggressive with this especially if you are going to consider cropping anything, you can safely push into the ISO 3200 range with very good results (with the best coming at around 2000 IMHO). With these settings, I found the cameras AF performance was excellent, when light permitted I shot stopped down to give my self some extra DoF, however I found that even at f/2.8 the camera was highly capable. At this point all thats left to do is to throw the camera into manual mode, confirm exposure and begin shooting.

Image taken of a female Ruby Throated Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens, and Nikon 2x TC Teleconverter II with flash

taken with Nikon-SB-900 flash unit

Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, Nikon 2x TCII - 1/500s – f/11 – ISO2000 @ 320mm-400mm

The example above was a good example of an image taken with the Nikon SB-900 flash because I shot low and the background was only the trees behind the hummingbird. In these next examples we can see where some distracting issues arise. We see that the hummingbird casts a shadow on the cast iron fence behind it which is, in my opinion, heavily distracting. Another thing to consider is that in my situation the feeder was a red glossy plastic and this meant that it was reflective and would show the flash. The flash is very good however at allowing you to freeze the hummingbird in flight providing good fill flash especially during the day. I purchased a Better Beamer flash extender for testing since I thought it might help by pushing more light down range. It acquits itself of its duty admirably, though I found that it was not terribly necessary for my application. It was useful at times however, since it vastly magnifies the light coming out of the flash allowing for lower flash settings, and thus faster re-cycle times from the flash. The flash is pretty good at keeping up with the camera, however you are more or less stuck shooting in Single (S) mode but you can shoot as fast as your fingers can manage and the flash should keep up for a while.

Image of a Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4 and a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF Lens

Nikon D4 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens – 1/1600s – f/4.0 – ISO 1000

Moving along back to our cover image, which while somewhat heavily photoshoped retains all aspects of the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR lens which is an absolutely insane $9,000.00 giant of a lens. Its everything you would expect it to be and more. From various conversations I had on the forum, I determined I would try renting the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR lens since it had the largest aperture and best close focusing distance of a Nikon super-telephoto lens. I had found from my use of the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens with the 2x TC that 400mm was pretty much where I needed to be to get great images. So, I went to lensrentals.com which is my preferred rental house (no affiliation) I have had no problems from them and when I have had questions their staff has always been super helpful and responsive, once your cleared to rent their more expensive items your good to go and can do so freely and without an delay in your shipments. Their prices seem to be no better or worse then any other online rental houses out there and so, I am happy with them and see no reason to go anywhere else, personally. Of course, for my smaller (physical size) needs, I prefer K&M Camera however schlepping myself all the way into the city and lugging around a 10lb lens didn’t sound particularly attractive in the height of summer heat. Theres really no way to get around this, the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR is a superior professional lens which delivers the ultimate in performance. Other lenses I considered were the Nikon 600mm f/4 ED VR AF lens as well as the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens which but with minimum focusing distances of 15.7′ (4.79 m) and 19.36′ (5.9 m) respectively they didn’t seem to offer enough extra pull to be worth the extra focusing distance. I may be wrong, this may be naive of me, but it was my gut feeling. I do plan however to test out these other two lenses and see whats what next spring and summer since shooting hummingbirds was good fun and a great excuse to cradle some superior glass for a week.

Nikon D4 with Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens and Nikon 2x TCII at 800mm shooting Hummingbirds for some backyard bird photography

Some flaws

Nikon D4 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF, Nikon 2x TCII - 1/320s – f/5.6 – ISO 1600 @ 800mm

I found using the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens with the Nikon 2x TCII provided some challenges, which I assume would have been improved with the Nikon 2x TCIII which, if I had realized existed, I would have rented along with the lens. The 800mm focal length, slapped onto the 400mm f/2.8 worked decently well. Of course with a TC there is no change to the minimum focusing distance of the lens, so I cannot comment whether the change in minimum focusing distance (touched on above) would have changed my opinion. Especially when working at a relatively close distance, putting on the 2x TC can be a bit jarring at first since you are so zoomed in, even from what I got acclimated to when shooting at the 400mm focal length. Everything happens faster, which is a little hard to get used to especially when you have a limited number of a seconds with your subject per feeding session. The above images show some flaws when using the 400mm + 2x TC combination at 800mm. We see the background has become beautifully out of focus which is very nice, however there are some clear signs of the degradation of image quality here. It also might have been better for me to rent some of the smaller Nikon Teleconverters like the 1.4x or 1.7x TC’s. Previously I had never really understood a reason for these smaller TC’s existing. Now I do, since they would allow for less “pressure” (in terms of IQ) to be put on the set up while still providing a full-resolution zoomed in focal length.

A Nikon400

Backyard, with the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF

In conclusion, shooting some hummingbirds in the backyard sounds like a somewhat simple task, however as I found there are a lot of small complications which need to be overcome and experienced to finally be able to adapt to. Especially in the beginning, though frankly throughout the process, I was frustrated and upset a number of times because of a lack of success. This was in no way helped by the fact that hummingbirds are a bunch of fat little jerks who felt it necessary to chase each other away from the feeder (instead of just sharing). This meant that my time with a subject near or at the feeder was in the > 10 seconds range for the majority of the time. Though, thankfully at times, especially later in the week things calmed down and I was able to get a solid 20+ seconds with a few subjects. However, when you consider I’m shooting at 10fps thats still a lot of frames racked up. Because of the difficulties of focus and micro-movements of the hummingbird though this meant a number of these shots were not keepers. While I attempted to wait until the camera confirmed focus via the dot in the viewfinder, at times I would be able to sense when it was close to focus and begin firing away. And while I say all of these things which might make it sound like I was just blasting away whenever something roamed near the lens, this is not true. I would call them “controlled bursts” based on the movements of the hummingbird. If you spend enough time staring at them you will find there is a pattern to their movements. In fact, you can even hear the pattern of their movements with enough time spent out there with them (and you have to put in the time to get the shots). Initially they will hover somewhere around 20-30 feet away from the feeder to size it up. I didn’t even bother attempting to capture them at these times since it is difficult and will screw you if you also want to shoot them near the feeder since moving yourself takes time, and sudden movements scare the hummingbirds. So basically what I was left with was when they were close to the feeder, and while they were feeding. The shot of them feeding would be cool if it was an actual flower, but since its a plastic flower there isn’t much magic to that. I would wait, with my eye just above the viewfinder until one was in the 1-2 foot away from the feeder range and begin shooting while it dipped in to the feeder and as it moved backwards to swallow the nectar. When the bird comes on “near approach” to the feeder is probably the best time to get shots since at least for this set up it was where they would be out of the view of the fence; though when they moved slightly back to swallow provided some good moments as well. All and all this was a nice end of summer experience for me allowing me to soak up some gorgeous afternoons by spending 3-5 hours a day outside waiting for hummingbirds, which maybe would come every 15 minutes, though sometimes more, sometimes less. It should be noted that mornings and afternoons are (apparently) when they are most active, and since I’m not a morning person, I opted for the afternoons. Considering I don’t generally get outside that often it was a nice change of pace. This is in no way a physically intense photographic activity, in fact its the opposite, I was sitting in a comfortable chair for the majority of the time (except for when I opted to change angles for some variation early on). It is a mentally taxing task considering everything you have to prepare and execute in a small amount of time. As I have said though, it was highly rewarding and I plan to do it again next summer at some point since its good fun for the afternoon.

More examples can be viewed on my flickr page at flickr.com/brianhirschfeldphotography

P.S

Mamiya-500mm-f/4.5-APO-PhaseOne-IQ180-Hummingbird-Photography

backyard with PhaseOne IQ180, Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO, Extension Tubes, and Nikon SB-900

Hey! do you know what totally does not work as a set up for shooting hummingbirds? You guessed it! the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and my PhaseOne IQ180! While it does not work for this nature set up, you can read about how it works for some less extreme stuff in my Field Report on the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses from Costa Rica. As an aside, you can shoot the Nikon SB-900 mounted on the PhaseOne 645DF. While you have to manually control the power setting, the camera will trigger the flash. I had the cable attached to the flash from a pervious use and did not bother to take it off, it was not used in this failed set up. In case your wondering why it failed, well, for starters it was an f/4.5 lens, and then this is brought down significantly with the use of ALL THREE extension tubes (and the lack of serious high-ISO from the PhaseOne IQ180), and finally, oh you know the fact that its a manual focus lens. I figured “well people shot everything with manual focus lenses before, how hard could it be right?” well the answer is exceedingly; exceedingly difficult. ;)

Field Report: Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO Lenses in Costa Rica

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter and PhaseOne IQ180 of a Tucan in Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO + Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1000mm f/9 on PhaseOne IQ180

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who have tuned and read my website making the past 4 months all record setting months for my website. I will also update you on what to expect in the near future. This review will be a field report looking at practically shooting the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and my newly acquired Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses along with extension tubes, and the Mamiya M645 2X N teleconverter in Costa Rica. The next review which will more then likely pop up will be a look at the new PhaseOne Schneider-Krueznach 2x Teleconverter which we will look at on the 3 recommended PhaseOne lenses as well as on the hallowed telephotos which are the subject of this report; we will judge whether this new SK engineered 2x Teleconverter is worth the ~$2,000.00 USD price tag and how it compares to the M645 2X N. After this I hope to have two or three more reviews coming in the next couple of months. The first of these will be a full review with sample images and aperture series of the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens in the style of my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens review. Then there will be comparison between all of the Mamiya 300mm telephotos lenses, these include the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 645-AF, Mamiya 300mm f/5.6 ULD N, Mamiya 300mm f/5.6 C and the Mamiya 150mm f/2.8 with the 2x TC to make another more compact 300mm f/5.6 option. There will also be a comparison looking at the Mamiya 500mm lens options which include the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO, Mamiya 500mm f/5.6 C, and the Mamiya 500mm f/8 Reflex lens. This will round out all of the Mamiya telephoto options and hopefully make my website the internet leading source of information on these particular lenses. Along with a few other minor articles this should then bring us to PDN time, and if I can acomplish all of this in that time I will be shocked, but pleased. For now however, we will turn our attention to my shooting experiences with these two title lenses in Costa Rica…

Mamiya-500mm-f/4.5-APO-Lens-Review

The Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO is possibly the rarest of the Mamiya lenses (if you don’t count the 500mm f/8 Reflex and 110mm f/2.8 “N” which most people don’t) it holds the title as the undisputed heavy weight champion of the Mamiya lens lineup past and present. However, it is vastly different to the experience you will get from strapping a 500mm lens to the front of your 35mm DSLR since this is a 500mm lens for medium format. This 500mm lens equates to a 320mm lens on a 35mm camera system making it the baby end of the telephoto spectrum by 35mm standards but enormous by medium format standards, if you add the Mamiya M645 2x N TC then you work your way up to a 1000mm lens which is equivalent to a 642mm lens on 35mm . Though, admiralty there are at-least a few lenses which best it which include the somewhat manageable Pentax 67II 800mm f/6.7 ED (IF), the super-human Pentax 67 800mm f/4 Takumar, and finally the Carl-Zeiss 1700mm f/4 telephoto lens which warrants its own 2 ton Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon to carry it around. But I digress, we return to the world of Mamiya where we have the wide-apertured Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO.

First, I will discuss some requisite peripherals for embarking on an adventure such as this with these two lenses and a PhaseOne IQ180. Unfortunately, some of these peripherals I did not bring along, and this made shooting slightly more difficult, though not impossible it is without a doubt that they could have improved this process greatly. Most obviously, you will need to support these lenses, so I brought along my sturdy Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and monopod. It is very practical to shoot the 300mm f/2.8 APO with the monopod, though it is near impossibly to achieve this with the 500mm. The 300mm f/2.8 APO has a decently close minimum focus distance and this is aided significantly with the use of extension tubes (we will address this below) which makes it feasible to use with a monopod. For use with the 300mm f/2.8 APO, I already had purchased a Wimberley Head for some reason I opted for the side-mount version, though truthfully I have absolutely no idea why since it makes mounting the lenses significantly more difficult and dangerous. Frankly, now that I think about it I really should order their adapter kit to make the side-mount into the regular mount. But anyway, This worked excellently with the 300mm f/2.8 APO and it works just as well with the 500mm f/4.5 APO balancing it and making it very easy to shoot and lock down. Unlike most other larger telephoto lenses the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO relies on a single threaded tripod mount. This makes finding an Arca-Swiss style adapter plate to work with it very difficult. What I wound up doing was purchasing a RRS AS mounting rail, placing one screw in the hold on the lenses tripod collar and then using two small brackets (which slide into the RRS A/S mounting plate)  on the front and back of the lens foot to secure it in place. This was a capital idea and it held the lens sturdy throughout my adventures with it. The other most notable accessory that you will need to have is the shutter-release cable. Though in good light situations you certainly can get away without needing it; when you use the 2x TC and are at 1000mm or at slower shutter-speeds locking down the head and using the shutter-realease cable are absolutely required for getting sharp images, along with using mirror-up mode along with these precautions round out the proper long lens shooting technique for this lens.

Now we will address the things which I neglected to bring along with me for this adventure. The economic principle / phenomenon / assumption of non-satiation suggests that we always want more then we have, and if we have the ability to get more then we always will. I knew this going into my medium-format digital telephoto adventures and began to devise a plan to prepare for this. I knew, ,with my PhaseOne IQ180′s 80mp full-frame 645 sensor that I could crop to 40mp, 30mp or 20mp and still have a tolerably clean image. This essentially told me that I had some extra teleconverters “built-in” to my sensor and that I should plan for that. I devised a plan to have a special focusing screen made with an etched outline for a 40mp crop and then I would use the Mamiya 2x Viewfinder magnifier to account for this and, when looking through the viewfinder compose everything presuming this 2x crop (or so I thought). As it turns out to get to 40mp is less then a 2x crop (do the math you’ll figure it out) and the 2x magnifier only magnifies the center of the viewfinder image and does not offer full coverage at 2x.Through the process of looking into these items I learned from Bill Maxwell, that it is possible for you to create a focusing screen which is specially formulated for telephoto lenses within a certain focal length and aperture range. Unfortunately I did not do this, though I am considering either buying a used 645AFD or DF body and having this conversion done (it also requires recalibrating the focusing system of the body), I did not have it done for this trip. This was no big deal, but it is possible that this could have helped me with my efforts to make clean, sharp, in focus images with these lenses. After dismissing this idea I discarded the 2x magnifier to sit at home with other accessories thinking that it could offer me nothing on this trip. However, I did not consider the fact that its still a 2x magnifier and it could have greatly helped me with achieving sharp focus, especially with far-away subjects. But alas you cannot have everything. Now we will look at some sets of images taken in varying locations and of varying subjects and see what they can reveal to us about these lenses.

First we will look at some applications for the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens along with extension tubes to see what it can and cannot do;

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens shooting a Poison Dart Frog in Costa Rica with Extension Tubes

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO with Extension Tubes on PhaseOne 645DF + PhaseOne IQ180

The shot above is a crop (see below) of an image taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and extension tubes of a Poison Dart Frog in the rainforest. This image exemplifies a critical failure in the use of this lens. It was in no way suited to this task for a number of reasons and the resulting image demonstrates that. This image was taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens, extension tubes, and monopod. This was in a very dark rainforest, the lens could not focus close enough so the extension tubes ate light and the shallow DoF and tiny subject made it very difficult to achieve any sort of tolerable quality shot with it. The best lens that could have been used in this situation would have been the Mamiya 120mm f/4 D Macro lens (Preferably MF since it offers precise control which would have inured to my benefit over the newer AF version in this case)  on a tripod since it would supply close focus and a decent aperture. Another way that this could have possibly been saved was using the M645 -> Nikon camera adapter (a desperate move I concede) along with the 2X TC and a high-ISO on the Nikon D4 which might have yielded a higher-quality image. This resulting image is an extreme crop of the original image;

Screenshot from PhaseOne CaptureOne of an image taken with the PhaseOne IQ180 and Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens of a poison dart frog in the rainforest of Costa Rica

The camera was decently stabilized and surprisingly the shutter speed of 1/80th of a second was not the primary issue with this capture. The 200 ISO combined with a crop (which will show any flaws of a high-iso shot) killed the image. It was also initially fairly underexposed so compensating for the exposure also further helped to bring out the noise and loss of sharpness due to the ISO. Admiralty as much as I can run down this image, I do like it since, hey, I haven’t shot poison dart frogs. It was very fun and definitely a learning experience.

Moving onward and upward we will now look at a series of images, again taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with varying combinations of extension-tubes and teleconverters to capture different perspectives of the first (of many) lizards I will now bring to your attention.

Image taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens and PhaseOne IQ180 in Costa Rica Rainforest

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with extension tubes and Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1/200 – f/5.6 -ISO 200

This image is also a crop, taken at ISO 200 with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens. This first image employed both the teleconverter and extension tubes to allow me to get in tight-enough to the subject (framing wise) and allow me to have a close focus distance to work in tandem with the TC for attempting to achieve the framing that I wanted. The full image, is actually rather decent as well, though this crop is my preferred rendering of the image. Even though there is noise, because the image was taken at ISO 200, and it is a crop this is not an issue since the majority of the image is taken up by the lizard which has a great deal of sharply rendered micro-detail in its skin which eats up most of the apparent noise. The Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens proves here once again, that it is an absolutely stunningly sharp lens even when being shot wide open and under the intense scrutiny of a cropped image. Noise is a small issue in the background, though at least for me it is not overwhelming and frankly I am distracted by the large beautiful bokeh. Some noise is apparent in the darks of the foreground, though I suspect if this image is printed the background noise and foreground shadow noise will be non-issues.

** CF002767FP010190 copy

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with extension tubes and Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1/250 – f/5.6 -ISO 200

This next image further goes to show the ISO quality of the PhaseOne IQ180 when being shot at a relatively “high” ISO for medium format. Again, this image was shot at ISO 200 however it is very low in noise and very high in detail. I do not mean to say that there is no noise present, but certainly it is not an issue. When I purchased my first MFDB, the Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms basically for anything other then a black and white shot, as far as I was concerned anything above ISO 100 (i.e ISO 200) was unusable and unacceptable. This image, again utilized both the Mamiya M645 2X N TC and the extension tubes on the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens. As we can see at this constricted FoV achieved with a 600mm focal length the bokeh is even more gorgeous then it is when this lens is shot at 300mm and f/2.8 and I am very pleased with this image.

The next image that we are going to look at were taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens and all three of the extension tubes in the set which means that we are able to get very, very close to our subject. However it also brings in its own set of difficulties to work with as a set-up.

Image taken with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens on my phaseOne iq180 of a lizard in Costa Rica

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO Lens with All 3 Extension Tubes @ 1/250 – f/2.8 – ISO 200

This image was taken using all three of the Mamiya M645 extension tubes on the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens. This means that the already very thin depth of field when shooting this lens at f/2.8 becomes even more pronounced since you are working at closer focusing distances. Obviously, with this many extension tubes focus at infinity has already flown out the window but, really, that does not matter since why would you need extension tubes if you were going to be focusing at infinity (hint: you wouldn’t). To get to this final image there were easily 100 shots of this same scene (Lizards don’t really move very rapidly or often if unprovoked) to get an image where critical focus was on the eye of the lizard. In the field it was very difficult to determine whether I was achieving critical focus at my desired point.These images were shot on the monopod, which is much, much easier and comfortable then carrying the lens on a tripod for obvious reasons. However, the tripod (which was approximately 20 feet behind me in the car) would have helped greatly since it would’ve taken my movement out of the equation. This was an issue I discussed when shooting the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N in my last review and the same issue arises here as well. This was a situation where I wished I had the 2x magnifier for the viewfinder so I could get a better idea of my critical focus. It should also be noted that there is no significant vingetting or any real issues resulting from using the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO with all of its extension-tubes at once. It may just be me, but it seems that the Out of focus part of the foreground and the near background seem to be swirling a little bit but this might be something that I have not noticed about this lens since this is using it very tightly as almost a long macro lens. All and all I am still very happy with this image. The eye is the point of critical focus and if you zoom in on it you can see me and the car in the background ;).

Now we will depart from the world of the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and its accessories and travel for a time through the world of the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO autofocus lens. Shooting difficult lenses like the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and 500mm f/4.5 APO with only having the option of manual focus really makes you appreciate that novel photographic innovation; autofocus. Its refreshing to take a small respite from the give and take battle of wide-aperture medium format telephoto manual focusing and just use an autofocus lens, and as we know the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO is a stunner at that.

Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens with extension tubes on PhaseOne 645DF and PhaseOne IQ180 in Costa Rica Rainforest capturing lizard

Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/100 – f/4.5 – ISO 200

Unfortunately this image is a little bit blurry since the Lizard was moving and a slightly slower shutter-speed was utilized, however I like this image in-spite of its flaws. It is in my opinion wonderfully composed showing the branch that our lizard is climbing on and even though the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO has a smaller aperture, the background is wonderfully blown out and adds to the sense of curiosity and other-worldliness which the cocked head of the lizard is displaying as he hesitates for a moment with his left front and back feet raised. At normal viewing distances and for a smaller print, I have no doubt that the slight motion blur of the image will go unnoticed.

image of a lizard shot in guanacaste national park in Costa Rica

Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/160 – f/4.5 – ISO 100

Before I went all out and broke out the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO for this little guy I tried some shots with the 300mm f/4.5 APO, this was, in fact handheld and the image still came out excellently, so go me I guess. Of course we can see, this is about as close as we could get with the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO’s close focusing distances (more or less I’m guessing since I don’t remember but it seems about right) and I was able to get a nice composition of the lizard within the “V” shape of the two trees with some background and a large part of his body. Again we seer that this lens has some very pleasing bokeh and is a top performer in the image quality arena. It offers perfectly sharp results in as far as I can tell zero instances chromatic aberrations (CA). There isn’t even any CA in the region on its head where the sun is brightest which is excellent considering the situation. In my opinion the Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO is one of the best AF lenses for the MamiyaLeaf / PhaseOne 645DF platform.

image of an adorable white faced monkey taken in Costa Rica's Gaunacaste national park with the PhaseOne IQ180, PhaseOne 645DF, and Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO lens

Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/400 – f/4.5 – ISO 200

First, lets just take a moment to appreciate how adorable this little guy is, runny nose, pensive look, and penetrating eyes. It was very difficult to decide which image to upload and write about because of their overwhelming cuteness, while I chose my absolute favorite of the series, fret not I uploaded the rest to my Flickr for your viewing pleasure. This image is a minor crop of the original which was shot with the Mamiya
300mm f/4.5 APO lens handheld. At decent shutter speeds, because of the relatively light weight nature of this lens, it is very possible to hand hold this lens. It is not possible to shoot this lens with a monopod when you have the V-grip air attached to the camera. Of course you could screw the monopod into the larger sized hole on the bottom of the V-Grip Air, however in the moment I did not have time to either think of this or preform this modification of my set up. Though, as we see it was in no way an issue in this well lit situation. The Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 APO preforms splendidly and renders the white-faced monkey’s face perfectly and provides pleasing out of focus bokeh, again showing how absolutely wonderful this lens is. And I mean come on, look at that face, zoom in on that runny nose, look at that little hand, with those little fingers, how do you not just love this mini humanoid?

Okay now we can get to what you are REALLY interested in the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO. Again, let me clarify this is not my formal review of the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens, this is simply a report on field use. Anyway moving on,

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N teleconverter of a bird in Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with Mamiya M645 2x N Teleconverter @ 1/160 – ISO 100

We will now start, somewhat inauspiciously with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at the beginning of my trip. When beginning with this lens (or really any telephoto lens IMHO) I seem to have over estimated its capabilities for “reach” as it were and was somewhat to ambitious which meant that I was, shooting from distances too far from a subject and expecting a crop from my 80mp sensor to yield a tolerable image, getting to close and not having extension tubes, misjudging how easy it was to manual focus this lens wide open and so on (its not easy). Though these are all common things when beginning with a lens, I found it to be more the case since  it was the longest lens I had shot with for any extended period of time on any system (at that time) and on top of getting used to something this telephoto, I was also having to deal with stability and focus issues which arise from using a lens like this on a MFDB. Eventually I got the hang of it and was able to use it with a degree of success, just like the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO. The 2X TC helped me realize some of my more creative ambitions, and the extension tubes helped me with some of the other limitations of this lens. This lens operates in an entirely different world then the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO lens; this lens is longer and slower, which brings infinitely more challenges into the equation. With the 300mm, Mirror-up mode was not essential at reasonable shutter speeds, a monopod could be easily used, and teleconverters and extension tubes generally had focus confirmation even in reasonable light since they were below the f/5.6 focus confirmation threshold of the PhaseOne 645DF body. With the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO (and everything I say goes double for the Mamiya 645 2x N TC), mirror up mode was almost always essential (except for in very bright light), a tripod with a Wimberely Gimbal head was essential, and though the teleconverter and extension tubes could be used just as effectively without degrading image quality, focus confirmation was generally out the window except for in the brightest lighting conditions. The image above shows a early, successful execution of stability and focus though, my composition was too aggressive, since “ya know” there was stuff in-front of the bird.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens in Costa Rica of a Turquoise-browed Motmot with my PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens @ 1/200 – ISO 100

This next image of a Turquoise-browed Motmot (which is apparently somewhat rare) shows some of the good and the bad. This image was made with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on its own. The image was taken on the tripod with gimbal head. It was taken at damn near close to the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO’s minimum close focus distance. On the plus side, this image has decent stability and was probably taken at a moderately wide aperture if not wide open. 1/200 of a second is enough to let the image be generally stable without having to lock down the lens in the gimbal head, use mirror-up, or a table release and so on. However, because we are at close focus, with a fairly wide-aperture telephoto lens, as we can see the focus is perfect on the tail of the bird, while the body of the bird begins to be slightly out of focus. This is a shame since its a very pretty bird. Though at-least I have an image of it where its most interesting feature is highlighted and it is tolerably executed. It shows again, the issues of shallow-DoF with these Mamiya telephoto lenses combined with their fast apertures and large digital sensors on focusing which can lead to some issues.

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens in Costa Rica on PhaseOne IQ180 taking pictures of a rare three-toed sloth

Images showing my support system, and shooting technique with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO and Mamiya M645 2x N TC on my PhaseOne IQ180

The next couple of images you will see will show the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at both 500mm and 1000mm and I think its important to take a moment and look at the shooting technique required with this lens. Here we are taking pictures of a three-toed sloth up in a tree. The left hand image is included to provide some idea of how far away the subject is from the lens. The Left hand image depicts proper medium format digital long lens shooting technique in its entirety. Luckily the subject for this particular image wasn’t really a fast mover so I could get everything locked down and make a good image. As we see, the tripod is completely locked down with the lens in place, the camera is in mirror-up mode and the cable release is attached to reduce vibrations when releasing the shutter. This is a more practical mode of shooting then using the mirror-up mode with the camera’s self timer since at least with the cable release, I can take the picture exactly when I want to while observing changes in the scene within the area I know comprises the frame I gave composed.

Image of a three-toed sloth in Costa Rica with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on my PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/320 – ISO 100

Image of a three-toed sloth in Costa Rica with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on my PhaseOne IQ180 at 1000mm

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with Mamiya M645 2x N TC @ 1000mm – 1/160 – ISO 100

These next two images allow us to show a direct comparison between between the 500mm and 1000mm focal lengths which can be achieved with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens. These images of the three-toed sloth were taken (with the above set up) and show off the image quality of this lens with and without the teleconverter. As we can see the image without the teleconverter which is of course, at 500mm is absolutely perfect even though the scene is somewhat challenging and backlit. The next image at 1000mm, shows some slight uncorrected chromatic aberrations in the lower left hand corner of the image where more or less blown out highlights meet the edge of the leaves. This is something which could have been expected from just about any lens when under these conditions with a teleconverter. Though not corrected here, I believe that with the latest update of CaptureOne 7 (CaptureOne 7.1.4) we will be able to correct the CA from this lens since as was announced there is now “Lens Support” for the Mamiya 200mm f/2.8 APO, Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses inside of CaptureOne.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter and PhaseOne IQ180 of a Tucan in Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/160 / ISO 100

Now we come to one of my absolute favorite images from the trip. Of course, as we can see this is an image of a Toucan, and Toucan’s are just pretty awesome on their own. This image was made with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and the Mamiya M645 2x N TC, it was probably shot open, if not slightly stopped down.  The light coming in from behind the Toucan was relatively strong even though the grey clouds out that day, consequently I was shooting at a tolerably fast shutter speed and was able to stop down to allow myself some room to focus. Unfortunately, this meant slightly less then pleasing bokeh in the technical sense, however I like it for this particular image since the light coming through the trees in the background makes for an interesting pattern and the Toucan itself is still relatively isolated. The image was taken with the full procedure, mirror-up, cable release, locked down tripod and all. What this image does not show however is the place I was forced to stand to take this image. While compositing this image and waiting for the Toucan to get into the correct positioning etc, I unknowingly wound up standing on top of nest of some fire-ants who were none too pleased to have my foot enter their mound. Thankfully, I was wearing my rather high white tennis socks (a wonderful look with navy shorts, sneakers, and a a long-sleeve teeshirt btw) and my father who accompanied me was close at hand knock them off of my leg while I got the images. I think it was worth it, even though this final image was a crop, and because of the post-processing noise is apparent, it should still make a good print, though I plan to spend a good amount of time before printing it working on recovering some of the black of its chest.

Image taken of a Great Blue Heron in Guanacaste National Park, Costa Rica with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens with Mamiya M645 2X N TC Teleconverter and PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/800 – ISO 200

Our next few images will come from Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica and picture the movements of a cooperative Great Blue Heron. Here we see the Great Blue Heron wading out precariously close a crocodile  lurking in the foreground. The image was taken in fairly bright sunlight and was made using the Mamiya 500m f/4.5 APO lens with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC, however because of the extremely bright conditions, even stopped down somewhat an exceedingly fast stutter speed was being used and while the lens was mounted on the tripod, it was not locked down before every shot, and nothing bad happened to the resulting images. Some CA is visible on the rocks on the shoreline, but again this is only shown for purposes of this article, and especially in this example the CA is easily correctable within CaptureOne.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter in Guanacaste National Park Costa Rica of a Great Blue Heron

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/1000 – ISO 200

As we can see, critical focus was completely achieved in this image which was shot in the way described above and was taken after the Great Blue Heron had advanced further out into the waters and we had moved somewhat closer. The image, which shows the crane cleaning or scratching itself in the water displays one of those classic posses of the Heron. One thing you might nor realize about the Heron however is that this creatures head and feet are extremely skinny. Now, you might assume that stopped down it would be easy to get the narrow head and feet into the plane of focus…and you would be wrong. Considering the DoF produced by the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens @ 1000mm with the Mamiya M645 2x N Teleconverter and the PhaseOne IQ180′s sensor size we are still (even when stopped down) left with a relatively narrow focus plane to work with.

Image taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter of a Great Blue Heron eating a fish in Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica with the PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/640- ISO 200

To round out this set of images we will finish with a fun little image of the Great Blue Heron eating a little fish. In this picture we see the fish right after it was caught by the Great Blue Heron. Even though this image is 50% the size of the original we can still zoom in and see the detail in the expression on the fishes face after it has been plucked from the water and is about to be consumed by the Great Blue Heron. It provides us with a reminder of both the resolving power of this lens and the detail which can be produced by the PhaseOne IQ180′s 80mp sensor. Though stopped down, the background in this image is less obtrusive the in some other images even though it is not exceedingly out of focus.

Image of a Great Egret taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at 1000mm with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter in Costa Rica with the PhaseOne 645DF and PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/400 – ISO 50

Our next two images were taken at an abandoned aquaculture Tilapia farm in Costa Rica. Some of the pools are still filled with water and have developed a small eco-system around them including fish, insects, and birds which made for some very interesting sightings. Other then this egret there were many, many ducks, some small fowl, as well as a hawk (or eagle type thing), and a few of this Great Egret. This image is a fairly significant crop (see below) however it holds up excellently thanks to the very low-noise ISO 50 and the superbly sharp rendering of the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens even when paired with the Mamiya M645 2x N. As we have seen multiple times in this article, when you achieve critical focus (no small feat), and use the proper long-lens technique and camera settings you can achieve some great results. Again we see he background, which is tolerably blown out, however because of a fairly significant distance between the camera and subject, we do not have a significant level of subject isolation thanks the bokeh but the sharp focus helps to bring the subject out of the partially distracting background, which can be a great quality of this lens in certain situations.

Screenshot of an image of a Great Egret taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO and Mamiya M645 2x N

As we can see the image is a very aggressive crop and it is a wonder it came out as well as it did. One of the unfortunate psychological effects of using this lens along with the PhaseOne IQ180 for me was a certain level of non-sechalnce about composition and framing assuming that I could crop in post to give myself “super-human” reach with this 500mm and 1000mm combo. Though it is possible, its much better to not get into this frame of mind and frame your images and take advantage of your sensor’s full resolution (DUH, but not apparent in the heat of the moment).

Image of a Great Egret taken with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens at 1000mm with the Mamiya M645 2x N TC Teleconverter in Costa Rica with the PhaseOne 645DF and PhaseOne IQ180

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/250 – ISO 50

This next image was taken in the same lighting of the same Great Egret when it came to the ground. For this image, also at 1000mm, we have the lens stopped down at least a stop (judging from the shutter-speed while the ISO is held constant) and we can see the background has degraded significantly. This image is a similar crop to the pervious image. However, here even though there is decent if not perfect focus, the background doesn’t help things. The dried grasses that are in focus and out of focus blend together and the far out background is not any better and as we see this image is much weaker for it. It’s important to show the lens in different settings to see when it can be used effectively and when it is not advisable to apply the lens.

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens review Iguana Guanacaste National Park Costa Rica

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/320 – ISO 50

Here we can appreciate the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens near its close focus distance and we can appreciate both how sharp and how nicely it can isolate a subject when it is wide open. We can see that a large amount of the Iguana is rendered nicely in focus, and in this close-to full resolution image (i.e no crop) we can appreciate the beauty and smoothness of a nice ISO 50 shot out of the PhaseOne IQ180 which really lets this lens show off its stuff.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO – 1/640 ISO 100

In another un-cropped image we see the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens on it’s own without the 2x TC at a relatively close distance again and it continues to perform excellently to capture this silly iguana licking his chops. When we look at the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO in my formal review we will of course consider the differences between 300mm and 500mm and what changes between these these two focal lengths. I can definitely say that these are two superior lenses, both with and without their teleconverter so we can truly not have to worry about image quality between the two lenses and can focus on their focal lengths and apertures to see which would be the ideal lens in certain situations. Being able to know you have two superior lenses to choose from makes it a lot easier as a photographer being able to select your tool based on its focal length and its abilities to render your subject is a wonderful feeling since we don’t have to consider “300mm vs 500mm which has better image quality?”.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/200 – ISO 200

For our penultimate image we will look at this crocodile lounging around on the banks of the river in Guanacaste National Park, Costa Rica. The light was exceedingly bright, and I wasn’t entirely aware of my ISO since I was so heavily involved in taking pictures so when this scene came up with very bright light I elected to stop down my lens in order to get a lot in focus which I could do since the camera was giving me a very fast shutter speed when shot wide open. I was curious what would happen when heavily stopping this lens, and as we will see from the final image (a crop) it does very well.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO with 2x Teleconverter @ 1000mm – 1/200 – ISO 200

This crop from the pervious image shows some very interesting characteristics. This image was taken at either f/11 or f/22 on the lens, so double that for the teleconverter and consider the total absence of diffraction and degradation of quality from the teleconverter. Its utterly remarkable (to me). I absolutely love how the animals teeth were rendered you almost have to wonder how it can be comfortable for him (her?) to have them like that because the way that they are seemingly sinking into its jaw is so vividly rendered. Absolutely stunning. And again even here at such a small aperture, when the lens is used correctly we can see decent isolation from the background (at least in the crop) which I believe is thanks to the insane sharpness of the lens.

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Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO – 1/125 – ISO 200

Our last full-image to discuss comes more for its ecological intrigue then its photographic significance. This little White faced monkey was charged by his group as being the lookout while they at some fruit or nuts or berries or whatever monkeys eat. He however, through his own negligence failed to alert the group of our coming. The rest of the pack (group?) perceived us as a threat and in an interesting moment of social awareness decided that they would attempt to kill this poor little guy for slacking on the job, or at least give him a good scare. My wonderful guide, who I have had before and used multiple times on this trip, explained to us the social structure of these monkeys and how this was a very serious thing since it was imperative to the monkeys survival and we should imagine what would have happened if we were not friendly. Though this little monkey was not killed, we were told that usually they are given a good scare, however in serious cases they will either be banished by the group, or killed. On the photographic side of things, as we see here at 1/125th of a second without the tripod locked down completely if there is any movement it will be apparent.

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Our subject from before hides by the bank of the river

Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO – 1/500 – ISO 200

And now, we come to the end of our trip and must conclude our time in Costa Rica with the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses. I learned a lot about both of these lenses and I hope my experiences educated you as well, dear reader.  Having had the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO for some time now, I feel I was able to proficiently use it to execute some nice images with and without the Mamiya M645 2x N TC. On this trip however, I was able to begin to appreciate how powerful this lens can be when it is combined with the Mamiya Extension Tubes. This effect is even further seen when using the teleconverter and extension tubes in tandem which can yield some very interesting images. With its max. aperture of f/2.8 we can use TC’s and Ext. tubes together and still have a reasonable amount of light hitting the sensor which is most excellent. This being my first trip with the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens (and in fact I had only received it about 3 weeks before the trip) I had to learn this lens, like you do with any lens. This lens is certainly unique, since it is on the longer side of medium-format telephoto lenses and requires different techniques and conceptual understandings of image making; which again I hope I have begun to unfold in this practically based article.

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Montage of Mamiya Telephoto lenses, Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO, Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO - 

Mamiya M645 2x N TC, Mamiya Extension Tubes, and me staring off into the distance at birds

Thank you for your time, and please comment if you have questions, or well comments! Don’t forget to give me a like on Facebook and check out my Tumblr to keep up with all of my latest news on future articles and photographic adventures, and small executive summaries of articles. Also if your so inclined, you can check out many sets of sample images on my flickr page. You can also watch YouTube reviews and interviews on my channel and keep up with my latest coming and goings (photographically speaking) by following me on twitter if you are so inclined.