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 essential when it comes to running workshops.

So here is ‘My Year in Cameras

August 2019
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
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
Nikon Z 7 – 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 Z 7 is made in Japan. The Z 7 II (and Z 6 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 Z 7, your pride and joy is sadly now worth about a third of what you would have paid for it. 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!
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 Z 7 ‘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.

FujiFilm GFX 50R with the Fujinon GF23mm f4 R LM WR & GF100-200mm f5.6 R LM OIS WR lenses.

Gear List Update February 2020
FujiFilm GFX 50RWhy The FujiFilm GFX Didn’t Work For Me
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
Sony A7R III – Decent enough images but kind of ‘vanilla’ in 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.
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 18mm f/2.8 – 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. Not in the same league as Sony’s FE 24mm f/1.4 GM and FE 20mm f/1.8 G lenses.

As it turned out my timing was spot-on for a change in selling the above items, this wasn’t a summer for having a bag full of expensive gear, being unable to get out and use it.

Gear List Update April 2020
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!
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?

Have look at my ‘All The Gear‘ page for my (not always complimentary) views on current cameras and lenses.

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