Are Modern Lenses With More Elements Inferior?

One day I was happily googling about Otus to find out who are the other users out there that are happily sharing their experiences when I came across articles written by a guy called Yannick about how modern lenses are “bad” in comparison to older and lesser element lenses.

I am just going to cut to the conclusion here to avoid wasting anyone’s time or to stir up confusion.

1. Microcontrast is a ghost

Some folks swear by it that they had seen one and others have never. I tried very hard to see and read his description of the problems in his controlled test with no success.

After going thru a few listed examples and seeing nothing, I believe some folks are just seeing problems that don’t exist and are led by those same descriptions.

2. The modern image lacks highlight and tones in those examples.

The truth is lenses with more elements passes slightly lesser brightness. So maybe what u saw being compared is just a slightly lower exposure due to the extra elements and by no means lowering down the “tone’s”

For example I raised the exposure on the Sigma Art (right) by 0.39 in ps on a screenshot of Yannick’s sample and trying seeing the diff now? If anything, the right one is superior.

3. He grew wiser as he aged but those earlier assertions was left there tripping anyone reading them

If you read his latest blog, you still see that he starts to use more modern lenses now or that Fujifilm raw is superior or whatever. Lenses like Tamron 45 1.8vc listed in his recommendation page . Those elements are far more than the 6 that was praised so much on.

I have the 50 1.4d Nikkor and it was a nasty lens when it comes to certain background’s bokeh for portraits type of shoot.

But well, we are human and we all make mistakes. I shudder on some of the things I wrote on this blog years back or even images that I thought was “worth sharing”.

If anything his blog have beautiful images when he is not busy tracking microcontrast and I believe he is a very talented photog.

In summary. Don’t get caught up in it. Those modern lenses you have are awesome. Now go out and start shooting.

The Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Review {Portraiture}

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Review, Amanda CME / IG : marcus_low

Otus. The crème de la crème brand of the Germany’s Zeiss lens maker. My review focuses only on its aesthetic output for portraits and doing so using a DSLR and handheld.

All images shot here are done on Canon 6D MK II, Handheld, at wide open f1.4 except for snapshots of bags, camera setup itself done on phone.

We all know that story in 2013 when Zeiss launched the Otus 55 1.4, a standard lens type of focal length with a hefty price tag, some of us are quick to jump on the keyboard warrior pods while others sang praises with less than a day of using it.

I was one of them. When reviews started coming in with images of the Otus size, I was both baffled and intrigued. Baffled because of my own decision of using a Noctilux f1 (50mm) on a relatively small FF camera like the M9 or 240 tells me that it is not going to be a very practical lens.

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portrait, Amanda CME
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, Amanda CME

Intrigued because, knowing Zeiss, this is a solid company that don’t just slap on a price tag because “we can”. What magic lies in that lens to justify the asking price? Sure, we all know the mantras shared in every darn forum and page on “gears don’t matter” , while the background chants sponsored by phone makers whispers “Let us just stick to our Iphones and huaweis”, but for those in the know, you want the best with you when you can. Phones and it’s yearly bs about replacing DSLRS and Mirrorless are just marketing gimmicks. Each year more baals worshippers join the herds as commercials done using dslrs are put up to mislead the public again and again.

Otus 55 1.4, Amanda CME

The day finally came when I sold off the Leica M240. For those looking to buy your first Leica camera, let me just put it this way, the M240 produces one of the most boring, most inaccurate white balance on any of the cameras I have owned and tried and its a huge list in my last 8 years of photography. What it is however, is a very beautiful camera and feels fantastic at hand.

After I left the m240, I essentially left Leica as a brand I would continue to pursue in my journey. Next on my list, Zeiss. So when I got an offer for the Otus 55 1.4, I took it and started shooting.

Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 review
The Zeiss Otus 55 on Canon 6D Mk2

My main concerns and probably the same concerns that you will have

1.Will it be too heavy?

A Canon 50 1.2 weights 545g. The Otus 55 1.4 is 970g. It is not light but if you are looking for One Camera + One Lens and rule the world setup, this is it. I am a Asian guy, I don’t find it heavy and I am at 169 cm in height. I took it and walked with it the whole day and I feel its ok.

2. Is the size practical?

I would say this is an even bigger concern than weight. The good news is that the size can easily fit a small bag with the camera if you reverse mount the hood. If you want to carry the camera and lens with the hood in the normal position, then you will need a medium size bag.

zeiss otus 55 size
Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 in a small bag x 300cm long

The red watch is a normal sized watch for the ladies so you can see here the small bag I mentioned is not “small like a wallet or jacket pocket” but it is a very common sized bag.

zeiss otus 55 size
Zeiss Otus 55, the One Camera One Lens Setup

3. How in the world do you manual focus accurately?

Aha! Let me share to you a technique I use just for this kind of setup. It is both practical, enjoyable and produce decently sharp results.

Here are some proof.

How to use manual focus on DSLR for the Otus 55 / Indoor / Handheld

And the crop results.

How to manually focus Zeiss Otus 55 1.4
100% Crop

So here is the technique and the criteria for using it.

  1. You will need a camera that supports Touch Screen (more on the whys later). On Canon this means 6D MK2 and newer.
  2. You must be able to turn on LiveView easily on the back of the DSLR
  3. You need a strap. The kind you hang over your neck and without too much elasticity.

You will need to stretch the camera out before you and have a bit of tension. This provides the stability to reduce handshakes that is needed especially for indoor type of shoot.

Press on the LiveView button, on the Canon 6DMK2, you can easily reach it using your right thumb while holding the camera with two hands.

COMPOSE! You do your composition now, ignore the focus point.

Press the Magnify button (or whichever button on your camera that allows you to select a focus point via touch). This is the reason why I insist that this technique requires touch screen, it makes the whole shooting process easy because you already composed your shot, there will be no recomposing.

Press the Magnify button twice (eg 6DMK2) or whichever button to get you maximum ZOOM. Twist that smooth focusing barrel on the Otus 55 1.4 and when you see the image is clear, just press the shutter, don’t worry about the image looking wobbly while being in the zoom mode.

So just to recap, you shoot using the liveview, compose first, click on the focus point, zoom in and manually focus on the zoomed-in image, press the shutter. All while having that tension between the camera and strap.

Marcus Low

What’s so great about the OTUS 55 1.4?

Now that we are done with the technique, let’s see why this lens is a must have for a standard focal length if you don’t mind manual focusing.

Contrast, Colors, Sharpness

The bokeh. I am a bokeh whore and there for a 50mm kinda portraits you will need bokeh. The Otus at 55 1.4 means you will have plenty of that, but who needs ugly bokeh?

Check out the ugly bokeh of some 50s that you have probably come across. Below is the 50 1.4 Canon USM.

Bokeh Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 vs Canon 50 1.4 USM
The model is beautiful (fb: colleen), the Bokeh is questionable

Now check out the Otus 55 1.4

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Bokeh
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, Busy background but beautiful bokeh, Model Amanda CME

More examples of great COLORS, CONTRAST, SHARPNESS

Readers of my blogs will understand that I often prefer to demonstrate the points by picture instead of elaborate texts. So sit back and enjoy the images. Pay attention to the shifting tones between light and shadows, highlights and the falloff in depth of field rendering.

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, 3D POP!

Check out the colors! Those living in Malaysia know we don’t have the best angle for good sun light, every bit of advantage you get from the lens helps!

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 DOF renderings / Melaka

When I first got the lens and took some shots, I saw something I didn’t find in my other lenses. Something subtle yet makes the images different. I found it hard to pinpoint the factors. I spent some time reading the technical details on Zeiss own site and took notice of the amount of work their engineers had to do to create this lens.

Flare is like none-existing, instead you get a kind of glow.

Otus 55 f1.4 portraits glow
Otus 55 f1.4 portrait. Flare becomes a glow / no-flash

I am so happy with owning this lens, although admittedly I didn’t come in with the launching price, I wished I owned this lens much earlier and I would have happily paid the price for admission. Sometimes, the timing in technological advancement and features are just not there to make this connection, for example, I would have failed in using this if not for the touch screen introduced on the DSLR like 6DMk2.

Otus 55 f1.4 review
Bobba tea anyone? Cheers to Zeiss

Thanks for reading. You will notice I did not add any affiliate links to BHPhoto/Amazon or anywhere, that is because I am not paid for writing these, just sharing from one enthusiast to another. – Cheers.

Captain Marvel and Nikon Film Camera

Here we go again .

Whenever a celebrity holds an analogue camera, the price goes boom.

First there was Contax T2, T3 and the story of Kendall Jenner. We could forgive the eBay rocket science on prices because Contax point and shoots are premiums itself in the days of film.

Now we have Brie Larson with an analogue camera.

Captain marvel with Nikon analogue camera
Brie Larson holding Nikon FM10

A Nikon FM10? My goodness.

In 2017, when Kendall Jenner talks about her love for photography in a talk show (Jimmy Fallon), she took out her Contax point and shoot camera. Up until that time the camera was priced around USD 200-300 on Ebay. After the talk show the prices begin to surge to USD 500 and today we have contax T3 selling at USD 700-1000++.

Contax T3 prices in April 2019

 

 

 

 

You can read more about her love for photography here at Adorama.

Last year on June 2018, Chris Hemsworth aka Thor posted a picture of his photos taken in Contax T2 analogue camera and captioned “I’ve gone full hipster and only shoot on film now, this was shot on film, digital is dead..”. Needless to say, Contax T2 prices wont be coming down anytime soon.

captain marvel joins thor in analogue love
Contax T2

So thats strike 2 for Contax and strike 1 for Captain Marvel holding the Nikon F10 camera.

 

 

 

 

Travelling with a digital medium format camera {review}

travelling with a medium format camera

Those familiar voices arguing against each other, “Is it even practical? It is so heavy!” vs “I want the best image quality for this trip, the weight will do me good!”. Some of you are probably salivating over the FUJIFILM GFX 50R medium format camera and wondering if its suitable for travelling. My choice was simply between my Pentax 645Z (if it works for this, FUJIFILM GFX 50R would be a walk in the park) and my other lesser sized cameras.

Those went thru my head several rounds on the last 2 days prior to the trip. I even created a poll on my fb and the results are as follows.

Poll results voted Pentax 645z for travel camera
Poll results on which camera to bring for travelling

In the spirit of keeping to my words and not take my friends vote for granted, I took the medium format Pentax 645Z with me to the trip, which is already half-done while i am typing this blog.

Granted I am pretty sure some of those votes are coming from the evil side of my friends, people who just want to see me suffer ;-).

First off, let’s be clear about one thing, i have ZERO income from writing this blog and its purely from my experience and opinion. Let’s start with the bag to hold the beast.

Bag for Pentax 645Z
The Bag to hold the Beast

I got this bag early this year in Tokyo when I saw it was on sale and tick all the boxes. Requirements that came thru much refinement from my trips. Among the checkboxes are :

  1. A place to hold my inhaler (for asthma)
  2. A pocket for adapter and powerbank
  3. A protected compartment from water for storing small maps, printouts and tablets.
  4. A space putting in extra SD cards and cables or a small HDD if possible
  5. Better than average protection from bumps from all sides and the bottom.
  6. It must be easily accessible from the top as i don’t intend to lug it around with a strap on my neck.

Pentax 645Z with one lens
Pentax 645Z with 55mm FA f2.8 AL IF

I have no idea what kind of brand ZEROSHOCK  is, i was told that it was made in Japan, it ticked all the boxes and boy, what a fantastic bag it is.  The only other rule i have for travel was that my bag should only fit One Camera + One lens and the Pentax FA 55 F2.8 is my goto lens for this setup.  (The effective focal length in 35mm is 55 x 0.79 = 43.5, a balance between my preferred 35mm and the revered 50mm, some say that 42mm is the true natural view on both eyes).

The first stop is Khao Yai, a 3 hours drive from Bangkok International Airport. Khao Yai is travel destination that is enjoying brisk growth of travellers, thanks to the wanderlust and instagram thirsty influencers propagating images of its enchantments.

I didn’t know what to expect really, i just had a few images that i saved from Instagram (God bless these influencers haha) and since this is a family trip, i wanted the best IQ possible (the other voice won, fuelled by those votes).

Here are some shots that i took, lightly edited on Capture One, without using any presets.

Portrait with a medium format camera
Portrait at the Sunflower farm in Maneesorn during sunrise

Portrait at the Sunflower farm in Maneesorn during sunrise

Initially i wanted to use the film preset FL-07 (-) from the free Capture One v11 samples preset that i downloaded.  It would give me a look with some film tones like below.

Portrait with the Pentax 645Z
Portrait with the free FL-07 (-) Preset from C1

I changed my mind and decided to stick to what looks really natural to me during that session and i am pleasantly surprised that the Pentax 645Z raw files just needed a bit of nudging to hit eureka. For those of you who want that film preset you can download it from Capture One, I have found those free samples to be excellent, so much so that i never had enough motivation to buy the whole preset.

The sunflower farm is a must visit. It cost me 80 baht per person (USD 2.5) and i went there twice, one for the sunset and one for the sunrise.

Medium format camera for travel
Portrait on sunset at Maneesorn farm

Medium format camera for travel
Portrait on sunset at Maneesorn farm

Here is the thing, i had 100% confidence that the image quality would be superior to my other cameras. The grip is superior to any of the cameras i had or ever had and i never needed a strap on it.  I knew from a vague expectation that i would not be doing any hiking, this criteria could have limit my options to the Olympus PEN with 12-40mm PRO lens or the Canon 6D MK2  with 35 F2 USM IS. The Olympus is a street godlike camera akin to the Ricoh GR2 and the Canon’s color science is unmatched for portraits.

So if you are into street photography,  a camera like Pentax 645Z might not be the right choice for travel. If you are going hiking and would only start shooting upon reaching a certain peak and setting up tripod, the IQ from a medium format camera would not disappoint your hard earned labor.

Here are some other images for sharing, taken around Khao Yai, where indicated i would use the preset from C1, all images shot at F2.8.

beautiful medium format portraits
Preset FL-07.

beautiful medium format portraits
Sunset

beautiful medium format portraits
Taken nearby Yellow Submarine Cafe / Desaturated

model with flower portraits on medium format camera
This beautiful scene is just a walk from the Maneesorn farm

model with flower portraits on medium format camera
Primo Piazza, FL-07 preset

In conclusion, if you are doing portraits or travelling with family, bringing the medium format camera put a lid on the question on IQ.  If you are doing street, perhaps the FUJIFILM GFX 50R would be viable with a certain level of training on zone / distance shooting, else cameras like Ricoh GR2(3) or Olympus m43 with capable lenses like 17 1.8 or 12-40 pro would get you loads of pictures minus the intimidation and weight.

Wait … what about the Leica! What happened to your idea of shooting with film? That my friend is a topic for another day.

 

Best Olympus PEN-F Review 2018 From a Portrait Guy {review}

Its 2018 and i am reviewing the PEN-F ? Yeah i know how outdated this would have sounded but as the price for this camera came down and exciting combination package with the 17 1.8 was offered 3 months ago, i jumped on it.

Portraits Bokeh
PEN-F 75 1.8

Readers of my blog knows that i only do real world reviews, not shooting bricks and i am not paid for anything i wrote here. The form factor of the PEN-F is superb, almost perfect.

My package comes with the original grip and boy, what a big difference it was holding it with the grip. I begin to have a lot of fun using it with the 17 1.8 that came with it.

There has been a lot of debate on the net about how sharp or bad the 17 1.8 is but to my experience and observation of using it so far, its sharp and very dependable for quality (despite the mtf chart i saw on one of these debates)

Oly penf digital review
PEN-F with Grip

The colors are just amazing. I had own and used crazy lots of gears and when it comes to colors with minimum editing, my vote goes to Olympus and Canon.

The 17 1.8 is my preferred combo with this camera when it comes to street photography. I love it that it has the LCD by default turned back just like a film camera. Although this is not the first camera with this idea, it is probably one of the best. The other cameras like Leica MD Typ-262 or Leica M10 MD is charging more than USD 1000 for this difference, i would say PENF makes the most sense here as u can still access the LCD for setting time/date and formating cards by just turning it around.

PEN-F review
Defiant, PEN-F 17 1.8

Best Of PEN-F review
Devotees

Taking photos on the street is so fast and simple and since its m43, i took all my images at f1.8 and since my focus are mostly on certain people given the nature of my photographer mind’s eye, this was no issue at all.

In the “Defiant” photo above, the the mother was scolding the kid and he ran to the sister’s side and showed an angry gesture at the mother. All these happened so fast, from the moment i realized they were arguing till i took the camera out and shoot, all within 5 seconds.

Like many other m43 users, there was a month that i got caught up with the shallow DOF (how blur the background can be for portraits isolation) argument and wanted this camera to be the “all round” goto cam despite owning many other cam of which the shallow dof would not be an issue.

During that time, i sought out the Olympus 45 1.2 Pro and the 75 1.8 Premium. These are relatively expensive lenses. Expensive when you are comparing it for the objective of aquiring shallow dof when compared to Canon or Sony FF. Cheap if you are comparing it to Leica.

What i found out is that while the Pro lenses are expensive for dof equivalent, its actually very reasonable for BOKEH quality.

olympus pen-f ultimate review
PEN-F 45 1.2 Pro

Olympus Zuiko 45 1.2 Pro lens ultimate review
PEN-F 45 1.2 Pro

You do lose some advantages in size when you use Pro lenses, if you have other camera systems, maybe this would not be a wise direction. But if this is your One camera to rule them all, by all means go for it.

The other concern i had was the focusing at low light. In the projects i did so far, i would say this concern is largely unfounded except in a really dark setting.

I did a depression series with Angela as my model and its pretty dim and yet the PEN-F was able to focus and shoot precisely, the 5 Axis ibis is godsent.

Olympus PEN-F review malaysia
PEN-F 25 1.4 Pana-Leica, Depression Series

Conclusion

PEN-F have one of the most attractive form and size that i have come across and its a real joy to use. If you are into street photography that doesn’t use shallow dof, this would be the perfect camera for the job.

If you are a bokeh whore, be prepared to pay top bucks for Pro lenses with Milvus quality bokeh.

You can find the rest of the images in this blog in my Instagram, follow that handle while ur at it 😉

Kuala Lumpur Street photography

kuala lumpur street photography, road side chat

Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful city, more so when Malaysia is now undergoing a new gov that is appeasing the public outcry over corruption and all manners of injustice wrought by the previous BN led administration.

Nothing have changed however when it comes to places to shoot street photography as common people continue their daily lives.  From the typical tourist spots at KLCC, petaling street china town and city centre, the dynamics of the different ethnics and street activities continues.

Today, i took a walk around Jalan Pudu. My camera setup for street is the Leica M240 and Leica Elmarit 28mm f2.8. All the images here are shot wide open at f2.8 as per my habit and discipline to shoot wide open any lenses on any setup.

You don’t need a leica to do street photography of course but each gear does have its own advantages. Leica M come with some heft and a nice weight, perfect for doing hip shots, its distance scale on the manual lens are heaven matched for this use.

All the pictures here are processed using CaptureOne’s free film simulation sample.

kuala lumpur street photography. stairs of the elders
Elder stairs

Shooting from the hip avoids and minimizes any chances of confrontation. This is important in some places. Jalan Pudu is not an upscale area, it is an old place that have undergone very little economic changes.  The idea of sharing images in social media and the indirect benefits of reaching out for more visitors is not something that the locals and immigrants here would appreciate.

The photo above was taken after one of the aunty shouted at a fellow photographer “no photos!”, he was using a very small camera and was composing using the LCD (think Ricoh GR, Leica X2 type of cameras). I took it from the hip and avoided the scene.

A noticeable amount of older people gather around this stairs chatting away. Some are waiting for the free food donation that occurs on weekend just across the street (more on this later).

kuala lumpur street photography, road side chat
Roadside chats

Across the road, i noticed a few interesting aunties (or grandmas, depending on how polite you want to be) sitting at the side of the road. I could faintly hear what they are discussing but they clearly knows each other.

kuala lumpur street photography, food donation
Free food for the elders

While walking pass by the school, a large number of old people and immigrants are gathering in the middle. I continued to walk with Joe, Stephan and Junrong, a few of my street buddies when a girl in green shirt came running after us. Initially i thought she got something to sell but as it turns out she just needed someone to help her take a group photo along with the pile of food that they are donating.

She said “i just want someone young to help take the photos because the old people here don’t know how to use an iphone”. Sure, that sounds like me (I totally forgot that Junrong is at least 30% younger hahaha). I took the opportunity to take the shot above with my own setup.

kuala lumpur street photography, prunes and tibits
Making a living

There is a morning market nearby selling seafood, groceries, joss sticks and as i entered i saw this old woman with a small setup. Joe, seeing that visuals and story presented immediately went and took a photo. After he is done, i went towards the stall and bought 3 packets of tibits and took a picture of her stall. For most of us doing white collar careers, seeing an old woman at this age trying to make a living by doing whatever she can, just tugs me in the heart. How much could she sell a day? At usd 0.25 a pack, there are barely 30 packs there on the table.

kuala lumpur street photography, heart of the market
Fishes

kuala lumpur street photography, heart of the market
Utilities stall, counting money

kuala lumpur street photography, seafood
Seafood

The path to the stalls are very narrow, you have to squeeze thru and move all the time. I came across 4-5 stalls where the workers are chopping on some meat and for the pleasure of my viewers, those photos won’t be shared here. The canopies cast various colors that would confuse any digital camera’s white balance. But since i am shooting in RAW, it doesnt matter at all.

kuala lumpur street photography, bucket of fish
A bucket of fish

There was this opening between the canopies that i saw this seller with her bucket of fish. I took this shot so quickly, i actually forgot about it until i went home and looked at the files. The fishes look wet and fresh and her expression of whistling made this shot a keeper.

kuala lumpur street photography, durian
Durian seller asleep

kuala lumpur street photography, king of the fruits
Durians, the king of fruits

As our shooting time came to and end we walked out of the market and i saw this durian stall at the side wall of the market. Later i noticed the seller is asleep. Must have been a tiring day.

kuala lumpur street photography, backlane
Backlane

kuala lumpur street photography, hawkers stalls
Hakka Mee

The Hakke Mee stall is interesting in some ways. There aren’t many locals selling food that are below 50 years old, most of the newer generation who owns these stalls prefer hire workers from vietnam,myanmar or thailand to run the stalls.

Overall, i find that 28mm is the preferred focal length for street photography today. 35mm would be too narrow for close ups like the fish and seafood stalls images.

For those readers that have followed my blog, if you are wondering what happened to my Pentax 645Z and why isn’t it used on this set… First off, 645Z is a camera that you should consider very carefully before buying it, after i have used it for the last few months, it has raised my perception standard of pixel acuity and density so much so that i found myself rejecting images from APSCs and 1″ sensors.  I am not saying that APSC and 1″ cameras are crap as we know the photographer is the key, i am saying that i found their output unacceptable for normal outdoor shoot.

Take this set for example that i did, without flash, ps, nothing, just some light editing on C1. Now just view it only if you have a monitor that is at least 15 inch (the bigger the better). Once u got used to this kind of pixel acuity and density, your mind naturally finds anything lower a problem. Hard to put a finger on it, it’s like looking at photos taken by mobile phones where ur mind knows something is lacking.

The 645Z is used for most of my model shooting events and this Leica M shall be my tool for the street.