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
Leica X-Vario @ 70mm – 1/250 – f/8.0 – ISO 100
The Leica X-Vario is a very difficult lens to review. It has a number of good things about it while simultaneously having a number of less good things about it. First, I am going to explain an idea which I have had in my head for a very long time, and which has really been hammered home to me on my latest trip to Oregon. For this trip I left my PhaseOne IQ180 home, and brought a Nikon D800e along with the Nikon PC-E lenses along with the Leica X-Vario;
(Note, if you are only here for the Leica X-Vario review you can skip the next two paragraphs, fair warning.)
Before the rise of digital, there was a higher degree of delineation between cameras (and when I say camera’s I’m really referring to formats) they all had different attributes, strengths and most importantly limitations. Thought went into equipment choice, because there were advantages to say using 35mm over medium format (or visa versa) or a 6×7 vs a 6×9 and so on. Because the film you were putting through these cameras (especially in the case of medium format) was the same, or at least could be held as a constant, cameras and lenses were chosen for their qualities which helped to create the image a photographer wanted and image quality was a known and relatively constant quality. With the rise of digital, we have lost specialization in cameras. Due to the way that the market has developed cameras are (in the eyes of the majority) meant to do as many things as possible, with less mind paid to their ability to execute a specific task. Convergence between still photography and video as well as consumer and professional models has not helped this yet. At face value, specialization is lost beyond the portability of point and shoots (<35mm full-frame), DSLR’s which offer increased versatility and image quality (~35mm full-frame) and the ultimate quality of medium format. Note, I exclude mirrorless cameras from this evaluation because they straddle the line between point and shoot and DSLR and can fit into either category depending on the situation. From the perspective of a lover of cameras and different formats, this paints a very bleak picture of the camera landscape; personally I would love to see more specialized consumer / professional cameras which are good at one thing and focused on a specific task (it was admirable of Nikon to drop video from the Nikon Df no matter what you think of the rest of the camera). However, lately, especially with some newer camera releases, I have come to a nuanced view of different photographic tools (cameras) across different formats which paints a similar picture to the landscape I have just described in detail of film cameras in a bygone era. Starting from the top down, when you look at the majority of medium format, it’s just CCD’s of various sizes ranging from less then full-frame to full-frame 645. Looking a bit closer at something I have expounded on earlier (see my article from the launch of the PhaseOne IQ250) you can see some very nice specialization in the latest line-up provided by PhaseOne. Across the IQ2 series range they now have the 80mp giant (IQ280), the long-exposure king (IQ260), a black and white masterpiece (IQ260 Achromatic) and now the IQ250 a CMOS MFDB which offers a greater ISO range to MFD shooters, MFD is helped by PhaseOne’s open system adding greater versatility and specialization with the ability to use MFDB’s with Tech Cam’s like those from Cambo, Alpa and Arca-Swiss. Within 35mm your basically stuck to DSLR’s and Leica, but thats okay, and it is great that Leica presents an (in my opinion good) alternative to DSLR’s. The only obvious specialization comes in the form of top of the line models like Nikon’s D4s and Canon’s 1Dx which are differentiated from “lower end” models by their speed and ISO qualities. The Nikon D800(e) shakes this up a bit, ostensibly it is a lower end model to the nikon D4s since it costs less, and on some levels can do less. This last point is where the boundaries get blurry, the Nikon D800 is better then the Nikon D4s…if you need resolution. The Nikon D800 is a bit of a problem child in this model since it can also blur the lines between 35mm and medium format. This is a hot topic, in the past I have been adamantly pro-medium format, however I have recently come to fully appreciate what the Nikon D800 is. To some (I’ll call them “simple folk” or if you prefer you can call them “touched”) the Nikon D800 is as good as a medium format camera, because the Nikon D800 has a 36mp sensor and some medium format cameras have comparable megapixel counts on their sensor. Of course we know that the size of a medium format sensor provides intangible attributes which we will never be able to convince the simple folk of. BUT that is really not the point of the Nikon D800. The point of the Nikon D800 is that you can take a 36mp image with an 800mm lens, or a f/1.4 lens, that you can capture fast moving subjects, and use high-ISO’s. These are things which you cannot do (in the same way) in medium format. THAT is why these cameras are not competing and co-exist within my dystopian (and possibly imaginary) realm of camera specialization.
But where do point and shoots and mirrorless cameras fit into this you ask? Mirrorless cameras are, as I have said, a bit difficult, but lets just say that they have benefits like portability and the advantage of limitless lens choices at the cost of features and image quality (in some cases). Point-and-shoots are currently an interesting market because, well, they are struggling. Point and shoots are for many people difficult for many people to justify now since they have smartphones which have increasingly great cameras in them. Consequently the sector has languished on the low end. Interestingly it has flourished on the high-end. Camera’s like Fujifilm’s robust X100 which offers a hybrid viewfinder/rangefinder like shooting experience or Sony’s RX1r offer different shooting experiences only possible in their formats which make them specialized. These cameras are particular standouts. This is also where the Leica X-Vario fits into the equation offering strengths and limitations which will make it ideal for some applications while not a good option for others, namely it is a specialized camera.
(Note, if your here for the Leica X-Vario review, you’re now in the correct place.)
Leica X-Vario @ 22.6mm – 1/500 – f/4.3 – ISO 100
Okay, anyway, back to the camera at hand the Leica X-Vario a $2,800.00 non-interchangable lens camera with a 16.1mp APS-C sensor and Leica Vario-Elmar 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 Lens (equivalent to a 28-70mm lens on 35mm full-frame). Now, lets be honest, at first glance that does not sound very good…well, thats okay, it does in fact get better as you delve deeper (that’s not withering sarcasm, its true it has some good qualities to it).
Let’s get the general aesthetics out of the way first, this is a very very well made camera. It is on par with Leica’s other German bred offering in most regards. It is in no way compact, but it is a very light package which you would have no problems toting around with you all day on your adventures, its high-quality metal body is a joy to hold and and largely to use. My sample was provided with the extra-grip option which vastly increases shooting comfort on this camera, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this camera. From a tactile perspective this camera offers nothing but delight, the buttons on the rear can be a little bit finicky but this is not a major issue and doesn’t detract from the camera.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Its been common knowledge since the second half of 2013 that 2014 would be the year of medium format digital CMOS sensored cameras. It was announced on January 21, 2014 that Hasselblad was developing the H5D-50c, which they did giving Nikon D4s levels of detail about their product. To be fair, at least Hasselblad’s press release sounds like it was written by a person (unlike Nikon’s)…who was rushed. And now we see why that is, as was uncovered via info within Photoshop CC , which peaked the interest of many (okay well at least myself). Hasselblad, currently only has a sensor for their CMOS camera, though they have not developed a fully functioning digital back. Their announcement was basically that they have conducted research into CMOS and will eventually be producing a product. PhaseOne has countered with the announcement of their IQ250 CMOS MFDB, based on the same Sony made 50mp 1.3x crop CMOS medium format digital sensor, which is now in production and will be shipping on Monday, January 27, 2013.
You can check out information about the new PhaseOne IQ250 in a series of videos launched today along with the product.
First lets look at some of the knowns between the PhaseOne and Hasselblad versions. Aside from the fact that PhaseOne actually has a production digital back and Hasselblad doesn’t, we come to the issue of live view. In the Hasselblad press release they already state that their live view will be coming through the live video feature of their Phocus software and not be available through the digital back. Where as PhaseOne’s IQ250 CMOS digital back will be an improved version of the live view feature already available on the IQ series. Currently, on backs like my PhaseOne IQ180 the CCD based sensor is not the best for live-view, though in good lighting conditions it works relatively well, though the refresh rate is still relatively slow. However, with the IQ250 there is an improved refresh rate thanks to the CMOS sensor, which provides a refresh rate between 20-24 frames per second, with very low latency. Of course the improved ISO sensitivity of the sensor means that it will perform much much better in weak lighting (and apparently better in high-contrast and bright light as well. This could be very helpful, especially with view cameras but we will get to that.
The IQ series have great rear screens. We all know that, and I have always felt that the quality of live-view did not do justice to the quality of the screen that the IQ series has. This is simply an affect of having milked the CCD technology to allow some semblance of live-view. Which as we have said, has some merits but also could be vastly improved in the medium format arena.
Further the IQ250 will feature an improved CPU and RAM to handle the extreme data load of the 20-24 FPS refresh rate (this is not to be confused with the shutter of the camera which will still be the ~1.x FPS that is currently is). This could help when inserting big cards into the camera (which you may want to do now if you are planning on shooting a time-lapse with the greater flexibility of this platform). Personally, I like big cards. Especially when I am out for a day of shooting I much prefer to keep a backup card or two in my pocket but not much more then that. With cards larger then 32GB my PhaseOne IQ180 and other PhaseOne digital backs take a little while to start-up when using 64GB cards and up. Especially when I’m shooting my Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO (i.e a nature / wildlife setting) this can sometimes be annoying. Consequently I tend to just leave the camera on which then hurts battery life. This is something else which the IQ250 promises to improve.
One of my first thoughts when I learned about this project was that it would be an absolute drain on the digital backs power supply. However, I have been told that this is not true since apparently CMOS sensors are much more efficient energy users, which could make this really great, and possibly a boon.
One of the main uses of live-view on the CCD based IQ series cameras (all of them up until this point) has been for focusing and composition when using technical cameras. Since its more efficient (and safer) to leave you back on the camera, if you want to precisely focus you would generally look to ground glass on your large format camera. Since technical cameras were spawned by medium format digital backs, while most feature some small ground glass attachment, it is not practical on a number of levels. Foremost of these being that you don’t want to be taking on and removing your expensive medium format digital back in the field. Thus PhaseOne’s CCD based live-view was a great thing. However, I have been told that the Sony based 50mp MFD sensor in the IQ250 (and the Hasselblad H5D-50c) has very strong microlenses on the sensor, which will be a problem when shooting wide-angle lenses and when utilizing camera movements. This will undoubtedly be upsetting to some since the improved live-view sounds great on paper for technical cameras. I will report back once I have gotten to use a IQ250 on this issue.
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
The unique Leica M Camera (RED) on display at Leica Store Soho, NYC
Update November 23, 2013 – Sotheby’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 showing the Leica M Camera for (RED) showing the 50mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron Lens
Sotheby’s listing for the Leica M Camera (RED) piece unique
Some information about (RED)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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…
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 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;
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.
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.
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.
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/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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO @ 1/320 – ISO 100
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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?”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/160s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260
The Mamiya M645 80mm f/1.9 N lens is an absolute hidden gem in the Mamiya M645 series of lenses. This is in no way a rare lens like the hallowed Mamiya M645 APO’s (Mamiya 200mm f/2.8 APO (review coming soon), Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO, and the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO (review coming very soon)), in fact it is a very common, though often dismissed lens which offers some very unique characteristics for a medium format lens. This lens is often termed the “Noctilux” of medium format lenses, and this is an apt comparison in a number of respects. The Noctilux is lauded as the fastest lens in the Leica M series line up (as well as the world), as a new standard in image quality at wide apertures, and being a king of bokeh (amongst other things). The Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N lens can have many of these same epithets applied to it as well, it is the fastest lens in medium format (barring something I don’t know about), it is exceedingly sharp, even wide open. Interestingly on a full-frame 645 piece of film (or digital sensor) the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9N at f/1.9 has almost the same (if not identical) depth-of-field to the Leica M Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 on a full-frame 35mm format camera. Of course there are a few ways of judging this and, when venturing into the world of digital sensors others factors are brought in when calculating the Circle-of-Confusion to determine DoF; these include the pixel pitch of the digital sensor as well as any anticipated effect of AA filters and so on. That being said there is one critical difference between these two lenses, which are leaders in their class: their price. Of course we all know the Leica Noctilux was released as a $10,000.00 USD lens and has now climbed to over $12,000.00 USD while the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N comes in at around $200 dollars. These are two vastly different numbers. Surprisingly when looking for this article, it was very difficult to find the 80mm f/1.9 N version of this lens with the few versions available being the 80mm f/1.9 C which we will also discuss later. When shooting for this article (admittedly it was about 6-8 months ago) I was lucky enough to have a willing model, and a Prototype PhaseOne IQ260 mounted on a PhaseOne / Mamiya 645DF+ and my Mamiya 645AFD to run some 120mm film through. If you read no further, walk away from this executive summary knowing these few things: this lens is optically awesome, it is comparatively and relatively inexpensive, and you should probably buy one.
Also, a special shout out goes to Digital Transitions for letting me shoot a then prototype of the PhaseOne IQ260 with this lens.
Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/160s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260
When taking pictures with the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 you have to consider a number of things, and at-least to me, forced me to think differently. You have to consider the models positioning and where you want the image to be focusing, because with DoF this shallow. Especially if you are shooting fairly close, your focus point is going to be readily apparent in the final image and should be considered from a technical and artistic perspective to decide what you want to achieve. One of the more difficult things to conceptually grasp, and that a number of my images in this set fail to do, is to understand how the FoV and the focus point (plane) are linked. By this I mean, if you look at the above image, the first thing you are struck with is that you are being drawn to the models left eye, dragging you deep into the picture. This was the intention and it was achieved. However, the failure in this image is to consider the rest of the focal plane. If you think of focus as a point like we sometimes do (or at-least I generally do since thats all I need to for most of my work) then you are not concerned with the focal plane. As we know, when focusing it is not on a point but a plane and DoF address how big this plane is. With a shallow DoF (possibly especially with) and close focus this can become a greater issue especially if you are not perfectly centered with the model straight at you in one plane. As you see the failure in this image is that, Though the majority of this image is beautifully out of focus except for the point of critical focus (the eye), there are some other places where the focal plane intersects the face again, most notably in the hair and can be distracting and was very difficult to attempt to mask out in Photoshop, so I gave up on trying to do this. I like the above image, though this point can become a bigger issue in some situations (shown below). Of course you also have to ensure your focus is spot on so good camera work is required you have to judge your movements, your focus spot, your subjects movements, and your hands ability to manual focus in-sync with these other factors all at once and let these four things exist in harmony because without them being exactly timed you will not succeed in achieving critical focus.
Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/160s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260
In Image 1 above, there were enough redeeming characteristics to make its failures not the focus of the image, and consequently not totally ruining any potential for the image. However in this image, there are again, some of the same failures present and a few others. To knock the obvious ones out of the way immediately, critical focus on the face was missed, its somewhere around the bridge of the nose and the eyes where intended but it was not a direct hit. Either Me and the camera or the model moved slightly which is all thats needed to throw you off with this lens. However, if we pretend that the image was focused correctly, which again it kind of is but also kind of isn’t. We see a few other things distracting in the composition. Because of the angle of the camera to the model and the angle of the model’s face it is distorting her face and consequently not a good image. Further and most salient to our discussion is again, the focal plane. Since we know where the intended we can again see the issue in the hair. There is a plane through which focus passes where the hair is in focus with out of focus hair all around it. This creates a very confusing image to look at which confuses the eye as it tries to get a grasp of the image. This was one of the key challenges that I faced when using this lens and it is something unique to shallow depth of field work. Using a wide-aperture lens on medium format is something wholly different then using a 50mm f/1.4 or an 85mm f/1.4 on a DSLR since the mode of thinking when using a MFDB vs. DSLR is something which is wholly disparate in many respects.
Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/200s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260
When all of the stars aline this is an absolutely killer lens. With a close focus distance of .7m (27.56″) this lens lens you get decently close to your subject and allows for a very intimate feel to the images when the lenses shallow depth of field capabilities are used to their fullest ability. In the image above all of these things come together. Critical focus was achieved (near cheek / eye) and the focal plane was placed correctly so that you cannot see where the plane intersects the models hair, though if you look closely you will spot it….it is well hidden. We have noted in some of the above images the superb optics of this lens which render and incredibly sharp image and can further see this here. We see excellent sharpness and detail, pleasing bokeh an no chromatic-abberations like we might expect to see in a lens such as this. Of course, if you use any lens improperly it will have things like CA appear, though when used correctly it’s non-existant in this lens. This multi-coated N-version lens (there were two versions C and N, which we will discuss in our conclusion) provides shockingly good performance.
Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N @ f/1.9 1/200s at ISO 50 on a [Prototype] PhaseOne IQ260
Now we will engage in a brief (and incomplete) history of Mamiya M645 lenses compiled from varying sources to understand the difference between C, S, N, and A (?) lenses from Mamiya’s legacy lenses. As far as we are concerned in this discussion Mamiya medium format lenses began with the “C” series (there were earlier cameras but those don’t matter here). These are the first lenses released and they were and are very capable lenses. They feature all-metal construction and are as sturdy as anything out there. However, like any lens line-up they had some weak spots; one notable example was the 35mm f/3.5 C which possibly either did not have the best quality control, manufacturing, or optical design. It should be noted that even today,the 35mm f/3.5 D lens is apparently hit or miss between a quality copy and a dud. The M645 mount lenses were introduced in 1975 when the M645 camera was released. Sometime after their release, re-formulated “S” series lenses were released (possibly in 1985 with the release of the Mamiya 645 Super?) which updated the weaker lenses in the line, though “S” versions do not exist for all of the lenses (such as the 35mm f/3.5). After the “C” lenses, come the “N” series lenses. I believe that the “N” series lenses were launched with the release of the Mamiya 645 Pro in 1993 (Hooray I was born). The “N” lenses seem to have proffered the biggest changes in the M645 mount lens line up. They were modern, their coatings shown the improvements of 20 years, their optics were improved, though many of the optical formulas stayed the same it is understood that the specific optical elements changed between the lenses. For example, the 300mm f/5.6 C lens became the 300mm f/5.6 N ULD introducing a ultra-low dispersion lens element though the optical formula remained unchanged (correct me if I am wrong, this is what I gathered from research). By all accounts, it seems that the N seem to be the most ideal for use with digital sensors since they offer the most “modern” coatings available in a M645 mount lens. The “N” series lenses also changed the aesthetics of the lens slightly, they become sleeker (and frankly better looking) and remain mostly metal though their aperture rings become plastic. Though in real life this is not something you would notice since they still click firmly and confidently. I own the 55mm f/2.8 N, 80mm f/1.9 N, 150mm f/3.5 N and the 150mm f/2.8 N (reviews coming soon) and they are all shockingly superb.
Now, some of the most impressive and unique lenses in the Mamiya line up are their APO or apochromatic lenses. These are premium telephoto lenses which offer relatively fast apertures and superior optics. The lenses (as mentioned above) are the 200mm f/2.8 APO, 300mm f/2.8 APO, and the 500mm f/4.5 APO. Some say these are the lenses with the designation “A”. However, I have read of instances where the 150mm f/2.8 lenses will say “A” on them. I have one theory about this, tho it is by no way a confirmed answer. In discussions with various people both online and in real life (I do do that occasionally) it seems that the 150mm f/2.8 lens was designed at the same time and by the same people as the 200mm, 300mm, and 500mm APO lenses. The 150mm f/2.8 N as well as the newer autofocus 150mm f/2.8 D lenses are possibly two of the sharpest lenses in the Mamiya system and this rumor would not be surprising to me. Its possible that the 150mm f/2.8 may harness an apochromatic element or simply have been considered by Mamiya as in the same lens line as the APO’s which gave it its designation even though it is not a white barreled lens.
Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 on Mamiya 645AFD with Ilford Pan F Plus ISO 50 film
This lens is also a very strong performer on film. Considering how well it holds up to a 60mp sensor (as well as 80mp though not shown here) we can assume its also an excellent lens on film. This assumption is correct, though frankly my use of this lens with film has been far more conservative in terms of composition considering how I know that there are a litany of things which could go wrong (discussed above) to cause the image to be less then successful and frankly its much more comforting shooting digital where I can immediately check focus (especially with PhaseOne IQ series backs like my IQ180 or the IQ260 used here).
One thing which should be noted is that this lens generally is not sold with a lens hood. When it is it is a Mamiya rubber lens hood which doesn’t seem satisfactory to me at all. There are a few solutions available for this problem. There are a number of companies that make screw in lens hoods for varying filter sizes. Schneider-Kreuznach’s B+W makes one that matches the anodizing of the metal of the Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 N almost perfectly though their “standard” length lens hood is slightly too long and creates a small vignette in the corners of the image since of course, it is blocking them. This can be rectified by filing it down a bit and then it would be perfect. However, there are also a number of companies, which you can find through Amazon which sell screw-in lens hoods and their “standard length” metal lens hood does the job and is the proper length.
In conclusion this is a very wonderful special purpose / portraiture lens which should not be dismissed when looking to create your line-up of lenses even when shooting a MFDB since as we have seen this humble lens, which costs under $500.00 USD and is from the 20th century can perform exceptionally well on the most demanding modern $40,000.00 USD+ medium format digital backs. When you consider the difficulties I experienced when shooting this lens, there are a number of things which might make you shy away from it; simply put it is difficult to use. However if you use it properly and develop good technique it can deliver some absolutely stunning images.
Smith Rock in Redmond, Oregon - Stitching with the Cambo WRC-400, Schneider-Kreuznach 43 XL T/S, and PhaseOne IQ180
For my most recent trip to Bend, Oregon, Digital Transitions was nice enough to lend me a Cambo WRC-400 technical camera along with Schneider-Kreuznach 43 XL lens mounted in Cambo’s proprietary tilt-shift mount. When I was in The Netherlands this winter, I had the chance to visit Cambo’s factory. I was very excited for this since I’ve never had any extended shooting time with a technical camera to speak of and this was a great opportunity to learn more about these cameras, and understand their strengths and weaknesses. My normal shooting, does not generally involve still-lifes or landscapes so I’ve never had any reason to purchase or further look into a technical camera. One of the two things that everyone knows about technical cameras, is that they are highly-customizable. The other, is of course that they offer superior image quality, originally harnessing large format lenses with huge image circles allowing for the smaller digital sensors to utilize the center of the image which is of course, where a lens is sharpest. Since this trip was the first time that I traveled with a technical camera, I will treat this review as initial impressions, thoughts, and comparisons.
The day before my trip to Bend, Oregon was a very eventful day for my PhaseOne IQ180, it was the first time, since my purchase of the camera (immediately after its launch) that it had been removed from my 645DF and placed on another camera. Mounting the camera is very easy, once you have the proper adapter plate for the rear of the camera, you simply place the back on the camera like you would on an MF SLR. Initially on the trip, I was planning on shooting a bunch of landscapes and so on, which would be the easiest way to shoot this camera. Landscape shooters love technical cameras because, they offer superior image quality (partly because of the quality of the lenses, and partly because the quality of the digital back), also because they don’t have a mirror, they offer very little vibrations (frankly non-existant) when firing the shutter of the camera to make an exposure. Focusing is done using the lenses helical mount, the lenses are mounted by Cambo into their proprietary mount and calibrated for use with their bodies and digital backs (as you can see here). However, generally speaking focusing isn’t really an issue (though we will address this again later) since with landscape photography more often then not things are set to infinity and shot at small apertures (for maximum sharpness).
Screenshot from CaptureOne
As you can see from this focus mask applied to the IIQ files in CaptureOne, at f/11 and focused at infinity, pretty much everything is in focus. That makes this camera particularly suited to this application. And, like everyone knows technical cameras on the whole acquit themselves of this task with particular acuity. However this is not what wound up happening. I wound up decided to relax I wound up shooting photographs around my friends house where I was staying. Now you might say, well technical cameras are also used for architectural photography, and you would be correct. However, as it turns out I wound up being very aggressive with my compositions and wound up even taking the same images at different focusing distances and compositing them later using Photoshop’s auto-align and focusing stack functions. But for now, we will take a look at the Cambo WRC-400 as a camera and then discuss my main application for this camera on my trip.
Cambo WRC-400 at Smith Rock – Redmond / Bend, Oregon
For its diminutive size and weight (120mm x 145mm and 500 grams) this camera offers a class-leading 20mm of Fall (or Shift depending on the back orientation). Arca-Swiss’s comparable offering, the Factum though weighing and being negligibly larger (137mm x 150mm and 640 grams) the Arca-Swiss factum only provides 15mm of Fall or Shift, five less then the Cambo WRC-400. Alpa’s smallest model the Alpa TC (Travel Compact) offers no tilt or shift and is 109mm x 109mm though their next model up, the Alpa STC (Shift Travel Compact) offers 18mm of Fall or Shift and is again larger, though negligibly (146mm x 140mm and 580 grams). Bythe numbers, the Cambo WRC-400 slightly edges out the competition in dimensions and weight, it does offer a larger possible stitch then the competition. All of this information, as well as a wealth of other information can now be found on Digital Transitions ‘Technical Camera Overview” and their DT Visualizer Tools are also extremely helpful allowing you to see the amount of shift possible with various lenses image circles and various sensor sizes.
However, this is not necessarily a product that you buy in and of itself. You buy this camera, because you are thinking about investing in a tech cam system, or you already have a tech cam system and you want a smaller model for hiking around or testing things out before pulling out the big guns if you need them. Of course, the only differences between different models will be their rise, fall, tilt and shift capabilities they offer since they are simply plates which act as a conduit between lens and sensor. The Cambo (like all technical cameras) offers a high degree of customizability, though it is not overwhelmingly so and focused on functionality rather then supreme customizability like some other systems. All four edges of the camera offer the same mount which means that grips, tripod mounts, and viewfinders can be mounted on any of the four sides, they simply screw in and out very easily, though securely. While I was traveling one of the mount screws on the iPhone viewfinder adapter
came loose and it was a bitch to put back in because of the positioning of the rest of the mount. However, the image to the left displays a small issue which can be encountered during field use. If you decide to change the orientation of the camera, and consequently accessory positions of the camera. If you were to do this properly you would need a table to remove, place, and then re-apply the accessories on to do it in the safest way, however this isn’t a luxury afforded to us when shooting in the field and consequently it can lead to some awkward situations like the one in the picture. The screw in for the shutter release on the Schneider-Kreuznach 43mm XL is no placed so that it is twisting the release cable around. To correct this situation, you would have to remove the grip, unscrew the cable release, remove the cable release from the grip, and then place it correctly in the grip and the finally re-apply the grip, however this is a long process for field shooting and would certainly be a pain, and then thus leaves you in an awkward place. Other then these small details, the system works very well and is secure and allows for the camera to be used in lots of different ways, especially when you combine the body with the tilt-shift lens mounts that Cambo offers.
Speaking of the iPhone viewfinder adapter, it is the most utterly useless and kitschy accessory possible. It is a very nice mount, which will take the camera of the iPhone and with a wide-angle adapter allow for wide-angle use with Alpa eFinder for iOS (Now known as Viewfinder PRO). While the app and adapter both work as advertised, there is no possible reason for you to ever need this item (by my humble approximation). When using the camera it is far faster to take a test shot and then view it on your digital back to check composition, which is the only thing that that this app can do for you. Consequently it is a bit clunky and is good for nothing else other then draining your iPhone or iPod Touch’s battery, which is absolutely wonderful if you are photographing in a remote location where you might need to contact someone in an emergency, or alternatively if you need to play Words With Friends after (or during) a shoot.
Now, lets look at some of the images;
This is the image, alluded to in all of the supporting materials for this article above. It was taken at Smith Rock at the appropriately named Smith Rock National Park in Redmond Oregon, outside of Bend, OR. This was the most straight forward of all of the images I will be showing. The camera was set up on a tripod, focused to infinity, a light reading was taken, settings were adjusted and then the most complicated part simply involved taking the 5 stitched images and their LCC”s. This is not a fast process to be sure, but it ensures ultimate image quality. The general consensus seems to be that it is better to take the LCC exposures at the same time as the normal exposures. Though, I have been told that you can take the images later if you ensure even, and similar lighting / exposure time and use the same focus distance and aperture. Having tried both methods, I can say that taking them on site is certainly better, though if you make a mistake or omit something you can work with a LCC that was taken after the fact, it may just take some extra tweaking. Once you import the file and convert it to an LCC in CaptureOne (right clicking and selecting the option from the drop down menu) and apply it to the base image you have some options to tweak how strongly the LCC corrects the image and this generally seems to be an effective substitute in a pinch.
Please observe this series of images;
Image 1 is a focus stack of image 2 and image 3. Images 2 and 3 are both stitches of 5 images taken with the tripod in the same place, with every setting in camera and in CaptureOne being exactly the same except for focus. Obviously in image 2 the focus is on the panther and in image 3 the focus is on the background of the image, the fireplace and the painting. Now, the key difference between these two stitches is most notable in the lower left hand corner of the two images. As you can see, the amount of table between the lower left hand corner of the panther sculpture’s base and the bottom of the frame changes. In image two, focused on the panther there is less, and when the image is focused on the background there is more. Now, when I was making these images this was not something that I noticed, I assumed that there would be no difference in the composition of these images. The issue in this, of course lies focus stacking, focus stacking aligns the two images based on their similarities and then determines what is in focus in the two images, and then combines and blends those areas to increase the apparent DoF of the image, i.e to have more in focus. When there are areas that do not align, this creates an issue, this issue will either result in an awkwardly blended area, or it will result in an area which needs to be cropped out of the image which will then change the composition. This is a phenomenon which is called focus breathing, or breathing. What occurs, is that while you are shifting focus, the Angle of View (AoV) of the lens changes. Many DSLR lenses do this, and it is one of the things that makes them less then desirable for videography since this is not an effect that you expect and can be an issue if you attempt to rack focus. Some higher-quality DSLR lenses, as well as of course, cinema lenses correct for these issues. Focus breathing is certainly an issue for cinematic purposes, however here, with technical cameras, it is a surprising minor annoyance. Considering the high level of precision which is one of the defining characteristics of technical cameras, one would assume that this would have been something that would have been thought of and correct for when developing the lens mount. That said I certainly do not believe that this is exclusive to Cambo or a slight on their system. And frankly for most individuals this might not be a problem, but when engaging in a fairly aggressive composition AND focus stacking it is certainly something that must be considered. Now, using the PhaseOne IQ180′s live view (which we will discuss later on more) you can see the changes in the AoV and composition of your image as you shift focus from point to point and can correct for it before taking a series of exposures and investing a considerable amount of time in the capture and editing of these images.
This final image that I made from the basic idea behind the shots above corrects for focus breathing and also ads a few other images focused at different points to make the DoF even greater then it was when I was stacking two images. Also the exposure times were increased slightly from 22 seconds at ISO50 to 25 seconds at ISO 50. While this doesn’t sound like much, considering the long exposure process with the PhaseOne IQ180, it does add a significant amount of time. For one exposure to be made, there are 25 seconds of the shutter being open, and then 25 seconds for a dark frame to be made to reduce the heat noise from the sensor on the image. This means that each single exposure takes 50 seconds. 50 seconds for 5 images becomes 250 seconds. Then this number must be doubled since not only do you have to take the 5 images, you also have to take their resulting LCC’s, meaning that we are now at 500 seconds for one stitch. Then these 500 stitches must be multiplied by the 5 different planes of focus which were used to create this final image. This means for the in camera time used to create this image we are now at 2500 seconds, or around 42 minutes. Suffice it to say, a chair was involved in the making of this image. That is a lot of time, and also a lot of time for a mistake to possibly be made, and trust me mistakes were made. However eventually the 42 minute dance was complete and the image was created. The overall sharpness of the image combined with the excellent exposure which was eventually achieved make me very happy, and for me, it was worth it to spend all of the time going through various iterations and changing the composition of the image to make it.
This last image I only really include to reiterate the point that this system is extremely versatile. You can position the camera, and sensor in any position you want to allow you to make any image that you want. When you stitch 5 images for a total of 40mm (of stitch) you will yield a native image area of 53.7mm x 80.4mm (IQ180′s image sensor is 53.7mm x 40.4mm) This allows for an aspect ratio slightly shorter then that of 6×17 medium format (120mm) film format.While people laud the errors of using 6×17 or panoramic formats vertically (and I am right there with them), certainly stitching vertically like what is done in this image, can provide an interesting image making area to allow you to get everything you want into a scene.