Cameras and Lenses

Honest, sometimes harsh I admit, opinions and views on the various cameras and lenses I have owned and used in the last 20 years or so.

(Disclaimer*)

Having used Canon cameras and lenses 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 SLR cameras 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.

Nikon D800March 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! Paired with the legendary AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens there is no doubting the amazing detail of the images, BUT 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 all sell cheaply on the used market. Fast forward 7 3/4 years and you will see that lightning did strike twice with the purchase of a Nikon Z 7.

 

In May 2013 I moved back to Canon with the EOS 6D and 5D Mark II cameras 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. Canon EOS cameras of this era are great for using old manual focus lenses due to having sensors that are not ‘too digital’, although it became very popular with video makers, the 5D Mark II fully deserves its reputation as an all-time classic digital camera.

Mamiya 645 Pro TL In 2014 I started to shoot film again, for the first time in the 21st 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 6D and 5D Mark II 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.

 

 

Broken Fuji 10-24 lensFrom 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 XF 10-24mm f/4 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. It didn’t just let in dust but literally bit it too 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. If you are considering the 10-24, do yourself a favour and buy the FUJINON XF 14mm f/2.8 instead, build quality is much better and it is optically superb, being a prime lens it will improve you as a photographer as well. 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!

Landscape Photography camera reviews

2018 saw a brief flirtation with the Sony A7R II camera, 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. Maybe this was the point when I realised that using even the best ‘film lenses’ with adaptors on high megapixel digital mirrorless cameras was actually a complete waste of time? To get the best results from modern mirrorless cameras it is essential to use the manufacturer’s own native lenses from the same era as the camera, the slight exception here is that Tamron lenses work very well on Sony A7 series bodies. Sony own a chunk of Tamron so clearly data is being passed between the two.

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 or even the cheaper XC lenses. Certainly not the noticeable improvement of a Canon ‘L’ lens over a consumer one. It is widely regarded that the Fujinon ‘standard’ XC and 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 ‘outresolve’ the potential for small APS-C sensors, the ‘pro red squares’ are unable to exploit any real world image quality 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 from the last century, let alone the f/2.8 or the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.
My main issue with the FujiFilm X-Trans sensors is that while the images look great on a standard computer monitor, when viewed on an Apple Retina screen or printed to a reasonable size they look terrible compared to those from ANY full-frame camera.

Update September 2019
Both the unnecessarily large and heavy Fujinon 16-55 and 50-140 lenses have now gone to pastures new.
Common sense has prevailed with an easy to carry mirrorless outfit, I am now using the following equipment;
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, 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
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 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 Tipp-ex, white 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 Z 7 – Not my best decision ever! Makes 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 Nikon cameras 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 when it comes to 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!
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 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.

Gear List Update February 2020
Camera
FujiFilm GFX 50R – Why 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 may 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.

Gear List Update March 2020
Camera
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.
Lenses
Sony FE 24-105 f/4 G OSS – Sharp enough but devoid of any other praise, somewhat front heavy and unwieldy. 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. 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
Camera
FujiFilm X-Pro 1 – The 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 A7S II though!
Lenses
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.

Software
After experimenting with a few 30 day trials over the past couple of years I have finally made the transition from Adobe Lightroom to Phase One’s Capture One. I still use Adobe Photoshop occasionally (being locked into the difficult to get out of subscription package for another year) but only really as the world’s most expensive dust spot removal program! I wish I had moved to Capture One before as the difference in image quality is night and day (pun intended), especially with night sky images where Lightroom adds unwanted noise and artefacts, the clincher for me was discovering that a RAW image in Lightroom looks totally different when opened in Photoshop. ie. there is no consistency in Adobe Camera RAW. There seems little point purchasing expensive cameras that produce low noise at high ISO if the editing software introduces weird patterns as soon as any slider is so much as tickled. Capture One’s subtle controls really bring out what I saw at the time of taking the photograph with no need to go anywhere near the contrast or saturation sliders. As well as the improvement in image quality, the other huge advantage over Lightroom is being able to use layers for the various masks, gradient, radial, brushes etc. It really is a piece of software designed for the purpose, devoid of childish gimmicks. Paul Reiffer’s excellent Pro Tips and Live Editing Sessions on YouTube are a mine of information on how to get the most out of Capture One.

A free trial can be downloaded from the link below.

Capture One 21 new features (30-day free Trial)

So, what is next?

FujiFilm GFX Xg GFX 100S

Frankly, I have no idea!

FujiFilm GFX 100S? 102 megapixel BSI sensor in a (slightly smaller than) GFX 50S/Xg style body, in body stabilisation (IBIS), for ‘just’ £6000, potentially the best digital camera on the market at any price? Highly likely to crush sales and drive down the ridiculously bloated prices of cameras like the EOS R5, Panasonic S1R (does anyone actually buy these?!), Sony A7R IV and the Nikon Z 7 II. Just imagine, in a couple of years time you will be able to buy a used GFX 100S for under 3 grand…….surely this is the REAL game changer in digital photography?

FujiFilm GFX 50S? Without a doubt the FujiFilm GFX 50 cameras are capable of producing sublime images with a ridiculous amount of detail, but for most 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 50S needs revisiting at some stage in the future, the regular firmware updates are more than enough for most manufacturers to introduce a ‘Mk II’ camera…..take note Nikon! Likely to be some great GFX 50 deals available once the GFX 100S arrives.

FujiFilm GFX 100? Huge, ugly, no proper dials, no proper grip so a nightmare to hand hold. However, it produces the best images you will see from any currently available camera with the possible exception of the 150 megapixel Phase Ones, it is worth noting though that you could buy 3 GFX 100 bodies for the price of a Phase One 150MP back. Refurbished and used prices are now under £7000 so to some people it is becoming affordable, prices likely to drop like a stone now though with the announcement of the GFX 100S.

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! The prices have crept up as well, 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 really have no idea why anyone would purchase a FujiFilm X-T4 instead of a Sony A7 III. 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 the X-Pro 2 or X-T2 cameras 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!

Canon EOS R5? ‘The Game Changer’ according to Canon? Possibly, if you have only ever used Canon SLRs, but 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. 20 frames per second, ie. Russian Roulette with a camera, shoot and hope for the best. 8k RAW video (don’t burn your fingers!), (up to) 8 stop image stabiliser (with a certain lens, in certain conditions, on the 29th February etc.), 5940 autofocus positions, who cares they are just numbers on a spec sheet, some would go as far as to say gimmicks. Stupidly expensive as well (as are most of the RF lenses), both FujiFilm GFX 50 models and the Sony A7R IV cameras are cheaper, plus their lenses are much better. I haven’t managed to try an R5 yet (had hoped to at the postponed Photography Show way back in March 2020) but what about the most important thing, the images? So far, the ones I’ve seen, even from some trusted eminent photographers, look ordinary, flat and indistinguishable from say an EOS 5D Mark IV or EOS R photograph. That means there is nothing at all wrong with them but NOT game changing (ie. no better than what is already available), compare them to a GFX 50 image and you will see what I mean. Even the Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7R III and IV have a bit of that “I was there” 3D look to the images, but I haven’t seen anything like that so far from 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 lenses, 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 do actually 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 have to buy a whole new range of lenses as well to go with your new mirrorless camera. Did I mention that Sony’s best lenses are in a different league to anything currently made by Canon or Nikon?! The game has changed and some of the big players are facing relegation.

Canon EOS R6? Why would you when there are cameras like the Sony A7 III and A7C available with much better lenses? If you do decide to buy one make sure you invest in some decent oven gloves as well…….

Nikon Z 7 II? Not likely! Having made the mistake of buying the Z 7 there is no chance of being bitten twice. Both the Z 7 II and the Z 6 II are produced in Thailand now that Nikon’s esteemed Sendai factory in Japan has ended camera production. I really don’t understand the ‘wows’ about this camera from people, who should know better, that handed over nearly £3000 less than 2 years ago to buy the original Z 7 for the dubious ‘privilege’ of being test pilots, they now seem more than happy forking out another 3 grand for the same thing with just a few small improvements, things that should have been on the camera in the first place. This is a camera that Nikon really ought to be offering a Z 7 scrappage deal on. Neither the Z 7 II nor the Canon EOS R5 make images any better than the Sony A7R III, let alone the newer A7R IV, the ‘elderly’ A7 III still focuses better than any of the aforementioned cameras, Sony’s lenses are better too!

Sony A7S III? Unlikely 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, the new FE 35mm f/1.4 GM looks to be a stunning optic as well. 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 these cameras to deliver their full potential! Yet another manufacturer who is only just beginning to realise that lenses designed for film cameras in the last century 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. Lets hope the CMOSIS sensor doesn’t corrode like the Kodak CCD in the M9.

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 50S (that uses more or less the same sensor) for any reason other than ‘being different’.

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 one of these cameras, IQ4 digital back and the 5 currently available lenses 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 or even large format cameras and lenses.

All the gear - FujiFilm G617 panorama film camera

ALL THE GEAR……..

……..NO IDEA

Disclaimer.

I have no affiliation, vested interest, nor am I a brand ambassador for any of the manufacturers or retailers mentioned on this page.
Therefore, totally independent and not obliged to say something is good if it clearly is not.
I do take a very small commission from Phase One if you download or purchase their Capture One software through the links on this page, I use that towards the costs of hosting this site.
The views expressed here are purely my own, based on personal experiences with equipment bought with my own hard earned cash and no offence is meant to any individual, company or corporation.
Having said that, I cannot believe how badly some of these companies treat their loyal customers, most who have been with their chosen brand for many years.
It becomes pretty obvious which ones actually listen to their customers and in return give them what they want, long may they prosper!

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