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Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master Review

With each new digital camera release we move further away from the dirtier elements of photography. No longer do digital sensors struggle with anemic dynamic range and poor low light performance. Everything is “clean” these days.

At the same time, lenses are being polished and aligned, exotic elements added and AF systems improved until they are the ultimate in optics. Sony’s GM line (or G Master) is their play at this high-end of lens design. I was lucky enough to get some pre-release time with their newest entry in the GM line, the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. The questions I wanted to answer were whether this new lens was going to be too clinical, or was there going to be some glaring deficiency that I couldn’t overlook.


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Autofocus Anything – Techart Pro autofocus adapter with Zeiss manual focus lenses


From the earliest days of the mirrorless movement, photographers have enjoyed the ability to adapt manual focus lenses made for various legacy camera mounts to their new systems. With their electronic viewfinders and focusing aids, mirrorless cameras are uniquely suited for the task of manual focusing older lenses. As one of those early adopters, I adapted every rangefinder or legacy SLR lens I could get my hands on.

The results were satisfying but manual focusing can be challenging for moving subjects or for those with poor eyesight. Thanks to the technology in the new Sony Alpha series mirrorless cameras – specifically those cameras with on-sensor phase detection autofocus – and the ingenuity of a small company in Hong Kong, we now have the ability to autofocus almost any manual focus lens manufactured over the past 75 years for the 35mm format.

This wizardry is delivered via a new smart adapter called the Techart Pro – I’m calling it TAP for short – for Sony’s latest generation of phase detect autofocus (PDAF) cameras: the a7RII, a7II and a6300. Don’t bother trying it with any previous Sony models but we might assume that future Sony PDAF cameras should be compatible. Out of the box, the adapter supports lenses made for Leica M mount, but due to the short flange distance of that platform, there is plenty of room for an additional adapter to stack on the TAP, thus increasing the mount compatibility to support: ALPA, Canon FD and EF, Contarex CRX, Contax/Yashica (C/Y), DKL, Exakta, Leica R, M42, Minolta MD, Nikon F, Olympus OM and Pentax K. These additional adapters can be purchased from Techart or perhaps more cheaply on eBay or Amazon. The TAP itself costs $349 and can be ordered directly from the manufacturer.

The manufacturer claims that TAP can focus a lens as large as 700g but for my purposes, I’m primarily looking at small and light rangefinder lenses as they maximize the compact potential of mirrorless. For this review I’m using the following selection of Zeiss ZM lenses:

  • Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM
  • Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM
  • Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* ZM
  • Zeiss 85mm f/4 Tele Tessar T* ZM

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Iceland Travelogue and Sony RX1RII User Report

In 1988, The Sugarcubes debut album “Life’s Too Good” was getting heavy rotation in my cd player and served as an introduction to the quirky band’s native Iceland. Over the years other Icelandic bands like Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men, continued to sonically and lyrically paint an enticing canvas of their native homeland, further cementing the small country on my bucket list of places to visit. So this fall, while friends planned their winter vacation to warmer climes, I pitched the family on an adventure in the land of Ice and Fire. My wife has come to accept my odd predilections and the kids were just happy to get passports so we booked the flights and began our planning.


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Test Drive – Zeiss Milvus 21/2.8

These days Sony users are feeling the love from Zeiss with the company’s highly regarded Batis lenses and the smaller rangefinder style manual focus Loxia line. While the Batis and Loxia (Zeiss names their lens lines after bird species – due to their visual acuity) are excellent native options, the beauty of the Sony mirrorless system is that we can mount nearly every lens developed for a 35mm sensor. So when I was looking for a 21mm loaner from my friendly Zeiss rep at Precision Camera, he advised that I give the new Milvus 21/2.8 a try.


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Leica Q – Impressions from a Sony RX1 Shooter

 

Over the past few years Sony has disrupted the DSLR industry with their full frame a7 mirrorless line, but the camera that started it all was the original RX1. Regular readers will know that I’m a longtime user of the Sony RX1, – I’ve written about my extensive history with the original here on the blog. Even with the excellent a7 bodies in my bag, I still prefer the concept of a compact, FF camera to have by my side for those definitive moments. Since its release in 2012, the RX1 has been labeled a modern classic – a full frame compact that you could use as your main tool without compromise. But technology moves fast and today there is competition in the space from both the Leica Q and the just released update to the RX1, the RX1RII.

Click through for thoughts on how the Q stacks up to the Sony cameras.


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Phase Detect Autofocus with Carl Zeiss Contax G lenses on the Sony a7R II

***UPDATE*** On October 7th,2015 TechArt released v2.1.0 of the firmware described in this post that remedies many if not all of the problems with the initial release. Read on for my original review. I have made edits throughout the text to reflect the new version.

On August 29th, TechArt, maker of the Golden Eagle Contax G to Sony E adapter quietly updated their firmware to support the Sony a7R II. Originally the adapter did not work with the new camera so I contacted the folks over at TechArt hoping against hope that they would soon have a solution. An individual named Lau wrote me back, assuring that an update would be released before the end of August. True to their word, on 8/29 the new firmware v2.0.0, popped up in the TechArt Update app for iOS (download here for iOS and Android). But they didn’t just fix what was broken, they also added support for the 399 fast phase detect sensors on the a7R II!


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Sony a7R II and Zeiss Batis lenses – Initial thoughts and shots from the coast of Maine

Blasphemy be damned, I’m going to admit that I wasn’t all that excited about the a7R II prior to its release.

I’m a simple stills guy so the 4k video is wasted on me; I also like my fat pixel 12mp a7S files just fine, thank you and I dreaded having to deal with both the processing and storage requirements of a 42mp image. Furthermore, I already enjoy the refreshed body style and IBIS on the a7 II and I’m not a switcher – been shooting Sony for a few years now and sold all my Canon L lenses long ago.

My prior detachment aside, the release of this camera is a watershed moment in the mirrorless epoch. The a7R II spec sheet reads like something out of the future, a no compromise piece of kit that is both evolutionary and revolutionary at the same time. Who wouldn’t be interested in this camera? As professionals or even enthusiasts, we desire the best and this camera promises to be that at a great many things. Even if it falls short in a single category like low light (little brother a7S still reigns supreme), its second best still trumps most everything else on the market.

So yeah, I want the best and I want it compact and rugged and efficient and with a great compliment of lenses. I know it will eventually be eclipsed by something newer and greater but at this point in time, I can with a good conscience state that it is the best digital camera I have ever owned.


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The Sony RX1 Maintaining its Relevance

Two years can feel like a lifetime in the digital camera market, with fresh faced models seemingly delivered on a frantic six month schedule. But that’s roughly how long my RX1 has been in service – two full years. It was the golden child back then, always with me, consistently impressing with the sweet render of its Zeiss Sonnar 35/2 and the jaw dropping dynamic range from the 24-megapixel sensor. But new interchangeable lens models were released by Sony and the RX1 would often be relegated to the drawer. The newer Alphas boast faster AF, built-it EVFs, higher resolution or better low light performance, and the ability to mount nearly every lens ever made for the format.


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Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm hands-on, plus FE 28mm f/2 comparison

Don’t expect this to be a well controlled, thoroughly tested discourse on the new Batis lenses. I literally had each lens for about five minutes at Precision Camera here in Austin, TX where the store was hosting a dealer day. Lucky me when I strolled up to the Sony display and there they were, the new Batis lenses – apparently the only copies in N. America.


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