Gear

Da 35

If you’re wondering if I am still alive, well…I am. Though this pesky winter is starting to test my limits :) .

Havana old classic red chevrolet

Anyhow, I have long wanted to add to my lens reviews but never got around to doing so. When Gentec contacted me to see if I was interested to give the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM a spin, well I jumped on the occasion. First, I had a trip to Cuba and Habana lined up the following week. Second, I had heard so much positive about that lens I wanted to see it for myself. All the stars seemed to line up for it to happen. So, without further ado, my thoughts on this little (spoiler alert) gem.

Da bottom line

For those of you in a hurry: Sigma knocked this one out of the park. Those of you who know me, either personally or via twitter, know that I’ve been raving non-stop about how amazing my Sigma 85 f/1.4 is. While it’s hard to believe, the new 35 may be even better! From sheer sharpness, to construction, the lens screams high-end pro gear.

Cuba Cardenas old derelict ceiling and beautiful colours

Da lens

The first thing you notice when you unbox this little baby, is that it doesn’t look like your regular Sigma lens. In fact Sigma, built this one from the ground up, starting the whole process from scratch. What you get is a gorgeous lens with a bit of a retro feel. Most of the body of the lens is made of metal, with only a few plastic parts. The focus ring is nice and smooth. This one has “big leagues” written all over it.

Optically the lens contains 13 elements in 11 groups and 9 aperture blades. At 665g (about 1.5lbs) it isn’t too heavy, but has enough weight to balance very nicely (both on our D800s and our venerable D90). Internal focusing ensures the focal length of the lens remains constant at all focus settings and the front lens does not rotate during focusing. The lens features HSM, making it therefore fully compatible with all current Nikon DSLRs, including the entry-level DX models. The AF is really stealthy: it is so fast and silent that I did a few double takes on several occasions thinking the lens hadn’t focused yet, when in fact it had!

Cuban man walking in colourful street of Habana, Cuba

Da performance

Well, what can I say… this lens is a stud…you may think I am gushing because I am Sigma sponsored, but truly this lens is a formidable performer and you’d be hard pressed to find a single negative review on the net. It is sharp as tack pretty much wide open (I’ve seen a review where it outperformed its Zeiss, Canon and Nikon counterparts in MTF charts). Sharpness peaks at about f/4-f/5.6 on the D800, but it is pretty outstanding already around f/2. The one thing that I immediately noticed with it is the colour rendition and contrast. It is something that is very difficult to explain or quantify, but certain lenses just have an intangible factor that pleases the eye. This one definitely does. On our trip we took the Sigma 12-24 which I usually liked for its contrast and colour rendition, and right out of camera you could tell the 35mm was leaps and bounds better!

beautiful girl on white sand beach and ocean view

Like every lens in its category, especially at such wide apertures, the lens displays significant vignetting wide open (about 2 stops according to my histogram), which is tapers down at f/2 and becomes barely noticeable at f/4-f/5.6. Again, like its brethren you can see some chromatic aberration, but nothing that can’t be fixed in post-processing. The lens is quite spectacularly resistant to flare (I basically had to shoot straight into the sun to see any signs of flare).

The bokeh is very nice and smooth. The 9-blade aperture makes for nicely rounded specular highlights. When used right, the background fades into sweet out-of-focuseness (what???! is that even a word?) very smoothly.

colourful wall in derelict market of Cardenas, Cuba

Pros

Superb build quality and good looks

Great sharpness and optical performance even wide open

Lightning fast and silent AF

Great colour rendition and contrast

Beautiful bokeh

Did I mention the price? At about half the price of the Nikon 35 f/1.4, it’s hard to argue its value.

Cons

I had to really look long and hard for any faults and can’t find any serious ones…The redesigned lens cap looks great but is a bit hard to snap on properly…yeah, that’s about it for me…Oh and the model I was given loaned had to be returned. Unfortunately.

beautiful woman in the colorful streets of Habana, Cuba

1, 2, 3, Test…

It’s been a while…

Blogging on YBphotography, shooting landscapes, traveling…it’s all been a while.

Life takes you on so many unexpected tangents at times… With so much going on these days, it’s a miracle I even remember I have this site :) .

Anyhoo…we have recently acquired some sweet lighting gear and have been trying to test it for a little while. When we finally managed to spare some time, we headed to Shirley’s bay, a short drive away from home, for short and sweet test drive.

When this gentlemen emerged from the water, I couldn’t help but ask if I could take his photo, the bright colours against the deep blue sky were simply irresistible. The beauty of these lights (Paul C Buff’s Einstein strobes), is that they pack enough power to “turn off” the sun. This image is shot at f/11+ polarizer, to keep my shutter speed above sync speed. The einstein is pretty much behind me, a bit to camera right, at 1/2 power in a 30×40 gridded softbox. This is pretty much straight out of the box…

man in yellow kayak on a beach

TAMRAC SPEEDROLLER 2X BIG WHEELS ROLLING CASE review

When the Canadian distributor for Tamrac (Gentec International) contacted me to offer me a sponsorship, I have to admit I wasn’t quite sure how to react. Obviously I was flattered and proud, Tamrac is an established manufacturer with a great reputation for solid products. However, I already had more bags than I could shake a stick at. Also, I wanted to make sure that if I were to accept: 1) I could stand behind their products, and 2) I could be free to do and say as I pleased when reviewing their products. As always, they were a charm to deal with and indicated they would have it no other way anyway.

So after a little reflection, I decided to try the Speedroller 2X Big Wheels Rolling Case. I didn’t really need a new backpack, but I was looking for something to carry my lighting gear on location when doing editorial and commercial shoots. I wanted something that was “user-friendly”, sturdy, yet not as heavy as Pelican cases. I got the package about 6 months ago and have put it through its paces at length, pushing through slush, sleet and snow in the meantime.

If you don’t want to read til the end: I LOVE IT. It’s a fabulous case and truly a workhorse for me. So much so, I will either get another one or go for their studio series as well.

This rolling case is not tiny. It provides room to up to two pro DSLRs with lenses attached, 4-6 additional lenses, accessories and a laptop, and is carry-on compatible. It has internal adjustable, foam-padded dividers can be arranged to fit a wide variety of equipment. I personally rarely put my dSLRs with lenses attached in there, but it usually carries the following: 2 bodies, 6 flashes, 5 pocketwizard units, 6 lenses a couple of grids and some smaller accessories. Now, that’s in the main compartment. I personally love the Windowpane-Mesh™ pockets inside the lid to organize small, accessories like memory cards, batteries, filters, cables and various other paraphernalia. A separate, foam-padded outer pocket holds my 15″ inch laptop and has room to spare.

All of this comes with a ballistic nylon outer shell and rigid, plastic-armored walls that make it as protective as it is sturdy. After months of lugging it around and really not taking any care in doing so, I can say that it has nary a scratch on it.

The case gets its name from, you guessed it, its big wheels. And they are BIG. I’ll be honest and say that I first thought they were kind of silly and toy-like. But after putting them to use, especially through the winter, I can guarantee you that they are, alone, worth the price of admission. It’s like having your gear in a 4×4 or monster truck. They don’t get stuck, they get over most obstacles, snow doesn’t phase them the least bit (contrary to the pelican cases which are utterly useless in snow). I know that no matter what, for as long as I have some sort of ground, I will be able to pull this baby on its wheels, and not have to carry it over long distances.

What I like:

- The size: it’s big enough to carry tons of gear, but small enough to fit easily just about anywhere, airport friendly (though I would think it’s a bit too big to carry comfortably on a plane).

- The wheels: just a brilliant idea. Can’t imagine any roller case without these wheels. Great for Canadian winters.

- The build: it’s built like a tank and I don’t fear for my gear when lugging it around.

- The huge laptop pocket

-The modularity: the case accepts Tamrac’s MAS system which allows you to attach more accessories on it.

What I don’t like:

- The mesh pane: I love the mesh pane to organize accessories and such, I would have loved an additional layer and bigger compartments.

- The tripod mount: the bag has a contraption to mount your tripod at the front. It only works well if you carry around a tiny (read useless) tripod. The mount does nothing to carry my Gitzo 2830…

Time to rethink the camera

In the long list of long overdue posts, this one sits right at the top. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but the recent releases of the Nikon D4 and D800 have certainly brought this to the forefront in my somewhat scattered brain. Note that I will be mostly talking about Nikon, but my observations can be carried across the board and apply just as well to Canon and the others. I just happen to be shooting Nikon. For the moment.

So the question here, is, what’s my take on these brand spanking new beasts? Will I upgrade? Do I feel compelled to upgrade?

In all honesty I couldn’t care less about either camera, nor do I feel that I missing out by not getting either. Now don’t get me wrong, they are both really, really good cameras. They are certainly better in many respects than my current workhorse, the Nikon D700. That said, I don’t think that either one makes me a better photographer, nor do they get more clients or bigger paying jobs.

I can hear you saying “But, Younes, they have super duper awesome video capabilities” (that’s right, that how I imagine y’all talk). My answer: I don’t care. I am a photographer first and foremost, and don’t get me started on the photo/video combination – a lot of people do it, most people do it poorly. There is a world of difference between being a photographer and making movies, and simply owning a camera that can output some amazing video quality won’t make me Steven Spielberg, but I digress.

“But how about the super duper awesome 36 bazi-gazillion megapixels?”. I have long wished for that, but rarely anymore. My question to you is what would you need more megapixels for? If it is to be able to crop post-capture, my answer is simple: learn your craft and crop by composing your images better. If it is to have the ability to print life-sized replicas of your beautiful self, then my question to you is how often do you do that? In fact, I’ll ask the question differently: what size do you think your camera can allow you to print at? I can tell you that I have comfortably printed 24×36” images from my 12 megapixel camera (NOTE: that’s the attached image above). I have licensed a 6MP –image that was printed as a 12 meter mural. Yes, that’s twelve METERS! All of this and I haven’t even talked about the extra computer power you’ll need to deal with the 75MB raw files…All the sudden, your $3000 camera turns into $3000+ new computer ($1500)+more backup ($500)= $5000…not so appealing all the sudden?

Ok, so what else? The D4’s insane high ISO is sure to sway you…I rarely shoot in complete darkness, but I have to say that the ISO capabilities of the sensor are intriguing, but at the body size and price, I am not really that interested, yet. So, enough rambling Djounes, what would make you want to upgrade? What’s it gonna take?

The point I am trying to make here is that camera companies have been engaged in an endless race to give more. A lot more. Always more. You have got to wonder however, where you get to the point of diminishing return. I personally think we have in many ways. Certainly, when it comes to megapixels, we probably have, and the trend that sees the high-end pro models with less megapixel count (D4, Canon 1DX) seems to confirm that.

Thom Hogan, who really initiated all this thinking, has some fantastic suggestions for the future of the camera and I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree. The jist of it is that small incremental improvements, like we are seeing now, are not going to yield much at the end of the day and that it is high time to rethink the concept of the SLR.

Here are a few things that could use some work:

-        Form factor: I realize that pro-bodies need to be sturdy and reliable, but do they need to weigh a ton? I am sure there can be a happy medium there that will allow me to do my job without breaking my neck and back.

-        Wireless capabilities: am I the only one who finds it outrageous that my $3000 camera needs a $500 add-on to have wifi, while some of the low end compacts have it integrated from the get go. The same goes for GPS for geo-location. If my tiny phone can do it, I am sure there is room in for my camera.

-        Modular components: do we really need a new body every upgrade cycle? Sure, your body can take some beating, but for the planet’s sake and for my wallet’s, how about upgradable sensors and other components. You may say that Nikon is in the business of making money, not saving you some. That’s fair, however, having modular components can actually be a great source of revenue for the manufacturer’s as well. Today, there isn’t a chance I can afford both the D4 AND the D800. However, I may in fact be interested in the D4 high ISO capacity at times, while being more drawn to the D800’s higher pixel counts on other jobs. In the case of modular sensors, I may actually buy one body, but both sensors! One for each different job. Something similar could happen for Infrared capable sensors, so and so forth.

-        I did have other points, I swear, but they escape me right now…I will get back to them when I find them. In the meantime, I hope this spurs an interesting discussion…

On a completely different topic, over at doublespace, we have some images from our visit to Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, in, you guessed it, Barcelona.

Gear Review: F-Stop Kenti

When F-stop approached me to photograph their new Kenti bag a few months ago, I quickly jumped on the opportunity as I had been considering it. Little did I know that my wife would be even keener to jump on it, so much so that I hardly got to touch it :) . So, while I could make a review myself, I figured I’d let Amanda provide us with her impressions as she spent more time with it than I ever did. Here it is.

Disclaimer: I am not a huge fan of backpacks — camera bags or otherwise. However, I fully recognize their practicality and comfort over shoulder bags, so when I recently had the opportunity to take F-Stop Gear’s Kenti bag on a 2-week trip involving urban, architecture and landscape photography, I jumped at the chance to use it extensively in the field. I had taken it for a spin a few times over the last couple of months, both around town and in Gatineau park, but nothing tests bags, footwear, relationships, etc. like travel ;)

Before we get into the review proper, full disclosure: while the hubs is sponsored by F-Stop, I personally am not affiliated with the company and I was not asked to write this review. All opinions are my own.

At 25L, the Kenti is F-Stop’s smallest pack in the Mountain Series. Unlike other bags in the line, it has two side-accessed compartments instead of back access and does not utilize the Internal Camera Unit (ICU) system. I’m not going to write down all the specs – you can check them out here – but suffice it to say that the bag has many of the awesome features and great design that one has come to expect from F-Stop.

Obviously this review is heavily coloured by how *I* shoot on a day to day basis. I rarely just transport my gear somewhere, set up and photograph. I like to take impromptu shots along the way and, as such, being able to access my gear fast and easily is very important to me. I also get cranky if I’m hauling around a too-heavy bag which in turn affects my quality of shooting (yeah, I’m a wimp), so comfort is a huge factor.

What I liked

  • The Kenti is extremely comfortable to wear all day. The proportions are great for smaller frames as well as taller peeps – I’m 5’4″ and it sits well on me.
  • The pack is light (1.5 kg)  and not at all bulky, yet well-padded enough for peace of mind.
  • Moreover, it does not scream “I’m a camera bag!”, which makes it a great fit for urban environment and travel.
  • The side access means you don’t have to fully take off the pack to get to your gear, making the process faster, cleaner and safer.
  • The Kenti holds a fair amount for its size. On the trip I carried my (non-pro-sized) D90 with up to 4 lenses of varying size, as well as a film camera.
  • The pack comes with lots of interior dividers that are all removable, allowing for customization within.
  • The jersey laminate back-panel eliminates the sweaty-back-syndrome that so many packs induce.
  • The front flap has a dozen little pockets for memory cards, spare batteries, chapstick (what?), camera remote,  etc. and what’s best is that they don’t. fall. out.
  • the roll-top is super handy and allows for adjustable volume. I like to use it for stowing away a jacket, snack or any extra gear  I might need.
  • A small-to-medium-sized tripod can be attached to the side of bag using the compression straps. According to the website, a larger tripod can be attached using F-Stop’s optional gatekeeper system.

What I liked not-so-much

  • When carrying a tripod on the side, it makes the side compartment not so easy to get out gear.
  • The Kenti has an internal laptop sleeve that fits up to a 13″ laptop, but it is kind of hard to access, especially if you have gear in the bag (which, duh) or are using the roll top compartment to stow stuff.
  • The zippers can be hard to find. This minor quibble is probably unique to the black pack, as they tend to get lost amongst all the buckles.
  • While you can get a pro body with lens into the side compartment  (I tried with a D700 + 70-200 f/2.8)  it is definitely a snug fit. For someone who is constantly taking their camera in and out of their bag, this could be irksome.

Conclusion

Like all F-Stop gear bags, the Kenti is as much a hiking pack as it is a camera bag, meaning that it is meant to be worn for extended periods of time and is durable enough to stand up to the worst elements. As the smallest bag in the line, it is not intended for jobs requiring tons of equipment, but is great for a hike or travelling with a limited kit.

Despite my bias against backpacks, the Kenti won me over. In short, it is a fantastic bag: good-looking, sturdy, practical, versatile. Even packed to the gills, I had no trouble carrying the Kenti around all day. Much attention has been paid to the ergonomics as well as the size and location of all the pockets and compartments, and the proof is in the pudding – I love using it.

I would recommend the Kenti to any photographer looking for a smaller backpack rugged enough for any outdoor activity yet sleek enough for city use.