Back in early February, Canon announced the Canon 1DX Mark II, the flagship sports camera, with added 4K video functionality and all of the premium bells and whistles you’d expect to come in Canon’s new top of the line camera system. As you can imagine, since the announcement, we’ve been getting countless phone calls and emails asking when we’d have them in stock, and available for rental. About a week ago, our order came in, and we’ve been sending out the system to photographers all over the country and getting their opinions on the new model.
Copyright John Russell | Used With Permission
Among those who have had the opportunity to use the new Canon 1DX Mark II is Nashville Predators’ team photographer John Russell and Tennesse Titans’ photographer Donn Jones. Russell and Jones were able to invite some of our Nashville office staff to come along and help capture the hockey game as the Nashville Predators took on the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference Semi-Finals. While there, we were able to work alongside Russell and Jones, documenting them as they shot what is likely known as one of the most exciting games in the playoffs so far this year. While shooting, Russell and Jones were able to give us some real life feedback on what they thought of the new Canon 1DX Mark II, while working in a stadium packed with 20,000 screaming hockey fans.
Generally, Russell and Jones had nothing but good things to say about the new system, noticing significantly better tracking and focusing than the previous model in the Canon 1DX. Watch the video above to get their real life thoughts on the new camera, and stay tuned for a full review on the new camera sometime in the next week or so. As for the game, the Predators were able to capitalize on the Sharks and score the game-winning goal in the 3rd Overtime.
Copyright John Russell | Used With Permission
Copyright Donn Jones | Used With Permission
Special thanks to John Russell, Donn Jones and the Nashville Predators for allowing us access to film during the game.
Sony has cranked out a bunch of new lenses lately, and one of their latest got my attention: the FE 50mm f/1.8. It did so for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t expecting it, since they already have the really good FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens in their lineup. Second, I’ll admit I expected them to suffer from the inevitable comparisons with Canon’s ‘nifty fifty’ the 50mm f/1.8 STM lens.
The Canon lens is small, inexpensive, quite sharp, and has some of the lowest copy-to-copy variation we’ve ever tested. Copy-to-copy variation has been a weakness in the FE lineup. While Sony was clearly making progress with that I wasn’t sure they were ready to take on the reigning variance champion. The sony lens is a little larger and more expensive, but then again, if you shoot Sony FE you’re kind of used to ‘a bit more expensive’ lenses and at $250 this is a really affordable lens.
As always, I remind you that this isn’t a review of the lens, simply a lab test of multiple copies on our optical bench to assess MTF and variation.
Well, we’ll go with the logical comparison first, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 vs the Sony 50mm f/1.8. The Sony actually does better at the lower frequencies, indicating it’s probably a more ‘contrasty’ lens, while the Canon is better at higher frequencies, so it may have superior fine detail resolution. Both are really quite good, though, and I should really use ‘different’ rather than ‘better or worse’ to compare them.
Of course, a lot of Sony shooters want to see the FE 50mm vs 55mm comparison. There’s quite a price difference and while there’s a lot more to a lens than MTF curves, people probably want to see what the MTF differences are.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
The 50mm is a very good lens and quite a bargain at the price. But there are reasons the 55mm costs more. It’s clearly better across the field than either of the ‘nifty-fifty’ lenses. But the usual rule of ‘increasing resolution is increasingly expensive’ does apply. You get a better lens, but you pay a lot more.
This is the portion of the test where I just expected Sony to not compare very well. But guess what? The copy-to-copy variation on the FE 50mm f/1.8 is superbly low. Remember, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is the standard against which all other lenses are measured. It’s amazingly consistent. The Sony is very close to that. In some ways (center sharpness variation) it’s actually a bit better. So hat’s off to Sony, they’ve made an FE lens that from a copy-to-copy variation standpoint is as good as anything on the market.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
Let’s show you how good by comparing the variation of the new 50mm with the 55mm, which has a lot of sample variation. (I’ll go ahead and add, because desperate fanboys continue to ask, the variation for 55mm lenses is the same now as it was then.)
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
To summarize, then, if you buy a 50mm f/1.8, chances are it’s going to be just about like every other 50mm f/1.8. Sure, there will be a few bad copies, there always are. But they’re very consistent.
We’ll probably tear one of these down soon and take a look inside to see if we can determine just why sample variation is so low. The Sony is a ‘unit focus’ lens with no separate focusing element, if I read their release information correctly, which may have something to do with the lower sample variation.
The Fuji X-Pro2 is the long awaited successor to the beloved Fuji X-Pro1. The retro look, functional external dials and comfortable medium size that I love about the Fuji X-Pro1 has been updated for the Fuji X-Pro2. And among the many updates that have been added, the one I’m most excited to try is the new and much-improved autofocus.
What Else is New?
A huge bump in megapixels, going from 16.3mp to 24.3mp
New X-Trans CMOS III sensor
Better ISO from 200-12800 with extended ISO of 100, 25600, and 51200
Faster continuous shooting at 8fps with a continuous high buffer of 83 frames
273 autofocus points (compared to 77 in the X Pro-1)
AF tracking, and eye detection
The magnesium-alloy body is still very solid, with some upgrades. For one, the weight has been bumped up a little, while adding additional weather resisting to the camera. The rubber grip protrudes a bit more for a grippier feel in the hands, but still feels lightweight and fine strapped across the chest while walking around for long periods of time. For tripod users, the threading is now in the center of the base plate instead of awkwardly off center. A notable update is the addition of a joystick, which takes the headache out of navigating the focus points and menu. High-five, Fuji.
The external dials are great once you get used to them. Took me awhile to get adjusted to the film speed reminiscent dial, and a few more minutes to get over the embarrassment of not being able to change the ISO. (Duh! Pull the dial up and turn!) Honestly, it’s not my favorite and there were a few times when I accidentally changed the shutter speed while trying to change the ISO and vice versa.
I also found the viewfinder to be a little finicky, with a slight delay to come on when pressed to the eye. A few times I switched out of the electronic viewfinder on accident, and in combination with using a long lens, it was frustrating. But it’s still better than the X Pro-1 in usability, and it looks great.
The Lensrentals Staff’s Favorite Upgrade –
Here at home base, we test every single camera, lens, and accessory twice before it ships out to you lovely folks. This means our dedicated camera techs are shoving batteries in and pulling them out of cameras all day long. Except for when they are testing certain Fuji cameras. In that case, they are shoving batteries in, closing the battery door, turning the camera on, turning it back off, pulling that battery out, and reinserting it in the proper orientation. So we are thrilled to report that this is no longer an issue in the Fuji X Pro-2 and the battery will only lock into place in the proper direction. In addition, the memory card slots (there are 2 now) have their own door that is convenient and opens easily. While this might not mean a lot to most people, it means a lot to us, as it’s a common problem some of our clients face.
I really wanted to see what this camera could do in terms of low light, autofocus, and autofocusing in low light. It held up surprisingly well for photographing a game of fetch with my speed demon German Shepherd, Ben. The tracking works really well following high speeds, but it does trip up a little when shooting in continuous mode. Waiting for the decisive moment to fire, though, isn’t ideal in many fast and unpredictable situations. I was left with quite a few shots where the focus was just behind Ben’s head but still got a few keepers. And keep in mind he is really, really fast and was running toward the camera most of the time. Focus kept up much easier when he was running from right to left of the frame.
The low light looks great. Not amazingly different than the Fuji X-Pro 1, but very impressive considering the increase in megapixels. Autofocus in low light as expected takes a bit of a hit, but it’s still very decent. I was able to get quite a few spontaneous shots while walking through one of the popular Memphis tourist spots, Beale St. Most of the example photos were taken while either the photographer or subjects were moving.
This camera is far better and way faster than its predecessor in every way. From off position to a click of the shutter, the autofocus speed, the frame rate, and the buffer. Shooting with it was a lot of fun.
This is an ideal camera for either renting or buying. It’s reasonably priced at $1600 which is what its predecessor was priced at new in 2012. The rental price is $79.00 for 4 days. No complaints here.
Comparison to the Fuji X-Pro1:
It’s not really fair to compare this camera to one that came out 4 years ago because photography years are like dog years and cameras have very short lives. You won’t spend over $500 on a Fuji X-Pro1, but technology has left it behind. I think the X-Pro2 is a beautiful update, changed in all the ways that are important while maintaining the charm and quality that attracted us to begin with.
What I Liked
Better low light and resolution than the previous model
Updated grip, memory card placement, and one orientation battery lock
What Could Be Improved
Awkward ISO dial
The button layout could be slightly more intuitive
The Fuji X-Pro2 is fun, fast, and easy. Lighter than carrying around a DSLR, looks pretty hip and has great image quality. It’s still not quite as user-friendly out of the box as I would like, but it has a lovable quirkiness. One other thing Fuji really has going for it is lens selection and quality. The lineup doesn’t have many holes and many of the lenses have beautiful image quality and optics, which is great considering the common gripe from Sony users of a lack of lens options, and the need for adapters.
This camera wouldn’t be my personal choice for professional work simply because of my attachment to the image quality of a full-frame camera and my comfort with a DSLR, but I do think it is a good option for those who don’t want to carry around a heavy camera and appreciate the wider selection of lenses that Fuji has over the Sony mirrorless system. The camera even has an edge for wildlife or sports shooters who prefer shooting with the cropped sensor, especially considering that Fuji offers a 100-400mm lens which gives quite a bit more length than the alternative for Sony, the FE 70-300mm. And while I wouldn’t reach for it for paid editorial work specifically, the performance of the camera combined with lens selection and film aesthetic makes it a camera I would love traveling with, photographing an event, or having in the bag as a backup.
The weekend before last, I had quite a trip planned for my birthday. I was going camping at Mammoth Cave, with a side trip to see some friends play roller derby in Bloomington, IN. I had originally planned to bring only my Mamiya Universal and some instant film for a personal project I’m working on, but with the new Nikon D5 available, I figured I’d have a good chance to really push the camera. The Nikon D5 is aimed right at sports shooters, and I can’t think of any sport more demanding on a photographer than roller derby (I’m very biased on this point). I wanted to see if the new AF features and low light capability would make things any easier for me shooting the sport I love so much. And I thought that the caves would really let me push the low light ability to its limits.
The camera itself is Nikon’s latest flagship, with the build quality we’ve come to expect from their top level series. It replaces the now aging Nikon D4s with lots of tweaks and upgrades. Without getting too technical, there’s a new AF system with more focus points, greater detection range, and auto AF Fine-Tune, a higher resolution sensor, a wider ISO range, improved metering, higher burst rate, bigger buffer, dual XQD slots (we won’t be carrying the CF version here at Lensrentals, but it’s an option if you’re looking to buy), a higher resolution LCD screen that’s also a touchscreen, more efficient use of the EN-EL18a battery, 4k video capabilities (kinda), and some minor button changes which make some more commonly used features more prominent than on previous bodies.
In the hands, it feels basically the same as the Nikon D4s, so there’s not too much to get used to if you’re looking for an upgrade. It’s still a big, kind of bulky camera, but if sports or wildlife photography is your business, this is just part of the game. The mode button has moved to the other side of the camera, and there’s and ISO button in its place. And there are some new programmable function buttons. Everything is designed to make it a little easier to find the functions that are most used by this camera’s audience. Did you ever use the flash button on the Nikon D4s? No? Neither did most people, so it’s gone.
So how does it handle? Like a dream! Roller derby venues are notoriously poorly lit, and the action is fast, so with anything less than the best gear, it can be a real challenge to capture what’s going on on the track. For the Frank Southern arena in Bloomington, I was shooting at 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800.
Jammers so fast Nikon D5, 200mm f/2G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
Normally I’d be using strobes or speed lights to augment the available light, which usually keeps me down to 1/250 and an ISO of 3200 or 6400. Or I’d be pushing things in post to get good exposures. With the Nikon D5, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. ISO 12800 is clean enough for most things, and I wouldn’t mind 8x10s printed from these files. They look cleaner than my images from WFTDA Champs in 2014, and WFTDA is still using some of those images in their branding and marketing. I shot those on the Nikon D4s and Nikon D750.
This was an emotional jam Nikon D5, 200mm f/2G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
Tear detail at 100% crop Nikon D5, 200mm f/2G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
Even blockers like to fly sometimes Nikon D5, 200mm f/2G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
Even the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED AF-S locked focus fast on moving subjects. I always have troubles locking on skaters’ faces when they take their victory laps for the fans. Not this time!
Congrats on the win, Gem City! Nikon D5, 20mm f/1.8G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
My keeper rate for in-focus images was much improved across the board. I preferred the standard dynamic-area modes, usually sticking with the 72 and 153 point options. I tried group-area AF as well, but I found that it liked to pick the wrong subject most of the time. I was better off selecting my own focus point and having the camera track around that. That seems to be the way it’s always been for me with Nikons. 12 frames a second with AF between each frame was great for getting sequences around the track, and AF kept up with each frame (at 14fps focus and exposure lock and the viewfinder blacks out, so it’s not for tracking).
Teamwork Nikon D5, 200mm f/2G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
Out of play Nikon D5, 58mm f/1.4G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
Is 200mm too tight? Nah. Nikon D5, 200mm f/2G, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 12800
One amazing improvement that I almost didn’t notice is the automatic flicker compensation when shooting faster than 1/60. The fluorescent lighting at Frank Southern has always forced me to convert everything to B&W to compensate for the lights cycling. In color, I’d end up with frames that were half pink, half green, or half exposed properly and half dark. I didn’t have to do that with the Nikon D5, even at 1/1000. There’s no color shift or anything! It’s a derby miracle! I don’t have to worry about future games under sodium vapor or mercury vapor lights either. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.
I didn’t really have to push the low light performance too much, even in Mammoth Cave. I mostly stuck to ISO 12800, using the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G. The results are still pretty great, though.
First stop on the Frozen Niagara tour Nikon D5, 20mm f/1.8G, 1/25, f/1.8, ISO 12800
A good overview before going down into the Frozen Niagara area Nikon D5, 20mm f/1.8G, 1/30, f/1.8, ISO12800
Various cave features from inside Frozen Niagara Nikon D5, 20mm f/1.8G, 1/25, f/1.8, ISO12800
I did push it to 51200 for a couple of shots. There is always a stop on the cave tours where the guides turn out all the lights to show you how dark it really is down there. Then they take out a lighter and show you their “emergency light”. Locking focus in light that low wasn’t a problem for the Nikon D5. And noise levels at ISO 51200 are pretty spectacular for what they are. Would I push it farther? Probably, but only with careful exposure and post processing. For most purposes, though, I’d never need much beyond 12800.
First time I got the demonstration. Focus locked on the other guy with a camera. Nikon D5, 20mm f/1.8G, 1/20, f/1.8, ISO 51200
Second time I got the demo, on the Domes and Dripstones tour Nikon D5, 20mm f/1.8G, 1/15, f/1.8, ISO 51200
What I Liked:
AF speed, accuracy, and flexibility
High ISO noise performance
Great image quality
What Could Be Improved:
AF points spread to cover more of the frame
No need for touch screen
I think overall the Nikon D5 is a great camera for the people that need all the bells and whistles, namely pro sports photographers. At a retail price of $6500 this is not the camera for most people, but renting it for a weekend won’t break the bank. For all that money you’ll get marked improvements to AF, noise performance, resolution, and buffer/write speed. I forgot to mention that we did, in fact, test out the buffer on the D5, and I can confirm it’s true. At 12fps, you will get 200 images in the buffer before it fills up. And that’s in raw+jpeg. It’s quite a thing to behold. But you have to have the XQD version to do that. The only thing I didn’t really care about was the touch screen. Yes, it can be useful, but it’s not necessary. After the first couple hours of use, I just turned off the touch capabilities. I foresee myself using the Nikon D5 quite a bit in the coming months, at least until I get to test drive the Canon 1DX II. But that’ll be a blog post for another time.
Panasonic’s new Varicam LT is basically a lighter-weight, more compact version of their Varicam 35, which has seen relatively wide adoption since its introduction in 2014. Weighing in at 6 pounds (body only) the Panasonic Varicam LT is a capable alternative for applications such as gimbal work or shoulder mounted operation, setups that can be difficult or impossible with the more cumbersome Panasonic Varicam 35. Don’t assume, though, that the lighter weight means lesser performance. With the exception of higher-end codec options that require the larger recording unit on the Varicam 35, the LT is poised to be every bit as powerful and popular as Panasonic’s flagship cinema camera. To really put it to the test, I shot with it for two days in downtown Memphis to see whether or not it lives up to the expectation that the Panasonic Varicam 35 has set.
The first thing that impressed me in my time with the camera was the build quality. Firstly, other than the plastic cover for the Wi-Fi module port (presumably for signal strength), nearly the entire camera body is constructed of lightweight magnesium. It’s really important, especially with a camera like this one that’s meant to be used in a run and gun documentary setting, that you don’t run the risk of destroying your equipment if it gets bumped around a little. Plastic camera bodies like the Sony PXW-FS7 are affordable and light, but probably won’t fare too well after a fall. The Panasonic Varicam LT, on the other hand, feels like it could stand up well to rigorous use. All of the buttons on the camera body and control panel are LED backlit, which is a really nice touch that I’m hoping to see more manufacturers implement in the future. If you need to be stealthy or conserve battery power, though, the lights can be dimmed or switched off entirely. Finally, the EF mount features a locking ring, much like the one on a PL mount, which helps secure larger EF lenses. As a side note, the fact that this feature is missing from the Canon C300 Mark II is one of my only major gripes about that camera, especially since the EF mount on the older Canon C500 had one.
Both the EF and PL mount versions of the Panasonic Varicam LT will ship with a control panel that opens up a variety of setup options while still allowing for management of the camera’s settings and can even be used as a live view monitor in a pinch. The detachable control panel can be mounted just about anywhere and connects to the camera body with a 2-foot cable. For a traditional studio setup, for example, you’d mount the control panel on the right side of the camera, opposite the viewfinder, for use by a Camera Assistant. On a shoulder-mounted ENG-style shoot you might want it on the left, facing the operator. With the camera on a gimbal you could mount the control panel to the top cross bar or even dial in settings before removing it entirely. It’s a really great way to enable flexibility without sacrificing function, and I think it’ll be one of the standout features of this camera. Design-wise, it takes a lot of…I’ll say inspiration from Arri’s control panel from the Alexa and Amira lines, which is a theft I can’t really fault Panasonic for. If it works, why not take it?
Ergonomically, with the shoulder pad, grip module, and viewfinder attached, the Panasonic Varicam LT is among the best cameras we carry for shoulder-mounted operation. The grip attaches via industry standard Arri rosettes and features two user-programmable buttons in addition to a record button and an iris control wheel. It actually looks, feels, and operates a lot like the Sony PXW-FS7 side handle except that it can be adjusted without tools, which I think is a huge plus. The shoulder pad is soft without being pillowy, and is adjustable relative to the camera body, which makes it easier to balance heavy lenses. In my setup, for example, you can see that I have the shoulder pad about as far forward as it would go in order to bring the center of gravity of my camera setup nearer to the center of my shoulder.
During my two-day shoot, the camera remained remarkably balanced and comfortable even over a long period of time. In fact, I can only think of two negatives. First, the viewfinder bracket didn’t extend far enough from the camera body for my tastes. Even with the viewfinder as far out as it would go, I had to position the camera closer to my neck than the outside of my shoulder, which put the side of the camera body in contact with my right ear. It’s a minor inconvenience, but something that could easily get annoying over the course of a whole shooting day. Second, there aren’t any physical audio controls on the camera body. You have to jump into the menus on the control panel if you want to adjust your input levels. Sure you can map one of the user buttons to get you to the input level menu quickly, but I’d still prefer some physical dials. My guess is that Panasonic assumes that, with a camera in this price bracket, you’re going to be running dual-system sound, which I suppose is fair. I think, though, that if your camera has XLR inputs there should be physical volume controls whether you think they’ll be used or not.
There’s a detailed list of features, codecs, and frame rates on the Panasonic Varicam LT product page, but I’ll give a quick rundown of the highlights here. Most importantly, the camera will shoot UHD (3840×2160) or DCI 4K (4096×2160) at up to 30p in a 10-bit 4:2:2 color space using the AVC-Intra 4K422 codec. Knock that down to AVC-Intra 4K-LT and you’ll be able to record UHD or DCI 4K at up to 60p. Beyond that frame rates vary based on codec, resolution, and sensor crop, but the camera maxes out at 240p in cropped 2K. 4K RAW output is said to be coming with a future firmware update.
The Panasonic Varicam LT shares a sensor with its larger, cinema-focused cousin the Panasonic Varicam 35. This sensor offers 14 stops of dynamic range in V-Log, which, if you’re unfamiliar is Panasonic’s proprietary log gamma. If you’d like more information on this color space, or log spaces in general, I wrote a blog entry about the subject a couple months back. Another unique feature of the sensor is its ability to shoot at two different native ISOs, a feat accomplished by having two analog circuits for each photosite. In theory, this means that sensor noise and dynamic range should be equal at 800 and 5000 ISO. In practice, while I wasn’t able to do any strictly controlled scientific tests, I found that 5000 appeared a little noisier than 800, though certainly way less noisy than if I had pushed the ISO from 800 to 5000 on a camera with a native ISO of 800. Generally, I think people who need the second native ISO of 5000 for low-light shooting will be very happy with it.
Overall I’d say that the Panasonic Varicam LT will turn out to be a really popular camera for high-end documentary work, episodic television production, or even low mid-budget indie cinema. My minor complaints (limited viewfinder adjustment and no physical volume controls) pale in comparison to the broadly positive experience I had shooting with this system. Below you’ll find a link to a quick edit of my shots from this weekend, including an ISO test. As always, if you have any questions or additions feel free to chime in in the comments.