Telephoto Troubles

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Sony A7R with Canon 70-200L.
Sony A7R with Canon 70-200L.

Not too long ago I took the decision to supplement my Olympus EM5 with a full frame camera and purchased a Sony A7R. It was the smallest and most compact option on the market for full frame at the time. I really like Sony cameras for their colour handling (I also have an RX10) and the A7R is no exception. But one of the other features of the Sony is that I can easily “bolt on” almost any lens using an adapter.

In the past, as much as I like the Sony cameras, their lenses have been a bit of a let-down. The choice of focal lengths is limited and the image quality has suffered into the corners. With this in mind I opted to purchase Canon EF lenses which I am familiar with having previously owned a Canon 5D MKII.

My lens choice was the 16-35 L f/4.0, the 24-70 L f/4.0 and a telephoto. I say telephoto as I really wasn’t sure which lens I wanted. As it turned out I finally went for the 70-200 L f/4.0 in the knowledge that this was a super lens and good value for money. Yes it was quite large and heavy but with a lens collar fitted I could expect good results when mounted on a tripod.

Unfortunately my experience of the 70-200 lens was not what I expected. Most of the time, probably 80%, I achieved great images. They were sharp, especially into the corners of the frame and the image quality was excellent at any aperture. This is the sort of lens that you want, where you can simply ignore the aperture and focal length from the perspective of image quality.

The problem with the other 20% of images though was quite an unusual one and occurred quite randomly. I could shoot a sequence of images using the same settings and without touching the camera, some would display the problem whilst others wouldn’t. The problem was that parts of the frame would be in focus whilst other areas would be blurred. In some instances the blurred area would be in the middle of the frame but the foreground and distance would be sharp. You can see an example below.

Full image
Full image
Foreground - in focus
Foreground – in focus
Mid distance - out of focus
Mid distance – out of focus
Distant hills - in focus
Distant hills – in focus

In the end the lens was sent back for a refund and a new lens purchased. Full marks to WEX Photographic for their service. In my next post I will explain which lens I purchased – it might come as a surprise.

Great news also. Lenscraft is back up and running on the new website host.

Are We Being Fleeced

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Sony A7r
Sony A7r

As some regular readers may be aware, I have recently added to my equipment with a Sony A7r. It’s an impressive piece of equipment and is capable of resolving an amazing amount of detail with the right lenses. If you’re not aware of the specification, the sensor is 36Mpixels and it has no antialiasing filter so that you can achieve optimal sharpness. The image you see at the top of this post was captured using the Sony.

Of course, all this resolution places huge demands on your lenses so that any softness will become immediately evident. I’m sure if you are a Canon or a Nikon user you will have heard the comments that with the top of the range cameras you need top class professional lenses. I recall when I bought a Canon 5D MKII a number of years back it was deemed necessary to use L series lenses. With the Nikon D800, I read similar comments about needing the best Nikkor lenses.

Now take a look at the image below. Be sure to click the image to review it at full resolution. It’s of a section of the above image viewed at 100% magnification. There is also a second image shown, also magnified to the same location. Before reading on I would like you to decide which image has resolved the best.

Lens Comparison
Lens Comparison

Both images have been sharpened and processed similarly. The one on the left was shot using a Canon 24-70L f/4.0 at f/11 mounted onto the Sony (zoomed to 35mm). The full retail price of this lens is £1,100. The other image was shot using a Canon 35mm FD lens bought on ebay for less than £35. This isn’t even a late version of the lens. It’s an early example and it’s only single coated.

Now you might be thinking surely this is a fluke but we repeated the experiment using an old 24mm FD prime and also a 70-210 zoom. The results are all similar. Even the zoom lens matched up to the 70-200L zoom.

So, what was that line we were all being fed about needing top of the range lenses.

Moving Over to Sony

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Sony A7r with Canon 16-35 lens at f/14.0
Sony A7r with Canon 16-35 lens at f/14.0

As many of the regular readers of this blog know, I am a diehard Micro 43 user and think these cameras (especially the Olympus EM5) are superb. Last year I conducted an experiment (a very expensive one) in which I purchased a Nikon D800 to compare performance. The D800 was a fantastically capable camera from which the results were excellent. The only problem was that it limited my shooting freedom hugely and the results were barely distinguishable from the EM5 for most purposes. I found that I could shoot all day with the D800 to achieve perhaps 1 or 2 OK images and as a result was always returning to the EM5. The ill-fated experiment end up with me selling the Nikon a couple of months later in frustration.

But now the EM5 is growing old and I haven’t seen anything much to replace it in the Micro 43 world (yet). It’s still an incredibly capable camera but I find myself wanting to refresh my equipment and inject something new into my work. I will stress though that I’m not abandoning Micro 43 – it’s simply too good a system.

Recently I have been shooting quite a bit with the Sony RX10. I really like this camera in terms of its handling and the image quality is generally very good (but not on a par with the EM5). What makes this camera stand out for me though is not the pixel count or the flexibility and usability (although impressive), it’s the colour handling. This is something that I have found with every Sony camera I have owned. The colour capture is so natural when used in Landscape photography, especially in the greens and blues. I simply love this. In fact I am so impressed that I have decided to make a Sony my next camera purchase.

I am now using a Sony A7r which has an uncannily familiar feel to it. It handles very much like the Olympus EM5 (with grip) in terms of its size and feel except that it’s just a little larger and chunkier. In fact I would go as far as to say that it feels just as flexible and enjoyable to use.

Where it does differ significantly from the EM5 is in the lenses. With the exception of the Sony R1 and more recent RX10, I have experienced issues with the Sony lenses. The lens line-up has been too limiting for landscape work and the image quality has been lacking, especially into the corners. For this camera I have therefore opted to buy Canon L Series lenses as I have always been very happy with their performance. These I am using via a cheap adapter that I purchased on Amazon for £50. Remarkably the adapter not only maintains the aperture control from the camera but also maintains the image stabilisation features built into the Canon lenses – wow!

At the moment I have only had a brief outing with the camera and the weather wasn’t very good so I can’t share very much work. Once I have had chance to use the camera properly I will share some more images and thoughts.

Canon G7X Field Report

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Waterfall at Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. Olympus EM5 and Lee 6 stop ND Filter
Waterfall at Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. Olympus EM5 and Lee 6 stop ND Filter

Yesterday I met up with a friend for some well-deserved landscape photography. We had intended to visit Anglesey but the weather forecast was dreadful and so decided to visit Yorkshire instead. It was also a useful test of my new G7X to see how it faired in the field, especially as the Lensmate filter adapter had arrived from the US.

The Lensmate adapter was very easy to fit and whilst it’s made of plastic and feels a little flimsy, it just works well. I was able to screw in my Lee Seven 5 filter rings and use the same filter system as I use with my Micro 43 kit. The profile of the Lensmate is very thin which allows the camera to still fit in a pocket.

As the weather wasn’t really great for photography (damp and overcast) I spent most of my time shooting long exposures. For this I was using the Lee Little Stopper 6 stop Neutral Density filter. The image at the top of this post was shot using the filter attached to the EM5. Using it with the G7X I noticed a few things some of which I’m not too happy about.

The first thing was that no long exposure noise reduction. I went all thought the menus and settings but I couldn’t any settings and neither was it being performed automatically. Having said this, the results don’t appear to be suffering from long exposure noise.

The second thing I noticed was that when in aperture priority mode the longest shutter speed is just 1”. No problem really as I could switch to Manual Mode which allowed much longer shutter speeds, but it is a basic omission.

The third thing I noticed is that the display on the back of the camera could see through the 6 stop ND filter very clearly and which made composition much easier than with the EM5. The EM5 seems to struggle a little with these very dark filter.

The fourth thing that I noticed and which is something that I’m not happy about is that light is leaking into the camera from the lens barrel. Take a look at the following filter.

Light leaks on the Canon G7X, evident in long exposures
Light leaks on the Canon G7X, evident in long exposures

This is light leaking in where the two parts of the lens barrel join which allows the lens to extend and retract. The red in the image is the reflection from my red jacket which is reflecting off the back of the filter attached from the camera. I found that I was able to block it if I wrapped the lens barrel in a cloth. The other alternative was if I zoomed in as the problem was only really evident at wider focal lengths. I will be contacting Canon to see what they have to say about the problem.

Despite this problem, the camera seemed to perform well and the image quality was good. I will be posting something further about this soon.

Further Thoughts on the Canon G7X

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Test shot with the Canon GX7. Nice colour handling and the RAW file captures a lot of data.
Test shot with the Canon GX7. Nice colour handling and the RAW file captures a lot of data. Don’t judge the picture, it’s a test snap. I need to get out with the camera for some serious landscape work.

Last week I mentioned that my new Canon G7X arrived and I shared my first thoughts on the camera, having not even switched it on. This past weekend I charged the battery and inserted a memory card. Whilst knew I wasn’t going to get out to for serious photography I was determined to shoot a few test frames. This is how it went.

My first shots with the camera were whilst stood in my back garden. I shot a few reference frames and examined them on the back of the camera at maximum magnification. This revealed what I call Jaggies (the individual pixels of the image). When I see Jaggies such as this it means either the camera is not rendering a smooth image from the RAW file or the lens is exceptional. Importing the images to Lightroom later would allow me to see the truth.

Whilst making these test shots I also made a sequence at different ISO settings, starting with the base ISO of 125 and going up to the maximum 12,800. The light levels were very poor due to an impending thunder storm, which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/8”. Very pleasingly I found that I was able to produce consistently steady shots even with such slow shutter speeds. This would suggest the image stabilisation in the G7X is quite good.

I had high hopes for the image quality but on reviewing the test shots on the computer later I was quickly disappointed. The images were steady but the lens just appeared soft and incapable of rendering a sharp image. The ISO tests did perform better and showed the noise to be well controlled. The noise at higher ISO settings also reminded me a little of strong film grain.

The next day I took the camera out when I when shopping. The image of the canal that you see above was taken on the way to the Supermarket. This time I had set the camera to shoot RAW +JPEG which allowed me to zoom in to the image and assess the quality a little better on the camera. Again the images just didn’t seem to be as crisp as I had wanted but the Jaggies were gone. It was then, looking through the settings, I noticed that the camera had been set to a focus stacking mode. This is a neat little feature that allows you to take multiple shots with the focus point being moved automatically between each (you can later merge them in software to a single image). When I turned this feature off the next images seemed to snap into focus on the camera screen.

Reviewing the images later on the computer I could see they were of a higher quality than I initially thought. I won’t say that the lens is exceptional but it does produce a solid performance, although the corners at 24mm display some distortion. Two other points I noticed are:
1. The colour handling is very natural and I like it a lot.
2. The touch screen selection for the focus point is excellent. This is a feature that I first came across on the Panasonic GX1 and I loved it. The Canon implementation is almost identical to the Panasonic and it makes the camera very nice to use.

In summary, this is a pleasing start to using the G7X. I’m now waiting on the Lensmate Filter Adapter to arrive from the US so that I can begin using filters and testing some landscape work.

My First Impression of the Canon G7X

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Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
Zabriskie Point at dawn, Death Valley. Sony RX100, ISO80, f/4.0, 1/80″, 0.3ND Graduated Filter

In my previous post I mentioned that I was going to buy a Canon G7X given how impressed I was with the G16 compact camera I had been using. Well it arrived yesterday and I have decided to do something unusual. I’m going to give a quick review of my first impressions having not yet taken a picture with the camera (I haven’t even put the battery in the camera).

I bought the camera because I thought it was the same body, or at least very similar to the G16 but this isn’t the case. I was quite surprised to find the G7X feels a fair bit smaller than the G16. The G16 has a rubber hand grip on the right which feels quite chunky and nice. The G7X by contrast feels thin, small and a little slippery. The handling reminds me of the tiny Sony RX100 I had (hence the image above).

The tilting screen on the back of the camera is nice but why has Canon not gone for a fully articulated screen. The screen is limited to tilting upwards with the hinge along the top. This is fine if you have the camera in Landscape mode but if you want to shoot with a portrait orientation it doesn’t work. Despite this, it’s an improvement on the G16 which doesn’t have any screen tilting.

The next thing I noticed is that the controls are very small and cramped, much of the space having been given over to the screen. This makes them a little tricky to use if you have anything other than small hands. The use of the dials on the top of the camera has also been changed, again making them a little tricky to use. I can foresee a problem when using this camera for Landscape Photography in cold weather.

Despite the limitations of the size of the buttons and dials the layout of these is very well thought out which does make them very usable. This also makes the G7X a true pocket compact. The G16 may feel nicer in the hands but you need a big pocket to carry it around.

The camera came with a strap, but this was only a wrist strap which may trouble some people. My automatic reaction was to want a neck strap but then I have a habit of wrapping this around my wrist a number of times to carry cameras in my hand. Perhaps the wrist strap with this camera will be helpful and again make it easier to fit in a pocket.

The final point I notice is that there is no way to attach filters to the camera. On the G16 there is a removable ring around the lens which then accepts an accessory tube to which filters can be attached. With the G7X the ring doesn’t detach but instead has a number of functions that can be assigned to it. As filters are essential to my work I have ordered a stick on adapter from the US. This again is similar to what I had to do with the Sony RX100.

One minor lucky point is that the screen protectors from my EM5 fit the G7X screen so I don’t need to buy any of these and can put the money towards some spare batteries. The battery for this camera is tiny and I can’t imagine it will last all that long, although we shall see.

In summary the G7X is a very well designed and well-built camera but it feels as though Canon have tried to copy Sony (even down to the 1”, 20Mpixel sensor) and in the process thrown out some of the better points from their G range.

I will share further thoughts as I begin to use the camera.

I Love the Canon G16

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Whitby Pier
Whitby Pier. Canon G16, ISO80, f/4.5, 1/500″. Black and white conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro.

I have been using the G16 pocket Camera quite a lot recently and the more I use it the more I like it. I find the build good and the image quality very good. It’s easy to use and whilst it doesn’t shine in any one area it’s a great, well balanced package that’s a joy to use.

In fact, I like this camera so much I am going to sell it.

The reason is that I have been enjoying using it so much that I couldn’t resist buying a Canon G7X. The G7X is pretty much the same body except that it has an articulated screen which is something I really wanted on the G16. The other major difference is that the G7X has a 1” sensor and is 20Mpixels.

When I saw the discounted price on Amazon (reduced to £350) I couldn’t resist. I do hope it handles as well as the G16.