LensRentals.com

Is the New RED Weapon, the Weapon of Choice?

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The choice is simple; are you cool, or are you boring? That has to be the big decision RED wants you to make, right? Sure, the argument could be made that you choose RED for the stunning 6K resolution that it offers, or the 16.5 plus glorious stops of dynamic range, but really you want it because there’s a skull on it, and you are a video pirate. Cool right? Worth upgrading your Epic right?

RED-Weapon-Punisher

The truth is, RED’s Weapon camera offers very little in technical improvements over the RED Epic Dragon. The sensor in the Weapon is the exact same 6K RED Dragon sensor, which means, the same resolution options, the same dynamic range and the same signal to noise ratio. Another way to put it is that the Weapon offers the exact same recording options and same frame rates at the same resolutions. The primary difference technically is the integrated Mini-Mag media bay, which offers faster data rates when using the Mini-Mags over those allowed by the Epic Dragon. Currently, the only advantages are lower available compression ratios at all record options. Presumably these higher data rates will also assist with future feature set upgrades, whether it be through new sensor technology, or firmware.

REDWeapon-Verse-RED-Dragon

Another improvement, over the Epic Dragon build, is that RED has reduced the weight of the camera by almost two pounds. By using a combination of aluminum, and magnesium alloys, they have managed to shave off the pounds, without compromising the rugged build quality of their product. This improvement vastly helps gimbal and drone operators with their delicate balancing act of keeping a rigs weight within spec, but also allows for fewer compromises with lens and accessory choices, when weight limits become a factor.

Additionally, one nice feature added to the Weapon is the ability to record in Apple ProRes (and a near future DNxHD option has been promised). This codec option offers productions greater ability to fit footage shot on RED into a variety of workflows that may not call for RAW recording. Moreover, simultaneous RD3 and ProRes acquisition, allow for seamless proxy workflow. Built in 3D LUT support and wi-fi control further round out the new built-in feature set on this camera.

An added feature built into Weapon is simplified swapping of the camera’s optical low pass filter. The new OLPFs can be removed and installed with the simple turn of a torx key, however, it should be noted, the “fast-swap” still requires powering down the camera, removing the lens mount, and exposing the sensor to dirt and debris. RED currently offers 3 flavors of their OLPF (standard, low light optimized, and skin tone), fined tuned for different shooting situations.

OLPFSwapGIF

The ability to customize and expand your RED to fit a variety of shooting scenarios has been at the heart of the RED camera design since introducing the first Digital Stills and Motion Camera (DSMC) build. RED trademarked the phrase “Obsolescence Obsolete”, which trumpets the expandability and upgradability of the RED camera line. With the expansion into Weapon , RED sort-of holds up this statement. Some accessories carry over directly such as all of the available lens mounts, which adapt directly to the Weapon using the same four torx screws. Those who have Mini-mags will also get to carry them through to Weapon, however, by integrating the SSD module directly to the brain, RED has made adoption of Mini-Mag SSDs mandatory moving forward. Other accessories can be brought over to the Weapon via available adapters. These include DSMC LCD Touch units and cabled battery plates. Unfortunately, for some accessories, such as the DSMC Side Handle and the Switchblade, the Weapon is a rocky place where they can find no purchase.

New DSMC2 accessories have been designed to integrate directly with the Weapon brain. These include cable-less LCD Touch units and battery plates which aim to streamline the RED and presumably cut down on weight and umbilicals to optimize use in a variety of shooting scenarios. For a breakdown of compatibility, you can take a look at this PDF.

Overall, Weapon is a minor technical advance for RED. Weapon’s use of the Dragon 6K sensor mean image quality and resolution are identical to that of the Epic Dragon. Still, the truth is, if you are a RED owner, you’ll eventually need to bite the bullet and upgrade your camera, so you can take advantages of newer technology when it becomes available. Fortunately, the camera’s expanded functionality, including features like ProRes codecs and built in LUT support, should offer enough incentive to justify adoption of the new system.

REDWeapon-Verse-RED-Dragon-2

The big question remains; Can these upgrades help the camera find a new audience? Obviously, there are some major adherents to RED cameras and what they can do, but do you need it for your shoot? I feel that the camera is too much for most shoots. RED’s previous cameras require a certain kind of “check the gate” discipline and multiple member camera departments, found on motion picture sets. My experience with Weapon leads me to believe the same. Smaller shoots, requiring “run-n-gun” style shooting are still better served by cameras like the Canon C300 Mark II and Sony FS7, which are feature rich, and were designed with single shooter operation in mind.

If you still want to shoot on RED, I suggest you strongly consider renting the RED Epic Dragon over the RED Weapon. Unless you know you need the lower compression ratios for your project, you want to try before you buy, or you want to make sure your camera rig fits within a specific weight limit, there is really no compelling argument to be made right now for choosing RED Weapon.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GMaster Emergency Tear Down

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DC Super Friends Feature Vehicle Assortment 2012 Series 01

Credit: DC Super Friends Feature Vehicle Assortment 2012 Series 01

OK, I usually don’t respond to requests to disassemble things. I have a day job and the blog stuff is my hobby. But every so often the Bat Signal get’s raised over Gotham Internet and Aaron and I feel the need to fight the crime of massive overreaction and stomp out the flames of speculation-becoming-fact. I woke up yesterday to read that all Sony’s new 85mm f/1.4 G Master lenses made horrible grinding noises when focusing, were filled with metal shavings, had huge scrapes on their inner barrels, and caused cancer.

Before we get to myth busting, a couple of facts that I’ve gleaned from simply examining and testing 40+ copies of the 85mm f/1.4 GMaster.

  • The Piezo (or SSM if you prefer) ring-linear drive does make noise. It’s noticeable. Every copy I’ve tried does to some degree, although some are louder than others. HOWEVER, if the camera is put in video mode the AF slows down and the noise is markedly reduced. So photo mode fast and noisy, video mode slower and quiet. That’s logical.
  • Every 85mm wide-aperture lens I’ve ever looked in has some dust inside, NIB and no matter the brand. It’s partly because this type of lens has a front group that magnifies the interior. If yours doesn’t have dust in it then you don’t have a bright enough light to fuel your dust paranoia properly.
  • Just over half of the 85mm f/1.4 G Master lenses I’ve looked at have some marks on the inner focusing barrel that look like either scrapes or lubricant. These don’t make any more or less noise than ones without marks. Also, a fair number have marks on only the lower part of the barrel. These are no noisier over the marked part than over the unmarked part. In other words, I didn’t find any association between barrel marks and noise.

So with all this in mind, Aaron and I put on our capes, grabbed our utility belts, went down to the Lens Cave and got to work. We picked a copy that had the typical ‘scrape’ marks that everyone is upset about.

infront

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

 

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Before we start let me mention that this is a rather urgent tear-down of a lens we had to get back in stock, so we didn’t do quite as much exploring as we sometimes do. Still, I think you’ll find it interesting.

So Let’s Look Inside

The rear light baffle comes off with three screws. Yes, I’m snarky for putting up this unnecessary picture.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Next, the rear bayonet is removed in the usual fashion, exposing the rear of the lens. We noted the PCB is different than we’ve seen in other Sony FE lenses; It’s smaller and screw mounted to the rear, rather than with rubber bumpers like the others we’ve opened. There are also silver shims or spacers on each side of the lens, which we assume allow a tilt adjustment (you can see there are two on the left, one on the right).

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Once the PCB is removed, taking out a few screws let us remove the rear barrel.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

The inner rear barrel is now exposed. There are two (one shows in the pictures) long copper ground leads that go back up to the bayonet mount, and several flex connectors that went up to the main PCB, but not much else of interest showing at this point.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

The aperture ring slides off now. It has a nice mechanical feel and  you can see the usual click ball bearing inside, but it controls the aperture electronically.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

On the inner barrel is a wedge (forceps point to it) that moves the ball bearing in and out of ‘click’ position so that you can declick the aperture when you want. You can see the little silver lever right above the ‘click on-off’ switch that moves this when you flip the switch.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

On the other side is the aperture position sensor that actually tells the camera what position the aperture ring is set to.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

You might have noticed a black plastic cover over a second circuit board in the image above. Removing the cover shows us another circuit board tucked down around the barrel which caused Aaron to have some Nikon disassembly flashbacks.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Luckily it wasn’t that bad; there were not a bunch of soldered wires going to the second board, just flexes.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

And once all of that stuff had been disconnected we could take out a few more screws and remove the inner rear barrel.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

This gives us a good look at the SSM (aka ring-piezo) motor. This is smaller than the ring USM motors we’re used to seeing in other lenses, but otherwise very similar.

 

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

While we could have taken the rear group off now (you can see one of its mounting screws in the image above) it was obviously not going to get us where we wanted to be, so we turned the lens over and spannered off the front makeup ring.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

When it was removed we saw a nice, thick, rubber sealing ring around the front element. This is actually light blue in color in room light, but under the tungsten work lights, it takes on  a rather cool purple color.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Peeling the sealing ring up showed us three screws that let us remove the filter ring. This is a good thing, meaning broken filter rings should be an easy, reasonable cost replacement. Should be.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

With filter ring off we can look down into the focus ring. This lens is ‘focus-by-wire’; there’s no mechanical linkage between the ring and the focusing element. But there is a gear in here that is turned when you turn the ring. A couple of people have said manual focus feels rough but autofocus is smooth. This gear is probably the culprit in those cases. It just turns an electrical actuator or position sensor, but it is a mechanical gear, so if it’s damaged or gets a piece of grit in it, it would make the focusing ring feel rough.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

This should come later in the disassembly, but here’s an image of the underside of the gear, showing you it doesn’t move any mechanical parts, it just drives an electric actuator. If the gear jammed up entirely the lens would still autofocus just fine.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

With the filter ring is off, we can lift the focus ring right off of the lens. You can see the gear teeth inside the ring that turn the white position sensing gear we showed you in the previous picture.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Now we’re making some progress. All of the external barrels are removed and the core of the lens is exposed. Just because someone will ask, all of these barrels are heavy-duty polycarbonate. You heavy-metal fans will be disappointed, but it’s really solidly assembled. The inner barrels  you see below are plastic, too.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Looking for optical adjustments isn’t the primary purpose of this teardown, but I’ll point out that the front group also has a set of shims. There is yet another set at a different level.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

In another nice touch, we can remove the front group at a slightly lower level than the shims, so we don’t have to disturb them.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Group 1 is a big group, the entire front portion of the lens. We could have separated this further, but there was no point in doing so.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

The aperture assembly just lifts out now. By the way, this lens has a lovely, very round, aperture. But you can see that without me showing you, it’s readily apparent looking through the lens.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Now, after all of this, we can finally get to see those ‘scratches’ in the inner barrel. They didn’t visualize that well when we began, it’s hard to take a good image through that big front element. Now you can see them all around the inner focusing barrel; Aaron is pointing a Q-tip towards some of the worst ones.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

A quick swipe with a Kim-wipe takes them right off. Although they did look a lot like scratches it was just lubricant.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

If you are like me, you’re just dying to know how that ring SSM motor is also called a linear focusing system. I would love to take the motor apart and show you, but that’s going to have to wait. We weren’t ready to disassemble a ring SSM because we weren’t certain we’d be able to restack it properly and this lens was needed. To be honest we shouldn’t have disassembled this lens at all, but, well, people were wrong on the internet and we couldn’t leave that alone.

I was able to get you a little picture down along the focusing group, though, showing you that it travels in straight-line grooves up and down; it doesn’t rotate in a helicoid assembly to move forward. I’ll add that while we were poking around we checked and the focusing group is surrounded by plastic. It’s not going to scrape the inner barrel.

Lensrentals.com, 2016

Lensrentals.com, 2016

 

Before I summarize, the usual: yes, we put it back together. Yes, we tested it mechanically, electrically and optically and it works perfectly. And, yes, it’s back in the rental fleet. I’m also certain someone will want to know this, too: No, we are not opening every copy up and cleaning out any visible lubricant. We have work to do fixing broken stuff, righting wrongs, and making the internet a safer place to live.

So, What Did We Learn Today?

Let’s start with what I know.

Focusing Noise

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens has a focusing system that makes some noise. It sounds a little like metal scraping or a linear piezo motor even though it’s an SSM motor. It’s much quieter in video AF mode. Nearly silent. But focuses slower.

It should sound and focus the same in manual or auto modes. If it doesn’t there may be a problem (probably some grit or dust) around the focus actuator gear (yes, I made that name up, but you know what I mean).

Barrel Markings

About half of these lenses have some visible lubricant on the inner focusing barrel that looks like scratches but isn’t. It is not scratches. Yes, I know the focusing sounds like scratches. Yes, I know the lubricant looks like scratches. And yes, I am certain that some person somewhere is going to have a lens with real scratches on the inner focusing barrel. Because given enough lenses, there will be one with anything.

Now let’s move on to what I think, but don’t know for certain.

It may be that over some time every single one of these lenses will have some lubricant show up on the inner barrel. Or it may smooth out over time to a beautiful, lustrous sheen that makes your bokeh glow like a sunrise in Yosemite. Sony may change assembly procedures or lubricant in future batches and it won’t be there anymore. But for right now, if you buy this lens you may see some lubricant in the inner barrel that looks like scratches.

Some people are absolutely certain they’ve seen metal shavings in their lens. That’s possible (see above comment about scratches) but I’m pretty sure that means someone added some metal shavings during assembly. There’s not much metal inside this lens, and what there is is surrounded by plastic parts that I can’t imagine are shaving metal. I am certain that everyone who looks carefully with a bright light is going to see some dust, though. It’s a wide aperture 85mm lens. Those all basically have dust you can see if you look carefully enough right out of the box. If you clean it all out, they’ll have some more in 3 days. Cope.

Does this mean the lens is problem free? Absolutely not. I don’t know if that lubricant might affect images (I doubt it, but it’s possible it could cause some glare when focusing close up). I suspect in a few cases lube will have gotten onto a lens element and caused a streak and that is much more likely to affect images. If you see streaks on a lens element than I’d return yours or send it in to be cleaned.

It might be that 6 months from now we find out that all of these lenses should be absolutely silent when focusing. I’ve looked at lots of them, but they obviously were all early production run lenses. There may be a fix Sony comes up with. I suspect, though, that a firmware fix will be slowing down AF to make it quieter.

In the meantime, optically this is a superb lens and a lot of people are making great images with it.

I’ll just mention that some of you are going to think I’m not being hard enough on Sony over this. You may be right, like everyone I have my own likes and dislikes. Sony is doing some new, really radical things with lenses (OK, probably not Sony, but people Sony is hiring and giving green lights to). I’m completely aware that when you do a bunch of radical new things some are going to have problems. It’s inevitable. But some are going to be great. That’s how progress happens. I’m all for progress.

And let’s be honest, guys (because us early-adopters are 99% guys). When we preorder something that’s never been seen before, we’re signing on for this kind of stuff. The logical people don’t buy anything until it’s been out a few months. But where’s the fun in that?

 

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

Lensrentals.com

April, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master Lens MTF and Variance

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fe 85 G

We are pretty excited about the new Sony G Master Lenses for FE mount cameras. Our excitement may be a little different than yours because we see the Sony FE lenses as an evolving new product. There were some things we really liked and some things we really didn’t like about the first FE mount efforts, but we’ve been seeing signs of progress. We were hopeful that the new Master lenses were going to take another step up in optical quality.

The first one we took to the lab for testing was the FE  85mm f/1.4 G Master lens. Early reports from photographers indicate that Sony has done well with this one. We don’t always review lenses, but we do test them for MTF and variation, and for us, reducing copy-to-copy variation was one of the things we really hoped this lens would do.

A Note About Sony MTF Testing

I discussed in our post about the 70-200mm f/4 lenses that our testing algorithms and presentations are changing as we improve things and try to make them more scientific. If you missed that there are two major points.

First, the variation algorithms have changed, both to make the charts easier to see (we show a 1 Standard Deviation range, rather than the 1.5 S. D. we used to) and to eliminate the Consistency Number. We found that the Consistency Number was too blunt of a tool; it showed only one limited part of variation. There were cases when there were two lenses had the same consistency score, but one was quite a bit worse than the other in ways the score didn’t show.

Second, I want to continue to point out that the MTF bench is not designed to test lenses that require power to maintain focus position, which FE lenses do. We’ve worked around that by making an electrically live mount, but the electronics block some of the test points at 20mm from the center (the right side of the graph). For that reason, the measurements at the edge have fewer measured points than the other points tested. Take them with a mild grain of salt.

Finally, one note about the Sony 85 G Master lens in this test. We found that it performed best with 2mm of optically glass placed in the pathway, simulating the cover glass of a camera sensor. Most 85mm lenses we’ve tested do not improve with glass. This is of NO significance to persons shooting with the lens, but I mention it for completeness sake. We check every lens we test to make sure we’re presenting the best MTF we can obtain. (If you’re interested in how much difference it makes, at the end of the article I presented the MTF charts of the same group of lenses tested with, and without, the glass. It can be very significant.)

MTF Tests

I’ve compared the MTF results for the Sony FE G Master with four other well-known 85mm f/1.4 lenses: The Zeiss ZE 85 f/1.4, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-S, and Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4.

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

 

It should be pretty apparent that the Sony lens belongs in this company, at least as far as MTF goes. The ZE is a bit sharper in the center but the Sony is better toward the edges. The Sony and Nikon are actually quite similar. The Otus, of course, smokes all the others in the central part of the image, but at that price I would expect it to. You can split hairs all you want about which is better at what, but these are all really good lenses. The tiny differences between them would certainly be lost in the other variations of cameras, lighting, and technique.

And yes, I know you all wish I had the Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 MTF charts to compare it to. I wish I could ever get 10 of the in stock at one time so I could test them. So far no joy, I’m afraid.

Copy-to-Copy Variation

We ran our new algorithms on the same lenses we tested above to give you some frame-of-reference for comparison.

SonyZEvar

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

 

Let me get one thing out of the way really early. Those of you who compare will find the graphs for the other three lenses are just a bit different than the original variance graphs we’ve used, because, as I said, the algorithms are different and a bit more sensitive. But in our previous system, the Zeiss ZE Planar lens was acceptable and the Nikon and Zeiss Otus lenses very good as far as the copy-to-copy variation.

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens compares very well with these other top lenses. There’s none of the severe copy-to-copy variation we saw with the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 lens. Just to give you more of a comparison, below are the variation graphs for the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 and Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 lenses, both of which have significant copy-to-copy variation. When you compare the G-Master to these lenses, there’s no question Sony has done a really good job improving variation on this new lens.

 

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

Because I know some fanboys are going to ask, yes we’ve retested Sony 35mm f/1.4 lenses recently, and no the copy variation hasn’t changed. If you thought it might you need to read this to understand why it’s unlikely to happen. I know you really, really want it to be so. Really, really wanting something to be so, unfortunately, doesn’t work all that often.

Summary

Of course, the proof of a lens is in the pictures it takes, not in this simple testing. But the test results can be useful and these are certainly reassuring. The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens is pricey, but not much different than the price of other top-quality 85mm f/1.4 lenses. It delivers the image quality you would expect for the price and copy-to-copy variation is reassuringly low. Sony has definitely taken strides to fix the variation problem that we saw in some of the earlier FE lenses. Give them credit, and also give them some understanding. They are turning out lots of new lenses in a new mount with a bunch of new technology. There are always going to be some growing pains when a company does that.

 

Roger Cicala, Aaron Closz, and Brandon Dube

Lensrentals.com

April, 2016

 

Addendum: The difference between glass and no glass.

I talk a lot about how some lenses require a certain amount of glass between the back of the lens and the image sensor. All digital cameras have some. Certain lenses are rather insensitive to this and don’t care if there is glass present or not. Others are tuned for a specific amount of glass between lens and sensor. Wide-aperture, wide-angle lenses are most likely to be sensitive, but some longer focal length lenses can be, too, as was the case here.

I’m just putting the MTF charts with and without optical glass in the path to show you how much of a difference that made with this lens. If we had presented the results without glass the Sony lens wouldn’t have looked very good at all.

withandwithoutglass

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

When we talk about the glass effect in photographs we tend to concentrate on problems in the corners, which definitely do occur and are noticeable. But notice also that center sharpness and astigmatism/lateral color are also affected significantly. (Without doing specific tests, it’s difficult to tell whether the sagittal-tangential separation on the MTF chart is from astigmatism or lateral color aberration.)

Packing Photography Gear for International (or Domestic) Travel

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For the last couple of years, I’ve become pretty good at packing my bags for travel, while making sure all of the gear I need arrives safely and securely. Certainly, packing bags and traveling effectively is an art form in its own right, and I wanted to take you through the process of my packing, to make sure I have all the gear I need when working on a foreign location.

While LensRentals.com doesn’t ship international (this is because of shipping costs), they do allow all gear to be taken outside of the country. This means a lot of our gear is well traveled and we’re able to allow access to incredible gear for photographers all over the world.

The Importance of Packing

Over the last few years, the industry has changed an enormous amount. Battery packs have gotten smaller (The AlienBee Vagabond II is 18lbs for example, the Profoto B1 battery pack is about 1lb), cameras have gotten smaller (Sony a7sII verse a Sony FS7 for example), and the options to travel with small and professional quality gear is more viable than ever. We can now shoot professional quality content in smaller than ever packages, making traveling on location feasible and affordable.

Some Notes about Travel

First and foremost, when I’m traveling by air, I make sure to always make use of my carry-on and have the most expensive and most important gear with me at all times. When traveling, you always run the risk of theft, especially when traveling internationally, so you want to help eliminate the risk of having any important gear lost by keeping that stuff with you at all times. Clothes and other items and be replaced if stolen (and don’t usually have enough value to justify theft), while losing your only camera during a photography trip can ruin the trip. Checked bags are often thrown, stacked, and generally mishandled. Your camera gear is far too important to arrive broken and damaged. Find a bag that you can take with you through an airport at all times. Most bag manufacturers will let you know if the bag meets the Carry-On size restrictions on their website.

Also, if traveling domestically, light stands, tripods, and other large bulky objects can be borrowed, rented, or purchased (and returned) when you arrive at your destination. If I’m low on space, the one thing I’ll always leave behind is my tripod or light stands.

Finally, as a general rule of thumb when I’m traveling (especially internationally), I tend to gaff tape up most of my gear, to hide and brand names, logos or other identifiers. On this particular trip, I’ll be taking with me expensive Canon gear, and Profoto gear. A quick glance at the gear and Google search can tell you exactly the price of the stuff I’m using, so I like to remove identifiers to make the gear less obvious. Even if this makes me 1% less likely to be robbed, it’s worth spending the five minutes taping it all up. I also keep my gear looking beat up and abused. I’m not cleaning my laptop, Wacom tablet or anything else going on this trip. Anything to make it look less desirable makes it look as though it has less value.

Mastering the Weight Restrictions

Typically, I’ve found that when traveling domestically in the United States, they never actually weigh your carry-on bag. However, for international travel, they will often weigh bags, and impose some pretty strict requirements for bag weight. For my upcoming trip, I’m limited to 22 pounds, which makes ensuring all of your important equipment is on you really quite difficult. However, I’ve found a little bit of a loophole, with the policy surrounding the personal item that you’re also able to take with you. For my upcoming trip, I called my airline and asked them what the restrictions were for the personal item. What they told me was they it can not weigh more than 22 lbs, and must be less than 45 inches (height + width + depth). This doubles the amount of gear I’m able to physically take with me and makes traveling with photography gear much more feasible.

My Packing for the Philippines

Perhaps the best example I can give for international travel trips is to use my upcoming trip as an example. This week, I’ll be traveling to the Philippines for 21 days. While there, I’ll be taking thousands of photos for personal work, and developing B-roll for a potential small documentary on the trip. So for this 21-day trip, I need to fit both photography gear, videography gear, and my day to day living necessities all in 4 bags, two checked, one as a carry-on and a small personal item. Additionally, international travel often has different restrictions in bag sizes, specifically carry-on bags. This makes the trip a special type of complicated, but something we’ll address right now.

Also, I would like to make mention of TSA approved locks commonly found on all of my bags. TSA locks are basically luggage locks that are pre-approved by the TSA. They’re combination locks, and the TSA has a master key that unlocks them. Using these locks will allow TSA to search your bags, but would prevent anyone else to easily look through your bags. This includes airport employees, baggage carriers, and anyone else in the airport that is not working directly for the TSA. All of my bags, both carry-on and checked bags, have an absurd number of TSA locks. While they’re probably easy to break, they give enough security to keep my paranoid mind at bay.

Listed below is the gear I’ll be bringing along with me to help tackle these mountains of ideas and projects I’ll be doing while out there. This will also highlight what helps make LensRentals.com so great. To purchase and take all of the gear with me, would be financially impossible for a photographer or videographer. However, through the help of rentals, I’m able to take professional level gear with me to the Philippines, and do it at a much lower cost than it would be otherwise. Pairing that with Lens Rentals having one of the most extensive inventories for professional level photography and videography gear, I’m able to take the latest models and newest technology with me, keeping my bag size small, and giving me everything I need.

Bag 1 &2 (The Carry On & “Personal Item”)

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Because I’m traveling and planning on doing both video and photo work, I need to make use of versatility, as well upholding the highest quality available. Throughout my gear selection, you’ll see me swap versatility for quality and vice versa, depending on the importance of the gear. So without further ado, here is my carry-on bag for the trip.

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The Bag – ThinkTank Airport International 2.0 (& LowePro Echelon Attache)
The bag that all of this gear will go into is the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0. This is because is it sized for international travel (something none of my other camera bags are), and maximizes the space and security needed for a carry-on. It also has built-in TSA-compliant locking mechanisms, giving you the extra security without infuriating the TSA agents.

Canon 5d Mark III
I’m all about redundancy if I can help it, and usually bring two cameras with me when I get the chance. However, when traveling to foreign locations, it’s a whole lot easier to get through customs if you don’t appear as a journalist or other person working in media. Multiple camera bodies and lenses can make getting into the country more complicated, so it’s much easier to fly under the radar, and pack light. Prior to this trip, I had my Canon 5d Mark III properly inspected by Canon, to help minimize the possibility that I’ll have equipment failure while out there.

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
I’m largely a prime lens shooter, in fact, I detest zoom lenses for my day to day work. Though when traveling with limited space, zoom lenses are the only option. This goes back to the portion regarding versatility verse quality. Will this lens shoot as well as a Canon 35mm f/1.4L II or a Sigma 50mm Art? Probably not quite….but it’ll be able to meet both of those focal lengths, and be a wonderful single lens solution for a lot of the work.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L
While the Canon 24-70mm will be a great solution for medium length focal lengths, I’ll also want something longer when shooting on location, as I plan on doing some small photojournalistic work while out in the Philippines. So for that, I’ve chosen the 70-200mm f/2.8L. It’s fast, it’s got a great image quality, and it’ll cover a very large range. Specifically, I chose the version without IS, because A.) It’s the lens I already own (So more cost effective), and B.) It’s a bit more light weight than the IS versions.

Profoto B2 2 Light Lighting Kit
I often light my subjects using off camera lighting, and I intend on doing that while in the Philippines. So for that reason, I’ve chosen to bring one of the smallest light kits in the world, with the Profoto B2 Lighting System. At 250w/s, the B2 should be plenty of power to light what I need, and is small enough to carry with me for the majority of the trip. It’s also all self-contained and battery powered, so it’s lightweight, and something I can easily sling over my shoulder and be mobile while lighting effectively.

Profoto Canon TTL Trigger
Along with the Profoto B2 system, I’m bringing along the Profoto Air Remote TTL-C trigger. This is so that I can easily sync the Profoto B2 system with my camera, and get all of the functionality of the B2 strobe system, which is TTL (if needed), and more importantly, High-Speed Sync. Using High-Speed sync, I’ll be able to shoot at faster shutter speeds, and not need ND filters to achieve a shallow depth of field.

GoPro Hero4 Silver Edition
GoPro is still the best at what it does, which is capturing footage other cameras can’t. I plan on spending time on beaches while I’m in the Philippines, and the GoPro Hero4 Silver will be the perfect camera to take along to the beach, and coastlines. With waterproof casing and high-quality video the GoPro will make for the perfect action camera while out there.

LaCie Rugged Drive
The LaCie Rugged drive will serve one very important purpose, backup. My greatest fears have the most potential to come alive when I’m traveling, which is data failure. When at home, I’m able to backup images and footage almost instantly, making sure that nothing gets lost in the process. Obviously, when traveling, the process gets a bit more complicated. So I generally never erase cards, and always put the footage on two different hard drives, which are always kept in separate locations.

Samsung Series 9 Laptop
This laptop isn’t particularly fast when it comes to editing, and has been retired from Photoshop since I purchased it a couple years ago. While it can handle everything I’ll need when it comes to editing on location, it also has one really great feature that makes it perfect for travel – it’s incredibly small. When I first purchased it, it was because it was named the thinnest laptop ever built, and I believe it still holds that title a couple years later. It’s size alone makes it a great travel companion.

Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet (small)
This is an essential for a lot of my editing needs, and since I intend on editing some photos from the trip, while on-location, I’ll need my Wacom tablet to help make the editing process much easier.

iPad Mini 2
This will be used as my reference monitor for much of the work I’ll be doing on location. While my Samsung Series 9 Laptop is great, the screen attached to it is not. Rather than bringing along a larger computer system, I’ll be able to use the smaller sized Samsung laptop, and then double check all colors from the photos on my laptop, iPad, and phone screen, to help ensure correct colors. The iPad will also be used as a reference monitor for much of the video production I’ll be doing while on location, and my movie screen on the long flights.

ProMediaGear BBX Boomerang Flash Bracket
When finding an assistant for holding a light isn’t a viable option, I turn to a recently found tool that I have been using more and more, with the ProMediaGear Boomerang Flash Bracket. This flash bracket allows me to put a B2 flash unit onto the top of my camera and even gives me the clearance to put a small modifier on to the light and keep it out of frame. It’s a little cumbersome but works really great when you want to use all the benefits of off camera flash, which still keeping mobile.

Extra Batteries and Memory Cards
Again, backups of backups of backups. In this, I have a bunch of extra Compact Flash cards for the Canon cameras, a few extra Micro SD cards for the DJI Inspire 1 and GoPro, and additional batteries for all the systems.

Bag 3 (Checked Bag 1) – GPS Inspire 1 Compact Landing Mode Case

Bag three is a piece from my personal collection of gear, and something that liability refuses to allow LensRentals.com to rent. This is, of course, a DJI Inspire 1 drone. Cased in a GPC Inspire 1 Compact Landing Mode Case, the DJI Inspire 1 will be used as my main camera for much of the video footage I’ll be creating while out in the Philippines. In the case is the DJI Inspire 1 drone, remote controller, extra props and other small pieces of gear, and charger for the batteries (I pack the Inspire 1 batteries on my carry-on). Technically this case is about 3 inches larger than the maximum checked bag size, and I may be hit with an oversize charge on it. I’m hoping to avoid that with some charm and flying under the radar (pun intended)…wish me luck.

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I’ve also included a few packs of AA and AAA batteries. I once ready in the book Cryptonomicon that batteries are particularly expensive in the Philippines, and can be used as a bribe for any customs officer with sticky hands. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that, but if I was to have anything stolen while in transit, I’d prefer it to be batteries and not my drone.

Bag 4 (Checked Bag 2)

Bag four contains some of the additional gear I’ll need while traveling on location, along with any clothes and personal items I’ll be bringing along.

Benro Ultra-Light Tripod
While I want to bring a tripod with me, specifically to capture some long exposures if possible, I also want to keep it light. As you can imagine if you have gotten this far into this post, I’m bringing a lot of gear with me, so keeping it as lightweight as possible is of the utmost importance. Especially with a tripod, which I plan on doing light hikes with.

Profoto Foldable Beauty Dish
Since I’ll be bringing along the Profoto B2 lighting system, I’ll also want to include a modifier while on location, allowing me to soften and shape the light as needed. For this reason, I’ve chosen to take along the newest release from Profoto with the Profoto Foldable Beauty Dish. It’s lightweight, and foldable, allowing me to store it away as needed. It’s also small and punchy, giving me the light qualities you usually find with a beauty dish.

Manfrotto Monopod
As mentioned above, I generally don’t take light stands with me while traveling, as finding replacements to light stands while on location is often easy, and come in much smaller sizes than light stands typically are. Among one of the replacements to light stands that I often use is a monopod, with a brass monkey bolt on top of it, allowing me to mount whatever lighting gear I need to it. I can then usually find an assistant to help hold the monopod.

LaCie Rugged Mini Drive
You remember how I said all data is backed up to two drives? This is the second one. I keep them in two different locations to help avoid any accidents, theft or anything else. So when traveling, the go in separate bags.

LifeStraw Water Bottle & Filtration System
One warning I was presented with when deciding to go to the Philippines, was of waterborne viruses that could harm me. I was told to make sure all water used in cooking and for drinking is boiled beforehand, so I went ahead and purchased a water bottle which is designed to remove 99.99% of all waterborne bacteria and parasites. My health is important, and coming down with an illness can halt any work I can do for a few days. Looking out for my body is important, and often neglected when working abroad.

Emergen-C Vitamin Pouches
Again, among one of the things I plan on doing while in the Philippines is to stay healthy. I have a lot of things to do while there, and getting sick because of a virus or bacteria that my body isn’t accustomed to is something I can’t risk doing. So I’ve brought along with me plenty of vitamins to keep my immune system healthy and functioning.

Clothes
T-shirts and jeans. Keep it simple, right?

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So What Does This Have To Do With LensRentals.com?

In summary, I’m taking a lot of gear with me, all that is able to fit into some pretty small bags. While traveling, I won’t need to sacrifice what I’m capable of, because I don’t have the tools I need. While in the Philippines, I’ll be using tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear, and using it to hopefully take some spectacular photos and videos from the trip. Financially, there is no way I could afford to purchase all the gear I’m bringing along with me, but with the help of LensRentals.com, I’m able to rent most of it and save myself thousands while creating work that will help generate interest from others and continue to grow my portfolio.

Zach Sutton

Editor | LensRentals.com

Sony Goes World Class: The 24-70mm f/2.8 GM MTF and Variance Tests

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I was one of those who noted Sony had some troubles, as manufacturers often do, with some of their first generation lenses for full-frame FE mount cameras. When they announced the G Master lens series I was really excited to test them. I was expecting Sony to have made progress both with optical quality and with copy-to-copy variation. I wasn’t sure that they’d be as good as the best lenses coming from the long-term photo manufacturers, but I did expect they would be close. In case you don’t like to read or look at charts, you can stop here. The 24-70 f/2.8 GM lens is as good as any 24-70 f/2.8 zoom from any manufacturer, at least as far as bench-test results go.

A Note About Sony MTF Testing

As I discussed in our post about the 70-200mm f/4 lenses, our testing algorithms and presentations are changing as we improve things and try to make them more scientific. If you missed that there are two major points.

First, the variation algorithms are different, both to make the charts easier to see (we show a 1 Standard Deviation range, rather than the 1.5 S. D. we used to) and to eliminate the Consistency Number. We found that the Consistency Number was too blunt of a tool; it showed only one limited part of variation. There were cases when there were two lenses had the same consistency score, but one was quite a bit worse than the other in ways the number didn’t show.

Second, I want to continue to point out that the MTF bench is not designed to test lenses that require power to maintain focus position, which FE lenses do. We’ve worked around that by making an electrically live mount, but the electronics block some of the test points at 20mm from the center (the right side of the graph). For that reason, the measurements at the edge have fewer measured points than the other points tested. Take them with a mild grain of salt.

Finally, one note about this test. We found that the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens performed best with 2mm of optical glass placed in the pathway, simulating the cover glass of a camera sensor. This is of NO significance to persons shooting with the lens, but I mention it for completeness sake. We check every lens we test with and without glass in the optical pathway and present the best MTF results.

MTF Tests

We tested 10 copies of the lens at 24mm, 35mm and 70mm focal lengths. I’ll print the results full size first because sometimes it’s hard to see the smaller comparison charts.

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

70mm

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

 

These are really impressive MTF curves with excellent resolution, but it’s always helpful to compare things a bit, so below are side-by-side comparisons with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mk II and Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 AF-S VR lenses.  First, we’ll compare the MTFs at 24mm.

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

 

I know the graphs are a bit small (click them for larger), but it should still be apparent that the Sony is at least as good as the other two lenses. It actually has the best center resolution, particularly at higher frequencies, which backs up Sony’s statement that this lens was designed with high-resolution sensors in mind. Off-axis, it maintains good sharpness to the edge of the field, although it does have a bit more astigmatism or lateral color (it’s not possible to differentiate the two on a single-aperture MTF test). All three of these are excellent lenses at 24mm. The Sony might be a hair better, but it’s a pretty minor hair.

The 70mm end of 24-70mm zooms tends to be the weaker end, so we’ll do the same comparison there.

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OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

 

None of these lenses are quite as strong at 70mm as they were at the wider portion of the zoom range. Again the Sony is at least as good as the others. It has, by a tiny hair the best center resolution, and while it isn’t quite as flat across the image as the Nikon, it is better in that regard than the Canon. It does have just a bit more astigmatism / lateral color on the MTF bench, though.

Fanboys can split hairs about which lens is best if they need to, but really all three of these are excellent lenses with only minor differences between them.

Copy-to-Copy Variation

This was the part of testing that I was most interested in since we’ve seen a few Sony FE lenses that had pretty large copy-to-copy variation. I’ll remind you again that the variance algorithms are different now, so for comparison, I’ve redone the variance graphs using the raw data from the Canon and Nikon 24-70 lenses, too. Both of them we consider pretty good, with a reasonable amount of variation for zoom lenses.

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

 

To my surprise and pleasure, the variation of the Sony G Master lenses at 24mm is at least as low as, and perhaps a bit better than, the Canon and Nikon zooms, both of which we consider good for zooms.

We knew that both the Canon and Nikon lenses had more variation at 70mm than at 24mm, so we expected the Sony would, too.

OlafOpticalTesting.com

OlafOpticalTesting.com

 

Like the Canon and Nikon, the Sony did have more variation at 70mm. But the Sony doesn’t worsen more than the others, they all end up fairly similar. As an aside, we also checked variance in the middle of the zoom range and the Sony was really quite good there. In other words, if your copy has problems, it will almost certainly be at 70mm, but if you buy a Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 you are no more likely to have an issue than you would with a Canon or Nikon.

Summary

When the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 Mk II came out a couple of years ago, I hailed it as dramatically better than what had ever been available in this range. Sony FE shooters now have it’s equal in a native-mount lens. Sure the fanboys can split hairs about this or that, but the differences in the lenses themselves are tiny. Of course, the proof is in the image, but early reports from reviewers seem to agree the new Sony performs just as well in the field as it does on the MTF bench. Well done, Sony!

 

Roger Cicala, Aaron Closz, and Brandon Dube

Lensrentals.com

April, 2016