How's that 12mm Meike Cinema lens treating me? Pretty well. There's some barrel distortion and some fun flares but...
One of my two favorite lenses from 2020. The Sigma 56mm f1.4. Too tight for a lot of work. Just right for me.
We are currently in an unprecedented building boom. It's not confined to downtown; I see it happening all over the city. Downtown is becoming denser by the month but it's an odd contrast because everyone is working from home and most of these new buildings are class "A" office space. Not residential towers.
So, the streets are nearly vacant, the restaurants are mostly closed down and there's little of the hum that used to accompany downtown living.
While many are predicting that office life won't necessarily return I believe that face to face contact is essential, in the long run, for human health and cooperation. With all the big businesses moving relentlessly to Austin I imagine filling the newly finished buildings will be the least of our teething issues.
The future, it seems, will be crowded. But at least I'll have the right lens to document some of the change.
A Non-Prioritized List of Cool Cameras and Lenses That Hit the Market in 2020.
Yeah, I shoot with Panasonic cameras right now but that doesn't mean I'm above looking at the lovely shades of green grass in the adjoining yards. There have been some interesting photo products gently pushed into the market this year and I'm going to list them here.
The Fuji X-100V. I'm starting with this one because I keep coming back to it, putting one in my shopping cart and then relenting and putting the money into the stock market instead. But you never know, long term the "fun-ness" return and "joy" factor of the X-100V might be more profitable. I can't understand why I'm reticent to actually push "return" and have one of these sent to me right away.
I absolutely hated the first X-100. It was bug ridden and super glitchy to use. Oh what a difference five successive iterations makes. The "V", introduced in the first quarter this year has much to recommend it. It gets into my cart so often because it reminds me (and probably everyone else) of all the old, film rangefinder cameras we've owned. It's gorgeous, and this iteration feels so much better in the hand than any of the previous models. It's actually comfortable to hold.
If I were a fan of the 35mm equivalent focal length I would have ripped open my wallet and grabbed for one by now but I guess that's the one thing that keeps holding me back. I've owned an XT-3 and have much respect for the 26 megapixel sensor both cameras share. I love the film emulations and used the Acros B+W often while ambling around with a rather corpulent collection of Fuji cameras and lenses.
I thought about this camera once again after spending an afternoon walking around town with a Lumix S1H and the 50mm S-Pro lens. The Fuji probably weighs less than half of what the Panasonic lens alone weighs. It would be the perfect walking around camera for someone. Me? I'd love one if I could get it with a 40mm or 45mm focal length lens on the front.
Also, every review I read or watch tells me that the video features and image quality are amazing. Still on the fence over here but very impressed by how far this camera has come. And how loyal a following it has amongst serious photographers.
The Sony A7Siii. So, my picky and hard to please videographer friend, James, has owned a bunch of cameras in his pursuit of the perfect run-and-gun solution. We both hammered through the previous Sony cameras only to be dispirited by their thin video codecs, short battery lives and their tendency to heat up like a waffle iron. We both live in central Texas and we really worry about the reliability of cameras when used in tough environmental conditions for about six month out of the year. James was making due with a Sony FS7 and a few lesser Sony cameras when the A7Siii hit the market. He was first in line to snag one.
This is the 12 megapixel, video oriented camera from Sony. Here's what James said he likes after using it on three or four day long assignments, under a mix of conditions: The color science is much improved and now is easy to grade. In fact, we were talking about it this morning and he said that if one uses the V-Log profile and then uses the paired Sony LUT in post processing he barely needs to touch the files before delivery to clients. This is big for him since he struggled to get reliable performance out of his previous cameras.
The next thing he values is what he considers to be the best video AF on the market. Better than all the rest. I watched some footage he shot and I can't argue with him. The camera locks on, doesn't pulse and doesn't ever decide, mid-take, that it's time to randomly focus on the background instead.
Battery life is improved and the camera also seems to have the temperature tempest under control. But the biggest improvement in our minds is the updated and much higher data rate enabled set of codecs. Hello to the first Sony A7 series camera to offer 10 bit and 4:2:2 in camera. The files are much improved because of these particular updates.
For all these reasons I suggest that the A7S-iii should be considered one of the gems to hit the marketplace this year. If you do video. A lot of video, and you want to stay in the under $5,000, hybrid camera space this and the S1H own that geography. A lot will depend on whether you are already a Sony user and have lots of E mount lenses. If so, it's a no brainer.
Panasonic S1H. Introduced back in February this year this is the camera I didn't think I really needed since I had multiple copies of the S1 and S1R but, after a big video project that could have benefitted from many of this camera's features, I found myself trading around a few of the duplicates and picking one up. They aren't cheap and many people will tell you that the newer S5 can do just about anything the S1H can do but none of that matters to me. The EVF difference alone would keep me in the S1 series camp...
The S1H rips $4,000 right out of your net worth and rewards you with a big, heavy, bulky camera body. But...the files out of this camera, for regular photography, are better than what I've gotten from either the S1R or the S1 and that's big because they are two of the best performing, full frame, mirrorless cameras out there. I seem to remember that the S1R is one of the very few cameras tested by DXO Mark to get a 100 score. So, to have a newer camera hit the market and deliver (at least to me) cleaner, more accurate and more transparent image files is huge. A few months after I bought the camera it got a firmware update that gave it ProRes Raw files at 5.6K when coupled with an Atomos Ninja V. The ramifications in the world of narrative video are pretty amazing, and this was after Netflix already gave its stamp of approval to the camera as a top quality production camera. As far as I know it's the only mirrorless out there to have been bestowed with this blessing.
I've been shooting a fair amount of video lately and while nearly every 4K capable camera I've played with is competitive enough to make it on to the field the S1H is consistently my favorite for color, detail and feature set.
But here's the surprising thing, after really digging down into the Raw and Jpeg files and comparing them with my other S1 cameras and cameras from previous systems I think I would put up with the size and weight even if my interest was only making photographs. The images are that good.
If you've been interested in a good production camera and have heard the siren call of the L mount alliance I would point you to this camera but with the proviso that it's ungainly and requires your commitment to dragging around the most weight of any camera in its class. But damn! If making convincingly good images is your priority then this should be at or near the top of your list. I'm actually tempted to dump the other two S1cameras and get a second S1H to complement the first. From three down to two. What a concept.
The last camera I'll mention is The Fuji XT-4. Allow me to hit the basics. It's as good (or better) an imager as the XT-3 was and uses, I think, the same really, really good sensor but it's been vastly improved with the addition of in-body image stabilization and a bigger, healthier battery. That's the real news. I liked shooting with the XT-3 but many of my favorite lenses weren't stabilized and I missed that. While nothing really competes with the stabilization of the top of the line Olympus cameras I'm happy to just have reasonably good stabilization. Especially if I'm using the Fujicrons.
The XT-3 was a good video camera but it had a few shortcomings. The biggest was that all internal files were 8 bit but the XT-4 fixes that with 10 bit in Log and a few other bonuses. You'll need a USB-C dongle to monitor video file audio on headphones but there is a mic input and the camera can also charge and run off USB-C external battery bricks. Very useful for long programs. But you'll still bump your head on the recording limits in 4K. It'll run for 30 minutes; a step up from the XT-3's 20 minute limit.
This APS-C camera is still relatively small and light and now gets almost everything right for photographers. It would be a distant second choice for video-only, at least when compared to the S1H and the Sony A7S-iii listed above. But it's also still affordable. Well under $2,000.
I shot with the system for about a year and for the most part loved it. I just got side-tracked by video and moved on. If I never needed to shoot video I would probably have stayed put. Lot of nice lenses in the system...
And that brings me to lenses introduced this year.
The Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG DN ART ABCDEFGH.... There is a point at which, as a one man crew, a lens can be too big and heavy to work well in the field. I hit that point with the original 85mm Art lens which seemed to have weighed in at about 30 pounds and required its own rolling case to effectively transport. There were two reasons to own one; first, it was the sharpest of the 85's you could buy for any camera at the time and secondly, it was less than a third the price of its nearest competitor; the Zeiss Otus 85mm f1.4 (which is manual focus!).
If I was heading to a client's location and we were using the camera and lens on a tripod I could always justify bringing and using the original 85mm Art because it was so sharp, even when used wide open, and when I did use it wide open the out of focus look was wonderful.
Because of its weight it was almost completely unusable for vertical portraits on a tripod and if I had been required to carry it up the side of a mountain or through the streets of a busy city I would have given up altogether.
So it was against this bittersweet background that Sigma delivered, this year, their solution to the original's faults. The new version weigh in at half of the old one and it's also about half the size. It's now designed as a native mirrorless lens instead of being an adapted DSLR lens (which is probably why the original was so big and heavy). I rushed over to Precision Camera as soon as I became aware of the new lens's availability and without any hesitation traded in my old one plus too much cash and walked out with a new model.
It's everything I hoped for. It focuses quicker and with much less hunting, no matter which camera body I use it on. It's as sharp as my older lens and it's a pleasure to carry around. At $1100 it's about half the cost of lesser performing lenses from several of the most popular brands and I'm thrilled to have it in my camera bag/collection. A very nice final rendition. Now we can spend more time playing and less time trying to bulk up at the gym in order to drag the old one around. Available, I think, no matter which mirrorless system you are in fief to.
Sigma 56mm f1.4 Contemporary. This is a small lens that I almost overlooked entirely but one day I was playing with a used GH camera at a store counter and the sales clerk grabbed this lens off the shelf and put it on the camera. A glance through the finder and my interest was well piqued. What is it? Well, it's part of the much lauded Contemporary system of lenses. My three favorites from the line-up are the 16mm f1.4, the 30mm f1.4 and now this guy. The lenses are computed for smaller than full frame sensors and only available in mirrorless mounts so think: Sony, Fuji and M4;3 for right now. I'm sure they'll made Nikon mount versions if Nikon appears to be staying in business and I'm sure they'll make a Canon version once Canon finally decides on a lens mount.
The trio of lenses is perfect for my use on micro four thirds cameras with the lenses translating into 32mm, 60mm and 112mm. All are sharp enough to use wide open and, in some sort of inverse logic, the biggest one of the bunch is the 16mm followed by the 30mm and the 56mm is the smallest of the three. Honestly, it's bite size. But such bite.
My attraction to the lens is because it's so nicely sharp and optically well behaved even at f1.4. It also offers a great balance on any of the G or GH series Panasonic cameras. While it doesn't feature any image stabilization both the G, GH Panasonics and the Olympus high end cameras have such good IBIS it doesn't matter.
The price of the 56mm Contemporary is moderate but the performance, for smaller format cameras, is premium all the way. It's certainly one of my favorite new lenses this year.
I would also list the Sigma Contemporary primes that were just announced; the "i" series, but they aren't shipping in sufficient quantity to really consider them as available in 2020... (Hey Sigma: Let's get that 65mm f2.0 L mount shipped. Eh?).
Meike Cine Lenses. Various. Meike is a Chinese company that's making cinema lenses mostly for the micro four thirds and APS-C cameras right now, but I notice they've introduced a 50mm t2.1 cine lens for full frame that's actually affordable. Some day we'll play with one but for right now my attention is focused on the smaller format lenses.
These lenses are the descendants of a lens line introduced by a now defunct company called, Veydra. The promise of the Veydra lenses was very cool. Small(ish) manually focusing, geared lenses designed with long focus throws and great optics for smaller formats. The goal was to produce an entire set that all used the same filter diameter, had their geared (clickless) aperture rings and geared focusing rings in the same locations (easy to use follow focus gears, etc.), and designed with a consideration for minimizing focus breathing.
When Veydra collapsed Meike, who were the actual makers of the products, stepped in and stepped up. They improved the optical quality of the lens line and put an emphasis on quality control. And they enlarged the lens line up. Some of the lenses were introduced prior to 2020 but the new 85mm t2.2, the 65mm t2.2 and the 50mm t2.2 were brought to market in this year.
I took a chance on a used 25mm t2.2 I found at a camera store and, after using it on a project, also bought (new) the 12mm t2.2. Both are charming to use and have such a distinctive cine look about them. Right down to the focus and aperture markings residing on the sides instead of facing up as a photography lens would have them. Makes them resemble Zeiss Cine Primes.
The optical quality is really good and if I didn't already have a bucket full of options in the 50-60mm range I'd have already pushed "Buy This Now" for the 50mm and the 65mm. But for the moment I'm still wringing out all the potential of the ones I have. At $400 a whack they deliver for budding film makers without breaking the bank.
Sorry to make this so Sigma-Centric but... I have to give a nod to the Sigma 100-400 f5.6-6.3 DG DN OS. I've heard nothing but good news about this recent introduction. There's a whole cadre of photographers who are constantly looking for good long lenses and, for a while, that's been an empty spot in the catalogs of mirrorless camera makers. Even now the longest lens Panasonic makes for the L mount is the 70-200mm (available in two flavors) while the longer lenses for Sony cameras are also hard to come by. By all accounts Sigma has made a lens that's fairly fast focusing and also performs well optically. I've played with one a couple of times and if I were going to continue shooting stage shows from the back of the house this lens would be a great choice. I'd use it with the Panasonic S1R and put the S1R in the APS-C mode which would give me a 600mm equivalent reach but still at nearly 24 megapixels.
The one thing I disagree with Sigma about is the tripod mount. They sell a tripod mount separately instead of making it part of the package. I get that everyone doesn't want to work on a tripod or monopod but if you put it in the box as part of the product you ensure that users who need the tripod mount will be able to source one. The single thing that kept my from picking up this lens in the Fall was the situation in which I could buy the lens right now but the dealer would have to special order the tripod mount for me. The lens would be unusable for my application without the tripod mount and so the whole transaction was cancelled. Put the damn part in the box!
But that's a marketing issue. The lens itself is a bargain.....if you like shooting long.
My absolute favorite lens purchased this year? Easy. That would be the Sigma 45mm f2.8 for the L Mount. It's small, light a beautifully made. It's artsy and interesting at f2.8 and sharp as a tack from f4.0 onward. It's teaching me, once again, how to shoot with more thought to depth of field and to the value of having some stuff actually in good focus. I have two. I bought one with the Sigma as a kit and then I found one used for half price. I like the lens so much I thought I'd buy a back-up. I haven't regretted it.
That's all for this morning. I'm sure I typed this too quickly but sometimes the brain wants stuff out the door and on the page. Nothing has a link. Don't bother repetitively clicking on the bold type. Reason? These are the products I found to be interesting/intriguing/fun this year but your mileage will vary. Sometimes extremely. I guess I just want to start a conversation about what people enjoyed finding new this year. I'm alway interested.
time to walk with my family. back later to find the cap key.