Get Sony A7R II mirrorless and Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.
To put it simply, if Nikon delivers a D900 with 42 or 50 megapixels or so, and an EVF option, the A7R II will have little appeal to me by comparison (other than using Zeiss Batis and Zeiss Loxia lenses).
I’ll take the Nikon D810 operational behavior and buttons and responsiveness any day over the A7R II. I’ve wasted time constantly with clicks and button presses and trip-me-up lag-time issues in the field—these are simply, ludicrously just wrong and badly designed, unnecessary issues. Especially for a camera that costs a bundle (and more than a Nikon D810!).
Moreover, with cold stiff hands the A7R II sucks (its badly-sized and bacly placed buttons and dials are a bane with stiff fingers and/or gloves). Even the weight of the A7R II is not much of a win when extra batteries are accounted for and/or a lens adapter. So while it is a fine camera, it cannot be called a mature and sensible design by any means.
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Get Sony A7R II mirrorless at B&H Photo.
What could be better than everyone clearing out for the first serious storm of the season, bearing down from the Pacific Northwest? Here at 10,600' elevation in the White Mountains, it is 32°F with rapid accumulation, and it is beautiful to behold. With a fast 4G signal for internet access (personal hot spot feature on iPhone), I can blog away while I monitor the snow depth. I never let a good storm go to waste, but blowing wet snow is too hard to shoot in, and yes, I do use a filter in such weather. When it lets up, it should be spectacular.
Compare this weather to yesterday’s idyllic conditions.
I have 3/4 tank of gas, foul weather gear and boots, several days food, a sleeping bag good down to 5°F or so, a mountain bike (just in case), and M+S tires (not as good as real snow tires, but heck, I need to give them a test). My (acquired used but well maintained) vehicle has 10.75" of clearance under the entire underbody (off road package). Barring deep drifts, I’m not much concerned with traction (3 differentials that can be locked). Besides, I wanted to give the General Grabber AT2 tires a field test. Anyway, even if I got snowed-in for a day or two, it’s just too early in the season to worry about anything less than a monster 20 year storm. To play it safe, 6 inches of accumulation is my “head to lower elevation” metric, due to the risk of much deeper drifts.
White-Out Snow at 10,600'
A little courage and patience with weather brings the priceless reward of a glorious interlude in nature’s sway. Now I think I’ll have a late lunch, eating some of the extra rainbow trout I cooked last night in my dutch oven.
Hole in the Sky
Trout are good cold too. If properly gutted, they can be cooked with their own roe in place, though the quality of the roe ranged from pretty good to not so good. Curiously, one of them had orange flesh and the others white flesh, even though all were rainbows. Perhaps there was some hybridization with Golden Trout in the gene pool. The one with the orange flesh was best of all, and tasted most like Coho salmon.
Trout Served Cold With Roe
The General Grabber AT2 255/55 R18 M+S Extra Load is a fine offroad tire (noisier on the road than my preferred Pirelli Scorpion A/T, discontinued severa years ago). Even so, in July a sharp rock punched a hole right through the center of the tread block in Silver Canyon and a 2nd tire was damaged, and that was with nice resilient nearly new tires*. 10-ply tires would be better, but 10-ply tires offer terrible ride and handling on roads. This time of year, I carry a spare wheel with another AT2.
The General Grabber AT2 has some siping to the tread (good for snow), and while it is not all that great a snow tire like Michelin Alpin, it does pretty well as a general M+S tire, at least if the temperature is not too far below in freezing. My custom duct-tape repair job can be seen on the lower right plastic fitting below the bumper itself—classy look—that silver duct tape matches the paint nicely. Sometimes them thar' rocks just pop up out of nowhere.
* I got my money’s worth from America’s Tire Company: At $30 per tire for a damage warranty, the $30 per tire I paid delivered two replacement tires (about $200 each). The places I go, the tire warranty is a steal, so I always buy the warranty.
General Grabber AT2 255/55 R18 M+S Extra Load
USB-C Dock for 2015 MacBook
4 USB3 ports, 1 USB-C port, SD card reader, gigabit ethernet, audio ports, HDMK 4K port!
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless and Zeiss ZF.2 lens at B&H Photo.
I’ve been shooting various Zeiss ZF.2 DSLR lenses on the Sony A7R II, using the Novoflex adapter. While larger lenses (e.g. Otus) work fine too with the ASTAT tripod collar, it’s not nearly so nice handling the 'rig' as with a smaller and lighter lens.
Most of the Zeiss wide angles (f/2 and f/2.8) meet the size metric for reasonable balance and feel. As does the Zeiss ZF.2 50mm Makro-Planar. It is my intention to present various aperture series with several ZF.2 lenses (hence the varying focal lengths seen in some recent images)*.
The examples below with the Zeiss ZF.2 50mm Makro-Planar show off its pleasing bokeh. Being a symmetric Planar design with spherical elements (no aspherics), it is not as highly corrected as the Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar, and this offers quite a different look from the Sonnar. And so it may be preferred by some users (every lens has its own rendering style). But of course there is a lot to be said for native mount and autofocus. Still, if one has DSLR lenses (particularly Nikon F-mount), they are all but universal in usefulness.
* A terribly annoying missing feature in the A7R II is no ability to plug in the focal length and aperture for a non-native lens. For me, this is a big headache, so I have to be careful to folderize and label accordingly, based on that day’s recollection of which lens.
Aspen Trunk and Incipient Color
Aspen in Shaded Canyon
ThunderBay 4 - The Speed To Create. The Capacity To Dream.
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless at B&H Photo.
The image below is almost black in all non-sky areas, and has received a maximum shadow boost, revealing a violet ghosting flare. I rather like the total effect, as the dark mood invokes a feeling of the ending of the day, and the season.
Of course, many lenses could not do anywhere near so well as here—this is excellence in flare control and maintenance of contrast in a blindingly bright sky/sun.
Flare control is a lens performance issue generally neglected in lab tests (and lab tests suck for really understanding field behavior). I always shoot a variety of flare shots in the field to see how well the lens actually performs, with the sun in various areas in the frame and just out of the frame. Some lenses are utterly destroyed by flare, even ones that are very expensive. Others do great with the sun in the frame, but suffer massive veiling flare with the sun just out of the frame.
Extreme backlighting with maximum shadow boost, revealing faint ghosting flare
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Dust on the sensor is generally hard to see at f/5.6 or even f/8, because the rays are not yet highly collimited as they are at f/11 and f/16 (sharp shadow vs diffuse shadow). Of course, big chunk dust (a few hundred microns and larger) can be seen even at f/5.6. And often, detail obscure the spot. It is in areas like sky or other smooth uniform areas that dust becomes obvious.
To test for dust spots, take an image of any uniform surface, like the sky, at f/16. Defocus the lens if the subject has any detail.
As shown below, the Sony A7R II has a dust spot in the sky. I invoked the Sony A7R II anti-dust sensor-shake feature about eight times, holding the camera at various angles in hope that the spot would disappear. It vibrated impressively each time, to no avail, the vibration seemingly too low a frequency to work (ultrasonic would be better).
Taking the lens off, I could see a tiny white spot on the sensor (remember to reverse position from the picture, as with a mirror, up/down are flipped). I never like attempting to clean the sensor with wipes and such (particularly in the field!), and have not done so in years, so I tried something very simple: using a clean new microfiber cloth, I lightly dabbed at the spot just once, and off it came. Which shows that it was not stuck-on in the least, and that the anti-dust sensor cleaning of the A7R II is ineffective at commonplace types of dust spots.
Dust Spot at f/11 with Sony A7R II
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After a very long day and 10+ mile hike with 3000' of vertical gain up (and down)—a very long slog—I enjoy the fruits (fauna) of my fishing labor. From a lake apparently hardly ever touched by fishing, where rainbow trout are aggressive feeders. That makes two lakes now (the other with Golden Trout) that are apparently never or hardly ever fished.
While I prefer trout fried with almonds, frying is a tedious job requiring constant attention (and a clean up job of a greasy pan, awkward without water nearby). With a dutch oven (aluminum hard anodized for travel, lower weight) and a wooden Japanese style steamer inside, the job is clean and neat with no grease—just kick back and check for done-ness in about 20 minutes, depending on size of fish (11-14 inches in this case). A sweet potato at the same time is good also.
Steaming Trout in a Dutch Oven over Campfire
A few days prior, this huge (for the elevation) Golden Trout is a feast for the eyes. It has a companion that is even larger—probably a record for the very high elevation. I often fish with a de-barbed hook, which means I don’t land some fish, but it tests my skill (I am generally “deadly” from experience gained as a teenager).
(catch and release with debarbed hook)
Trout are good cold too. If properly gutted, they can be cooked with their own roe in place, though the quality of the roe ranged from pretty good to not so good. Curiously, one of the rainbows I caught another day had orange flesh and the others white flesh, even though all were rainbows. Perhaps there was some hybridization with Golden Trout in the gene pool in the past, with the rainbow displacing the Goldent Trout (I speak of trout from different bodies of water). The rainbow trout with the orange flesh was best of all, and tasted most like Coho salmon.
Trout Served Cold With Roe
Get Leica M Monochrom Typ 246 at B&H Photo.
See my previous update. Two email pings to Leica have resulted in radio silence. Perhaps for good reason (hard to imagine what), but as both a member of the press and the person who found and documented the black spots issue with the MM246, I am displeased.
In brief—back in early June, Leica contacted me about the issue, and I provided a DNG to Leica, one of many with the spots. I received a brief note from Leica as follows:
We have found the root cause and plan to make a firmware update that avoids this effect.
Well, here it is October. How many images have to be irrevocably damaged before Leica gets its act together and fixes the issue? Or, has it been fixed and Leica has not informed me? Dunno.
I don’t own the Leica M Monochrome Typ 246 and as I’ve said, I think that both the Canon 5DS R is a better monochrome camera than the MM246. As well, the Sony A7R II is a better monochrome camera than the MM246.
Black-dot-in-white-spot artifacts in Leica M Typ 246 image (actual pixels)
Black-dot-in-white-spot artifacts in Leica M Typ 246 image (200% of actual pixels)
Get Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH at B&H Photo.
See my review of the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH.
I’ve been field shooting the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH. It’s an enjoyable lens, and I'd like to trade up from my 28mm f/2 and 28mm f/2.8 M lenses for sale. Then again, Leica has an all-new system coming October 16 or so. Still, it seems unlikely that the M line would end, and it remains a fine system for compact high quality lenses in the field.
An M-shooter ought to be lusting over the Leica 28/1.4—it avoids some of the naughty behavioral issues with the 28/2 Summicron-M ASPH, and when the hood is mounted, actually seems smaller than its 28/2 sibling. I deem it the best Summilux yet, and perhaps the last of the line. It is well suited for pairing with the Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon and the 50/2 APO.
The main issue in the field is not the lens, but the toy-grade EVF that Leica continues to foist on its loyal users. It is about time (well over two years) for Leica to reward buyers of its overpriced M system with a much improved EVF (high-res and better image quality), even if the refresh rate has to be only 15 fps or so (slow CPU in the M240 is one issue with high res). Its really quite pathetic compared to the Sony EVF. A luxury brand loses its luster over time by such dreck—when function is grossly inferior even a red dot won’t stop the cognitive dissonance.
Red Aspen at Dusk, White Mountains of California
Now this excites me: 30 mph winds with snow blowing sideways, as the first snowstorm of the season blows in from the west. Minutes after taking this picture, white-out conditions blew in, reducing visibility to about 50 meters, with heavy side-blown large wet flakes. Initially, the snow was melting as it hit the relatively warm ground, but it has now started to accumulate (12:42 PM). I'm hoping for 8 inches or so (no problem to drive through up here), but that is expecting a lot. If 4-5 inches accumulates, that will make for excellent photography opportunities tomorrow.
Update 12:48 PM: the angry cloudburst (of snow) just parted, showing blue sky to the south. The main front seems to be to the north.
For Eastern Sierra weather, see Dennis Mattinson’s weather blog. The White Mountains are just to the east of the Sierra Nevada, across the valley.
View from above Patriarch Grove, White Mountains
Warm and dry in my car for now, I’m waiting out the onslaught for the time being. But soon I may suit up with wind pants and waterproof shell and go for a short hike to enjoy the raw weather.
A few minutes after taking the image further above—white out
Beautiful, but disappointing. I had hoped for some serious snow but the white-out snow gave way 40 minutes later to clear blue sky! Very pretty nonetheless. I've been here in August and seen 4-5 inches accumulate in this area, and even snow down to 8500' in the middle of August.
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Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Distagon
Henning K writes:
If you google weather sealing Olympus Pentax you get to an 2013 article on www.thephoblografer.com stating that weather-sealed lenses by Pentax and Olympus do not need a filter in front to be weather sealed(with illustrations). But most Canons except some super-teles do need a filter like UV for instance.
I read another place that a Zeiss representative said the Batis lenses also need that.
I generally do not like to put filters in front, Ialways use a lens shade and have never had any problems.
I use my Pentax in all weather without problems, and would love to know if you have any comments or knowledge about this.
DIGLLOYD: I’ve checked with Zeiss. The Zeiss Batis lenses do NOT need a filter for their weather sealing. This is also true for Zeiss Milvus line which has multiple internal seals at several internal areas (and it’s why focusing has more resistance than the Otus line).
In general, I don’t see this as a major issue: any weather that would deliver water or snow onto the front of the lens would surely ruin any pictures made (water spots and similar). And if it’s blowing sand, a filter is mandatory anyway, to avoid damage to lens coatings (if indeed it is wise to integrate sand and grit into the lens and camera by photographing in such conditions).
On filters: I avoid filters. Recently, I determined that a high quality polarizer can add significant veiling flare under conditions I would not expect it (but not all conditions of course). To put a number to it, I have independent confirmation of a 0.7 stop increase in localized flare. As well, flare can veil the entire image. So my advice is in agreement with Henning: use filters only when absolutely necessary.
Zeiss ZF.2 28mm f/2 Distagon (Nikon mount)
James K writes:
I just bought a mint condition Zeiss ZF.2 28mm f/2 Distagon on Ebay.
My first test resulted in interesting image. There is a very pronounced 3D like effect that I don’t remember ever seeing before. Am I imagining this?
Curvature of field in abundance. It is an odd lens. Wide angle but with a large close-up focusing range. What images would require this ability?
The lens is not very good at anything over 30 feet.
DIGLLOYD: the Zeiss ZF.2 28mm f/2 Distagon is a classic reportage-style lens that at heart is a film-era design, which I deem most appropriate for environmental portraits and similar. See my previous discussion of the Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon as well as Outdoor Portraits (Yosemite) and Environmental Portraits.
There is indeed a 3D effect to its rendering which I like very much. I would liken it to some Leica M lenses, which are well-loved for this effect. And yes, field curvature is part of this effect. My main complaint is that I would like to see an improved version which corrects LOCA completely, and SLOCA better.
I would not consider it the best choice for architecture and classic landscape photography, though it can deliver lovely images nonetheless. There are not really any better alternatives—28mm is a poorly served space. In fact, on the D800E, it easily trumps the Leica M Monochrome with Leica’s 28mm. So it has reserves enough to be a winner over much more expensive gear. Still, I prefer using it at close to medium range. Close-up, it is great fun; see Examples — Close-up.
Modern lenses optimized for a flat field such as the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 don’t have that same feel as the Zeiss ZF.2/ZE 28/2 Distagon. If one wants a flat field, it is best to stick with lenses designed for digital (recent designs). But that same higher level of correction will “draw” differently and may not be preferred by all—some users will pine for the classic look. This is why owning several lenses of the same focal length is not duplicative at all (chosen wisely at least).
As for sharpness at distance, choice of focus matters. See Lundy Canyon Beaver Dam for a distance shot (as well as other examples in the review). One can never be sure of a used lens either.
Three Girls Portrait
ƒ/4 @ 1/60 sec handheld, ISO 100 Nikon D800 + Zeiss ZF.2 28/2 Distagon