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Cheap Photogear: I

Introduction

Photography can be an expensive hobby for those who don’t make much money selling their work. In my photostore days I would often see people come in with very specific thoughts on what a camera should do for them, they would then walk out again after splashing a whole bunch of money on a camera that probably outfeatured the things that they would in reality use the camera for. But what else can they do? New cameras are super expensive and if you ask for advice the salesman will sell you the camera that best suits your expected needs, and those needs often make for some expensive-ass gear.

But life as an amateur photographer doesn’t necessarily have to be such a pricey proposition, if you are willing to be that guy/girl using yesterday’s gear. Well I most certainly am! There was a time when I would spent irresponsible amounts of money on a new camera. I was completely convinced that that piece of equipment (say a €2000,- X-pro1) would be the Leica to my Cartier-Bresson. Which is complete bollocks of course. I mean, a photographer needs his camera, granted. But a camera is nothing but a tool used for capturing images, it needs an imaging sensor, a means of composing the image and some glass to bend the light the right way. There you go, that’s it, everything else is extra. I am aware of the fact that you do need good quality image sensors and decent glass for pictures that stand out from the smartphone crowd, but trust me when I say that a €100,- 7-year old camera is just as capable of helping you take those shots as a €1000,- modern-day one.


(Amsterdam Protest. Canon EOS 5D mk I @50mm f/1.8. ©photovitalis)

This all occurred to me when I owned an, at that time, relatively expensive canon camera. I then bought another much older one as well because it came with a bunch of nice lenses that I could use on my camera. My intention was to sell the old camera that came with those lenses as body-only. I decided to try that old camera out before selling it. I was quite surprised to find the images from that old sensor were much more to my liking than the images that came from my much more modern camera. Perhaps they had a more film-like grain in them, or maybe the entire shooting experience was simplified and therefore much more pleasing but all I know is that much more of the photographs I made with that old camera have been keepers as opposed to images shot with the newer one. And that to me is what makes a camera, a good camera. And to take that as your main criteria for your photo-gear purchases, means you can start saving loads of money. If the camera feels right to you as a photographer, you will be much more likely to take it out. If the images coming from the sensor feel like they have exactly the right look for you, you will be much more motivated to keep shooting.

My ever growing quest to shoot the cheapest gear has led me into the mirrorles world of micro-fourthirds cameras. This cameratype started its succesfull existence in 2008 with the introduction of the Panasonic G1 and slightly later the Olympus Pen E-P1. So over the past 11 years this system has produced too many cameras to count


(Olympus Pen E-P1 with 1st gen 14-42mm lens)

Older models like the Pen E-P2, E-P3 or the Panasonic G3 and GH2 can now be bought for extremely low prices. But paired with the right glass and the right photographer of course (that will always be the most important part of the entire set-up) these little cameras are super capable of producing beautiful images. In my next Cheap Photogear post I will review the Panasonic G3 camerabody which I bought for no more than €50,-!

fifty euro Panasonic G3 with 28mm (eq. 56mm) vintage lens
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Life on the Road: I

This is the very first entry in what is to be a large collection of articles, blogposts and photo series on the revived photovitalis.com blog. My name is Sefania and I’m traveling, sometimes working and often photographing and writing freelancer who seeks a life of freedom. And I think that I am very close to finding such a lifestyle. In fact, I’ve started to uncover the key to that ideal about two years ago when I decided to greatly minimize my material possessions, I even went as far as to give up my lovely home in the city center of Amsterdam and move into a Fiat Ducato campervan, and surprisingly so, I never regretted that decision for even a second.

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At first I wanted to just free myself from the bounds of financial obligations, no more rent! I succeeded, my monthly spending dropped significantly and I was able to live off the odd job here and there whilst finishing my studies. I then began to sell much of my belongings because I couldn’t fit most of them in my tiny new living quarters. I noticed how good it felt to get rid of so much of that stuff, it sort of freed up my mind in a way. My new tiny home on wheels was truly tiny though. It had a very small kitchen, a bed/seating area, a small desk and a folding table. But the front of the van offered something no house ever could: a driver’s seat, a steering wheel and the freedom to wake up anywhere I pleased. Even though that van was probably the best deal I ever had in my life, I decided to move up in life and trade it in for a much larger campervan which ended up being my comfortable home for a whole year, winter included.

Sefania-2

That campervan took me all the way from the south of France to the South of Croatia on the other side of the Mediterranean. Unfortunately those travels were to be its last as it started to break down more severely than my financial means could fix, time for another trade in! The van in which I am currently writing this post has been my home for the better part of the past half year. It has been my Portuguese home last summer and now serves as my home-base in Amsterdam where I plan to stay for the winter, close to my friends, family and of course work opportunities because unfortunately it does take some cash to keep the wheels rolling. I am now preparing that old Renault van for a long trip down south all the way to the Greek islands and back through the rugged Eastern European countries.

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Anti-Racism Demonstration Amsterdam

A small group of right wing supporters attempted to spread their ideas in Amsterdam today. A large group of opposing protesters rallied against this group making for a tense situation in the capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam. _MG_2932

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Industar-69 Russian Lens review

This is a short piece about the Industar-69 28mm f2.8 LTM lens from the land of Putin, or Chroesjtsjov more likely. For this review I’ve mounted it on my Fujifilm X-E1 using a 5 dollar m39 to Fujifilm X adapter from ebay. 
So this is not a lens you’ll buy for its sharpness and optical perfection. This is a lens you’ll buy because you are in desperate need of some cheaply bought street cred. And that’s what this gives you. When you’ve hung this lens onto your fashionable mirrorles camera of choice, you will look like someone who knows his stuff. Using this sophisticated looking Russian made Tessar copy makes your camera look like a rangefinder that will make Bresson turn his head. So it looks damn good, yes oh my it does. The image quality isn’t that great though… It’s horrible at modern standards really. This lens is not sharp, it’s so soft that focus peaking will hardly work and above all, this lens won’t work for you until you take it apart and make some minor modifications to its core construction.
     Let me explain the above. This lens was never made for Leica camera’s, it just happens to share the same m39 thread mount. It was made for some Russian halfframe rangefinder that has a flange distance miles away from that of the leica’s. That means that the m39 adapter (needed for putting this lens on your camera) is a couple of millimeters to thick. So you either have to grind down the adapter, or screw the lens block inside of the lens barrel a little closer to the sensor. There are some great hacks out there on the interweb that will show you how to do this easily (this one for instance: http://www.mu-43.com/threads/20259/). Allright so this lens is an absolute piece of poo  right?  Well no, it is not. In fact, I totally love this little lens. And I will tell you why after the picture down below:
Fujifilm & Industar
Allright So if you get a good copy (DDR quality control…you never know), like mine, you will find yourself the proud owner of a full metal, smooth operating and above all very tiny lens. Even with the small m39 adapter, this lens protrudes no more than 25mm from the front of its retro styled host. Which is the European way of saying you’ve got yourself a one inch bulge sticking out your jeans pocket. Because yes, this kit will make your fujifilm X, Sony NEX or M43 camera awkwardly pocketable. Though I do suggest large pockets. Furthermore, it gives you a 42mm equivalent focal length. Which is very close to the legendary ‘perfect’ focal length of 43mm. They say that that is the closest you can get to what the eyeball sees (this does not apply to micro fourthirds camera’s, it’s 56mm there). The f2.8 max aperture is good enough for indoor shooting and some background blur. Ah yes, I almost forgot the one reason I actually went to the Bay of E and bought it from war-torn Ukraine. It’s the price! The cheapest near 28mm f2.8 mirrorles lens you can buy is the Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN EX lens for Sony and m43 MILC’s. And this lens costs you just below 200 USD where this one, with an adapter will set you back about 40 bucks. Allright, the sigma is a better lens in every way (except size and awesomeness) but you can just buy this lens to have fun with wherethe Sigma is dangerously close to being an actual investment. Same goes for the Fuji option. The Fujinon XF27mm f2.8 costs somewhere around 350 bucks nowadays.
The industar has a unique way of rendering things. Like I said, the lens isn’t that sharp and the contrast coming out of it isn’t very contrasty. Also the colors seem somewhat flattened to me. This may not sound very good, but it actually gives your pictures a sort of vintage feel. They sort of are vintage because they were created through some very old glass. If you are to apply the VSCO film simulations in Lightroom, pictures made with this lens are absolutely film-like. And that’s kind of the charm of this type of lens. It looks cool and gives your photo’s a unique look. It doesn’t even make sense trying to pixel peep this thing. This is a lens that needs to be used creatively instead of technically.
    So if you are willing to give up on autofocus, modern coatings and image stabilisation, this lens might just be something for you. When you buy this lens you get an everyday walkabout lens that will do your street photography, your portraits and maybe a landscape here and there. The focal length makes it a good lens across the board and the f/2.8 aperture makes it usable in a wide variety of situations. The size helps it to never be in your way.
Sample images below:
 20150402-DSCF7252A little bit of VSCO film magic and the Industar at F5,6.
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Wide open at F2.8. This lens does some crazy stuff wide open. The cornes are all over the place and it only remains sharp in the center, but that works just fine for this shot really.
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This shot shows the crazy swirly bokeh this lens creates. Love it or hate it.
Shot at F2.8
F5.6
It’s definitely sharpest at F5.6

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Nikon DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G

 

Nikon 35mm

Here’s a quick look at the Nikon DX 35mm f/1.8G for all you Nikon SLR shooters. Before I kick off I’d like to say that I truly believe mirrorless camera’s are the future. And I do predict DSLR’s will start to lose ground to the mirrorless offerings soon. But right now DSLR’s are still going strong, especially the Nikon and Canon SLR’s. As you know I’m a bit of a Fuji fanboy, but I found the X-E1 too unreliable for professional work. Hence my ownership of a Nikon D7000, for which I had recently purchased a nifty little 35mm (50mm equivalent). This review will be about my experience with this lens, and also the feel of it. I’m not some optical sciences expert so I won’t be talking about any of that scientific mumbo jumbo.

The Feel

This lens has a great feel to it. It’s very light and keeps the entire body in good balance. It’s constructed with plastics but it doesn’t feel cheap. The focusing ring on the other hand does feel like a bit of a trade off. It’s very thin and not very smooth at all. And a note for videographers; If you’re not using an external microphone, you will hear the grinding noise of the focusing ring when using MF. Keep in mind that coming from Fujifilm lenses, this lens will not feel like what you’re used to. But let’s be honest, the cheapest Fuji XF lenses will set you back at least 500 bucks, and this lens comes in just below 200, and in the end it’s all about the images it renders. This lens is also nice and compact. It has a relatively large maximum aperture for its size and weight.

Lens quality

I’m not a pixel peeper, I haven’t used nearly enough lenses to objectively make a proper comparison anyway. But I can tell you some of the things that popped in mind while using this lens. First of all; the image quality.

Most of the images shot below are taken wide open. In my opinion wide open is the most important aperture setting for a lens to properly be able to execute, because why buy a f/1.8 lens if you can’t use the wide open aperture. I’d have to be honest, this lens is not the sharpest in the world when wide open, but the images retain enough detail and sharpness to be very useful, especially when shooting RAW. So it certainly passes my wide-open image quality test. Focusing when wide open is pretty much okay, it can miss the focus on some occasions, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before on much more expensive lenses, so don’t let that deter you. The focusing in general is quick and silent, except when using manual focus, then it sounds like you’re using a belt grinder.

Conclusion

This lens is one of those little lenses that you should just go out and buy. It is very cheap, the images it produces are lovely. And when used properly, this can easily be the only lens in your bag. It will not weigh you down, nor will it let you down when it comes to IQ. Below you’ll find some test shots, most of them shot indoors with poor lighting conditions, see how it handles that.

 

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A little rebirth. Fuji X100 Firmware 2.0

Here’s another post about the Fujifilm X100. This time though, I’m talking about the X100 2.0. The sort of rebirth of the Fujifilm X100.

Even though this trusty ‘classic’ was announced all the way back in 2010 (which nowadays would make most camera’s be OLD) it still doesn’t feel long in the tooth at all. Many happy owners still use the camera even though it has been replaced by the x100s some time ago. It has seen the rise of the X-mount system, the birth of the X-trans, and even the X-trans II sensors, and you would think that Fuji has forgotten all about this little guy. But they have once more proven to truly care about their loyalists. A short while ago they released the 2.0 firmware update for the x100 which makes it a much more usable camera and makes it more than a match for similarly priced premium compacts.

Before I get into the specifics of the new firmware I’d like us to consider for a moment how very nice it is of Fuji to do this. It’s like a little present for X100 shooters like myself, a little pat on the back for being Fuji shooters. It doesn’t make them any money, and quite frankly none of us were expecting Fuji to do this. So it’s not like they had to do this at all it’s not even logical. But they did and I love them for being so very kind. Now the firmware promised to make the camera’s focusing system be more efficient, the minimal focusing distance has now been shortened by 30% (you no longer have to put in macro mode when taking a picture of a person sitting close to you). It also makes this firstborn X somewhat faster when using AF. And for all the people like me, who never used the manual focus on this guy because it was rubbish at best, can do so now because manual focusing is aided by the X100s’ focus peaking mode now, which is nice.

Well, I downloaded it, tested it, and compared it to the old firmware. And it works! I mean it’s still the X100 obviously, it doesn’t magically turn it into an X100s. It’s still the same 12mp sensor (which I love by the way). The output is still the same (nothing wrong with that), but the ease of use has increased quite a lot. I always used to switch back and forth between macro mode all the time. But now I don’t have to do that as much anymore. Also the focusing has definitely improved, it grabs focus slightly quicker and also more often… X100 owners know why this is important right? Because the camera sometimes wouldn’t grab focus at all sometimes. Don’t go using it for sports photography all of a sudden though, it still can’t do that. But its usability for portraits, street photography and all that good stuff is now even better.

All I can say is; thank you Fuji, you’re the best. You can download the firmware here (if you haven’t already): http://www.fujifilm.com/support/digital_cameras/software/firmware/x/finepix_x100/

Fujifilm X100

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Sigma 30mm F/2.8 DN ART Micro Four thirds Quick Review

The Sigma 30mm DN lens has been around for a while now. Loads of very positive reviews have been written about the optics of this very inexpensive lens. But some time ago Sigma decided to cater those who complained about the build quality. The lens felt rather cheap with its all-plastic body, and even though the internals remain very much the same, the externals have been completely overhauled by Sigma. This is now a very good looking, smooth and stylish little lens. In this post I’ll be reviewing this lens for you in a not so scientific way, I’ll just tell you some of my experiences with it, and I won’t be doing any pixel peeping tests. It’s just me telling you about a lens that I have come to appreciate a lot.

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Build Quality

The build quality of this lens is very good indeed, it feels like a solid piece of equipment, especially at its price point. The lens barrel itself is made of metal just, like the lens mount. This is quite the upgrade from the old version which had a plastic lens barrel. That lens felt like the €170 I had to pay for it, this lens on the other hand feels like something a lot more expensive. The lens is available in two colors; black and silver. I decided to pick up the silver version to go with my silver OM-D. The very first thing I noticed after attaching the lens was that it suited the silver Olympus OM-D very well, the bottom part of the lens is exactly the same metallic color as the OM-D body and the chrome top half just looks very good. All the mechanics seem to work just fine, the focus ring is smooth enough and the focusing itself is very quiet and rather quick.

Performance

As said before, the focusing is quick enough for me. I can really only compare this to the Fujifilm camera’s I had and the Pentax K5 DSLR I’ve used for a long time. So I can’t really be too scientific about it, all I can say is that when paired up to the Olympus OM-D it is one hell of a lot faster than the Fujifilm X100, X-pro1, X-e1 and X10 camera’s (a lot more accurate too). And it is also loads faster than my Pentax K5 with its kit 18-135mm lens attached to it. Even though the OM-D isn’t the latest in AF technology anymore, and this lens still has the same focusing motor as the previous model it is very snappy in my experience.

As I said before, I’m not going to get to scientific. And this is a very short little review. But I wanted to share my experiences with this lens because it’s definitely something to think about for all you Micro four thirds shooters out there. If you own an Olympus Pen or some other Micro four thirds camera, and you’re looking for an inexpensive, high quality prime lens, this lens is definitely worth picking up. I’ve used this lens extensively on my trip through England (In my post about an abandoned UK warehouse you’ll see a bunch of pictures shot with this setup). For me, this is one of those lenses that just feels good to use.

(Below are some sample shots. The two outdoor shots were made in very ugly lighting conditions, it was very grey and cloudy. The lens managed to render it well though)

 

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