photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

On the road again

but…. bags???

in GAS , Thursday, February 09, 2023

This is mostly a post about camera bags. I’ll leave out the standard boilerplate about never having enough bags. Actually I have 3 bags in frontline service, an Atlas Athlete for “hybrid” trips and extended hiking, snowshoeing etc, a Mindshift Backlight 26L for more dedicated photography outings, and a Wotancraft Pilot 7L for street use.  I also have a battered and semi-retired Domke F803 which still sees some use. This lineup has been stable for quite some time and all these bags have racked up considerable mileage. I’m very happy with all of them.  However ...

Next week I’ll be heading off to Iceland, for the first time in 4 years, and so far as photography is concerned, the first time since 2016. It was time for a refresh. My plan was to take my Hasselblad X1DII along with 3 or 4 lenses. Being a bit nervous about some aspects of using the Hasselblad in the field, I decided that I would take a minimal Olympus kit as backup / secondary system. The Hasselblad would go in the Backlight backpack, and the Olympus in the Wotancraft shoulder bag.  So far so good. Loaded up the Backlight bag was still well under 10kg, including MacBook Pro. The only minor snag is that it is a bit of a tight fit, getting the Hasselblad kit in the Backlight, mainly because the camera section is a little shallow. It’s fine for short trips, but it could mean that working out of the bag in Icelandic locations and winter conditions could be frustrating. So I started poking about online for alternatives. I was restricted by the quite severe Icelandair carry on size restrictions: the Backlight 26L fits in easily, but the obvious alternative, its 35L big brother, violates two dimensions. So that one was out.

Looking around online, it was impossible to avoid the blanket faux-review marketing by Shimoda. Unable to resist, I ordered a Shimoda V2 Explore 30L, which does just fit into Icelandair’s draconian rules. Actually I had to order the “starter kit”, including an unecessary medium “V2 Core Unit Modular Camera Insert”: it was clear I’d need the large one. Anyway, it was returned to sender with 24 hours. First of all, the bag actually has less useful capacity than the Backlight 26L. The “camera insert” is less deep than the Backlight’s camera section.  My impression of the rest of the bag is that it seems well built, but heavens is it fiddly. Lots and lots and lots of Features for YouTube Influencers to bang on about, but quite honestly it feels like it was designed to be looked at and fawned over, not be actually used. The Louis Vuitton of camera bags.

Next attempt was the NYA-EVO Fjord 36L, with large size Removable Camera Insert (RCI), currently in a box on its way back to Belgium. This was a bit of a trickier decision. Actually in one dimension the Fjord 36L does exceed Icelandair rules, but first, this is depth, the most critical for me, and second, the other two dimensions are well within limits. Also the NYA-EVO provides a very well thought out method of stashing the waist straps, making it look more compact. I expect I could sneak it through. Actually I never fully unpacked the RCI inserts, as I wanted to ensure I could easily repack everything in untouched condition if I needed to return it. My very first impression of the Fjord 36L wasn’t actually all that positive. It arrived fully packed down, and gave off quite a chemical stench when I first removed it from its plastic cover.  Initially it also seemed rather flimsy. However second impressions were much better, and it does seem to be very well built, from strong material which I expect would stop smelling quite so bad over time.

One word of advice to NYA-EVO - ship your bags assembled, like Shimoda does. The box it came in was easily big enough to contain an assembled bag, and it would give a much better first impression. Especially given the premium price, you could put a little effort into presentation. And indeed source some less flimsy boxes.

Still, once again the actual load capacity seemed not a lot higher than the Backlight 26L. And with the large RCI, there actually is very little extra space left in the main compartment, although there are several full length front compartments which are similar to those on the Backlight - probably a touch larger. So I was a bit dubious. It didn’t seem to offer significantly more than the Backlight, and where it did, it was verging into Atlas Athlete territory. I convinced myself nevertheless to give it a fair trial, but then encountered a showstopper. At 1.91 meters tall, normally proportioned, the bag with harness at fully extended position was slightly too short for me. The waist straps were sitting too high to transfer load to my hips, so therefore useless, not to mention looking pretty stupid.  So sadly, once again it got returned. And I’m really NOT in the habit of returning things, it is an almighty pain. Swiss vendors are really not into “return culture”, and returning to international vendors requires extensive paperwork and considerable cost.

The NYA-EVO Fjord 60L may be a good alternative, but it exceeds most European airline’s carry on dimensions. However potentially it could replace the use scenarios of both my Atlas bag (which is showing signs of wear) and the Backlight, and I could go for the option of taking just the RCI as carry on luggage. But I have to say I’m not all that keen on that idea, in fact I’m not a big fan of removable inserts in the first place.

If only there was a Backlight 30L. One big marketing point of both Shimoda and NYA-EVO is that they have ultra comfortable carry systems. Well, at best both of them more or less come up to the standard of the Backlight’s shoulder and waist straps.

So I’m back where I started. Looking at my packed duffel bag, full of winter clothing and boots, with the weight creeping towards 20kg, and the backpack, and the shoulder bag, and considering I need to change trains twice, take a flight, then a bus, just to arrive in Reykjavik, I started to feel I was not going to enjoy this much. So I decided to slim things down. First, difficult decision was to jettison the Hasselblad. Replacing this was one Olympus body, 8-25mm, 12-40mm, 40-150mm f/4 and 17mm f/1.2 lenses. No backup body, but the Ricoh GRIII pair as secondary system, along with their converter lenses. This added up to 6.5kg including the MacBook Pro, so quite persuasive. Then I could switch the 2kg Gitzo Explorer tripod for the 0.8kg Gitzo Traveller. Finally, really taking a leap, I decided to substitute the MacBook Pro with my iPad Air M2, running Capture One for iPad.

Finally I’m tending towards lightweight, and have avoided buying a new bag. A side effect of all of this is to push me more and more towards the opinion that digital medium format just doesn’t suit me, so I may well start divesting myself of all these expensive Hasselblad lenses on my return. I’m more suited to toy cameras.

The Backlight 26L with my final camera & lens selections

Posted in GAS | General Rants on Thursday, February 09, 2023 at 09:01 AM • PermalinkComments ()

Hasselblad XCD 35-75 Lens Review

The Glass is always Greener

in Product reviews , Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I’ve always tended to avoid writing explicit gear reviews, for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m not really enough of a gear head or authority to write them, second, because it isn’t really about the gear, and third, because it’s too much like hard work. But on the other hand, reviews drive traffic, and finally what’s the point of running a web site if I don’t try at least a little bit to drive traffic?

I’m fully aware that me reviewing a high end object such as the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens is faintly ridiculous. Even more ridiculous, not to say foolhardy, is me actually owning one. Well, I’ve gone into my reasons for the extravagance of buying into Hasselblad medium format elsewhere, and my ownership of the 35-75 zoom came about by chance. I actually had no hope or even really desire to buy this lens, but earlier this year I stumbled across an almost unbelievable offer. Coming from a very reputable dealer, it was advertised as secondhand, without packaging, and nearly half retail price. But when it turned up it was boxed, still with protective foils, and indistinguishable from new - I decided not to quibble. But I still had a touch of buyer’s remorse. It’s big, heavy, and has very limited range compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to. But then I used it…

The other reason for writing this review is that as far as I can see there are no user reviews whatsoever online, apart from Vieri Bottazinni’s very thorough and detailed treatment, and a number of HeyGuysWassup YouTubes from talking heads who had the lens on loan for 3 days. What I want to try to cover is what it is like to use the lens day to day.

So, on with it.

This lens is the first and so far only zoom for the Hasselblad X system. Hasselblad claim it to be “the best lens we ever designed”, and various people with far more expertise and experience than me seem to think that this claim is justified. Using “full frame” as a benchmark, the range of the lens is equivalent to 28-59mm, which is a bit short, or very short when compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to using. This rather dampened my desire for it for a while. The aperture is not fixed, but the f/3.5-4.5 is perfectly fine for me. I’m not a narrow depth of field shooter, quite the opposite, and comparing again with Micro Four Thirds zooms, f/4 on that system is fine for me. So f/4.5 on the X system is easily enough. At 1115g, there is no getting around the fact that the lens is big and heavy, but it is surprisingly comfortable to hand hold, thanks to the superb ergonomics of the X1D body, along with the internal zooming mechanism.

Several reviews comment on the fact that the performance of the lens matches or exceeds that of XCD primes. This may well be the case, certainly I have no cause for complaint, but it is perhaps worth mentioning that the 35-75 range overlaps only with two XCD prime focal lengths, at 45mm and 65mm, so in terms of replacing a bag full of primes, it doesn’t do all that well. Nevertheless, considering it on its own terms rather than as a prime replacement, it is surprisingly useful. [as I write this, it becomes out of date. Hasselblad have now added new 35 and 55mm lenses to the XCD range]

Earlier this year I wandered around Venice for a couple of days. I took the zoom, the XCD 21 and the XCD 90 with me. Initially the 21 and 90 ended up staying in my bag. Later they ended up staying in the hotel. Of course, there is a degree of reluctance to change lenses on the X1D, partly due to the risk of getting dust on the sensor, and partly due to the relatively clumsy process of changing large heavy lenses.  But actually, even in some quite constrained spaces, the range of the 35-75 was not particularly limiting.

Here are a few examples taken with the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens in Venice, all handheld except the night shot:

1/160 at f/8, 35mm

1/640 at f/8, 65mm

1/180 at f/11, 35mm

1/160 at f/12, 35mm

1/160 at f/11, 35mm

1/250 at f/8, 70mm

1/180 at f/7.1, 55mm

1/400 at f/8, 75mm

32s at f/8, 35mm

Beyond Venice, here are a few other sample photos. The lens was also a good companion for wandering around Tuscany earlier this year, and on short photo-outings close to home.

San Quirico d’Orcia, handheld, 1/125 at f/16, 40mm

That cypress grove…, handheld, 1/320 at f/16, 75mm

Below Pienza, handheld, 1/500 at f/22, 75mm

Val Redorta, tripod, 3.2s at f/16, 45mm

It is interesting to note from the above samples that I have a tendency to go full wide (35mm) or full zoom (75mm), which does rather indicate that the range is a bit limiting. Nevertheless in the field it really hasn’t felt particularly so. I would not have any reason to not recommend this lens, apart of course from the price, which at full retail is really crippling, at least for a non-ultra-wealthy amateur. There is also the issue of the weight and size, which, again, let’s not overstate, but for which Hasselblad’s announcement on 7th September 2022 of three new faster and (much) lighter primes raises some questions.  It seems they’ve worked out how to very significantly slim down XCD lenses while increasing features and maintaining the same superb optical quality. Perhaps they can do the same for zooms.

But anyway, setting aside these minor reservations, I find the Hasselblad XCD 3,5-4,5/35-75 Zoom Lens a real pleasure to use. I live in hope that one day I’ll produce a photo that goes someway to fulfilling its potential. So, I very much recommend it. Sadly, I don’t have an affiliate link that I can push you to buy it from to make me some quick cash…


Posted in Product reviews on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 at 01:04 PM • PermalinkComments (2)


“Vigilante” by Andrew Molitor

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, April 20, 2022

I’ve kind of stopped outward communication for quite a while. I’m having one of my periodic diversions into mediuming rather than messaging, and as usual I’ve been sucked into a maelstrom of indecision.

So funnily enough the subject of this return is quite on topic, as it is really does conflate medium and message to a remarkable degree.

The topic is a book, I think, although maybe I isn’t. It’s certainly art, and it indisputably takes the form of a book, and it is called “Vigilante” by Andrew Molitor. But I guess the book is just a record of a performance.

[Actually before I go on I should express my extreme guilt at taking so long to write this, but well at least I’m writing it before any of the other things in my mental backlog]

“Vigilante” tells a tale lasting a few months over the summer of 2021, during which Andrew posted a series of surrealist takes on the standard lo-fi local advert with tear of strips. A bit like this.

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I won’t bother describing the contents any more, since you can see much better for yourself in the Blurb preview. Go away and have a look, and I’ll grab a coffee and continue when you’re back.

I imagine that some clever Master of Fine Arts could write quite a treatise on this, using all sorts of clever erudite words like signify, zeitgeist, post-modem and stuff like that. I guess post-modem is wifi? Anyway I’m not really up to that.  What I get out of Vigilante is just a lot of fun, an offbeat sense of humour but also a sense of re-engaging with the world after the pandemic decade. Very unserious but very serious at the same time.

It’s also has a significant self-deprecation undercurrent, to the extent that one wonders if the author is actually British (I guess Bellingham WA is almost Canada, so close enough). Although I’m certainly no authority, my feeling is that “Vigilante” is actually a much stronger and sincere work than the average conceptual dross found in most galleries.

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And then ... the idea of seeing the book as a “just a record of a performance” is actually cleverly detonated on the last page, where the reader is invited to step through the looking glass.

Vigliante is low key in all respects, but also a wonderfully human work which should bring a warm glow and a smile to anybody lucky enough to read it.

You can and should follow Andrew Molitor here.





Posted in Book Reviews on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 at 06:01 PM • PermalinkComments ()

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.


Posted in Ricoh on Tuesday, December 28, 2021 at 12:26 PM • PermalinkComments ()

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 or to a lesser and diminishing extent,, 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.



Posted in Hasselblad on Wednesday, September 22, 2021 at 03:18 PM • PermalinkComments ()

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