Saturday, 3 December 2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

Life is a Combination of Chances

multi
(GXR M-mount with Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II)

You may stand in the street and shoot pictures, and come across people who you will probably not see again in the rest of your life.  Here they are captured in the images.  You look at the images and wonder how unimportant their lives are to you, just in the same way as yours to them.  But with the same camera, you can do something that connects to them or strangers who you will come across, and leave a mark on their lives.

There are many ways to achieve this: to tell stories of the underprivileged in images; to meet photographers with your cameras; to help out as a volunteer photographer; to give your old cameras to the opportunity shops; to organise free photography classes for the poor and get sponsors to supply free cameras.  You can combine the chances to make them meaningful, rather than letting the chances pass in your life.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Free Stuff

R9353333L (Ricoh GX200)

If you are a Hong Kong or Macau citizen and have the talent and luck, you can get a GXR with A12 28mm module for free.  Or be the first or second runner-up and be disappointed with the Ricoh PX camera prize.

Laikok is holding the forth Ricoh photo contest Hong Kong on the theme of Cheerful.  The contest closes at the end of December, and is open to Hong Kong and Macau residents only.

Links to GXR M-mount Module Field Test (with Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II)

R9352906L

1) Selling Points
2) Manual Focusing and Others
3) Unique Features and High-ISO Performance
4) Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II Lens
5) Conclusive Remarks

(All photos in the test are copyrighted to Nevin; Kudos to Laikok for lending GX Garnerings the camera unit and the lens)

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Who Cares?

R9352371L (GXR M-mount with Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II)

The saddening scene of the old woman caught the author’s attention to stop and take some shots.

The considerations for taking this shot: 1) no flash because it would make a scene to attract people looking into the lens; 2) a shutter speed just enough to freeze the action with a slightly blurred effect; 3) a foreground should be included to give the image a spatial feel and better isolate the homeless woman.

So 1) the flash was off; 2) in the case of fast-paced Hongkongers, the shutter speed was dragged to 1/25s; 3) moved back to allow passers-by walk into the scene between the camera and the homeless lady.

If you're interested, GXG has an old post about doing flash photography tricks.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

GXR M-mount Field Test: Conclusive Remarks

R9352905L

For two years or so, we have seen a flux of digital cameras ostensibly modelled after the vintage design. From Oly’s MFT series to Fujifilm’s X100, a new passion for vintage-camera lookalikes has been ushered in among photography enthusiasts. This is all well and good, but precisely because we are huge fans of such digital-and-vintage hybrids, it pains us to say that these models are felt as vintage cameras in appearance more than in spirit – factors contributing to this impression include the plastic feel of some flimsy camera bodies and lenses. We have no qualms with what all these commendable cameras can proudly do. But it is arguably that the GXR M-mount module brings users the real and rare choice to experience the fun of full manual functions with top quality manual lenses, most importantly without the prohibitively expensive outlay.

R9352894L

Recently at the Ricoh Hong Kong Meetup, users shared with great gusto their experience in using on the GXR M-mount module a dozen of manual lenses from Russian to Nikkor and to Leica lenses. At the same time, they lamented that the emergence of the M-mount module has resulted in a shortage, hence inflated prices, of mounts for manual lenses. This certainly speak volumes for the success of Ricoh’s move with this module.

Body and UI

The GXR body is sturdy, with a well-thought out button layout and a well-balanced weight distribution (i.e. when the heavy Nokton lens is dismounted; but not all manual lenses are as bulky). Everything feels perfect about the camera body ergonomics-wise, except for the body’s imperfection of featuring the wheel-and-rocker control combination, rather than a twin-wheel system. This is not terrible, just less than ideal.

R9352876L

(Direct-screen menu for making adjustments direct)

The user’s interface of the GXR body is still arguably a head and shoulders above the competitors. Users seldom need to dive into the menu system, thanks to the GXR body’s highly customisable Fn keys, one-press quick menu and memory slots, as well as the Direct-screen menu. These are very beneficial to doing manual operations on the M-mount module. For example, the Fn keys help speed up the focusing process when work with the focus assist function and focus magnification. For doing manual focus swiftly, a tip is to customise Focus Assist and focus magnification into the two Fn keys on the directional dial, which has proved to work well during the review. Previous discussions on the UI of the GXR body can be found here and here.

Focusing Modes

Mode 1 simulated
mode1

Mode 2 simulated
mode2

final image
mode2_final

On the note of focusing, it should be mentioned that no matter how high a resolution the LCD display boasts, the focus magnification is done digitally. In other words, in Mode 1 (subject in focus displayed in glittering dots), the magnified image may not be satisfactory in clarity for focus confirmation under some situations – for example, when the subjects are delicately patterned or the near background is cluttered with similarly coloured objects.

sony girl mode 2 (Mode 2 simulated)

However, some users have pointed out that Mode 2 (scene displayed in embossment-style grey colour with the focus highlighted by a white border) gives a much clearer indication for focus confirmation. So, for Mode 2, the above issue of magnified images is non-existent. sony girlBut I still have two concerns concerning Mode 2: first, the actual scene can only be seen when half-pressing the shutter release; second, as shown to me, the grey colour makes it doubtful if a scene is underexposed or overexposed as intended. On the second point, I must say that the demonstration was done for extreme exposure values. In real-life photography, the same may rarely happen, if it will happen at all. After all, one can always view the histogram or half-press the shutter release to check it out. Of course, this is a matter of workflow and may not just suit everyone.

Suggested Improvements

Suggested Mode 1
mode1_improved
Suggested Mode 2
mode2_improved

If I were asked, in addition to the Focus Assist function which facilitates visual focus confirmation, something can be done to improve the focus confirmation: for Mode 1, an on-screen indication to highlight the focused area in specific colours; or an addition of a presently technically wishful thinking – as there is no communication between the lens and the camera body – a sectional indicator a la some battery level indicator whereby the clearer the focus is, the more sections will be lighted up in the indicator. As for Mode 2, the scene can be displayed in normal colour (or in black and white when doing such shots) while the focused area is displayed in grey with highlighted border.

R9352572L

That said, at the Ricoh Hong Kong Meetup, some folks using the M-mount module revealed that they had shown it to their retired grandpas who regrettably could no longer focus with their Leicas owing to deteriorated eyesight and shaky hands. What happened next was that those grandpas became GXR M-mount owners since its focus confirmation modes work well for them. Also, the M–mount module is a much affordable option to resurrect the Leica lenses according to these now happy grandpas.

Fun and IQ

R9352427L (high contrast mode)

Ricoh puts in some unique functions like the adjustable Peripheral Illumination Correction and a high-contrast black-and-white mode which I recommend users to experiment with. For the other regular scene functions, the M-mount module simply does them as good; they are useful but I am not big fans of them.

original image
R9352753L
100% crop
R9352753L_crop 
R9352435L R9352435_crop

On image quality, with the advantage of supreme manual lenses and the omission of the low-pass filter, the M-mount module gives lots of juice in the images it produces. I am gobsmacked to see the sharpness, solid colours and a distinct sense of depth in the final images. In addition to the superb optical performance of the lens, the omission of the low-pass filter in the module has much bearing on such great results.

Last Note

R9352700L

Frankly, Ricoh is not a mainstream brand. But with the GXR system, it is creating another market of its own after the mirror-less cameras ate into its previous niche market with fast-wide-angle-lens, small-sized cameras like the GX and GRD series. If the sales of the GXR system has been sluggish, the M-mount module can said to be giving it a new lease of life. R9352866L The new module helps the system reach out to the market of interchangeable lens. The M-mount module offers a tailor-made body with truly manual operations to use premium, legendary lenses. Of course, the M-mount module is not a Leica in terms of specifications, operations, prestige and value. But this plebeian version against the much more expensive Leicas does not disappoint. For old-timers and traditionalists, it is worth every penny of the admission price. For younger photographers without any experience in manual focus lens, it is advisable to first figure out what to expect when doing mostly manual R9352929Loperations with a camera. If possible, get your hands on the M-mount module to see if it suits you. The operations on the GXR are easy to get familiar with, and once you are used to it, you will be glad to have made the choice because the M-mount module with the premium lenses will return you with razor-sharp images. Whether they are good images is, without doubt, a matter of talent, practice and taste. That is another story.

 

Price: HK$6,000(GXR M-mount module);HK$7,800(with GXR body)

Image Sensor:23.6 mm × 15.7 mm CMOS (12.3MP effective)

Mount:GXR、M、M39

Display:3 inches TFT LCD at 920KP

ISO:ISO 200 to 3,200

Weight:370g(with GXR body)

(Kudos to Laikok for lending GX Garnerings the camera unit and the lens)

Veins

R9352673L (GXR M-mount with Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II)

A walk with the camera in the park leads one to discover the world around from a different perspective.

Monday, 28 November 2011

GXR M-mount Field Test: Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II Lens

R9352869L

The M module may better be described as a far-flung cousin to rather than an immediate member of the GXR family. When look closer, you may see that the whole point of the M module is not about a new GXR-system module – fact is, the concept of lens-sensor combination is completely forsaken here. It is more about taking advantage of the wide choice of high quality M mount lenses.

In this post, we will look at the lens on loan to us: the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II.

R9352881L

Although Leica M-mount lenses are the best choice for optical performance, they are not just everyone’s option pricewise. With a lower price tag and great optical performance, Voigtländer lenses are sensible substitutes. Hong Kong’s sole dealer of Ricoh cameras, Laikok, is also the distributor of Voigtländer lenses (manufactured by Cosina of Japan) in Hong Kong. For information about the Voigtländer lenses available from Laikok, check this out.  You may also check out Cosina’s Voigtländer webpage.

R9352891L

With the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II, the GXR is transformed into a head turner. The lens is big and heavy, adding an disproportionate weight to the camera body. I think this is a necessary evil on account of a reduced camera body. But it should be noted that the combination does not feel overwhelmingly unbalanced in hand as the user needs to hold and operate it by both hands. The built is absolutely solid, and the turning rings on the lens barrel are simply classy.

Now, the lens on paper:

Lens Construction: 7groups, 10 (3 aspherical) elements
Smallest Aperture: F22R9352930L
Picture Angle: 63°
Aperture Blades: 12
Nearest Distance: 0.5m
Diameter x Length: φ60.8mm x 62.0mm
Weight: 470 g
Mount: VM mount

To provide a fast lens at f1.2 with great optical performance, the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II lens features 3 aspherical elements out of 10 in 7 groups to counter optical distortions. On distortion correction, the M module offers three-level correction to rectify barrel distortion and pincushion distortion. The lens here is a 50mm equivalent, not a wide-angle one, and it gives out very solid details and splendid rendering in the images even down to f1.2, without any noticeable optical distortions.

Here are some side-by-side shots taken by the Sony A55 with the kit lens 24-105mm equiv. and the Voigtländer lens (the reason for comparing it to the A55 is simply because I have one; it just gives a basis for comparison's sake). You will see the positive effect of the quality Voigtländer lens and shedding the low-pass filter on the image quality of GXR M module’s pictures:

M module with Nokton A 55 with Kit lens
R9352442L DSC03737L
100% crop
R9352442L_crop
100% crop
DSC03737L_crop
R9352413L DSC03734L
100% crop
R9352413L_crop
100% crop
DSC03734L_crop

Images produced by the Voigtländer lens lean on the cool side of the colour spectrum (both cameras set at normal colour mode). As observed by users who have compared results of the Norton lenses with the Leica lenses, the same observation applies:

M module with Nokton A 55 with Kit lens
R9352414L DSC03735L
R9352415L DSC03736L

At the mention of the extremely wide aperture at f1.2, what immediately springs to mind is, besides the many aahs and oohs, bokeh. On paper, the Voigtländer Nokton lens employs the construction of 12 aperture blades to achieve comfy out-of-focus circular discs. In action, the lens produces smooth, pleasing and very soft-edged bokehs at wide aperture values.

Following are shots taken at wide apertures by M module with Nokton :

R9352635L R9352329L
R9352679L R9352660L

This Nokton II is a replacement of the earlier Nokton 35mm/f1.2 lens. Voigtländer makes this new lens go as close to the subjects as 0.5m, while it is 0.7m for the former version. While 0.5m is neither a whole lot closer nor in the domain of macro photography, it is a material improvement.

R9352387L

A final note is that at certain shooting angles, the lens vignettes fairly noticeably at f1.2 with the M module. Examples are shown in the last review post when discussing the Colour Shading Correction function.

Summing Up
Overall, the lens should be endearing to every serious photographer for its full metal built, solid adjustment rings and high-grade optical performance. Just because Voigtländer is no Leica, doesn’t mean that its optical performance is of second rate. The sharpness and “3D-ishness” (a distinct sense of depth) in the images it produces are exceptionally good. Apart from the superb optical performance of the lens, the omission of the low-pass filter in the module definitely has a bearing on such great results.

R9352652L(100% crop below)
R9352652 crop

In the side-by-side shots taken by the Sony A55 and the Voigtländer lens, we have seen how the Voigtländer and the M module combine to achieve great IQ results. A minor point is that images from this Voigtländer lens are slightly biased to cold tonality. Whether it suits one's eye depends on your taste.  I just like it lots. There is no complaint about the lens except for the weight at 470g and the price at about HK$12,000 (hood costs an extra HK$1,200; well, the GXR M module is a way of no return). But considering that the lens in effect offers a roughly 50mm-equivalent focal length at f1.2, with 3 aspherical elements, this is every bit worthy of the admission price.

(Kudos to Laikok for lending GX Garnerings the camera unit and the lens)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Mermaid On Land

R9353259L (Ricoh GX200)

Was she successful in her appeal? Yes, at least to whom she was looking at: a bunch of Ah Suk (Cantonese: uncles) doing fishing along the waterfront. She was such a distraction there.

This is Sunday. Distract yourself from your usual work.