Posts in Category: Lens Review

Tilt Shift

Yes – I finally got one! It is the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L ultra wide angle lens. Here are some technical specifications and unboxing photos:

  • Focal Length: 17mm
  • Diagonal Angle of View: 104º
  • Lenses / Groups: 18/12
  • Shift Range: ±12mm
  • Tilt Range: ±6,5°
  • Aperture Range: f/4.0-22
  • Rounded Aperture
  • Manual Focus Only
  • Internal Focusing

After evaluating the pros and cons of investing in such a specialized piece of equipment, I decided to take the step and see how it can improve my architectural and urban photography. What kept me from acquiring the Canon TS-E 17mm for a long time was obviously the price – Amazon currently sells this lens for USD 2.100. However, a tilt shift lens offers some really unique features that I would like to mention:

  • Probably the most interesting feature is that a Tilt Shift lens can help avoid parallel lines to converge on an image
  • The lens provides an incredibly high resolution and sharpness even in the corners due to the large image circle
  • An asperical lens reduces image distortions
  • Four ultra-low dispersion lens elements reduce chromatic aberrations in the corners
  • Sub-wavelength structure coatings minimize ghosting and flare
  • Independent Tilt and Shift Sliders
  • The entire lens can rotate ±90° to switch between landscape format and upright format
  • Locking screws prevent accidental shifts and tilts
  • L-Series – the lens is extremely well made and durable due to metal structure and weather sealing
  • Includes Canon LP1219 soft lens case

With these features, the Canon TS-E 17mm is predestined for architectural and real estate photography. When holding the lens in my hands for the first time, I wasn’t expecting so much weight – but this is totally fine as it will be set up on a tripod 90% of the time. Due to the L-qualification, the build quality is top of the line. I am fascinated by the precision how every moving part slides when moving the tilt or shift units. There is even a protective rubber-like surface between the tilt and shift parts that prevents dust or spray water from entering the gaps – although I am not planning to use it in the rain. The focus ring has a convenient size and rotates very smoothly. Manual Focus is certainly something to get used to, but it still works pretty good when keeping the shutter button on the camera half-pressed while focusing and waiting for the camera to indicate an in-focus situation with a short beeping sound. Altogether, I am looking forward to taking it on my next journey!!

The Ultimate Camera System – The New PHASE ONE XF 100MP Camera

XF-IQ3-100MPFor those who like what they see but don’t know what they are looking at, the image above shows the new Phase One XF 100 medium format digital camera system.

Medium format cameras are especially appreciated by professionals for a couple of reasons. These types of camera systems offer a high flexibility that allows a photographer to configure the camera to the requirements of the job. They consist of a camera body that accomodates the reflex mirror, the phase detection sensor, a ground glass, and a focal plane shutter. However, differently than other digital single lens reflex cameras, medium format digital cameras typically have large openings on the top of the body and on the back side. The upper opening allows the connection of different viewfinder options such as eye-level viewfinders or waist-level viewfinders. With a waist level viewfinder, a photographer can hold the camera in front of his waist or leave it standing on a table and look down on the viewfinder like on a final print. Although technically being a relict from the old days of photography, some photographers claim that waist-level viewfinders can be favourable during portrait photography as the subject might feel less targeted because the photographer is not directly looking at them. It also changes the perspective at which the subject is shot which makes photo models appear taller.

The opening on the back side is designed to connect exchangeable digital backs. These are independent modules that contain the image sensor on the connecting side, an LCD display on the rear side, and plenty of powerful image processing electronics inside. The ability to change the image sensor is certainly a unique feature of medium format camera systems. Medium format digital backs offer a variety of sensor types and formats, from square to rectangular shaped sensors. The dimensions of medium format image sensors vary from 54mm x 40mm to 67mm x 56mm – this is an active sensor area over four times larger than the area of a 24mm x 36mm full frame sensor. These huge image sensors offer some rather substantial advantages. They typically consist of larger pixels that offer an outstanding dynamic range. Still, even with the increased pixel size, medium format sensors also provide
resolutions higher than those of regular DSLR cameras. The majority of medium format cameras provide resolutions of 40 – 60 megapixels. These high resolutions are especially important for the production of large, detailed prints like posters or advertising spaces.

Medium format digital cameras are designed to conform the most demanding requirements of professional photographers, and they come with a price tag far greater than many can afford. Therefore, these systems are typically used for highly specialized purposes such as aerial photography, night sky and astro photography, photo archiving, scientific documentations (insects, other), but also product and fashion photography. Professionals worldwide swear by the realiability and high quality delivered by these powerful systems.

The Phase One XF 100MP Camera System

In January 2016, Phase One released their new XF 100MP which was the first camera release of the year. Their new camera system uses a Sony CMOS sensor that creates images with a resolution of 100 megapixels and the sensitivity (ISO) can be chosen between 50 and 12.800. The sensor records images with 16 bit color depth, and the dynamic range of the system covers a total of 15 stops! With a sensor unit of that quality, the lenses must be able to keep up with the resolution. Therefore, Phase One equips their system with ultra sharp prime lenses of Schneider Kreuznach with leaf shutters and fast autofocus.

Technical Specifications

Image Sensor

Resolution101 Megapixel
Long Exposure Up to 60 minutes
A/D Conversion16 bit Opticolor
Dynamic Range 15 stops
Sensitivity (ISO)50 - 12800
Crop Factor1.0
Sensor SypeCMOS
Sensor Size (mm)53.7 x 40.4
Active Pixels11608 x 8708
Pixel Size (micron)4.6 x 4.6

Focus & Autofocus (Honeybee Autofocus Platform / HAP)

Autofocus SensorHAP-1 1MP CMOS Sensor
Autofocus ProcessorHAP-1 Processor with Floating Point Architecture
Autofocus Assist lightHAP-1 Precision White light
Hyperfocal Point Focusingyes
Upgradeable Autofocus configurations & Patternsyes
Autofocus ModesSpot, Average, Hyperfocal
Interchangeable Focusing ScreensMatte (default), Split, Center Prism

Capture and Light Metering

Capture Drive Modes Single / Contiunous / Low vibration / Exposure bracketing 2-7 frames
Toggle Mirror-Upyes
Capture from Liveviewyes
TTL Light MeteringAverage, Spot and Auto
HAP-1 Light Meteringused with waist level finder (Spot)
Focus Confirmation90° Prism: yes / Waist level Finder: on top screen
Viewfinder black-out time150ms (FPS), 400ms (LS)
AE Lockyes
Exposure compensation+/- 5 EV

For more information on technical specifications, check out the Visual Guide of the XF 100MP on the Phase One official website.

Phase One was so incredibly generous to lend me their new XF 100MP system over the weekend (16./17.04.2016) allowing me to create test photos and to share my impressions with you. The gallery below shows the camera system, the lenses included and further components.

First Impressions

Phase One delivered the camera along with three lenses and additional equipment in a heavy black suitcase. The first impression was really stunning. After opening the suitcase I was surprised by the rock-solid build quality (all black aluminum), and the weight of the camera. (As per the specifications, the camera body with the 90° prism viewfinder and the IQ3 100 digital back as well as two batteries weights around 2,1kg. The Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8 lens adds roughly 500g to the system.)

On closer inspection, almost every camera part is made of aircraft grade aluminum and feels virtually indestructable. Even smaller elements like the four control buttons of the digital back and the flash card compartment lid are made of aluminum. All surfaces are completely black, and only some buttons are kept in their original metal-appearance. Surprisingly, the black aluminum is not very susceptible to fingerprints – they simply disappear after a few seconds. The Phase One XF has a very puristic design and extremely clean appearance. The connection systems that keep lenses, viewfinders and digital backs attached to the body feel very safe and are totally easy to use. All Schneider Kreuznach lenses are made of solid metal, too. Their focus rings have a toothed surface and provide very good grip. The price for the new Phase One XF 100MP system with a lens is around USD 49.000,00. The image below illustrates the entire scope of delivery.

XF_in_the_box_web

The camera itself consists of two main units. The camera body has its own power supply and a touch screen controlled XF menu. The digital back also has an individual power supply and an IQ menu, controlled by four customizable buttons and touch screen. I suspect the XF menu to be the quick menu only, although it offers a wide range of shooting modes, including high dynamic range, time lapse, and other useful features like a seismograph and a level. Conversely, the IQ menu is actually the main control option because of its large LCD screen, the photo review function with histogram options and tons of fine tuning settings. Of course, both menus are permanently synchronized so when an option is selected on the IQ menu, it instantly adjusts the same setting in the XF menu, and vice versa. Although it sounds complicated to use, I found both menus so intuitive that I didn’t even have to open the user guide a single time. The following galleries clarify the purpose of each individual menu.

The XF Menu

The IQ Menu

Testing

Finally I took the camera to a couple of locations in Munich where I tried to find out about its capabilities, and probably about its limits. I attached the Schneider Kreuznach 35mm LS f3.5 wide angle lens to the camera and went to BMW World and the Pinakothek of Modern Art. I have particularly tried to capture scenes with difficult light situations such as dim interiors with bright spotlights and windows. A few other shots include a snake that I captured with the 80mm lens and the 120mm macro lens. Please note that the gallery contains JPG files that do not include the full dynamic range. Unfortunately, the lossless TIFF files could not be loaded into the gallery.

One aspect is interesting to mention. The Phase One XF relies on one single autofocus point in the center of the screen. This might sound like a disadvantage compared to other DSLR cameras that often have more than 60 AF points. With only one AF point, one might miss the flexibility to focus on a subject off-center to achieve a more interesting photo composition. However, with a resolution of 100 megapixels, there is virtually no need to focus on different positions as the final image can be cropped until the desired composition is achieved. Therefore, a photographer can really concentrate on shooting and must not think about composition.

While I thought it would be easy to focus on the center, with the aperture wide open I sometimes found it challenging to direct the focus point exactly on the spot I wanted. The autofocus system is so precise that the autofocus point needs to be perfectly in the right spot. With the autofocus point just slightly shifting from the eye to the eyelash, it will be the eyelashes that stand out and the eye softly blurred. When I shot the snake, it took practice until I got the eyes in focus. If there is something in focus, however, there is no discussion that sharpness and clarity is beyond comparison.

On another note, I would like to mention the speed at which the Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8 lens focused. This lens is so reactive and fast that for small focus movements, I couldn’t even see the focus ring move but simply “jump” from one focus distance to another. When keeping the shutter button half-pressed, the lens starts to hunt the subject with incredible speed and accuracy. I am used to fast focusing by my Canon EOS 7D, but I was deeply impressed by the Phase One / Schneider Kreuznach focusing speed.

Finally, the power sharing was a feature I really loved. As described above, both camera units have their own power supply, but in fact they are sharing power if one unit runs out of battery. This can happen if the IQ menu is heavily used for picture reviewing and adjusting settings more on the IQ digital back. As soon as the battery inside the digital back is discharged, the XF unit provides power to itself and the digital back. Of course, this also happens vice versa.

Verdict

From my personal view, medium format cameras are an interesting combination of scientific precision tools and photography. They represent the constant pursuit for technical perfection in optoelectronics and a philosophy of creativity. I have seen for myself that they are very specialized and certainly not suitable for every photographic application, but for countless other purposes they are unsurpassed in image quality. The Phase One XF 100MP is the best camera I have ever seen and that I have ever had in my hands. The resolution of 100 megapixels is impossible to describe, and I was even more impressed by the huge dynamic range it is capable of perceiving. Also, the high speed and precision of the Phase One Honeybee Autofocus Platform was totally new to me. Concluding I would like to thank Phase One for this great opportunity!

Testing the new Canon EF-S 10-18mm Ultra Wide Angle Lens

I found out about a new Canon ultra wide angle zoom lens at the beginning of this week. It is the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM that immediately caught my attention.

In terms of ultra wide angle lenses, there is also the Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens that I have always loved to use and that provides a pretty good image quality in my opinion. For me, the downside of the Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens is actually the price that is still around EUR 550,00 at the moment. In addition, I also use the Canon EF-S 17-55mm which is such a great lens that I try to use it as much as I can. With a minimum focal lenght of 17mm, it eventually makes all focal lenghts larger than 16mm useless on the 10-22mm so that I do effectively use it for 10-16mm only. This is almost half of the focal range of the 10-22mm that I do not neccessarily need. For my personal setup, the Canon 10-22mm is 90% more expensive than for anyone who needs it’s full focal range.

In comparison, the Canon EF-S 10-18mm is a more economic option for me. Also, it provides some pretty nice additional features such as a stepper motor (indicated in the lens name as STM) and an Image Stabilizer unit (IS). The image stabilizer is interesting because normally wide angle images are not really vulnerable to shaking, however it can probably assist in getting images even sharper.

I have done some research on the Internet since the beginning of the week and learned that many people describe the Canon EF-S 10-18mm as a very powerful ultra wide angle lens. It has some minor disadvantages such as a variable maximum aperture over the focal range and the lens is predominantly made of plastic elements. On the other hand, the image quality (which in my opinion should always be the most striking argument) is slightly better than the quality provided by the Canon EF-S 10-22mm. Last but not least, the price is EUR 279,00 (Amazon Germany on 12.07.2014) which supported my decision.

I purchased the Canon EF-S 10-18mm on Wednesday, 9th of July 2014, and received it yesterday. Here is a short review on both general information and my personal impressions of my new lens.

General Information

The Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM is only supported by crop-sensor cameras and therefore does provide a slightly different impression of focal ranges to the viewer. Given a crop-factor of 1.6, the resulting images are equivalent to 16-29mm on a full frame camera. This lens features a stepper motor which is known for its ultra fast and silent focus performance. The diaphragm – consisting of seven blades – has a maximum aperture of f/4.5 at 10mm, immediately reduces to f/5.0 at 11mm and reduces once more to f/5.6 at 15mm. The lens consists of 11 lens groups totalling 14 lens elements. Here is the official Canon diagram showing the internal structure.

Internal Structure

 

The Canon EF-S 10-18mm does also feature an Image Stabilizer that can compensate the longer exposures resulting from the limited aperture. According to MTF Charts, overall lens resolution is quite impressing, see the official Canon Chart below.

MTF Chart

Unboxing

Here is a short description on my personal impressions related to the Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens. I took some time today and documented the unboxing process so you can participate in this ceremony =)

In terms of weight and dimensions, my expectations were met and the Canon EF-S 10-18mm is a bit smaller and lighter than the Canon EF-S 10-22mm. It has the lens cap “CAP E-67II” included which I personally like very much because it is easier to remove and re-attach to the lens than previous lens cap designs. The filter ring has a 67mm diameter and does not rotate when focusing, however the lens slightly changes length (approximately 4mm) when zooming in and out.

Having expected a plastic feel, I was a bit surprised that the overall build quality is pretty decent. The zoom ring has a rubber coating and feels solid with no gaps between the zoom ring and the lens barrel. Zooming in and out gives a constant feedback with no changes in pressure. The focusing ring is placed on the very front of the lens and it allows to do manual focusing. The focus ring is extremely easy and smooth to turn and gives a feeling of precision, although I would not want to miss the stepper motor to perform the focusing.

For an ultra wide angle lens at a very favourable price, I was sceptical about the image quality. I did some quick test shots today and I was frankly surprised that image sharpness was pretty high and constant over the entire scene. There is barely some distortion at any focal lenght and also chromatic aberration is low. I do not have a detailed comparison between the Canon EF-S 10-22mm and the new Canon EF-S 10-18mm, but my impression is that the new lens can definitely keep up with the expensive version.

One thing I have to say is that I was slightly disappointed by the lens mount which is also designed in plastic. Although plastic technology has brought up some really resilient and durable materials – as the lens barrel itself shows – plastic is still not so popular in high-quality products.

There is also a professional review of the Canon EF-S 10-18mm on the website of Ken Rockwell.