Category : The Learning Center
Welcome to the First Annual Pilgrim’s Picks! Please let me set the ground rules! These are in my opinion some of the top photography products for the year 2014! Key phrase my opinion! Am I qualified to make these choices? that’s for you to decide, but I have been a working professional photographer for 45 years, worked as a Nikon tech rep for 11 years, have studied gear pretty much as hobby for ever, and talk to photographers constantly so I know what lot of other folks think too. Doesn’t hurt that many of the people I talk to are the top shooters out there, so yes, I think I can make these suppositions!! Ah, but am I biased? I don’t think I am, I certainly have preferences, but I believe they’re based on genuine information! So here goes!
First, the Best All Around Digital Single Lens Reflex bodies. Best all around means for general photography not sports action or specialized uses. I feel the new Nikon D810 and the Canon 5D Mark III are a dead even tie! Of course the D810 is the resolution king, but the 5D Mark II is a better all rounder and a great video camera.
Now we move to the new hot category in the industry the High End Mirror-less interchangeable lens camera. I believe the Fuji X-T1 is the current best camera on the market for many reason, and I proved it with my wallet! My choice or second place is the terrific Olympus OM-D1, which I tested for Olympus and was very impressed! In third place is the new Lumix GH4 which is a great camera that does stunning 4K video and has access to a great series of Micro 4/3rd lenses, just like the Olympus too! How about Sony and the slick new A-7 and A-7r? I have some experience with the Sony, and I have a pretty strong opinion about it, it is a great step forward, but I think it needs a couple more things! The jpegs are not nearly as nice as the RAW files from these cameras, if you are a jpeg shooter it’s disappointing. The other issue is the lack of a full lens line at this time, of course eventually, (not sure how eventually), this will be solved. the Sony has great potential and I bet, it may certainly make the 2015 list, maybe!!?? It’s up to you Sony!
In the High End Compact Mirror-less category we have three terrific cameras, In first place is the Fuji X100s, called by Zak Arias, “the best camera I’ve ever owned….” I don’t disagree with him! The Sony RX-1s is a great camera but pretty costly, and the Nikon Coolpix A is a third place finisher, and a great very compact camera.
In the Category of Single Lens Reflex lenses the winners in each category are; (1) the Canon 24-105 f 4 IS lens, (2) Nikon 14-24 f 2.8 AF-S Wide angle zoom is simply the best in the works, many Canon shooters have converted to use on their cameras too! In the telephoto zoom category we have another tie, both the (3) Canon 70-200 f 2.8 IS II and the (4) Nikon 70-200 AF-S VR II f 2.8 are both stellar to say the least!!!!
For me three longer telephoto lenses are standouts, (1) the Nikon 200-400 AF-S VR II f 4 lens is one of the best and most affordable long zooms. (2) The Canon 500mm F4 IS is one of the sharpest Canon long lenses. (3) Nikon’s 400mm AF-S VR f 2.8 is not only fast, but extremely sharp! Warning, all of these lenses are very expensive.
One of the reasons I went with the Fuji X System is the extraordinary, ever growing, selection of truly great glass. The Fuji lenses are very well made, and they offer a good selection of fast single focal lenses. I red starred the ones I have below and included the Lens Road Map from Fuji.
This is the Road map for the Fuji lenses they have now and that are coming later this year and in 2015.
You guys know how much I depend on a great support system and my choices are below; (1) My favorite legs are the Really Right Stuff TVC 33 Versa tripod, (2) My ball head of choice is the Really Right Stuff BH-55-LR, (3 & 4) L Brackets from Really Right Stuff, (5) Kirk’s fabulous Low Pod for shooting close to the found and their fabulous, (6) focusing rail FR-2!
O.K. so you have to have some way to carry and transport it all! My favorites are (1) Think Tank Airport Security Airport 2.0, my favorite rolling bag,, (2) The Guru Gear Batafle 22L backpack, (3) the wonderful Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack and the (5) Low Pro Flipside Airport 10L AW, smaller and perfect for the Fuji system!
One last item is how to carry your memory cards and extra filters, especially the large split neutral density filters. (1) I use the Filter Hive by Mindshift for the filters, and both the Think Tank Pocket Rocket, (2) and the Guru Gear Tembo card holder!
So there you have it, the First Annual Pilgrim’s Picks, but then, just my opinions, would love to hear your thoughts, really, post your thoughts below!!!!
As soon as I finished this entry I checked the mail and found this clothing catalog, check out ht camera, the X100s!!! Wow, my picks got out fast!!!!!
This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 4:27 pm
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Got a few emails, bet you knew that already! Quote from one, “Please make sure I get this right, you are dumping every single piece of Nikon equipment you ever owned!!??” No, and I didn’t say that, I said I hadn’t used my Nikons for over a year, and that I was selling off some Nikon equipment, not that I’m washing my hands of Nikon altogether. So what am I keeping and why?
For 99% of my day to day work I’m shooting the Fuji X-System, I love it, it meets all my needs, and it’s a kick to use. I do still have an ember in my heart of Nikons and Nikkor lenses. I have a particular love for the Nikkor lenses of the AI-s era. These mechanical jewels are a beauty to behold and hold. Translation they provide a tactal sensation going back to the days of Leitz lenses from Wetzler! These Nikkors are amazing in quality and fun to use. So, I’m holding on to a single Domke bag, filled with a manual system for the occasional times I need a Nikon manual fix!
So what’s in that bag? The body is a D700. In my opinion one of the best DSLRs Nikon ever made. It is essentially a D3 in a smaller package. Image quality is superb and it plays well with the manual lenses. Just in case you were wondering, These same lenses are also suberb on the D800/D800e and I’m sure the D810 as well. So why is my body not a D800 series camera? Too much resolution for me, just don’t need it, the storage issues or the slow computer blues!
The lenses I chose are some of the “Legendary” Nikkors of all time, AI-s lenses.
The Nikkor 24mm f 2.8
The Micro Nikkor 55mm f 2.8 AI-s
The 25-50 AI-s f 4 Nikkor zoom lens. An incredible zoom with super sweet color.
The Nikon 105mm Micro Nikkor f 2.8 AI-s
The Nikon 80-200 f 4 AI-s Nikkor zoom.
Nikon 50-135 f 3.5 AI-s Nikkor
I also threw in a set of Automatic Extension tubes and some electronic cable releases. So for those that are worried, I still have some Nikon stuff and enjoy it on rare occasions. Does this mean that I think the new auto-focus glass in inferior? No the modern glass is certainly great, but in order to allow micro motors to move the focusing mechanism the lenses must be made lighter internally, and there goes the smooth, old world feel! A part of my past is using these old type lenses for the majority of my early career, and to be honest, I have a real love for the gear and the memories!
So all our decisions are not based in hard cold facts and specs! Photography is a part technical but even more aesthetic and this is some of my aesthetic love affair with the gear of photography!!!!
A special thanks to my buddy Ken Rockwell for his wonderful product images. I’ve checked out gear for years on his site!
Oh yes, and I use my 400mm f 3.5 IF-ED AI-s, 300mm f 4.5 IF_ED AI-s, and 200mm Micro Nikkor f4 AF on both the Nikon body and with adapters on the Fuji X bodies.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 at 3:15 pm
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The 5 reasons I wouldn’t go back!!!!
1. My back doesn’t hurt anymore!
Almost everything in my bag, is at least half the weight of my former full frame DSLR system. Generally almost every body and lens takes up half the space! So far, I see no reason to believe that my Fuji bodies and lenses are not just as well made, and rugged as the bigger DSLR system. Frankly my Fujinon lenses “feel” more rugged than many of the plastic lenses of this modern day! My old (3 to 4 decades old), Nikkors have that same old world sweet smoothness! I still use them on the X-T1 with an adapter and get fantastic results! The wide angles are not of much use because of the APS-C sensors 1.5 factor, but the long glass and midrange zooms get a lot more interesting! The Nikkor manual focus Micro lenses are insane!
2. I simply love the operational design of the Fuji X System cameras!
I grew up with a “real shutter speed knob” and a “real aperture ring”! Mechanical controls, (Now I know these mechanical controls make electronic changes, but they operate “mechanically!!!”) I like the ISO knob on the XT-1 (also a “mechanical” knob), and actually like that it locks! Some have complained that it could be faster without a lock, and while that is certainly true, I like getting and keeping the ISO I set in the first place! I fired my D700 the other day and was shocked at how loud and vibration prone it was, I then picked up the XT-1 and fired them side by side. The difference was remarkable, the XT-I was quieter than a Leica, and with no mirror slap vibration (no mirror!).
3. Cameras are for making images, and I’m taking the best in my 45 year career!
This one is purely subjective, but I can tell you with a completely straight face that my work has immeasurably improved, both in technical and aesthetic terms!!!! I think the biggest reason is that I’m like a kid again in respect to my excitement and desire to go out and make images!!! A big part of that is covered in point # 4!!! It probably helps that I’m retired!!!!!
4. Features I didn’t have in a DSLR!
Working with the Fuji X System and in particular, the XT-1, several features have made me a big time believer in mirror-less;
A. While the EVF of the XT-1 is not quiet like looking through a D4, in some ways it’s better! It’s brighter in low light, ( it’s a video image and it can brighten up so you can see better!), and it shows all your menu items settings actual affects when you half press the shutter release, yes you read that right, you see what the resulting image will look like! If that were not enough, immediately after you make the image, it appears in the viewfinder exactly as it will appear later on your computer screen! You can turn it off if you like, but I love it! One more thing for manual shooters you can select a histogram to be live in the viewfinder as you make exposure adjustments!
And this is the “BIG” one! Focus peaking has made manual focusing easier and more accurate than any other system I’ve ever used! Now you can enjoy using many of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of older LEGACY manual focus lenses!!!! It has breathed new life into Nikkor Micro lenses, moderate zooms, and especially, long glass!! Imagine having a 600mm, f 3.5, that focuses close!!! I’ve got it, and it didn’t cost $12,000. (the old 400mm f 3.5 IF-ED manual focus Nikkor lens)
B. You can set a menu item that allows you to see “real time” the depth of field as you stop down the aperture ring!!!! No more depth-of-field preview buttons and impossibly dark viewfinders! You would be surprised what a big deal this is after you use it!
C. When you dial in compensation, ( yes Virginia, it’s a metal knob with click stops!!! (conveniently right next to your shooting thumb!!), you can see the affect it has on exposure, just how the image will look. I shoot Aperture Priority and tailor exposure with the compensation dial, it works great. By-the-way, the Fuji’s are like every other camera I’ve used in years, for my taste .3 or .7 minus compensation is needed to get to what I think is “affective exposure”, who knows what correct is!!!!???? The exposure comp dial is = or – 3 stops!
D. My favorite feature is film type bracketing. The Fuji’s allow you to pick three film simulations and then every time you make a shot, it processes three separate files in those film types!!! Choices are; PROVIA (standard color), ASTIA (soft, great skin tones, and rich color), VELVIA (high contrast palette of richly saturated colors), PRO NEG HIGH (great for outdoor portraits, slightly higher contrast), PRO NEG STANDARD ( great subtle skin tones, perfect for studio portraits under controlled lighting), MONOCHROME, (standard, full range, beautiful Black & Whites), MONOCHROME YELLOW FILTER, (slightly higher contrast), MONOCHROME RED FILTER (higher contrast-great for spectacular landscape with blue skies and clouds), MONOCHROME GREEN FILTER ( good for outdoor portraits), SEPIA (sepia toned monochrome images.) Most of the time I have mine set to PROVIA, VELVIA, AND MONOCHROME. I do also use, ASTIA and MONOCHOME RED FILTER, pretty often! 90% of the time the Monochromes need almost no post! They look spectacular!
5. Even cutting my camera bag weight in half, I haven’t give up the image quality I crave!
I’ve selected some images, some of my favorites from this past year, all with various Fuji X cameras and Fuji XF lenses and a few with Nikkor manual focus adapted glass: ( I will give the technical data!)
Fuji X100s ISO 1600 1/12th of a second handheld In camera Monochroime!
Old Service Station Canonsburg Village Fuji X-E1 180-55 ISO 200
Colored Pencils – Fuji X-E1 60mm Micro lens ISO 800
Licence plates on wood wall – Fuji X-E1 18-55 ISO 1600
Model T in Sprague, WA Fuji X-T1 55-200 ISO 400
Fold in the earth Palouse WA Fuji X-T1 Nikon 300mm f 4.5 IF-ED ISO 800
Any downside?? Yes, if Fuji is reading this, (and I’m told they do!!!), here is my wish list:
1. Firmware update to give 9, 7, & 5 stops of exposure bracketing. (for us HDR guys) You can add in improved focusing speed with the 60mm Macro!
2. A 100mm Macro lens that goes 1:1 !!!!???? I know I’m pushing my luck, but a 150mm would be even better! The current 60mm is spectacularly sharp, but won’t go 1:1 and focuses painfully slow compared to all other FX lenses. It does play nice with Diopters though!
I sure hope rumors of a fast 90mm are true!
3. Almost as good as a longer Macro lens would be a set of three Automatic Extension tubes, this is very doable!!!! Those and the 56 f 1.2 would be a dream come true!!! Some third party ones exist but they are very poorly finished out!
4. Make sure the soon to come 120-400 is a constant aperture f 4 or no slower than f 4.5, PLEASE no variable aperture!!!! This is the lens that will really complete the Fuji XF line, don’t release it until it is drop dead spectacular!!!!!! Lots of folks think this is a lens you can’t make as fantastic as your others, I’m betting they’re wrong!!! By-the-way, I would be happy to test the prototype for you in Yellowstone this fall!!!! Hint, hint!!!
5. Ask the battery guys what can be done to beef up the battery life!!?? While on that subject, thank you so much for not making third party batteries incompatible, others have done this, and it’s not playing nice! At least good reserves are purchasable reasonably, and they have given me good service! Since they are small, it’s easy to carry a half dozen extras!
6. While I’m bragging on you, thanks for handling the few complaints you’ve gotten the right way! You stepped up to the plate, admitted mistakes, and made repairs or adjustments, quickly. Three cheers for treating the customer like you really care, which I believe you actually do!!!!!!
7. Re-release the 55-200 in a slightly heavier build quality with a tripod collar, don’t touch the optics, they’re great right now!!!! Not holding my breath on this one, but Canon did that with their hot selling 75-300 and it has been very well received! People are willing to pay a premium for more structural strength, I would be too!
8. Please don’t feel the need to go full frame, the size and extraordinary quality of the X Trans Sensor brought you to the dance, my advice is keep dancing with her!!! She is, after all, beautiful!!
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE 2015 HIS LIGHT WORKSHOP SCHEDULE UNDER BLOGS: HIS LIGHT WORKSHOPS!!!
This entry was posted on Sunday, July 13th, 2014 at 1:25 am
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“There are two kinds of tripods; those that are easy to carry, and good ones…..”
This once “infamous” quote is getting revised, because Really Right Stuff has finally made a big, solid, sturdy tripod that is , well, easy to carry! After years of admiring Jim Haverstock’s, and Jack Graham’s and many others Really Right Stuff tripods, I made the leap and bought my own!!! Why am I so excited? Because this is the one thing other than a camera, lens, and memory card that you must have to make tack sharp images, and RRS has made it possible to have a serious tripod without breaking your back to get it to where you want to shoot. I’ve owned Manfrotto, Gitzo, Induro, and many other brands, and I think all are good, all are better than not using a tripod, for sure, but honestly this is the finest tripod I’ve ever owned! I had a Gitzo 1348 which served me very well for many years, but it has the old style twist locks that over time will give you great looking forearms if you really want a workout!
On the recent trip out to the Pacific NW, I got to play around with Jack’s RRS TVC-33 Series 3 and simply fell in love with it. It works smoothly, is rock steady and shockingly light! I had to have one, and now I do.
I topped it off with a new BH-55 LR ball head.
I have owned one of these bad boys for many years and it was still working perfectly but was getting pretty beat up, so I treated myself to another and will gets the original refurbished and I will mount it on another tripod, not sure why though, since I doubt much of anything else will get used now that I have the new TVC-33 Series 3. I do have an Induro CT-214 when I want to go very light, but I see a smaller version of the TVC-33 in my future!
Why such an emphasis on tripods? No matter how steady you think you are, or how high a shutter speed you can shoot, you will still introduce some movement into the image, and that costs you sharpness. Then there are the times you want to shoot slow speeds to show motion rendition, and you certainly can’t do that hand held. No, if you want critically sharp images you must use a solid tripod!
Really Right Stuff is a sponsor of my workshop company, and it is the tripod and head I bought with my own money! That is the most ringing endorsement a person can make!
Extra advice: I bought extra feet (just in case – I have seen folks loose them), and used a little Loctite (the Blue kind) on the threads of the rubber feet to add a little additional protection from loosing any of them. It’s not a bad idea, whatever tripod you use, to occasionally check how tight the rubber feet are! You can buy Loctite at your Auto supply store, Hardware store, or Walmart.
One last thing: I’m adding a set of LegCoat pads to make throwing it over the shoulder easier.