10.01.2021

Unboxing Mania Strikes the Usually Staid and Reserved VSL Blog.

This brief blog post is about my first encounter with the Sigma Contemporary, i-Series 90mm f2.8 Lens for the L mount alliance. A big mouthful for a tiny telephoto lens... 


Step one: Open box and pull all the stuff out. Don't forget to pull out the second, metal, magnetized lens cap. You won't want to accidentally toss it, along with the box and packing, into the recycling bin... By the way, the box is mostly white. Disclaimer: this lens was purchased by me for the full retail price of $639.00. I also drove up to the store to get it and delivered it back to my house for me. Sorry! No fanboy "pay-off" happening here....
Here's the reason to own the Sigma 90mm f2.8 lens. It's tiny and unobtrusive. Well, there are actually a few more reasons: It's supposed to be very sharp, even when used at wide open apertures. It's a perfect focal length for portraits. It fits on all three of my current camera systems; interchangeable with no modifications required. No adapters or spacers needed. And, finally, it's got great industrial design and neat, included accessories (metal lens hood, super cool magnetic lens cap). There is a downside to adding this lens to your collection. All the big, recently designed zoom lenses could develop some body image issues. You'll also probably never want to go back to the land of huge, heavy and fast lenses again...

The 45° view just above makes the lens look bigger than it actually is. I included more of a side view below. 
From an aesthetic point of view I think the i-Series lenses from Sigma are a perfect match for the very industrial looking Leica SL system bodies. But they also look darling on the front of the Sigma fp. Oh, I'm not kidding anybody, they also look great on the Panasonic S5. 

Gordon at CameraLabs.com has a very nice review about the optical qualities of the lens and also a comparison of imaging properties between this lens and the Sony 85mm f1.8. No shocking conclusion if you already knew that the Sigma was going to be the better lens. 

I'm a big fan of all the i-Series lenses introduced so far. I haven't bought the 35mm f2.0 and I don't plan to buy the 24mm f2.0 but that's because, A. I think the f2.0 aperture makes the lens bigger that I'd like and, B. I think I like the focal length spread of 24mm (the f3.5!!!), the 45mm f2.8 and the 90mm f2.8 better.

Just the right gap between focal lengths. And quasi-affordable.

Funny to find out that the 24 (3.5), the 45 and the 90 all together still weigh less than the 24-90mm Leica zoom lens. More to come when I've had some experience shooting this lens. Till then, I have nothing more to say about the 90mm. 

Next up: Saturday morning swim practice. I know you'll want to read about that!!!



Friday's news from the vast and unimpeachable resources of the Visual Science Lab's editorial desk...


 Downtown with the scooters and tourists.
"Hat in Mouth." 

Camera sightings and commerce. I've been waiting for some photo retailer to actually get a Sigma 90mm f2.8 lens for the L mount systems in stock so I could buy one. It's a nicely compact lens crammed into an industrial design aesthetic that I really like. I own other i-Series lenses from Sigma and thought that the combination of the 24mm f3.5, the 45mm f2.8 and the 90mm f2.8 would be a wonderful travel kit when paired to small, compact cameras like the Panasonic S5 and the Sigma fp.

I got a text from my favorite sales expert at the local camera store letting me know they'd just got one in and would I like him to hold a copy. I texted back that I would. It was late afternoon and I'd already done the last portrait of the day so I hopped in the car for the trek to the far north of Austin. And, by the way, at least by anecdotal observation, we're pretty much back to normal in Austin --- at least if rush hour traffic is any indication...horrible!

When I walked in the door of the shop I ran into an old friend of mine who is still teaching photography at Austin Community College. He was at the camera shop to attend a little social gathering of area educators to learn about new product and also programs the store offers to provide convenient perks to educators and  students. I think the catering was also an incentive. It was nicely done.

Since the store had gathered a group of educators, who by their very position are "influencers" to large groups of students, the store also invited technical representatives from the major camera and lens makers and gave them space to exhibit the full range of their products. 

I gravitated over to the Panasonic, Sigma and Leica counters and had a few quick conversations with a a handful of the reps. My question to the Panasonic rep was pretty straightforward: "When will Panasonic do a refresh on the S1 system cameras?" The rep (whom I have known for years and who is a trusted source) said he knew of no current plans for any imminent updates to that system. He did leave open the possibility that there might be different cameras coming but not in the flagship line-up. Not right now.  He did mention that Panasonic's 24mm f1.8 lens is "on the way." So  what about the 35mm f1.8???

By this point my sales person had already breezed through our new lens transaction and I was holding the box containing the Sigma i-Series, 90mm f2.8 lens in my hands. I turned to the Sigma rep to ask about new products from Sigma and he basically said, "we're introducing new lenses as quickly as we can and focusing on the L and E systems for the moment." Nothing specific. I asked him about sales because it's always interesting to me. He suggested that the Contemporary series lenses (like the one I was holding) were selling quite briskly. In fact (and collaborated by my sales person) he said that the camera store had ordered ten of the lens model I purchased but was able to get an allocation of only one. The one I was holding in my hands. And that the overall shipment of that particular product (in the L mount) into the U.S. during the month was something like....19.

I moved on to the next topic of interest for me which was the Sigma fp L with its attachable (and detachable) EVF finder. I am a big, big fan of the image quality and color coming out of my Sigma fp and I was always curious to see if the available EVF finder was of good enough quality to justify spending nearly $700 more on. The jury is still out on that price tag but I was very happy with the finder. The eyepiece is large and comfortable and the images very crisp and even natural feeling. The smart play is probably to buy the packaged system of the new camera and finder since there is a cost savings, and it's inevitable that I'll want to play with the high res version of the camera at some point. Imagine, 61 megapixels AND great color. It's enough to make you forget the miserable battery life...

Sidebar: Why would I be interested in playing with the fp L version of the camera? Thanks for asking! As you might know I've spent the month of September shooting dozens of studio portraits for an national accounting firm and I also shot six commissioned sessions for private individuals. All of the private commissions were done with either the Leica SL or SL2 cameras. I did all but one of the accountant portraits with the Panasonic S5. Yesterday was the final session for that project and, on a whim, I decided to substitute the Sigma fp to see how all the cameras stack up against each other in nearly identical shooting environments. 

There are many similarities between the results from the different cameras. All of them make very sharp and highly detailed files. All of them are very effective at almost noiseless shadow recovery, and none of them faltered at quick and accurate face detect and (in the Panasonic and Sigma) eye detect AF. But both the Leica files and the Panasonic files required a bit of nudging in post processing to hit color targets and to match exposure from camera to the input profiles in Lightroom. The Sigma was different. The colors and important flesh tones were absolutely correct right out of the camera. As was the exposure matching. In fact, of all the digital files I've played with (maybe 500,000 over the last twenty years?) the ones from the Sigma were the most amenable of all cameras in delivering accurate and easy to work with files. It's not as fast. Mine (as of now) has no eye level finder. It has many fewer features, and it's not very impressive to look at while hanging off the end of a big, beefy lens like the 70-200mm, but it delivers the goods in a most impressive fashion. It's really the exacting rendition of flesh tones that most endears it to me. 

So, if the color science is the same between the fp and the fp L then I'd really like to see what the additional resolution can add to the mix. And it is actually a newer generation of sensor as well as being higher resolution. 

Back to the timeline: Once again I marveled at just how many used, pro level DSLRs are now in the store's inventory and on display. While we all have gotten used to the performance and convenience of mirrorless cameras with their live previews I think we can all agree that when it comes to sheer image quality the new cameras have little to no advantage over something like a Canon 5D mk3 or a Nikon D810. And the idea that I can pick up a D810 for a little over $1,000 gives me hope for a whole generation of financially struggling but up and coming new photographers. I could easily cherry pick a great system from the remnants of people's previous, enthusiastic buying campaigns and never worry for a moment about the image quality I could deliver to clients. 

My years at the ad agency have left an indelible mark on my brain. When I find the people who have information about brand strategies and market trends I just feel compelled to ask questions. To move from the stories of my cohorts to more information and data-laden accounts from people in the industry. I asked the reps I most trusted, who sell lenses and accessories but don't represent major camera companies, to give me their read on what's selling best right now, in the moment, when it comes to digital cameras. They wouldn't divulge specifics but did give up some general thoughts. 

Most of my local photographer peers are thoroughly infatuated with Sony products and so we tend to think of them as the hot sellers, the number one pick. And that may have been true before the introduction of Canon's R5 and R6 cameras. These have been immediately and widely accepted and are selling briskly. 
Photographers using them seem uniformly happy with their results.

It's probably no secret that Panasonic's S1 series camera sales have slowed while sales of the S5 are still quite brisk. A nod to 50mm lens lovers is the fact that the affordable and quite good Lumix 50mm f1.8 lens is on perennial backorder. I predict we'll be seeing a high res version of the S5 camera in short order, regardless of silence from the rep....maybe 61 megapixels?

One of the interesting insights from sales people and lens reps is that Nikon's Z7ii andZ6ii are considered hot products. The company seems to have done a really good job at emphasizing those cameras' stellar image qualities and, in the case of the Z6ii, the very impressive high ISO performance and video results. Also, even competitors are quick to give kudos to a number of the Z lenses. Most often mentioned was the performance of the "lowly" 50mm f1.8. People positively gush about that lens and how sharp it is, even when used wide open. 

On the Leica front while sales of interchangeable lens cameras seem solid for the SL2-S camera (especially when packaged with the almost reasonably priced 24-70mm f2.8) the runaway bestseller for Leica over the past several years has been and still is the Q2. For some reason people just love this camera. It's back-ordered almost everywhere. Unless you want the Daniel Craig edition. That you can get. If you can write the check. I still haven't totally bought into locking myself into a very expensive camera with a lens whose focal lens that doesn't resonate with me at all. But that's just me. 

The only products I didn't get to dive into were those from Fuji. Not because I wasn't interested but I just flat ran out of time. I can only imagine that the medium format 100S is a hot seller and that Fuji could almost sustain their camera sector with just the proceeds from that camera and the Fujifilm X100V. Two really great products that have no real, direct competition. Interesting. One would think there would have been at least some challenger (other than the Leica Q2) to the X100V by other makers by now...

Local Events: It rained hard on Tuesday. The  high water alert horn on our septic system starting sounding early in the a.m. and there I was in my boxer shorts and a rain jacket trudging into the back yard to turn off the audio. With the red alert light flashing I also put up signs around the house not to do one of the long and luxurious morning showers my family is famous for. At least not until the red light goes out. Which it did. 

So last night was the night before our grand outdoor fandango here in Austin which we call, "The Austin City Limits Music Festival." It takes place in our downtown, premium, fabulous park and basically deprives city natives of the park's use for the better part of a month. I detest the event. And the collateral damage to the park infrastructure. And the traffic chaos. Some argue that it brings in revenue for the city. What? Does Austin look like we need a handout?

At any rate, when we have an ACL and it's very, very wet the huge crowds ruin the turf in the park for months to come. And right on cue we got between 2.5 and 5 inches of rain overnight; depending on where in the city you measure. The festival opened this morning at ten and I'm certain it's already a mud bath over in the park. I tried to drive to downtown today but with the traffic lights having been knocked out by the storms, and the crazy people rushing to get to transport points to the event, traffic was so snarled and intense that I turned around, made coffee at home and spent some quality time behind the keyboard. Right here.

A temporary initiative:

I've taken it upon myself to keep you informed and entertained until Michael Johnston relaunches his blog this coming Monday. I wouldn't want any photographers to become unmoored by the lack of available content. I may not be the writer MJ is but I do my best with my limited resources. I won't be covering snooker... But if you are new here after the short term privations; welcome.

Save up some posts though. Belinda and I spent time reading guide books about west Texas and New Mexico last night. We've got our dates picked out and we're mapping a route for a week long road trip in the middle of October. Blogging will intentionally be sketchy during the trip but the whole intention of the journey will be nothing but photography and fun. So I might have stuff to share afterwards. 

If you have recommendations about Big Spring, Texas or Roswell, New Mexico, or our final destination, Santa Fe, please let me know. It's been over a decade since we were last in Santa Fe and can only imagine that it's a totally different place now. You can leave info in the comments and I'll be appreciative. 

If any of my readers actually lives in Santa Fe and wants to meet up for coffee or something be sure and let me know. It's always nice to meet people face to face. And I'm betting there are still ample places to get a cup in Santa Fe. 

First road trip since the pandemic. Vaccinated, happy to mask, and happy to get out of town...

How are you this morning?