Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II

Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II (9)

Back in February this year (12-Feb-2014) Canon released an updated version of their ring-flash; it was called the “Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX”. The new version is the “Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II”, they must have been up all night to come up with that name :).

Canon states the following:

Canon today expands the EOS System with the launch of a new flash, the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II. Designed for specialist DSLR shooters who are passionate about macro photography, it provides incredible flexibility to light and shoot a diverse range of subjects, and features a range of new updates including independent flash head operation, increased responsiveness and enhanced custom functions.

You can read the entire press release here if you wish.

Like the new Canon Speedlite flashguns the new version has the metal foot and is also weather sealed, here it is on a Canon 5D Mark III:
Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II (15)

As you can see, they have moved the cable coming out of the controller to the opposite side, it was on the right and is now on the left (when viewed from the photographer side of the camera); this stops the LCD, shutter-release and buttons of the camera being obscured by the cable:
Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II (18)

The flash works with all of the EOS range and is equally at home on an APS-C based camera such as the EOS 70D:
Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II (20)

Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II key features:

  • Ring-flash design for versatile lighting
  • Independently variable dual flash tubes
  • Powerful performance – guide number 14 (ISO 100)
  • Trigger other flashes wirelessly
  • LED modelling lamps improve low-light focusing
  • Easy-to-use controls
  • Fast, silent recycling

Although the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II can be used as an optical wireless master in a multi-flash lighting set-up, it cannot trigger (or be triggered by) radio signals such as from the 600EX-RT or the ST-E3-RT which is surprising as I thought they would be adding this to all of their flash devices now.

The flash can be customised in various ways. Such as changing the back light from green:
Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II (5)

To orange:
Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II (7)

On the subject of the display, it (like the 600EX-RT and the ST-E3-RT) is now a dot-matrix LCD so is more intuitive, it also has a host of new features from the hot-shoe contact cleaning system to the fact that it can be controlled from the camera.

Pricing and availability
Although it was meant be available from April it has only been ready to purchased in the last few weeks; the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II has a SRP of £599.99 which is about £150 more expensive than the mark 1 version.

Why do Nikon and Canon not get Mirror-less?

This is a question that many photographers ask and no-one but Canon and Nikon can truly answer for; however, I have a few views in this so I would like to add my two-pennyworth on this topic.

There are mainly two markets for the potential owners of a mirror-less camera, I am also including fixed lens large sensor cameras in this area too. The first (which Canon and Nikon seem to be at least aware of) is the user who is “upgrading” from a compact camera and/or smartphone and the other is the DSLR or pro user who requires a smaller/lighter model to augment their system.

The first market has a few large holes that need to be sorted out in that the camera manufacturers need to consider that most of the potential buyers are coming from a smart phone. The types and implementation of features on the phone are simply not available on the cameras in today’s market. The answer is not “shoe-horning” an OS like Android onto a camera, they instead need to focus on the best ways that the camera can work with the user’s existing smartphone and now more importantly the cloud where the pictures ultimately need to go to.

However, this post is mostly about the second market – the photographer who wants to augment their existing DSLR kit OR is looking for a smaller and lighter system, which is happening more and more. At the moment (apart from the photographers who must stay “in brand”) photographers just go and buy a Fujifilm X-T1 and a few lenses, the Fujifilm X100s is also another favourite.

Fuji-X-T1 Body+Lens

The second brand they typically choose is Sony with their A7 models and the Alpha-thousand models (i.e. A6000) which used to be called NEX.

The problem here is that these are not made by Nikon or Canon. What exacerbates the problem further is that once these systems are tried the photographer decides to ditch the DSLR kit and go completely mirror-less. Fujifilm now have an almost complete lens line-up and if they sort out the Speed Light (flash) problem and continue with the progress they are making there is less and less reason to keep the DSLR. There are certain areas where the DSLR is still the best choice but if the pace of progress continues as is this might not always be the case; it hasn’t taken Fujifilm that long to create their “X” system.

If the photographer is trying their hand at video the mirror-less cameras are better, the best (consumer?) camera on the market for video today is the Panasonic GH4 – again no Canon or Nikon badge.

I understand that both Canon and Nikon want to protect their DSLR market (which is shrinking anyway) but this doesn’t excuse their efforts that they have produced so far, they are simply not cutting it.

I will make it simple for them – people want a mirror less version of the manufacturers’ DSLR in a small form factor mirror-less camera with a built-in EVF. For Canon this would be a mirror-less EOS and for Nikon a mirror-less D series camera.

Canon
Canon already have the EOS-M which has had abysmal support and the creation of the lenses has been lethargic at best and frankly the line-up is mostly consumer slow zooms – contrast this with Fuji which has a fantastic range of fast glass or Olympus/Panasonic with their comprehensive ranges.

Canon EOS M

Canon’s mirror-less system is based on their APS-C (1.6 crop factor) sensor. Take the sensor from the EOS 70D and stick this in the mirror-less body, give us the mode dial back add two control wheels and then an EVF and voila here is the true EOS-XM (next gen stuff usually has an “X” in there somewhere). Add a few fast EF lenses and the two f2.8 zooms users want and you have the system that the pro’s would want to use.

Canon EOS 70D with 18-55mm lens

You could even produce one that is more based on the rebels without an EF but you can add the EVF you created for the PowerShot G1X Mark II.

Powershot G1 X II

On the subject of the PowerShot G1X, the next version should be essentially the EOS-XM but with a fixed zoom – the sensor would obviously be the same size of the existing G1X.

Also ensure that all three models retain their Canon hot-shoe and continue something that the EOS-M is doing right – keep the full Speedlite flash control in place too. Whilst we are at it provide the capability to use the add-on GPS device too. Naturally all of them will have Wi-Fi with a full remote control capability – something like we have for the EOS 6D and 70D but much better!

Nikon
Nikon have a fairly decent range of glass and only a few additions would be necessary, their waterproof mirror-less models are also good.

Nikon V2 Black

However the Nikon “V”range has to go under the “what where they thinking?” question box. There is no coherency here and every model has been completely different to the prior models. I just cannot fathom what possessed them to go from the nice form factor of the V1 to the ugliness of the V2 to the sheer foolishness of removing the EVF from the V3. The V3 is now actually much larger than before and much more expensive than the Nikon D7100 (and this includes the fact that the D7100 comes with a much better lens)!

Nikon V3

Nikon – go back to the V1 design; change the mode wheel for one from the D7100. In fact base the V1 (we’ll also use an X here and call it the VX1) on the D7100. Upgrade the EVF to a newer version, the body will have to be slightly bigger. Resist bunging everything in menus, gives us a touch screen that is either tillable screen (like the Sony models) or a vari-screen (like the Canon 70D). Base the menu system on the one of you DSLRs too.

Nikon D7100 Top nolens

Like Canon Nikon also have some high-end fixed lens models (Coolpix A and P7800), these should also be based on the VX1 but with a fixed lens, they should also be cheaper too.

Coolpix A (front)

Cost and final Points
Finally, regardless of who makes what, the new mirror-less models cannot cost more that the nearest comparable DLSR in the same range. If they cost more, most of the potential customers will either buy the DSLR instead or go somewhere else. The photographer who wants to augment their existing kit might be more willing if they haven’t already got bored and gone somewhere else.

Canon and Nikon – you need to wake up and understand that the DSLR market is shrinking and that the mirror-less model cameras are going to be used more and more. If you want those mirror-less models to have your badges on them, now is the time to do something about it or risk either not being the top two or possibly oblivion!

Buttons and Dials

If there is one constant in the world today it is that every camera on the market has at least one of these. Some of them such as the EOS-M or the Leica-T don’t have many of them as they rely on a touch-screen interface to control many of their settings; however this is the exception and not the rule for ILC’s – Interchangeable Lens Cameras.

Fuji-XE2-V2-FW-Pic2

One of the latest phenomena at the moment is that a large number of cameras, particularly the mirror-less models are going “retro” in that they are returning to the older control methods of the earlier film cameras. For example the return of the shutter speed dial, aperture rings (on the lens) and in some cases even an ISO dial. The best, and most extreme example of this is the Fujifilm X-T1:

Fuji X-T1 top-plate (no lens)

Most of the Fujinon lenses have aperture dials too; the only exception here are the cheaper XC lenses and the XF 27mm f2.8 which is too narrow to have one:

XF27mm

Even Panasonic which has until now followed the more usual D-SLR route of using “context sensitive” control dials to change settings has added an aperture ring to their expensive 42.5mm f1.2 Leica prime lens:

Panasonic 42.5mm-f1.2

Although Olympus follow the older SLR “style” for their models, they are still using DSLR style controls for their models.

One of the more unusual cameras out there is the Nikon Df; Nikon states that the “F” is for Fusion”, but other says it is for “Fail”, you make the choice. Here they which tried to produce a digital 35mm full-frame model with retro-style controls and in the end showed how not to do this. The main issue is that depending on which mode you are in and/or options chosen, the values on the dials may or may not be in effect. It also doesn’t help that they removed the aperture dials from nearly all of their current lens line up (the lenses with “G” in the model number) so you cannot use this method to change the aperture; Fujifilm were very smart here as nearly all of their lenses have an aperture dial.

Nikon Df with 50mm f1.8 lens

The second issue is that this does not do video; for some reason Nikon decided to disable this, I think that this is something about maintaining the “retro” feel. The entire market of the mirror-less model cameras (retro style, retro control or otherwise) have the ability to record video. The big shame of it all is that the Df has the D4 sensor in it which produces gorgeous files; if only they had put this into the D800 body.

Is there a point?
My feelings towards the retro style controls is no secret (I am not a big fan); the main advantage is that you can see what the camera is set to been if switched off. The big disadvantage is that they cannot be set as part of a custom setting and there is always the chance that various buttons need to be pressed to change their settings. You are also limited to what you can do remotely if a hard-coded dial is used. Fuji however seem to have overcome this problem as their remote control software ignores the dials but you are locked-out of the camera when in this mode.

I prefer the DSLR “context-sensitive” style controls and find that the Canon EOS models present the best way of selecting any changes to modes as there are very few hard-coded control dials. The Panasonic and Sony (to a certain extent) don’t have them either. Nikon is probably the worst for this as they even on their flagship cameras have too many specific dials for the drive mode and metering mode, until recently they still had a wheel on the front of the camera to select the different focusing models (Continuous AF, Single AF and Manual AF); however to select MF you still need to turn a specific dial.

EOS 7D Top Plate

EOS 7D Top Plate

Canon puts the main settings next to the LCD adjacent to the main control dial although their last two iterations of their “XD” line-up (the 60D and the 70D) have reduced the settings available meaning that the White Balance and the Flash exposure compensation settings are now buried in menus.

EOS 70D Top Plate

EOS 70D Top Plate

Contrast this to Nikon’s current pro APS-C camera the D7100 (as well as the D7000 before it and the lower models) which have decided that the ISO button should be on the back of the camera to the left of the LCD. At least the higher models (as well as the now discontinued D300/D300s) have this select-able on the top of the camera although I’m not sure if the left side of the pentaprism is much better.

So although I have a preference for how I wouldl ike to control the settings on my camera I am not everybody and everybody is different; if we weren’t the world would be a very boring place.

New firmware updates available for multiple Fujifilm camera models

Kaizen

A few weeks ago Fujifilm released a large number of updates for nearly all of the X-Series cameras as follows:

  • X-Pro1
  • X-E1
  • X-E2
  • X-T1
  • X-A1
  • X-M1
  • XQ1

The only X Series cameras missing fom the list (i.e. didn’t get an update) are the X-100, X-100s, X-10, X-20 and the XQ1′s predecessor the XF1. Most of the updates wouldn’t apply to all of them, however there are a few weird omissions.

Full details of the updates provided by the updates can be found on Fujifilm’s website here.

To help I have created a table that compares the options for the main interchangeable lens X-Series cameras as follows:

Camera: X-Pro1 X-E1 X-E2 X-T1
Feature:
Firmware Version 3.30 2.30 2.10 1.10
XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Compatibility Yes Yes Yes Yes
Improvement of “Exposure compensation / exposure indicator” in EVF No No No Yes
Improvement of Movie Record Button No No No Yes
Fix for Interval Timer Setting No No No Yes
Change of Aperture Display for Zoom Lenses Yes Yes Yes No
Direct print capability with SP-1 Printer No No No No

Note: XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Compatibility also applies to the X-A1 and the X-M1, the capability to directly print to the SP-1 printer is provided to these cameras as well as the XQ1 compact camera. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been provided to any of the other WiFi capable X-Series cameras at this time.

I always recommend waiting a few days before installing firmware updates in case there are any bugs. However, in this instance there has been no reports (that I have heard) of any issues with these updates.

Full details of the update are as follows (taken from Fujifilm’s website here):

X-T1

Version number : 1.10 (current 1.00)

Details of changes:

  • Addition of compatibility with “XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6R OIS WR”
  • Improvement of “Exposure compensation/exposure indicator” in EVF
    Values are added to the scales of the indicator for better visibility
  • Improvement of Movie-record button operability
  • The phenomenon is fixed that images are not recorded with the set interval when “INTERVAL” in “INTERVAL TIMER SHOOTING” is set to 5 sec or less. In this case, the setting of “IMAGE DISP.” in “SCREEN SET-UP” will change to “OFF” automatically.

Further details and instructions on how to update the firmware in your X-T1 camera

X-Pro1

Version number : 3.30 (current 3.20)

Details of changes:

  • Addition of compatibility with “XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6R OIS WR”
  • Change of aperture display for zoom lenses
    Display of aperture value when zooming with the shutter button pressed halfway will become same as the display when zooming without the shutter button pressed.

Further details and instructions on how to update the firmware in your X-Pro1 camera

X-E1

Version number : 2.30 (current 2.20)

Details of changes:

  • Addition of compatibility with “XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6R OIS WR”
  • Change of aperture display for zoom lenses
    Display of aperture value when zooming with the shutter button pressed halfway will become same as the display when zooming without the shutter button pressed.

Further details and instructions on how to update the firmware in your X-E1 camera

X-E2

Version number : 2.10 (current 2.00)

Details of changes:

  • Addition of compatibility with “XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6R OIS WR”
  • Change of aperture display for zoom lenses
    Display of aperture value when zooming with the shutter button pressed halfway will become same as the display when zooming without the shutter button pressed.

Further details and instructions on how to update the firmware in your X-E2 camera

X-M1

Version number : 1.20 (current 1.10)

Details of changes:

  • Addition of compatibility with “instax SHARE SP-1″
    Images can be directly transferred to the “SP-1″ from a camera and then printed.
  • Addition of compatibility with “XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6R OIS WR”
  • Change of aperture display for zoom lenses
    Display of aperture value when zooming with the shutter button pressed halfway will become same as the display when zooming without the shutter button pressed.
  • Sound quality of while shooting movie is improved.

Further details and instructions on how to update the firmware in your X-M1 camera

X-A1

Version number : 1.20 (current 1.10)

Details of changes:

  • Addition of compatibility with “instax SHARE SP-1″
    Images can be directly transferred to the “SP-1″ from a camera and then printed.
  • Addition of compatibility with “XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6R OIS WR”
  • Change of aperture display for zoom lenses
    Display of aperture value when zooming with the shutter button pressed halfway will become same as the display when zooming without the shutter button pressed.
  • Sound quality of while shooting movie is improved.

Further details and instructions on how to update the firmware in your X-A1 camera

XQ1

Version number : 1.20 (current 1.10)

Details of changes:

  • Addition of compatibility with “instax SHARE SP-1″
    Images can be directly transferred to the “SP-1″ from a camera and then printed.
  • Fixes an issue where, in rare cases, a camera could stop working during image transfer when starting “PC AutoSave” function by pressing the Wi-Fi button.

Further details and instructions on how to update the firmware in your XQ1 camera

Sony Mirror-less thoughts and Hands-on Tryout

Sony A7 Body

For reasons that will become clearer over the next few weeks I tried out some of the Sony Mirror-less cameras this week and I was overall impressed. The cameras tried were as follows:

  1. Sony Alpha A7
  2. Sony Nex 6
  3. Sony Alpha A6000

What follows are my brief thoughts about each camera and some of the lenses that I tried with them. I did take some test shots which proved to be useless as a I forgot to select RAW and I didn’t watch my shutter speed (camera shake is a bitch even with Image Stabilisation).

All three cameras were tested at one of both of the two London Camera Exchanges we have in Lincoln.

Sony Alpha A7
Sony A7 Body-nolens
This was the first of the three that I tested and first with the 70-200 f4 G OSS lens. I have to say that I was surprised by how light the combo was, not MFT light but lighter than a similar DSLR combo. The 70-200 reminded me of a mini- Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L lens in looks. This is a gorgeous lens and its build quality is astounding, I also liked the focus hold buttons. The zoom action was just right, much better than the molasses sticky zoom of the Fujinon XF55-200 f3.4-4.8 OIS lens which is much stiffer than it should be.

Sony 70-200 f4 lens

I think that for £1250 this is a reasonably priced telephoto zoom lens, more expensive than the Canon or Nikon equivalents until you factor in the cost of tripod collars at which point they are much closer (the Sony comes with a nice tripod collar).

Sony 35mm f2.8 lens

Next I tried out the 35mm f2.8 Zeiss lens and this was very nice too and could be a useful lens but £700 for a 35mm f2.8 lens is a bit steep.

Sony 28-70mm Lens

The final lens I tried on the A7 was the “kit” lens, the 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS lens. I was expecting “kit” performance but the build quality was nothing to be ashamed of; clearly the Zeiss and the 70-200 lens were better but I’m not sure why this lens is getting a bad rap? The lens is actually very good and is a nice balance on the A7. The best part is that if you purchase this as a kit with the A7 the lens only costs £120 which is a bargain.

Sony A7 Grip

I also got to try out the A7 grip and this also is a very nice fit, with the 70-200 it would be a killer walk-around combo.

The A7 is a good fit in my (relatively small) hands and is only slightly bigger than the Fuji X-T1. The X-T1 with the battery grip, RRS bracket and 55-200mm lens a quite heavy combo and the A7 with its equivalents is only slightly bigger and not much difference in weight!

I liked that fact that we are back to DSLR style controls (see my post and Dials and Controls coming next week) apart from the fact that we have an exposure compensation dial on the top-plate. I’m not much of a fan of these as they are always offset when you retrieve the camera from the bag but the dial was quite stiff so I’m not sure how much of a problem this will be. The EVF was very nice (not X-T1 nice but close) and I liked the rear screen.

The shutter noise was louder than I expected but not klaxon loud like some sites would have you believe. I also got to hear the A7R’s shutter which is audibly louder. The A7R in my view is not a camera you can “walk around” with, to get the vest out of the 36MP sensor you need good glass, a stable shooting platform (such as a tripod) and good technique.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how good the A7 was and it would be better than I experienced as the firmware in the bodies was the older “slower” version. If you want or need full frame and you are not tied to the desire or need for exotic optics than they should certainly be on your short list. There is a possible issue with speed-lights (flash) but I will get to that later.

The A7 with 28-70 lens costs £1299.99 at the moment and you get an instant £200 discount if you purchase any of the FE lenses (35mm, 55mm, 24-70mm or 70-300mm) at the same time. That’s £2340 for A7, 28-70 and the 70-200, not too shabby (for a full-frame camera).

Sony NEX 6
Sony NEX6+1650PZ

The Silver Street store has a four-week old NEX6 with 16-50PZ lens for only £370 (well they did when I went to look at it). It’s in mint condition with all of the accessories as well as the box. This is a bargain and I was tempted.

I have to say the NEX range has come a long way since their first models and there are some real gems in the lens line-up now and I for one like the fact that they all seem to be in black now. However, there is a lot of overlap in the range here and there and I don’t know why they need so many 18-200mm f3.5-6.7 lenses (three at the last count plus the two Tamron lenses).

The camera was quick and responsive although the mode wheel being on top of the dial was a mistake, the EVF was very nice and taking movies and having a power-zoom was a pleasure to use too.

Sony Alpha A6000
Sony NEX6+1650PZ

Mainly as a comparison I also tried out a shop demo A6000; oh dear! This was much more responsive than the NEX6, I was surprised by how much better. I know that if I purchased the NEX6 I would always be disappointed so that nixed the NEX6 (for me anyway). The fact that the A6000 with the same lens is almost double the price puts it out of my reach.

I should point out that I compared the two EVF’s in the NEX6 and the A6000 and could see no difference; the one in the A6000 is “technically” inferior. The NEX6 also does not accept the latest USB based remote releases either and this could be a problem for some users.

Even though the A6000 costs more than its predecessor I think that £650 for the A6000 and 16-50 PZ lens is very good. You can also get £100 off if you purchase one of three (more premium) lenses at the same time, these are as follows:

  • 24mm f1.4 Zeiss @ £670
  • 16-70 f4 Zeiss OSS @ £800
  • 18-105 f4 PZ OSS @ £450

Other general thoughts
I was all set to go for the A7 kit and 70-200 lenses until I looked into the system further. Some of problems might be non-issues for me but there was enough noise to discount the choice for now, the problems area as follows:

  1. I want to do more with flash, this means off-camera flash which means that I need access to a comprehensive flash system. Initially it looked like the Sony Alpha flash system would be a good choice but the more I looked into it the worst it looked:
    • Even though Sony has moved away from the proprietary Minolta hot shoe, they have replaced this with another proprietary Sony equivalent. Whilst it is now a hot shoe with a central firing pin, all of the intelligent (TTL, etc.) connections are now at the front of any Sony hot-shoe device and are tiny (read easy-to-damage) pins; there are many horror stories around about how these pins getting bent. This allows the use of non-flash items such as Microphones, etc; however, to date there are NO third party devices that can use these pins.

      Minolta and now Sony do not make any TTL extension cables such as the ones that both Canon and Nikon employ, instead they have an unusual type of converter plug that goes into the hot shoe and via an equally proprietary cable connect to the flash through a special socket on the flash. I don’t understand this; for example Canon can control all of their flashes and their GPS device through a standard hot shoe that has 4 contacts as well as the central pin.

    • Sony off-camera wired flash

    • The build quality of their flagship flashgun, the HVL-F60M seems to be anything but pro-grade, the hot-shoe locking pin fails quire regularly. The device overheats very easily, the fact that the overheating warning is very early-on in the manual means that Sony is aware of the issue but unwilling to fix it. From what I can gather the next model down the HVL-43M also has the same problem.
    • Sony HVL-F50M Flash

    • The wireless options whilst present are optical only with the issues that line-of-sight optical systems have. If you need radio wireless you will need pocket wizards but forget radio wireless TTL thanks to the proprietary hot-shoe design.
    • I didn’t believe this when I first read this but to set up on these flashes as a slave, firstly you need to plug the device into the hot-shoe of the camera. You set the flash options in the camera for wireless flash and then set the flash to wireless slave mode. At this point the flash can be removed from the camera and positioned where required. You need to do this for each slave.
    • Suffice to say the flash system was the number one reason for abandoning the Sony mirror-less devices. I only hope that when(if?) Fujifilm ever get round to developing a system they don’t repeat Sony’s mistakes. I have said it before and I’ll say it again Canon have the best Wireless off-camera flash system at the moment; it isn’t cheap but it works.
  2. Timing issues: when a mirror-less camera takes a picture it typically has to close the shutter (which is held open for live-view), open it for the shutter speed selected, close it and then once the exposure is complete open it again. For some reason on the Sony A7 models this takes a long time, were not talking more than a few tenths of a second but this is longer than other cameras. This can play havoc with capturing the moment and is another issue for flash work too.
  3. AF Performance: Whilst the AF performance on the A6000 is really good and is only just behind the performance of the GH4, the A7 is nowhere near as good. I think that it is behind the Fuji models now and only the EOS M is worse. In good light the AF is good but it could be much better.
  4. Cost of lenses: Not sure why the two primes lenses (which are not that fast) cost so much. The 35mm f2.8 costs £700 and the 55mm f1.8 costs £800. That blue Zeiss badge must cost a lot to make; I’m not disputing the fact that these are fine lenses. That said, the “Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM A” which is another optically fantastic lens also costs £850 but at least it is f1.4, however Canon’s and Nikon’s 50mm f1.8 and f1.4 lenses cost considerably less.
  5. RAW files not being RAW: This is the area that has a lot of controversy around it and trying to find out the facts is very difficult. The main argument is that Sony is using some form of lossy compression to keep the file sizes down; some say that this is throwing data away some say that it isn’t. The fact is that when Adobe Camera Raw is used (in Photoshop and Lightroom) the quality of the files for some people is not as good as it could be. This reminds me of the current situation with the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor based cameras and there “problems” when the RAW file is developed with ACR too; different problem but both around possible quality.

So unfortunately the reasons against the Sony and in particular the A7 meant that this was a non-starter for me. The real annoyance is that most of the issues (with the camera) are fixable in firmware or the next revision of the A7 and the lenses are optically very good but not as fast as they could be. The flash system needs sorting out too; the flagship model – the HVL-F50M was released 2 years ago and is only a mild revision of the former HVL-F50AM, the main difference is the change in the connection from the old Minolta style to the new Sony “intelligent” hot-shoe design.

It’s a shame :(

Fujifilm unveils “Fujifilm X World”

Fujifilm-X-World-2
Amongst all of the other things that are Fuji related over the last few weeks Fuji also released a new photo service and no one says anything about it. This looks like it could be a very interesting portal. The press release which can be found here states:

Fujifilm X World seamlessly brings together photography from the world’s social networks via its ‘real-time’ photo stream and strong focus on imagery captured with Fujifilm’s range of award-winning cameras. The new cloud-based storage service makes it easy to store and access images or share your collection of photographs with friends, family and social networks. The integration with services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ makes this possible and also gives people the opportunity to follow Fujifilm via these channels.
“The world of digital photography has changed with people now taking more and more pictures and at Fujifilm we understand that people want a really simple place to upload and share images with friends and family.” commented Marc Horner, Web Development Manager, Fujifilm UK. “We’re always looking at ways to help photographers share the images they take on their Fujifilm cameras. We believe that Fujifilm X World will help link together all of the best content across the globe and inspire others to take their photography to the next step.”

Fujifilm-X-World-3

Fujifilm X World key features:

  • Upload photographs to the free secure cloud storage facility
  • Take inspiration from around the world with beautiful images sourced from leading social networks
  • Effortlessly share images on social networks or with family and friends
  • Access all of your photos anytime, anywhere
  • Celebrate photography; and make the most of your images
  • Keep updated with latest news and special offers from Fujifilm
  • Take part in our photo competitions with the chance to win fantastic prizes

Fujifilm-X-World-4

You can go straight to Fujifilm X World by clicking here.

I hope to follow up this post with a second one next week when I have had a chance to try the service out.

My thoughts on the Microsoft Surface 3

MS Surface Pro 3

Soon (at least in the US) the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 will be available to purchase, from what I can gather it won’t be available in the UK until August; however you can pre-order the device now. I have to admit that this is the first Surface that I wouldn’t mind owning. We are entering the 3rd generation of Windows 8.x based devices and it hasn’t been until now that some good designs are being released.

You can read more about the device at Microsoft’s product detail web pages which can be found here. You can also pre-order the device by going to their store here.

One of the best reviews so far is at Neowin, their excellent and comprehensive review can be found here.

With that out of the way what do I think?
Well the specifications of the device are about right and frankly the only one I’m really interested in is the i7 – 8GB Ram – 512GB storage device; I always like as much on board storage as possible. However you will note that this isn’t cheap.

MS Surface Pro 3-2

The table below summarises the UK price for each model with and without the touch cover (which costs £109.99):

Processor Wireless Memory Storage Price Price with TC
Intel i3 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 64GB £639.00 £748.99
Intel i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 128GB £849.00 £958.99
Intel i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 256GB £1,109.00 £1,218.99
Intel i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 256GB £1,339.00 £1,448.99
Intel i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 512GB £1,649.00 £1,758.99

Note: All of the models have the latest wireless 802.11 protocols and Bluetooth 4.0, they have up to 9 hours battery life and all have a with 12″ (2160 x 1440) screen

As you can see the top specification model is £1649 or £1758.99 if you want a touch cover. I have two problems; the main one is the price – this isn’t a cheap device and when compared to the competition could seem to be overpriced (I’ll come back to that in a minute), the second is that it might not have quite enough power to properly handle Photoshop, Lightroom or Premiere (elements) which are probably the most intensive programs I use.

Once the device is released in the wild we will see some reports about what the device is and is not capable so this will become a known quantity over the next couple of months. I would like a working pro photographer to give their views on the device.

Is the device overpriced? The problem is that in isolation the Surface pro 3 could be seen as a tablet that can do PC stuff or a PC that can be used as a tablet. The fact that Windows 8 can be used in either mode muddies the waters a bit so it is hard to compare this to the best of the competition out there. I think that the best and nearest are Apple iPad Air and the Apple Macbook Air.

The iPad Air prices are as follows:
iPad-Air

Processor Wireless Memory Storage Price
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi only 1GB 16GB £399.00
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi and 4G 1GB 16GB £499.00
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi only 1GB 32GB £479.00
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi and 4G 1GB 32GB £579.00
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi only 1GB 64GB £559.00
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi and 4G 1GB 64GB £659.00
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi only 1GB 128GB £639.00
Apple A7 (64bit) WiFi and 4G 1GB 128GB £739.00

If all you need is a tablet (that cannot do PC stuff) then an iPad Air is much cheaper however you will be limited to iOS based software and no matter how good this is it isn’t as good as the PC (or Mac) based software out there. It is said that devices such as the iPad Air are more for consumption of data as opposed to a creator of data. I don’t think it is as black and white as this but I would rather have a full copy of Lightroom on a PC/Mac instead of the iOS version that we have today.

Apple Macbook Air:
Macbook-Air-11-13

The Macbook Air screen doesn’t come with a 12″ screen (yet?) so is a little harder to compare; the 11″ screen has a resolution of: 1366×768, whilst the 13″ device has a resolution of: 1440×900, for that reason I have had to list all of the price configuration possibilities:

Processor Wireless Memory Storage Price
11″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 128GB £749.00
11″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 128GB £829.00
11″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 128GB £869.00
11″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 128GB £949.00
11″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 256GB £899.00
11″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 256GB £979.00
11″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 256GB £1029.00
11″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 256GB £1,109.00
11″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 512GB £1,139.00
11″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 512GB £1,219.00
11″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 512GB £1,269.00
11″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 512GB £1,349.00
13″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 128GB £849.00
13″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 128GB £929.00
13″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 128GB £969.00
13″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 128GB £1,049.00
13″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 256GB £999.00
13″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 256GB £1,079.00
13″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 256GB £1,129.00
13″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 256GB £1,209.00
13″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 512GB £1,239.00
13″ 1.4GHz i5 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 512GB £1,319.00
13″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 4GB 512GB £1,369.00
13″ 1.7GHz i7 (4th Gen) WiFi only 8GB 512GB £1,449.00

Again we can see that the Apple Macbook Air computers are much cheaper than the comparable Surface Pro 3 whether you choose the 11″ or 13″ screen. The processors on both the Microsoft and Apple devices are intel 4th generation so support the latest on-board graphics and give very good power to energy efficiency ratios. They all support the latest wireless technologies and they both have very good battery life but this is where the similarities start to end.

The surface has a much higher resolution than either Macbook Air, has a 2 year warranty and is much lighter, if you want to go even lighter you can detach the keyboard too.

So you can save money by going for an iPad Air or a Macbook Air (even though they are not 100% comparable to the Surface Pro 3 devices), but if you need to have both an iPad AND a laptop suddenly the Surface Pro3 becomes cheaper as it can be both of your devices in one model and has the added benefit of having the data on one device with no sharing. I do need to point out that the Windows 8 App store does not have the same breadth of applications that the Apple does but as it is a PC this does not matter as much if you have a standard windows application that performs the same task.

MS Pen

The final point that I will make out is that the Surface Pro 3 comes with a “Pen” (it’s a stylus but MS call it a Pen). This is integrated with MS OneNote on the Surface, click the top button on the pen and MS OneNOte launches, if the screen is off and the device is in sleep mode it will wake up, turn on the screen and open OneNote. The built-in digitiser works really well with the pen and the possibility to create hand written notes is no longer a poorly executed nice try but is almost a killer feature – I could see me using this in work meetings. If you watch the MS Surface Launch event for the Surface 3 they shown even more ways to use the pen.

You can watch the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Launch Event (recorded at NYC May 20, 2014) here: