Year end musings 2016 edition

As 2016 draws to a close with only four blog posts this year, it's time for the second short review of my state of the photo nation.
  1. My camera systems are now four: Nikon FX, Nikon DX, Nikon CX, and Fuji X. The Fuji gets the most use, DX the least (but it is a recent addition).
  2. I added a D5200 (last year's D5200 has been with my brother for some time now), along with an 18-140mm DX as a general use camera.
  3. The D3 batteries are failing. They've lived a long life, and have served me well.
  4. The V2 hasn't seen much use, mostly because I haven't shot surfing much. There hasn't been much activity on the Nikon side with CX lenses or bodies, so this is the end of CX for me.
  5. The X-E1 is gone, replaced by an X-E2. Same resolution, but with PD AF and a much faster EVF, especially in dim lighting. Still not as clean as the V1/V2's EVF in dim light though. I bought an XT-10 guide, but have yet to read through it. This had lead to several issues in the field. RTFM!
  6. My lens kit has grown. I picked up a bunch of 50-55mm lenses, mostly because they're really cheap. Not sure what do with all of them, but each one has its distinct characteristics, or draw as others like to call it. I'm also the happy owner of a Contax 85mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.7, and a Fuji 23mm f/1.4. 
  7. I've added a Zhongyi Lens Turbo II in a Canon EOS mount. It's been fun using the Nikon 35mm PC with the X-E2, and I'm planning to use this lens more. A 28mm PC would be even more useful.
  8. Film! I'm the happy owner of a free Yashica T4S and a $15 Olympus XA. I didn't think I'd go back to film but shooting B&W with tiny cameras has been fun.
  9. I added three tripods to my kit: a Manfrotto Pixi and two MeFoto tripods (don't know why I need two, but couldn't resist the sale). Let's see if they get any actual use.
  10. I am the happy owner of a Peak Design  Everyday Backpack 20L. Just the right size for a weekend trip with a body and two lenses. 
  11. Speaking of bags, my most used bag is a Tamrac Aria shoulder bag. As with any shoulder bag that I've owned, the buckle on the strap gets in the way of the shoulder pad; still need to figure out a fix. I also have a ThinkTank Urban Disguise that hasn't seen any use as it's a bit big, but the price was just right. 
  12. Craigslist finds that got away: Zeiss Touit 32mm and 12mm for $500, Contax 28mm for $150, Fuji 32mm f/2 for $200, Yashica Electro for $25. Snooze you lose.

Not quite the direction I thought I'd take after the paring down that was 2015. Cabinet space is getting tight. It's like when your pants get tighter and you consider going a size up, until reality sets in and you realize you're getting fat.

What's the plan for 2017?
  1. Nikon 28mm PC so I don't have to step too far back for architectural shots.
  2. There are rumours of a D900, a replacement for the D700. I would consider it if the price is under $2k. 
  3. Pare down. I'm going to review my lenses and may let some go. The D5200 may also go as I don't see using it that much.
The year 2016 has been a dog, with so many early deaths, bad news, and horrible political decisions. Here's to what will hopefully be a better year.

The long-lived Nikon D3

It's been over nine years since I bought my Nikon D3. It has taken 103.483 shots (according to the useful site). Earlier this summer, I noticed that one of the batteries was at level 4 of its life cycle, with the red ! indicating it was nearing EOL. I have been getting less and less shots with both batteries.

I looked around for a new EN-EL4A, and a Nikon one costs $110. Back in 2009, I paid $60 for the same thing. There are very few third party EN-EL4As, but B&H sells one under the Watson brand for $60. The one I ordered will arrive next week, in time for my annual surf shootout.

Many years ago, I ordered a third party EN-EL4 for my D2H. That battery worked fine, but the D3 wouldn't recognize it.

Hopefully this battery will last until the EOL of the D3. To be honest, I don't think I'll get close to the MTBF rating of the D3's shutter. Majority of my shooting is now done with the Fuji X-E2, and the D3 only comes out if it's surfing or any high speed subjects, and the occasional parade. Age and the weight of the D3 kit have relegated it to gathering dust in my camera cabinet.

On a side note, it's getting to the end of the year, and I'll have a quick update on the contents of my cabinet.

Update: The Watson performed fine, giving over 2k shots on one charge with half still left. I don't remember the Nikon batteries lasting this long (it's been a year since my last heavy use of the D3). There is a fit issue though, with the Watson requiring a shove to get it in, unlike the Nikon batteries which slide smoothly in without effort.

Fuji X-E1 and Nikon V2 go on a trip

I just got back from a week's vacation in Bangkok, Thailand, with a short trip to Seoul, Korea. This is the first long trip for both the X-E1 and the V2. In an attempt to keep the kit light, I brought less equipment than when I went to Bali

For the Fuji, I had the 18-55mm f/2.8. For the V2, I had the 10-30mm PD, 30-110 VR, and the 35mm f/1.8 ED with the FT1. All the lenses got some use, with the 30-110mm having the least shots and the 18-55mm the most. 

The two bodies and lenses did a good job. There were a few times that I would have preferred a wider lens (too many reclining Buddah statues), or something faster. I thought about renting the Fuji 16mm f.1.4, but in my head, the $100 that would have cost is better spent towards buying the actual lens.

So I'm now looking at the 2k plus photos from the trip. I had to change SD cards once (a 32GB) on the Fuji, and never on the V2 (the advantage of smaller RAW files). Batteries of course were swapped frequently, at least once a day on the body that showed the most use. 

A few notes:
1. The 35mm ED shows a lot of chromatic aberration. There is no profile for this lens in the V2's firmware, so the JPEGs show no correction. A bit of a pain when you want to post photos during the trip and don't have ACR on your laptop.
2. The X-E1's AF can be a bit slow for stealth shots. The V2 never missed a beat.
3. Multi-metering on the Fuji gets confused by backlighting. Spot or average fixes that.

Even more German

This time around it's a Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.8, complete with T* coating. It came with a Contax 137Q body whose leatherette has seen better days.

Initial impressions weren't that good. The lens does produce sharp photos, but they're not as bitingly sharp as the Zeiss Ultron. Contrast was also lower than I would expect from a Zeiss lens. Shining an LED flashlight through the lens illuminated the culprit: haze inside the lens. I disassembled the 50mm, and discovered the fogging is between the fourth and fifth elements that are glued together (is this the "balsamic separation" that I see on some eBay listings)? Not much I can do at this point except live with it.

It's still a good lens though. OOF isn't as nervous as the Ultron. The colors have a certain richness to them that's not present with other lenses. Flare is still an issue, but not too bad. I'm sure I'd be more impressed with a clean, haze-free copy.

A good Chinese lens? Yes, a good Chinese lens

More than halfway into 2016, so let's start it with a good post. By accident, I read a post about the Zonlai 25mm f/1.8 lens being available in the Fuji X-mount. It's a Chinese designed and made lens. In photos it looked small, sample images were pretty good, and the price was reasonable. Off to eBay, where I made an offer that was immediately accepted by the seller. You know the price you named was too high when that happens.

The lens arrived in a week or so. First impression is that it really is tiny, just what I want for my X-E1. The aperture ring is in the front, leading to many fumbles as muscle memory made me reach for it when attempting to focus. It's a clickless ring, which I hate as it prevents setting aperture without looking at the ring. The focus ring is to the back, and it's on the tight side. Cosmetics look good, and the lens mounted without any problems.

Image quality matched what I'd seen on the web: sharp in the center wide open, with the edges being on the iffy side until about f/5.6. OOF can be a bit nervous when your subject is several feet away. Light fall off in the corners is an issue, but can be corrected easily in post. You can also leave it in to give your images that old lens look. I am amazed at how close the lens can focus. It's definitely a plus given the wide aperture of the lens. OOF is smooth when your subject is up close.

Flare is an issue. This lens produces even weirder flare than the Zeiss Ultron. A lens hood will solve this problem, but will make the lens bigger; there's no such thing as a free lunch when you're dealing with cheap lenses. I will probably go in that direction though as this lens likes to be used wide open, and the X-E1 will overexpose in daylight at f/1.8 (anyone selling an X-E2 or X-T1 cheap?).

I splurged for a Taab focus tab ring to help with that tight focus ring. Sadly, the Taab covers the focus scale. I need to grab a label machine and make a distance scale.

So far I've been happy with the lens. I'm still struggling with manual focus and have missed quite a few shots. But when everything lines up right, the Zonlai 25mm can give some pretty impressive shots. Some have a touch of that 3D look.

On to the samples.

More images can be found here and here.