18 November

A Photographer’s Guide to PEI eBook Review

PEIcover copy

As a photographer, have you ever visited a destination and afterwards wished that someone would have told you about all the cool places you could have went to but did not know about? I remember going to the Maritime Provinces back in 1996 when I was shooting for my book Darwin Wiggett Photographs Canada. I spent more time driving around scouting than I did shooting. Sure, I did research in advance from various sources to find ‘must-do’ areas but many of the resources were based on tourist travel and not photography. If only there was a guide book for photographers to help distill things down to visually interesting locations and advice of time of year and day to visit each location.

©Darwin Wiggett - National Parks are easy to find but what abut those lesser know spots that are not in tourist guidebooks?

©Darwin Wiggett – National Parks are easy to find but what about those lesser known spots that are not in tourist guidebooks?

Fortunately with the rise of the internet there has been a plethora of location information, but often you have to visit numerous sources to piece together something cohesive. And sometimes the sources of information are dated or of questionable veracity. We know of a few photographers who are putting out quality location guides to various national parks, provinces and states (us included) but we have also seen some really, really bad location guides.

When we heard that oopoomoo designer and contributor, Stephen DesRoches was teaming up with stock and assignment photographer John Sylvester to make a photography guide to Prince Edward Island we had high expectations of great images and awesome information. And after having been to PEI twice and seeing the information in this eBook, I’ll hand it to these two PEI residents – they have come up with a jam-packed eBook full of useful information and inspiring images.

seasons

The guide is simple to use with easy directions, GPS coordinates and suggestions on when to go and hints on making stronger images. Each image has complete camera data captions which many photographers find helpful in learning technique.

MAp

Ice

The only thing I think is missing from the guide is knowing who took which pictures. Stephen wrote the forward and John the rest of the eBook but both photographers contributed images. Who took which image I have no idea. I wish in the image captions they would at least put the initials of the photographer who took the image. I guess in the end it does not matter because every image is strong and the images tug at my wanderlust and make me want to go back and see all those locations I missed when I went to PEI on my own. Thanks to Stephen and John for an inspiring eBook full of useful information – all for a low, low price of $10! You can download your copy here.

authors

12 November

oopoomoo goes to Antarctica!

We are thrilled and delighted to be going to Antarctica on an 18 day photographic symposium. And we are leaving today! It has been a crazy summer and fall with a tonne of workshops, seminars and our photographers in residence program at Aurum Lodge winding down. And now we end the year with nearly a month in Buenos Aires and Antarctica! Who knows what is next on our crazy year long sabbatical?

©Darwin Wiggett - Wow a cruise - so exciting!

©Darwin Wiggett – Wow a cruise – so exciting!

We have decided to go light on this trip with just a cropped sensor dSLR  and a couple of lenses each. We want to make sure that we spend a lot of time engaged with nature and not distracted by a bunch of camera gear – a light kit will allow us to enjoy our trip of a lifetime and still snap a photo or two if it feels appropriate.

In the meantime we’ll be away from the blog, our email and our oopoomoo Facebook group. We hope you continue to post and interact there shooting for the November theme of backways and alleyways for a chance to win our Photography Fundamentals eBook bundle. While we’re away, we’ll have blog posts scheduled for your reading pleasure. And we’ll still have a December photography challenge to keep things rolling on the Facebook page – watch for the December challenge announced here on the blog (hint: it may have something to do with our upcoming article in Popular Photography on winter abstracts!) It seems we can’t escape shooting snow and ice but now we’ll have penguins in the mix! The prize for December’s challenge winner is a copy of Darwin’s career retrospective, 50 at 50. Thanks to all for your support and participation and most of all inspiration. We’ll talk soon.

I probably won;t miss all this crap? Give me a wee kit and a big adventure ;-)

I probably won’t miss all this crap! Give me a wee kit and a big adventure 😉

26 April

The Magic of 3D Printing – Making Filter Holders with a Cool Printer

The concept of printing actual objects is fascinating. Something that would be otherwise impossible to find or buy might now be possible to create with your home printer.

A future of printing our own solutions to meet our workflow needs is very exciting. Printing your own ideas introduces a market that eliminates factory production costs. Instead of manufacturers producing inventory, followed by packaging and shipping it all around the world to only sit in warehouses or on store shelves, in theory, they could just provide a blueprint file that you give your printer at home. Especially useful for simple replacement parts but maybe even a complete house or a prosthesis arm.

Like all new technologies, it’s still not perfect and has room for improvements but it is however going to be very interesting as the technology becomes more accessible to everyone.

Here’s Where 3D Printers Relate to Camera Gear

With the use of a 3D printer (Stratasys Object 30Pro), 3DPideas has designed an adapter for use with Cokin or Lee filter holders that I believe is brilliant and a problem solver to how I wish to use filters.

3D Printed Adapters for Cokin and Lee Filter Holders

3D Printed Adapters for Cokin and Lee Filter Holders

I personally prefer to use a screw in 77mm polarizer filter on the front of my lens and, if I want additional filters, I screw the filter holder onto the front of that polarizer.

This creates two problems. The first is vignette because of the extra extension the polarizer creates from the lens and the second is the added challenge of rotating the polarizer independently to the holder. It has worked for me but can be frustrating on many levels.

The Cokin-Z holder works best with sprocket filters (watch Darwin in this video) and proper management of light leak. The Lee alternative requires the purchase of a large 105mm filter. My shooting habits do not match either intended use because both require the large filter holder to use the polarizer.

What 3DPideas has created and printed is an adapter ring that attaches to the hood mount of your lens. It allows me to shoot all day with the polarizer and lens hood but when I want to use an ND filter, I can replace the hood with the filter holder. It has no frustrating screw in threads and it keeps my polarizer rotating independently free. Most importantly, I don’t have to buy a new expensive polarizing filter for a holder I only want to use on occasion.

My initial tests of the adapter proved to be very sturdy and strong enough to endure daily use. However printing materials are still new and while this product continues to be improved and refined, expectations of this rubber-like plastic should be reasonable.

It is available for both Lee and Cokin with 2 very important things to consider: it will not fit all lenses and requires using a slim profile polarizer.

It will take the next couple months to really judge how the material holds up but so far, I really like it. Designing and printing your own solutions to specific problems opens a new door on creativity that can only get better. A+ for thinking outside and beyond manufacture limitations.

6 March

Real Life Review: Panasonic Lumix GM1 – Big Performance in a Tiny Package but at what Price?

Samantha and I have been looking for a small, portable, carry everywhere  digital camera for a long time. But we need a camera that has raw capture, great image quality, high ISO performance AND can fit in our coat pocket. Big demands on our part but we think technology is getting closer to giving us what we want.

When we saw the size, specs and description of the Panasonic GM1, we thought we might finally have the answer to our wants (or are they needs?). This camera is touted as being the smallest interchangeable-lens camera in the world but giving us a 16 MP micro four thirds sized sensor (half the size of a 35mm sensor) in a mirrorless and viewfinder free camera. In addition Panasonic made a specially designed tiny 12-32mm (24-64mm equivalent) lens that makes this camera a miniature powerhouse. Pretty cool but will it also meet our demands in the field of a quick and easy to use camera with dynamic, creative controls?

Courtesy of panasonic.com

Courtesy of panasonic.com

Only one way to find out! So we contacted our friends at McBain Camera in Red Deer, Alberta and asked them for a GM1 to play with for a few weeks. They sent us the camera and off we headed to our annual Winter Photography Workshop in the Canadian Rockies to run the little camera up against the fierce wind and cold of Abraham Lake and the Kootenay Plains!

©Darwin Wiggett - a selfie with Samantha from day 1 of the winter workshop - only -34 degrees!

©Darwin Wiggett – A selfie with Samantha from day 1 of the winter workshop – only -34 degrees!

The Specs

For a complete list of specs on this camera we suggest you check out this link. We are not too picky about specs and our needs are simple. As long as the camera has a decent sensor with at least 10 MP or higher, raw format, exposure compensation, histogram display, auto-bracketing, a good LCD display, aperture priority, manual mode and some kind of program mode we are happy. We did like that this camera has a crazy shutter speed range from 60 seconds to 1/16,000 of a second. And we have grown to love touch screen displays (especially touch focus) after using our Canon 70D for months. We also really appreciate face recognition autofocus and variable aspect ratios for shaking up our compositions. Really, this camera has all the features we need and more for fully automatic (‘no thinking’) shooting or for fully manual (‘we are control freaks’) shooting. We found nothing lacking in the specs and the camera had many pleasant surprises on its “I can do that too” list.

For instance, one of the big surprises was Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto (IA) mode. When we wanted to get a shot fast and not have to think of the technical controls, we just shot in IA mode and the camera did everything for us and did it surprisingly well. In fact, we were blown away by the resulting photos in IA mode. It made us realize that modern cameras give technically good photos 95% of the time and that what separates photographers now is not technical prowess but creative vision (what we see, how we portray it and how we compose our photos). Being a technical whiz behind the lens really matters very little any more.

©Darwin Wiggett - Photo shot in IA mode while at a Michael Bernard Fitzgerald concert in Canmore. The camera handled the high contrast, low light beautifully and properly exposed all tones!

©Darwin Wiggett – Photo shot in IA mode while at a Michael Bernard Fitzgerald concert in Canmore. The camera handled the high contrast, low light beautifully!

©Darwin Wiggett - When you don't want too play with camera controls (e.g. it's too cold) then IA mode does the work for you, just compose and shoot!

©Darwin Wiggett – When you don’t want to play with camera controls (e.g. it’s too cold) then IA mode does the work for you, just compose and shoot!

What we liked about the GM1

There was lots to love about this camera and below is a wee list of things that impressed us.

  • image quality was really awesome. We could easily sell our dSLRs and just shoot with this camera and have images  usable for all of our professional needs – seriously! (hmmm…. maybe something to consider, sure would save our backs and our wallets!)
  • the size, oh yes the size… (and the weight)  a truly pocketable interchangeable lens compact camera – we would take this everywhere
  • interchangeable lenses – this is huge, we can customize this little beast with whatever lens suits our fancy!
  • the base ISO of 200 and the OIS (optical image stabilization) of the 12-32mm lens makes this camera a hand holdable powerhouse (no tripod needed)
  • for lower light requirements good high ISO performance makes this camera a real walk around workhorse.
  • the auto focus was zippy and accurate and we really like the touch screen option of placing the focus point anywhere in the frame. Face recognition auto focus worked really well even with people covered up in balaclavas!
  • video capture was really easy to use and did a great job (see video here)
  • with fast lenses like f1.7 or f2.8 it was possible to get sharp subjects and a soft beautiful background (something not possible with point-n-shoots with small sensors)
  • the camera gave us every control we would ever need to do creative professional photography and we loved the extended shutter speed range which went beyond what even our pro dSLR bodies could achieve
  • closeup photography was decent with the 12-32 mm kit lens (not as good as some point-n-shoots but totally workable)
  • awesome silent shutter mode for ‘stealth’ photography
  • really awesome IA mode for photographers more worried about capturing a moment than in getting bogged down in technical considerations
©Samantha Chrysanthou - oopoomoo.com

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Abraham Lake Ice and Snow

©Darwin Wiggett - leaf on ice at f2.8

©Darwin Wiggett – Leaf on ice at f2.8

©Darwin Wiggett - We like the camera to do quick and easy nature close ups.

©Darwin Wiggett – We like the camera to do quick and easy nature close ups.

©Darwin Wiggett - the camera could handle high contrast scenes very well, no filters, no tripod just compose and shoot!

©Darwin Wiggett – The camera could handle high contrast scenes very well, no filters, no tripod just compose and shoot!

Check out our test video from the Michael Bernard Fitzgerarld concert in Canmore.

What we did not like about the GM1

It is probably too bad that we tested the GM1 in -30 degree weather. If we had tested it in the summer this list of dislikes probably would be shorter. Our main frustration with the camera has to do with the miniature size of the camera controls (buttons and dials). The camera is so small that the main control dial gets accidentally depressed all the time. Or worse, when you want to make a specific change (change the exposure compensation or aperture) what you think you are pressing on the control dial is not what you meant to press and then you are in a worm hole of shifting white balance or moving focus points. Aaargh!

Unless you have thumbs the size of a pencil the command dial will end up driving you crazy. Sam only used the camera for about an hour and was ready to toss the thing at the frozen lake! Add thick gloves or mittens and the camera is almost unusable except in IA mode where all you do is press the shutter button. But still there is the issue of how to hold the camera without accidentally pressing something! Even indoors with bare hands, it is super easy to touch something you did not mean to and mess up the camera controls you were going to change. After a while you get used to the precision required to change settings but it takes a while and some patience (note to Sam). Even after mastering the finicky controls the truth is this camera is a bare hands, warm weather camera!

The controls on the back of the camera are small and jammed together and there is no little room left to actually grip the camera.

The controls on the back of the camera are small and jammed together and there is little room left to actually grip the camera.

Our dislikes include:

  • small, finicky, hard to accurately manipulate camera controls – these could have been designed much better (we have suggestion for Panasonic if they are interested!)
  • the camera is slow to use when wanting to change controls on the fly, the buttons and wheels are just too small – as pros who take charge of the camera and have to respond to quickly changing subjects and light, fast access to camera controls is necessary. Often we ended up just using IA mode because changing settings in the cold was just too hard!
  • the camera is not ergonomically well designed for one handed shooting. You mostly have to pinch the camera with the thumb and forefinger of both hands gripping the bottom and the top of the camera
  • the easiest way to change camera controls is with the touch screen which works great but not with thick gloves or mittens
  • low battery capacity; about 200 shots in warm weather, much lower when it is -30 degrees! You definitely need a second battery for a day shooting with this camera
  • the flash sync is 1/50 of a second or slower
  • there is no mic jack for video
  • diffraction kicks in severely with this camera after about f11, using f16 or f22 is not recommended!
  • does not really handle well with with telephoto lenses
©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett 

Conclusion

This camera isn’t for everyone. Making a small but capable camera comes at a cost and mostly that cost is in ease of use. Sam and I want a camera that has easy controls so we can make creative control decisions fast and easily. To really make the most of this camera you need to use the touch screen; the control dial and buttons are just too small. But to use the touch screen you need warm weather. If you live in an environment that is not too cold, then this camera would be great because touch screen controls are usable with bare hands. Here, in Alberta, we seem to have 10 months of winter and the touch screen has its limitations so we had to rely on the control dial which mostly drove us crazy because it is so small to use effectively (especially with gloves on).

We think this would be a perfect camera for travel to warm destinations. Its small size does not make it a target for thieves, plus it’s so small you’ll never leave it behind. With the Panasonic GM1 you just look like a tourist with a point-n-shoot and not a serious photographer; you can take the camera anywhere and nobody will question you about your gear or your motives for snapping shots. Big pro dSLRs attract attention good and bad. this camera with its silent shooting mode and awesome IA mode would be a great little street photography camera (in warm weather)

This camera would also be a great hiking or backpack camera as long as you pocketed a couple of spare batteries to power the hungry little camera (or use a solar roll to recharge your batteries while on expedition). We love the image quality and the compact size of the camera. If the handling was better (better designed control dial and buttons) this camera would have made it into our bag. Give us this camera with usable dials and buttons and we would have our perfect go everywhere camera. Almost there Panasonic, maybe in the GM2?

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Thanks again for letting us test the GM1, McBain’s in Red Deer!

mcbain_fotosource

 

22 January

Real Life Review – Live View AF Revolution with the Canon 70D?


70d_586x186_hero

If you know anything about Samantha and I, you know one thing for certain, we are slow and careful about upgrading our cameras. Sam still shoots with a four-year old Nikon D300s and I have an ancient Canon 1ds Mark III ( six plus years old). Unless there is compelling reason to do so, we stick with out cameras for a long time. It makes more sense to invest in quality lenses than to update our camera bodies at every upgrade of our chosen model. Most camera body upgrades are cosmetic and with no real creative advantage to the photographer. Also I have been burned too many times in the past buying the latest model only to find serious issues with the camera (mostly with auto-focus with –ahem!–a certain brand). Sam and I vowed to carefully test over a long term any new camera we might be interested in. Hence this review.

We test cameras in real life situations.

We test cameras in real life situations before we buy them.

Why the 70D?

First, of all, thanks to thanks to McBain Camera in Red Deer for the long term loan of a Canon 70D — you guys are awesome. I was interested in the 70D because the Dual Pixel AF technology introduced with the 70D  seemed likely to offer serious creative advantages for live view still photography but even more so for video. Canon designed a whole new sensor with pixel level phase detection autofocus that would make autofocus in live view and in video mode super fast, accurate and work across 80% of the frame. This kind of live view AF performance is unheard of in dSLR cameras.

We love live view and the ability to have the camera focus almost anywhere in the frame using a scrollable focus point or using touch screen technology really intrigued us.  As well, face recognition tracking focus in live view means that anywhere the camera sees a face in still or video shooting it will keep that face sharply focused no matter where the face moves in the frame. That seems really handy especially for our assignment work and to make videos. We were intrigued enough by this advance in technology to ask McBain Camera for a 3 month loan of a 70D to see if this camera would be worthy of adding to our camera bag. Our decision? Read on to find out!

The ability to quickly place focus anywhere in the frame using live view in still or video mode is a great creative feature!

The ability to quickly place focus anywhere in the frame using live view in still or video mode is a great creative feature!

Getting sharp focus on a face at the edge of a frame is a breeze with the Canon 70D using Face Detection Tracking mode in Live View

Getting sharp focus on a face at the edge of a frame is a breeze with the Canon 70D using Face Detection Tracking Mode in Live View.

Besides the potentially awesome new live view autofocus system, the 70D also has many desirable features that appeal to beginner and advanced photographers alike. Most of this stuff is not new but sure is nice to have especially if it’s been a long time since you upgraded your camera (e.g. 20.2 MP sensor, 7 fps motor drive, built-in Wi Fi, in-camera HDR and multiple exposure capability and a vari-angle touch screen LCD).

Having a tilt and swivel LCD let's you make photos you could not possibly make if you needed to have your eye to the viewfinder. Here I shoved the 70D under some ice and tilted the LCD so I could see to make the composition.

Having a tilt and swivel LCD lets you make photos you couldn’t make if you needed to have your eye to the viewfinder. Here I shoved the 70D under some ice and tilted the LCD so I could see to make this composition.

OK… So Cut to the Chase… Does the New Live View Autofocus System Work?

In a word – YES!

And we found this new live view autofocus to be a game changer for dSLR photography and video.

For still photography, live view is awesome because you see 100% of the scene, viewing your photo on a beautiful 3 inch LCD. Seeing a bigger photo allows you judge your composition better than when looking through a tiny viewfinder. In the past, with dSLR’s, live view AF was sluggish at best and most often restricted to the AF area of the sensor. For us, we always used manual focus in live view because we were so much faster and more accurate than the camera was with live view focusing. The 70D changes all that. Now we can get fast focus in live view especially when using FlexiZone Single focus point. We simply touch the LCD screen and the camera will focus the scene at that point (you can also set the camera to trip the shutter once you touch the LCD as well). Or, you can use the Multi-controller dial to move the focus point around the LCD.

In this shot we used FlexiZone Single Point autofocus in Live View to focus on the front prayer flags. with a quick touch of the LCD (or by moving the Multi-controller) we could quickly get the rear prayer flags in focus almost instantaneously.

In this shot I used FlexiZone Single Point AF in Live View to focus on the front prayer flags. With a quick touch of the LCD (or by moving the Multi-controller) we could quickly get the rear prayer flags in focus almost instantaneously.

In the beginning, I almost always used the Multi-controller on the back of the camera to move the focus point around on the LCD. But the more I played with the touch screen, the more I liked how fast and easy that approach was for getting fast focus. Of course, I just assumed that for winter photography, the touch focus would not work with gloves on. But I was surprised to find it works perfectly well as long as you are just using thin liner gloves when touching the screen. I am now a touch screen convert!

For this photo I had gloves on and touched the LCD to get single point focus on the tree.

For this photo I had gloves on and touched the LCD to get single point focus on the tree.

The other live view focus mode that we love with the 70D is the Face Detection + Tracking AF. In this mode the camera recognizes a face and locks focus on the face no matter where the face is in the frame (well, nothing’s perfect: the tracking breaks down if the face is very small and at the far edges of the frame). If the face is moving in the fame, the tracking feature keeps the face in focus. With images without faces you can use tracking AF and touch the LCD where you want focus and then if you recompose the camera the selected part of the scene will stay in focus. Or if the part of the scene you focused on moves (e.g. a piece of wind-blowing ice) then tracking will keep the moving subject in focus.

Face Detection AF in live view even recognized the side view of a human face and locked focus perfectly.

Face Detection AF in live view even recognized the side view of a human face and locked focus perfectly.

I tried Face Detection AF on wildlife with my Sigma 100-400mm lens and the AF kept track of the sheep's face even as the sheep moved it head in the scene!

I tried Face Detection AF on wildlife with my Sigma 100-400mm lens and the AF kept track of the sheep’s face even as the sheep moved its head in the scene!

Face Detection AF even worked on dogs and it perfectly focused on Brando's smiling mug in this photo.

Face Detection AF even worked on dogs and it perfectly focused on Brando’s smiling mug in this photo.

One of the disappointments of the Dual Pixel AF system we found was when the camera was in tracking AF and the motor drive was set to continuous (high or low). With these settings the LCD went black after the first shot was taken. The moving subject was rendered perfectly sharp as it moved towards the camera but live view shut down and we could not see the subject or the composition! The good news is you can return to  viewfinder AF and use servo follow focus and continuous motor drive to make action images of moving subjects (and it works pretty darn good!).

In live view using Face Detection + Tracking AF, the camera did and amazing job tracking focus of fast moving subjects but if the motor drive was set to continuous (high or low), the LCD went black after the first frame was exposed.

In live view using Face Detection + Tracking AF, the camera did an amazing job tracking focus of  a fast moving subject but if the motor drive was set to continuous (high or low), the LCD went black after the first frame was exposed.

Video AF Revolution!

We loved the AF performance in video mode on the Canon 70D!

FlexiZone Single AF worked just as flawlessly in video as it did in still photography letting us place focus almost anywhere in the scene just by touching the LCD (or by using the Multi-controller selector). We especially like the ability to quickly pull focus from a near foreground to a distant background seamlessly.

Also, Face Detection + Tracking AF worked perfectly to keep faces in focus even as the face moved in the scene. We loved using wide aperture prime lenses to keep the face sharp while the background was blurred!

Even with relatively fast moving or erratic subjects the tracking focus in video did a great job. For the first time dSLRs now acted like more like conventional camcorders. So awesome.

The new Dual Pixel AF opens up creative possibilities using wide aperture primes for precise focus with moving subjects but keeping beautiful bokeh backgrounds. Oh yeah!

There is a big caveat with this new Dual Pixel AF and making videos – – if you are using the built-in camera mic or a hot shoe mounted mic, the sound of the lens focusing (even a USM lens) will be heard in the video. Canon has new STM lenses to overcome the focus noise issue but these lenses are optically not that great in our opinion. Instead get your mic off camera and close to the subject where it belongs and the noise from a continuously focusing lens won’t be an issue. Then you can use those sharp, fast lenses you saved your money to buy!

The new Dual Pixel AF is compatible with 103 of 156 Canon EF lenses. I mostly used Sigma AF lenses for all my tests and found no issues whatsoever with AF performance, even when using the Sigma 85mm f1.4 or the Sigma 18-35 f1.8 lens. The camera focused these lenses precisely.

Beyond Autofocus

The Live view autofocus really sold us on the 70D but the camera has every feature we need to do advanced photography – see this link for a complete set of features. Below are some features we really love that make our photography easier and more creative:

  • that awesome tilt and swivel LCD!
  • really good image quality from the sensor
  • low noise that we found acceptable to 6400 ISO
  • auto-bracketing in 2, 3, 5, or 7 frames at up to +/- 3EV for serious HDR photography
  • 7 fps motor drive for action
  • multiple exposure function for cool creativity
Image made using the multiple exposure function

Image made using the multiple exposure function.

What We Didn’t Like

  • no head phone jack for audio
  • really crappy DOF preview button – c’mon Canon fix this problem with your low and mid-range cameras!
  • substandard viewfinder (small and tinny looking) – Nikon’s mid-range cameras’ viewfinders are way better!
  • that nasty problem of blacked out live view when using tracking AF and continuous motor drive
  • battery life suffers significantly in the cold with constant use of live view
  • battery life also suffers significantly with WiFi and GPS enabled
Battery performance is pretty darn good using Live View in temperatures above 0 C

Battery performance is pretty darn good using Live View in temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius.

Conclusion

If you don’t use live view much, don’t plan to use video and really shoot mostly static nature photos then the 70D is probably not a great investment for you – buy a second hand 50D or 60D. The only reason to buy the 70D is to take advantage of the Dual Pixel AF system. We found the new live view AF really useful for our assignment work, for creative work with wide open apertures and fast lenses, and mostly for fantastic AF in video. In the end we bought the camera. Now we just fight over who gets to use it!

Using wide apertures like f1.4 or f2.8 will give lovely out-of-focus backgrounds

Using wide apertures like f1.4 or f2.8 will give lovely out-of-focus backgrounds.

File quality from the sensor is really nice but the better the lens used, the better the file quality!

File quality from the sensor is really nice but the better the lens used, the better the file quality!

Touch screen AF even works with gloves in the winter.

Touch screen AF even works with gloves in the winter.

In-camera Orton Images can be made with the Canon 70D multiple exposure function

In-camera Orton Images can be made with the Canon 70D multiple exposure function

Of course I still use tilt shift lenses with the 70D but with these manual focus lenses all the advantages of Dual Pixel AF are gone!

Of course, I still use tilt shift lenses with the 70D but with these manual focus lenses all the advantages of Dual Pixel AF are gone! Darn.

Prairie sunset with the 70D

Samantha shooting a prairie sunset wishing she was using the 70D – I was hogging it!

Thanks again for letting us test the 70D, McBain’s in Red Deer!

mcbain_fotosource

 

11 January

Real Life Review – The Legendary Nikon 14-24 f2.8 Lens (used on a Canon Body)

Thanks to GTA Lens Rentals for providing this lens for review.

The Legendary Nikon 14- 24 f2.8 lens

The Legendary Nikon 14- 24mm f2.8 lens

©Darwin Wiggett - Nikon and Canon as best friends

©Darwin Wiggett – Nikon and Canon as best friends

The Nikon 14-24mm f2.8, released in late 2007,  is the stuff of legend; it’s considered by almost everyone who has tried it to be sharpest wide angle zoom lens on the planet! Just do a search on the web and all reviews say the same thing, the lens is a freaking anomaly! Once you try it your definition of sharp is forever changed. The lens was such a game changer that many Canon shooters salivated in envy because, frankly, all of Canon’s wide angle zoom lenses  suck. Suddenly the market exploded with lens adapters so that Nikon lenses could be mounted on Canon cameras. I personally knew a half a dozen Canon landscape photographers who bought the lens and adapter. The introduction of the Nikon D800 in 2012 also caused shockwaves because of its 36 MP sensor. The file quality on the D800 is also legendary. Combine the D800 with the 14-24mm and you have a combo that makes many other camera and lens combos look like a Holga. At this point all my Canon landscape buddies with the 14-24mm lenses just switched to Nikon.

©Darwin Wiggett - Nikon 14 - 24mm lens on a Canon EOS-1ds Mark III

©Darwin Wiggett – Nikon 14-24mm lens on a Canon EOS-1ds Mark III

Why didn’t I make the same move as my buddies? Easy, I’m addicted to my Canon tilt-shift lenses for landscape photography. The creative advantages of tilt-shift lenses over a wide angle zoom are many including the ability to tilt the plane of focus, to shift for perspective control and to shift to make panoramic photos and mega-pixel stitches. Nikon’s tilt-shift lenses are not as versatile as Canon’s because Nikon does not not make the tilt and shift rotate independently like Canon does. Independent rotation of tilt and shift are critical for full creative potential of these lenses. As well Canon’s live view is better than Nikon’s (works in lower light and, displays the view at the widest aperture no matter what aperture you choose). Plus I find that I’m not a big fan of super wide lens (wider than 20mm) because the distortion just looks too gimmicky. A focal length of 24mm for me is the perfect wide angle: wide but still ‘real’ looking. And finally, with my Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens I can use my filter system and all the advantages that  filters offer me. It’s hard to filter that bulging front element of the Nikon 14-24mm lens and I know many photographers who have spent a fortune buying giant filter systems and contraptions to put filters on the 14-24mm lens; in the end most give up.

©Darwin Wiggett - My favorite landscape lens combo; the Canon 24mm TS-E with a Cokin Z-Pro filter holder, a polarizer and a grad filter.

©Darwin Wiggett – My favorite landscape lens combo: the Canon 24mm TS-E with a Cokin Z-Pro filter holder, a polarizer and a grad filter. Tilt to match plane of focus to subject plane and shift to correct keystone effects in the trees in the background.

So I’m happy with my camera and lens choice and out of the blue GTA Lens Rentals gives me a call asking if I want to try the Nikon 14-24mm lens with a Novoflex lens adapter for my Canon. Well gee, let me think. I get to play with a legendary lens and have an excuse to go and take photos. Well… let me think about it 😉

I’ll cut to the chase. The results were as good as all the hype suggests. This lens is freaky sharp. It’s as sharp as my beloved 24mm TS-E and as sharp as the 17mm TS-E. But with the Nikon you have focal lengths from 14 to 24mm with every single focal length on the lens razor sharp! After you use this lens you’ll see just how poor your regular zoom lenses really perform.

©Darwin Wiggett - the lens at14mm

©Darwin Wiggett – the lens at 14mm

©Darwin Wiggett - the lens at 24mm

©Darwin Wiggett – the lens at 24mm

Using the Nikon lens on a Canon body requires you focus manually with the Novaflex adapter set to move the aperture to wide open. I always used live view magnified to 5x for precise focus. After getting focus  I moved the adapter to stop down the lens (I usually set it in the middle of the range to give me something near f8, but you really never know what aperture you’re actually shooting at). I can see why my Canon buddies just went out and bought a D800 so that the workflow was much easier than using a lens adapter.

©Darwin Wiggett - The thumb control on the Novaflex adapter (blue) to control aperture. Works well but in cold weather is a literally a pain!

©Darwin Wiggett – The thumb control on the Novoflex adapter (blue) to control aperture. Works well but in cold weather is literally a pain!

So is a Nikon 14-24mm lens in my future? Not at all. The lens just does not fit my creative vision. I’m not a super wide angle dude. The creative advantages of tilt shift lenses are too alluring for me and I still love using filters. But for anyone curious about the 14-24mm and wants to see if it might be a tool for your creative vision I highly recommend a one week rental from GTA Lens Rentals . In fact, I think before buying any lens, rent it first; nothing worse than laying down big bucks for a lens that just doesn’t work for your style of photography.

©Darwin Wiggett - love it or hate it, keystoning is extreme at such a wide angle focal length!

©Darwin Wiggett – love it or hate it, keystoning is extreme at such a wide angle focal length!

©Darwin Wiggett - shot at 14mm to see what happens to the horizon

©Darwin Wiggett – shot at 14mm showing classic wide angle distortion 

5 December

Real Life Review – Are Hitech Filters Any Good?

If you would have asked me 2 years ago which filter bands to buy, I might have recommended Formatt Hitech. I thought they were good. I owned a full set. They were neutral and the quality met my tolerance level. And I was a fan.

But that didn’t last because every Hitech filter I had purchased since over the course of 2011 and 2012 had a very strong colour cast. It was a level of frustration that made them unusable in my opinion and I eventually tossed in the towel and replaced Hitech with a different brand.

With a bit of self doubt and convinced I might have been missing something or possibly wrong, I kept this half written review as a draft for the past year. However, I have noticed many photographers I respect now promoting them in a positive light. Have they improved? Was I wrong? Or could there be marketing dollars at work?

Did Hitech change their filter manufacturing process?

I own 10 Hitech filters that are a mix of graduated and solid neutral density filters. Both 85mm (cokin-p) and 4×5 (cokin-z) in size. Here is a brief purchase history that will explain how I was but can no longer be a fan.

May – June 2010: I bought my first set of 85mm Hitech filters. I had no issues with them and I was very willingly recommending them as alternatives to the more expensive brands that my friends were using. They were very acceptable to my tolerance levels for less money.

May – Sept 2011: Started upgrading to the larger Cokin-Z 4×5 Hitech filters and ordered 3. All had very bad magenta colour casts. This was my first big and surprising disappointment.

Sept 2011: I tried twice to get in contact with customer service about the difference between the small and large filters but nobody ever responded. I concluded that the larger filters were simply not as good as the smaller ones.

However, after a tumble on some ice and breaking one of my 85mm…

Apr 2012: I ordered a replacement 85mm for the one I broke. Same store, same part number, but very different. This new 85mm showed the same problems.

After purchasing 4 Hitech filters in a row that I would consider not very usable, I officially gave up and switched to a different brand. The photo below illustrates my frustration. These two filters are the same part number but visually different and much worse in real world use.

Why?

Hitech Filter Colour Cast

Two Formatt Hitech 85mm filters showing a strong magenta colour cast. Both of these filter are the same 2 stop soft graduated neutral density filter purchased 2 years apart. Why are they so different?

My Question to You

So I want to ask: has anyone purchased Hitech filters in the past 12 months? Are they any better? It has been annoying looking at my expensive set of filters I can’t use but then also reading positive praise for them online and in magazines. It leaves you scratching your head in disbelief.

I’m confused and customer service has still yet to respond after another attempt again this past month. Filters have a limited use in my workflow and I prefer not to use them. But when I want them, I need them, and therefor continue to carry them everywhere. For something used on select conditions, it’s frustrating to know how much money I have spent on unused filters.

I think it’s important to mention that this is anything but a controlled technical review. It’s simply an observation and an opinion. I am not sponsored by any brand but it’s no secret that oopoomoo has an eBook all about filters. After reading our eBook on possibilities, the next question is often, what brands.

Real World Use

The above observation is all well and good but means nothing without examples. In the following set of images, you’ll see that the longer the exposure, the stronger the colour. I suppose on a positive note, in certain conditions, it might add a nice colour to sunsets.

And although much of the colour cast in solid neutral density filters can be corrected with white balance – that becomes much more difficult with graduated neutral density filters.

Ok, a few examples. For these examples, I’m using the 4×5 filters in a cokin-z holder.

Lee vs Hitech 2-stop hard-edge

The difference may not be very big in this example but the blues are darker and the yellows are a muddy and blocked up orange.

2-stop hard-edge Hitech

3-stop Lee neutral density filter + 2-stop hard-edge Hitech graduated neutral density filter

2-stop hard-edge Lee

3-stop Lee neutral density filter + 2-stop hard-edge Lee graduated neutral density filter

Lee vs Hitech 3-stop soft-edge

I mentioned earlier that the longer the exposure, the more noticeable. Stepping up to 3 stops and the Lee filter does a very good job of maintaining the colour from the example above. It’s a different story with Hitech as it falls further towards magenta.

3-stop soft-edge Lee

3-stop Lee neutral density filter + 3-stop soft-edge Lee graduated neutral density filter

3-stop soft-edge Hitech

3-stop Lee neutral density filter + 3-stop soft-edge Hitech graduated neutral density filter

Lee vs Hitech 3-stop soft-edge with Hitech 4-stop ND

If I add a 4-stop solid Hitech ND filter to the mix, the colour goes out to lunch. The Lee+Hitech maintains a bit of the blues but the Hitech+Hitech is more purple.

3-stop soft-edge Hitech

4-stop Hitech neutral density filter + 3-stop soft-edge Hitech graduated neutral density filter

3-stop soft-edge Lee

4-stop Hitech neutral density filter + 3-stop soft-edge Lee graduated neutral density filter

Lee vs Hitech 3-stop soft-edge

And finally, here is an example of stacking two grad filters. Again, no surprise. The Hitech shows an increase of magenta.

3-stop soft-edge Lee filter

2-stop Lee soft-edge neutral density filter + 3-stop soft-edge Lee graduated neutral density filter

3-stop soft edge Hitech filter

2-stop Lee soft-edge neutral density filter + 3-stop soft-edge Hitech graduated neutral density filter

Conclusion

Do I have a conclusion? Maybe. If anything, it’s frustration. While the colour cast is most noticeable during certain lighting conditions at longer shutter speeds, some may actually prefer the added colours. Personally, it’s much easier to add than remove and it’s more troublesome than useful. Add the zero response from customer service to help explain the inconsistencies, has forced me to abandon Hitech as a preferred brand.

15 November

Real Life Review – The Rokinon 24mm f3.5 Tilt Shift Lens – A Budget Lens with Big Performance?

Anyone who follows our work knows that Sam and I are crazy for the creative advantages of Tilt Shift lenses for our nature and landscape photography. We are not crazy for the price we have to pay for these specialty lenses though. The Nikon 24mm lens sells for $2200 while the Canon 24mm lens sells for about $2400. Ouch!

Enter the Rokinon/Samyang lens squeezing in at under $900 (street value) and we have a serious alternative to consider. But do you get what you pay for? Is the Rokinon a lesser version of the Nikon and Canon both of which are top drawer lenses in terms of quality? I took the Rokinon out for an oopoomoo Real Life Review during a 4-day trip to the Canadian Rockies. Read below to find out my thoughts on this lens.

The Rokinon 24mm Tilt shift lens - Great value but at what cost?

The Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens – great value but at what cost?

Initial Impressions
Taking the lens out of the box, I really was surprised by how light and ‘plastic-y’ the lens felt. I am used to the heavy and robust Canon Tilt Shift 24mm f3.5 L II lens which is built like a tank. The Rokinon felt like a plastic toy in comparison.  I was also not impressed by the small tilt and shift knobs. I find the Canon knobs too small and the Rokinon knobs were much smaller than Canon’s! Not great for a working photographer from cold Canada where gloves are survival tools not shooting accessories! The version of the lens I received had small, grey post-like controls for tilt and shift and locking of these movements. Apparently newer versions of the lens have larger knobs (as shown above).

The one thing that did impress me a lot was the fact that the Rokinon lens has independent tilt and shift rotation which is totally cool. The Canon 17 and 24mm tilt shift (version II) lenses also have independent rotation of tilt and shift and I can’t stress enough how much I love and use that feature. The major drawback of Nikon’s suite of tilt shift lenses (and Canon’s older tilt shift lenses) is that the shift and tilt rotation are fixed to one another and this limits the creative effects you can do with these lenses.  Kudos to Rokinon for adding this much needed feature to their budget priced lens. Also kudos to Rokinon for making a lens with a big image circle that has the same degree of tilt and shift capabilities as the Canon 24mm tilt shift lens. Awesome!

©Darwin Wiggett - Here I used tilt to bring the entire subject plane into focus and shift to make a megapixel square image. In this case the shift and tilt on the Rokinon were in the same orientation.

©Darwin Wiggett – Here I used tilt to bring the entire subject plane into focus and shift to make a megapixel square image. In this case the shift and tilt on the Rokinon were in the same orientation.

In the Field with the Rokinon
One of the reasons the Rokinon is a less expensive lens than either the Canon or Nikon tilt shift lenses is that it has a manual aperture ring that is not coupled electronically with the camera body. What this means in practice is that you need to open the lens to f3.5 to do precise focus and tilt movements and then stop the aperture down to the shooting aperture you desire. With a Canon camera and a Canon tilt shift lens, you can set your aperture in advance to whatever aperture you desire. The camera viewfinder or Live View always shows you the view at widest aperture number (e.g. f3.5) making precise focus easy. Simply get focus and shoot no matter what aperture you choose to use in the end. With the Rokinon the process is two step: focus and tilt at f3.5 and then stop down to your shooting aperture and adjust your shutter speed in manual to get proper exposure.

I didn’t mind the extra step in workflow, but what I did mind was the design of the aperture ring right up against the focus ring. Often when I turned the aperture ring to the aperture I wanted to use (mostly f8), I accidentally also moved the focus ring! Drove me crazy! You have to be really careful when turning the aperture ring or else you will nudge the focus and ruin your precisely tilted and focused image.

The aperture ring on the Rokinon is thin and butted up against the focus ring. Even if you have small fingers chances are good you might nudge focus when adjusting aperture.

The aperture ring on the Rokinon is thin and butted up against the focus ring. Even if you have small fingers chances are good you might nudge focus when adjusting aperture.

But is it Sharp?
I can live with a slightly slower workflow, and having to be extra careful with the aperture and focus ring… but if the lens is not sharp what’s the point? OK , so what the verdict?

Well.. the Rokinon is definitely as sharp or sharper than the older Canon 24mm TS-E version I plus it has independent tilt and shift rotation and a bigger image circle and more degrees of tilt and shift. A used Canon 24mm TS-E version I costs about $900. For the same price you could have the Rokinon new and gain many creative advantages over the older Canon Tilt Shift lens. A no-brainer for sure!

If you own a Canon 17-40 f4 or a Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom lens, the Rokinon easily matches or surpasses the sharpness of these lenses especially when tilt is used to bring the entire subject plane into focus and an aperture of f8 to f11 is used for the shooting aperture. For me, as a landscape photographer, if I had to make a choice between either of the two wide angle Canon zooms or the Rokinon, I would take the Rokinon any day of the week (it’s just as sharp or sharper when stopped down but with all the creative advantages of a tilt shift lens). Canon’s two wide zooms are disappointing performers in my opinion especially for the price paid – but that is another story!

©Darwin Wiggett - shot with the Rokinon 24mm Tilt Shift lens at f8

©Darwin Wiggett – shot with the Rokinon 24mm Tilt Shift lens at f8

Sharpness in the foreground of the photo above - tilted to match subject plane and aperture of f8

Sharpness in the foreground of the photo above – tilted to get focus in the subject plane and shot at an aperture of f8

Sharpness in the background of the image above - tilted to match the subject plane at f8. these kinds of results can not be achieved with a wide angle zoom without focus stacking.

Sharpness in the background of the image above – tilted to match focus in the subject plane at f8. These kinds of results cannot be achieved with a wide angle zoom without focus stacking.

But can the Rokinon compare with the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L II? In a word — no. The Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L II is my gold standard for sharpness in lenses. This lens continually amazes me with its sharpness throughout the aperture range; I rate the Canon lens as a 9.5 out of 10 in terms of sharpness and optical performance. The Rokinon is good but I would rate it as an 8 when used correctly and only when stopped down to f8 or f11. Check out the comparison shots below to see what I mean.

My nature lens chart for testing sharpness

My lens chart for testing sharpness 

Centre sharpness of the Rokinon (topt) and the Canon 24 mm tilt shift lens (bottom) at an aperture of f3.5. The Canon is harper; the Rokinon has a warmer colour cast

Centre sharpness of the Rokinon (topt) and the Canon 24 mm tilt shift lens (bottom) at an aperture of f3.5. The Canon is harper; the Rokinon has a warmer colour cast

Edge sharpness at f3.5 with the Rokinon (top) and the Canon (bottom) - a definite difference here!

Edge sharpness at f3.5 with the Rokinon (top) and the Canon (bottom) – a definite difference here!

At f8 the Rokinon (top) approaches the centre sharpness of the Canon lens (bottom) but the Canon lens still is slightly.

At f8 the Rokinon (top) approaches the centre sharpness of the Canon lens (bottom) but the Canon lens still is slightly sharper.

At f8 the Rokinon, the edge sharpness (top) improves drastically coming close to but not matching the Canon's edge sharpness at the same aperture (bottom).

At f8 the Rokinon, the edge sharpness (top) improves drastically coming close to but not matching the Canon’s edge sharpness at the same aperture (bottom).

Everything is relative. If you are used to and happy with the sharpness of the Canon 24-105mm f4L or the 16-35mm f2.8L then you will be thrilled with the sharpness of the Rokinon especially when stopped down to f8 or f11. At wider apertures the Rokinon is not too impressive in terms of sharpness especially at the edges of the frame.

I have been spoiled with a really great lens in the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L  which is tack at all apertures and from edge to edge. It’s hard for me to go to a lesser quality lens once you see just how sharp a great lens can be! the Rokinon is good but it just is not in the same league as the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5 L II lens!

©Darwin Wiggett - Lower Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens

©Darwin Wiggett – Lower Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens at f8 – sharper than many wide angle zooms but not as sharp as the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L II lens

Conclusion
The Rokinon is great value in a lens. You get all the benefits of tilt and shift in an affordable lens that is as sharp or sharper (when used at f8 to f11) than most lenses that photographers use already. You have to put up with stopped down metering but this is not a deal breaker for an already manual lens workflow. If you are on a budget and want to get into the advantages of tilt and shift for landscape photography, then I recommend the Rokinon.

If you are planning to use a tilt shift lens as your prime dedicated landscape lens then I would recommend you save your pennies for the Canon 24mm f3.5L II lens simply because it is sharper and better built than the Rokinon. You get what you pay for with the Canon lens! I am not sure how well the Rokinon will hold up in hard constant use. The Canon lens has proven to be tough in my constant use of it in harsh environmental conditions. I would spend money on lenses over an upgrade to a camera body

If you own a Nikon camera, you have a conundrum: should you buy the Nikon 24 mm tilt shift lens and have slightly sharper images and better build than the Rokinon or invest in the Rokinon because it has independent rotation of tilt and shift which I think  is critical for landscape photography? Hmmm … a tough one to call for a Nikon shooter!

The good news is you can find used Rokinon tilt shift lenses out there for under $500 so you can dip your toes in tilt shift photography for relatively little cash giving you time to save up for the big name lenses if you decide you like tilt shift photography. Or maybe that Rokinon will meet all your needs. Like I said I have been spoiled by an exceptional lens in the Canon 24mm TS-E

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About our reviews:

We don’t get paid, get kickbacks, affiliate fees or have any personal benefit to do reviews on camera and lenses. We do it only for the benefit of our audience and to try out gear for ourselves. If you like our reviews and want to see more in the future then consider buying one of our eBooks to help support the site. To learn more about tilt shift photography sure to see our article Seven Advantages of Tilt Shift Lenses.

Thanks to Amplis Foto for lending us the Rokinon lens for testing.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rokinon 24mm lens at  f16 - shifted for panorama stitch.

©Darwin Wiggett – Rokinon 24mm lens at f16 – shifted for panorama stitch.

©Darwin Wiggett - A vertical panoram using the Rokinon 24mm lens at Mistaya Canyon in Banff National Park

©Darwin Wiggett – A vertical panorama using the Rokinon 24mm lens at Mistaya Canyon in Banff National Park.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rampart Ponds with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lean at f8 (tilted to focus the subject plane)

©Darwin Wiggett – Rampart Ponds with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lean at f8 (tilted to focus the subject plane) 

©Darwin Wiggett - Mistaya River in Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens at f8 with shift and tilt.

©Darwin Wiggett – Mistaya River in Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens at f8 with shift and tilt.

©Darwin Wiggett - Wilcox Pass, Jasper National PArk with the Rokinon tilt shift lens at f8 using tilt to focus the subject plane.

©Darwin Wiggett – Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park with the Rokinon tilt shift lens at f8 using tilt to focus the subject plane. 

©Darwin Wiggett - Creative effects using tilt with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens.

©Darwin Wiggett – Creative effects using tilt with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens.

 

23 October

Real Life Review – Rokinon 85mm f1.4 Lens – A fast prime for under $350?

Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f1.4 Lens - photo courtesy of B+H Photo Video

Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f1.4 Lens –  available mounts for Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony and Pentax.

Here at oopoomoo we believe the best way to test a lens is to actually use it in the field to see what is does in real life. So I took along a Rokinon (Samyang) 85mm f1.4 mm lens on this year’s Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies workshop and below I share my results and a few observations on this budget 85mm lens.

Why an 85mm f1.4 Lens?

A fast 85mm is a favorite for portrait and wedding photographers because the 85mm focal length is flattering to the human face and the fast f1.4 aperture is great in low light and gives a wonderful dreamy out-of-focus background. I wanted to use the 85mm for landscape shooting on the fall workshop. Why? First off, the 85mm focal length is great for intimate and extractive landscapes. The angle-of-view is perfect for eliminating busy surroundings and pulling in just the right amount of detail so that the landscape looks natural without looking compressed and artificial. We think of the 85mm focal length as a perfect story-telling lens. Combine that with a full range of apertures from f1.4 to f22 and you have a lens capable of a wide variety of depth-of-field effects from ultra thin slices of focus at f1.4 to large areas sharply rendered at f16 and f22.

©Darwin Wiggett - Old Car in Banff NP - Rokinon 85mm lens at f1.4 for a thin slice of focus

©Darwin Wiggett – Old Car in Banff National Park – Rokinon 85mm lens at f1.4 for a thin slice of focus.

©Darwin Wiggett - Two Jack Lake detail, Banff NP, Rokinon 85mm lens at f16 for a large slice of focus.

©Darwin Wiggett – Two Jack Lake detail, Banff National Park, Rokinon 85mm lens at f16 for a large slice of focus.

What’s with the Price?

The Rokinon 85mm f1.4 can usually be picked up for less than $350 new. In comparison 85mm f1.4 lenses from other camera and lens manufacturers range in price from $900 to over $1600! Why the difference? Simple. Rokinon simply left off the autofocus motor and circuitry. As well, the lens uses an old fashioned aperture ring that manually stops the lens down as your turn the aperture ring. What that means is that you are back using manual focus and doing something called stop-down metering. Put your camera on aperture priority and turn the aperture ring on the Rokinon and your camera will figure out the correct shutter speed. As you dial the aperture ring from 1.4 to other apertures, the lens stops down the aperture and so your viewfinder will go dark and your depth-of-field will increase. To use this lens you need to first set it at an aperture of f1.4 for precise focus and then dial in the aperture number you want to use for depth-of-field effects. Regular 85mm lenses not only autofocus, they always show you the view wide open at f1.4 no matter what aperture you have chosen. Only when you press the shutter button does the aperture you have picked engage. So… in practice the Rokinon requires a 3-step workflow. First set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and set the lens to f1.4 on its aperture ring. Then you manually focus the lens (either looking through the viewfinder or by using live view) while the aperture is at f1.4. Finally, if you want to use a different aperture than f1.4, turn the aperture ring on the lens to that aperture and then take the photo (the viewfinder will darken if you use anything other than f1.4). If you are in Aperture Priority mode, the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed. If you are in manual mode you will have to adjust your camera shutter speed dial to get the right exposure.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rokinon 85mm lens at f16 with a Gold-n-Blue Polarizer

©Darwin Wiggett – Rokinon 85mm lens at f16 with a Gold-n-Blue Polarizer.

Compromises for Price?

The price is a bargain but you lose autofocus and automatic exposure control. Can you live without these features? It depends. If I were a portrait photographer I would want the fast working of autofocus and automatic exposure control. For landscape photography neither is important and in fact the slower workflow was beneficial in making me carefully consider my compositions.

Was there as price to pay in sharpness? For me there wasn’t. The lens was not as sharp at f1.4 as my beloved Sigma 85mm f1.4 and there was more chromatic aberration than the Sigma but when you are shooting soft dreamy photos even moderate sharpness looks really sharp in contrast to all that sharpness (see photo below). The lens gets pretty darn good at f2.0 and is tack from f4 to f11. The lens suffers from diffraction and a loss of sharpness at f16 but is still very usable. I don’t recommend f22 because of loss of sharpness due to diffraction but then again I do not recommend f22 for any lens no matter what the brand! Bokeh (the quality of the out-of-focus areas) was dreamy and creamy at f1.4 through f2.8 but there was some fringing of high contrast edges (correctable in a RAW software converter).

©Darwin Wiggett - dreamy Bokeh with the Rokinon 85mm at f1.4

©Darwin Wiggett – dreamy Bokeh with the Rokinon 85mm at f1.4.

©Darwin Wiggett - Very sharp images from f4 to f11, here shot at f8

©Darwin Wiggett – Very sharp images from f4 to f11, here shot at f8.

Conclusion

Negatives

  • no autofocus
  • no automatic exposure (stop down metering only)
  • not good for action photography
  • 1/2 stop clicks between apertures on the aperture dial but only a full stop click between f1.4 and f2.0 and f16 and f22
  • bokeh fringing
  • strong exposure vignetting at edges of frame at f1.4 and f2.0 (but not much worse than other 85mm lenses and most people like the effect to enhance the dreaminess of the photo)
  • lower contrast images when shot wide open
  • does not focus close enough  for my tastes (see images below)

Positives:

  • price, price, price!
  • really nice build quality (felt sturdy and well made)
  • 140 degree focus throw (love the smooth focus ring with a big throw for precision focus – would be great for video)
  • surprisingly good image quality for the price

I had a lot of fun with the lens. The biggest negative for me was that the lens did not focus very close. It would only focus close enough for a head and shoulders portrait. I did add a 12mm extension tube to solve that problem but that means one more piece of gear to bring along. The sharpness was really good given the price and I had no issues with the lens in that regard. I got professionally sharp images. The slight fringing, low contrast and edge vignetting was similar to other 85mm lens and was easily fixed in software. Frankly, I like the effects of all three and mostly left the image uncorrected. For anyone that does photography where the slower workflow is not an issue (landscape or still life), then this lens is a great buy and a wonderful creative tool.

Thanks to Amplis Photo for lending us this lens to review.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rokinon 85mm lens at f16 with Vari-N-Duo filter

©Darwin Wiggett – Rokinon 85mm lens at f16 with Vari-N-Duo filter.

©Darwin Wiggett - Two Jack LAke - Rokinon 85mm lens at f8

©Darwin Wiggett – Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park – Rokinon 85mm lens at f8.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rokinon Lens at f16 with Vari-N-Duo filter

©Darwin Wiggett – Bow Falls, Banff National Park, Rokinon Lens at f16 with Vari-N-Duo filter.

©Darwin Wiggett - Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Rokinon 85mm lens at f1.4.

©Darwin Wiggett – Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Rokinon 85mm lens at f1.4.

Rokinon 85mm lens closest focus, left image. Sigam 85mm f1.4 lens closest focus, right image.

Rokinon 85mm lens closest focus, left image. Sigma 85mm f1.4 lens closest focus, right image.

28 April

The Story Telling Art Lens? (A review of the Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens)

Let’s cut to the chase. Here at oopoomoo we don’t do technical lens or camera reviews. There are many good sources on the web for optical bench test performance and pixel peeps at lenses and cameras. We are interested in lenses and cameras as real world tools to help us express our vision and tell our stories. And so we take gear out in the field and make actual photos and videos. Does the gear help or hinder our creative process? That’s the ultimate question.

Why test a 35mm f1.4 lens?

We prefer prime lenses (fixed focal length lenses) over zooms because primes make us think more about lens perspective and the effect of perspective on story. Zoom lenses make us lazy – to learn more about how to use a zoom lens effectively please see this video. Also primes give us a wider range of apertures than zooms do. And aperture choice  is a huge story-telling camera control! With a prime lens we can achieve a super shallow depth-of-field using apertures like f1.4, f1.8 or f2.0. Zoom lenses very rarely have any of these apertures available. For both photo and video work, having that super thin slice of focus and a sea of bokeh helps us direct the viewer’s attention to specific parts of the scene. Plus the 35mm focal length is perfect for general photography and video, taking in a moderately wide angle of view but without crazy distortion of perspective like we see in wider angle focal lengths. In short, the 35mm focal length is believable; it feels like a lens that documents the world similar to the way we view things. And the 35mm focal length has a long history in photography as the focal length used by journalists and street photographers.

©Darwin Wiggett - Maligne River at f1.4 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Maligne River at f1.4 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - Maligne River at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Maligne River at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

Why the Sigma 35mm f1.4?

Sam shoots Nikon, I shoot Canon so if a 35mm prime is so awesome as a creative tool why are we not reviewing Nikon or Canon lenses? Simple. We like getting the best value possible for our hard earned dollars. We felt the Nikon and Canon 35mm f1.4 lenses were overpriced ($1700 and $1500 respectively). The Sigma 35mm f1.4 checks in at just over $900! And according to numerous technical reviews on the web (e.g. here and here) the optical performance of the Sigma lens is better than the Nikon and Canon equivalents. Wow! What is not to like? So… before we buy anything we test it, to see if it works with our creative process.

©Darwin Wiggett - Brando at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Brando at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - Climber at f4.0 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Climber at f4.0 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

What we liked!

After playing with the lens in the field for a week we found it to be a wonderful tool that was easy to use and that delivered exceptional results. Here is a list of things we really liked:

  • fast, accurate and silent auto-focus
  • wonderfully large manual focus ring (we use manual focus a lot and a big ring is essential for good video work)
  • close focus ability for nice tight portraits, intimate landscapes or close ups (focuses down to 28cm)
  • really sharp lens especially at the centre even when shot wide open at f1.4 (many lenses suck at their widest apertures, this one does not)
  • edge sharpness is really good and is surprisingly good from f2 and up
  • awesome to use in backlight because the lens has very little flare
  • nice bokeh with very little fringing in high contrast areas
  • we like that the largest number on the aperture ring is f16; anything larger creates diffraction making for poor quality images (Sigma takes away that option and leaves you with the usable large depth of field aperture choice of f16)
  • build quality seems high and it balances well on the camera
  • price is much more palatable than other brands
  • the range of apertures makes for creative story telling
  • available for Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony and Sigma cameras

What we did not like!

  • this is a huge lens that seems more like a short telephoto than a wide angle lens (this is the biggest and heaviest 35mm f1.4 out there!)
  • there is no weather sealing so if you shoot in damp, humid conditions or dusty there may be a problem with moisture or grit getting into the lens (although we shot with it for three days in snow and rain without any issue)
  • we have to buy two of these lenses; one for Nikon and one for Canon!

Overall we think the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM lens is a wonderful tool for a great price especially if you see yourself wanting a moderate wide angle prime for the flexibility in aperture choice or if you plan to shoot serious video work. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is an oopoomoo recommended tool for artful story telling!

©Darwin Wiggett -  Columbia Icefields at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett –
Columbia Icefields at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - Abraham Lake at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Abraham Lake at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Darwin at an 'Iris' gallery 0pening at f3.2 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Darwin at an ‘Iris’ gallery 0pening at f3.2 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - What stories will you tell?

©Darwin Wiggett – What stories will you tell? (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens at f4.0)

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