New Photography Gear

It’s been just over a month since my last post and what a month it has been. A lot has happened since then and rather than post half a dozen posts about the stuff that has happened I thought that I would write a single larger post instead. There won’t be any reviews and these are mostly my thoughts and any experience with handling or using the items.

In addition to this, last week I went to the LCE Lincoln Photo and Optics show where I actually managed to play with some of the new gear. I will write about them in no particular order and as I think of it. So here goes:

Canon EOS 70D
Canon EOS 70D with 18-55mm lens
This was released just after I purchased my GH3 and I largely ignored this camera when it first came out. The headline feature of this camera was of course the “Dual Pixel AF” technology where around 80% of the sensor has not only photo taking a pixels (as normal) but adjacent to each pixel was another pixel for phase detection auto-focusing.

This camera followed the very good Nikon D7100 but betters that camera in many ways that are important to me. Yes the D7100 has dual SD card slots, a 24MP sensor with no AA filter and also has a headphone socket; however it does not focus as well in Video mode and does not feature a touch-sensitive display that can also flip-out at various angles – great for videos or Live-view. The Canon also has a superior drive mode and a reasonably large buffer; whilst not as good as the 7D (with V2 firmware) or the 1D-X it is still very good. The 70D being a new model also gains access to the full features from the Speedlite 600EX-RT and also can use the GP-E2 GPS adapter (no cable required!).

I could go on about how this is a great camera but I’ll save that for another post.

Sony Alpha 7 and 7R
Sony Alpha A7 with 28-70mm lens
When I first heard about the full frame NEX cameras I was surprised to find out that Sony would actually do this. That said, it was noticed that since the NEX E-Mount was released with the introduction of the NEX 3 and NEX 5 cameras that it was larger than it needed to be for an APS sensor sized camera. Sony had obviously been waiting for the technology to catch up that point where a full-frame (in 35mm terms) mirror-less camera would be viable.

The beauty of a mirror-less camera (which both the Alpha7 and 7r are) is that the body can be smaller and the lenses smaller (and lighter too). However this is only true if the sensor is smaller too, smaller sensors don’t need large lenses. The problem is that these cameras are full frame so the reduction in size and weight is going to be limited. Interestingly the lenses announced so far are not particularly fast (from an aperture point of view); this should help keep the weight down. I suspect that when/if faster f2.8 zooms appear these will be as large as their non-mirror-less counterparts.

I was also surprised that two similar cameras were announced at the same time and will be available at around the same time too. The 7 is only 24MP but has on chip autofocus whilst the 7R is 36MP with no AA filter. The 7R misses out on the on-chip autofocus but is also slightly better built. Both are weather sealed and have a full complement of ports and controls.

Sony was at the Photo and Optics show and they had two Alpha 7 cameras to play with, these were almost production cameras although the first one I had a go with would not autofocus😦

Fortunately the second one was and I was actually impressed by the handling, I have a problem with cameras that are too small and these felt quite nice in the hand and I liked the fusion between their former SLT cameras and the NEX range. Although the handling was very nice, the focusing could have been better. I would love to actually hire one of these and try it out for a proper go but I’ll have to wait for them to be available first – they keep moving the release date back.

Sony RX10
Sony Cybershot RX10
When I first heard about the RX10 I thought that this would be an APS chip sized compact (the RX1 is 35mm full-frame and the RX100 which is a 1” sized chip).

However, Sony had a different idea. This was announced at the same time as the Alpha 7 and 7R and is also based on the 1” chip from the very expensive RX100-mark II. The most interesting part is that this camera has all the great stuff from the SLT and NEX range mixed with an f2.8 constant aperture 24-200mm zoon lens. The camera has headphone and microphone jacks and also has the full Sony feature hot-shoe. In some ways this camera interests me more than the new Alphas.

Unfortunately these are very rare at the moment and Sony did not have one to show at the Photo and Optics show😦 I am really looking forward to this camera even though it will cost about £1,000 (ouch!) for what is essentially a bridge camera with a nice lens.

Pentax K-3
Pentax K3 with 18-55WR Lens
This was probably the biggest surprise for me. A day or two before the show I watched a review of the K3 from the guys at the Camera Store and they went on about how good the handling was. So I picked it up and they were right this is one of the best ergonomically comfortable cameras I have handled in a long time.

Unfortunately as good as the camera might be they don’t have the support that Canon and Nikon (and more increasingly Sony too) do so not really any good for me – I’ve had enough of trying to cobble something together that the bigger companies have support for out of the box.

Olympus OM-D (EM1 and EM5)
Olympus OM-D EM1 with 12-40mm lens
Before the show I had had a quick go with the OM-D E-M5 and I did not like the camera, it was too small. I have small hands so I don’t know how anyone with larger hands can use this camera. I also had a go with the E-M5 at the show with the grip and although better it didn’t solve the problems with the teeny-tiny buttons.

However, I also had a go with the E-M1 (and its grip), woah this is a different beast and I had to eventually walk away as I was so tempted to get one! The camera was the right weight and felt nice in the hand. The viewfinder was excellent and I liked the fact that all the dials had 2 modes that could be changed at the flick of a switch. The camera was responsive and there was no lag in its use, the most surprising thing was that this camera has a 48 shot buffer, that is full-size RAW. I also was impressed with the 12-80mm f2.8 Olympus lens it oozed quality and I wasn’t are that this also has the manual focus clutch mechanism too; simply pull back on the focus ring and you can do direct manual focus – brilliant. The only issue (and this is a problem with all pro-level mirror-less cameras) was that the E-M1 and the 12-80mm lens was £2,000; there was a good deal on the day where a lot of things were being thrown in but it was still too expensive. I’ll have more to say about the mirror-less market in a future post.

Nikon D610
Nikon 610 with 24-85mm lens
The much leaked Nikon D600 refresh was also released; the model without the problematic shutter mechanism. Nikon have never admitted that the shutter in the D600 had a problem with splashing oil all over the sensor but the fact that the D610 with a “new shutter mechanism” was released shows that it was a real problem. To add the overall mystery the new shutter gains you an additional 0.5 frames per second and there is some new spot white balance feature too.

There was one of these at the show and it seemed larger and heavier than the D600 it replaces.

Nikon Df
Nikon Df with 50mm f1.8 lens
I was initially very sceptical of this camera, naming it the lamest release of 2003. However the more I read about it the more impressed I am becoming. This camera has only one real problem and that is the price – it is actually almost as expensive as a Nikon D800! With the current cash-back promotions available from Nikon UK it is actually more expensive then the D800.

The Nikon Df (pretentions aside) seems a fusion (that is what the “f” in Df stands for) of the D600/D610, D800, D4 and one of the original 35mm Nikon film bodies.

You have the fantastic sensor of the D4 with the focusing system of the D600/D610 and some other nice features. The control method is the second thing that I don’t really like either. You get loads of dials and levers which means that you are limited in what you can pre-program and custom modes are not available. The final thing that Nikon removed was the video mode which frankly is no good for me; I like to shoot video occasionally.

I do get that this is not a camera aimed at someone like me. If you have a large investment in manual focus Nikon F mount glass this camera will work with them. The target market is for a user who prefers setting the camera with dials and levers too – I hate levers and dials for setting shutter speed, etc). The potential user of this camera also has no desire to shoot video.

Note to Canon: Please, please, please DO NOT make a Canon variant of the Df – it isn’t wanted and we left all of this behind with the Canon FD mount. The EOS/EF mount is much better!!!!

Tamron and Sigma
It wasn’t long ago that Sigma and Tamron made awful lenses. They were cheap and nasty and the quality control so variable that you were never sure what you would get. I wouldn’t have touched any of their lenses with a barge pole.

That was then and this is now. Both of these guys have really changed their game and now make some really excellent glass. They are also filling in some of the hole left by the Canon and Nikon manufacturers.

I had the opportunity to try out some of the Sigma and Tamron lenses. From Tamron their newer 90mm macro with VC is a beauty, it has silent autofocus, Tamron’s version of IS – VC (Vibration Control) and it is also fully weather-sealed. If I was going for a mid-telephoto macro lens this would be at the top of the list but from what I have seen I will be going for the 180mm macro lens instead. I also like their 24-70 and 70-200 VC f2.8 zooms they cost less than half of what the Canon equivalent lenses cost and whilst not optically as good they are not far off and if I wanted a set of f2.8 zooms I would be stupid not to consider them. However for a APS sensor sized shooter like me they are not as useful as could be.
Tamron 90mm f2.8 SP Di USD VC Macro Lens
Sigma also had their 30mm, 35mm and the monster 120-300mm f2.8 zoom on show. The weight of the 120-300 seemed excessive but this lens has a lot of glass in it and I am hearing nothing but good reviews about it. That is unless you are a Nikon shooter as the zoom/focus rings rotate the wrong way round, they are just like the Canon lenses – I say boo hoo🙂 The 30mm f1.4 DC is definitely a contender for a standard prime lens and it costs only a bit more than the Canon 50mm – £380
Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC lens
They also had the 18-35mm f1.8 DC lens which gives Canon APS shooters a lens that gives a 28.8 – 56mm field of view (with respect to a 35mm full-frame lens). And whilst this is very good lens optically with an impressively fast aperture I am not sure of how useful 29-56mm will be, something along the lines of 15 or 16 to 55 or 60mm would have been better.

Adobe Camera Raw
At the end of last week, Adobe announced a Release Candidate version of Camera Raw and Lightroom. What is impressive is that they already have support for a lot of the new cameras already discussed (although some of them is preliminary support at the moment).

The following new cameras are now supported:

  • Canon PowerShot S120
  • Fujifilm XQ1
  • Fujifilm X-E2
  • Nikon 1 AW1
  • Nikon Coolpix P7800
  • Nikon D610
  • Nikon D5300 (*)
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1
  • Olympus STYLUS 1 (*)
  • Panasonic DMC-GM1
  • Phase One IQ260
  • Phase One IQ280
  • Sony A7 (ILCE-7)
  • Sony A7R (ILCE-7R)
  • Sony DSC-RX10 (*)