New lynda.com Course: Aerial Landscape Photography in New Zealand

I’m proud to announce the release of my latest lynda.com course, “Aerial Photography in New Zealand.” This course discusses the techniques to be successful with aerial photography. The incredible Fiordland National Park is featured in the video. Give it a look if you get the chance. See it here:

Photographing the Fjords of New Zealand.

Get 10 days of free unlimited access to lynda.com.

Milford from the Air


Camera Update

Delta

It has been a whirlwind of adventure since I have lasted touch base on my blog with adventures to New Zealand, Southwest USA, The Columbia River Gorge, Toronto, London, Namibia, the Palouse, Iceland, Switzerland, France and now Germany where I’m writing this blog post to you from.

I have had some questions on camera gear lately, regarding the Olympus system, as well as questions on the new Canon megapixel monsters, the 5DS and 5DSR, and of course, the new Sony A7R II.

Here are some quick thoughts on each camera:

Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II: My first Olympus mirrorless camera, I really enjoyed it overall. The lens selection is superb and I primarily used the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, both tack sharp lenses. I was super excited about the high-resolution mode but came away disappointed. Very few reviewers mentioned a rather obvious flaw (at least in my eyes), the fact the images come out soft. I mean very soft, especially compared to standard 16 megapixel images taken with the camera. Extreme sharpening has to be used to make a compelling image. Perhaps it has little effect on a printed image once sharpened, but there is something disturbing to me looking at images side by side in Lightroom, one taken at 16 megapixels and one at 64 megapixels with image shift and seeing a huge difference in sharpness out of the camera in RAW. Before you ask, all variables have been taken into effect in regards to stabilization and multiple tests have been done in different settings. I did find one other photographer who has mentioned this online, the popular blogger Ming Thein in his review:

http://blog.mingthein.com/2015/05/21/review-olympus-e-m5-mark-ii/#more-11208

Final takeaway from the Olympus – A fantastic camera with lots of cool tech and a great selection of lenses. There are 2 major flaws to the camera. It is terrible with long exposures and night photography due to the small micro four thirds sensor. Those are deal breakers for me. In addition, for me, someone who makes large prints, I prefer a larger sensor. For the majority of photographers out there, I would recommend the Olympus over most APS-C and full-frame DSLRs, which are overkill in most people’s internet based photography. If your needs require long exposure photography, night photography, or making large prints (larger than 20×30 inches), than the Olympus is probably not for you.

Canon 5DSR: Let’s look at the 5DSR as the 5DS is not going to be very popular. Nikon learned their lesson of not dividing the model into a D800 and D800E, and has simplified it to the D810. Apparently, Canon wasn’t paying attention to the market. The need for an AA filter is a rarity these days, especially with the advancements in software. I have not used the camera personally, but I have two good friends who have done a multitude of tests and I have read quite a few reviews. Their seems to be a clear consensus – a 5-year-old camera with a huge megapixel sensor. First, the positive – The resolution is astounding, a great tool for large prints. Banding has gone away and there is an improvement with detail in the shadows. The lens selection is phenomenal. Without question, there is no other system with a better selection of lenses. Next, the negative – There is no new tech in this camera. It really is just like using a 5D Mark III. The dynamic range of the aging Canon sensor is still miles behind Sony’s sensors, which are used in the Nikon D810 and the Sony A7R. It has a limited range of ISO and is best used in low ISO situations. It’s big and heavy. So are the lenses. It’s time to lighten the load, not increase it!

Final takeaway from the Canon – If you have a killer collection of Canon glass, make large prints, have learned to bracket, blend and compensate for poor dynamic range, don’t shoot in high ISO situations, and don’t mind the weight, the 5DSR could be the right camera for you.

The Sony A7R II: I took a lot of slack for writing a controversial blog post on the original A7R. What people didn’t seem to understand is that I think what Sony is doing is amazing. And yet, I still demand my cameras to work properly. The Sony A7R, especially with its shutter vibration issues, was not ready for prime time. This A7R II, while not out for another few weeks, appears to be everything we wanted from the original A7R and more. When you look at the specs of the camera, what more can you ask for really? This looks like the landscape photographer’s camera of the future, and I have mine on preorder. I cannot wait to use this bad boy. It’s hard to recommend something that hasn’t been released or tested, so I will definitely follow-up with more thoughts in mid October after having used it on a couple of trips.

There’s only one negative feature to address so far, and it’s not the camera itself, but the lens selection. Let’s take a deeper look at the issues and how to address it. Starting on the wide-angle side of things, the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 is a fantastic lens made by Sony. So is the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4. This is great news! Two fantastic lenses, made by Sony, native for the e-mount system. This is what we need, and both lenses are a must own. As a landscape photographer, having f/4 instead of f/2.8 is of no consequence unless you are shooting at night. Fortunately, we have Rokinon making their excellent 14mm f/2.8 lens for the Sony system. This is a crucial for those that like to shoot the Aurora and night skies.

When I first tested the original A7R along with the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4, the first zoom lens available, I was sorely disappointed. I have concluded that I had a bad copy of the lens, and I sure wasn’t the only one. Reviews for this lens were terrible. And then… they got better. I recently tested a newly purchased 24-70 and guess what, it was solid. I think what Sony did here was not acknowledge that they made a crappy lens, but they improved it in the manufacturing stage and hoped the problem would go away. I would have preferred a new addition of the lens so we can clearly know what we’re getting. If you do buy this lens, do extensive testing to make sure you have a good copy. As it stands, I ended up not purchasing one, but went with the excellent 55mm f/1.8 prime. Prime lenses are tough for landscape photographers as we are dealing with trying to be as light as possible, but the 24-70 range is my least used range in photography. By purchasing the 55mm f/1.8 I’ve ensured a high quality lens and I have the following focal lengths within the range – 24- 35, 55, and 70. Not bad!

As I write this on July 17th, the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 lens is being shipped in the States. I want this lens badly (it looks amazing) but how could I possibly justify it with the excellent 16-35mm in my possession? We will see how long I can resist:)
That’s it for lenses currently, but we have 7 new lenses to come before Spring of 2016. Sony knows how desperately we need these lenses and they are doing all they can to produce. The biggest hole for me is a 70-400 or 80-400. I do a lot of long lens landscape work and would love to push out beyond 200mm.

There is a niche lens from Canon that I’m holding on to, and that’s the 24mm TSE, the best tilt shift lens ever made. I love using tilt shift lenses and it appears Sony has no interest in producing them. I have a Metabones Canon Adapter Version IV attached to my 24mm TSE and use it for special situations. I have no interest in adding adapters to the Sony to use any lens I want as the addition of the adapter creates a bulky setup. The whole idea is to reduce weight, and that’s why it’s so important for Sony to flesh out their system. But it’s worth it to me for the tilt shift lens. In addition, the latest Metabones adapter has been designed to have less reflection and has more room to compensate for the large shifts. This is exactly what I needed as version III was a pain to use.

Final takeaway from the Sony: I hope it’s my camera system of choice going forward. I couldn’t be more excited for new tech and Sony had delivered in spades. More soon!


New lynda.com Course: Photographing the Fjords of New Zealand

I’m proud to announce the release of my latest lynda.com course, “Photographing the Fjords of New Zealand.” This is the first of 5 courses coming from the spectacular South Island of New Zealand and features the incredible Milford Sound. Give it a look if you get the chance. See it here:

Photographing the Fjords of New Zealand.

Get 10 days of free unlimited access to lynda.com.

Sterling Falls


Weekly Column: A Cheap Lens Gets it Done

I may have been ambitious with the idea of a weekly column. I’m going to resort to blogging when I can and hope I’m somewhat consistent. I’m back from a killer tour in the amazing Lofoten Islands of Norway. Of course, when photographing Aurora you chase clear skies, so we ended up in Sweden for the last night and it was well worth the insane drive! Last time I photographed the Aurora I used the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II, an excellent fast prime that was ideal for the Aurora. Keeping the lens wide open at f/1.4 allowed for relatively fast shutter speeds at night. The only limitation of the lens is not being able to go wider. When the Aurora really kicks off and a corona is directly overhead, you often want to be as wide as possible. Nikon shooters are blessed with the incredible Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, which provides the perfect focal range for Nikon shooters. The brand new Canon 11-24mm f/4L  is an exciting lens, but with a slow aperture of f/4 it’s not ideal for night photography. You really don’t want to be any slower than f/2.8. The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II is a viable lens for night photography, but it’s a poor performer all around. I replaced my copy with the superior Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS. But, of course, I lost a stop so it’s not ideal for night photography either. Canon does make a 14mm f/2.8L II prime lens, but at a cost of $2249 that’s not something I was interested in purchasing. It’s time to present the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. At a cost of $372.99 it is a mere fraction of the competition. During my last workshop to Zion National Park, we had a night photography session. One of my clients was using the Rokinon 14mm and it was outperforming the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II. That was it for me, time to test this puppy out in Arctic Scandinavia and see what it can do. One of the limitations of the lens is that it’s manual focus only. For night photography that’s perfect, as you want to be manual focusing. You do not control the aperture on the camera but on the lens itself. No problem, set it at f/2.8 at night and forget it. And finally, focusing to infinity was a snap as the focus ring stops at infinity. I tested the lens and that is where true infinity is on my copy. If I lost my focus for any reason, all I had to do was snap the focus to infinity.

So how did it perform? Fantastic. I was very pleased with the performance, especially at its incredible price point. See for yourself!

"The Dragon"

“The Dragon”

 

"Arctic Sky"

“Arctic Sky”

 

"Road to Aurora"

“Road to Aurora”

 

TV recommendation of the week: Friday Night Lights. A drama about family first and foremost. Top 10 show of all time for me.


New lynda.com course, Landscape Photography: Washington’s Olympic National Park

I’m proud to announce the release of my latest lynda.com course, Landscape Photography: Washington’s Olympic National Park. We worked extremely hard and produced a course that contains over two hours of content! Loads of techniques on photographing in the forest and on the coast are included from spectacular regions in the Park, such as the Sol Duc Valley, Hoh Rainforest and Second Beach. Give it a look if you get the chance.

See it here:

Landscape Photography: Washington’s Olympic National Park

Get 10 days of free unlimited access to lynda.com.

"Essence of the Hoh"

“Essence of the Hoh”

 


Weekly Column: Olympus Innovates

Here it is, my makeup column for last week. While Canon appeared to have floundered their opportunity to win the landscape crowd back from Nikon, Olympus did something fascinating. They introduced a high megapixel mode in their latest camera body, the OMD EM5 Mark II, that can create 64MP RAW files! In early tests of just the 40MP jpeg file, it is beating the Nikon D810 and competing with the amazing medium format camera, the Pentax 645Z. To be able to create a high res image from a camera weighing a mere 14.4 ounces compared to the 31.04 ounces of the Nikon D810 is a huge feat. Once you add the weight of the lenses, the entire Olympus micro four thirds system is a fraction of the weight of a full-frame setup. There are caveats of course. The camera must be mounted on a tripod. It’s pretty entertaining reading about Olympus shooters saying that this is a deal breaker. For a street shooter, absolutely. But for a landscape shooter, the tripod is an extension of the camera and it’s hard to imagine shooting without one! So for me and other landscape shooters, no big deal. Now let’s get to the real issue. There can be zero movement in the scene itself for a minimum of 1 second. WOW. That eliminates so much of what’s possible. No water, no clouds, no grass blowing in the wind. This is a killer for so many and the reason why this new high res mode is not going to be a huge success. But… there are situations where complete stillness is possible. And for many of the subjects I like to shoot, that’s exactly the situation I face. In addition, I’m tackling a new project this year that includes entirely static subjects. So I preordered the camera and will give it a go and report back on my blog and in Edition III of my gear book due in the fall.

My TV recommendation of the week is Game of Thrones. It may not be the best show on TV, but it is definitely my favorite. No show carries as much hype. The anticipation of season 5 is at its boiling point. April 12th! If you’re not already caught up, get there! Trust me, if you could invest in only one show currently running on TV, this is it!

Yellowstone National Park ISO 800, f/8, 1/125 sec.

“Braving the Elements” Yellowstone National Park ISO 800, f/8, 1/125 sec.


Weekly Column: Canon’s Confusion

A lot has happened since my last post. I apologize for missing last week, I will be sure to get two posts in this week to make up for it. I’m back from an incredible trip to Yellowstone with truly fantastic people. A big thanks to all those who were involved! I wanted to discuss Canon’s big camera announcement of two new DSLRs, the Canon 5DS and 5DS R.

First off, the Nikon D800 came out in March of 2012. The new Canon DSLRs are coming in June of 2015. That’s more than 3 years we have waited for a competitive product from Canon. Common sense led us to believe that Canon was not going to release a product until they could surpass the fantastic Sony sensor found in the Nikon D800. Surely over 3 years of waiting would yield impressive results. One of the simplest lessons learned was the confusion between the Nikon D800 and D800E. Nikon needed only one model, the D800E. They have simplified the line with the Nikon D810. Canon apparently wants to repeat the same mistake. Not a big deal though, as there is small minority who are concerned with moire, so it’s nice they have an option.

Next up is price. As of today’s date, The Nikon D810 is available for $2996.95 from B&H Photo. The Canon 5DS R is $3899. It’s nearly $1000 more expensive. If you are going to be priced considerably higher than your competitor, the product you produce better be superior in the majority of comparisons.

Let’s get right to the megapixel war. The 5DS R is 50.6MP and the Nikon D810 is 36.3MP. Cleary the Canon has a nice lead in terms of resolution. The debate as to whether we need that much resolution is an important one, but we surely can all agree that no matter the amount or resolution, your sensor must produce clean files with low noise and as much dynamic range as possible. How quickly I’ve abandoned talk of megapixels to discuss the things us landscape photographers want Canon to fix beyond all else. There are 3 issues we have with Canon sensors that you don’t see in Sony sensors. The first – banding in the shadows. Inexcusable and image breaking at times. The second – noise in the sky even at base ISOs. This has never plagued me personally, but I know peers who have switched to Nikon because of it. The third, and most importantly, improved dynamic range. The dynamic range of the Canon sensor is approximately 2 stops worse than Sony’s sensor. There was a time when it was impressive, but not anymore. Technology has advanced and expectations have changed. According to Canon, you should expect to find the dynamic range in the new models to be about the same as the Mark III. This is what killed Canon for landscape shooters. Look no further. Dynamic range is the ticket. And apparently, they either don’t know the importance of it and didn’t address it, or they don’t have the technology to advance it. My guess is that Sony is simply superior in sensor design and years beyond where Canon resides currently.

The question is not whether or not we need 50.6 megapixels, the question is whether or not Canon can improve the performance of their sensors to compete with Sony (Sony makes the sensors for nearly all camera manufactures). Time is running out. More and more Canon shooters are leaving. When the 5DS R comes into the market (around June) hopefully we will have our definitive answer. In the meantime, I went from a definite preorder to a wait and see based on the early impressions. I will keep shooting my Canon 6D and wait for reviews of the final production unit of the 5DS R. At the same time, the next Sony sensor is right around the corner and I will be eager to see what advancements it brings to the table.

While I didn’t purchase the 5DS R this week, there was another camera that caught my eye and did get preordered, the Olympus E-M5 Mark II. More on that in the next post!

My TV recommendation this week is The Walking Dead. The ultimate hit or miss show. Season 1 was fun and campy. Season 2 was awful. Season 3 picked back up again. It’s a roller coaster ride, but in the end it’s worth it due to strong characters and an occasional phenomenal episode. The first half of the current season was very strong, but the midseason premier this week was terrible. And so it goes, that’s The Walking Dead for you!

"Alone" - Yellowstone National Park. ISO 200, f/11, 1/500 sec.

“Alone” – Yellowstone National Park. ISO 200, f/11, 1/500 sec.


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