Friday, November 7, 2014

REVIEW: Fujifilm x30 – Great, but not a Sony RX 100 III Killer (Part II of II)

Fujifilm X30 Digital Camera (Silver) Flash Raised
Fujifilm X30 Digital Camera (Silver) Flash Raised

In the first installment of my review entitled Fujifilm X30–The best one yet! (Part I), I discussed how much I enjoyed the opportunity to test the new x30. I was a HUGE fan of the x10 and declared it my point and shoot of the year. The x20 was faster, but was actually a little disappointing since it lost the magical EXR mode (and its functionality – the DR Auto & SR+ just aren’t the same). However, I purchased both of these cameras and still own them both to this day. The question now becomes, will I replace my x20 (and potentially my x10 as well) with the new x30? Read on to find out.

Bookshelf Test

The following shots are done on a tripod with all camera default settings except I also enable RAW.

My bookshelf tests are sample shots that must be clicked and viewed at 100% for accurate analysis that compare relative performance at different ISO and apertures The full set of bookshelf shots are at http://photos.ronmartblog.com/fujifilm/x30.


FUJIFILM X30, f/2 @ 7.1 mm, 1.2s, ISO 100, No Flash

What I see when looking at all of the bookshelf shots is that the 7.1mm focal length completely wide open gives the best results. When compared to my f/4 image I think the the f/2 is the sharper image.


f/2.8 @ 28.4 mm, 1/13, ISO 3200, No Flash

At 3200 the noise level is pretty disappointing, but I still find that the NR –2 setting here preserves more detail than the standard NR 0 setting. As a result you could get less noise using the default noise setting but it will smear the details of the image much more. Personally I prefer to do it this way then use Noiseware to clean it up myself while preserving the maximum details.

Sadly by today’s standards I’m disappointed with the ISO 3200 performance when pixel peeping (but it does pretty good in the real world). Realistically this is a camera where I’m going to try to stay under ISO 800 whenever possible and I’d treat 1600 & 3200 as ISO’s of last resort.

CLICK HERE to see how these compare against the x20, or CLICK HERE to compare against the RX100 III.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) & Control Ring

I can’t emphasize enough how much these two features have made me enjoy the new X30. While I’m not a big EVF fan, it does come in terribly handy to view the LCD when you are out in the bright sun (vs using a Hoodman Loupe). The EVF is done very well on this model so that helps even more.

The control ring with an easy access button to reprogram its function has been a godsend because it allows me to get easily change between the things that I care most about at a given moment (most often film simulation modes, ISO or White Balance).

If you love the x10 or x20 then this camera will delight you and these features alone make it worth the upgrade.

Video

MUCH better than the x20 – it’s definitely a lot smoother and the auto focus works the best I’ve seen out of this series. This is not to say that it won’t go out of focus from time to time, but it’s no worse than a high end cell phone which is a huge leap from where it came from.

How does the X30 stack up against the competition?

With great cameras out there like the RX100 III, the Canon G7 X, and Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX100 the question becomes which one is really the best? The reality is that they are all good so I don’t think anyone is going to be super depressed with any of these, but the RX100 III is definitely the form factor and image quality champion in my opinion (see my RX100 III review). Despite some of its limitations compared to the Sony, the x30 is still a very fun camera to use with much easier access to its features (especially with the new control ring).

Yes, the x30 is heavier and bulkier than I’d like. Yes the twist to start and detachable caps is annoying. However, like most Fujifilm cameras this thing is just so fun when I get it in my hands. It makes me remember why I love photography so much and it empowers me to get results that make me happy with its wealth of all-important PHYSICAL button controls!!! This means I’m not fighting menus and touch screens when I use this camera and its focus system, film simulation modes and quick mode make it a joy to use.

Yes, cell phones are getting very good these days but there’s still something magical about holding something that feels like a camera dialing in your settings (or not using auto modes) and getting an image that is often high on the wow factor compared to DSLR’s.

Conclusion

Overall I still love this camera and it’s improved features, solid build quality, great new EVF, wonderful control ring and usable video all make this x10 & x20 owner think its time to upgrade. I was very happy with this camera and plan to take it to Asia for some more exhaustive real-world testing. With that said, I wish the high ISO performance was better so more real world time will tell if this becomes a deal breaker for me that might cause me to think about a purchasing a different point and shoot model.

I still recommend the x30 and feel pretty confident that most people really enjoy it to even if you are a beginner all the way up to a high end pro wanting very good results from a pocket camera. If you don’t mind fighting menus and prefer manual mode over aperture priority, then I have to say that the RX100 III is the way to go. It’s got the better image quality by a long shot.

For more photos, visit http://photos.ronmartblog.com/fujifilm/x30. I hope to also add more in December.

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order on the B&H web site. See my RX100 III review here where you can learn more and order using my links – thanks!

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

    Disclosure

    If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

    If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

    Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

    Tuesday, November 4, 2014

    REVIEW: NEC EA244UHD 4k Display–Is it good for photography?

    NEC MultiSync EA244UHD 23.8" 4K IPS LED Monitor
    NEC MultiSync EA244UHD 23.8" 4K IPS LED Monitor

    In September 2010 I had my first opportunity to see a 4k display in real life and I was blown away. Every since that day I had looked forward to seeing one sitting on my desktop and this past summer NEC granted my wish by letting me test their first ever 4k display. I’ve been dying to tell you about it but I needed to wait until I got my final retail loaner unit so I could comment on a unit that represents what is actually being sold in the market place.

    To be clear, NEC did NOT give me a free UHD (4k) display – this is a loaner unit that I was asked to test for my prior experience with NEC displays and my outside work with display technologies.

    During most of this year my time with NEC’s first UHD display has been very good, but there are still some challenges unrelated to the hardware that make 4k displays somewhat painful for some early adopters. I’ll go into this more in this article, but in the meantime let’s talk about what’s cool about this display and UHD.

    For the NEC MultiSync EA244UHD you get a display that is just shy of 24” and the following:

    • ControlSync capabilities for synchronizing settings between multiple monitor setups
    • Human Sensor which turns off the backlight when the user leaves and automatically turns it back on when they return
    • The wide gamut AH-IPS panel that covers 99.3% of Adobe RGB
    • SpectraView compatibility

    It’s a great display that calibrates well and produces high quality color from edge to edge from what I see in my newest review unit.

    How big is 4k (or UHD)?


    16:9 resolutions in comparison courtesy of Wikipedia

    At a high level, it starts by having FOUR times the normal resolution of a traditional 1080p display. To be more specific, that’s 3840x2160 pixels (8 megapixels) – called Ultra HD versus a measly 1080p display which is 1920x1080 (only 2 megapixels). As a photographer you know the difference more megapixels can make, but how does this translate into the real world with displays? The answer is simple – your display becomes like you are looking at a print. Gone are any signs of pixelization and your images pop with such clarity that you’ll giggle like a little kid when you see it for the first time (especially if you don’t print large prints of your work regularly).

    For the Excel geeks out there this means that in the worst case scenario where you use large fonts, you can see 2340 visible cells from A1 through AM60!

    View up to FOUR 1080p video sources at once

    NEC EA244UHD 4K Discrete Inputs
    NEC EA244UHD 4K Discrete Inputs

    When you look underneath one of these displays you’ll notice there are three sets of video inputs (DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort). What’s unusually about this though is that if you were to connect four different video sources to these video input ports (i.e., four different computers 1080p video output) you’d be able to view them all at once at their FULL 1080p resolution as shown here below:

    View video from up to FOUR 1080p sources at once!!!
    View video from up to FOUR 1080p sources at once!!!

    How is this possible? Well for starters 1080p is really 1920x1080 pixels, so if you double the 1920 width you get 3840 which is twice as wide. If you also double the 1080 height you get 2160 which is twice as tall. As a result this 4k display is really like having four 1080p displays in one, so NEC has provided a way to display content in this format.

    Now the reality is that this is still just a 24” display so you’ll really want to only do this for testing computers, security camera scenarios or other situations where you don’t mind having a 1080p image that is only a fraction of the size of the display. There are definitely business applications for it, but for the practical use for consumers and photographers is less common.

    Netflix and other 4k Content

    image
    You must upgrade your Netflix streaming subscription to the 4 screens plan for an additional fee (prices are subject to change)

    If you’ve done any research on playing back 4k content, you’ll know that video streaming is your best bet. In fact, Netflix has already started to release shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards in 4k (see their FAQ), but ONLY if you have a compatible setup and the right Netflix plan and playback settings. As you can see from above there are different streaming plans so you’ll pay a little extra to get 4k content. You’ll also want to force your playback settings to high as shown here: 

    Netflix Playback Settings
    Netflix Playback Settings should be set to High

    This may mean that you need to upgrade your internet plan to support the 7GB per hour (or about 16mbps download speed) maximum data transfer rate. You can go to http://www.speedtest.net/ right now and click BEGIN TEST to see how fast your connection is now.

    There’s also some great UHD videos on YouTube here including one from Costa Rica that claims to be 4k but really is 2k, but it still is astonishing to watch, and more content is coming online from a variety of sources. To ensure that you are really viewing Ultra HD content (which YouTube indicates as 2160 – (which means 3840x2160) you can right click on the view when playing at Full Screen and click “Stats for Nerds” to see really what resolution the video is being broadcasted at. Sometimes it takes a minutes before you start getting real ultra HD resolution.

    Video Cards – BEWARE 4k doesn’t always mean 3840 × 2160 (UHD)

    EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Graphics Card
    EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Graphics Card

    At the time this article was written, the EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Graphics Card I tested was the 2nd fastest video card on the market. It’s also the one that developers in the video card industry that I spoke to at CES 2014 said was “the” card to get for displaying 4k content. Sadly it is a very expensive card that occupies two slots in a computer so this isn’t something you’ll fit in your average PC. Be sure to check the measurements before you find yourself getting burned as many video cards have a no return policy.

    Another thing that you should be aware of is that the 4k you need translates into 3840 × 2160 pixels (called UHD). Sadly even video card makers call 2560 x 1600 4k and that simply isn’t the UHD resolution that you need or want. In fact, even what people call “true 4k” varies as you can see from the different resolutions and aspect ratios found at Wikipedia.

    As a result, I suggest you try to add UHD to your vocabulary so people know that what you are really saying is 3840 × 2160 resolution. This is what you’ll need.

    Apple Users, just get the Mac Pro Desktop

    Apple Mac Pro Desktop Computer
    Apple Mac Pro Desktop Computer

    Apple has been a great early adopter of ultra high definition resolution display technologies. Retina displays are Apple’s way of saying resolutions that can display about 300 pixels per inch from 10 to 12 inches from the eye. With the same number of pixels, the smaller the screen size the higher the pixels per inch (and vice versa). As a result devices like the iPhone 6+ have an amazing 401 pixels per inch despite only having a 1920x1080 display. Pixel density is all about the screen size, so keep this in mind as well as your viewing distance.

    With this said, if you want to do UHD (3840 × 2160) on your Mac and you aren’t falling for the all-in-one iMac gimmick, then your best bet will be to invest in a Mac Pro. It was purposely built for running multiple UHD displays and you don’t have to worry about it becoming a brick if the display fails like you would on the incredibly sexy but impractical iMac.

    Now some of you may be thinking that because your MacBook Pro or iMac has a Retina display that you can just connect it to an external 4k display like this one. However, you’ll run into a problem is that the video card included in them lacks the horsepower to properly drive any external UHD display like this NEC. While you may be lucky to get it to show a 3840 x 2160 image it definitely won’t be at a usable 60hz refresh rate. What this means in simple terms is that when you type or move windows around things will feel very sluggish and unresponsive, so until you start seeing these devices with at least 3GB of video ram (which is different from the system ram) you’ll want to avoid pairing them with external UHD (3840 x 2160) displays.

    For the best results you’ll also want to be running the Yosemite operating system or greater.

    Adobe Photoshop is not ready on Windows, yet

    Sadly if you use Windows, Photoshop isn’t going to be especially fun to use unless you have 20/20 vision because unlike other apps it doesn’t scale its fonts larger for 4k. As a result the menu font feels like its about 6 points and the toolbar buttons are about the same size as your mouse cursor. While the images themselves look great, the user-interface is darn near unusable.

    I’m told that Yosemite works fine with both Photoshop and Lightroom so it seems the problem is specific to Windows at this time.

    I thought with this preference setting in Photoshop CC 2014 set to large that things would be okay, but sadly it doesn’t seem to help anything even when you restart Photoshop:

    SNAGHTML4c04aa71
    Photoshop CC 2014 Large Font Setting for High Resolution Displays

    Adobe points the finger at Microsoft here, but the reality is that Lightroom 5.6 works fine with a preferences change and Office just automatically does the right thing if you set the system to use large fonts via control panel. In fact, most of the apps I’ve used at 4k work fine with the system large fonts enabled. As a programmer myself, I suspect Adobe’s just done too much custom user-interface rendering in Photoshop CC & 2014 that wasn’t programmed with display scalability in mind to have things work properly.

    For Lightroom to get the best results you’ll want to increase the font size in the preferences dialog as shown below. Personally I was fine with the Large - 150% setting but some may prefer the largest - 200% as shown below.

    SNAGHTML4c06d316
    Lightroom 5.6 and up are ready to go for High Resolution Displays

    Generally speaking Windows 8.1 is better prepared for 4k user interfaces than Windows 7, so keep that in mind if you considering upgrading your machine when moving to 4k. I also suspect Windows 10 next year will even be better suited for ultra high resolution displays.

    Photography Pros & Cons


    Photoshop CC 2014 at 4k with a Nikon D810 Image

    I’ve had a lot of people that the enjoy reading my blog because I tell people what they need to hear, not always what they want to hear. Of course this gets people mad at me and I get flame mail, but I’ve also had some of those people come back later and apologies as they ultimately learned that the concerns I raised about their beloved investment turned out to be true. With this in mind, please pay attention to what I am about to say.

    Yes, your images will look fantastic on a 4k display.

    Yes, it is like looking at a print and 4k video is simply sublime!

    However, this is just like the problem of using wide gamut color whereby you are seeing something that is far different from what the rest of the world will see, so it is easy to make photo editing mistakes or miss things simply because you didn’t see a problem on your gorgeous display. Where this is especially true is high ISO noise which virtually vanishes on a UHD display (just like a print) but is very visible on a 1080p display

    As a result unless your entire workflow only involves print and usage with other UHD display owners, you’ll probably want to proof your work on a 1080p display – just like you’d test your editing in a sRGB web browser to know how the rest of the world will see your work.

    I should also note that while it does help you a little with printing to see something that more closely resembles a print, the challenges of display matching to print still exist – UHD does nothing to help our hinder that process in my opinion. As a result, don’t expect any magic to happen when you start soft proofing your prints from a UHD display versus what you are doing today on your 1080p or 1920x1200 display.

    A recommended approach

    Do my comments mean I don’t recommend getting a UHD display? Absolutely not, UHD display is incredible but I do advise a dual screen strategy with one display running at 1080p (like I do with my PA Series display).

    The only downside to this configuration – at least on Windows – is that you end up with ridiculously large user interfaces on your 1080p display as the system applies one size UI elements to all displays. This does help you with Photoshop issues though as you can simply move the UI back and forth between the two displays or put the UI in the 1080p display and undock the photo window and drag it over to the UHD monitor. As previously mentioned, you’ll still want to double check your work on the 1080p display and in the web browser before you finish your editing.

    A Word about Calibration

    image

    Like the NEC PA series displays, you’ll need the NEC SpectraView II Display Calibration Software and a compatible display calibration device to accurately calibrate the color on this display. The good news though is that if you have these already a simple and free software update will have you calibrating in no time. The calibration was good and paired nicely next to my NEC PA series display, although not as good as having it paired with another PA series. With that said, so there were no major issues mixing the different types of displays together.

    X-Rite i1Display Pro (Rebate Available)
    X-Rite i1Display Pro (Rebate Available)

    Need a bigger display?

    NEC PA322UHD-BK 32" Widescreen LED Backlit Color Accurate IPS Monitor
    NEC PA322UHD-BK 32" Widescreen LED Backlit Color Accurate IPS Monitor

    If you’ve got deep pockets, the 32” UHD PA series is the display to get if you can afford it. The PA series represents NEC’s highest quality displays for photographers with the best performance and most accurate uniform color, so it will be the UHD display by which others are judged. It’s also a nicer having a larger display for UHD since this would make the fonts appear a bit larger.

    Unfortunately I haven’t had the pleasure of testing one of these displays yet, but I hope to in the future.

    Conclusion

    While I don’t think the quality of this display is on par with a NEC PA series, it is a very good display. UHD is a wonderful thing to behold in real life, so this unit shouldn’t disappoint anyone.

    With a current street price that is about $269 more than a similarly sized NEC PA242W display, it’s hard to not argue for moving up to 4k (UHD). With that said, I still think every photographer displaying photos to the web should either own a 1080p display or plan to scale down their UHD display to 1080p for proofing their work. However, it is easy to change your resolution and go back to UHD when you are done so this shouldn’t be considered a reason against UHD.

    Where to order

    Click here to learn more or order the on the B&H web site. My friends at Amazon have it available here.

    Other articles you may enjoy

    If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

    Disclosure

    If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

    If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

    Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

    Saturday, November 1, 2014

    REVIEW: Epson Metallic Photo Paper Glossy & Luster

    Epson Metallic Glossy & Luster Photo Papers
    Epson Metallic Glossy & Luster Photo Papers

    I’m delighted to finally get a chance to bring you my review of Epson Metallic Glossy & Luster Photo Papers. This blog was made famous in the printing community for my previous metallic papers reviews, and I had been encouraging Epson for years to develop a metallic paper. Epson also surprised me by not only doing a traditional glossy metallic but also introducing a luster metallic paper. I’m a huge fan of the Epson Ultra Premium Luster and an ever bigger fan of metallic, so the marriage between the two is more than a dream come true!

    Impressions

    When I did my last metallic paper comparison, I loved Red River Polar Pearl Metallic and felt it was the winner on price but identical in quality to the Lexjet. As a result of the price advantage, the Red River has been my paper of choice for the last 2+ years and it even had a short run in an incredible 300gsm version (now discontinued) that is still my most favorite ever! As a result, when it comes to glossy metallic, Red River Polar Pearl is the standard by which others are judged.

    Glossy

    When I flop the papers around in my hands, I notice that the Epson Glossy Metallic seems to have less flex in it – which is great, because that’s the only gripe I have about the Red River (which is what the 300gsm fixed). The color of the Epson seems to be slightly warmer when viewed under a GTI light box, but other than that they are very similar. The amount metallic flake (for lack of a better term) in both papers seems to be about the same, and in my testing the printed results when using the superior Red River ICC profile on both papers surprisingly resulted in the Epson having a slightly cooler temperature image. The cost of the papers currently gives Epson the slight advantage, but if you use my discount coupon code for Red River papers then the Polar Pearl is slightly cheaper.

    Luster (or Lustre)

    Regardless of how you spell Luster, the Epson Luster Metallic is the first of its kind to come into my studio. I was absolutely THRILLED to find out that Epson had done a luster version because I prefer luster over glossy by a large margin.

    As you would hope, the Epson metallic luster has what appears to be an identical luster texture and pattern to the ultra premium luster yet the color is slightly brighter for the ultra premium. The metallic characteristics of this new luster metallic are exactly what I would have hoped for, so I was very satisfied to see that it is a true metallic.

    Again I had ICC profile issues, but overall I found the DMax and quality of the print to be very good. In the end I would strongly recommend this paper for anyone who loves metallic but would prefer to print on luster instead of glossy papers.

    Compared to Red River & LexJet Metallics

    When it comes to luster metallic, there’s only one game in town for me – Epson. However, when it comes to glossy metallic I still prefer the Red River Polar Pearl as my go to paper. My opinion could change if Epson improves its paper profiles, but given what I used during my testing I found the Polar Pearl to have deeper blacks and a more faithful color matching to what I saw on my color calibrated screen (when viewing the prints in a GTI lightbox).

    ICC Profiles need work

    I downloaded my ICC profiles for my 3880 from http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Pro/ICCProfilesAll.do on November 1, 2014. At that point in time, I felt disappointed with the quality of the ICC profiles provided by Epson. This is rare as they are famous for making brilliant ICC profiles, so hopefully they will do an update in the future. In the meantime, if you can generate your own ICC profiles I’d recommend that you do. You may also find that using the non-metallic equivalent Epson profiles might yield more satisfying results than the actual metallic profiles – however, I strongly discourage that practice unless you have no option. If you don’t mind wasting a little paper and ink, I’d encourage you to do test prints where you print the same part of a image on roughly 1/3rd of the paper with one profile and the same on the other side with the same image and compare the results on the same sheet of paper.

    To my eyes the metallic glossy profile generates images that have a cooler color temperature than they should which results in red’s feeling more purple to my eyes. Printing the same identical image with identical settings, but on Red River’s metallic with their profile yielded a perfect print. When printing on the metallic luster and comparing to the ultra premium luster I observed that the metallic print resulted in an image that was too yellow whereas the ultra premium luster was perfect.

    I repeated the prints with the metallic papers just to make sure I didn’t make a mistake and got the same identical results, so I’m convinced the problem is the quality of the Epson paper profiles.

    Conclusion

    My bottom line is that if you are printing metallic and like luster paper over glossy, then definitely get the Epson Metallic Photo Paper Luster – it’s great stuff! Once I get a good paper profile for it (and I’ll make one myself if I must), it’ll probably be my preferred metallic paper. However, if you still like the glossy metallic – which does have a bit more metallic appearance to it – then I’d still recommend the Red River Polar Pearl Metallic over the Epson Metallic Photo Paper Glossy.

    If my opinion changes based on future paper profile updates then I’ll be sure to update this article.

    Where to order

    Click here to learn more or order these papers on the B&H web site. My friends at Amazon have it available here.

    Other articles you may enjoy

    If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

    Disclosure

    If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

    If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

    Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

    Thursday, October 30, 2014

    REVIEW: Nikon D750–Yeah, it’s better than my 5D Mark III (Part II of II)

    In the first part of my review, I expressed how impressed I was with this camera. Despite being crippled by a mediocre kit lens for this review, I’ve been very pleased with image quality and dynamic range for the shots I’ve taken with it.

    In this final installment of my review, I’ll focus more on some of the technical aspects of this camera and discuss how I feel it compares to some of the other cameras I’ve tested.

    Mug Shot Test


    f/8 @ 120 mm, 1/200, ISO 100

    Unedited in-camera JPEG – click for the full size

    Knowing that this camera has great dynamic range, I decided to put it to the torture test using a model with dark eyes and a black background just to see how many tones it could capture. As you can clearly see from above, the D750 knocked this one out of the park.

    I can clearly distinguish the pupil from the iris in the eye as well as all the shades in the models hair. Even the black background shows a buttery smooth series of tones.

    While this is certainly no Otus 85mm lens, I was plenty satisfied with the detail captured on the skin (sorry Julia!) and the eyelashes.

    In short, this camera nailed the mugs shot test, so one could only hope the DMV will start using these – or maybe not!

    Bookshelf Test


    f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/13, ISO 12800, No Flash

    Click for the original to fully appreciate the high ISO performance

    Overall my testing revealed that image quality and tonal range are fantastic in the ISO 100-12,800 range. When you go into the high modes of 25,600 and 51,200 the dynamic range begins to suffer, but even with in-camera noise reduction results in a usable image.


    f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 13s, ISO 100, No Flash

    This is the sweet spot of the lens that I tested,
    so click for the original to see the best image I could get with the kit lens

    Unlike a lot of Nikon’s I’ve tested which tend to have either overly bright or dark metering, I found this camera to have a nice happy medium. With that said, I did get some unexplainable shifts in brightness and color when using auto white balance and matrix metering during my bookshelf testing. This is really my only complaint with this camera, and hopefully this is something that will sort itself out with a future firmware update.

    Compared to the 5D Mark III

    I own and love the Canon 5D Mark III, and without question it’s definitely one of the best Canon’s ever made. However, it is not without flaws. Do I think the Nikon has leapfrogged the 5D Mark III? YES! The overall dynamic range offered by this camera creates a wide spectrum of natural tones that is more true to life straight out of the camera than what I get out of my 5DM3. While I still prefer many features and characteristics of the Canon, for now this is the new defacto standard for parents, event and travel photographers who really want the best image quality possible.

    While personally I don’t give a hoot about video from a DSLR, I still think the movie industry support around Canon probably gives it an advantage. However, I can’t imagine any D750 user being disappointed with the video performance with a sensor that is this good.

    What should a 5D Mark III owner do? My advice is to save your money. Inevitably Canon will have a response and for now you have a great camera that’s not worth taking a big loss on – especially if you’ve got a good investment in lenses. Think of it a bit like you are driving the 2013 version of your dream car and your neighbor gets the 2014 model which has some nice new bells and whistles. While it sucks not to have the best product possible, you probably wouldn’t sell your car just to upgrade. I think the same philosophy applies here, so enjoy what you have and spend your money elsewhere – God knows there’s a lot of other ways to spend your money on photography gear and software, so don’t waste your money trying to keep up with the latest camera.

    Skip the Kit Lens


    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens

    My favorite “cheap” zoom lens for starter kits

    I wasn’t a big fan of the kit lens, so I’d advise to go body only and get something else. I definitely liked the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens that I tested with the D600 – it was surprisingly good (and cheap). The AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is the lens to have if you can afford it, so if you are just starting out I’d consider either of those as better choices over the 24-120mm.

    Conclusion

    If you have an investment in Nikon lenses and are wondering if it is time to upgrade your camera body, I’d say it depends. While I personally wouldn’t take a loss on a perfectly good D600/D610, I’d certainly upgrade any other Nikon besides the D800/D810 and D4/D4s up to this one – if you’ve already bought all of the high quality lenses you are ever going to buy. Great lenses make the most of any camera body, so I always recommend spending extra funds on glass before camera bodies.

    With that disclaimer out of the way, owners who do upgrade are going to be delighted. Those frustrated by some of the limitations of the D600/D610 might also find it a worthwhile upgrade, despite that being an excellent camera in its own right.  I can definitely say that as a fan boy of the D600/D610, I found myself very excited to see that my minor quibbles about those cameras had been addressed leaving me with a camera that I’d probably buy if I didn’t have an investment in Canon lenses.

    For those who believe DXOMark sensor scores are the word of God (and I don’t), they ranked the D750 as #6 under the D800E, D800, D600 & D610. While I’m sure in their own scientific way this makes sense to them, I can say that to my eyes in real world scenarios I find the D750 to be a overall better performer at higher ISO’s than the D800’s and about the same as the D600/D610.  As a result, I continue to say these sensor scores are non-sense in the real world so take them with a grain of salt. The D750 is a fantastic camera that will definitely not disappoint, so without reservation I highly recommend it.

    Where to order

    Click here to learn more or order the D750 on the B&H web site.

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    Disclosure

    If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

    If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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    Wednesday, October 29, 2014

    REVIEW: Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4–Is it worth the money?

    Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* ZE Lens
    Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* ZE Lens

    Zeiss Otus lenses are the most amazing lenses to hold in your hands. They are the lens equivalent of a high end Swiss watch where everything just screams precision and perfection. The focus ring is a work of art that makes you wish all lenses could have a focus ring like this. However, do these physical characteristics and it’s massive amount of glass translate into a product worthy of its > $4000 USD price tag? Read on to get my take.

    Mug Shot Analysis


    Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 85 mm, 1/200, ISO 100, No Flash

    Click for the unedited in-camera original JPEG
    (NOTE: Model intentionally placed lower in the frame to get the eyelashes in the sweet spot)

    As one would expect, this is a very sharp lens. In my analysis of this lens I’ve noticed that it’s sharpness really shines on the finest details like that of the pattern and texture of the shirt. If you zoom in there and around the buttons you get a real world idea of just how sharp this lens really is.

    Models will certainly hate it for its sharpness on the skin, but as you can see in this image every little pore, glitter flake, hair and eyelash is super sharp.

    My subjective opinion is that it is sharper than the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II wide open – especially at the edges. However as you stop down to f/4.0 and at f/5.6 things start to get pretty similar. The 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 85mm is nearly as sharp in all areas except around the outer third edges (the buttons and lower).

    Bookshelf Analysis


    Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 85 mm, 15s, ISO 100, No Flash

    The bookshelf testing really shows off just how good this lens really is. In fact, while doing the manual focusing I quickly realized that this lens out resolves the Canon Live View display making perfect manual focusing more difficult. However, with some trial and error I’m convinced I nailed it.

    With that said, when you click on the original of the image above you’ll see some amazing detail throughout the image. This lens is insane sharp, no doubt, but the manual focus means that some might not get the maximum sharpness in the real world due to human error. This is an important consideration that shouldn’t be ignored.

    After looking at all factors of the bookshelf images, I definitely felt like f/5.6 was the sweet spot for this lens – but it’s fantastic from f/1.4 all the way to f/16!


    Canon EOS-1D X, f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1s, ISO 100, No Flash

    As I look at the image with the lens wide open I see creamy bokeh, yet crisp sharpness – both important characteristics for this focal length. Overall I was very satisfied with what I saw and felt like its use on a tripod of static subjects would result in amazing images (or video).

    Click here to see the full gallery of images test images.

    Depth of Field/Bokeh Test


    Canon EOS-1D X, f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/13, ISO 100, No Flash

    When reviewing a lens with f-stops smaller than f/4, it’s common for people to ask about the quality of the bokeh created by the lens. Generally speaking, the better the lens the more “creamy” the bokeh, so the question becomes – just how good is it for this mega lens.

    As you can see from the shot above the depth of field is very shallow at f/1.4 resulting a excellent but somewhat dark out of focus region.  As is true with nearly any lens, going to larger f-stops helps with the wide open vignetting issue. As a result, by f/2.8 you get an incredibly sharp image with a bright and very satisfying bokeh as shown below:


    Canon EOS-1D X, f/2.8 @ 85 mm, 1/3, ISO 100, No Flash


    Canon EOS-1D X, f/16 @ 85 mm, 10s, ISO 100, No Flash

    This is a solid lens stopped all the way down to f/16, so I’d have no reservations shooting at f/16 with this lens.

    Click here to see the full gallery of images test images which includes 8 different apertures of this same shot.

    Conclusion

    I was really impressed with the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, so I was excited to get my hands on this lens. After some frustrations in real world testing with the manual focus challenges I quickly realized that this type of lens just simply isn’t for me. While it is spectacularly sharp with gorgeous bokeh, I’d personally take the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II over this one in a heartbeat. The Canon lens is so sharp with such amazing bokeh that there’s very little for the pixel peeper to find advantageous about this lens, yet the lack of autofocus means that your odds of getting a shot of anything that isn’t completely stationary at f/1.4 will be very difficult. In fact, I hate the long minimum focus distance and slow autofocus of the Canon 85mm prime, so personally I’m happy sticking with my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 85mm. I simply couldn’t tell the difference in the areas that mattered most to me (eyes, eye lashes and hair), and honestly for the people photography I do too much sharpness ends up being a bad thing (i.e., I spend more time doing skin touchups and fixing the skin with Portraiture).

    Yes, this lens is phenomenally built, crazy sharp with wonderful bokeh. Unlike the 55mm which has a formidable competitor from SIGMA in the form of the 50mm Art Series (Nikon D810 Otus vs Sigma), SIGMA still has an average 85mm that certainly isn’t in the league of this lens (or the Canon lenses in my opinion).

    If you are the type of person that buys $850 Tom Ford belts without looking at the price tag, then perhaps this is the lens for you. If you are a working stiff like the rest of us, then my advice is to go with Canon 85mm f/1.2L II or Nikon’s 85mm IF you need more than the brilliant 70-200mm zooms offer. You can take the rest of that money that’s burning a hole in your pocket and make good use of it on my other recommendations.

    Oh and if you do decide to get it, be sure to check out my tripod recommendations – you are going to need a good one while manually focusing this lens!

    Where to order

    Click here to learn more or order on the B&H web site.

    Other articles you may enjoy

    If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

    Disclosure

    If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

    If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

    Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.