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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

 

 

Ricoh Revival

old camera, new tricks

in Ricoh , Tuesday, October 05, 2021

I’ve been using Ricoh GR cameras since 1997. In fact, the Ricoh GR1 was the first camera I bought new*, and had a significant part to play in my starting to take photography seriously. Since then, I’ve always owned a Ricoh GR of one kind or another, although my use of them goes in peaks and troughs.

Two recent events revived my interest in the GR - or rather, reinforced it, it hadn’t lapsed that much - the announcement of the new GRIIIx, and an application called Ricoh Recipes. I’ll start with Ricoh Recipes: given the tagline “It’s like shooting film on your Ricoh GR” how could I resist?

Ricoh Recipes is an app for IOS and Android which presents various parameter configurations you can manually load into your GR, GR II or GR III, and register under one of the custom entries on the mode dial. The process is a bit finicky, but it works, and the results are quite interesting. I tried out the “Color Chrome” and “Monochrome Negative” for the GR II.

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Ricoh Recipes Color Chrome

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Ricoh Recipes Monochrome Negative

Well, they don’t turn bad photos into good photos, but they can inject a bit of a spark into mundane local scenes you’ve seen a thousand times before, and make using the camera more fun and interesting. And they’re free - although there is a paid level, it does some a bit expensive given that it is essentially just a “thank you” to the developer. Even more so as it is a subscription… had it been a one-off I’d have happily put some coins in the tip jar.

The second event was the out of the blue announcement of the Ricoh GRIIIx. This is a really big deal. With the sole exception of the film era GR21, all GR cameras have a 28mm-equivalent field of view. Asking for anything else was near-heresy to the cult of GR. But no more: the GRIIIx has a 40mm equivalent lens. In all other ways it is identical to the standard GRIII. My immediate reaction was to want to order one immediately, but unfortunately no sooner did it become available to order, some 3 weeks after the announcement, it became unavailable until further notice. December, perhaps. It could be ordered from the official Ricoh online store, provided you managed to register for, sign on to, navigate that arcane mess, but Switzerland is not a country known to Ricoh Imaging.

So I’ll have to wait. Actually, I don’t even own a GRIII, given that it hasn’t always been favourably compared to the GRII I already own, and misses what is for me a key GRII feature, the 4:3 crop mode. Maybe if and when I get a GRIIIx, if I like the handling I’ll get a standard GRIII to go with it.

While I’m here I may as well take the excuse to show a few photos. I’ve tried to find one I particularly like from each instance of a GR I’ve owned.

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Mumbai, India, 2001. Either from the GR1 or GR1s, and probably Provia 100F. Totally blurred of course, but I like the atmosphere.

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Venice, Italy, 2010 - GR Digital II

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West Iceland, 2012 - GR Digital IV

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Barichara, Colombia, 2014 - GR

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Lugano, Switzerland, 2021 - GR II


* some time in late 1997, I was looking for a compact camera to take to Venezuela. I already owned a secondhand Minox 35ML, but this had developed some issue, and I wasn’t confident it was reliable. So, and as far as I remember, I wanted to buy a new Minox. I found a small shop in Central London, in Picadilly Arcade, which sold Minox, and went there to buy one. Picadilly Arcade is a pretty upmarket location, I discovered, and probably the shop if it still existed today would cater for gold-plated Leica collector type customers. But in fact they were very friendly and helpful, and managed to talk me out of a Minox and into this new camera from a company I’d never heard of. So that’s how I became the owner of a new Ricoh GR1 Date, which went to Venezuela, survived being dropped in a tropical river, and gave many years of reliable service. It taught me the value of a good, or rather great, lens, also. A few years later I bought a second GR, a GR1s, from the same shop while visiting London. I don’t know what later became of them - another victim of online shopping, I imagine.

 

 

 

Going wide in Antarctica

a weird, but wonderful camera

in Sigma , Friday, February 19, 2021

I have written more than one post about my enthusiasm for the Sigma dp0 Quattro. Having just completed editing the series of photos I took with it in Antarctica little over a year ago, I felt like writing a bit more.

For me the dp0 plays the role of high quality digital panoramic camera, hence my describing it as the digital XPan, with a similar multi-aspect ratio, except in this case the “single frame” is actually has the same long-edge resolution as the panorama.

So, the dp0 panorama mode is a crop, but for me the fact that I get the crop (a rather unique 21:9) on screen means that I can compose in panoramic mode, rather that crop afterwards in post production, and that makes a big difference. It means I can set my creative brain to panoramic mode and not get distracted by elements outside of the composition. But it also means I can move the panoramic frame in post, which essentially gives me positive and negative shift control. Of course this is all artificial, and yes, to some extent you can do it with any camera, but there is a psychological aspect to this which makes me feel like I’m using a true panoramic camera and therefore helps me find appropriate compositions. It would be even better if Sigma introduced a firmware upgrade which allowed me to shift the frame up or down in-camera.

But apart from all the pseudo-panorama babble, what brings me back to the dp0 time and time again is the delicate colour and superfine detail that comes from the combination of the fixed 14mm lens and the Foveon sensor. I don’t really mean detail in the pixel-peeping sense: sure you zoom in to 100% and see amazing resolution. In fact you can go beyond, almost to 300% before things start to break down, but to my eyes there is something about the detail at any zoom level. It looks quite different to other digital cameras, even medium format.

The other thing about the dp0 is how light it is, especially given what it delivers. The unique shape makes it a little cumbersome to pack, not to mention a reliable attention grabber on the street, but generally it is very easy to carry around, and once you get used to its different way of doing things, quite a pleasure to use.

All of this adds up to a camera which very easily justifies its space in the very limited luggage one can carry to Antarctica, especially when sailing on a small boat.

I find that the dp0 - and indeed, the DP2 Merrill I used previously - responds very well to Antarctic light and atmospheric conditions. It excels at conveying the unreal sense of detail that you see in the landscape, where the lack of humidity and pollutants in the air allow even very distant scenes to appear crystal clear. Of course it does have drawbacks too: dynamic range is not great, and highlight clipping is generally completely irrecoverable. Highlights also clip very abruptly, which also places limitations on some types of long exposure where brighter areas can burn out in a very ugly way. Having said all that, when it works, it works like nothing else I’ve ever used.

I recently published a photo diary of dp0 shots - a mix of full frame and panoramic.  Here are a few more shots which I didn’t include there.

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To give some idea of the detail, the speck in the air to the left in the photo above is a helicopter. At 1:1 it looks like this:

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Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-45mm f/1:4 PRO review

well, my idea of a review, that is

in Product reviews , Wednesday, July 22, 2020

So, here’s a gear review. It’s not tongue in cheek, nor is it sarcastic, but it is purely subjective, is grounded solely on my own needs and desires, and has absolutely no measurements or “tests”.

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I didn’t need the (deep breath) Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/1:4 PRO lens. I’ve already got far too many Olympus lenses, including the near-overlapping M.Zuiko 12-40 f/2:8 PRO, and the M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ (“AMATEUR” I assume). And of course I don’t actually “need” any of this stuff. However I have long wished for Olympus to break out of the “high quality lenses have to be fast and heavy” mindset, and offer smaller lenses that do not compromise on quality (either optical performance or handling). To some extent they made a move towards this with the 12-100mm f/4 PRO, although nobody would describe that lens as small or light - even if relatively, it is. So, given all of this, when this 12-45 PRO was announced, I was interested.

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The new tiny 12-45 f/4 PRO versus the giant 12.40 f/2.8 PRO. Take your pick.

While the rough direction of my photography tends towards relatively exotic travel, especially the higher latitudes, clearly I don’t do that everyday. But photography is part of my everyday life, and while I don’t necessarily share much of my day to day, mundane photography, I still do it, still enjoy it, and it keeps me in practice. So, having a compact but quite nice and high-ish quality system is enticing. On the camera side, the OM-D EM5 Mkii fits the bill, but the existing 12-40mm PRO lens is a touch unbalanced on that body, especially without the various bolt-on grips and baseplates.  And the 14-42 EZ isn’t very inspiring, at least my copy isn’t, although it was probably better before it had a fairly traumatic trip around Colombia.

Yes but. The 12-45 PRO lens is quite expensive, and from my point of view, hardly essential. However, when shopping at my favourite online store the other day (for mosquito repellent) I noticed a very interesting “open box” offer for the lens, some 30% off standard price. At that price I thought it was worth a go, especially right now it might be a good idea to buy up Olympus lenses while we still can.

So here it is. I’ll skip the unboxing ritual, although it is worth pointing that this lens comes with a rather nice soft cloth wrap, rather than a clumsy pouch, which could actually be useful. As opposed to all other PRO lenses (and a number of AMATEUR ones), it has no “manual focus clutch”. This is no big deal - in my opinion this is only really useful on prime lenses. I can switch to manual focus on the flick of a switch on the camera body anyway. Otherwise it is clearly a member of the PRO family, both by design and heft. Addressing the number one question, is it really that much smaller than the 12-40 PRO? Well, side by side there is less in it than you might expect. But when mounted on the EM-5 MkII, the difference is very noticeable. While the 12-40 PRO unbalances the handling (to some extent, let’s not exaggerate), the 12-45 PRO feels absolutely perfect.

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So, I bolted the the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/1:4 PRO lens on the front of OM-D E-M5 MkII body (sorry, I seem to be drifting slightly towards the Sarcasm Sea here, I’ll try to stop it) and took it for a brief walk while waiting for a doctor’s appointment (I’m fine, thanks for asking). Unfortunately - or not, who knows - I didn’t notice that the camera was still set to use a custom colour setting I’d been playing around with, and to record in JPEG. Just as well I’m not into “tests”.

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My initial impression was just it was just seamless to use. It fits perfectly onto the E-M5, and is a really nice, flexible walk around lens. The zoom range is very useful, and it does have one special trick up its sleeve in that is has a very short minimum focus distance of 12cm at all focal lengths. This gets close to macro range. It’s sharp - at least as sharp as the 12-40 PRO - and as far as I can tell at all focal lengths, starting from wide open. Of course, wide open is “only” f/4, which some bespectacled angry geek will pop up and correct to “f/8”, but that’s part of the design. Frankly f/4 is good enough for me. I’m far more often struggling getting enough depth of field rather than complaining I’ve got too much.  Of course it could be brighter, but then it would be a 12-40 f/2.8, and, well, start at the beginning if you didn’t get the message on that yet.

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A close focussing test.  At focal length 12mm.

I’m pleased I bought this lens, although the special price had a lot to do with it. It has its own niche, and for me that will be getting glued to the front of my E-M5 MkII. This, and just maybe the 17mm f/1.8, will fit very nice into a corner of my small Domke shoulder bag, and be a perfect companion for casual photography. Which is most photography, for me.

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All photos taken around Mendrisio, Ticino, Switzerland.

 

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