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Value adding to your lens collection – can a Sony a7 II + Sigma MC-11 bring new life to your Canon lenses without breaking your bank?

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Choosing a new camera can really value add to your existing lenses and give them a new life.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera adds extra dimensions to your Micro Four Thirds kit by giving them even better image stabilisation, awesome C-AF at 18 fps burst rates with Pro-Capture option and the option of 50mp HiRes mode (albeit requiring a tripod and static scene).

Many of us have a collection of Canon pro lenses and an old Canon dSLR camera which needs updating to value add to these lenses – but which camera?

Sure, you could adapt them onto your Micro Four Thirds cameras but these Canon lenses are not optimised for CDAF, so you need an expensive Metabones adapter to get reasonable AF – and the capability will vary with each lens – some, such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro and one of my favorites, the Canon EF 135mm F2L lens will just not AF with a Metabones adapter – whether a straight adapter or a 0.71x focal reducer adapter.

You could buy a cropped sensor Canon dSLR, but unless you are into sports where the Canon 7D Mark II will be useful, the full frame lenses are just too big and poorly suited to cropped sensor dSLRs and Canon don’t make many pro quality lenses designed especially for their cropped sensor cameras.

If you have the money, the obvious choice are the superb Canon 1DX Mark II or the Canon 5D Mark IV but these are likely to break your bank at around $AU5000.

You see money is everything for most of us, if money was not an issue, we would probably buy a variety of best of breed cameras such as:

  • Hasselblad or Phase One medium format for landscapes and studio work
  • Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX with massive, expensive lenses such as a 600mm f/4 for sports or wildlife
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II for everyday use and compact, light travel

But money is an issue for most of us, and so in the Canon full frame dSLRs at the entry level end we have the outdated Canon 6D or Canon 5D Mark III dSLRs, but although these will get you the full frame shallow depth of field and high ISO capabilities, these are not suited to sports, have an old sensor which has less dynamic range capability at base ISO than even the E-M1 Mark II, and in the case of the 6D in particular, has crippled functionality such as a shutter speed only to 1/4000th sec.

Can we do better at an affordable price? – Enter the Sony a7II

The Sony a7 mark II combined with the relatively new and affordable  Sigma MC-11 Canon EF lens adapter may well be a better option than the similarly priced older canon 6D IF you can live with a few major issues:

  • variable AF functionality depending upon the lens but unlike using the much more expensive Metabones adapter, the Sigma MC-11 adapter works really well with the Canon EF 135mm f/2L, so well, that it has made me consider the Sony a7II as a reasonable option! The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II works, but every time you turn the camera off and then on, the lens freezes, so you have to partly dismount the lens and mount, then turn camera back on to re-gain AF functionality.
  • terrible ergonomics – I am not sure what happened to all those Minolta camera engineers when Sony took them over, but, the Sony cameras are certainly not designed with the photographer in mind – if you think the Olympus menu system is confused and convoluted, Sony is worse, and with sometimes very strange  design options, and worse, the constant need to dig into the menu system for simple things such as switching from back button AF to half shutter AF modes, and unlike the Olympus, navigating the panel display settings is very clunky, plus for some reason, the EVF looks blurry even after adjusting the diopter, and countless other annoyances such as no button to switch from EVF to screen manually – yep, you guessed it – another deep dive into the menu system – if you can remember which screen its on! Plus, unlike Olympus, there is no context-sensitive help on the menus or the Scene modes (you just get a sometimes obscure icon).
  • did I mention terrible ergonomics?
  • did I mention the really loud shutter? – unlike Olympus, there is no silent mode – but at least your subjects can hear you taking the shot from 10m away!
  • cannot yet use Canon flashes in TTL mode – but they work fine in manual mode – thankfully, Sony got rid of the proprietary non-industry standard Minolta hotshoe! PS. the Cactus radio wireless TTL flash system is being updated in 2017 to allow Canon and Olympus flashes to work on Sony cameras and other brand cameras including Olympus cameras with full TTL remote radio wireless flash – but Sony and Pentax cameras currently require brand-specific flashes for HSS mode. AWESOME!
  • is not supplied with an external battery charger – what the??? You charge the battery via USB cable with battery in the camera – not very useful if tyou want to use the camera while the battery is charging! You can apparently buy one with a spare battery for about $100

What benefits does the Sony a7 II have over the similarly priced Canon 6D?

  • mirrorless – camera is smaller and lighter, 600g vs 770g
  • EVF instead of OVF means you can hold the camera to your eye for Live View including movies, plus, if you are like me and require reading glasses, you can get away without them by using the EVF for everything including diving into the menu
  • manual focus magnification with focus peaking in the viewfinder – fantastic for Tilt-Shift lenses which are otherwise difficult to focus
  • ability to use native Sony lenses as well as Leica M lenses – probably not a big deal unless you really want to invest in an essentially flawed design system -in my opinion, Sony made a mistake in designing the E-Mount sensor to lens flange distance so short and the mount diameter so narrow – sure it makes the cameras smaller, but that doesn’t help much on full frame as the lenses are gigantic, and furthermore, it cripples image quality with wide aperture, wide angle lenses and cripples the capabilities of a sensor based image stabilisation system – hence the Sony Steady shot IS is no match for the Olympus system, and according to the laws of physics is unlikely to ever be!
  • 24mp newer sensor with much better dynamic range compared to the old 2012 model 20mp sensor of the 6D
  • shutter speed to 1/8000th sec not just 1/4000th sec
  • 5 axis sensor based image stabiliser that works on all lenses (gives about 2EV benefit but requires compatible OIS lens for greatest benefit) vs NO sensor based IS on the 6D – or any Canon dSLR for that matter!
  • 117 PDAF autofocus points compared to 11 on the 6D which are all crowded in the centre
  • face detection AF even when used with Canon lenses – vs face detection only in Live View mode
  • eye detect AF with compatible lenses (not currently with the Canon lenses unless they are made by Sigma)
  • 1200 zone metering instead of 63 zone dual layer metering
  • flash sync 1/250th sec vs 1/180th sec – although my tests with Canon and Olympus flashes, the Sony a7ii only syncs fully at 1/200th sec – perhaps you need a Sony flash for 1/250th sec sync
  • 1.23m dot tilting LCD vs 1mdot fixed LCD (unfortunately, neither offer touch screen)
  • 1080HD 60p video vs 1080HD 30p
  • more accurate AF and much less need for AF microadjustment as the PDAF sensors are on the main sensor not located elsewhere and hence need calibration

Benefits of the Canon 6D over the Sony a7II:

  • similar interface to other Canon dSLRs, albeit a little crippled compared to its more expensive models
  • optical viewfinder for those who value such things
  • better batter life as no EVF
  • more reliable AF with Canon lenses but you are restricted to those 11 points in the centre, and you don’t get face detect AF through the viewfinder let alone eye detection AF
  • ability to use Canon flashes in TTL mode although the Cactus radio wireless TTL flash system is being updated in 2017 to allow Canon and Olympus flashes to work on Sony cameras with full TTL remote radio wireless flash – but apparently they can’t get HSS mode working at this stage!

Conclusion:

In the end, you need to work out which is best for you and the style of photography you do – both solutions are a long way from being ideal – they are both budget compromises – which compromise works for you – only you can tell!

For me, having an image stabilised Canon 135mm f/2L lens with face detect AF and ability to do Live View manual focus magnification with focus peaking in the viewfinder while using Canon Tilt-Shift lenses on the Sony with a better dynamic range and 1/8000th sec shutter for sunny days makes this a compelling choice for me if I were to purchase one of the two.

 

 

The new Sony RX 1R II 42mp full frame compact fixed lens camera – a lovely but pricey serious photography tool

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Sony has just announced their upgrade to the 2012 world’s 1st full frame compact fixed lens digital camera – the Sony RX I and the new camera is the Sony RX 1R II and packs some very important improvements, albeit with the same excellent Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, but the RRP of $US3300 may be just a touch too high for most people!

Firstly, these cameras are fairly unique in packing such a high quality lens and full frame sensor into a small package much the same size as a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D of equivalent field of view.

Leaf shutter:

Not only that but the shutter is a leaf shutter in the lens which gives 2 very important advantages over shutters at the sensor:

  • it is more quiet
  • it allows flash sync at full flash output at shutter speeds up to 1/2000th sec  (ie. no need for power sapping high speed sync modes such as HSS or Super FP)

Fast flash sync:

A fast flash sync is extremely useful in 2 particular circumstances:

  • allowing wide apertures to be used in bright outdoor situations at a distance – eg. wedding groups
  • allowing one to over-power the sun if the strobe is powerful enough and it’s full output flash has a very brief duration such as 1/800th sec or shorter – unfortunately many flashes require 1/300th- 1/500th sec duration for maximum flash output which does limit the benefit of fast flash sync somewhat.

Improvements over the Sony RX 1:

  • 42mp sensor and image processor as for the Sony a7RII E-mount mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
  • a much needed improved AF system now with 399-point hybrid AF system and C-AF capability
  • built-in flash replaced with a superb popup built-in EVF – 2,359,296 dot OLED TRU-finder EVF with 0.74x magnification, a 19mm eyepoint and a -4.0 to +3.0 diopter adjustment
  • rear LCD now tilts but still no touch control
  • new variable optical low-pass filter to allow user to decide upon maximum detail or minimal moire artefacts
  • 5fps burst with AF between each frame
  • shutter now to 1/4000th sec
  • can now define a minimum shutter speed for the Auto ISO sensitivity option
  • 50Mbps XAVC S movie mode at 1080 full HD at 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60fps
  • WiFi, NFC, smartphone remote control

What does it miss out on?

There are a few features missing which really should be available on a camera at this price point such as:

  • weathersealing – this is a pity as I could imagine bushwalkers would love this camera if it was weathersealed
  • image stabiliser – this is a real pity as hand held, the camera shake is likely to waste all those 42mp of data and mean that low light street shooters would not get the maximum out of it
  • shutter speed to 1/8000th sec – another problem means one may need a ND filter to use f/2 in bright sunlight, although an option is to drop ISO to 50 and give up some dynamic range
  • 4K video which is now becoming the video to have
  • touch control of rear LCD screen – given this is such a small camera, touch control would be handy indeed

Why not just use an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II with 20mm Panasonic pancake lens?

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 II kit gives the following advantages at 1/3rd of the price and is only a touch larger and heavier:

  • camera is weathersealed (although this pancake lens is not)
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • the world’s best image stabiliser which is just magic in video mode as well
  • touch control of rear screen which not only tilts but swivels
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 40mp HiRes mode without moire for static subjects with camera on tripod
  • 77mbps HD video with incredible image stabiliser
  • PC sync port
  • don’t need to pop up the EVF
  • some great in-built features such as Live Composite mode, etc

BUT the Sony does give a few benefits which may make it worth it for some people:

  • the shallower depth of field and lower high ISO noise of the full frame sensor
  • 42mp detail – although one really needs a tripod, fast shutter speed or flash to realize this detail
  • fast flash sync – but you need a short duration flash unit to make the most of it
  • 399 AF points instead of 81 points may provide some benefits

Or for a similar price, the Sony a7R II camera:

The Sony a7R II is only a little more expensive and substantially bigger and heavier, and lacks the leaf shutter, but gives you the following benefits:

  • camera is weathersealed
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • a very good image stabiliser
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 4K video

Note that at present there is no dedicated AF lens for the E-mount which equates with this lens, the nearest are the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ($US799) and the new Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 (~$US2000). There is a manual focus Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens at $US1250.

Thus the Sony RX 1R II gives you similar image quality in a much smaller package and the benefits of fast flash sync and 35mm f/2 and if these are more important than the other features then it maybe a camera to buy but for most, the Olympus OM-D or Sony a7R II would be better options.

At last, a full frame “Olympus OM-D” by Sony – the Sony alpha 7 II introduces 5-axis sensor IS

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

There are several things I want out of a camera these days:

  • high image quality
  • compact and light camera AND lenses
  • fast accurate AF
  • fast flash sync
  • great range of high quality affordable lenses
  • effective sensor based image stabilisation so manual focus is easy and all lenses can benefit from sharper imagery
  • a nice EVF with live view and all its benefits instead of clunky mirror systems
  • excellent support for manual focus – eg. image stabilised magnified view, etc
  • preferably weather-sealed

Until now, the ONLY cameras which fulfilled these requirements are the wonderful Olympus OM-D cameras such as the E-M1, E-M5 and E-M10.

This month Sony has announced the 1st full frame camera to have 5-axis sensor based image stabilisation similar to the OM-D cameras and said to offer around 4 stops of stabilisation, although currently it is let down by lack of dedicated  lens range, but this can be expected to change over the next few years, and this at least is a great start having the sensor based IS included in such a camera.

The Sony a7 II:

  • 24mp full frame mirrorless camera with E-mount
  • sensor has 117 phase detect and 25 contrast detect points and although presumably the same sensor, it is said to have substantially improved AF and AF tracking over its predecessor, the a7 which did have issues with slow AF ( see here)
    • note that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has 37 phase detect and 800 contrast detect points and can shoot at 6.5/10 fps, flash sync 1/320th sec,  timelapse, Live BULB/Composite modes, touch screen, and much more.
  • tilting 1,230,000 dot LCD although not touch sensitive
  • 2,359,000 dot EVF with 0.71x magnification
  • shutter speed 30sec – 1/8000th sec
  • no built-in flash, but flash sync a very reasonable 1/250th sec
  • 5fps burst rate is not going to set the world on fire but is OK
  • exposure compensation is +/- 5EV
  • built-in WiFi and NFC for smartphone tethering
  • no timelapse recording
  • has some very nice HD video specs:
    • 1080 in 60p/60i/24p and supports XAVC S codec at 50Mbps and S Log 2 flat picture profile
    • uncompressed HDMI output
    • stereo mic
  • 599g
  • 127 x 96 x 60 mm (5 x 3.78 x 2.36″)
  • at $US1600 it will certainly put some pressure on Canon and Nikon who still have not come to terms with the future being mirrorless cameras for most people

As mentioned, the current poor range of AF lenses dedicated to this camera is a major issue – I would love a 24mm f/1.4, a 35mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/2, but instead, all we have is 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.8 and 3 zoom lenses – none of which are f/2.8.

If indeed, Sony and Olympus are collaborating on the development of this system – Olympus is said to be providing input regarding the 5-axis IS (although Sony appear to be claiming it is their own technology and it appears that it is a very different mechanism – see here, and that it is not as effective in video mode), and help with lens design, it would be quite nice if Olympus were to produce an Olympus version which would be compatible with their Olympus flash system and OM-D user interface – even if they kept the Sony E-Mount, this would not be an issue from a photographer’s perspective, and having such a full frame camera would provide a nice compliment to their OM-D cameras.

See more about the Sony E-Mount system on my wiki

Which entry level full frame dSLR camera to buy?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

For the purposes of this blog, I am going to exclude the expensive Nikon D3x, Nikon D3 (as the D700 is almost as good) and the Canon 1DsMIII.

So that leaves use with 3 very worthy contenders but with quite different features:

  • Nikon D700:
    • 12mp with live preview, 5fps, good AF tracking, great high ISO performance, some excellent, if expensive new lenses designed for digital such as the wide angle zoom and new tilt-shift lenses and built-in flash
    • BUT no built in image stabiliser, no movie mode and for some the 12mp may not be sufficient for landscapes or wedding photography
  • Canon 5DMII:
    • 21mp with live preview and limited HD movie mode
    • BUT no image stabiliser, not good for action work (only 3.5fps and limited AF capability), and even the L series lenses may not be up to the task of matching the sensor resolution, particularly the zooms when used wide open, while the standard zooms are not anything to write home about although serviceable
    • of considerable concern is the flash sync is slower than the 1DMIII – see here and there is no built-in flash which can be very useful at times
    • perhaps the main concern though is its propensity to fail in moist environments when used with a vertical battery grip – see here
    • dpreview.com has just reviewed it and despite the above, it is an excellent camera but in my view full of compromises (and I own a Canon 1DMIII)
  • Sony A900:
    • 25mp with built-in image stabiliser and comparable image quality at least up to ISO 800
    • BUT NO live preview, nor video mode, no built-in flash, and uses the legacy proprietary Minolta flash hot shoe which creates annoying compatibility issues when using 3rd party flash accessories
    • some very nice Carl Zeiss lenses designed for digital but no tilt-shift lenses as yet

The prime consideration for most is what system they already have, in which case, they will go with the same brand as they have rather than pay for changing systems.

For others, it will be a case of which suits their needs best:

  • the Sony really seems a good buy with its image stabiliser, high image quality and high quality lenses – an almost ideal full frame dSLR camera that I find very tempting if I had the money – but many will not want to risk not having a Canon or Nikon
  • for those that want high resolution in Canon or Nikon, that really only leaves the Canon 5DMII but it really concerns me that it may fail just when you need it, and not everyone can afford a backup dSLR for these scenarios. The lack of sports/action capabilities is not such a big concern – the Canon guys wanting this will probably still go for the Canon 1DMIII or wait for the MIV with its 1.3x crop which gets them that bit closer to the action and with 10fps and weather-proofing
  • so where does that leave the Nikon D700? For most people, 12 mp is plenty, and the greater versatility afforded with its better action capabilities, the better wide angle lenses and reliability with the option of the excellent cropped sensor Nikon D300 as an excellent telephoto back up camera may be enough to persuade them that its the way to go rather than the Canon.

I suspect the pro photographers will go for the Nikon D3x over the D700/D3 or Canon 5DMII/1DsMIII even though it’s price tag seems a bit excessive, at the end of the day, it will be reliability, usability and high optical quality and sensor quality that counts for them.

Nikon leak – new 24.5mp full frame – Nikon D3X

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Nikon itself appears to have leaked information on another full frame dSLR – the Nikon D3X which appears to be primarily a Nikon D3 with a 24.5mp sensor to match the Canon 5DMII and Canon 1DsMIII.

Details here.

post script:
dpreview.com’s coverage here