Year end musings 2017 edition

Another year is drawing to a close in several hours. My kit has grown quite a bit this year. The Nikon D3, D5200 and V2 are still in the kit, but are rarely used. The Fujifilm X-E2 has been joined by an X-T1, and it's this last body that has seen the most use in the latter half of this year.

The lens cabinet is now overflowing. My list says I have 34 lenses, ranging from 10-500mm. Joining the kit this year are four Fujinons (14mm f/2.8, 23mm f/1.4, 35mm f/2, and 56mm f/1.2), two Nikons (28mm f/3.5 PC, 60mm AF-D micro), two Contaxes (85mm and 135mm f/2.8), and two Zeiss ZF.2s (21mm f/2.8 and 28mm f/2). All these lenses were purchased primarily for use with the Fuji bodies, not with the Nikons. Maybe when Nikon finally releases its FX mirrorless body, I'll switch back.

I've also bought into the Peak Design system quite a bit, having done two Kickstarters programs with them. I now have five straps, two bags, and one clip. I do love their gear, although I have yet to figure out what to do with the clip.

So what's in store for 2018? Maybe an X-T2 as the X-T1's AF is disappointingly slow. Not even the 35mm f/2 can bring it up to par with the D5200, let alone the V2 and D3. Maybe the rumoured Nikon FX mirrorless, as long as it's smaller than the D5200 and less than $2k (fat chance). I've also been hunting for a Fujinon 16mm f/1.4, but that itch isn't strong enough yet.

My backlog of photos is now hopelessly stuck at the start of 2015. Hopefully I'll have more time in 2018 to clean it up. Oh, and fix the darned template as the right side is still broken.

Onwards to the new year!

Template issuse

I just noticed that the template I'm using is broken. Not sure what happened, but it may take some time to fix it.

Let's try 135mm again

This is my second 135mm lens. I tried a Vivitar 135mm f/2.3 before, but wasn't too happy with it. Mechanically it's a beautiful lens, hefty and nicely built. But too much CA, coupled with the Fuji X-E1 with its slow EVF in dim light made me sell the Vivitar. The weight also made it nose heavy on the Fuji. I also didn't have the Zhongyi at the time, so effectively it was a 200mm lens. 

Now I have a Contax 135mm f/2.8. Smaller and lighter than the Vivitar, but still a solid lens. Coupled with the faster refresh rates on the EVFs of the Fuji X-E2 and X-T1 (did I mention that I have an X-T1?), this lens is a better fit.

So far I've only managed to take it on two outings, but I'm happy with what I see. It's not as sharp as the other Contax/Zeiss lenses wide open, but it does have the slightly nervous bokeh of its siblings. The version I have is an AEJ, so it does show a bit of the ninja star. 

Overall, not a bad buy. Now, on to some samples.

(Contax) Hollywood dreaming

Ah, eBay, my wallet's nemesis. I had the first and only bid on a Zeiss 28mm f/2 ZF.2 that should have sold for much more than I paid, so pleasant surprise, another new lens for the growing kit. I think I need to stop my eBay and craigslist browsing as it's been an expensive month.

Online research says this is a copy of the Contax version, nicknamed "Hollywood" in some circles. It's yet another hefty lens, with all that glass and metal. Focusing is very smooth, with just the right heft (are you listening, 24mm Samyang?). Definitely a pleasure to use. The hood is another story; who still uses flocking in this day and age? Sharpness and contrast are excellent, and the lens produces bokeh that's typical of the Zeiss lenses that I've used: smooth with a hint of nervousness. There isn't much falloff wide open, but there is a bit of chromatic aberration, both purple and green.

I've only managed one outing with the lens (being sick is no fun, especially when there's a car show), but I'm looking forward to using the 28mm more.

I now have four Zeiss lenses (granted, only one made in Germany). The 50mm Ultron is still the most Zeiss of them all in my opinion, having that special something that makes photos taken with it stand out.

The kit keeps growing

I was too late to get this in as a February post. That's life. So, I found a decent copy of the Fuji 14mm f/2.8 on craigslist. The lens came with a Fuji EF-20 flash for a tiny additional amount. I can't say no to a bargain. On a side note, the seller was letting go of his Fuji equipment because he had accepted a job with Nikon in Japan, after applying to both companies. He mentioned that employees get a 50% discount, such a sweet deal.

I haven't had the chance to take the lens out for a shoot (thanks, deluge). This weekend isn't going to be any better, so it will take some time before I can post anything from the 14mm. I do find the AF to be slow; it goes forward-backwards during focus, just like the 27mm f/2.8. Part and parcel of Fuji's early generation of lenses. It's strange though how the AF of the 18-55mm is just like a Nikon AF-S lens, but the rest of my Fuji lenses are the hunting type.

On the eBay front, I have a Samyang 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift on the way (USPS totally missed the delivery date). I enjoy using the Nikon 35mm PC, but it's not wide enough, being an equivalent 38mm on the X-E2 with the LTII. I've been trying to snag a NIkon 28mm PC, but the Samyang came up and I couldn't say no (and got a bit carried away with e-bidding).

So the kit continues to grow. I'm now up to five Fuji lenses. I should sell off the Nikon 1 lenses as I don't see much future use out of the V2, outside of hooking it up to the Sigma 500mm for surfing shots. Some of the FX Nikons should also probably go, since I don't use the D3 that much either. 

Or maybe I should buy another cabinet to store the new stuff...nah, that's the easy way out.

New to the kit

I've been playing with three lenses for the last month or so. One is the Contax 85mm f/1.4 that I picked up before Christmas. It's a lovely piece of glass, hefty (more so with the Zhongyi Lens Turbo II attached), with that nice mechanical feel of old MF lenses. IQ is sweet, much better than what I get from the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G. I'll have to borrow a friend's Nikon 85mm f/1.4D to do a comparison on the Fuji X-E2 one of these days.
The second lens is a Nikon 35mm f/2.8PC that I bought earlier in 2016 but haven't used much. This is the non-AI version, and it flares quite a bit. It doesn't feel as well put-together as the Contax 85mm, but the shift movement is smooth, albeit with a bit of play at the start. The rotation mechanism is very smooth though. I've been using it hand held, but one of these days I'm going to bring a tripod and do perspective correction the right way. In my opinion, 35mm (or 38mm-equivalent with the Lens Turbo II) isn't wide enough with city streets. I have been looking around for a 28mm PC and almost snagged one on Craigslist. It's too bad that Nikon's current PC lenses are over $1k new, otherwise I would consider buying one. I did spot a Canon 24mm for $600 on eBay, but not being able to set the aperture is a pain (no, I will not buy a Canon film body and bring it with me just to set the aperture).
The final lens of the trio is a Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4. This is the newest design of the three, and so far it's been tack sharp with fast AF. It doesn't quite have the character of the Zonlai 25mm f/1.8 though, and doesn't focus nearly as close. It's also much bigger, and the petal hood merely serves to emphasize its size. On the other, hand it doesn't suffer from the focus shift issues that plague the Zonlai. 

Look for more images from these three as I put them through their paces.

Oh, I forgot one more lens that arrived before Christmas: the Fujinon XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS. It's pretty sharp for such a cheap lens, sharper than the Nikon 70-300mm VR. The VR also does a good job of keeping the camera steady. It's at 230mm that things start to fall apart, with autofocus slowing down due to being at f/6.7, massive vignetting despite the small aperture and built-in lens corrections, and the rather long length of the lens coupled with a plastic lens mount. Still, for the price I paid for it used, it's well worth the money.

Double, triple, quadruple check, to be sure

I messed up on my last trip over the Christmas break. I got to my destination, only to discover that:
  1. I forgot the charger for the V2 (sitting in the box of chargers)
  2. I forgot to bring extra batteries for the X-E2 (sitting in the bag that I had used the day before my departure)
  3. I forgot the Nikon TC-14E II (sitting in the backpack that I had previously loaded up with gear, only to change my mind and not totally empty it)

I did bring three batteries to mitigate #1, but that meant I had to sparingly use the V2. I mitigated #2 by constantly charging the one battery that was in the X-E2. I had though of buying more batteries, but one cost $60, and Amazon wouldn't ship to my location. As for #3, well, there's no mitigating a missed TC.

To compound matters, the laptop that I used to transfer files from the cards to my portable HD kept on disconnecting both my cardreader and HD. I didn't double check what was being transferred, so when I got home, over 400 images were missing. It sucks that these were of the Vans surfing event. Argh! To compound the problem, I had formatted the card that I used on that day, and used it for other days. Don't ask why as I had more than enough CF cards to last the trip and then some.

Not a good way to end the year (I'm not counting it as the start of the year as the errors happened in 2016).

Here's to a better year ahead.