A Year In Cameras - Mark Simpson Landscape Photography

My Year In Cameras

[7th August 2020]

OK, so I get through a lot of cameras and lenses!
Really though, no matter how long I try a camera system at a photographic dealer or photography show, the only way to find out if it works for me is to own it for a while.
A broad knowledge of several manufacturer’s products is also invaluable when it comes to running workshops.

So here is ‘My Year in Cameras

August 2019
Cameras
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, the X-T2 is apparently good for video though which is all that seems to matter to the manufacturers these days.
FujiFilm X-E1The Best Digital Camera Under £150
Lenses
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 OIS15 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 (or let PhotoPills do it for you) where the hyperfocal distance is for f/2 (astro work) and f/5.6 (daylight images) and mark these points with Tipp-Ex, model 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.

All the gear - landscape photography- Nikon Z7

Gear List Update November 2019
Camera
Nikon Z7 – Not my best decision ever! Makes very nice if rather plastic looking, ‘processed’ images, there is so much trickery going on with modern cameras that even RAW files have lots of corrections baked in. A very ugly camera with a ‘Frankenstein forehead’ plus some nasty quirks like the hideously expensive XQD cards and weird terminology in the menus, if you have used Nikons for years it will probably seem ‘normal’ to you. Build quality issues as well, paint started to rub off after a few weeks (I’m possibly the most careful person there is with handling cameras), rubber grips started to go white very quickly, surprising considering the Z7 is made in Japan. The Z7 II (and Z6 II) have now been launched with features such as dual card slots and SD card compatibility, ie. things that should have been on these cameras to begin with. If you ‘invested’ in the Z7, your pride and joy is sadly now worth about a third of what you would have paid for it. Shame on you Nikon, your track record with mirrorless cameras so far is pretty woeful. On one hand it is sad to see once great manufacturers failing to grasp modern technology and their market share being decimated by the electronics giants but FujiFilm have ‘got it’ so why not Nikon? Old SLR lenses with an adaptor built in and some fancy coatings on the front element are not the way forward, take the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S for example, over double the size, weight and price of the SLR AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G lens, not to mention the works of art that were the AI and AIS lenses. Come on Nikon, you saw what happened to Olympus!
Lenses
NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S – A decent lens, sharpness and contrast wise, again the camera is doing lots of tricks to compensate for what on paper looks like a very average lens. Handling is awful though with the ridiculous collapsible mechanism and plain stupid 72mm filter size. Pretty good astro performance too, especially when used with a tracker where the maximum f/4 aperture doesn’t matter so much.
Nikon FTZ adaptor – A truly terrible piece of junk that protrudes lower than the bottom of the camera and clashes with almost any tripod mount or L-bracket. Only allows recent Nikkor AF-S, AF-P and AF-I lenses to autofocus and you get none of the Z7 ‘tricks’ with these lenses so the resulting images are disappointing.
NIKKOR AF-S NIKKOR 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR – used with the hateful FTZ adaptor, OK between 200 and 400mm, woeful at 500. In fairness this lens works pretty well with a D500 and OK with a D850 so yet another example of how SLR lenses are unsuitable for mirrorless cameras.
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC (for night sky and astro photography only)…….and to be honest it was pretty terrible at that! Made £50 profit though when I sold it so not all bad.

Gear List Update February 2020
Camera
FujiFilm GFX 50RWhy The FujiFilm GFX Didn’t Work For Me
Lenses
Fujinon GF23mm f/4 R LM WR – A stunner! (Even with a lens this wide you still need to focus bracket/stack for best results). My sole criticism is that the maximum aperture of f/4 never lets enough light hit the sensor for astro images, even at very high ISO.
Fujinon GF100-200mm f/5.6 R LM OIS WR – Not as sharp as the 23mm but a very good GF zoom, still way better than any full-frame lens except the Sony GM (and some newer G) lenses.

Sony A7R III

Gear List Update March 2020
Camera
Sony A7R III – Decent enough images but totally lacking in any kind of character, menu system better than previous models but still far too many screens to scroll through, still has Fisher-Price buttons and dials. Not a camera that makes you want to go out and take photographs with. The ‘see in the dark’ Bright Monitoring feature is superb for night sky photography as it allows you to compose the image as if it were daylight.
Lenses
Sony FE 24-105 f/4 G OSS – Sharp enough but devoid of any other praise, somewhat front heavy. I remember a quote from another photographer “hate using it BUT it makes some of my best photographs”!
Zeiss Batis f/2.8/18mm – Didn’t live up to expectations, no real ‘Zeiss look’, felt hollow, plasticky and cheap, OK for astro photography but no better than that. The LCD distance indicator on the lens is a very useful aid for focusing in the dark, make a note of the distance where the stars appear sharpest (it won’t be infinity!) and turn the focus ring to that point for pin sharp astro images everytime.

Gear List Update April 2020
Camera
FujiFilm X-Pro 1The original and the best. I keep coming back to this camera, although lacking in modern features it just makes great images. There is certainly some ‘magic sauce’ in the first generation of the X-Trans sensor, also used in the X-E1, images are not oversharpened, the highlights don’t blow out, there are smooth graduations between dark and light tones, in short, it looks like film! White balance can be a bit on the blue side but this is easy enough to correct. Made in Japan and it shows. Only real issues with the X-Pro 1 can be dust in the optical viewfinder and delamination of the rear LCD if the camera has overheated from too much video use, nowhere near as bad as a year old Sony though!
Lens
Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS
– Simply the best all-round lens for the FujiFilm X series, I’ve owned 5 of these now over the past few years and never had a duffer. Make sure you get the made in Japan version.

Gear List Update August 2020
For once there is no update, still more than happy using the FujiFilm X-Pro 1 camera and the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS lens.

All the gear - landscape photography- FujiFilm X-Pro 1

So, what is next?

Frankly, I have no idea!
Without a doubt the FujiFilm GFX 50 is capable of producing sublime images with a ridiculous amount of detail, but for landscapes, only when using the tedious focus bracketing/stacking method. An easy to use intervalometer and a 60 minute maximum (minimum depending on your view!) shutter speed mean there is no need for any external clutter. Maybe the GFX system needs revisiting at some stage in the future, the new firmware updates are enough for most manufacturers to introduce a ‘Mk II’ camera…..take note Nikon!

FujiFilm X-Pro 3 or X-T4? Other than the built-in intervalometer and 15 minute shutter speed I see no reason to buy either of these cameras. Too many small pixels squeezed onto a tiny APS-C sensor and 15 frames per second, maybe great for ‘spray and pray’ snappers but of no use for any kind of ‘real’ photography. The X-Pro 3 even has a hidden rear LCD so you can pretend you are shooting film or with a Leica M-D or M10-D. Should you wish to review your X-Pro 3 images on the rear screen it hinges out like the huge air brake on a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle jet fighter, almost doubling the height of the camera…genius! Both of these cameras are in the same price range as 24 megapixel full frame bodies and in many cases the lenses are more expensive. I’ve long held the opinion that even the cheapest Fujinon lenses are close to maximising the potential of the antiquated Sony based X-Trans sensors, so there is no point at all wasting your hard earned cash on anything other than my 2 recommended FujiFilm options;
Either an X-Pro 2 or X-T2 plus the Fujinon XC 15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS PZ and XC 50-230mm F4.5-6.7 OIS II lenses or the X-Pro 1 paired with the Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R or XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS lenses (the XC 15-45 lens does not work properly with the X-Pro 1).
Bought sensibly as good used items from somewhere like London Camera Exchange you will have change in your pocket from £1000 with the first option or a total spend of only around £500 for the X-Pro 1 choice. When you have got bored with the small sensor simply sell the gear to MPB who will give you almost as much as you paid from LCE in the first place!

Sony A7R IV? Umm no thanks! Less is more when it comes to pixel density on a sensor and 61 is simply too many ‘megas’. Also, Sony’s lenses continue to grow in size and weight but the A7R body has kept more or less the same form through its 4 iterations, the larger grip of the A7R IV still doesn’t really balance right with a 70-200 or 100-400mm lens. The rear LCD is also not a patch on the Nikon Z7s screen, the A7R is showing its age in several areas now.

Sony A7S III? Not likely at the £3799 launch price, but if this 12 and a bit megapixel light devouring monster is as capable at high ISO as its predecessors it is probably the gold standard for astro and night sky photography, especially when paired with either the stunning FE 24mm f/1.4 GM or FE 20mm f/1.8 G lenses. Sony’s GM and the more recent G lenses really are superb and have taken optical quality to new levels, they are not cheap but the best never is. The A7S III is really a video camera that also takes stills, it also features my pet hate – a shutter speed of only 30 seconds…when will they learn?!

Leica M10R? It would appear that only a handful of Leica’s most mega-expensive lenses are actually suitable for this camera to deliver its full potential! Yet another manufacturer who is only beginning to realise that lenses designed for film cameras don’t work that well with digital. At least the shutter speeds go up to 16 minutes though and commendably this is one of the very few cameras available now that only shoots still images, ie. designed to be used to take photographs.

Canon EOS R5? ‘The Game Changer’ so they say? Not for me, the shutter speeds still only go as far as 30 seconds, so completely useless for long exposures and tracked astro photography. This means having to use a cable release and timer or something like a CamRanger and iPad combo….ie. cumbersome and hopeless in the dark. Hideously expensive as well, both the FujiFilm GFX 50S and the Sony A7R IV are cheaper, plus their lenses are better. I haven’t managed to try an R5 yet (had hoped to at the Photography Show back in March) but the images I’ve seen, even from some trusted eminent photographers, look ordinary and indistinguishable from say an EOS R or RP. That means there is nothing at all wrong with them BUT compare them to a GFX 50 image and you will see what I mean. Even the Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R III and IV have a bit of that “I was there” 3D look to the images, but not the R5. David Noton mentioned that the R5 is enjoyable to use though and that for me is one of the most important things about any photographic item, if it is a chore to use then you are never going to realise your creative potential. Photographers who have loyally stayed with D(inosaur)SLRs, with a small fortune tied up in the lenses for their chosen system, will of course find the ability to view real time depth of field and review the images in the viewfinder (as well as all the other advantages of a modern mirrorless camera) to be a revelation and therefore enjoyable. It also appears that Canon have finally realised that mirrorless cameras require specifically designed lenses to fulfil their potential rather than simply building adaptors into their existing lens range and calling it an RF lens. So even if you are diehard Canon user the EOS R5 does not have to be your only choice as you will be buying a whole new range of lenses as well to go with your new mirrorless camera. Canon are showing their customers no loyalty by changing their lens mounts every few years, so there is no reason to stick with them if you are moving to mirrorless from a SLR. Did I mention that Sony’s best lenses are in a different league to anything currently made by Canon or Nikon?!

Hasselblad X1D? One of the best looking cameras ever made but still in ‘Guinea Pig’ mode, be nice if they ever get round to finishing it. The X1D II came out far too soon after the original and still hasn’t cured some irritations like a far too long blackout when taking a photograph. I doubt if many of the owners of these cameras ever noticed as I would imagine most X1Ds are tucked away in glass cabinets.

Hasselblad 907X 50C? Love the concept of the modular system but I’d struggle to choose it over the FujiFilm GFX.

Phase One XT? 151 megapixels, integrated camera movements, automated frame averaging, surely this is the ultimate landscape camera system? The downside is the price, to buy the camera, IQ4 digital back and the 4 currently available lenses (2 more are on the way) is more than the total cost all of the cars I’ve ever owned in 40 years of driving……….my recent £25 Premium Bonds win was most welcome but will barely even buy a lens cap for one of the Rodenstock lenses.
Paul Reiffer explains this stunning system in great detail here.

Film? Possibly, fellow Skye resident Marcus McAdam’s excellent Photography Online series has certainly rekindled my interest in shooting film, especially medium format.

All the gear - FujiFilm G617 panorama film camera
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