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December 2012

Compared: Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS vs 35mm f/1.4L vs 24-70mm f/2.8L II (Gate)

In DAP I present another detailed comparison of the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS vs 35mm f/1.4L vs 24-70mm f/2.8L II.

This test is at medium distance using a semi-planar target which turns out to be very revealing of the lens differences.

Test scene for Canon 35mm comparison
Test scene for Canon 35mm comparison

Compared: Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS vs 35mm f/1.4L vs 24-70mm f/2.8L II (Dolls) + Focus Shift Assessment

In DAP I present a detailed comparison of the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS vs 35mm f/1.4L vs 24-70mm f/2.8L II, along with an assessment of the 35mm f/2 IS focus shift.

This is a close range test corresponding to a tightly-framed facial portrait.

Test scene for Canon 35mm comparison
Test scene for Canon 35mm comparison (cropped here)

Compared: Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS vs 35mm f/1.4L vs 24-70mm f/2.8L II

In DAP I present a detailed technical comparison of the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS vs 35mm f/1.4L vs 24-70mm f/2.8L II.

The Canon 35mm f/2 IS (about $849) is a new design, and an impressive one.

Test scene for Canon 35mm comparison
Test scene for Canon 35mm comparison

Sony RX1: Aperture Series (Mosaic)

My review of the Sony RX1 in Guide to Mirrorless now includes a study of the Sony RX1 Zeiss 35mm f/2 on a demanding planar target.

Sony RX1 test scene
Sony RX1 test scene (cropped here)

Nikon D600 or D800?

The 36-megapixel Nikon D800/D800E for $2796 or the 24-megapixel Nikon D600 with 24-85 lens for $1997?

There are other combinations, see the Nikon Buy Together and Save promotion.

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 

Considerations

Both cameras produce very high quality images. I have a slight preference for the D800E over the D800, in what follows, “D800E” means either the D800 or D800E.

Some things to consider in selecting one or the other:

  • Is this a “final” fixed solution with no more lenses anticipated (one zoom lens)? Or is it the start of building a system with multiple (perhaps expensive) lenses? For the latter, it makes sense to go with the D800E, because the camera body cost difference gets buried in the total system cost.
  • Unless one is shooting top-grade lenses, the 36 vs 24 megapixel resolution advantage is fully realized only with the best lenses. On the flip side, downsampling the D800/D800E images to 24 megapixels produces superior per-pixel image quality over the D600 (fewer artifacts), and even with mediocre lenses, one does get more detail, even if only in the central areas.
  • Operationally, I prefer the D800/D800E over the D600. My review of the Nikon D600 details several issues that make the D600 unattractive for me, see Notable Limitations of the D600.
  • As a single camera, either camera works well. As a two-camera system, I found the D800E + D600 combination to be a headache due to different operational characteristics.

None of the above should be construed as saying the D600 is a bad choice; its image quality is superb. With lens and technical excellence, its 24 megapixel images can be outstanding. But with the same factors, the D800E rewards the shooter.

Budget D800E

Over the years, I’ve wasted a lot of money on buying almost the item I wanted, then almost the item I’ve wanted, etc (think scanners back in film days). This taught me a lesson: get what you really want, even if that means an initial compromise of other sorts, in this case, keeping the lens cost down.

Here then are some excellent lens choices that are not particularly expensive relative to their ƒ/1.4 counterparts; they deliver high image quality on an absolute basis, and when the price is taken into account, they offer outstanding value. Better yet, the lower weight of several of these lenses might also appeal in its own right (vs the ƒ/1.4 siblings). With this lens kit, a wide range of subjects can be covered. If I were to pick two lenses, then 35mm + 85mm is a good starting point.

  • Nikon 28mm f/1.8G.
  • Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM.
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.8G.

See the Nikon gear page for direct links.

Real-world Noise: Nikon D800E vs Canon 5D Mark III

Added to DAP is a field comparison of the real world issues with noise in dark areas. The superlative Nikon D800E is compared to the Canon 5D Mark III.

This heavily shadowed sexy landscape photo of an outhouse at 12,300' elevation (stink free man, the best outhouse I’ve ever found!) had the dark areas opened up in “post”. How do the two cameras fare on this image? It is a proxy for any kind of landscape photo with similar or even more extreme contrast, such as the Mt Dana and Tioga Lake scene.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4 
White Mountains 12,300' stink-free privy

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Artifacts: Presented in Color and Black and White

Added to my review of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 (see also X-E1) is a 2nd artifacting example.

Presented in both black and white and color.

I hope to see radically better conversion quality in early 2013 with the release of the next version of PhaseOne CaptureOne Pro. I have unprocessed images that I have delayed presenting in hopes of seeing superior raw conversion to make it worthwhile, and to show the Fuji results in a better light.

See also:

About the picture, Sept 26, 2012: A thrilling and beautiful night ride to 13,600' on the Moots Mooto X YBB 29er was followed by my return back to “home” at 12,000' elevation. See the video of the night-time descent.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4 
Home base after descent
Fujifilm X-Pro1 + Fujifilm XF 35/1.4 @ ƒ/5.6, 30 seconds, ISO 200 +1 push

Field Comparison: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM vs Canon 35mm f/1.4L (Pots/Garden)

Added to my review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM is a 3rd field comparison of the Sigma 35/1.4 versus the Canon 35/1.4L.

Large images and generous crops from ƒ/1.4 - ƒ/16— full series. This is a “deep 3D” comparison affording a good look at correction for color errors, and bokeh.

Why so many comparisons? My working theory is that the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM is a superior lens to the Canon 35/1.4L in every situation. So far that theory holds. Were it not for my particular situation (this site), I’d be thinking hard about disposing of the Canon lens (and I probably will at some point). That said, the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM has yet to prove itself as a long term reliable lens, so I don’t advise pro shooters to be hasty in switching. Ditto for Nikon users and the Nikon AF-S 35/1.4G.

Rumor has it that Canon will introduce a 35mm f/1.4L II in Spring 2013. This makes sense, because the performance of the existing 35mm f/1.4L clearly shows its limits on the 5D Mark III, and a future 40+ megapixel Canon will make the 35/1.4L a non-starter.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4

Field Comparison: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM vs Canon 35mm f/1.4L (Fence Gate)

Added to my review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM is a 3rd field comparison of the Sigma 35/1.4 versus the Canon 35/1.4L.

Large images and generous crops from ƒ/1.4 - ƒ/5.6. (too dark for ƒ/8!) The subject in this comparison is planar in nature, showing some behavioral differences with respect to the nominal plane of focus.

Why so many comparisons? My working theory is that the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM is a superior lens to the Canon 35/1.4L in every situation. So far that theory holds. Were it not for my particular situation (this site), I’d be thinking hard about disposing of the Canon lens (and I probably will at some point). That said, the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM has yet to prove itself as a long term reliable lens, so I don’t advise pro shooters or Treebeard to be hasty.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4

Field Comparison: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM vs Canon 35mm f/1.4L (Manzanita)

Added to my review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM is a field comparison of the Sigma 35/1.4 versus the Canon 35/1.4L.

Large images and generous crops from ƒ/1.4 - ƒ/11. This series is fun for its bokeh qualities across the animated mouse-over aperture series.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4

Field Comparison: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM vs Canon 35mm f/1.4L (Oaks)

Added to my review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM is a field comparison of the Sigma 35/1.4 versus the Canon 35/1.4L.

Large images and generous crops from ƒ/1.4 - ƒ/11.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4

SHOOTOUT: Sony RX1 vs Sigma DP2 Merrill vs Fujifilm X-E1

Guide to Mirrorless now includes an extensive three-way comparison of the Sony RX1, Sigma DP2 Merrill, and Fujifilm X-E1.

Included are extensive actual pixels crops from each camera as well as matched-size crops. The dual approach provides useful insight.

How about a grab-bag of differing technologies?

  • 24-megapixel Sony RX1 with full-frame conventional sensor with Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens.
  • 14.75 megapixel Sigma DP2 Merrill with APS-C Foveon true-color sensor with Sigma 30mm f/2.8 lens (45mm equivalent).
  • 16 megapixel Fujifilm X-E1 APS-C unconventional X-Trans sensor with Fujifilm 18-55mm lens (zoomed to 35mm equivalent).

Megapixels are not all the same.

After making this real-world comparison, I feel content as to my preference.

     
Sigma DP2 Merrill     Fujifilm X-E1 Sony RX1
Sigma DP2 Merrill, Fujifilm X-E1, Sony RX1
(not to scale)

Taxes: Section 179 for Small Business Owners (Accelerated Depreciation)

I am not a tax adviser, this is FYI ONLY. Consult your own tax adviser.

For a small business owner like myself the US federal tax code is especially onerous, but there is one temporary benefit ending in 2012 that every small business should know about: Section 179 of the internal revenue code.

This year the special “bonus” depreciation ends in 2012.

Sony RX1: Focus Accuracy

My review of the Sony RX1 in Guide to Mirrorless now includes a focus accuracy study along with an aperture series from ƒ/2 to ƒ/8 showing what is required to recover the sharpness lost to focus error.

Sony RX1 test scene
Sony RX1, actual pixels

Sony RX1: How Good is the Lens?

My review of the Sony RX1 in Guide to Mirrorless now includes a technical study of the Sony RX1 Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens.

This scene was designed to look for sharpness, color errors, astigmatism and behavior with stopping down. A full series with crops from ƒ/2 - ƒ/16 is shown.

Sony RX1 test scene
Sony RX1 test scene

Sony RX1: Diaphragm Symmetry

My review of the Sony RX1 now includes a technical study of the Sony RX1 diaphragm (aperture) symmetry.

Sony RX1
Sony RX1

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Sony RX1 using +2 stops over metered exposure then pulled
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Sony RX1 ETTR Study (Dolls)

My review of the Sony RX1 now includes a technical study of the Sony RX1 dynamic range headroom with respect to ETTR exposures (expose to the right).

This is a technical study which might be of interest to those looking to eke out every ounce of low noise behavior possible, along with a “bottom line” conclusion.

Sony RX1 using +2 stops over metered exposure then pulled
Sony RX1 using +2 stops over metered exposure then pulled

Sony RX1: Color Shading and Lens Comp

My review of the Sony RX1 now includes a page discussing RX1 color shading and vignetting, and the Lens Comp settings.

../../index-allview.html#SonyRX1
Sony RX1

B&H Photo: Deals + Free Overnight + Rebates + 2% Rewards on Many Brands

Want to see your images in wide gamut color? Get a calibrated wide-gamut display.

Nikon and Canon deals

 

SLR Cameras, mirrorless cameras, point and shoot cameras. lenses and flashes.

Canon pro lens deals

See also the Canon gear page for easy access to many Canon products or view Canon f/2.8L lenses, many of which have instant savings, etc.

Discounted price updates once item is added to cart:

Canon pro lens deals with free 2-day shipping an 2% rewards
Canon pro lens deals with free 2-day shipping an 2% rewards

 

Computers for Photographers (Concord, CA, 7:00 PM) Presentation Tonight: Computers for Photographers (Concord, CA, 7:00 PM)

DETAILS.

Nikon D600 or Sony RX1?

Having tested the Nikon D600 recently and currently testing the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1 for Nikon or Canon and also testing the Sony RX1 full-frame compact, a thought popped into the empty space I keep reserved for such things.

  • A Nikon D600 + Sigma 35/1.4 (excellent) is about $2900. A Nikon D800E is about $3900 with a Sigma 35/1.4.
  • A Sony RX1 with its Zeiss 35/2 (excellent) is about $2800, and close to $4000 with accessories.

The D600 and RX1 are both 24 megapixels, and the actual sensor might even be identical. For my money though, I’d go with the D800/D800E.

The D600 has a built-in optical viewfinder and high-res rear LCD and can be used with a huge number of lenses and in general is a state of the art DSLR with all the pluses and minuses of a DSLR. And it is relatively large and heavy with lens.

The Sony RX1 is amazingly compact, the smallest full-frame camera available today. An optional EVF and thumbgrip and extra batteries (all mandatory in my view) cost extra, pushing the price towards $4000. Its only lens (Zeiss 35mm /f2) cannot be changed.

So what we have here is a very interesting tradeoff: a big and heavy DLR system versus a easy-carrying but higher cost and far less versatile compact camera. But with image quality fairly called equal.

Assuming one is in the market for a ~$3000 camera, this crystallizes the decision points pretty starkly. Ask yourself: “what do I really want out of a camera?”. There are powerful arguments on both sides, but I feel like I’m in an endless loop in taking a position, even for myself alone!

This comparison is just one expression of a serious threat to the camera business of Nikon and Canon. We’re not there yet (price is way too high for starters). But we’re not that far away either.

Pictures below not to scale.

Nikon D600  + Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM
Nikon D600 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1
Sony RX1
Sony RX1

Herb S writes:

Thanks for your interesting findings so far with the Sony RX1. Mine did very well on the first days of pro shooting. I only adjusted the color
in Lightroom / Camera Raw with a Color Checker passport profile. Both Adobe and Sony color are too yellow/orange to my liking.

I agree the EV-finder is mandatory as are spare batteries. I might like a thumb grip as well but it is not compatible with the EV-finder.

The comparison between a Nikon D600 / Sigma 35 mm and the RX1 is one that a lot of photographers might find interesting. For high image quality both will do the job also at higher ISO's.

For myself I made the choice to shoot the general purpose 35 mm lens with the RX1 and the 15mm - 24mm and the 85-135 mm (macro) lenses with the dslr.
So I prefer to have both which is of course the more costly option.

For general purpose shooting in public spaces the big dslr is often too intimidating. Hold your RX1 a bit down, flip up the EV finder and shoot without getting noticed. Like a Rolleiflex. Combined with the high image quality at least to ISO 1600 makes the RX1 invaluable.

If there would be an RX2 with a f/2 90 mm macro lens, then I would only use my dslr for the 15 mm and the 24 mm T+S lenses.

And if the Sigma DP2 Merill had the higher ISO performance of the RX1 I might as well choose the Sigma for general shooting,
now I use it like a mini view camera on a tripod.

But with one full frame NEX camera with the RX1 ISO performance I could do anything. Mount my ZF.2 lenses, wide angle and tele/macro or shoot compact with a 35 mm lens.

DIGLLOYD: I have a lot more planned for the RX1.

As for Zeiss, etc on NEX, this is not a winning combination ergonomically in my view. Seems a hole lot more reasonably to shoot Zeiss on a D800E. For most shooting, I still prefer the DSLR form factor, but it all depends on what I’m doing.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM: Field Shooting Examples (Alpine Creek)

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

My review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM now includes a page of field examples shot on the Canon 5D Mark III, with an emphasis on ƒ/1.4, but also stopped down to a variety of other apertures.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM shows itself to be an outstanding lens. At about $899, it represents a terrific value.

But the 35/1.4 doesn’t need the price to compete— it can do that based on its performance. Surely this is one of Sigma’s very best lenses. Particularly of practical use is its high micro contrast at ƒ/1.4, which makes focusing relatively easy in magnified Live View mode, and also discourages contrast-detect autofocus from making errors. As well as delivering persuasive results wide open.

As I found out today, its lens shade is effective in keeping light rain off the front element even as the body of the lens became covered with water droplets. The build quality seems quite good, but of course only extended use can prove out a design.

I don’t yet have a Nikon-mount version, so I cannot yet compare it to Nikon’s 35mm f/1.4G, but I plan to do so (and eventually to the two Zeiss 35mm lenses, in Guide to Zeiss).

Canon 5D Mark III + Sigma 35m f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4
Canon 5D Mark III + Sigma 35m f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4

Sony RX1: Initial Examples

My review of the Sony RX1 now includes a page of Sony RX1 examples.

Test scene for Sony RX1
Sony RX1 @ ƒ/2

Sony RX1: Aperture Series, Usage Notes

My review of the 24-megapixel full-frame Sony RX1 now includes a full Sony RX1 close-range aperture series from ƒ/2 - ƒ/22 with large actual pixels crops as well as my initial Sony RX1 usage notes.

B&H Photo has had the Sony RX1 in stock recently.

Test scene for Sony RX1
Test scene for Sony RX1
Sony RX1
Sony RX1

Sony RX1 24-Megapixel Ultra-Compact Full-Frame Camera Is Here

The Sony RX1 showed up today around dusk. I plan on doing some work on it right away, interleaved with continuing work on the Nikon 70-200/4 VR and the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM and Fujifilm X-E1.

Large images to be found in my review of the Sony RX1.

B&H Photo has had the Sony RX1 in stock recently.

Sony RX1
Sony RX1
Sony RX1 top view
Sony RX1 top view
Sony RX1rear view
Sony RX1 rear view
Sony RX1rear view
Sony RX1 front view

Compared on D800: Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II

My review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR now includes a comparison of the two Nikon 70-200/4G VR vs the Nikon 70-200/2.8G VR II at 170mm.

This example is a very big page load (patience required on a slow connection), with many generously large crops over the ƒ/2.8 - ƒ/11 aperture range.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Aperture Series (Church Door, Tiled Arch)

My review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR now includes two more aperture series.

This example is extensive, with many generously large crops over the ƒ/4 - ƒ/11 aperture range. It is quite instructive.

Next up: comparing the 70-200/4 VR to the 70-200/2.8 VR II.

The tiled arch example is also instructive as to peak sharpness.

Auto-ETTR Would Sure Be Nice — 2 Stops Below the Blow-out Was the Camera’s Advice

I’ve written extensively on ETTR, including my essays ETTR (Expose to the Right) — An Essential Skill to Master for Image Quality and A CALL TO ACTION: Build Intelligent ETTR Into Digital Cameras.

The histogram for this image was grossly misleading (quite common); it shows the image as starting to blow-out, even with the camera set to the lowest contrast setting. Yet RawDigger shows that the D800E could have tolerated nearly twotops more exposure!

This image is presented as an aperture series in my review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR.

Shooting at dusk Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm @ ƒ/8, 5 seconds
Shooting at dusk
Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm @ ƒ/8, 5 seconds

The RawDigger histogram below proves that adding two stops more exposure would have been possible. While the D800E performed admirably as shot, two more stops exposure would cut the noise in half, and would have provided clean detail even in the darkest shadows, some of which are pinned to pure black in the exposure as shot.

Histogram for actual raw data showing 2-stop underexposure (Nikon D800E)
Histogram for actual raw data showing 2-stop underexposure (Nikon D800E)

James A writes:

That shooting at dusk picture is stunning.

I don't know the technical issues that make it appealing but it really pops.

DIGLLOYD: the juxtaposition of color is very appealing at this time of day, a combination of dusk skylight and artificial light. Even though I white balanced, I left it a little warm and indeed it does pop.

The eye sees complementary colors especially vividly, so it has an added effect from the way the human visual system works, an effect explained in Perception and Imaging (recommended book).

Sony RX1 24-Megapixel Ultra-Compact Full-Frame Camera

I expect to receive a Sony RX1 for testing tomorrow. I plan on doing some immediate work on it, but as I juggle work on the Nikon 70-200/4 VR and the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM.

B&H Photo has had the Sony RX1 in stock recently.

UPDATE: the day after I wrote, this Camera Raw 7.3 was made available with support for the RX1! [One challenges is no Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) support; release candidate 7.3 RC does not support the RX1. The Sony RAW converter is not exactly appealing. However it appears that PhaseOne CaptureOne Pro has support for the RX1, so that’s my likely course.]

See other recent discussion of the Sony RX1: Sony RX1 — What Does it Actually Cost?, Sony RX1 — Optical Performance and Value vs Leica Alternative.

Sony RX1
Sony RX1

I deem the Sony RX1 a breakthrough camera, a “first” because of the following features which are unprecedented in this combination:

  • Full-frame sensor with 6000 X 4000 (24 megapixel) 14-bit images.
  • High quality Zeiss lens with fast f/2 aperture and 9 aperture blades and real aperture ring.
  • Manual focus assist with focus peaking.
  • 24 megapixels (Leica M240 is also 24 megapixels, for an interesting comparison).
  • Ultra compact form factor (for full-frame). 1.06 pounds, 480 grams.
  • 1/3 the cost of a comparable Leica M + 35/2 Summicron ASPH.
  • Ultra high resolution rear LCD: 3.0"(4:3) / 1,229k dots / Xtra Fine.
  • Built in flash — the #1 thing I adore about the RX1’s little brother, the RX100, is how its built-in flash makes for perfect outdoors portraits and self portraits, via fill flash at -1.7.

Whether the ergonomics and image quality meet expectations remain to be seen; a camera is not defined by its specifications, but has to be used to make images to assess its real-world merit.

There are two optional viewfinders:

  • EVF: XGA OLED Tru-Finder™ electronic viewfinder with approximately 2,359K dots. Attaches to the multi-interface shoe. About $450. Apparently not compatible with the NEX-5N add-on EVF.
  • A Zeiss 35mm optical viewfinder (subject to all the usual parallax issues). About$600.

Sensor

The Sony RX1 might use the same sensor as the impressive Nikon D600. the RX1 uses the same sensor as the Nikon D600 (and quality electronics to go with it), then we can expect it to offer image quality superior to any camera in its size and price range. And if the lens is good (really good), the results could be exceptional. We shall see. It all depends.

Focal length

The concept of an ultra-high quality camera with fixed non-interchangeable lens is at first a bit frustrating.

Aside from price (which can be lowered with time), the concept is quite attractive for many shooters looking to avoid dust and complexity, looking for the simplicity of interchangeable batteries, cards, charger and the redundancy of two camera bodies. Try traveling to Iceland and dealing with the dust on the sensor with a Leica M9 (for example). In practice, I rather like the Sigma DP1 / DP2 Merrill combination.

Pricing

The Sony RX1 ~$4000 system price is off-putting, but in the context of full-frame and Leica M and the Zeiss 35/2 lens, it is not as bad at seems.

Let’s be fair and deem the Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens to have a value of $1100, since that’s what a Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon costs for Nikon or Canon. Which means you are paying $1700 for the camera body (plus $600 for an EVF).

Design issues

Sony deserves praise for daring to produce the RX1 and with a high quality lens it.

The combination of features is very attractive, but with one very negative omission: lack of a built-in EVF. And no matter how good the RX1 might otherwise be, there are several things get in the way of getting the job done, at least for what I’d want.

No built-in EVF

A rear LCD (only) is an impediment for those of us with advancing presbyopia (e.g. EVERYONE from mid 40's and older, presumably the bulk of the prospective audience due to cost). Holding the camera at arm’s length to shoot means blurred images in less than bright lighting. There is no image stabilization for stills to help here.

The requirement for the EVF as an add-on wart is also a physical impediment: stow/unstow catches on things, adds weight bulk, awkwardness, won’t fit in some pockets with the EVF attached). A sleek small camera which is no longer so sleek.

Going without the EVF is possible, but what then of shooting at 1/15 to 1/125 second at arm’s length, with no mass-coupling to stabilize the camera? Since I often shoot at twilight, it makes the camera a leave behind system as opposed to something I can better stabilize.

Shutter speed

As with the Fujifilm X100, the Sony RX1 limits its top shutter speed at wide apertures, due to its in-lens leaf shutter. While a leaf shutter is highly desirable for flash sync as well as much lower vibration over a focal plane shutter, a leaf shutter cannot open and close fast enough to cover the wider apertures.

The limitation appears to be as follows:

  • ƒ/2 - ƒ/3.5 (brighter than ƒ/4): maximum 1/2000 sec shutter speed.
  • ƒ4: maximum 1/3200 sec shutter speed.
  • ƒ/5.6 - ƒ/16: 1/4000 second (full speed).

The issue here is that in bright conditions, one effectively cannot use ƒ/2 and ƒ/2.8 (image could be blown out, too bright). The workaround is to mount a polarizer or neutral density filter to reduce the brightness.

No interchangeable lenses

This is not a system camera, you get a 35mm f/2, period. Which restricts the range of shooting to a certain style.

No sense of (Sony) style

Why do we need things like “35mm FULL-FRAME CMOS IMAGE SENSOR” on the lens? Suck marketing graffiti is suitable for a cheap point and shoot, not a $2800 camera. Can you imagine a Leica M with such a brazen advertisement on the body? Fire the tasteless dimwits responsible for that. The scene modes are in the same vein: could you take a Canon 1 series or Nikon D4 seriously with scene modes and similar gimmicks? If Sony wants to play in the $3K realm, this dreck needs to be removed.

Exposure compensation

Looks handy and by the looks of it might even avoid the self-changing problem of the Fuji X cameras. Worth pondering whether this should have been a Leica M style shutter speed dial instead, or both (programmable).

On/Off

The ON/OFF switch is not my favorite; on the Sony NEX-7 it drained the battery to zero one day as I discovered when I pulled it out of my pack to shoot. Hopefully it is not so easily turned on the RX1.

Grip

A little built-in nub on the right front would have been nice.

Sony RX1
Sony RX1
Sony RX1
Sony RX1

Lens Brightness: Camera Makes an Adjustment?

Bruce D writes in reference to my Sigma/Canon 35mm comparison, in which I found that the Canon lens was brighter by ~1/3 stop:

Is it possible that the difference in apparent brightness results from Canon's fast-lens correction? It seems that all camera manufacturers silently boost the camera's ISO to compensate for sensor's inability to detect peripheral light from fast lenses.

The effect has been widely reported (initially by DXO Labs - see
http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Publications/DxOMark-Insighs/F-stop-blues )

I did a brief test of the effect with my 5D MkII and an OM 55/1.2 and confirmed the effect.

May I suggest you determine whether the Canon lens really is brighter than the Sigma - this is easy to test by partially unlocking the lens so that the camera cannot identify which lens is mounted. I'm fairly confident the third of a stop correction will magically disappear. :)

DIGLLOYD: This diffference is at all apertures. Perhaps the camera compensates for wide open, then maintains a fixed staggering for consistency?

I have confirmed a difference at ƒ/1.4, tested under tungsten and daylight. I shot the comparison four times to be sure. The difference is real (Canon 5D Mark III + 35/1.4L). I have not confirmed a difference at smaller stops (e.g., ƒ/5.6).

In terms of Adobe Camera RAW exposure compensation to match two frames of the Canon 35/1.4L, I am seeing difference of ~0.13 stop, numerically small but easily visible in an A/B comparison. The color appears to be subtly different also, but this I have not confirmed.

Variation in brightness — Canon auto-lens tweak 
Variation in brightness — Canon auto-lens tweak

 

Nikon 70-200/4: Torque on the Lens Mount vs 70-200/2.8

Nikon 70-200/4 VR with optional RT-1 tripod foot
Nikon 70-200/4 VR with optional RT-1 tripod foot

See my ongoing review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR.

Torque on the lens mount can subtly affect image sharpness by applying a tilt or swing; this is why heavy lenses have a tripod foot.

Always support heavy lenses directly; do not allow the lens mount to take the stress as it can be subtly bent (5-10 microns of skew shows up easily enough, yet is invisible to the eye).

Jack M writes:

Would you measure the center of gravity of the Nikon 70-200/4 for me? Balance the lens on your finger. Measure the distance from the rear rubber gasket to the balance point. A rough measurement estimate to the nearest tenth of an inch would be great. You might want to do this over a pillow. :-)

The calculation is a simple one. Force x moment arm = torque. The moment arm, sometimes called a lever arm, is the distance measurement that I'm requesting. I calculate torque (with the force of gravity perpendicular to the lens axis) on the camera lens mount flange for my two heaviest lens as:

Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR II without both the lens hood and the mounting foot: 1.34 foot-pounds
Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8: 0.44 foot-pounds

I supplied the figure (including the hood) to Jack M and he replies:

0.30 feet x 1.87 pounds = 0.56 foot-pounds of torque for the Nikon 70-200/4.

This is less than half to torque applied by the 70-200 f/2.8 lens and certainly supports your observation about the feel of the lens on the camera. I don't know what Nikon's spec is for max torque on the lens mount flange, but at approximately 0.1 ft-lbs more applied torque than the 14-24, the 70-200 f/4 would seem to fall in the class of lenses that do not require a lens mount foot. (weight source: B&H web site)

DIGLLOYD: On the camera, it feels like a large difference in carrying the ƒ/4 versus ƒ/2.8 lens. I am comfortable with the 70-200/4 being supported by the lens mount, but the 70-200/2.8 VR II is definitely beyond the stress I would ever want to apply to my camera mounts.

Compared: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM vs Canon 35mm f/1.4L on Canon 5D Mark III

See my notes on the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM for Canon and Nikon.

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

At about $899, the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM bears looking into on a price basis alone versus the about $1329 Canon 35mm f/1.4L.

But how does Sigma’s new 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM actually deliver as compared to Canon’s top-line 35mm f/1.4L?

The results are quite interesting indeed.

This initial comparison is at close range, a tight head and shoulders distance, and includes gener0usly large crops and a full aperture series from ƒ/1.4 - ƒ/16 for each.

 

 

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM @ ƒ/1.4

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Distortion

My review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR now includes a page on distortion at 200mm and 160mm.

Photoshop CS6 13.0.2 HiDPI Update — Retina Display Images Look Terrific

This site has supported Retina-grade images for some time now.

I installed the latest Photoshop CS6 13.0.2 update which promises HiDPI (Retina) display support. The text and buttons and user interface elements have that wonderfully sharp etched look that comes from using the full screen resolution.

But it is the drawing of images at full display resolution (instead of being pixel doubled) that really stands out as the big win—

When the MacBook Pro with Retina display is set to Best for Retina display, everything works exactly as expected — gorgeous high-res images.

More good news: Photoshop CS6 is about 13% faster for common tasks on the MBP Retina with the HiDPI update. See also Optimizing Photoshop CS6.

Shown below is a screen shot of a 2880 X 1800 image displayed on a MacBook Pro Retina; a white border has been added show its outline. It fits the screen perfectly in its full HiDPI glory.

2880 pixel wide image at “actual pixels” in CS6 on 2880 MBP Retina display
2880 pixel wide image at “actual pixels” in CS6 on 2880 X 1800 MacBook Pro Retina display
Display set for more 1440 X 900 Best for Retina display mode

Working in Best for Retina display resolution is ideal for Photoshop HiDPI support, but it means that other programs used at the same time effectively see a 1440 X 900 display. This makes the working space cramped in those programs. The solution is to use one of the scaled modes (such as the 1920 X 1200 “More Space” option), but in scaled modes there is no true actual pixels in Photoshop (1 image pixel = 1 display pixel).

Scaled modes are somewhat suprising

The screen on a MacBook Pro with Retina display is 2880 X 1800. Therefore, an actual pixels rendition might reasonably be expected to draw a 2880 image so that it exactly fits the 2880-pixel-wide screen resolution— no scaling that can alter or blur detail, just lay down those pixels unaltered.

But it’s more complicated than that when display-scaling other than 2:1 is used. This is not a bug, but a natural side effect of having a virtual display (for scaled modes) that has to be drawn to the actual 2880 X 1800 screen size.

As shown below, the 1920 mode (“More Space”) is one of the “scaled modes”— applications behave as if the actual screen were 1920 X 1200. But it’s actually some fancy footwork in OS X having 3840 X 2400 pixels to work with (pixel doubling) which are drawn (scaled) onto a 2880 X 1800 display. Ditto for any of the other modes; 1680 X 1050 gets turned into a 3360 X 2100 pixels drawn to the display. Making a screen capture actually yields the pixel-doubled image size (e.g., 3840 X 2400 for 1920 X 1200 mode).

2880 pixel wide image at “actual pixels” in CS6 on 2880 MBP Retina display
2880 pixel wide image at “actual pixels” in CS6 on 2880 X 1800 MacBook Pro Retina display
Display set for more 1440 X 900 Best for Retina display mode

Below is the same image as further above, also at View => 100% in Photoshop CS6 (actual pixels) but with the display set to 1680 X 1050 scaled mode. Even though it’s scaled as displayed, the image still looks really good with all those pixels being used, and this might be important for detail work or image assessment, so beware of the difference.

As far as Photoshop is concerned, the image is at actual pixels; there are 2880 pixels of image width drawn into a 3840-wide virtual display. As far as the screen display, it is not actual pixels (one image pixel is not one screen pixel).

2880 pixel wide image at “actual pixels” in CS6 on 2880 MBP Retina display
2880 pixel wide image at “actual pixels” in CS6 on 2880 X 1800 MacBook Pro Retina display
Display set for more 1680 X 1050 scaled mode

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR — More Testing Comments

My review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is in progress.

I am forming some preliminary conclusions about certain aspects of its performance, but due to some unexpected results, there will be a delay of up to a few days to cross check what I am seeing (and zooms are always a lot more work than non-zooms).

Tonight I had some fun shooting at dusk. But there is a short window of opportunity; autofocus quickly becomes non-viable and even magnified Live View goes gritty (noisy) when the light level drops. Focusing manually, I found I missed focus on one of my preferred shots, but this one worked out fine.

Shooting at dusk Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm @ ƒ/8, 5 seconds
Shooting at dusk
Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm @ ƒ/8, 5 seconds

Various Deals at B&H Photo

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 

- Free 2 day shipping on Canon, Nikon, Sony.

- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Digital Camera $200 off.

- Rokinon Lenses.

- Canon EOS Rebel T4i Digital Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens Kit, includes shoulder bag and filter and 2% rewards.

*** Canon Rebel T4i Digital Ultimate Package $899 ***

  • T4i Digital Camera with EF-S 18-135mm ($1,149 Value)
  • EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens ($200 Value)

- Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Discount for all Mounts Now $349 + 2% Rewards

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

See my notes on the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM for Canon and Nikon.

Thanks to Sigma USA, I have a Canon mount version of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM due in soon. How will it compare to the aging Canon 35mm f/1.4L?

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Testing Comments

My review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is in progress.

On the Nikon D800E, a focus difference of about one inch at a distance of 35 feet determines which lens is best. As I saw today, a “miss” of 1 inch “proves” that the same lens is better than itself or worse than itself. Such are the problems in making a comparison with a 36-megapixel camera. I am pondering the best way to handle this.

Contrast detect AF is provably not up to the accuracy required (as I have seen many times with various lenses); I can and did do better today using manual focus (my eye with a loupe, Live View magnified).

At ƒ/2.8, the 70-200/2.8 is too low contrast with possible focus shift to deal with, so it must be focused at ƒ/4. But at ƒ/4 as with the 70-200/4, there is too much depth of field for unambiguous focus. Focus bracketing is one solution, and I do have an 18-inch rail, so this might be the tedious and time consuming approach necessary, but it only works for distances not too far. Otherwise, it might have to be distance-only comparisons, with several focusing attempts. Given the lack of a tripod collar for the 70-200/4, this might have to be the proper way to go, regrettably ruling out mid-range shots, which are arguable more relevant.

All that said, this test image (bike) is revealing of performance nonetheless, and so I think I will present it as an aperture series for sharpness.

Unrelated: some new shots with the Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G are posted on my cycling site. I liked using the 24/1.4G for product shots; I correct for distortion and chromatic aberration and the fast autofocus is helpful.

Moots Psychlo X RSL with Shimano DuraAce Di2, FMB Paris Roubaix Pro tires Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 175mm @ ƒ/8
Moots Psychlo X RSL with Shimano DuraAce Di2, FMB Paris Roubaix Pro tires
Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 175mm @ ƒ/8

Fujifilm X-E1 (and X-Pro1) Artifacting Issue — Reader Comments

This issue is covered in my review of the Fujifilm X-E1 and review of the Fujifilm X-Pro1.

Both reviews have examples of hideously awful artifacting. Which in my view makes them acceptable only for a 1/2 resolution downsampled version (e.g. 4 megapixels from 16).

Sample crops are shown in my Dec 6 blog entry Fujifilm X-E1 Has the Same Fractal-Like Artifacts as the X-Pro1.

I first reported the issue way back when I reviewed the X-Pro1 in late May, but the ponderous mass inertia of a logical fallacy means that hardly anyone noticed. Absence of a problem in most images does not prove the problem is absent.

Reader comments follow below, after these two examples.

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Actual pixels from Fuji X-Pro1
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR

Reader comments

Howard D writes:

I have since re edited previous " fabric" files and looked for this moire issue . Unfortunately your findings are absolutely correct. The issue is random as well. Pictures taken in the same series are free of the artifacts. Angles changed during the photos so that could account for the presence of the moire . The pictures were proceesed in Lightroom 4.2 . Direct flash was used in all cases that the moire appeared.

Photos of the same subject at a different time using bounce flash do not have the issue. It is ironic that Fuji designed a sensor to eliminate moire only to produce the worst that I have ever encountered.

I am torn as what to do with the camera as I can return it if it is within two weeks of the initial purchase date. This is the only con to the camera (albeit a large one) for me . The pleasure of using it, and as most the remaining photographs are technically wonderful, will make for a difficult decision. Have you discussed your findings with Fujifilm and have they made any comments as yet?

DIGLLOYD: I call it an artifacting issue, not moiré; it different than moiré, and more destructive to image detail, by far.

The artifacting when it occurs is an order of magnitude worse than moiré. Indeed the artifacting appears at random, and I have not been able to determine which circumstances provokes it (lighting, focus, contrast, aperture all have yielded no leads). I have no explanation at present. It’s possible that there is some firmware algorithmic bug triggered by something, this cannot be ruled out.

I now have a contact at Fuji and I offer my help to them, though many camera companies do not in my experience welcome any help, seemingly they lose face by admitting to the issue. We shall see. My other gripe is providing images and then hearing only radio silence thereafter, one German and one Japanese company have stonewalled me this way in the past two years.

Alex R writes:

Earlier in the year I borrowed what I was told was late pre production X Pro from Fujifilm and tested it for a weekend on holiday. Whilst I was amazed looking at magnified images on the camera's screen when I later tried the files in Lightroom I was appalled, particularly with organic textures.

I'm truly hoping that this is resolvable at some stage because as you said otherwise the image quality is incredible. It seems since Fujifilm's X series was launched there's been image quality issues with every camera that has used their proprietary sensors. Worse yet, next year the X100 replacement will also be featuring this sensor too.

So so far Fujifilm has managed to only give us one out of six X series cameras that doesn't process poorly in Lightroom/ACR. It's a little embarrassing when Sony has a great APS-C mirrorless system right now and even Samsung can deliver one that plays nicely with Adobe. Lets hope we see some change soon—I know Fuji is promising this but I'll wait and see.

DIGLLOYD: A product is the total package. Having a newfangled sensor in a camera is 1/2 of the product, the other half being high quality RAW conversion support required for the innovative sensor design. Hence the product has been shipped unfinished.

I agree that the sensor is otherwise gorgeous. And at reduced size, the artifacts are downsampled away. And in JPEG and SilkyPix, partially blurred away. And not always an issue, but an awful issue with textures and fabrices. For the example image crops above, it’s an 8-megapixel result from a 16-megapixel sensor when the weird results are (mostly) eliminated by downsampling.

Edward S writes:

Names removed here.

I have the X-Pro1 and have noted the artifacts you document. So have __ and the developer of a demosaicing program whose careful blog is at Chromasoft.

In my case, I have seen this on skin, stone, vegetation, and very smooth surfaces which appear stippled. These two worked together and found that it was possible to remove the stippling on smooth surfaces, and that the noise characteristics of the sensor are indeed very good, but in their testing LR4 renders the skin of a pepper with enough stippling that it looked like a lemon.

I am sad that Adobe has not improved its rendering of the files as sometimes they are very sharp indeed, but as soon as one applies sharpening the problems begin to appear.

To summarize, as much as I like the files, I would recommend the X100 before the X-Pro1 until there is adequate software to demosaic the files with sharpness. Silkypix is simply not a reasonable alternative to the sophisticated control over raw development available in LR4.

DIGLLOYD: I completely agree that on a gross level the files are superlative (color rendition and noise and dynamic range). If this fine detail issue can be licked by a RAW converter, then the Fuji X-E1 and X-Pro1 would become cameras I would recommend heartily.

Jack F writes:

Finally got it. The artifacts are in every file, but masked. The same pattern on the snow as in the trunk of your trees.

Here is the example of JPG without and with exaggerated sharpening to better see the problem.

DIGLLOYD: exactly the effect, and an insurmountable problem for some images.

Raed A:

Just wanted to confirm your findings of artifacts with X-sensor, in particular with the X100s. At the time I had not read your observations or heard about this issue at all, and I almost thought it was a Lightroom issue.

I'd encountered it with grass images in 100% view, which was 'waxy' and lacking in detail. At that point I'd already observed several serious faults with the X100s, but once I discovered the image quality issue I couldn't live with this camera anymore and I had to sell it. There are several serious issues with this camera yet very few people are noticing or describing them in the blogosphere, it's shocking.

DIGLLOYD: Sometimes the issue is cognitive committments that follow spending of money: from this follow all sorts of rationalizations. Because I review so much gear and so often, my varied experience doesn’t allow me to indulge in either the spending or its non-objective push.

Tested: Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 55mm on X-E1

Just published in my Guide to Mirrorless is a test of the Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 on the X-E1.

This XF 18-55mm is a strong performer, but with a highly unusual behavior at 55mm.

Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw
Test scene

Fujifilm X-E1 Artifacting: Counterpoint

This issue is present via ACR, SilkyPix and JPEG. SilkyPix and JPEG produce such impaire sharpness that that the evidence is less obvious, but it is still there.

See discussion of the Fujifilm X-E1 artifacting issue, which is identical to the Fujifilm X-Pro1 as well as the Fujifilm X-E1 artifacting example and the reader comments.

Just published in my Guide to Mirrorless is a Fujifilm X-E1 artifacting counterpoint example.

This example is of the same scene with same lens, same RAW processing and sharpening, but varies in reproduction ratio slightly, and in color temperature of the lighting. The artifacting is still present, but in some areas (doll’s hair), the difference is night and day. As of this writing, the reason(s) for this difference are entirely unclear, but what I found in field shooting the X-Pro1 was that some images look good, and others look truly awful.

Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw
Test scene

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR: More Examples

Added to my review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR are additional examples.

The examples yield quite a good idea of the lens behavior, as well as the VR functionality.

f/4 @ 1/40 sec handheld, ISO 100, highlights -30 Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm
f/4 @ 1/40 sec handheld, ISO 100, highlights -30
Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm

Comparison: Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR vs 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Just posted in my review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is a close-range comparison of the Nikon 70-200/4 VR vs the 70-200/2.8 VR II.

I shot this close-range series after shooting the close-range examples to check on things, and sometimes what one looks for is not found, and what is unlooked for emerges.

Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 145mm
Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 145mm

Fujifilm X-E1 Artifacting Example

This issue is present via ACR, SilkyPix and JPEG. SilkyPix and JPEG produce such impaire sharpness that that the evidence is less obvious, but it is still there.

See yesterday’s discussion of the Fujifilm X-E1 artifacting issue, which is identical to the Fujifilm X-Pro1 as well as the Fujifilm X-Pro1 artifacting example.

Just published in my Guide to Mirrorless is an Fuji X-E1 artifacting example.

Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw
Dolls
Fujifilm X-E1 with 18-55 kit zoom @ 55mm, ƒ/8 @ 0.9 sec, ISO 200, +1 ETTR with no push/pull

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Artifacting Example

This issue is present via ACR, SilkyPix and JPEG. SilkyPix and JPEG produce such impaire sharpness that that the evidence is less obvious, but it is still there.

See yesterday’s discussion of the Fujifilm X-E1 artifacting issue, which is identical to the Fujifilm X-Pro1.

Just published in my Guide to Mirrorless is an Fuji X-Pro1 artifacting example that I shot previously with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 back in September, shown below. The example shows several very large actual pixels crops, as well as the original image at large size. Processed using Adobe Camera RAW.

Yosemite Pines Fujifilm X-Pro1 + Leica 135mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt-M @ ƒ/5.6
Yosemite Pines
Fujifilm X-Pro1 + Leica 135mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt-M @ ƒ/5.6

A small actual pixels crop from the above:

Actual pixels from Fuji X-Pro1
Actual pixels from Fuji X-Pro1

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Examples

Just posted in my review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is a page of close-range handheld examples.

f/4 @ 1/40 sec handheld, ISO 100, highlights -30 Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm
f/4 @ 1/40 sec handheld, ISO 100, highlights -30
Nikon D800E + 70-200/4G VR @ 200mm

Close Range Focal Length: Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR versus Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

I started with field shots with the 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, but ran into some questions, now in process of investigation.

For starters, the two Nikon 70-200mm zooms differ markedly in focal length at close range.

Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw
Cropped portion of test scene, downsampled

Fujifilm X-E1 Has the Same Fractal-Like Artifacts as the X-Pro1

This issue is present via ACR, SilkyPix and JPEG. SilkyPix and JPEG blur the image so much that the evidence is less obvious, but it is still there.

Color and overall image quality are exceptionally pleasing with the Fujifilm X-E1.

But there is a little detail, and little real detail.

I reported on problematic X-Pro1 artifacts back in September (and in my original review). This problem remains in the X-E1, and it is one of the few rare cases where the image quality must be rated as unacceptable and unusable. The cause and what is to blame do not matter, but the results do.

The crop below is actual pixels— it has not been resized or altered after RAW conversion (in ACR). It has been sharpened, but that does not create the problem, it only makes it more obvious.

Observe that some types of detail are fairly normal looking (ruler marks, eyes, skin, lips), but that the hair and green woven fabric looks like it has gone through some type of fractal upsizing process. Detail is destroyed. Using SilkyPix does not help; the same problem occurs but with far less detail (so it nets out even worse). JPEG helps, but only because it blurs away a ton of detail; the artifacts still occur.

If the “disease” is aliasing (sensor design to avoid using an anti-aliasing filter), the cure for it is another type of far more severe aliasing, affecting the entire image in a profound way.

When one adds in the chroma smearing, the X-Pro1 and X-E1 sensors just cannot be taken seriously (as beautiful as they are overall)— not until RAW conversion support is available that can eliminate this fun-house effect. What a shame, because the sensor quality at an overall level is superb. Apparently PhaseOne Capture One Pro will support Fuji soon, so that is hopeful. And Adobe might update ACR to do a better job.

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR

SilkyPix 5.0.26.0 has the same problem, except that it does not achieve proper white balance by clicking on the neutral gray, and its sharpening is ultra-crude. The crop below has been given the same sharpening after conversion as for the ACR crop above (on top of Unsharp Mask during conversion). Perhaps the reason SilkyPix users think the problem is not there is that the SilkyPix output is so blurred.

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from SilkyPix

Cookie-cutter effect.

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts

The entire image suffers. Fabrics and lace and similar suffer from severe problems. Smearing, non-existent patterns, blocking up of details.

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts

The white lace and blue silk are horrific. Then there is the pattern artifacting in the yellow cloth. The solution for aliasing (a funky sensor design) is apparently... severe aliasing!

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts

Even shiny metallic objects show the effects as a sort of rippled, uneven look:

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts

Show below is the Fujifilm X-Pro1 at actual pixels (from my Sept report):

Fujifilm X-E1 actual pixels — fractal-like artifacts — from ACR
Actual pixels from Fuji X-Pro1

See reader comments on this issue.

Fujifilm X-E1 File Size with ACR

I’ve immediately run into a problem in preparing my review of the Fujifilm X-E1— Adobe Camera RAW produces nice looking results, but the files from RAW (Fujifilm RAF) are cropped vertically to 2660 pixels.

Since the X-E1 RAF file size matches the X-Pro1 RAF files exactly, this means that ACR is cropping, presumably not yet supporting X-E1 files correctly. The X-E1 files look good but open cropped to 4896 X 2660 instead of the correct 4896 X 3264.

Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw
Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw

The Silky Pix user interface takes the prize for worst ever, and my brief experiment with the latest version this evening shows much inferior sharpness to ACR (cropped as it is), so I’m unsure how I will proceed, or if I can proceed at all. Perhaps for general lens quality the cropped size will suffice, because otherwise the image quality appears to be very pleasing at a gross level, but then again the artifacting problem really dissuades me from doing any testing at all.

Workaround for the cropping problem

A reader reports that using the crop tool in ACR works around the issue. Select the crop tool and the missing areas appear; then drag the box outwards to regain the entire image.

Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw — uncropping for the full image area
Fujifilm X-E1 TIF file size from RAF raw using Adobe Camera Raw — uncropping for the full image area

 

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR

See yesterday’s comments on the new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR.

I shot the 70-200mm f/4 VR extensively today, and I am not enthusiastic. I am investigating further. I advise my subscribers to hold off on the 70-200/4 VR for now until I can assess it further.

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR

Fujifilm X-E1 Initial Comments

Nuisances can be dealt with, but it is the oddball artifacts from the funky Fujifilm sensor design that are my main concern with the Fujifilm X-E1 (and its X-Pro1 sibling).

Additional comments on usability in my review of the Fujifilm X-E1.

Viewfinder

I wrote: the XE-1 viewfinder is badly blurred, skewed (in view camera terms, a “swing”). If I shift my eye far left I can see about 1/4 of the right side, and the other 3/4 blurred.

Solved! OK, I feel a bit silly— the diopter adjustment was completely off out of the box. What fooled me was that one part of the EVF was sharp and another blurred. I was able to adjust it so that it was all sharp. EVF quality is superb.

How hard is it to shoot a series or comparisons accurately?

It is really difficult to do a proper job in making a comparison or aperture series becaus the camera won’t stay in a fixed state:

  • The lens focus resets when cameras is powered off (or it powers down), even when set to manual focus. This wrecks any carefully set up comparison. Accurate focus is non-trivial for a comparison or aperture series, often requiring a nodal slider to nail the focus. Nothing else will do if one wants a fair comparison. Solution: shoot the X-E1 first, then match the other camera to it.
  • The camera resets its focus when the SD card is removed, so it is not possible to shoot an image, check it, then put the card back in and adjust focus (e.g. with a nodal slider to move it precisely)— the focus has been whacked.
  • The self timer disables itself with power off, so one has to re-enable it every power off/on cycle.
  • Because the SD card cannot be extracted without removing the camera plate, one has to constantly screw/unscrew the camera plate just to check on the result (solution: a Really Right Stuff plate when available). But since the X-E1 resets focus when the SD card is removed, this point is mainly just a simple time-waster. I tried mounting the camera via USB, but it does not appear on the desktop.

Access to the battery and card on the X-E1

Alas, the Fuji X-E1 is another dumb-as-they-come mechanical design in two ways: the tripod socket is not centered relative the lens (a small detail), but mounting the smallest camera plate blocks access to the battery and card.

This kind of design defect is almost a show-stopper for field work— what if you forget an allen wrench while in the field and need to swap batteries? Or the card fills up? Ouch. Let alone the hassle of getting the card out to download images or to charge the battery. Ooops, there goes that allen wrench into the rocks or creek or snow... no, this kind of solution cannot be considered, not for my work.

The good news is that Really Right Stuff will be offering a camera plate that retains access to the battery/card door without the above issue.

I understand the unimportance of such things with a $199 consumer digicam, but the X-E1 is a $1000 camera ($1399 with the kit zoom) clearly designed for more serious shooters.

Fuji XE1 with Fujinon Aspherical 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom VS Sigma DP2 Merill with Really Right Stuff L-backet
Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon Aspherical 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom

Size Comparison: Fujifilm X-E1 vs Sigma DP2 Merrill

Even with the Really Right Stuff L-bracket attached, the Sigma DP2 Merrill is notably more compact than the Fujifilm X-E1 with its 18-55m kit lens; the Fujifilm X-E1 is effectively the size of a small DSLR. Well, if you need a zoom you need a zoom. But kudos to Fujifilm for building in a small grip to the X-E1 which feels good to the hand. And the X-E1 can take the Fujinon 18mm f/2, which is much smaller than the zoom.

Fuji XE1 with Fujinon Aspherical 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom VS Sigma DP2 Merill with Really Right Stuff L-backet
Fuji XE1 with Fujinon Aspherical 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom VS
Sigma DP2 Merill with Really Right Stuff L-backet

Really Right Stuff L-Bracket for Sigma DP1 / DP2 Merrill

The Really Right Stuff L-brackets are terrific and available for most cameras. An L-bracket offers the following advantages:

  • Instant mount in landscape or portrait mode on clamp style tripod head (the only kind worth considering for normal field use).
  • Protection at bottom and left (e.g., for bracing against rocks and the like.
  • Optional grip attaches to the base plate (not shown, not yet available, coming soon).
  • High quality anodized perfect-fit construction with unobstructed access to the battery and storage card.
  • Easy on/off with supplied allen wrench.
  • The “L” part of the plate is easily removed (e.g. for cycling, etc); for all around shooting, I might do this, retaining the the bottom plate and grip portion (which I am looking forward to, enjoying the RRS grip very much on my Olympus E-M5).

Shown below is the Really Right Stuff L-bracket for the Sigma DP2 Merrill (on my personal Sigma DP2 Merrill).

Sigma DP2 Merill with Really Right Stuff L-backet on the diglloyd Signa DP2 Merrill
Sigma DP2 Merill with Really Right Stuff L-backet on the diglloyd Signa DP2 Merrill

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR

The new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR arrived today. As can be seen, it is significantly smaller than its f/2.8 sibling. At about $1399, it warrants serious consideration next to its about $2397 sibling if you don’t need ƒ/2.8.

The relevant distinguishing features are:

  • Performance at ƒ/4 is 80% of the optical contest for this type of lens. How well it does at ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8 is interesting, but not primary, because ƒ/5.6 crosses the “too dark, too slow” threshold in many shooting venues, at least in my experience.
  • Effectiveness of the VR system (this does not substitute for a fast shutter since VR cannot freeze action).
  • Illumination of the frame at ƒ/4.
  • Distortion.
  • Size/weight/price, assuming it qualifies on the above basis.

My existing 2010 review of the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II is in DAP and is worth reading for those interested in both. I’ll be adding new material for the 70-200/4, focusing on the differences between the two in terms (mainly) of optical performance.

Without the optional about $199 Nikon RT-1 tripod collar (hard to get a hold of), it’s a problem to compare the two because the f/2.8 lens mounts on its tripod collar and the camera mounts on the camera plate, causing different height and perspective. I also don't like all that weight on the lens mount of the camera; while the ƒ/4 lens is not as heavy, it is not lightweight.

As for fit and finish, I don’t know if “Made in Thailand” is responsible for the twisted rubberized grip clearly visible on the photo below. The 70-200/2.8 VR II doesn’t have this issue. I suppose it doesn’t matter optically, but it’s substandard quality that I have not seen before from Nikon.

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR

Reader Comments: Sigma DP1 Merrill

I get excited when I see results that are unusually good with a camera.

Other readers that have purchased the DP1 Merrill have emailed, but I can't find them all in my pile of email. All comments (from actual owners) so far are quite favorable.

Comments below. See my review of the Sigma DP1 / DP2 Merrill.

Sigma DP1 Merrill
Sigma DP1 Merrill

Jim N writes:

This is nuts.

DIGLLOYD: in reference to the amazing per-pixel sharpness that will shock a first-time Sigma/Foveon user.

Wayne R writes:

I picked up a Sigma DP1 Merrill on your recommendation, and like you my first reaction after viewing a few quick raw files is "Wow"! I just wanted to thank you for the tip and the good work you are doing.

DIGLLOYD: great!

Ron S writes as a former Leica M shooter:

Here I am... finally. I was out this weekend (and a bit today) with my Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill cameras. Both fit in my small ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag and I still had room for filters, extra batteries (needed with these cameras), a microfiber cloth, and my wallet.

Previously, I had two Leica M's: an M8 and M9-P. And two Leica lenses (Summarit-M 75 and 90mm), and three Zeiss lenses (25, 35 and 50mm). I sold all of them when I got the opportunity to use the Sigma D2 Merrill thru a friend of mine, who had just bought one. Of course, Leica stands for quality, but somehow I just had enough of the elitist image of the brand, and the very high price tags for cameras and lenses. I went out looking for a light, relatively small camera with the highest possible image quality at an affordable price. I tried the OM-D, and thought it was o.k., but nothing more than that. I went to Photokina last month and tested other options, like the Fujifilm XE-1 and X-PRO 1, the Leica X2, the Sony RX1 (I could only look at it - it was behind glass). Strangely enough, I didn't go to the Sigma booth and therefore didn't see the DP1 and DP2 Merrill's.

...

After returning from Photokina and checking out photography websites and buying some magazines, I already read a bit about the two Sigma DP Merrill cameras. Then when my friend told me he bought the DP2, we went out and I used the camera for a few hours. When back home, I downloaded and installed the Sigma Photo Pro software and the image quality and colors just blew me away. I hadn't felt this satisfied since I first used my Leica M8, and that is already years ago. I also have a D700 with good lenses (Zeiss 18mm f3.5, Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 and 16-35 f/4), and still love the image quality. I never felt the urge to upgrade to the D800(E) or the recently released D600. I still use my D700. Especially, for landscapes. But the two Sigma's I now have are far more satisfying to me. The 19mm (28mm in 35mm equivalent focal length) and 30 mm (45 mm in 35mm) are more than adequate to fill most my needs.

I somehow also really like quirky cameras. I had a Pentax K-01 for several months and really loved it. Boxy, simple, great quality. The DP1 and DP2 Merrill stand out for:

- image quality (clarity, crystal clear colors, being able to make large prints)

- holding a brand in my hand that no-one seems to care about (I'm more incognito now)

- being slow as far as reading files to the card is concerned (I don't shoot sports and don't do reportage, and I love being able to think a bit before taking my next photo)

- the design of the camera... I have no problems holding it in my hand... feels good and solid - it's different!

- the buttons... simple layout, easy to understand, not too many options in the menu (Leica-like)

- being small... I can fit both in the two zip pockets of my Nike jackets/sweaters

Actually, both Sigma's are so good in my opinion, that I now always have them with me. Even when I just go to the supermarket or for a short walk. And, yes, I love cameras that are a bit different.

I really liked your detailed and interesting review of the DP1 Merrill, Lloyd. I am also aware of the things you point out in your conclusions of the camera and agree with most. I do think the quality of the lenses on both the DP1 and DP2 are really good. The design of the body is truly minimal. I love it, but also understand it won't appeal to everyone.

The only thing I sometimes have problems with is holding the cameras absolutely still. There's no body stabilization, so one has to have steady hands. I did miss a shot or two, but now I'm really aware of it and know to pay attention. Oh, yes, battery life! I have four batteries (Sigma supplies two with every DP camera - they know!) and just ordered four more. Isn't it great that a small camera writes files so large, that it takes about 11 seconds to get to the card and drains your battery? :-)

Really, these two cameras are the best I've used in a long time. Sigma claims it's medium format quality and, of course, it is since - don't forget - there are 22MP medium format cameras. :-) For 2000 Euros (the price I paid) one can have fantastic image quality in two small bodies with two prime lenses (19 and 30mm).

DIGLLOYD: Useful perspective.

Markus H writes:

I have a feeling the Sony RX1 might replace the Sigma DP1 Merrill in your list (larger sensor, faster lens but bigger and more expensive). Hopefully almost the resolution of the DP1 with even lower noise and much less quirks.

DIGLLOYD: I now own both the Sigma DP1 Merrill and DP2 Merrill, having gotten both at around the best Black Friday price— I thought they would prove useful in the field and as reference cameras. That won’t stop me from owning the Sony RX1 if it turns out to be truly useful. But the Sony RX1 is around US$4000 with accessories; I can’t buy everything and a camera of that price has to have some ROI to justify. Besides, the Sony RX1 has no built-in EVF (neither does the Sigma, but it’s less than 1/3 the price). Lack of a built-in EVF is a design flaw for a $2800 camera, and it means that mass-coupling cannot happen for low-speed shooting. A really good sensor and lens and other factors could sway me, but I doubt it.

Richard J writes:

Here is a thought. Looking at 2 different disasters (imho) in the photo industry of late, each with some great aspects and some not so great. I have read everywhere on just how good the Sigma DP1 Merrill output is, however, like the bigger brother DSLR, the camera and functionality is quite poor. Then you take a company such as Hasselblad who make great cameras, but have now decided to take an already great camera, the Nex7 and soup it up with bits of wood and gold.

Well I am here to say why did someone not suggest a Sigma/Hasselblad relationship. Imagine a Hassy taking the foveon chip and designing a new, hopefully interchangeable lens camera with great esthetics and functionality. Now would that not be worthy of the Hassleblad name, and I think a big hit in sales.

DIGLLOYD: actually, the Sigma DP1/DP2 Merrill is a thoughtfully designed camera ommitting the design-vomit features found in most cameras, along with a menu system far better than Olympus or Sony menus because it is not overloaded with garbage features. I would improve upon the design by omitting all modes except M and A, and ripping out the JPEG and video features (well, and adding an EVF). Then it would be about perfect.

A Hasselblad-NEX reminds me of a cheap american SUV with a $5000 set of gold-plated wheels. I’m not sure how wood and gold make a better camera, or why I’d want a glitzy version of a missed-the-mark camera when digital cameras are evolving so rapidly.

Setting Low Contrast for RAW Histogram vs Live View Focusing

Using the lowest contrast JPEG setting and widest gamut color space (AdobeRGB) is helpful in estimating the actual dynamic range of the RAW image, but it degrades Live View focusing with some cameras like the Nikon D800E.

Added to my DAP ETTR Workflow series is a new page showing three settings variants in Live View mode, with discussion.

True RAW histogram from RawDigger Exposure as metered — falls short of Nikon D800E sensor dynamic range by nearly two stops
Live View variants on Nikon D800E

ETTR — Real RAW Data vs Camera Info and Final Images, With CropsETTR — Real RAW Data vs Camera Info and Final Images, With Crops

What’s actually in a RAW file as metered?

In the ETTR section of DAP is published a in-depth analysis of ETTR on the Nikon D800E including finished images, the camera information, generous crops and information of the actual RAW data and how it corresponds, using RawDigger for OS X. Examination of the raw RAW data indeed shows that all the prior ETTR evaluations were spot-on.

Next up: practical tips for fast and easy use of ETTR technique. All this technical stuff is necessary to have a thorough understanding (for me and some readers), but in the end one has to be able to use ETTR with low odds of blowing it, yet garnering most of the gain at minimal effort.

True RAW histogram from RawDigger Exposure as metered — falls short of Nikon D800E sensor dynamic range by nearly two stops
True RAW histogram from RawDigger
Exposure as metered — falls short of Nikon D800E sensor dynamic range by nearly two stops

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