Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Optimizing My Gear

We all love playing with new camera gear, but sometimes things can get out of hand to an extent that makes you feel un-easy. That's our story today.
If you're not a regular reader of this blog, let me give you a very short brief oN the tale of my camera gear: I was using Canon APS-C DSLRs (550D then 60D) ... sold them and upgraded to full frame DSLRs (5D2 then 5D3), sold everything and bought a Sony RX100, E-M5 and a nice lens collection (then added a couple of lenses later on) ... sold the E-M5 and upgraded to the E-M1 kit (which I shall review soon, promise) ... sold the RX100 and bought a Panasonic LX100 ... bought an E-PL5, another MFT lens, and a couple of legacy lenses.
This resulted in the photo you see above, showing my MFT collection; apart from the LX100 which took that photo.
For some reason I shall explain later in more detail, I decided to buy Sony's full frame A7 II with just one system lens: the Zeiss 55 f/1.8. That will leave me with 4 camera bodies and 10 lenses. And since I am not a full-time photographer, or a camera/lens collector, I decided to optimize my gear a bit. So here's the rationalization behind "what gear to keep and what to sell":
P.S. Click the below titles to open links to my reviews of these items.
  • Olympus E-M1: will certainly not sell, this is my workhorse camera, and the best handling camera body I ever used. Image quality is extremely good, and I have the lenses to make benefit of the image quality and features.
  • Olympus E-PL5: bought as a cheap backup body that uses all of my lenses with similar image quality to the E-M1, especially since I didn't think I'd buy into another system. I pimped it with an updated grip and a brilliant EVF. But as you can deduce from my review, the handling and the image stabilization are not that good. I can probably sell it.
  • Panasonic LX100: bought as a carry-everywhere replacement to my little brilliant Sony RX100. And what a replacement it is. It has a sharp and bright stabilized lens, a MFT sized multi-aspect-ratio sensor (the end-result is a cropped 12 MP image), and it shoots the best video I have seen: 4K, 24 fps, very sharp and detailed. Besides being my carry-everywhere camera, it has become my go to camera, unless I need to shoot important hand-held video, or want shallower DOF. Will keep.
  • Olympus 12-40 f/2.8: a great general purpose zoom with a fast aperture, high image quality and weather proofing. This is similar to Canon's or Nikon's 24-70 f/2.8 but at less than half the cost, size and weight (I know about the equivalent DOF differences, please don't tell me). Will keep.
  • Olympus 40-150R: a great bargain of a lens. At $150 (sometimes discounted to $100), and with great performance accross the zoom range (except for the last 25mm where it gets slightly weaker), it is the best value for money lens if you want an 80-300mm equivalent focal length. This is also my least used lens, but when I need it, I don't have other alternatives. I thought about selling it, but for such a low price, there is not much motive for selling. Will keep.
  • Bower 7.5mm f/3.5 fish-eye: with high sharpness across the frame starting from wide-open, and little distortion compared to other fish-eyes, it is a no brainer for ultra wide-angle. I bought one when it was discounted to $250 or so from B&H. No substitute for extreme WA and fun. Will keep.
  • Panaleica 25mm f/1.4: 50mm is my most used focal length, and this one is no different. Great character, small size, fast aperture, fast focusing, and beautiful backgrounds. But despite being my most used lens on MFT, it is not the same as my Canon 50mm f/1.4 on full frame, there is always something missing. Maybe it needs a bit shallower DOF. I kept comparing its photos to my Canon 50 1.4 5D3 photos, and the Canon has that softer, gentler look to it. Not as sharp or punchy as the Panaleica. Since I get a fast 50mm and a FF camera, I might sell this one. Only time will tell.
  • Olympus 45mm f/1.8: a tiny little wonder that every MFT user should have. And for $250 on Amazon, it is a bragin too. It has very smooth bokeh, and enough sharpness wide-open to produce beuatiful portraits. Will keep.
  • Canon 55mm f/1.2 FL: A nice legacy lens with interesting characteristics. I got this one cheap, and it will work with a FF camera via an adapter. 50-50 chance of selling or keeping it (I am eyeing the Voigtlander Nokton 50 f/1.5, I am addicted to manual lenses and this one seems like a great choice). It works as a 55mm on my A7II, and 110mm on MFT.
  • Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Art: at $209, I couldn't not buy this lens. Kirk Tuck has been praising it a lot and showing very good images made with it, that I had to see for myself. I will be reviewing this lens soon. The short version of the review would be that this is the 2nd sharpest lens wide-open I have seen in my life (1st place goes equally to Olympus 75 f/1.8, Canon 200L f/2.8 and Canon 100L f/2.8 IS Macro). And it has some of the smoothest background renderings too. But, it is not very fast to focus compared to the 45 f/1.8, and I already have faster 45mm, 55mm and 75mm lenses. So this lens can be sold.
  • Olympus 75mm f/1.8: simply, the best lens I own right now (accompanied by the Zeiss 55 f/1.8). Just look at my review. Will definitely not sell.
  • Tamron 90mm f/2.5 SP Macro: after my first successful eBay purchase (Canon FD 55 1.2), I wanted more cheap but great manual lenses. So when I saw the images on this flickr page, I had to buy one. I got a great example (52BB version) for a great price and the images are just a dream. Kirk Tuck remembers it as "sharp but gentle", and I heartily agree. Best of all, it doubles as a 1:2 macro lens, and easily exceeds 1:1 magnification with a cheap set of extension tubes. I will be reviewing it very soon. It doubles as a 90mm macro/portrait lens on the A7II and a 180mm long lens on MFT. Will not sell for any money.

So there you go. After some thought, and after receiving the A7II and the Zeiss 55, I sold the E-PL5 along with the Sigma 60 f/2.8 and the VF-4.
Currently, I am evaluating whether I shall keep the Panaleica 25 f/1.4 now that I have a fast 50mm FF alternative. And I am also seriously thinking about selling the Canon 55 f/1.2 and getting the Voigtlander Nokton 50 f/1.5 instead. Both of these decisions will mature over time after testing all three 50mm equivalents on both systems.

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