25 April, 2015

More Batis

Decatur Street, New Orleans, Louisiana [click to enlarge]

The Zeiss people are not ones to pass up an opportunity. That's why we have the Touit and Loxia lines. It looks to me, however, that they did these lens lines to address niche opportunities.

That was then, this is now.

It also looks to me like Zeiss recognises that the full-frame, E-mount system is gaining a professional (and cashed-up enthusiast) following that needs to be addressed. (An example is Jason Lanier, who has 10 reasons that he explains in his video, below.)

The E-mount, however, has special needs. There are a few technical issues that we won't explore here, but the most obvious E-mount requirement is smaller sizes — sizes appropriate to the A7 series cameras.

The Otus line works for Nikon and Canon because size isn't that important there. Everything is big; and it might be that caonikon owners like it that way — proof that they're serious? The E-mount system, however, is designed to keep sizes down.

If we look at the Batis 85mm, it's going to be f/1.8. In the canikon world there are many who would expect an 85mm f/1.4 or even 1.2. Hence the Otus 85mm f/1.4. The Batis is big, but not huge.

I think the new tag lines from Zeiss gives their views away:
"The new Batis lenses from ZEISS: The moment mirrorless photography matches your aspiration."
Seemingly our aspirations weren't being met until now. And,
And, where Zeiss goes, can Sigma be far behind? Sigma has already signalled that it will be doing some full-frame E-mounts. It will be interesting to see if they go head-to-head with Sony and Zeiss, or provide a high quality but slightly slower and less expensive line, as they did with their APS-C, E-mount lenses.

Here's Jason Lanier's 24 minute video on his 10 reasons for switching to Sony E-Mount:

23 April, 2015

Zeiss to the rescue

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Point Lonsdale, Victoria [click to enlarge]

The 85mm gap in the Sony FE lens lineup is set to be filled by Zeiss with the Batis 85mm f/1.8. This will be another Sonnar — a stepbrother to the 55mm f/1.8. There's no reason for it not to have all the same Zeiss qualities. Fingers crossed.

I was quite surprised to see that the Batis 85mm will be stabilised — unusual for an all-Zeiss prime. And there's an added touch of an on-lens OLED display that will provide depth-of-field information. Very cool.

I was kinda hoping for an 85mm Loxia; but at 85mm this will be a portrait lens, and I must admit that Sony's eye-focus feature (only possible on autofocus lenses) is a serious portrait benefit.

There will also be a Batis 25mm f/2.0 Distagon. I'm not usually a wide shooter, so that's less attractive to me.

Here's the Zeiss teaser video on YouTube:

22 April, 2015

Shifting gear

Voigtlander 15mm - Holden (General Motors) EFIJY Showcar [click to enlarge]

Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car, is showing at the National Gallery of Victoria.

I used to find Formula 1 racing interesting. And when I saw the Brabham car (shown below) I remembered why. In this car (the Brabham BT19) Jack Brabham won the World Championship in 1966.

Voigtlander 15mm - Brabham Formula 1 [click to enlarge]

20 April, 2015

Wet markets

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - The Bookseller, Camberwell, Victoria [click to enlarge]

On the weekend I was at the Camberwell Markets in Melbourne, Victoria. The used bookseller there had the best selection I've seen in a long time. Just about every volume was something I would have been pleased to have on my own bookshelf — no junk.

The rains came and the all the sellers retreated under their umbrellas and plastic sheets. It was, however, surprisingly bright, so I was able to get in some shots.

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Sellers in the hatch and under plastic [click to enlarge]

11 April, 2015

I haven't got that kind of time.

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Eumundi Markets, Eumundi Queensland [click to enlarge]

I see discussions about exercises that are intended to focus a photographer's attention, to bring some direction to his or her endeavours. For some it's to force themselves to slow down by moving to film, or to limit themselves to black & white in order to think in black & white, or by doing "one-camera-one-lens-one-year" (OCOLOY).

It's not for me to tell anyone else how to do their photography. But, I'm an old guy and I'm still learning. I haven't got that kind of time.

If opportunities for colour, or black & white, or wide angle, or telephoto arise, I want to exploit them. I'm not going to make paperweights out of a subset of my lenses. Slow down? I'm way too slow already.

The clock is ticking, so the situation is sobering: I can't learn from what I'm not doing, and opportunities passed are opportunities lost. So my own recipe is simple (but not easy):
  • Less planning, more doing;
  • don't narrow what I see, expand; and
  • if I have tools, use 'em.

07 April, 2015

Why 15mm, and why this 15mm (the Voigtlander f/4.5 III)?

Voigtlander 15mm - The recreated Margaret Olley House, Murwillumbah, New South Wales [click to enlarge]

Why 15mm?

I need a good reason to go to 35mm, so I need a really good reason to go ultra wide; and the Voigtlander Heliar 15mm (version III) is definitely an ultra wide.

For me, 15mm is about the limit of useful rectilinear lenses — lenses that limit the pincushion and barrel distortion, but at the expense of size distortion at the edges and particularly in the corners. That is, elements at the edges are rendered large and distorted. (The lower-left corner, above, is a good example.)

The image above is at 15mm, but was slightly trimmed by some lens correction done in Lightroom. (There's no automatic Lightroom lens profile for the 15mm "III" version yet.) Occasionally the corrections can cause the loss of a bit of real estate.

A fisheye lens, on the other hand, prevents the size distortion, but allows barrel distortion that corresponds to the field of view — the wider, then the more circular. I don't have a fisheye lens, so I don't have an example of my own for you.

About these images

Margaret Olley was an Australian Painter (1923-2011).  She was born in northern New South Wales, grew up in Brisbane, but moved to Sydney in the '60s. Her house in Sydney has been recreated in the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, New South Wales. Her house/studio was called the "Hat Factory" because of its earlier use. It seems cluttered, and it was, due in part to Olley's practice of moving her furniture pieces closer together as her mobility declined — allowing her to use them for stability. (Both pictures were shot at ISO 3200, f/4.5 and 1/20 of a second. Also, I've brightened them more than they appear in real life.)

Why the Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III?

This is an m-mount lens, but it works beautifully on the Sony A7 series cameras (for which it was also designed) with a adaptor. I use the Metabones M-to-E adaptor, keeping it permanently on the lens. (Sadly, I suppose, the 15mm is my only m-mount lens.)

It seems to be quite sharp, and the contrast is good, but I haven't been printing from it just yet. Watch for an update.

This is an all-metal lens with a great manual focus ring. You just don't need it much. When I do it's to zone focus. Using the electronic viewfinder to focus is a waste of time, as everything is already in focus. The viewfinder is perfect, however, for composition.

The aperture ring has nice crisp, half-stop clicks. I'm used to thirds, but it's not a problem.

An f/4.5 lens is not fast. But it's a usable stop. Even "wide open" the Voigtlander 15mm affords incredible depth of field. Wide open and set to infinity, everything is in focus from about 2 metres. And, of course, you can back off infinity and still have everything sharp slightly closer in.

The newest "III" version lens is bigger than its Voigtlander predecessors, but is still quite small. It's an easy fit into the bag.

Unlike 35mm film, sensors have more of a problem with light arriving at very acute angles. This has meant that most ultra-wide lenses on mirrorless cameras have been beset by both vignetting and colour casts (magenta) in the corners. The best ways to deal with these has been by using either Adobe's "DNG Flat Field" plug in or using the separate program, "Cornerfix."

Hello Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III, goodbye colour cast. There's still substantial vignetting, but, if there's a cast (I haven't seen it yet), it's too minor to cause me troubles.

Almost paradoxically, for me the ultra-wide lenses have two uses: They are great at squeezing things in; but also for spreading things out. These Olley pictures are of the squeezing in variety. A "spreading out" example is at the foot of the post.

Voigtlander 15mm - The modest Olley kitchen with more paint than pasta.
If I'm going wider than 35mm, then I'm usually going for an effect — and 15mm will give it to me. And, if I need to do some lens correction in post, to keep the verticals vertical for example, then even if the task in Lightroom eats up a bit of the scene, 15mm still gives me a bit of room to work with. (That does require thinking ahead.)

Voigtlander 15mm - An example of spreading things out. Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane
The competition

Wide zooms are popular. I used the 7-14mm f/4 Panasonic with Micro Four-Thirds, and the 10-18mm f/4 on the Sony NEX (that lens also works pretty well on the A7 series from about 14mm). I just found that I was using the zooms only at their widest. And at its widest I was getting a colour cast on the Sony's 10-18mm's corners.

And now there's the Sony/Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4. I haven't used that lens, so I can't comment. But I won't be buying it, as I have a great, and faster 35mm lens as well as the Voigtlander. I just don't work in that middle area.

03 April, 2015

I hate props

Brisbane Markets, Queen Street Mall, Brisbane [click to enlarge]

I hate props in portraits.

Props always direct the attention away from the subject. So my advice is: Don't do that.

If someone is actively engaged in a task (handing the rolls in the picture above, for example), then the rolls aren't a prop. But if that person posed for me and held that same bag of rolls in her hand, then the rolls would be a prop.

There are times when an object isn't a prop, it's a subject (or co-subject). If for example you were photographing a musician, then your message might be, "this is a trumpeter." If that message is as important as your image of the person, then the trumpet goes in.

Done rightly, the environment isn't a prop. But done badly it might be.

In any case, I would need a great reason to direct the attention away from my subject in any portrait.

Are there exceptions? You tell me. Is the piano in Arnold Newman's portrait of Igor Stravinsky (one of my favourite portraits) the environment, a subject, or a prop?

Igor Stravinsky - 1946
Newman was a master of bringing the environment into his portraits. If you have a few moments you should go to ArnoldNewman.com and have a look.