I’ve been a mirrorless camera fan for a while now, starting back when the Olympus OM-D E-M5 first came on the scene and continuing now through the Sony a7RII and the new Leica SL. There are lots of things I love about them, and lots of things I wish were better, but every new body keeps improving on the last. The a7RII has been my favorite camera of any kind since it came out, so when Leica dropped their full frame mirrorless, I was certainly intrigued. I’ve always loved their M mount rangefinders, and the lenses always live up to the hype. I even find myself using M mount glass on the Sony more than native E-mount lenses because I like Leica glass so much. But could this new camera pry me away from the Sony? I had to find out.
Sony a7RII vs. Leica SL
I took both the Sony and the Leica home together twice, with the same complement of lenses both times. I had the Leica 24-90 and Sony 24-70, and M-mount adapters for both cameras (Leica here and Sony here) so I could use the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux, 50mm f/.95 Noctilux, 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron, and 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron for side by side comparisons. But every time I picked up the Leica, I just hated it. It’s bigger and bulkier, and the menus and buttons were hard to navigate at a glance. There just wasn’t any reason for me to do much with the SL since the a7RII was everything I already needed, and at 42MP with great low light and AF performance. And let’s not forget to mention the Sony is less than half the price of the Leica!
But I had to give the Leica a fair shake, so I took it home a third and fourth time by itself. And now? Now I love that camera! It’s my new favorite camera.
So what changed? I had to get away from the a7RII to finally see what was so great about the Leica. And wow, there is so much to love! The EVF is by far the best I’ve ever used. In low light, I was able to focus the 90 Cron without much trouble, and even with the Noctilux wide open I was able to nail correct focus most of the time. It took me a minute to figure out where the focus magnifier function was, but once I found that, quick and accurate focus was easy. The EVF was far more of a pleasure to use than the one in the a7RII. It was brighter when I needed it to be, with lower noise and higher resolution. I’ve found that in really low light, noise can interfere with the peaking filter on the Sony. But I didn’t have that issue with the Leica.
Leica SL, 50mm APO-Summicron, f/3.5 1/800 ISO 6400
Leica SL, 50mm APO-Summicron, f/2 1/15 ISO 6400
Leica SL, 90mm APO-Summicron, f/2 1/60 ISO 6400
As a side note, you'll notice some color casts to my images. I don't like overcorrecting white balance to what's "right". I prefer to preserve the actual color of the scene as I saw it. If the light were pink or yellow, that's what you're going to see. Some of you will hate that, but then you should try this stuff out for yourself and see what it can do for you.
For autofocus, the Leica SL lives up to the hype. I had been pretty happy with the a7RII AF, even in low light and tracking. I’d deemed it good enough for wedding work, and had been using it exclusively for my last couple of weddings this year. But the Leica, it’s even better. I took it with the 24-90mm out to a local skate park to really push it (roller derby would’ve been a better test, but it’s the offseason around these parts — so perhaps for a future test), and it didn’t disappoint.
Leica 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Vario-Elmarit-SL @ 24mm, f/4 1/1000 ISO 200
Leica 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Vario-Elmarit-SL @ 24mm, f/4 1/1000 ISO 200
I was able to get these images of a skater jumping a crate almost without really thinking about it. AF tracked him coming in, then stayed locked for the 3-5 image burst through the jump. And moving my focus points around was much easier on the SL. Sony makes me have to go into the Fn menu and make a couple of selections first. Leica lets me do it like most other DSLR manufacturers, where I can just use the joystick on the rear of the camera as is.
I shoot quite a bit at night and in really low light, so I’m always pushing high ISO performance on every camera I use. I’m already impressed with the a7RII at ISO 6400 and 12800, especially considering it’s 42MP. But with the Leica, it’s cleaner. This is pretty subjective, but even if I resize the Sony files to the same size as the Leica files, I prefer the look from Leica. And that’s with the same lens and same exposure settings. Banding can be an issue on both cameras, so that’s something to watch for in dark scenes. On the Leica SL, it’s mostly vertical banding across a landscape oriented frame, but so far it’s been pretty inoffensive. On the Sony A7rII, it can sometimes be more like a checker board or gingham pattern, and it’s troublesome. Here is a couple files at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12500 for your reference:
Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/1.4 1/15 ISO 3200
Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/1.4 1/60 ISO 6400
Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/2.8 1/2 ISO 6400
Leica SL 50mm Noctilux, f/2 1/15 ISO 12500
Leica SL, 21mm Summilux, f/2 1/40 ISO 12500
I must also mention how much I like the built-in wifi and smartphone app on the Leica. It’s easier to set up than the Sony thanks to the ability to scan a QR code on the camera through the app. It’s also a more polished interface, so it’s easier to use as well. Just one more little perk.
For the kinds of work I do, this is now my goto camera. I’m mostly shooting street work, portraiture, landscapes, documentary, and some action/wedding things here and there. Would I buy the SL? Probably not. Leica is expensive, and they’re not going to apologize for that. But if you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed. I would buy the Sony and probably that Mikaton Speed Master (I'm saving that for a future blog post), but as long as I can rent, I’ll be taking the Leica and Noctilux and whatever other Leica glass I can get my hands on.
With offerings like the Nebula 4000, the Feiyu G4, and many, many more all being released around the same time, the handheld gimbal market is starting to look a little crowded. A lot of these products, though, are poorly made, badly designed, and just generally not worth your time. So how do you tell the winners from the losers in the race for stabilizer superiority? The first step is to decide on your priorities. It seems to me that a handheld gimbal should be light, easy to use, offer good (not great, we’ll cover that) picture quality, and be flexible and customizable enough to act as part of an existing workflow. For my money, the gimbal that best meets all of these requirements is the DJI Osmo.
Those of you who are familiar with DJI probably know them from another increasingly-crowded market filled with shoddy, low-rent filler—drones. They’ve always stood out from that crowd by offering the highest-quality products at their respective price points. Sure, there are companies that make better drones, six-rotor workhorses capable of flying a Red Epic or an Alexa Mini. But there’s almost no one that can compete with DJI at the sub-$2,000.00 level. They’ve carved out a niche for themselves by making things that fall just short of professional demands but meet the needs of hobbyists without costing as much as a used car. The DJI Osmo has a lot in common with their drones this way, mostly for the better. The most obvious of these similarities is that the base-level camera the Osmo ships with has almost exactly the same built-in lens and sensor as the one in DJI’s Inspire One. There are some minor design differences optimizing it for gimbal use, but it’s optically identical. You can even buy a handle-only version of the Osmo if you already own the Inspire and want to use the camera you’ve got, but it doesn’t work both ways. The Osmo’s camera won’t work with the Inspire, just the other way around.
The obvious advantage of using DJI’s default camera is convenience. The system is already calibrated for the attached camera so it can be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Gimbals like the Nebula 4000 that allow you to attach a variety of third-party camera bodies and lenses require a sometimes-lengthy balancing process that has to be repeated every time you change lenses, which I think is the exact opposite of the point of a handheld gimbal. If you want to shoot handheld then you’re looking for something you can just take out of your bag and run with, not something that can take a half an hour of careful tuning before it’s ready to shoot. The disadvantage, of course, is that you’re kind of stuck with DJI’s proprietary lens and sensor, which leave you with a fixed focal length and less than stellar low-light performance. Thankfully, the camera module is removable and DJI has options with Micro 4/3 mounts and sensors coming in the near future. It remains to be seen what kind of picture quality and lens compatibility we’ll see with these, but they’ll certainly make the DJI Osmo more versatile, and we’ll stock them as soon as we can get our hands on some. The picture quality on the standard camera is about as good as the GoPro Hero 4, which I think is the only hurdle you really have to clear with a product like this.
Control and user interface are great, provided you’re ok with a couple possible negatives. First, you’re going to need a smartphone to shoot with the Osmo. It’s possible to record without one, but your ability to control or monitor your shot will be pretty much nonexistent. It’s annoying to have to introduce complications like this to something for which simplicity is most of the appeal, and having to rely so heavily on a phone with (most likely) a built-in battery is going to limit your ability to record for long periods of time is a shame, but I get it. If you need to shoot all day then there are other products out there that will accomplish what you need much more easily, and why add $300 to the list price by including a touch screen when 99% of your users already own a device that functions just as well? I used an iPhone during my rental and, after initial setup, I didn’t have a single issue. The app is intuitive, functional, and well-designed, offering quick access to settings, plus slicker features like controlling pan, tilt, and focus using the touchscreen. It’s always risky to rely on apps and ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks, though, so reliability is definitely something to bear in mind if you want to use the Osmo for professional work.
Overall, I’d say the Osmo is far and away the best handheld gimbal we carry, certainly better than its closest competition, the Feiyu G4, which works ok but has absolutely horrendous software that I’ve never been able to use. If you’re looking for great picture quality, solid reliability, and all-day use, I’d consider a Movi or Ronin. But if all you need is a quick, easy to use, handheld solution that will give you acceptable picture quality at a surprisingly low price, then the DJI Osmo is for you. Take a look at DJIs product page for more information and sample video and, as always, feel free to let us know if you have any questions.
Today we're going to tear down the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1 (Art) lens, a less expensive lens that is not weather resistant. We know from its size, weight, and price that it won't have the massive construction of the Canon, but it will have a 'normal' lens construction with rotating focusing elements in helicoids, etc. So we think this should provide a nice comparison showing what a normal, reliable 35mm f/1.4 lens looks like inside.
The front makeup ring screws off using friction, not spanner wrenches. Just because someone will ask, you can buy rubber stoppers like this at scientific supply houses, or, if you live in my part of the U. S., from moonshiners.
Once it has been removed we can see two sets of 3 screws each in the front of the lens. One set holds the filter barrel in place, the other holds the front lens group.
Removing the 3 filter barrel screws lets us slide it right off.
Despite the fact that Sigma clearly states this is not weather resistant lens, there's still some foamed gasket material around the filter barrel. If you look carefully, straight down from the tip of the forceps there's a small peg near Aaron's middle finger. This is a nice little touch that makes certain you put the filter barrel back on in the correct position. It sounds silly, but without it, it would be possible to put the filter barrel on in any of 3 rotations, only one of which is correct. It probably means nothing to you, but it 'idiot proofs' reassembly a bit and as someone who reassembles lenses I appreciate that someone was thinking of this kind of thing during design.
Anyway, with the filter barrel off, we can remove the three screws holding the front element in place.
The front lens assembly is removed in one piece. There are front and rear screw-on caps holding the front and rear element groups in place.
The rings were both glued into place. The glue for the rear ring softened enough with just heat to let us remove it. Electronics gurus will use an $89 heat gun to do this. We use a $14 blow dryer. Best line ever: When I checked out with it, the clerk looked at my bald head, looked at the blow dryer, and said, "You know those cheap ones will make your hair fall out."
An Aaron selfie during disassembly has become our version of a programmer's Easter Egg.
After removing the ring, the rear element could be removed.
The front retaining ring required both heat and a little alcohol to soften the glue, but once the ring was off the front element group could be removed.
Looking inside the front assembly from the rear it seems the next group is held in place by a compression spring.
And the second group from the front is firmly inserted and probably glued. Our quest in opening this group was to see if there were any optical adjustments to be made here, which there are not, and to see how easy the front element should be to replace (very straightforward).
Setting the front lens assembly aside we can look back into the lens barrel. This is the level of the focusing ring and you can see the brass key from the ring, inserting into the fork of focusing lever that passes down to the outer barrel of the focusing group. Both of these are sturdy metal pieces.
Looking into the barrel, you see there are two of these focusing assemblies on opposite sides of the lens. I should mention, while we're here, that the inner barrel is metal, not polycarbonate. All of those screws we've removed so far were sunk into this metal barrel.
The focus ring is held on by a set of three screws.
Once they are removed the focusing ring slides right off of the lens exposing the focusing motor beneath.
Now it's time to start disassembling the back end of the lens. The rear light baffle is held in place by 3 screws.
Then the bayonet can be removed.
There are some circular shims underneath the bayonet, which would be used to adjust infinity focus. With the shims out we can access the 4 screws that hold the rear barrel in place.
And remove the rear barrel.
The Sigma PCB looks much like everyone else's PCB. Note the aperture motor in the lower part of the picture.
The underside of the PCB shows a bit more electronics than most. I don't know enough about electronics to comment other than they are there and do electronic stuff. Somebody will tell us in the comments soon enough. Knowledgeable people always explain stuff I don't understand in the comments section. Less knowledgeable people explain stuff they don't understand in the comments section. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which, though.
The mid barrel is attached by screws coming in from the side.
After taking those out, it slides right off.
Leaving the inner barrel nakedly exposed. Notice the small brass cover secured with two screws with the long flex coming out in the upper left. That covers the GMR detector that tells the lens focus position changes. GMR stands for Giant Magneto Resistance and is kind of a lie because they aren't so giant but what they are is delicate. If you let almost anything touch it when you are working on the lens, it doesn't work anymore. So spending a couple of pennies to cover it nicely like this is most appreciated. More importantly, in case you can't tell from the picture, all of the inner barrels here are solid metal.
Now that we have all the flexes out where we can unthread them as they travel around, we can go back and take out the screws holding the two halves of the inner barrels together, the ones we exposed from the front.
And separate the front and rear halves. In Aaron's right hand (left side of the image) is the front half which contains the AF Motor. The other side contains the focusing group. You can see the two focusing forks (I don't know what else to call them, they have forked ends and connect the focusing ring to the focusing element) coming out of the other half of the lens. Those are position sensor brushes you see held down by two screws on the focusing barrel.
From above you can see the exit from slots that allow them to move the focusing group.
A quick demonstration, as the focusing forks turn the focusing barrel rotate and the rear element extend and retract.
Examining the collars in the rear group showed us there aren't any optical adjustments to be made back here either. So we'd reached the point we usually do where I say, "Well, let's put it back together. No reason to take anything else apart." And Aaron keeps taking stuff apart while I'm talking. The screws and collars holding the rear group in place were out before I'd gotten to 'no reason'.
And the rear group was out soon after. You can see the screws and nylon collars that held it in place on the mat in front. They're pretty standard 'what we usually see' screws and collars.
The aperture assembly is on the front of the rear group assembly we just removed. This is a bit of a different look at the aperture than you usually get to see. You're looking at the rotation plate. The aperture blades are beneath it. Each blade has a small metal post that you see poking up through the plate and another post that connects the blade to the barrel. Rotating the plate moves the aperture blades so that they open and close.
Looking up into the remaining barrel you can see the focusing element in its helicoid track. The closer (rearmost) helicoid was for the rear group, so both of these move during focusing. I assume one is acting as a floating element to help keep things sharp during near focus. On the other hand, the two helicoids are very similar in motion, so it could just be that the focusing groups are split into two elements for optical reasons.
The usual closure. Of course, the lens is reassembled, retested, and working fine. And just like every time, someone is going to comment online that we killed a lens to do a teardown.
For the most part, there weren't many surprises in this teardown. We've seen how Sigma has remade themselves as a company making only superb optics at very reasonable prices in the last few years. This lens is constructed very well. There isn't the amazing heavy-duty construction of the Canon 35mm f/1.4. Instead, I'd characterize the construction of the Sigma as very efficient and carefully laid out. There's a solid metal core with other parts all connecting directly to that core. Little touches like pegs to make sure a part is inserted in the proper rotation and shields over critical parts didn't add much expense or weight, but show care was taken in the design. There's nothing in this teardown that looked like a weak point.
Many people are going to compare this lens to the Canon 35mm f/1.4 teardown we did and say that's why they chose the Canon. That's legitimate reasoning. The Canon is weather resistant, twice the price, and twice the weight, roughly. If I was going to subject my lens to harsh conditions and use, the Canon looks like the way to go if you can afford it. But if I want to carry several primes in a convenient size and at a convenient expense, the Sigma is a superb choice and I expect it will hold up very well. As always, horses for courses.
There's another thing that needs to be discussed at some length. There are no optical adjustments in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens that we can find. The Sony 35mm f/1.4 had a single tilt adjustment of the front group. The Canon 35mm f/1.4 had two separate adjustments. So the simple view that many people are going to take is "Roger, you should hate this lens." There's truth in that and I am very disappointed that we can't optically adjust it. That's what we do. We like taking an optically bad lens and making it better.
I am going to make a point by comparing our variation curves for all three now.
I knocked the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 for its variation when we initially reviewed it, but Sony fanboys will be correct when they get out their pitchforks and claim how I made much more of a fuss about the variation in the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4. In my defense, I'll just point out that the Sigma has a much better MTF curve than the Sony. I'll also add that the Sigma costs $900, the Sony $1,600 and the Canon $1,800. I'm not happy about it, I wish they had it, but I'm more forgiving that the $900 lens with higher MTF has more variation than I'd like.
Here at LensRentals, we have a unique perspective to the market trends. With over 100,000 pieces of gear that are rented out regularly, we're able to effectively monitor what products are the most interesting for photographers and videographers. Here is where we'll show you all our own market trends, and give you a list of the most popular photography and videographer items rented from the year 2015. We'll also go through our staff, and they'll individually explain to you what new items they were most excited about from this past year.
Please note that this list is just of the new items from this past year. We went back and forth deciding if we should also show off the most rented gear from 2015, but the reality is that list wouldn't be nearly as interesting. It'd be a lot of 24-70mm lenses and other very popular lenses and camera bodies rented not necessarily for their interesting features, but for their practicality. We decided that new gear would bring more talking points to our customers, and as a result, we've gathered a list of the most popular new items from 2015.
Though renting gear isn't all that we do. We also have an entire staff of photographers who spend each and every day inspecting, cleaning, repairing and using the gear within our inventory. Each of our staff members has their own unique advice and experiences with the gear that comes into our office. So we decided we ask each of them to contribute to the discussion, and tell us what is their favorite new piece of photography and video gear from the past year.
My favorite piece of kit for 2015 is the Sony a7RII. I’d been a fan of the new Sony full frame mirrorless bodies for a while, but they kept falling short for me in performance, most notably with autofocus. The a7RII is the first that I’ve successfully used at weddings without feeling the need to have a Nikon D750 on hand (my preferred wedding body up to this point). AF is quick and accurate, high ISO noise performance is superb, the in-body stabilization is very handy, especially when I use Leica lenses on adapters, and the slightly larger build over the previous generation really makes the camera feel better in my hands. Once Sony has a decent, full lens line up I’ll be completely set. Even with the current lineup, I usually only need the 28mm, 55mm, and 90mm, and a couple of Leica favorites like the 21mm Summilux.
My favorite new piece of gear is the Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS II. It's amazingly light for a super-telephoto at 4.5 pounds (about a pound more than a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens) and with 4-stop image stabilization can be handheld even when the light isn't awesome. It's very sharp and unlike the version 1 is quite contrasty. Basically, it's an easily carried super telephoto lens than can be shot without a tripod if you wish. And it's a good 560mm f/5.6 lens with a 1.4X teleconverter. It's expensive, but it's unique and expands my capabilities.
Most of the stuff I shoot outside of work is solo documentary, which calls for a very specific set of functions that don't always seem to be a priority for camera makers. Canon's C100 and Canon's C300 have fit the bill pretty well for me so far, but Sony's FS5 might just take over as my tool of choice, which makes it my favorite product of 2015. Internal 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, high speed burst shooting at up to 240fps, SLog 3 support, dual SDXC slots, near-perfect ergonomics, and the crazy convenient electronically variable ND filter would make it a pretty impressive camera at any size. The fact that you can fit this thing in a backpack with room leftover for a shotgun mic and a couple lenses might make it the best documentary camera so far for single shooters who don't need 4K, which it'll do, but only in 8-bit 4:2:0. I don't need 4K yet, though, and if you're shooting documentaries without a crew then you don't either.
I’ve used the Profoto B2 more than any other light this year. I’m a small person, I drive a small car, and I do most shoots on location.This light is super portable and battery powered so I can always get beautifully lit shots wherever I go from the streamlined and sleek brand that I love. The Profoto B2 also offers TTL shooting and High-Speed Sync. I pair this kit with the AirRemote TTL transceiver to shoot wirelessly, but the flash heads are small enough to use on camera via the ProMediaGear BBX Boomerang Flash Bracket for Profoto B2.At 250w/s the B2 only has about half the output of the Profoto B1 500 Air, but I’ve found I don’t normally use that much power and if needed the two lights can be used in combination.
This year, I fell in love with the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II. I loved the old version of this lens, so it was great to see Canon finally step it up, and make the sharpest 35mm available. Previously, Sigma had shaken me away from the Canon 35mm with their Sigma 35mm Art 1.4, but I've always been a bit of a Canon loyalist and opted to wait for Canon to bring a new contender to the race. They did with the Canon 35mm f/1.4 II, improving on everything from its previous version. Sadly, though, the price was also improved, but it is certainly a worthy investment given our recent discoveries of its incredible build quality.
Canon has outdone themselves with the Canon C300 Mark II. Their original Canon C300 has been one of our favorite cameras since its release. We recommend that camera a lot because it is so user-friendly and very reliable. We rarely receive complaints about the C300, it just works. So I was really excited when we demoed the C300 Mark II at NAB this year. Sure enough, every concern we had with the original C300 has been addressed: 4K resolution, high frame rate shooting, 12-bit internal recording, proxy files, detachable monitor cables, raw output, and more! Canon has made their best camera even better, and it will be my goto solution for 2016.
I'm going with the Leica SL (Type 601). Though still in its infancy, the SL promises a level of versatility we have never seen from a Leica camera. By switching over to an EVF type mirrorless system, the SL has access to nearly any lens available (via adapter). We can expect to enjoy fast and accurate autofocus, as is clear with the 24-90mm, on a new set of lenses held to Leica's legendary standards. Normally I shoot with Leica rangefinders (M-series), which have inherent limitations on focal range and subject distance. While the precision of a rangefinder experience and overall outcome make this sacrifice worthwhile to me, the SL has the potential to liberate photographers from these bounds and still retain the immersive quality Leica is known for. The prospect of Leica refining the modern mirrorless camera as they have the rangefinder over the past century is very exciting indeed.
So there you have it, the best new products for photographers and videographers for 2015. Did you think we missed something? Feel free to list your favorite new pieces of gear in the comments below.