Well hello there, what a long time it’s been since I’ve written to all you awesome readers! Last time I checked in, I was already on my way to basic training to join the United States Navy. Fast forward nine months, and I’ve found myself stationed smack dab in the middle of any photographer’s/tech geek’s heaven, Japan! I couldn’t have been more excited to actually live in another country, in all its 14-hour time jet-lagged glory. Finally, I can experience a whole different society, culture, and region that is farther than I could have every hoped to travel to in the U.S.
Though I will not turn this post into a traveler’s experience, I will say I love it here in Japan so far. The food is always great, the people are ridiculously nice and amiable, the weather is mild, and there are an infinite amount of possibilities to spend my free time amid a language I…unfortunately…am still far off from understanding. Oh, and the technology, Japan has lots of that too, which brings me back to the post at hand. There’s a lot to get through, from the guns-blazing Sony GM lineup, to compact primes, to the ridiculous ZY 135mm f/1.4, so grab a seat and let’s all geek out over photography gear after the jump!
Japan’s annual camera and photo imaging show is one of the many events photographers and gearheads look forward to year after year, because every photography-related company from the big three (Sony, Canon, Nikon) to the little guys (Laowa, Zhongyi Optics, etc.) get their own space to show off their latest and greatest to the masses—not just to the press. Lenses, cameras, tripods, printers, filters, photoshop clinics…if it can be likened to photography, there’ll be a company here dressed to impress.
Being in Japan, though, CP+ is an event that many photographers only get to witness through press releases and the occasional google-translated blog post. As such, I felt a tad obligated to share some of my experience after going to the show for an entire day. At first I thought six hours around photography equipment would get to be an eyesore, like staying too long at a boring museum. As it turned out, I wish I never had to leave!
Exiting the Yokohama Station on the East side, exhibition-goers are headed the right way when they pass the grand entrance to Yokohama Porta, a shopping/eating complex just under street level. Past this is about a 1.5km walk to Pacifico Yokohama’s main exhibition space.
From the upper walkway, the 369-foot tall Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris Wheel can be seen at the Cosmo World amusement park in the distance.
After getting my pass inside, I knew exactly where I needed to head. As I’m sure many of you all know, being the Sony guy I am, I made a beeline to the company’s massive area for all things E-mount.
The biggest draw to CP+ for me had to be the new GM lenses for E-mount. Without getting into too much press talk, the GM lenses seem to be Sony’s bold foray into winning over DSLR shooters. A trio of lenses rounds out a very impressive spec sheet, what with the standard 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms, as well as an ultra-fast 85mm f/1.4. Each lens got its own case to be examined by all:
These lenses are touted to bring “ultimate resolution with beautiful bokeh” due to new mechanical advances in manufacturing aspherical lens elements with an ultra low margin of error of .01 microns. In layman’s terms, their process is designed to combine the sharpness and contrast that aspherical lenses are known for, while the actual element itself is mechanically smoothed down to eliminate the “onion ring” bokeh that also tends to accompany aspheric lens designs. Equipped with SSM focusing drives and weather sealed mounts, everything spec-wise about these lenses just screams “pro” when compared to similar offerings by Nikon and Sony.
Sony is so confident in these lenses that they had their own live photo studio set up with multiple A7RII’s and 85mm f/1.4 GM’s, complete with two moving models and props galore.
After waiting in line for the longest 10 minutes of that day, I was surprised to have one of the exhibitor assistants tell me I could put in my own SD card to save any photos I made! Good on you, Sony! Usually the SD card door, in addition to the lens release button, is sealed shut at exhibitions, so now I was even more excited to see what these dreamy 42 megapixel files would look like back on the computer. I only had a couple minutes to look over the camera, get the title photo seen at the top of this post, as well as attempt to get the manual settings right (of course, all the options were in Japanese) before making a few shots.
In the spirit of seeing the raw potential of this brave new lens, I left the jpeg settings to flat and only adjusted the base exposure of the files, if needed (I underexposed the majority of the files by about 1/3 stop). I also used the default face/eye detect autofocus, which worked surprisingly well even when the head wasn’t directed straight at the camera. All at ISO 100 and 1/320:
Where to begin? For starters, this was actually the first time I’ve ever handled the A7 series, let alone the newest 42 megapixel addition to Sony’s growing full-frame E-mount lineup. As such, nothing felt right, since the viewfinder was in the wrong place (love that eye-level viewfinder on the NEX cameras), the grip felt like a mini-DSLR, and the whole outfit itself was just dense. It’s amazing what Sony has done with the A7 series, but the GM lens lineup brings up the problem many mirrorless shooters are seeing with these cameras—as Sony and others release faster and larger lenses to compete with the big and bulky DSLR lenses, they cannot beat the laws of optics that tend to determine a lens’ weight.
That said, I can only commend Sony for the work they’ve done to create full frame lenses that are at the very least comparable to their DSLR counterparts: the 24-70mm is about 13 grams lighter and 30mm shorter (including total camera length) and the 70-200mm is 60 grams lighter and 30mm shorter than their respective Nikon counterparts. However, the 85mm GM with its aspherically heavy design is a good 120 grams heavier and about the same length (again, including distance to sensor) as the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. With that in mind it should come as no surprise that while shooting the A7rII/85mmGM combo I could not help but feel like I was holding a small DSLR that happened to only weigh 100 grams less than a more substantial combo like the d500/85mmG.
Back to the lens’ actual performance though, I cannot speak high enough of it. Even with my haphazard focus settings, the $5000(eek!) combo performed like the champ it will undoubtedly be when the lens hits the market in late March. Focus was fast and silent, the de-clickable aperture ring was a treat, and the manual focus tuning–though fly-by-wire–felt even better than my 32mm Touit. The lens is nice and sharp wide open (see above, depth of field is so shallow that only one eye can be in tack-sharp focus), and I really don’t have any complaints about the bokeh rendering. Is this a lens I would ever consider buying? Not any time soon, though it’s not the lens’ fault but rather my own shooting style, more on that later. I can easily see this being a welcome part to any commercial Sony shooter for studio work or in the field. It’s as “pro” a lens as anyone would ever need.
But what about the other GM lenses with that shiny chrome and red sticker? Well, with my own biases and time constraints of the day, I really didn’t spend much time with the 70-200mm and never even touched the 24-70mm. However, from my extremely brief time handling the 70-200 and shooting a bit on an SD-card-shut A7rII (Sony’s not quite ready to let this lens out of the gates), it feels like another welcome lens to the GM lineup with super fast autofocusing, smooth one-finger zooming and manual focusing, and a plethora of customization options with the OSS switches and focus hold buttons. The 24-70? I have no interest in that lens yet, but again, like its two brothers, it looks solid. I wish nothing but the best for Sony when the lenses get into the hands of reviewers and real-world testers to see what’s marketing fluff, and what is true performance. I’ve got a feeling Sony is doubling-down on these to help secure E-mount’s future in the pro segment, and they really have put their money where their mouth is. Time will tell.
“Hold on a second, Durr. What about that a6300? Are you ever going to upgrade from that rusty old NEX-7?…” I can hear a few of you asking now. To put it bluntly and shortly, I lost interest in the a6300 the moment I learned it didn’t have on-sensor image stabilization like the newer A7 cameras, and that it is yet another NEX camera without Tri-Navi. Combined with the fact it isn’t full-frame (come on Sony, I know you can put a full-frame sensor in the NEX-style body…), I’m not sold yet. The admittedly excellent and highly touted autofocus system sounds nice, but it does nothing for all my manual focus Nikkors. Maybe one day Sony will make my dream come true, a full-frame a9000 with IBIS, a fast frame rate, and the wonderful Tri-Navi shooting interface. Here’s to hoping.
On that subject of my manual focus shooting, I made it over to the Voigtländer and Zeiss booth to see what was up in the old-fashioned lens world. Voigtländer has made a name for itself among E-mount shooters lately due to their extremely compact and well-made lens designs that originally made them such a good alternative for Leica shooters. One such option that is making waves is the Hyper-Wide 10mm f/5.6, a soon-to-be-released rectilinear lens that provides a ridiculous 122 degree angle of view on a full-frame camera. For those times when you just don’t want to shoot a panorama with multiple images, Voigtländer has you covered. 🙂
I moved over to the Zeiss side and got to play with the Loxia and Batis lenses on my NEX-7 as well, two new lens families from the mostly autofocus lens manufacturer that I have been eager to get my hands on ever since their announcement. Both available in E-mount, the Loxia and Batis line provide two completely different shooting experiences for different kinds of photographers. The Loxias are Leica-/Voigtländer-like in design, being that they forgo fast apertures in favor of compact, high-performing optical formulas. They are true manual-focus only (i.e. NOT fly-by-wire), but are electronically connected to the camera and provide full EXIF information. The really nice touch is that as soon as the focus is touched, the camera automatically magnifies to quickly attain critical focus. I loved that, and the quick shooting at lens cases and caps around the booth felt right at home with my Nikkors. I could easily see the Loxia 50mm f/2 and maybe even 35mm f/2 become a part of my kit when the time comes for me get a full-frame E-mount camera. I hope the lens line up expands, as an 85mm f/2 or 135mm f/2.8 Loxia may be very compelling combined with IBIS. More information on the Loxias can be seen here.
The Batis lenses are Zeiss’ attempt to engineer lenses for future cameras. Aesthetically they are built very much like the Touit lenses in addition to having autofocus. The features that really differentiate them from the Touits are the addition of optical image stabilization, SSM autofocusing, and a nifty OLED display on the lens that is slightly more gimmicky than it is useful (but…it is admittedly really cool). Unlike the heavy brick of the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM, the $600 cheaper Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis is 366 grams lighter and still focuses fast, even on my ancient NEX-7. Even the fly-by-wire focusing is more tactile and responsive than my Touit, a feature I must applaud Zeiss for. It may be interesting to see how the Batis and Sony GM lens fare in both sharpness and bokeh, given their noticeable weight and price difference. More info on the Batis lenses after the jump.
As far as other news goes, the equally-huge Nikon booth had rows of d500’s and d5’s for people to test out. This was the only other big-name camera company I visited, just to see how well put together the supposed “returned king” of aps-c DSLR’s was compared to the stalwart d300 I’ve used for years now. As suspected, it’s essentially a beefed-up d300, with almost the exact same feel, but vastly upgraded features and a brand new 20 megapixel sensor. It’s good to see Nikon return back to the pro DX market, and I hope the camera does well when it releases (without any QC issues its other recent cameras have suffered from…). I also stopped by a couple tripod company booths (Manfrotto, Gitzo, etc.) for a bit and decided the Manfrotto 055CXPro3 is going to be on my photography shortlist for sure.
Before I left for the day, I had to do a bit of scouting around the 20,000 square meter exhibition hall to find the tiny booth that could, with the lens company that is producing a world’s first soon…
ZY Optics is making a bigger name for itself recently by focusing efforts on producing affordable and insanely fast optics for APS-c and full-frame shooters. Recently they just released a 35mm f/.95 mark II for aps-c that sports super speed combined with useable sharpness wide open, complementing their ever-growing “Speedmaster” (fitting name!) lineup that includes a 25mm f/.95 (m43 mount), 42mm f/1.2 (aps-c), 50mm f/.95 (full-frame), and 85mm f/1.2 (full-frame). Their next foray into the realm of the ridiculous is the limited production 135mm f/1.4, a chunk of metal and glass so massive that I am unsure of who exactly it is marketed to aside from collectors wanting the world’s fastest 135mm.
Coming in at 3kg and $3000, the lens has a price to pay from your arms and back in addition to your wallet, especially given that it is manual-focus only just like the other Speedmasters. The only way to focus the lens precisely is on a tripod or monopod due to the weight and force needed to turn the smooth yet heavy focus ring, and on a full-frame camera the impossibly thin depth of field at f/1.4 makes the lens useful only for static subjects. I pride myself on nailing focus with my Nikkors for moving subjects, but I’m sure this lens would greatly exceed the capabilities of my technique.
Though I was able to attach my camera to the lens, I was unable to make any sort of “worthy” test shots due to there being nothing but moving people surrounding the lens. Any static subject would have been welcome, though from the limited samples I have seen, ZY Optics has done a great job in making the impossible f/1.4 aperture look great wide open. This is important, because the only aperture I would ever shoot this lens is f/1.4. Anything stopped down more would be a waste and better served by a cheaper lens (and likely even better at f/2) like the Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar T*. Who knows though, maybe since I’m relatively close to their factory (well…more-so than being back in the States!) I could try to get a copy for review to really put it through my barrage of real-world lens tests. Cost not factoring in, I would love to have this lens to create unique images that only a 135mm f/1.4 could provide, especially if I ever got around to buying a full-frame camera.
Speaking of multi-thousand dollar lenses I will probably never be able to afford, and backpedaling a bit to the Zeiss booth, the company had their full line of optically perfect lenses in proper show for every photographer to salivate over. I have so far only seen one of these lenses out in the wild, a few months ago in fact, and all I could do was envy that photographer all day!
There was still so much to see and do inside Pacifico Yokohama that I wish I didn’t run out of time. I got to take a look around the used camera/lens fair in an adjacent annex to look for any deals, but it was apparent that the cheaply priced lenses and cameras were already sold to keen buyers who came the day prior. Though overpriced, it was nice seeing some of my old AI-s friends in full show from many of the vendors, from the 50mm f/1.8’s to the 180mm f/2.8’s!
A catch up post was a long-time coming for this site, and I must say it’s good to be back posting again. Throughout my time transitioning into military life I missed being able to go out and make photographs, both in freelance and for my own personal pursuits, in addition to being able to share what I make and learn here on this website. It’s a whole different world here in Japan, and with the trunk bag I’m soon to get in the mail to bring my camera with me on bike rides, I’ll be able to make photographs and stories in new places all the time! Until then, that’s all for this post, thanks for dropping by!