Friday, July 25, 2014

Two lens portrait shoot-out -- the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro and Fuji 56mm f/1.4 on the X-T1

This is not a contest to see which lens is best. They are both exceptional at what they do, but do have differences that make them suitable for different tasks when shooting portraits. For this very reason, for my Nikon system I keep both the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 and the Nikon 105mm macro lenses for photographing beauty and portraits.

I do comparison shoot-out like this with new equipment so I can gain experiential knowledge I can apply to later shoots. It helps me decide quickly what lens I need in any given situation.

For most portrait situations it isn't going to make much of a difference, but when you need a distracting background thrown completely you'll be wishing you had the f/1.2 aperture of the Fuji 56mm, and when you try to move in for a tighter composition with the model's face you will appreciate the macro capabilities of the Zeiss Touit 50mm allowing you to get as close as 1:1.

In most portrait situations the two lenses it won't matter what lens you use. Here, for instance, the lens had to be used with its aperture closed down enough to keep both the flower and the girls eyes in focus. Plus, the distance from the model is easily covered by either focal length. 

When you are working with a model and start moving in closer to tighten the shot, as I did here and for the shot below, you will appreciate the focusing range of the macro lens. 

A chief difference between the two lenses is going to be the bokeh they produce in selective focus situations, and here it is hard to beat a lens that opens to f/1.2.

The Fuji 56mm f/1.4 lens is an absolute champ at producing pleasing bokeh effects. Its equivalency of about 85mm is the perfect portrait focal length, and with a maximum aperture of  f/1.2  it throws the background completely out of focus even when stopped down a bit, as it was here at f/1.6.

A maximum aperture of f/2.8 does not give much wiggle room to soften up the distracting background.

Of course when you need to get in really close a lens like the Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 macro comes into its own. With a 1:1 reproduction capability, exceptional sharpness even  with a wide open aperture, super close-ups shot at f f/2.8 are possible with an auto-focus that works in tight. 

Extreme close-ups like the one above of the eye is why I appreciate the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro. When you are in this tight on a moving subject the ability of the lense to maintain auto-focus on the moving pupil of the eye, especially with a wide open aperture, is going to be critical to the success of the shot. The poor auto-focus of the Fuji 60mm macro would never be able to pull off a shot like this, and you would need extreme close-up filters to make the Fuji 56mm get this close.

On the other hand, the Fuji 56mm delivers an exceptionally beautiful bokeh while maintaining excellent sharpness at its more open aperture settings.

For the type work I do, I tend to rely primarily on the focal length represented by these two lenses. So I have opted to have both of them in my working kit, just as I have both the Nikkor 85mm and 105mm macro for my Nikon kit.

If you are planning on buying either of these lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/1.4 macro lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon 

The Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Night cap with the Fuji X-T1

After finishing up my shooting from last night at the Rockefeller observation deck, I grabbed a few photos on my way out, all hand held at a  higher ISO. Somehow these images did not transfer when I copied everything to my RAW drive. I had already formatted the SD card before I realized this so today I had to do a rescue on the card to retrieve the images.

The program I use for this was originally made and marketed by Sandisk. Sandisk gave it up and someone else picked it up and continues to market it, but with a price gouging "annual subscription" formula. The program is really good, but there must be others out there for less and without the subscription.  If any of you know of an image rescue program you like, let me know. I can do a test on some of them and a blog post on the results. Could be beneficial to all of us.

This photo was taken through a window on the way to the elevator leaving the observation deck. 

This ghostly appearance of the Empire State Building hovering over the city is a reflection  of the building in a window on top of the observation deck superimposed over an actual image of the city lights. 

Tonight an electrical thunderstorm passed through the city and I set up the X-T1 on a tripod for some 30 second time exposures in an attempt to capture a lightning flash. There weren't too many actual lightning bolts, but I did manage to catch this one behind the Empire State Building.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Photographing a New York sunset with the Fuji X-T1 and 3 Fuji X-zooms

One of the most beautiful vistas of New York City is the view from the top of Rockefeller Center. I usually find it best to shoot this scene when the daylight savings time changes in the fall. At that time the sun is already setting towards the south of the city to add color to the sky and the lights of the city buildings are still lit because it is still early and businesses have not let out.

I am in the process of re-photographing all the landscapes of the city now that the new World Trade Center is complete so, against my better judgement, I went to photograph the view last night. When I arrived, the clouds to the south were forming dramatic patterns and already picking up the glow from the setting sun on the right. Because it is still early in the summer the sun was about 90 degrees to the view I was photographing. Also because it was summer the observation deck was crawling with tourists -- something that doesn't happen in the colder, autumn nights -- and I had to elbow my way to a spot where I could set up my small table tripod.

I decided to go with the Fuji X-T1 and three zooms, the 10-24mm, 18-55mm, and 55-200mm, covering an equivalent focal range of 15-300mm -- more than sufficient to do the job.  One reason I chose the Fuji over a larger camera is that tripods are not allowed at the location. I was able to use a small table-top tripod that was sufficient to hold the light-wight X-T1 but would not have worked to steady a large Nikon DSLR.

The gear I used to photograph the city consisted of the Fuji X-T1, 10-24mm, 18-55mm, and 55-200mm zooms, along with a very compact table tripod by Giottos, and a cable release I managed to lose somewhere along the way. The entire kit fit comfortably in my photography vest. When it comes down to it, the Fuji zooms are really excellent and this is all that is needed for a complete and comfortable travel kit.  

The dramatic clouds dissipated shortly after I arrived. Fortunately, I did have time to grab a few shots with the setting sun adding some reflected color to them. For this view I needed the Fuji 10-24mm zoom set to 10mm to reach high enough into the sky to include the tops of the clouds.

The clouds dissipated very soon after I arrived and a soft summer haze enveloped the city. Normally these conditions are not very good for photography because of the low contrast and lack of detail, but I do like it for my monochrome platinum prints.

This was a glass partition I found interesting on the observation deck as it reflected the setting sun.

The lights of the Empire State Building come on right after sunset, which is when this photo was taken. 

This image is what I had set out to capture because it clearly shows the distant World Trade Center juxtaposed with a partial crop of the Empire State Building. I wanted a telephoto compression effect to bring the two buildings together so I used the Fuji 55-200mm lens. 

This is a composite panorama of two images so the resulting photo is quite large and full of detail. 

This is the small table-top tripod I used for the photos above. I found a solid wall on the observation deck where I was able to place it. The base with legs is low to the ground so you can also place your hand over it and apply some downward pressure to steady it further in a wind -- something I had to do last night. 
The tripod I use for situations like this, where a floor-length tripods are not allowed, was the Giottos QU 305B U-Pod Mini Tripod. I have tested quite a few of these small table-top models and found this one to be the most stable and capable of holding a heavier load than most. It has two columns do it can extend up to 13.8" (35.0 cm) and down as low as 2.2" (5.6 cm) when the columns are separated. Giottos makes two models, one with a head and one without. It folds up to a compact 9.3" (23.6 cm) and comes with a soft carry sack. I found the Giottos head for this tripod to be too weak, and prefer the model without a head so I can add my own.  I have several small heads I can use depending upon which camera I intend to support. The tripod itself without head sells for $39.35 at the vendors listed below.

If you are planning on buying this tripod, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Giottos QU 305B U-Pod Mini Tripod can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon  

Monday, July 21, 2014

First trip out with the Nikon D810

These are usually the kind of photos I take with a Fuji X-camera, but my new Nikon D810 just arrived and I wanted to begin getting a feel for it over the weekend. The images reflect the type of compositional symmetry I have been using in my platinum series of photographs.

Although the D810 does not have a specific square crop format and cannot be set to shoot black and white, like the Fuji, the grid outline in the D810 viewfinder does have lines to delineate a square crop and these make it a bit easier to compose the shot.

These photos were done from within the 911 Memorial Park. There is a very calm, meditative feeling in the site, which is enhanced by the symmetry of the park design. I tried to echo that quiet symmetry in my photos.

The recently completed new World Trade Center is just peeking above a mid-ground building with a newly planted tree adding the concept of new growth from the park below

A symmetrical treatment of the waterfall in the memorial.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

3 best travel point-and-shoot cameras for a trip to Africa

Normally on this blog site I only write about equipment pros would use, but recently I was asked by a friend to recommend a camera to take with her on a trip she is making to Africa. It is a question I am frequently asked so I thought it might make an interesting post for anyone else who is asked for the same recommendation, and, like me, is usually unfamiliar with this simpler variety of cameras. It's just not an area we usually have need to explore.

This is how my typical trip to Africa looks -- a complete arsenal of fast cameras and long telephoto lenses. Can all of the be reduced into something that fits in the palm of your hand and easily slips into a pocket?  Let's see.
The camera my friend really wants is a point-and-shoot, something she can tuck into her purse or pocket, but capable of delivering good quality photos in a small format. It also has to be easy to use because she is not a photographer and doesn't want anything overly complicated. Fair enough. With those criteria in mind, I decided to tackle this request and did some research based on what I know of Africa from my own photo trips there.

Getting in tight for close-ups of the animals requires a very long telephoto lens. A minimum focal length equivalent to at least 400mm is best. All of these cameras can extent to over 700mm and should to the job.

Here are some of the requirements I set for the camera:

It had to be very small with a fixed, collapsible lens. The lens had to be a super-zoom reaching beyond 400mm, which is what I know is needed for photographing animals in Africa. The camera would be used primarily in bright daylight so a fast aperture was not necessary. The bright daylight raised another issue, however,  in that it would be difficult to compose a shot on an open LCD. This meant that an EVF finder would be a really desirable feature.

Shooting in RAW was not necessary because the camera would be used by an amateur and jpegs straight from the camera would suffice. WiFi would be a nice option for posting the jpgs onto social networks like Facebook and Instagram by transferring them to a cell phone.

I came up with three cameras I thought would fill the bill. The first two are almost tied for first place, while the third came in third. All of them have a typical point-and-shoot, small 1/2.3" CMOS sensor. Since the image size requirements were not large, this would suffice for making small prints or posting to social media. For a professional photographer, a sensor of this size would be far from adequate, but for image requirements for personal use, this sensor is more than adequate.

Holding a camera steady with such and extremely long telephoto is going to require some assistance from good vibration reduction mechanism. So that is something I considered.

The cameras burst rate, the speed at which it can take photos, is important when photographing animals if one of them decides to run and you want to follow focus as it goes. Burst rate is coupled with capture rate, however. So, if the camera can shoot at 10 frames per second, but stops after capturing only 5 images, that could mean missing the most important shot. So, good burst rate couple with long capture rate is the goal.

All cameras  are quite similar. They are priced under $400, incorporate full HD video, have 3" LCD screens, built-in flash, have super-long telephoto zooms, and WiFi. Only one of them comes with a built-in EVF (electronic view finder) which can be a huge asset in a brightly lit situation like Africa, and was a very powerful reason for making my first choice of the number one camera.

1. Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS40
The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS40 camera with super-long 4.3-129mm (24-750mm equivalent) Leica Vario-Elmar zoom.

The Lumix nudged out the Sony HX50V for first place primarily because it is the only one of the three that comes with a built-in EVF viewfinder. It has a 18.1 Megapixel sensor and 30x optical zoom equivalent to 24-720mm in 35mm sizing. The lens is a Leica DC Vario-Elmar with an f/3.3-f/8 aperture range. That's good. Leica makes great lenses.

The Lumix has a shutter burst rate of 10 fps (frames per second) for up to 6 frames. This is quite fast, and should be sufficient to capture a rapidly moving subject, although the 6 frame limit will mean having to wait between bursts for the images to write to disc, and you could miss the important part of the action. Better to slow down a bit and try to anticipate the high point of the action and then hit the shutter button.

Rear view of the Panasonic Lumix with its 3" LCD. The controls are logically placed for easy, intuitive access. I like this control panel.

The Lumix is the only camera of the three that had a built-in EVF (electronic view finder). This is important on bright days when it is difficult to compose the image on the LCD screen, and is equally important when using such a long telephoto lens.
The ISO range 100-3200 and can extend to 6400. In bright sunlight the higher ranges would not be necessary except to help increase the shutter speed to prevent motion blur when the lens is extended to its extreme telephoto settings.

This camera can produce both JPEG and RAW images, if the RAW were ever needed later to make post-processing improvements. More than likely the ability to shoot RAW would be unnecessary for a typical amateur shooter.

WiFi is built-in making it convenient to transfer images later to a smart phone for further uploading to social media, or including them in emails.

The ZS40 weighs in at only 8.47 oz (240g) and measures 4.4x2.5x1.4" (110.6 x 64.3 x 34.3mm), small and light enough to tuck in a pocket.

2. Sony Cyber-shot HX50V

The layout of the Sony HX50V is reminiscent of the controls on the excellent Sony's RX100 series cameras. 
The Sony Cyber-shot HX50V was nudged into an extremely close second to the Lumix because it does not have a built-in EVF finder. It can accept Sony's very good EVF accessory, the FDS-EV1MK finder, but this would be going a bit overboard, since the finder costs more than the camera.

The Sony HX50V shown with the option EVF finder -- a bit of overkill, but nice if you can afford it.

The Sony is a 20.4 Megapixel camera with a frame rate of 10fps for 10 consecutive frames, which is the best of the bunch. It's 30x optical zoom is equivalent to 24-720mm with an aperture of f/3.5-6.3. Sony's Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization comes in handy at the longer telephoto ranges.

The WiFi utilizes Sony's fine PlayMemories Mobile App for transferring images seamlessly from the camera to a smart phone. I use this program with the Sony RX100 and find it easy to use and quite efficient.

Sony's BIONZ processing engine helps keep the camera moving along quickly with fast auto-focus and speedy processing of images.

The Sony HX50V weighs 8.68oz (246g). It's dimensions are 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.5" (10.8 x 6.3 x 3.8cm)

3. Canon PowerShot SX700 HS

Don't let the 16.1 Megapixel setting fool you into thinking this camera is under rated. With the small sensors in all of these cameras, over-powering them can cause other problems with low light and decreased processing speed, while not really delivering any noticeable benefit in image quality with small prints.

The Canon SX700 has an ISO range of 100-3200, and burst rate up to 8.5. This burst rate is the slowest of the three cameras but still more than enough -- and maybe even preferable -- for capturing fast moving action.

Similar to the other cameras, the super-zoom on the Canon has a 35mm equivalent range of 25-750mm with an aperture range of f/3.2-6.9.

ISO range is 100-3200, more than adequate to do the job, and the camera has built-in WiFi.

Size-wise, this camera fits in with the others with a weight of 9.5oz (269g), and size of 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.4" (11.2 x 6.6 x 3.6cm)

Rear view of the Canon Powershot SX700 --  a bit too much for my taste.


The differences between these cameras is slight so I am nit-picking a bit by prioritizing them. My choices were based on my knowledge of shooting in Africa, the ease of use of each camera for an amateur, in addition to the performance.  Any of them could do the job. It's just that some of them might do it a bit better.

The inclusion of a built-in EVF finder in the Panasonic Lumix was a the main deciding factor for putting it in first place. I ignored the fact that it can also produce RAW images because these would only be useful to a professional photographer with considerable skill.

This review was limited to very small, pocketable cameras. A larger camera might be preferable for this type of shooting, and I do plan on doing a blog post addressing this other genre. I have limited myself here to the very simplest of cameras available to someone with no knowledge of photography and no interest in getting involved in the mechanics of the process beyond taking some shots, making a few prints, and showing images to friends via a social network.

If you are planning on buying this camera, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The #1 Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS40 camera can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon   
The #2 Sony Cyber-shot HX50V camera can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon  
The #3 Canon PowerShot SX700 HS camera can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Nikon D810 and new Adobe Camera RAW update

My new Nikon D810 arrived yesterday right on schedule and just in time to press into service for some sunset aerials we are planning of New York City. The faster frame rate of 5fps vs 4fps will come in handy, as will the improved low light capabilities of the new model.

This morning Adobe released its latest version of Camera Raw 8.6 BC as a Beta for Photoshop. For once all the stars are aligned. Usually we have to wait impatiently for the Adobe Raw release to catch up to the new camera release.

I will be doing a blog post hands-on review of the D810 shortly. Stay tuned.

You can download the Adobe Raw 8.6 here.

...and if you are thinking about ordering a new Nikon D810, you can do so here from B&H or here from Amazon.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 macro lens - hands on review

I do a lot of close up and macro photography and have quite a number of macro lenses, mostly Nikon, but also Canon, Sigma and Tamron. I think I can sum up this entire review right here in one sentence by saying that this Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 lens is as good as, if not better than, any macro lens I have ever used on any camera. 

Not only is its performance top notch, it is beautifully designed and may be the best looking piece of glass you'll put on a Fuji X-camera -- well-balanced, light weight, quick to focus, and with an easy-to-find and responsive aperture ring. Its results are what you would expect from a macro lens from Zeiss. It is sharp everywhere, even in the corners, and even wide open at f/2.8. The field is flat and distortion free, just as you would want from a true macro. 

The Zeiss Touit 50mm macro is designed for use on APS-C mirrorless cameras, such as the Fuji X-series and Sony Nex.  At 50mm it delivers a full frame equivalent focal length of 75mm, which works nicely as an all purpose macro that can also stretch to use as a shorter portrait lens with the macro capability allowing you to come in tight on a face.

Because it is a macro you can get in really tight on portrait shots even though the lens is only equivalent to 75mm. This one was taken at f/2.8. 

The lens has a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8, which is fairly typical for standard macros, but delivers a nice selective focus due to its longer 75mm equvalent focal length, and particularly because it is meant to be used working in close on a subject.

Auto-focus is always a problematic issue with any macro lens. By their very nature, macros have a long distance to travel from infinity to close-up. On some lenses you can set a focus limiter switch to narrow down the focusing range. This is quite helpful. The Zeiss Touit 50mm macro does not have a limiting switch, however. I find that the focus hunting inherent to macro lenses is increased when using mirrorless cameras as opposed to pro-DSLR's.  It is often more difficult to place a pinpoint focus spot on a fine area of contrast with mirrorless cameras, like the Fuji X-series. As a result, I do not expect macros made for APS-C mirrorless cameras to perform as well as they would on a DSLR.

A difficult focusing situation for any macro lens, the focus point was the clear stem of the wine glass. In the distance were very distracting window blinds. The camera did have to hunt a bit on this one, which is something I would expect, but ultimately it did auto-focus itself. A pleasant bokeh comes into play with the wide open aperture of f/2.8

For most of the macro work I do, I tend to rely on manually focusing the lenses. That way I can put the focus point exactly where I want it, and when you tend to work with very wide open lens apertures, as I do, selecting the exact focus point is extremely important. Being off even slightly can ruin the shot. Manually focusing lenses is where mirrorless systems with their focus peaking ability is very helpful.

When I first picked up the Zeiss Touit 50mm and mounted on my X-T1 I was extremely impressed by its ability to focus, both quickly and accurately, in preliminary tests. As time went on, I did find the typical focus hunting of most macros to also apply to the Zeiss, but it was much less and more easily controlled than on most other lenses. Since I was testing the lens out, I did try to keep it set to auto-focus even in situations where I would normally have used manual focus. Bottom line is that this lens focuses quite rapidly with far fewer of the problems I expect from the breed of macro lenses. In a short time, as I became accustomed to the lens, I began to realize that it would easily become one of my favorite macros to use.

Pleasant, round bokeh works well at full aperture when in close like this. This is a situation where I tried the lens on manual focus. I have to say focus peaking with the Fuji X-cameras makes this a very desirable way to work in macro. 

The sleek design of the lens features an all black, metal lens barrel with rubberized control rings typical of the Touit series. The lens is not weather resistant. Its nine-blade, nearly circular aperture delivers soft bokeh with pleasant out-of-focus highlights.

Differences between the Zeiss Touit 50mm and Fuji 60mm Macros:

Aside from the obvious difference in focal lengths, 50mm vs. 60mm, the two lenses differ in the way they focus. The Zeiss 50mm is a fixed length lens with internal focusing, while the Fuji varies its length.  In terms of how well the two focus, the results are heavily in favor of the Zeiss Touit. Fuji's 60mm is one of its worst focusing lenses in its optical arsenal -- slow and constantly hunting for focus.

The two lenses show with the Fuji at infinity and at close-up focus show that they are roughly the same size at macro extension. 
In terms of sharpness, both lenses are quite good, but in the end, it is a rare day when any lens can beat a  Zeiss in optical performance, and with this 50mm macro that is definitely the case.

The Zeiss Touit 50mm is a true macro in that it can capture a 1:1 ratio, whereas the Fuji 60mm can only manage a half-size reproduction. 

This lens gets in nice and tight and I found the medium focal length to be really nice for composing shots. It's not to long or too shot -- just right for many of the macro shots I do. I also like using it wide open at f/2.8. Of course working distance is a matter of preference and also has to do with the subject being photographed. I would think that photographers who concentrate on photographing close-up on insects would want something longer that the 75mm equivalency.

For this flower shot I stopped down to f.5.6  to gain a little more focus on the flower.

This is a relative easy situation -- with sharp edges and a close-up, non-interfering background -- for a lens to perform in auto focus mode, and the Zeiss Touit had no difficulty with it either.

This is one of those circumstances where a lens would have a difficult time seeking focus because the distant background is right behind a subject, the narrow passage point of the hour glass. Normally, I would need to switch to manual focus in a situation like this, but the Zeiss Touit 50mm was able to pull off an relatively easy auto-focus with not much hunting to find the focus point. 

As I moved in tighter on portrait shots like this, the lens did have trouble seeking a point to focus. I don't really fault the lens for this. I have had the same problem with other macros including the Nikon 105mm. It just seems to be something that goes with the territory.


Zeiss' reputation for quality optics once again comes into play with this excellent lens. It's very versatile focal length equivalent of 75mm makes it ideal for both close in work and use as a portrait lens.

In terms of sharpness, this is a professional grade lens, sharp everywhere, even in the corners with wide open aperture -- exactly what I would expect from Zeiss. For anyone seeking an exceptional macro lens for a Fuji X-series or Sony Nex system camera, this is it.

If you are thinking of adding this lens to your system, I suggest you put yourself on a pre-order wait list soon. Once photographers discover the quality of this lens, it is going to sell out quickly.

I have already ordered mine.

If you are planning on purchasing this lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8M Lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon

Thanks to Jeff Hirsch at FotoCare for arranging for me to test this lens from Zeiss.

If you are visiting New York and want to order this lens from a real pro shop in the photo district, stop by FotoCare at 41 West 22nd Street. Ask for Jeff. He'll be able to help with anything and answer any questions. Tell him I  sent you.