Thursday, June 13, 2013


To accommodate some necessary changes to this blog I am moving it to another area.  All the content will remain, but the blog with have a slight variation in title and the new design will allow for larger photos.  The new link is:   You can get to the new blog area by clicking the link below.

Please bookmark the new site.  See you there!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nikon D800 compared to D800E
a hands on comparison review

When I first began using the Nikon D800 I also had a medium format camera system I used for high end photographs.  It quickly became obvious that the D800 was superior, and I sold off my medium format. I now use the D800 for still life and landscape photography, and any other situation where I need the highest image quality.

This blog post is not a full review of the D800 or D800E.  I will save that for another day. For now, I will only be examining the two cameras together to see how much of a difference there is between them.

Ever since acquiring the D800 I have wondered how images from the D800E would compare.  Would the images be improved enough to make the D800E a better choice despite the complication of introducing annoying moiré patterns to deal with due to the absence of an anti-aliasing filter? Two other cameras I use, the Leica M series and Fuji X-Pro1, both have the anti-aliasing filter removed, and I have noticed a degree of crispness to their images that is not present in images from cameras where the filter is present. The Leica does have a moiré problem that I have learned to deal with, whereas a new sensor design in the Fuji has eliminated the moiré problem.

Recently, I borrowed a D800E and began running a series of tests against the D800.  I used a large variety of the better Nikon lenses. I shot on a tripod and hand held. I chose some situations that I knew to be prone to producing moiré patterns. With the results all in, I could only see a slight difference between the two cameras. Where a difference existed the images from the D800E did seem a bit crisper.  I did encounter moiré in one situation where I typically expect it.  Sometimes the lens made a difference.  Often times, where I placed the focus point made a difference that ruined the test.  Bottom line is that the overall differences were generally so subtle that in most cases I had to read the file info to verify which camera was represented.

Below are some of the tests I did.  Links are included below the images to download the hi res versions of the files so you can judge the differences for yourself. These are very large files and two of each example are contained in each zip file.

This is one of the more telling examples.  The D800E does produce a crisper detail in the buildings.  You can also notice the moiré pattern from the D800E in the top of the tallest building on the left.  I typically find moiré in modern building when shooting cityscapes. Download hi res files by clicking here.

Click here to download hi res files
Click here to download hi res files

Click here to download files 

Click here to download hi res files
Click here to download hi res files

Both cameras produce exceptional images. The difference between them, however, is not very dramatic.  Even the DxOMark sensor tests has the two cameras only 1 point apart, which is negligible. Is the trade up worth the extra $500 and potential for moiré creeping into your images?  You will have to decide that for yourself. No matter which of the two you choose, you can rest assured you will be using the very best full frame digital camera available today. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Return of the Leica M with lug problem

An express package arrived today with the Leica M (type 240) I had send in for recall repair of the strap lugs.  The camera had to be sent to Solms, Germany for the repair.  I sent it in on the 5th of April so the estimated 10 day repair took over two months.  By way of apology for the inconvenience, Leica also included a copy of their new book, "Leica Myself".

At any rate, the prodigal son is back in the fold ready to be put back to work.

Check out the nice customer care box they used to send the repaired camera back to me.  It's nicely padded.  Think I'll hang onto it in case I ever have to send the camera back to them for any reason.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fujifilm XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 lens
a hands on review

Fuji expands the optical system of its X cameras with the introduction of the XF 55-200mm (83-300mm equivalent) telephoto zoom lens. It compliments the current medium range zoom, the Fuji 18-55mm (27-83mm equivalent), and will be the second of three zooms intended for the X series cameras.  The super wide angle 10-24mm (15-36mm equivalent) will complete the series later in the year.

The Fuji 55-200mm zoom mounted on an X-Pro1 and shown next to the current 18-55mm lens.
The build quality of this lens is feels solid and comfortable, weighing in at 20.46oz (580g).  It is 4.65" (118mm) long with a diameter of 2.95" (75mm). With the hood it extends 7.25" (184mm) from the camera. It accepts 62mm filters, and focuses as close as 3.1' (1.1m) for a magnification of .18x.  The variable aperture of f/3.5-4.8 closes down to f/22.

My first test is always to examine the sharpness of a lens, with particular attention to the corners of the frame.  This lens passed with flying colors.  Corners were sharp at all focal lengths and even with the aperture wide open. I have included some of the test images below with a link to download the high res version so you can judge the performance for yourself.

There is no apparent linear distortion at any focal length as you can see from the photo above and those below. Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

This is a brick wall test shot at three different focal lengths, 55mm, 100mm, and 200mm. Download the hi res versions using the links below.

The photos above also demonstrate the lack of linear distortion at all focal lengths. Vignetting also appears to be absent.

At 3.1' (1.1m) the lens is not setting any records for close focus, but with the equivalence of 300mm focal length you can get substantial enlargements like the example above.

The new zoom is a comfortable size as can be seen in this comparison with the 18-55mm model.
The lens hood is large but can reverse on the lens for storage, making it a more compact package for travel. The optical viewfinder does not have frame lines that zoom in and out to show the focal length as it does for the 18-55mm lens.  It does show a frame line for the 55mm focal length and the relative position of the focus spot within the frame. With a lens of this extreme length frame lines would be impractical. An electronic viewfinder is really the only way to go.

A big plus of the lens is its Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) feature, which is activated by a switch on the lens.  This adds 4.5 extra stops of stability for hand held photography.  All the test images in this post were shot hand held.

Click here to download a hi res version of this image.  This image should provide a good example of there resolution capabilities of this zoom close to full extension.

Click here to download a hi res version of this image.

Check out the corner sharpness of this image.  Click here to download a hi res version of this image.
Click here to download a hi res version of this image.

Click here to download a hi res version of this image.


Looks like Fuji produced another winner with the 55-200mm for its line of zoom lenses. It shows true professional qualities: no distortion, solid build, high resolution, image stabilization, and quick focus. This is a lot for a lens with a $699 price tag, much better than most zooms I have tested in this price range, and even better than some costing several times as much.

With this lens, Fuji introduced an updated firmware that improves its AF.  You can download the firmware here:

Click here to download firmware version 2.04 for the X-Pro1

Click here to download firmware version 1.05 for the X-E1

Friday, June 7, 2013

Shooting with old glass:
The Leica 8.5cm Summarex f/1.5 lens

With all the adapters now available for digital mirrorless cameras, such as the Fuji X-series, Sony Nex, and Leica M-series, it has become very easy (and fun) to experiment with attaching folder, classic lenses to the newer digital bodies. Since many of these old designs did not have the super lens coatings of today's made-for-digital optics, they often deliver a more muted look while still maintaining their original sharpness. This series of posts, which I call "Shooting with old glass", will explore some of these old classic lenses.

The 8.5mm Summarex is a high speed portrait focal length lens made from 1943-1960. It has a minimum focusing distance of 40" (1m), a bit long but typical for rangefinder cameras. At 25oz (705g) is very heavy for its size. When you focus it the entire front end of the lens, including aperture dial, turns. Since it was screw mount, I first needed a screw mount to M-mount adapter. Next I mounted that to the Fuji M mount adapter for X mount and put it on my X-Pro1 and off I went.

The f/1.5 aperture made it tempting to shoot with the lens mostly wide open to achieve a very shallow depth of field. Although the images did have the low contrast, muted quality I anticipated due to the lack of heavy lens coatings, the real surprise came when I discovered how truly sharp the lens is. 

The Summarex mounted on a Fuji X-Pro1 via a combination of screw mount to M adapter plus M to Fuji X mount adapter. On the APS sensor of the Fuji, the lens focal length became equivalent to 127.5mm making it more of a telephoto length. 
Putting it to use:

Once I discovered the softly muted effect of the lens combined with a high degree of sharpness, even wide open, I began to use it on the X-Pro1 with subjects such as these -- all shot at an open aperture of f/1.5 - 2.

The softness of the low contrast caused by the older optics worked well with the Autochrome technique I demonstrated in an earlier post.  A larger version of the image is necessary to see the full effect.   Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

The 8.5cm Summarex shown here on a period camera, a 1938 Leica IIIb.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Empire State Building

Last night it was back to my favorite spot of the Brooklyn Bridge to grab this telephoto shot of the colorful lights on the Empire State Building framed in the arch of the Manhattan Bridge.  I put a 1.4x teleconverter on the Nikon 80-400mm zoom to capture it with the Nikon D800.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Zeiss 12mm and 32mm Touit lenses for Fuji X-Pro1
a hands on review

Let me begin by saying I could have written this entire review in this one sentence: "The Zeiss Touit 12mm and 32mm are two of the best lenses I have ever tested -- resolution is exceptional, distortion is non-existent, look and feel are pro-quality perfect."

With that out of the way, let's move on to see what drove me to this conclusion.

A Zeiss 12mm Touit lens mounted on a Fuji X-Pro1 with the 32mm Touit beside it.
The first thing you notice about the Touit lenses is that their build quality has a simplistic, scuptural elegance to it -- nothing extraneous, no knurling on the rings, just a stylish, minimal design.  They look like they belong on the Fuji X-Pro1 camera, which is what I used to test them. The lenses are also made in an "E" model to fit the Sony Nex mount. They are slightly heavier than the comparable Fuji 14mm and 35mm focal lengths, but not so much that you would notice when using them.  In fact, in themselves they seem quite light and easy to handle.

Zeiss Touit 2.8 12mm lens and Touit 1.8 32mm lens with lens hoods in place

Zeiss Touit 2.8 12mm lens and Touit 1.8 32mm lens with hoods removed

The first practical test I put the lenses through is my brick wall test, the results of which are below.  Download links are supplied below so you can judge the results for yourself. It was right after performing this test that I realized I was witnessing something special with these lenses. As you can see from the results, there is no visible distortion -- practically no vignetting, no bowing of lines, and the corners are sharp even at wide open apertures.

Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 Distagon lens

The 12mm focal length of the Zeiss Touit is equivalent to 18mm in full frame and has a 99° angle of view. It weighs in at 9.17oz  (260g) with a minimum focus distance of 7.09" (18cm), a 67mm filter size, and apertures of f/2.8-22. By comparison, this is shorter than the Fuji 14mm lens which is equivalent to a 21mm lens with an 89° angle of view. My review of the Fuji 14mm lens can be seen here.

Download each of the Zeiss 12mm Touit high res tests using the links below.

Below are some downloadable files from the Zeiss Touit 12mm lens, which should demonstrate its very high resolution and low distortion.
I chose most of these subjects because their texture demonstrates the resolution capabilities of the lenses. This photo was taken with an f/5.6 aperture.  Click here to download a hi res version of this file.  

Taken at f/5.6.  Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

A super wide angle lens such as the Zeiss 12mm is often used to obtain a sweeping perspective tying the foreground to background with the lens placed close to the foreground object and focus placed forward also. In this type of shot it is very important to have a sharp image in the front corners.  This shot demonstrates that capability. It was shot at f/8 with focus placed on the protruding bolt. Even in the front corners the image is sharp.  Download a hi res version by clicking here.

This photo of a red caboose was taken at f/8. Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

Another example of using a super wide angle lens to relate a foreground subject to a background. Taken at f/8. Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Planar lens

The 32mm focal length of the Zeiss Touit has a 48° angle of view. It weighs in at 7.41oz (210g) with a minimum focus distance of 1.21' (37cm), a 52mm filter size, and apertures of f/1.8-22. This is a little shorter than the Fuji 35mm lens and gives the Zeiss a bit more of a slight wide angle effect.  It is equivalent to a full frame 48mm.

Download each of the high res Zeiss 12mm Touit tests using the links below.

I was also able to perform a comparison set of tests on the Fuji 35mm lens below. I think you will see that the corners of the Fuji lens are softer at the more open apertures.

Download each of the high res Fuji 35mm tests using the links below.

Below are some downloadable files from the Zeiss Touit 32mm lens, which should demonstrate its very high resolution and low distortion.

A super sharp image of nautical rope taken at f/11.  Click here to download a hi res version of this file

Strawberries at the farmer's market taken at f/8 Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

At f/11 the resolution of this image is amazing.  Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

Street scene shot at f/7.1  Click here to download a hi res version of this file.

This is about as close as the 32mm lens will go. The shorter 48mm equivalent focal length gives the perspective a slight wide angle rounding affect when used close in like this.
 What about bokeh, which refers to the degree of pleasantness in rendering out-of-focus areas. Below are two images to illustrate the bokeh of the 32mm Touit lens. The roundness in the out of focus blurs is due to the roundness of the lens diaphragm.

Shot wide open at f/1.8.

Also photographed at f/1.8.  Click here to download a hi res version of this image.


I began by stating that the Zeiss Touit lenses were two of the best lenses I have ever tested, and hope that the sample images presented above show why I reached that conclusion. These are truly professional grade optics with exception resolution across the image plane, and no noticeable distortion.

If I had to pick one thing to complain about on these lenses it would be the tiny blue dot Zeiss uses as an index to align the lens when mounting it on the camera.  I can see that the blue dot is an attempt to match the color of the Zeiss logo, but there is a reason most companies use a red dot.  It is easier to see. The blue dot is not only too small, it is barely visible. So that's it -- my one tiny complaint.

We cannot help but draw comparisons between the Zeiss lenses and their similar Fuji X counterparts. Truth is the Fuji lenses are really very good, but the bottom line is that the Zeiss lenses are better. Is this difference worth the extra cost of $1250 for the Zeiss 12mm vs $899 for the Fuji14mm, or $900 for the Zeiss 32mm vs $599 for the Fuji 35mm? Naturally, this depends upon your own standards and the particular uses you have for these focal lengths, and also upon the fact that they are slightly different focal lengths.  With wide angle lenses in particular, just a small change in focal length can make a big difference in angle of view.

This comparison shows the slightly wider angle focal length of the Zeiss 32mm on the left as compared to the Fuji 35mm on the right.
My opinion is that the Zeiss Touit lenses improve the Fuji X-Pro1 camera to an image level that is commensurate with the top pro cameras out there, and I mean even the full frame models. If you can afford to go the extra few hundred dollars to upgrade to theses lenses, I think you will find they are well worth the price.

It will be interesting to see what other lenses Zeiss will be adding to the Touit series. The quality of these lenses is a real game changing upgrade for mirrorless camera systems.

A late afternoon shot with the Zeiss Touit 32mm lens at f/8.
 The two images below illustrates the degree of corner fringing from the 32mm and 12mm Touit lenses.  Keep in mind that this is a very difficult test.  I would expect all lenses to show fringing in the corners under these circumstances, which is to say an over-exposed, backlit shot with areas of strong contrast and blown highlights. While you will find a small degree of blue fringing in the images below, keep in mind that this is exceptionally minimal to what I would normally expect from any lens in this situation so the Touit lenses pass this test with flying colors.  Also keep in mind this degree of fringing is easily correctable in post processing.

Taken with the 32mm Touit at f/4.  Click here to download a hi res version of this image.
Taken with the 12mm Touit at f/5.6.  Click here to download a hi res version of this image.

A special thanks to Jeff Hirsh of Fotocare for supplying the Zeiss Touit lenses for these tests.  If you are a pro photographer in NYC you probably already know Jeff.  If you don't, you should. He has been supplying professional photographers in New York's photo district for years. His shop is located  between 5th & 6th Avenues at:

41 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10010