Having used Canon equipment since the original EOS 600 in 1989 I changed to digital in 2000 with the £1850 3.1 megapixel D30. Since then I have owned and used many Canon digital SLRs including various EOS 1D and 5D models plus 17-35 f/2.8, 16-35 f/4 28-70 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, 24-105 f/4, 70-200 f/2.8, 300mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4.5 and 600mm f/4 lenses. All the gear in fact!
March 2012 saw the beginning of a torrid 14 month ‘fling’, Nikon D800 was her name and she had huge megapixels, 36 million to be precise! Although there is no doubting the amazing detail of the images, I had massive problems with dust spots (100s!) and oil spatter from the mirror mechanism, my D800 also suffered from softness on the left side of the image due to poor sensor alignment. A lesson learned here is never to buy a new camera on launch day, the badly aligned sensors have been well documented and it took Nikon until the D750 and D850 models to really sort the mirror box mechanism. Unsurprisingly, the D600, D610 and D800 cameras sell cheaply on the used market.
In May 2013 I moved back to Canon with the EOS 6D using various lenses including a 15mm fisheye, 17-40 zoom, 24-105 zoom, 100-400 zoom plus a number of Carl Zeiss, Nikon AI, Olympus Zuiko OM and vintage Tamron prime lenses with suitable adaptor rings. The Canon EOS bodies are great for using old manual focus lenses due to the short distance between the lens mount and the sensor plane of 44mm.
In 2014 I started to shoot film again, for the first time this century! Using a Mamiya 645 Pro TL camera with a selection of Mamiya lenses from 35 to 210mm exposing Kodak Portra 160 and Fujifilm Velvia 50 films. The Mamiya 645 lenses also worked really well on the Canon EOS cameras using a Photodiox adapter that I imported from the USA, superbly sharp with lovely contrast.
Other film cameras used include a 1950 Rolleiflex K4/50 Automat – Fun With Film – Rolleiflex Automat K4/50, 1967 Hasselblad 500C, Bronica SQ-A, Olympus XA, Contax RTS, 137MA, 139Q, 159MM, 167MT, ST, RTS III & AX, Contax T & T2, Yashica Electro 35 GTN, T4 & Yashica MAT-124G.
From October 2014 I used the FujiFilm X mirrorless camera system, including a X-Pro 2, X-T1, X-E2 and X-E1 cameras plus Samyang 8mm Fisheye, Samyang 12mm, Fujinon 14mm, Fujinon 10-24, Fujinon 18-55, Fujinon 35mm, Fujinon 55-200 and Fujinon 100-400 lenses. The XF10-24mmF4 R OIS made fairly sharp images and nice sunstars but had the terrible 72mm filter thread (try screwing in a 77mm adapter ring in the cold or rain), plus it lets dust in through the gap between the front element and the filter ring. Ultimately it bit the dust when accidentally dropped from a foot or so onto soft grass and snapped in half, a very poorly designed lens and one that I had no desire to replace. The XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR was fairly sharp throughout the range for static subjects and the Optical Image Stabilisation worked well but in continuous autofocus the performance was terrible, it is no coincidence that FujiFilm used the WEC and Le Mans to advertise this lens, huge slab-sided cars are about all it is capable of focusing on. A back-to-back test with the X-T2 and 100-400 and an old Canon EOS 400D camera and the original ‘trombone’ EF 100-400mm lens sealed the fate of the Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR…eBay came calling!
2018 saw a brief flirtation with the Sony A7R II, using it purely as a digital back with my collection of superb Carl Zeiss Contax fit manual focus lenses from the 1970s and 80s via lens adaptors. It was a camera I never really ‘clicked’ with, clinical, soulless images often with weird colour shifts, useful features buried deep in never-ending menus, also functions that had been on other cameras for years had to be purchased as expensive ‘PlayMemory’ app downloads (and then not supported at all on newer models) and finally, control dials and buttons that would not look out of place on Fisher-Price toys.
2019 saw a return to FujiFilm and my kit comprised of the FujiFilm X-T2 camera plus the Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR, Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR (superb cashback and part exchange bonuses over the 2018 Christmas period meant that I got the camera just about for free, update September 2019 – probably just as well given the current price of £599!) and Samyang 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS lenses plus a Heliopan Polariser and a set of 3, 6, 10 and 15 stop Haida neutral density filters. To be honest, apart from a bit more contrast (maybe), the difference between these Fujinon ‘pro red square’ lenses was negligible compared to the ‘standard’ XF lenses. Certainly not the noticeable improvement of a Canon ‘L’ lens over a consumer one. It is widely regarded that the Fujinon ‘standard’ XF lenses are very good, new lenses designed specifically for digital rather than decades old film camera lenses mildly updated. The Fujinon ‘clutch focus ring’ lenses such as the XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR, XF 23mm f1.4 R and the older XF 14mm F2.8 R are probably getting somewhere near the potential for small APS-C sensors, the ‘pro red squares’ are unable to exploit any real world improvements with the elderly Sony derived X-Trans sensors, despite what the MTF charts might say. The XF 16-55 also feels cumbersome to use and balances poorly, even with a battery grip on the X-T2. The XF 50-140 handles like a full frame 70-200 lens BUT its autofocus capabilities are way behind even something like the original Canon EF 70-200 f/4, let alone the f/2.8 or the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.
Update September 2019
Both the unnecessarily large and heavy Fujinon 16-55 and 50-140 lenses have now gone.
Common sense has prevailed with an easy to carry mirrorless outfit, I am now using the following equipment;
FujiFilm X-T2 – Although the ‘guts’ are the same as the X-Pro 2, this camera just feels cheap and is nowhere near as satisfying to use. Autofocus is worse than the earliest DSLRs from the beginning of the century, apparently good for video though which is all that seems to matter to the manufacturers these days.
FujiFilm X-E1 – The Best Digital Camera Under £150
Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS – Very capable ‘kit’ lens, handling is way better than the bloated 16-55 and optically I couldn’t tell any difference other than the extra 2mm at the wide end. Make sure you get the earlier Japanese made version.
Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS – 15 Months with the Fujinon XF 55-200 lens
Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R – The original and the best. Pair this with an X-Pro 1 and you will have a £500 combination capable of producing the most ‘filmlike’ digital images you have ever seen. Like a Leica except you won’t need the sensor replacing after a few years.
Samyang 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS – The only Samyang lens I’ve ever had that gave a decent and consistent performance. Having said that, I’ve had at least 6 of these lenses and only 1 was ever any good, the other 5 all had quality control issues, most often they were decentered (soft on the left or right). Cheap for a reason, lacking in contrast compared to even the cheapest Fujinon lenses plus some weird colour shifts sometimes. Very easy to focus though, infinity is never anywhere near the stop, you basically work out where the hyperfocal distance is for f/2 (astro work) and f/5.6 (daylight images) and mark these points with paint or tape on the focus ring. There is no reason to use any other aperture or focus point or goof about trying to manually focus.