09 January 2014

Some Photo Fun

It has been a while since my last post. I've gotten lazy with the blog, but there is just too much work and if I'm not at work I enjoy my new R1200GS and the new Fuji X-E2 camera.

Since I got the Fuji X-E1 that I took with me to Germany and later the X-E2 (I sold the X-E1) it has been quite a lot of fun. We've been to San Francisco for a Saturday, just walking around and taking photos, we've been to to Germany for a family visit, I have ridden my GS in the area, sometimes alone, sometimes with Andrea, and over Christmas we flew down to San Diego for some time away from home.

I got the Fuji X-E2 with the 18-55mm f2.8-4 zoom "kit lens". Some might say that this zoom isn't really a kit lens, it's way too good for that, and I might agree if I would actually use it ... Only the photos of Andrea on the beach in her new motorcycle gear were taken with that lens though. As I also have a Fuji 35mm f1.4 prime lens (53mm equivalent), I'm using mainly that one. Also, I found a nice Minolta M-Rokkor 90mm f4 lens for Leica M mount which I'm using on the Fuji with an adaptor. I haven't used the other Minolta lenses much since I got the 35 and the 90mm as these two are just too good to not use.

This is from our trip to San Francisco:




We shot a lot more photos that day, but the above are the best ones from me. All shot with the Fuji X-E2 and the 35mm Fuji prime lens.

Now, some photos from Germany ...

Inside the Cathedral in Bonn

The Cathedral in Cologne

Inside the Cathedral in Cologne

Now, as you might know, one of the goals we set ourselves when flying to Germany was to find motorcycle gear that actually fits us. Not that easy as a lot of motorcycle riders (the men, not so much the women as it seem) have a slightly different shape than we do. Tall and slim sizes don't seem too common here, narrow hips and waist the same. But okay, while we were in Germany we drove around quite a lot and stopped at some motorcycle gear shops. Compared to the US these are a total paradise! Awesome selection, a lot of sizes actually available, at least for the more common gear, more high quality brands, and all still for halfway reasonable prices.

In the end even I found something that fits like it's tailored for me. I don't have it yet, but it's now ordered and will get sent here soon. Andrea on the other hand didn't find all too much. She looked at similar brands as I did but the gear didn't fit her all too well or was not what she was looking for. Jackets were often flared out way too much around the hips, the trousers too wide and too short (go figure ...), or the gear was plain not available in her sizes.

But back here, we were lucky - when we got back to the US we looked around here again and she found gear that fits her great, again from BMW, just as the summer gear she already has. This time it's wind- and waterproof gear for colder times. And yes, we do have colder weather here, too ...

BMW TourShell Suit

Andrea with her new gear and her BMW R1200R

The photos above look a little bit like out of a gear catalogue, but were actually shot along CA1 here at the coast. And so far, Andrea loves the suit. Warm and comfortable.

Over Christmas we headed South to San Diego to have some time away from home, something that feels like vacation, even though I had to work from time to time, watch services and attend phone conferences. But it was pretty much only the 25th and 26th, and even on these days I was free most of the time.

Here we are near the San Diego Convention Center, Andrea showing off that size sometimes does matter ...

Size Matters - Andrea with her Canon and the huge tele zoom

The city does have good public transport - at least it worked well for us

And if not, you can "simply" rent a bicycle.
Although it costs an arm and a leg.

The USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, now a museum

Our hotel was in the gaslamp quarter.


Now, the only two photos in this collection that I shot with the Minolta M-Rokkor 90mm f4 (manual focus) lens:

A musician in Balboa Park


It's a great portrait lens, even though it is a little bit slow at f4, but I appreciate that most of the facial and head features are in focus. On my Fuji it has a field of view like a 135mm lens, shows great out of focus blur, and is really, really tiny. At some point I'll also post photos of my current camera setup that I'm very happy with.

Now, for some trivia, a few of you might remember the movie "Top Gun". Did you know that part of the set was filmed in San Diego? Most of it on the Naval Base, but two scenes at a local pub, the "Kansas City Barbecue". Could we pass on this opportunity? No, of course not. We had dinner there one night:

Inside the Kansas City Barbecue in San Diego

The Kansas City Barbecue

And last but not least, a rare photo of your's truly. Also still from San Diego.


03 November 2013

Fuji X-E1 with Minolta 50mm and 100mm Manual Lenses

I made the decision to get a Fuji X-E2 about two weeks ago just after it was introduced. At that time I ordered the camera with the 18-55mm f2.8-4 zoom and the 35mm f1.4 lenses. Unfortunately the camera would not arrive on time for me to use it on a trip to Europe.

That was the reason I was keeping an eye on the used market for the current model, the Fuji X-E1. On Friday I was able to get a used camera and also two old manual lenses for a very good price.

Here's what the package looks like:

Fuji X-E1 with 50mm f1.4 lens mounted, 100mm f2.5 next to it

The camera is just the plain X-E1 model, I already had a fast 32GB memory card and spare batteries for it as they are the same as for the X-E2 model, very handy!

Let's start with the lenses:

Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4

This is a "standard" lens from the late 70s. The particular model I have is the older one with the 55m filter mount which was built from 1977 to roughly 1979. This lens is in absolute mint condition, has a very solid feel to it and focuses smoothly. The aperture ring moves great and the whole lens gives a feel of quality.

The lens needs an adaptor to mount to the Fuji camera. These adaptors are basically just distance rings which have a camera manufacturer specific mount on the rear end and a lens manufacturer specific mount on the front. They couple the camera and lens in a way together that the distance between the rear element of the lens to the camera's sensor is the same as it was on the original camera - only there it wasn't a sensor, it was 35mm film. What this also means is that there is a "focal length multiplier" involved, 1.5x with the APS-C sized sensor of the X-E1. These adaptors range in price and quality from around $15 up to $100. The one I have seems to be one from the $15 category, although it looks okay and seems to provide a solid coupling.

The challenge with using this type of old lens is that you a) have to make a manual aperture selection and b) have to focus manually, too. The first one is how I prefer to shoot anyways, I use Aperture Priority as my preferred shooting mode where I select the aperture and let the camera figure out the rest (shutter speed and ISO) to get a correct exposure. This works absolutely great with the Fuji as you can see in some of the shots I took yesterday:

A wild animal in its natural habitat - focus on the mane, 50mm wide open

Colors - again shot fairly wide open, I believe it was set to f2.8

We were doing some walking around in the Valley Fair Mall in San Jose and after that also in Santana Row - a fancy schmancy street for the rich and the beautiful with restaurants and overpriced shopping. Anyways, it's a great place for trying a out a camera.

Relaxing in Santana Row - X-E1 with 50/1.4

A small side road has some older looking doors, again a great opportunity for close up shots:

X-E1 with Minolta 50/1.4

And the last shot for now from this camera/lens combination:

Brooks Brothers - X-E1 with Minolta 50/1.5

As you can see, the lens produces very lovely results, sharp focus areas, smooth bokeh, and great color rendition and contrast. You can get lenses like this from $10 up to $80 depending on the condition. Mine is absolutely mint, so it would be in the $60 to $80 range on eBay if not sold in a package. An incredible value!

I also used another lens a little bit to get some more intimate shots.


Minolta MC Tele Rokkor-X 100mm f2.5

This is a short telephoto lens which produces an actual 150mm equivalent on my APS-C camera. The lens itself is tiny for what it actually is. That's one of the benefits of no zoom and no motors for autofocus. It's a very solid, all metal lens, feels great and also is in very good condition.

Again the focus ring moves very smoothly with a solid and quality feel, the aperture ring feels excellent, too, just from 2.5 to 4 it feels slightly loose. Might be because the previous owner(s) used this end of the aperture setting most often. There is no functional issue with it, it just clicks ever so slightly different than the rest of the settings.

I didn't use it all too much, so more photos will be coming in the future as I really like the focal length to get some more sneaky shots and also really, really nice portraits and detail shots.

Here are two examples:

Melancholy in B&W - Fuji X-E1 with Minolta MC Rokkor-X 100/2.5

Beautiful Colors - Fuji X-E1 with Minolta MC Rokkor-X 100/2.5

The 100mm Tele Rokkor produces even nicer results and much smoother bokeh than the 50mm. It's a bit harder to focus as the picture moves and stumbles in the View Finder when in the 3x magnification mode with focus peeking to get the exact area you want sharp into focus.

I believe 100mm or maybe 135mm might be the upper end of what I would use with manual focus on a camera that doesn't have in-body image stabilization. It's important to position yourself correctly, stabilize the camera, hands and arms against your body to focus shots like the one above. But the results are incredibly rewarding.

So far I love using both lenses. I have not tried to get any specific shots to gauge sharpness or distortion or whatever other things gear heads are into, they don't mean much to me in the real world. I want my photos to look great and these lenses certainly deliver in that regard.

The only thing I noticed is that bright backgrounds/highlights can look slightly harsh on the 50mm lens. The 100mm does these much smoother. But that's a fairly minor concern. Overall the out of focus highlights with the Minolta 50mm are on par or better than the 35mm/f2.0 Canon EF lens on our 40D. So far, I'd say, it's slightly better, but of course due to the manual focusing harder and slower to use.

Btw: all of the photos above where shot in JPEG mode, the photos pretty much as they came out of the camera, with just the typical Apple Aperture import adjustments and very small exposure corrections.


Overall Impressions

So far I am incredibly happy with that purchase. For a small price, less than half of just an X-E2 body only, I got an incredible package. I will still keep my order for the X-E2 and decide then what to do with the X-E1. I've also notified Adorama to split my order and send the Fuji 35mm lens right away so I can use it in Europe.

The camera certainly is different from the typical DSLR but I haven't found that to be an issue, on the contrary, I'm fast and comfortable making exactly the adjustments as I want them for each photo. It feels actually more natural to me to use the Aperture ring on the lens, the shutter speed dial on the camera and the perfectly placed dial for exposure compensation. In combination with the Electronic View Finder it gives a perfect impression of what your photo will look like. One benefit of the fully manual aperture selection is that you get immediate depth-of-field preview in the view finder while composing. Incredibly helpful for a photographic dilettante like me.

The focus peeking works good, I wish though I could change the peeking color to something more "intrusive" than white. Like neon green or red would help in most shots. On the other hand, red wouldn't have helped with the photo of the rose above ... ;-)

So, more to come. Especially more photos and probably also more thoughts about the camera overall.

Right now, I just love it!

Teaser from new Camera

The typical rose photo, but here's a teaser:

Fuji X-E1 with Minolta MC Rokkor-X 100mm f2.5 (~1972)

I got a used X-E1 plus two manual focus Minolta lenses as I really wanted a camera for the trip to Germany later in November.

Writing a longer entry later, so wanted to get started ... one more teaser:

Fuji X-E1 with Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4 (~1979)

01 November 2013

50mm and the Morning Light

Saw this through the window this morning, had to jump up and take a photo in our backyard:

Red Rose in Morning Light - Click on the photo for larger view

31 October 2013

Camera and Photo Fun

As you might remember I rented an Olympus OM-D EM-5 a while ago to figure out whether that could be a new camera for me. During the last vacation the desire for a smaller but still flexible and capable camera has come up and I started looking into alternatives for our Canon 40D kit that wouldn't weigh in at about 3kg as the Canon kit does.

The more I researched, the more I looked at my own photos, the more I realized that I'm not very good at framing shots and making them interesting. Andrea has a much better eye for that and I'd like to improve my own skills. After a bit (actually a lot) of reading, I decided that I should not give myself more, but rather less options. Less variables to worry about, less things to setup. My plan is to use a 50mm focal length equivalent lens as my main lens for a while. A standard. Something simple. Something to get used to and to learn how to use. I don't want to go to the full extreme of only using that one, but I'd say it should be for around 90% of my shots.

I started by getting a 35mm lens for our Canon DSLR (which means it is a 56mm equivalent on our Canon APS-C sensor camera) as I wanted to wait for the typical fall announcements from the big camera manufacturers before I decided on a new camera. 

Here are some example shots:

Custom bike trunk at IMS in San Mateo

Race at IMS San Mateo

I haven't had all too many opportunities to use the lens and to take a few more photos just yet, but they will come over time. It's a nice focal length and a fairly fast lens (max aperture is f2.0), so there will be plenty of opportunities going forward. 

To get some traction on this and more incentive for me, I also started a "50mm Fun Shared Photo Stream" (let me know if you want to participate) with iCloud Photo Streams where subscribers can comment on individual photos and also add their own ones as long as they are made with a roughly 50mm equivalent prime lens. It's a focal length you ought to have anyways in your kit, so here's your excuse to get one ... ;-)

Now, all that aside - I also decided on a smaller, lighter camera set for our travels and for me as my main camera going forward - read on.

The New Camera

After acknowledging my zooming inabilities and deciding on limiting myself to simple, straight forward photography, a few things became more clear. I came up with a check list for a new camera system, also keeping Andrea's wishes and our travel needs in mind:
  • Lightweight - the camera system should definitely be less than 1500g for the camera body, a standard zoom (for Andrea) and one or two prime lenses (definitely the 50mm equivalent mentioned above and either a wide angle or a longer lens).
  • Small size - the above kit should fit into a tank bag; the camera with one prime mounted + one other prime also should fit into my PacSafe hip bag.
  • I wanted to be able to fit camera and all camera related gear we normally take on trips into an inconspicuous small shoulder bag that wasn't too heavy. This should include a mini tripod (GorillaPod), the 50mm lens, a standard zoom, lens hoods, one or two filters, chargers, SD cards, ... I plain didn't want to walk around with a bag that said "Canon" or "Nikon" in big letters or just generally screamed "steal me, expensive camera gear inside". 
  • Easy to use - the camera should have the settings I actually use quite a lot (aperture priority, white balance, ISO, exposure compensation) readily available without digging into menus or trying to figure them out via settings on the back screen. 
  • Inconspicuous design so that people don't feel "threatened" when taking pictures publicly. The big Canon lets them jump out of the frame sometimes.
  • A view finder. I hate holding a camera at arms length into the general direction of my subject.
  • I didn't care for movie recording, "intelligent" scene programs, excessive HDR, or any other super fancy, new, and hip thingies. Simple was more important.
  • A selection of lenses that should be in the same league as our three Canon L lenses, preferably for a lower price. And I was looking whether a system had a consistent line of great lenses, not just a one or two here and there. 
  • Preferably from a manufacturer that has some reputation in the camera field and isn't changing direction or trends every year but instead shows a solid camera line up with some product strategy behind it.
  • Not too small sensor to be able to create a nice and shallow depth of field. I wasn't looking for full frame as it makes the camera much more expensive, the depth-of-field often too shallow with fast lenses in low light, the lenses more expensive and bigger in size and weight and the resulting files too big from excessive megapixel counts. Not that the gear head in me wouldn't love it, it's just that it doesn't make sense for me.
I had various contenders but most of them didn't do one or more points of the list above. Sony has a very weird lens line up for their e-mount, also changes strategies, names, ideas, design a bit too often for my taste. Canon doesn't really have anything in that range, the EOS M doesn't count as a serious attempt to get into the mirrorless market. Nikon has the Nikon 1, but the sensor is a bit too small for what I want to do and the lens line up doesn't have what I was looking for. Micro Four Thirds (M43) was super interesting but most cameras were either too fancy, or too simple, or ... just not exactly what I was looking for. 

The most promising contender for a while were the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1, both very modern and excellent M43 cameras with very compelling features. Combined, the two manufacturers have a large lens selection, although you'll have to piece things together by really cherry picking from each. In the end, the E-M1 was a bit too fancy and professional (and too expensive) and the GX7 just didn't excite me enough, can't really put a finger on the exact reason why. It just didn't move me.

So, after all that - I settled on the new Fuji X-E2

Fuji has build a very impressive system with their X cameras. The camera bodies follow the slightly retro style range finder design from Leica, but have very modern technology packed inside. They come with a unique APS-C sensor which gets praise pretty much everywhere, are designed for picture taking, not for the "spray and pray approach". The lens line up is great, everything I was looking for is covered, all the lenses have consistently high quality. All the other systems have great lenses, too, I just felt that I found the most consistent and compelling line up from Fuji

The new X-E2, which was introduced about two weeks ago, is very much just an X-E1 with a lot of details upgraded, updated, improved. Newer but very similar sensor, newer and faster processor, faster view finder, nicer display, optimized button layout, a solid upgrade, but not a totally new camera. No crazy design or strategy changes. Just consistent improvement. On top of that, Fuji continuously releases software updates for the existing cameras to add features and fix bugs - and they seem to be the only manufacturer that does this with some consistency even for two or three year old models. Very impressive behavior for a large corporation. But that's how you get a loyal customer base.

Unfortunately, the camera will only start hitting the market in mid November, which means I will likely not receive the one I ordered before early December. Bummer, but that's what it is. 

I will take photos with and of the new camera when it arrives ...

Here's what I already know:
  • Weight of the body + zoom + 35mm (52mm equivalent) is around 900g, so leaves some room for a second prime.
  • It's a medium sized camera. Larger than most M43, but not too large. I found that the X-E1 which has an identical body feels absolutely great in my hand and is still small enough to pack easily. 
  • It also fits in my PacSafe bag.
  • I found a nice camera bag - the "ONA | The Bowery", of course I will write more about that one when it arrives here. This will fit the camera plus one or two additional lenses and some small assorted stuff and doesn't scream "camera bag" from far away.
  • I immediately loved the feel of the X-E1 when using it in a store here. 
I ordered the X-E2 with the 35mm F1.4 lens and the (excellent) 18-55 F2.8-4 optically stabilized kit zoom (for Andrea). Don't confuse this kit zoom with the cheap plastic pieces from other manufacturers, it's a high quality lens. The 35mm will give me the ~52mm equivalent I want to continue with my "50mm Fun Stream".

Can't wait for it to arrive! 

19 October 2013

First Ride Out

Just photos for now, more to come ....

2014 R1200GS on Skyline Blvd

2014 R1200GS on Skyline Blvd

Obligatory First Addition: Top Case for Some Luggage Space

19 September 2013

Weekend with an Olympus OM-D E-M5

Over the last few months our little Canon SD880 has become slightly unreliable. It often complains that it either has no battery or that the battery is empty, while there is a perfectly charged battery in the camera. 

It might have to do with us lugging it around on bikes, in top cases and tank bags, backpacks, and so on. We have been very happy with the picture quality of this little camera and will definitely keep using it as long as it works.

But, given that it sometimes doesn't work, we started looking around for another small(ish) camera with which to complement our Canon DSRL system. The DSLR system is plain a bit too heavy to carry around on the bikes. Andrea had done that during our last vacation, she had the 40D with a 70-300 Canon L lens attached and while this gave us some stunning photos, it was also quite a beast - 2kg just for this setup.

Now, looking around, there are a few nice small cameras, like the Sony RX-100 M2 or the older version of it. This little Sony gives incredible image quality with its very large sensor (for the size of the camera) and the great Zeiss lens. It might just be the perfect replacement for the SD880. 

On the other hand, I have been looking at a smaller system, too. The "Micro Four Thirds" (M43) is a system with a sensor slightly smaller than the DSLRs we have, but with a pretty good selection of lenses from Olympus, Zeiss, Panasonic, Sigma, and others. The bodies for this system are really small and I can easily imagine throwing one of these with a prime lens or a small zoom in the tank bag. As I was curious how I'd like using one of these, I rented an Olympus OM-D E-M5 for a weekend and played around with it.

Here are some results from the camera with the 12-50mm kit zoom.

Trying a Macro Shot

It was very cloudy at the coast, so I decided to play around with the build in ART filters. I really liked the "dramatic colors" setting:

Along HW1, CA

"Dramatic Colors" Filter, right out of the camera

Makes for nice car shots ...

More dramatic colors

There are a few other nice filters, like the "Grainy B&W" which I found pretty interesting:

Waiting for food

Some other ART filter

Lovely!

There are some other filters that I didn't really have good motives for, but I actually liked playing around with them and not doing post processing in Aperture.

Woodside, CA

More "Grainy B&W"

Another Macro attempt

JPEG right from the camera - pretty impressive

I have to say, I really like the image quality and I was surprised how much individual setup is possible with this little camera. 

What I liked (in no particular order):
  • nice electronic view finder
  • tilting touch display with high resolution
  • highly programmable
  • compact
  • weather protected (not fully sealed, but definitely not as problematic in rain as most other cameras)

What I really disliked:
  • heavy for the size
  • the kit lens is really large for a small camera system (although seems good quality)
  • hand grip - or better, the lack of one

Overall, the lack of a handgrip did the camera in. It's surprisingly heavy with the kit lens (~680g), and it's not easy to hold in one hand, it's just not ergonomic at all. The shutter button is also at a totally wrong place, my finger was always going somewhere else. 

Another thing that really annoyed me was the way too high sensitivity of the automatic display / view finder switching. When you get near the sensor, it switches to view finder. Which meant I had to switch this to "manual" as I couldn't take photos with the camera at belly level in front of me trying to take some sneaky shots. The sensor didn't let me get nearer than roughly 15cm to my body without turning off the display - I hated it. But I was surprised how much I loved actually having a view finder as it is much more natural to use for me.

The ergonomic problem can certainly be solved with an optional grip, but, really, come on Olympus, $300 for a piece of cheap feeling plastic? Really? You gotta be kidding me! No way. There are some cheaper ones on eBay, but they don't relocate the shutter button, therefore are not an option to actually solve the ergonomic issues. 

Conclusion

The E-M5 in its current form is not for me. I would have to buy the grip (too expensive) and I think it's slightly overpriced when compared to for example the Sony NEX-6 which also has an electronic view finder, tilting display, but an APS-C sized (larger) sensor. 

Olympus just announced the new OM-D E-M1, which should solve the ergonomic issues, but is also much more expensive (it's targeted at the more professional photographer, which I am certainly not), larger and about 20% heavier. Newer sensor and as it seems even better image quality. Impressive, but way over the top. Mainly also too big to carry around easily on the bikes.

What I find very compelling though is the lens selection in the M43 land - great primes from Olympus and Panasonic/Leica and some others. A M43 camera with 17mm and 45mm prime would be a very interesting package. Just have to find the right camera for it. I'll keep looking.

20 August 2013

New Bike - Again

So, after selling my Tiger (actually before selling the Tiger, but the new bike will only arrive in October) I ordered my new bike: a 2014 BMW R1200GS.

A "Waterboxer" ...

"Water cooled Boxer"

As you can see above, the new boxer has precision cooling, keeping the parts that need it most at optimal operating temperature without requiring a too large cooling system. Also, the new engine has a really nice growl ...

Okay, seriously, here's what's coming in October:

R1200GS, thundergrey metallic with pretty much all the options except spoke wheels (been there, done that - no, thanks, don't need them) and the alarm system. Took my chances with the LED headlights, never tried them before and hopefully they are reliable, also with the new D-ESA suspension system.

When I test rode the new GS a second time it was after I had changed the tires on my Tiger from Pirelli Scorpions to Michelin Pilot Road which made the steering quite a bit slower and I had to get used to that. Going from that to the GS (on Michelin Anakee 3) there was pretty much no difference in how quick they both handled. Side to side transitions were smooth and easy, the mid corner stability better than with the Scorpions.

My current guess is that I will dearly miss two things:

  • my aftermarket Öhlins/Traxxion suspension set up
  • the inline three cylinder engine

The OEM standard suspension on the 2013 GS I rode first was pretty bad. Really bad for a motorcycle with that price tag. When I test rode it again, I got a bike with the new dynamic ESA which is really quite a lot better than the standard setup. I'd say the Sachs D-ESA is about 70% compared to the 100% of my Tiger aftermarket setup. Not bad for an OEM suspension, but could still be better. It's good enough to not worry about it at all, I will still miss the custom setup that was done perfectly right for my weight.

Nothing can be done about the engine. I will miss that triple. The boxer is an excellent engine and I really like it, but I absolutely LOVED the triple. It's good that I'm riding Andrea's old F650GS for the time being as the step from there to the new GS will be a revelation, better in every way imaginable, while the step from the triple to the boxer has in my opinion more down- than upsides. 

Other than that I'm looking forward to the different ergonomics which fit me really well on my 2010 GS and which I know will work well on the new one, too, as there is nearly no difference between the two. 

There aren't many things I plan to do to the new bike, pretty much just a small optimizations and luggage: lower footpegs to prevent cramps, side cases for our weekend trips, top case carrier for my trusty Givi top case, and some protectors for the cylinder heads. A few bits to mount the GPS I have, mount my phone to the handlebar, install a tank bag, and that should be it. I'll try to keep it much more contained this time. We'll see how that works out. 

Below is a stock photo of the bike in the right color:

2014 R1200GS Thundergrey

Can't wait for it to arrive. Until then, I'll ride the F650GS and have fun with that one. It's a two wheeler, therefore fun by definition.