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A new Ricoh chapter

a narrower view

in Ricoh , Tuesday, December 28, 2021

I’ve been waiting for this a long time. No, not just since September, when it was launched and became immediately unavailable. But since I started using its distant ancestor 2 decades ago. While 28mm was fine, and indeed often ideal, I did find that that it was a pity to restrict such an excellent camera to a single focal length. Well, finally the remedy has arrived: of course, I’m talking about the Ricoh GR IIIx, a “normal” Ricoh GR, but with a 40mm equivalent focal length lens. To be be absolutely honest, I would have slightly preferred 35mm, but I know that even if a lot of people agree with me, many more wanted 50mm. So 40mm is, hopefully for Ricoh, a good compromise. And so far, it does seem to be a bit of a hit, although obviously within a small niche market.

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First ever photo with the GR IIIx. The sky renders exactly the same silky way as previous GRs

So far I have skipped the GR III in favour of remaining with the GR II, feeling that it appeared to take away some key GR features, albeit while adding new ones. So not only the focal length but also the handling were going to be new to me. Well, on first impressions I have to confess my fears seem to be groundless. If anything, the handling is improved.  The somewhat fiddly focus point moving setup is now fully replaced by touchscreen focus point selection, which works really well, and I haven’t really missed the AF button or focus mode lever yet. And the move of exposure compensation from dedicated toggle to the multifunction lever hasn’t really phased me. The other big complaint on the internets, overheating, so far has not been apparent, but that might be because it is pretty cool outside right now. Time will tell.

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First ever macro mode photo with the GR IIIx

But the first photos - well, I’m delighted to say they maintain what is to me the magical rendering of the 28mm version. The colour, detail, rendering, all these photo buzzwords, are just gorgeous.

I immediately decided to indulge in some more comfort shopping, ordering a silver lens ring (so that it would be easy to tell at a glance from the 28mm version), and a telconverter and adaptor. Despite the fact that the availability of the teleconverter was in January, the whole order turned up the next day.

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It’s early days yet, but so far the GR IIIx (my 7th GR camera) is more than meeting my expectations.

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All shots here taking during a short mountain bike tour, saved as raw/DNG and lightly processed in Capture One.

 

 

Random Content Generation

to sleep…

in General Rants , Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I haven’t written much here recently. Indeed, I haven’t done much worth writing about, in the context of this blog. Yesterday however I did have the chance to reflect as I laid back in the dentists chair and suffered an hour of scheduled routine maintenance (no major issues discovered), and during that time I came up with several erudite, fascinating posts and pretty much sketched them out in my head.

Naturally, I’ve completely forgotten what they were.

But I really feel I should write something, so here we go - a totally unfocused ramble, let’s see what comes out.

Actually I have spent quite some time on my experimental migration to Squarespace, copying over as much content as possible, and working on the structure. I’m still not all that convinced I want to do this, as Squarespace gives me a lot less freedom of choice - which is possibly as much of a plus as a minus - but also once set up clearly requires far, far less time to manage. But certainly it will be a less personal, less idiosyncratic of presenting myself on the web.

I haven’t done a lot of active photography. First of all, time has been a scarce resource. But when time did permit, the weather, oscillating between either constant heavy rainfall or photographer-hostile clear blue sky, did not play along. When the weather was actually attractive, I was otherwise engaged. So that’s another autumn wiped out.

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Blue Sky - a day out with the Hasselblad

On the other hand I have spent some time constructively revisiting my archives, and, if not finding lost gems, at least finding some stuff which was more interesting than I expected. In order to lose gems, I’d have to have some in the first place. This in turn led me to carry out some long-needed updates to some software I use ... which in turn pushed me to take a huge risk and update to macOS Monterey.  I’d had a disastrous experience with its predecessor, Big Sur, from which I made a panicked retreat to the the oasis of stability, Mojave. But thanks to the ongoing need Apple has to rake more and more money into its coffers, and be driven almost entirely by Marketing, “old” versions of operating systems get ever shorter lives, and customers are forced into largely pointless upgrades built ever-declining standard of software engineering and testing. Many would say Saint Steve would be rotating in his grave. I doubt it. Under the superficiality, he was at least as much focused on raking in money as his successors.

Anyway, so far - 5 days in - macOS Monterey is more or less behaving itself. Most of the time.

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Blue Sky - a day out with the Hasselblad

Of course with all this faffing about, inevitably thoughts turn to Gear Acquisition / De-Acquistion.  Before leaving for Lofoten back in August, I did manage to convince myself that the new Olympus 8-25mm wide angle zoom would suit me more than the Olympus 7-14mm wide angle zoom I’ve had for ages. However the order I put in fell through and the lens could not be delivered in time. Somehow though I managed to end up placing another order, and in mid-September the lens turned up.  Eventually I had to try it out. It’s not bad at all, and has the major advantage that normal filters can be used on it, unlike the 7-14.  The loss of one stop (f/4 to f/2.8) is not very material for a wide angle lens, so I ended up selling the 7-14, at a fair price.  Of course, it is a smidgeon less wide, but that will hopefully mean slightly less shots with my feet or a tripod leg in the frame.

Still, I’ve got far too many lenses.

And cameras, but we’ll get to that later.

Next, along came the announcement of the new Olympus OM Systems 20mm f/4 PRO lens. I was mesmerised. In particular as OM Systems seem to have a slightly better idea of how to market to old men than Olympus did. Sucks for various other (boring) old men getting thrown off of their “Olympus Visionary” perches, but that’s progress for you. Anyway, initially I was just a hop and a skip away from clicking on PREORDER NOW, but somehow I held back. I remembered several things: 1, the old Panasonic 20mm lens that was an absolute must-have in the early days of Micro Four Thirds never much appealed to me. I bought it, and sold it. I already have two fast 17mm Olympus lenses, the f/1.8 and f/1.2. I actually had the f/1.2 on sale, but I pulled the auction. And I also spent a little while reacquainting myself with the 17mm f/1.8, one of my all time favourites. Conclusion, I really do not need this new 20mm f/4. Then again, when has that ever stopped me?

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Who needs a 20mm f/1.4 when you have a 17mm f/1.8 ?

Before that there was another burst of GAS with the announcement of the Ricoh GRIIIx with a 40mm equivalent lens - coincidentally the same as the above-mentioned OM 20mm. I’ve been a huge fan of the Ricoh GR cameras since they first came on the market in the dark days of film, but always found the 28mm field of view a bit limiting. The new 40mm FoV is far closer to my favoured 35mm, so this was really a must have. Ok, the price is a little off-putting. But anyway I ordered one, in early October, with a promised delivery in 5 days. Those 5 days turned to 10 days, then to “er, we’ll get back to you on that”, so I cancelled my order. Apparently it should be available in January. I assume they mean 2022.

I did finally manage to soothe my bursting wallet with an opportunistic lunge at a “refurbished” (i.e. new, but the box is a bit scuffed) Olympus E-M5 MkIII at a shockingly low price. So far I’m very pleased with it; despite the outcry that it is made of, shock, horror “plastic” (polycarbonate actually) it feels just as good as my all metal MkII (which moves into a backup role). I would say that some buttons are rather cramped on the MkIII compared to the MkII, but the move to a layout more consistent with the E-M1 MkIII is very welcome.

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First ever photo with my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

And finally, back to the elephant in the corner of my room - the Hasselblad X1DII. Without a doubt it is a beautiful piece of engineering and ergonomic design, which delivers technically fantastic results. But so far I cannot honestly say it is fun to use. It still leaves me perplexed, and I really cannot think of one memorable photo I’ve taken with it. Technically impressive photos, yes, but memorable as photos, not really. I think it is down to the lenses. They are certainly absolute top level in terms of sharpness, rendition, colour, all of those “image quality” things. But they have nothing to some key characteristics of the Olympus lenses, for example close focussing. Sometimes it feels like closest focussing distance should be measured in kilometres. And of course they are very expensive, generally about twice the price of the nearest competitor, Fuji.  I do actually think that the Hasselblad system is in general superior to the Fuji - if I give up the Hasselblad, it would not be to go to the Fuji MF system, just to “retreat” to Olympus.  I guess a fundamental issue is that I had in mind some very specific travel destinations which would justify medium format, and the way the world has turned it seems those are destinations I’ll never reach.

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...perchance to dream

 

 

Hasselblad X1D, one year later

should it stay or should it go?

in Hasselblad , Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It seems like only yesterday that I confessed to the Mother Of All Gear Acquisition Syndrome lapses, my entry into the Hasselblad “X System” (to be precise the second coming of the X System, the title having previously been used for the XPan).

Actually it was more than a year ago, so it seems about time that I return to the confessional and explain how it’s all worked out. I now have an X1DII body and three lenses, a 45mm, 90mm, and most recently a 21mm. However it still feels like I’ve hardly used the camera. So far it has not been on any dedicated photo trips (well, neither have I), and has really only been used locally. I backed out of a trip to East Greenland due to general uncertainties, and a late decision to switch a cut-down Olympus kit for my holiday in Lofoten turned out to be a very good idea. So truly it hasn’t been put much to the test yet, and it certainly hasn’t yet earned its keep.

One thing is for sure, the X1D is a beautifully designed camera. It fits in the hand like a glove, and just like the Olympus E-M1, I can hold it by the grip, dangling it from my fingertips. The physical ergonomics are superb, and the menu and touchscreen interface are a masterclass in good design. The only thing missing for me is tilt/swivel screen. Of course it has been totally eclipsed by the Fuji digital medium format series: Fuji wins out on price, on range, and is very much boosted by the sect-like Fanclub the company has skilfully cultivated. There is very little online community to be found around the Hasselblad system. However, even in Fuji dominated discussions, every now and then comes a guilty admission that maybe the X1D (and 907x) is a little bit special.

I’m no reviewer or pixel peeper, but even I can see that the XCD lenses are absolutely stunning. Certainly the best I’ve ever used. They give a subtle sense of volume to photos, as well as almost infinite but somehow velvety sharpness.  The Olympus Pro lenses are also astonishingly sharp, but with a certain harshness. How much of that is down to the huge difference between the sensors, or to the lens design, I can’t say, but I suspect is is a bit of both.  Of course the XCD lenses are significantly heavier, and there is nothing to touch the flexibility of a lens like the Olympus 12-100 f/4.

Processing the photos is a little awkward: first of all there is a little weirdness with image formats. The camera saves raw files in “3FR” format. Although this format can be read by several applications, including Lightroom, DxO Photolab and Affinity Photo, it cannot directly be read by Hasselblad’s own Phocus. Phocus “imports” 3FR photos and converts them to FFF format. As far as I can tell the significant difference between 3FR and FFF is that Phocus edits are stored inside the FFF file (as opposed to the more common method of using a “sidecar” file). This does actually enable seamless transition between Phocus Mobile for iOS (excellent) and Phocus desktop (quirky). But since FFF files also embed Hasselblad lens corrections, they cannot be processed in DxO Photolab, as this application’s main USP is to apply its own lens corrections.  So it is all very confusing and clumsy. To add to this, Phocus has very, very restricted file import functionality, so very little custom renaming, no pattern-based folder selection, etc.  My solution is to use Phocus to import to a working folder, converting to FFF, then rename and move these FFF files into my standard structure using PhotoSupreme, then repoint Phocus at the relevant folder. It works, but I have to keep my wits about me. I then generally do exposure and some colour edits in Phocus, and finally export to 16bit TIFF, which in turn I may work on in CaptureOne and/or Photoshop. Actually, I find that X1D files generally need very little tweaking, which is a relief.

Note, you can bypass all this nonsense by working with 3FR files directly in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but I’ve stopped actively using Lightroom.

Reading through the few web forums where X1D owners gather (for example hasselbladdigitalforum.com or to a lesser and diminishing extent, getdipi.com), one could build an impression that the system suffers from severe reliability issues. Well, fingers crossed, I haven’t hit any such issues yet, and one does need to consider that satisfied customers rarely complain.  Again, I’m not sure why there is so little web activity around the system, but possibly it attracts photographers rather than camera geeks :-). If the activity on the secondhand market here in Switzerland is anything to go buy, there is an active community.  Secondhand XCD lenses sell fast, and at near retail price - unfortunately!

The X-System coexists well with my Olympus gear, especially as they both have my preferred 4:3 default aspect ratio. Obviously the Olympus kit is comfortable in a much wider range of scenarios, for example lightweight travel, but more importantly longer focal lengths.  The maximum native focal length so far available in the XCD lens range is 230mm, which works out at something like 178mm in full-frame equivalence terms.  Just the Olympus 12-100 gives me 200mm equivalent - and it’s a zoom. There is only one XCD zoom, a very limited 28-60mm equivalent, and it costs 1 arm + 1 leg. Another huge benefit on the Olympus side is of course stabilisation, although to be fair the Hasselblad leaf shutter approach means that hand holding is quite practical at fairly low shutter speeds. Having said all that, much as I enjoy and admire the results from the Olympus cameras, in terms of colour, tonal smoothness, and definition, output from the Hasselblad is quite clearly streets ahead.

Here is a fairly random selection of photos - they are largely all in the “learning the camera” category, as so far sadly I haven’t shot a coherent project with the X System. All photos are pretty much as shot, with minor adjustments in Phocus.

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I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not answerable to anybody but myself for my photography. The Hasselblad X System is insanely expensive for somebody on my income, but then again my peers spend far more money on cars that they buy mainly for enjoyment. And I did mostly fund it by selling off other stuff. I enjoy using the X1D, although I would prefer it if it had a little more flexibility, and I’m also longing for opportunities to really put it through it paces. So, for the foreseeable future, it stays.

 

 

 

Hasselblad X1DII - so far

crazy camera, crazy money

in GAS , Thursday, January 07, 2021

Back in August, I took a big step into the photographic unknown with the purchase of a Hasselblad X1DII. In order to afford this extravagance, I sold off my Sigma sdH, several Olympus bodies, my Linhof 612 and my Voigtländer Bessa III. This allowed me to buy the X1DII body, an ex-demo refurbished 45mm f/3.5 lens, and a 90mm f/4 lens on special offer. In addition to those I got an adaptor for my 3 XPan lenses. This is far, far from a casual purchase for me, and will probably be my last major investment in camera gear.

So, do I have buyers remorse? Was it worth it?  Short answers: no, and yes, probably.

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The Hasselblad X1DII (X1D from now on) sits alongside my now somewhat reduced workhorse Olympus OM-D kit. Essentially, to earn its keep it needs to let me do things I want to do that the OM-D cannot.  Superficially this shouldn’t be very hard - after all the X1D has a huge 50 megapixel sensor against the OM-D’s small 20 megapixels. So, the average brick wall or cat should turn out much better with the X1D. Well, with some caveats - although brick walls don’t move all that much, cats do (especially our neighbour’s cat which I’ve yet to successfully drench with a bucket of water). The OM-D can, more or less, focus track. The X1D can’t. The OM-D has zillions of focus points. The X1D has considerably less. The OM-D has stabilisation, and fast lenses. The X1D has neither. And anyway, I’m not in the slightest bit interested in brick walls or cats.

So, it’s not looking good so far for the X1D. But wait…  once it does get its few ducks in a row, the output is just flat out gorgeous. It isn’t quite Portra 400 level sublime, but its the closest I’ve ever seen from a digital camera. 

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The size (especially) and weight of the X1D with 45mm f/3.5 and the OM-D E-M1 MkIII with the roughly equivalent 17mm f/1.2 lens is very close. The X1D is really remarkably compact. Of course the OM-D wins out in low light - the X1D is only about 1 stop better in noise performance, and the OM-D has on-body stabilisation.  In hand, the X1D is actually noticeably heavier, but it is very, very comfortable to hold for a lengthy period - and it has strong competition here, the E-M1 grip is so well designed I can dangle the camera from my fingertips quite safely. So from a physical ergonomics point of view, it’s close. From a user interface point of view, there’s no competition - the X1D is a very clear winner. The touchscreen-based menu system is a masterpiece. The few physical controls are well placed and easy to use, with the possible exception of the focus mode button which is a bit of stretch to reach. The primary mode of focus point selection is through the touchscreen. This is the thing I like least about the X1D. I can’t get on with this way of working when the camera is up to my eye. The E-M1 has the same mode, as an option, but I disabled it as soon as I changed the focus point with my nose for the first time.  But the E-M1’s alternative is a very convenient joystick, whereas on the X1D you have to long-press the hard-to-reach focus button, and then use the two dials. It’s not ideal.

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Speaking of the viewfinder - until I used the X1D, I thought the OM-D’s EVF was perfectly ok. Now, in comparison, it looks like a 50s TV set at the end of a long tunnel. The X1D’s EVF is stunning.

My previous attempt of supplementing my “shooting envelope” was with the Sigma sd-H. This just didn’t work out. The camera is a delight, but the lenses are massive and very heavy, and of course anything over ISO 200 was risky territory. Also, the Quattro sensor has quite some eccentricities, alongside its amazing resolution. Really, the sd-H is too unwieldy for me, and I had higher expectations of the Sigma “Art” lenses after using the dp fixed lenses.  The X1D, however, is almost as comfortably as a walkaround camera as the OM-D. Of course there are limitations with lens reach, and you have to keep a close eye on the shutter speed, but it is leagues ahead of the Sigma. So from that point of view, I’m happy.

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The things that frustrate me with the OM-D are the way that background details sometimes disintegrate into a nasty mush, and a certain coarseness in colour transition in darker and lighter zones. The X1D provides huge improvements in both areas. It also brings noticeably better colour depth and accuracy, and of course detail.  The OM-D’s advantages are deeper depth of field and overall versatility. The great thing for me is that they both have the same native 4:3 ratio, and that the X1D can go to “digital XPan” mode at the flick of a switch, meaning in general I have a coherent reference for composition across 3 camera types.

So, in conclusion, there’s absolutely no buyers remorse. I have two interchangeable, fully complementary camera systems that fully cover all I want to do in photography. Was it worth it? Well, it would be, if only I had somewhere to travel to fully exploit the X1D, but that’s a general problem right now.

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The last roll of the dice

finally, good photos!

in GAS , Thursday, August 13, 2020

So, as hinted in my last post, I've gone off at the deep end. I have renounced common sense, fiscal rectitude and a bunch of other things and bought into the new-ish Hasselblad X Medium Format digital system. I'd been eyeing this for a long time, and when a very good offer came up for a new X1DII boy and factory reconditioned ex-demo 45mm lens, I decided it was now or never. I rapidly flogged off a bunch of other stuff that was clogging up my shelves, and just about scrapped together the money, so from that point of view I could tell myself I was being reasonable. I also got an adapter to use my XPan Lenses (they provide full coverage, not just "XPan crop mode"), and finally I chanced upon another very special offer on a new 90mm XCD lens, so I got that too. That is probably as far as I can go, or indeed want to go, for now.

So, WHY (and of course, "why not Fuji")? Well, to answer the Fuji part, I have tried out their MF cameras, and impressive as their are, I just don't like them. They are too complicated, the lenses have a reputation for hit and miss quality control, and the retro nonsense gets in the way. And they're ugly. If I'm paying that much money, and anyway it's strictly for my own pleasure, then how it looks and feels is not a trivial factor. The Hasselblad X1D is above all a fantastically usable camera. It has a modern, totally intuitive user interface, as few buttons as it needs, a very, very nice viewfinder, and it fits my hand like a glove. Yes, I'd like to have tilt screen for tripod use, but I can manage without.

But WHY? Well, obviously: it will make all my photos better and make me a better photographer! (What? What do you mean it won't??). Basically for most of the time I've been making photographs, off and on I've been mildly frustrated by my inability to capture and reproduce subtle gradients in colour. Maybe tonality as well, but I'm fundamentally, in my own way, about colour. Actually I have found that in some circumstances I could get what I wanted through medium format film. I've also discovered that very frequently, work by published photographers that appeals to me was done on medium format film. Of course it isn't just film - medium format lenses play a significant part too. The problem with this though is that I have never found a medium format film camera I actually like, and in any case, for several reasons, medium format film photography is unwieldy and impractical. So, I hope to find at least some of the character I'm looking for in (small) medium format digital. The 50 Mpix resolution is nice to have but not a necessity. The extra dynamic range is very nice to have. The Hasselblad colour rendition on the other hand is a key factor.

So, essentially, because I wanted to.

So far all I've just been getting familiar with the camera, the required technique, the depth of field and other aspects that need to become second nature, but some initial results have been quite encouraging.

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Handheld shot in Bedigliora, just up the road. XCD 45mm f3.5, handheld



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Near Ponte di Aranno, Magliasina, also just up the road. XCD 45mm f3.5, tripod



This does not mean I'll be giving up my Olympus system. Far from it. The two are very complementary, and the fact that both have the same native 4:3 aspect ratio is a major plus. I'm very used to seeing in 4:3, and indeed this aspect ratio was a key reason I bought into the Olympus system in the first place, many hundreds of years ago.

I've had a few failed and fairly costly experiments on the gear side in recent years, in particular the Linhof 612 and the Sigma sd-H. Hopefully this time I've finally got a camera which will enable me to take the photos I see in my head. Certainly I have no more dice to throw on this front.

The next question is finding an opportunity to use it. Getting to Greenland (for example) has become a lot more complicated. Then again, there is plenty of potential in my own back yard.
 

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