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Caltech research team develops lensless camera

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

Image: Caltech

Smartphone cameras have improved considerably over the past few years but despite innovations such as image stacking and dual cameras with image fusion technology the cameras are still limited by the laws of physics. This becomes particularly evident when looking at the 'tele' lenses that have cropped up on some recent high-end smartphones with dual cameras, such as the iPhone 7 Plus or Xiaomi Mi6.

Due to space constraints in the slim smartphone bodies these lenses use smaller sensors and offer considerably slower apertures than their wide angle counterparts which makes them a lot less usable in lower light conditions. However, now it looks like a research team at Caltech could have found a solution to the problem. They have developed an 'optical phased array' chip that uses algorithms instead of a lens to focus the incoming light beam. A time delay which can be as short as a quadrillionth of a second, is added to the light captured at different locations on the chip. This allows for modifying focus without a lens.

Professor Ali Hajimiri says the system 'can switch from a fisheye to a telephoto lens instantaneously - with just a simple adjustment in the way the array receives light.' The existing 2D, lensless camera array consists of an 8x8 grid with 64 sensors and is capable of capturing a low resolution image of a barcode. The current image results are a long way from current smartphone cameras but at this point the system is only a proof of concept and potential commercial applications are a few years in the future. The team's next objective is to use larger receivers that are more sensitive and capable of capturing higher-resolution images.


Pricing for Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM and 24-70 F2.8 DG OS HSM Art lenses announced

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

Announced in February, two highly anticipated full-frame lenses from Sigma are finally on their way to consumers. Sigma has also announced pricing – the 14mm F1.8 DG HSM will cost $1600 and the 24-70mm F2.8 Art will cost $1300.

Sigma says the 14mm in Canon and Sigma mount will ship this month, and the Nikon version will be available in July. The 24-70mm will ship for all three mounts this month. Considering there's not much time left in June, that's basically now.

Press release

Sigma Begins Shipping Its 14mm F1.8 DG HSM and 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lenses

The world’s first and only F1.8 ultra wide-angle full-frame lens for DSLR cameras is available now for $1,599.00 USD; the new Sigma Global Vision workhorse zoom lens is available now for $1,299.00 USD

Ronkonkoma, NY – June 22, 2017 – Sigma Corporation of America, a leading still photo and cinema lens, camera, flash and accessory manufacturer, announced today the pricing and availability for its new Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM and Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art lenses from its lauded Global Vision line. The ultra-wide angle full-frame 14mm F1.8 Art lens begins shipping in June 2017 for Canon and Sigma camera systems and in July 2017 for Nikon camera systems, for a retail price of $1,599.00 USD. The standard zoom full-frame 24-70mm F2.8 Art lens begins shipping in June 2017 for a retail price of $1,299 USD.

The Sigma 14mm F1.8 Art, which is the first and only F1.8 ultra wide-angle lens among interchangeable lenses for digital SLRs*, incorporates the same aspherical element as Sigma’s critically acclaimed 12-24mm F4 Art, allowing the lens to deliver a new dimension of visual experience. Boasting outstanding image quality from center to edge, the 14mm F1.8 Art features an 80mm front lens — the world’s largest glass aspherical lens in the industry, offering photographers an ultra-wide prime with virtually no distortion, flare or ghosting. Equipped with a superfast and efficient autofocus system, three FLD (“F” Low Dispersion) elements, and four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements to reduce chromatic aberration and coma flare, the 14mm F1.8 Art is suitable for a wide range of photographic needs including astrophotography, architecture and landscape photography.

The 24-70mm F2.8 Art lens, Sigma’s new workhorse standard zoom lens, touts a brand new Optical Stabilizer (OS), Hypersonic Motor (HSM) for highly efficient and fast autofocus, as well as a dust- and splash-proof mount with rubber sealing. The 24-70mm F2.8 Art lens embodies all the technical qualities and finesse that define the high-performance Sigma Global Vision Art series. A popular industry focal range covering a wide array of shooting scenarios, the 24-70mm’s optical design also includes three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements and four aspherical elements to ensure image accuracy and sharpness. The 24-70mm F2.8 Art aspherical elements use Sigma’s thicker center glass design and highly precise polishing process, delivering stunning images and bokeh effects. The lens’ purpose-built structure boasts a new metal barrel for optimal durability with TSC composite internal moving components designed to resist thermal contraction and expansion.

Both the 14mm F1.8 DG HSM and the 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art lenses are available in Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts. The Sigma and Canon mount lenses work with Sigma’s MC-11 Sony E-mount converter. The Nikon mounts feature the brand new electromagnetic diaphragm.

Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens Features and Benefits:

> Sharp, rich image quality

  • Minimized chromatic aberrations: Three FLD (“F” Low Dispersion) glass elements and four SLD (Super Low Dispersion) glass elements help reduce transverse chromatic aberration, which tends to be noticeable in shots taken with ultra wide-angle lenses. The result is outstanding image quality from the center of the image to the edges.
  • Distinctive bokeh effect: Even at the 14mm ultra wide-angle of view, F1.8 brightness makes possible a very shallow depth of field with the subject standing out dramatically against a pleasingly softened background. It’s the unique mode of expression that only a large-diameter lens can deliver.
  • Minimized distortion: Serving as the front lens element, the large 80mm precision-molded glass aspherical lens effectively minimizes distortion. Offering excellent peripheral brightness, this lens delivers outstanding image quality from the center to the edges.

> Offers full-frame coverage

Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG HSM OS Art Lens Features and Benefits:

> Superior optical performance

  • Optimal image quality for ultra-high-megapixel DSLRs: This lens offers top performance from the center to the edges of the image thanks to the optical system minimizing coma, which causes points of light to streak, and transverse chromatic aberration, which cannot be corrected via aperture control. The optical system also minimizes distortion, which can be particularly evident in wide-angle shots, resulting in excellent optical performance throughout the zoom range.
  • Expressive bokeh effect every time: At wide-open aperture, this lens offers outstanding photographic expression. The area in focus is extremely sharp, while the background exhibits a beautiful, creamy bokeh effect with only slight spherical aberration. Since large-diameter zoom lenses are often used at wide-open aperture, Sigma has paid close attention to the shape of the bokeh, aiming for artistic circularity.
  • Aspherical Lens Processing Technology: The Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art incorporates an aspherical lens element that helps achieve extremely high resolution. This element is much thicker at the center than the edges, and forming its unusual shape is a feat of manufacturing technology. Moreover, Sigma processes the surface of this aspherical lens element with ultra-precise tolerances that are measured in hundredths of a micrometer. This extremely fine surface allows the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art to deliver a very natural and smooth bokeh effect, without the visible concentric rings that afflict typical aspherical lens elements.

> Fast and nimble autofocus photography

  • Designed for advanced utility in a wide variety of situations, the optical stabilizer (OS) offers a powerful stabilization effect. The newly designed large hypersonic motor (HSM) offers 1.3 times the torque of its predecessor for exceptionally stable performance.

Sigma Global Vision Line Features & Benefits:

  • Each lens is eligible for user customizable micro-focus and in-home firmware updates with the optional USB Dock and Sigma Optimization Pro software.
  • Each unit is crafted in Aizu, Japan and individually tested for QC and optical performance with the exclusive A1 MTF device.
  • Sigma’s Exclusive Mount Conversion Service allows lenses to be switched between any released mounts (fee-based).
  • Compatible with Sigma Mount Converter MC-11, allowing use of Sigma lenses in Sigma and Canon mounts with the Sony E-mount camera systems.

*As of February 2017


Getting the shot: macro photos of paint and water that look like CGI

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

Vibrant colors of acrylic paint billow into clouds inside a water tank. © Photo by Alberto Seveso

Illustrator and photographer Alberto Seveso's paint photography is out of this world. His images – macro photos of billowing clouds of color – look like they were generated by an animation program. But as he tells DPReview, it's all very real.

The process itself, says Seveso, is quite easy: just pour varnish or acrylic colors into a water tank and take a burst of photos. Understanding exactly how to do that – what light you need, what works, and just as importantly, what doesn't work – is the time-consuming part.

'I spent a lot of time building all the stuff I use to shoot varnish into the water, and it’s still a work in progress,' Seveso tells DPReview. 'It’s very important to find the right light and, the hardest part, find the perfect mix between varnish and water and the way to pour this mix into the tank... not too fast not too slow.'

For his pictures, he uses either a Canon EOS 60D or Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon EF-S 60mm F2.8 macro lens attached. The tank is lit by either fluorescent light (personal projects) or higher quality tungsten Fresnel lights (for commercial assignments), two on either side of the tank, placed in front of either a black background or a softbox if he's shooting on white.

You can see the setup for yourself in the BTS shots below:

And here is a video Sony made to show off Seveso's paint work (and sell some phones and tablets while they're at it):

Seveso says he was inspired to create this kind of photography in 2009, when he saw 'something similar but classic,' probably ink drops in water.

'I realized there was more to explore, different materials to mix, so I started to experiment with different kinds of liquid like acrylic colors, different types of oils, sparkling water, gels, metallic colors, ice, food coloring, and other things,' he says. 'Over the years, I've tried to develop a personal approach to this technique, developing the project in a very personal way and trying to focus on the details.'

Translation: macro photography.

These close-up, colorful photographs have become Seveso's calling card. And what a gorgeous calling card they are.

Before we let Alberto go, we asked him one more question. Does he have any advice or tips for people who would like to try this kind of paint photography for themselves?

His answer?

'Practice,' he told us emphatically. 'It takes a lot of practice to understand the exact mix between liquids to get separate colors, details and color filaments - this is perhaps the hardest part.'

To see more of Alberto's work, visit his website or follow him on Behance, Facebook, and Instagram.


Facebook testing ‘profile picture guard’ feature that prevents sleazy photo theft

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

Facebook's new 'Profile Picture Guard' feature makes your profile photos much harder to steal. Photo courtesy of Facebook

Photo theft is a big problem on Facebook, and the social network is finally doing a little something to combat it. Starting with its users in India, the Silicon Valley company is testing a feature called 'Profile Picture Guard,' which prevents other people from saving or even taking a screenshot of your profile pic.

As the headline suggests, Profile Picture Guard is still in the testing phase. In fact, it's currently only available to users in India, the country that Facebook says inspired the feature.

'In our research with people and safety organizations in India, we’ve heard that some women choose not to share profile pictures that include their faces anywhere on the internet because they're concerned about what may happen to their photos,' explains Facebook. So they designed a little peace of mind.

Here's a look at how it works:

As you can see, the feature works in four ways. (1) It prevents people from saving, sharing, or (Android only for now) taking a screenshot of your photo. (2) It allows only you and your Facebook friends to tag the photo. (3) It adds a blue border and shield icon to your photo, indicating it's 'protected.' And (4) if you so choose, you can overlay a watermark design across the entire shot.

Combine all 4 deterrents, and its far less likely you'll find your profile pic on some random website. How much less likely? Facebook did some testing:

'Based on preliminary tests, we’ve learned that when someone adds an extra design layer to their profile picture, other people are at least 75% less likely to copy that picture.'

Facebook 'hopes' to expand the feature to other countries soon. For our part, we hope they expand its scope even sooner. Protecting your profile picture from saving, sharing, and screenshots is a great first step; however, for the photographers out there, this kind of universal feature for all of their photos at once – or perhaps available for individual albums – would be a game-changer.

The ease with which photo thieves can filch photos off of social media sites like Facebook is one of the main reasons photographers choose to stay away. Profile Picture Guard is a small step in the right direction; a broader Picture Guard would be a giant leap.


Now we know: Sony a9 is sharper than we thought

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

To make a long story short, we've re-shot our studio scene shots of the Sony a9 with the FE 85/1.8 lens, and they're much sharper. We apologize for misleading any of our readers, but it's a long story - see below. To jump to the images, just click the button, but we do encourage you to read the full text as well.

The Long Story

You may have noted on the studio scene page of our Sony a9 review that we admitted to having quite a bit of difficulty focusing the camera with the new Sony 85mm F1.8 lens in magnified live view. The maximum magnification (x9.4) on the camera LCD made it very difficult to fine tune the 85/1.8 precisely. Multiple AF-S attempts yielded shots varying slightly in sharpness, but this is not unique by any means to the a9: all cameras exhibit some tolerance when it comes to critical focus of a flat chart (which is why we always manually focus). The only way to check focus on each shot was to shoot tethered and check each shot magnified on a monitor. Of course, every time we thought we'd nailed focus, we'd try nudging the camera or focus ring just a bit to make sure we couldn't do any better, and then realize we'd fallen off a bit.

And so the search began again and again, with the quest for perfect focus ending up a bit of a fool's errand. We finally tuned focus to what we thought was reasonable (we look for maximum aliasing in the central Siemens stars, and color aliasing in the text), and shot our entire studio and dynamic range tests.

Subsequently, we got lots of complaints about the a9 being soft.

The Lens Factor

Was it the lens? This is the first Sony FE camera we've shot without the stellar Zeiss 55mm F1.8. We've had a long-standing policy of shooting with an on-brand 85mm equivalent lens per-system, to maintain equal distance from camera to target, something that allows for all images to be rendered with equal perspective. With Sony's recent release of the razor sharp FE 85/1.8, we thought we'd stick to our policy and give it a try.

But we don't blindly switch lenses for a system; we first verify:

  1. The new lens is at least as sharp as the previous one.
  2. The lens transmission (also accounting for the aperture at F5.6) is not so different as to affect noise comparisons.

Our initial testing showed equivalent sharpness between the 55 and 85mm F1.8 lenses on even a high-resolution a7R II (see below). Furthermore, DXO verified similar levels of sharpness between the 85 and 55 F1.8 lenses (which both perform better than Sony's 85/1.4 GM, surprisingly). And while we don't have a way of directly measuring lens transmission, we measured signal:noise ratio of a few grey patches in our scene with the two lenses on the same camera body, and found them to be within 1/6 to 1/10 EV of one another. That meant the new lens would not make the a9 look better, or worse, in Raw noise comparisons compared to if we were to use the Zeiss 55mm F1.8 at F5.6.

Sony 85mm F1.8 at F5.6 (left) vs. Sony 55mm F1.8 at F5.6 (right). Shot on a7R II

Some Friendly Help

While plowing ahead with other aspects of the review, a message from forum expert Jack Hogan turned up in my inbox showing this:

Long-time forum member and all-round expert Jack Hogan did a quick MTF analysis per color channel based off of the slanted edges in our scene. Uh-oh. Looks like the red channel is focused better than the green channel, yielding a calculated MTF50 of only 945 line pairs per picture height (equiv. to a 5.4MP image if weighting sharpness, or MTF50).

Importantly, the green channel should have the highest MTF.

It was now clear that focus was the underlying issue with our studio shots. Not a bad lens. Not a strong anti-aliasing filter. But simply the fact that the lens was not optimally focused: if it were, the green channel would have the highest MTF.

So we sat down one day and spent the entire day shooting many, many runs of our studio scene, slowly moving a macro rail (rather than coursely adjust focus on the lens) between each run. From these shots, we picked the (centrally) sharpest runs. While our copy of the 85/1.8 appears slightly decentered (the left is softer than the right), the results now are much more in line with where things should be:

Jack Hogan re-analyzed some of our new studio shots of the a9, and the green and blue channels now have the highest MTF, not the red channel. The calculated MTF50 of 1125 lp/ph (equiv. to a 7.6MP image if weighting sharpness, or MTF50), which is a 19% increase in linear resolution over our previous results.

A side benefit of analyzing properly focused shots is an ability to estimate the strength of the anti-aliasing filter, which appears to kick in around 0.744 cycles per pixel (the first minimum in the MTF curve). For comparison, the D5's anti-aliasing filter kicks in around 0.748 cycles per pixel according to Jack's analysis of our studio scene shots. Meaning the a9's AA filter is fairly typical.

Have a look at our updated images, and our updated image quality analysis based off of our new results:

Editor's note:

As camera sensor and lens resolutions are becoming astronomically high, tiny little differences become visible in pixel-peeping. And that's precisely what our studio scene allows you to do.

Our studio scene isn't perfect, but it can be helpful. It has its caveats though. For example, because we don't control for lens transmission from brand-to-brand, or any shutter speed inaccuracies, we state that noise comparisons are only accurate to within 1/3 EV. Trying to extrapolate differences smaller than that from high ISO shots of our studio scene is meaningless: margins of error are real.

The same goes for sharpness. The reality of lenses and mounts is that there is copy variation - in both. Therefore, we urge you to make sharpness comparisons largely from the center of the scene, which removes the lens (as much as it can anyway) from the equation. The rest of the scene is useful for assessing color, detail retention and noise at high ISO in JPEG and Raw, respectively, and other subjective attributes. And keep in mind common sense things: the lock of hair is well above the plane of optimal focus, and different lenses can have field curvature which either helps or hurts the sharpness of this lock. It's important to keep these sorts of things in mind when pixel-peeping our scene.

This time, with the a9, we take full responsibility for a non-optimally-focused set of shots. But the process has also been a learning experience for us: depending on a lens' electromechanical coupling and the magnification of the live feed, it can be extremely difficult to take test shots that stand-up to the level of scrutiny our image comparison tool demands. And there are the practical issues mentioned above around taking one shot, checking it, and repeating the process - returning to the position of optimal focus is nearly impossible. The results of visually checking which shot is sharpest can even vary from tester to tester. I can assure you though: we are constantly working on methods to improve these processes.

That said, it's important to keep things in perspective: in the real world it's unlikely you'd have seen the sharpness 'issues' we had with our initial a9 run (that otherwise appeared so drastic in our studio scene). Why? Because (1) you don't typically view images at 100%, (2) there will at least be a plane of maximum sharpness (which in our case, unfortunately wasn't our studio scene on our first run), and (3) your lens and shooting aperture will have far more impact on subject sharpness than which 24 MP sensor was used to shoot it.

To our readers: we offer our sincere apologies, and wish you happy shooting!


Europeana Photography launches 1914 – 1918 thematic collection

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

Military band, Lorraine 1915, unknown photographer, Max Kranz/Europeana

Europeana Photography, the online image archive that includes more than 2 million historical photographs from European collections in 34 countries, is launching the new Europeana 1914-1918 thematic collection, covering World War I.

The collection will be officially launched during the Europeana Transcribathon Campus Berlin 2017 which will be held on 22 and 23 June at the Berlin State Library. At the event teams from three generations and several European countries will compete to digitally transcribe as many World War One documents as possible, and link them to other historical sources such as early 20th century newspapers. Transcribathons are crowdsourcing events and gather people from across Europe and online to create digital versions of handwritten items. Since their launch in November 2016, several million characters and 12,000 documents, from love letters to poems, have been transcribed.

Frank Drauschke, of Europeana 1914-1918 project team says: “Most sources on Europeana 1914-1918 are written by hand, and often hard to decipher. Transcribathon aims to help us ‘polish’ a raw diamond by this making private memorabilia readable online. We utilise the power of our community to transcribe as many private stories and documents from diverse languages and regions of Europe and make them available to the public.”


OnePlus 5 2x tele camera uses 1.6x optical in combination with digital zoom

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

When we shot our sample images with the brand new OnePlus 5 we noticed that the dual-camera's 2x tele-module did not quite deliver the pixel-level image quality you would expect from the 20MP Sony IMX350 sensor. Images showed low levels of fine detail and looked as if they had been upscaled which would point towards some form of digital zoom implementation.

This has now been confirmed by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei in a tweet. He clarified that the second lens on the back uses a 1.6x optical zoom and that digital zoom is used to reach the claimed 2x zoom factor. The cropped image is then upscaled to achieve the specified 20MP image size.

The company says it is using its SmartCapture multi-frame technology to make the zoom "lossless" but arguably not everybody would agree with this term. Exif viewers show the focal length of the wide-angle and tele lenses to be 24mm and 36mm equivalent respectively which would mean a 1.5x zoom factor. However, there is a chance Exif isn't taking the SmartCapture portion of the zoom into account.

Some other dual-cam implementations we have seen, for example on the iPhone 7 Plus are using a 2x optical zoom with a smaller sensor than the main camera. It appears OnePlus opted for the same 1/2.8" sensor size in both cameras. An optical 2x lens would probably have required a thicker body or noticeable camera bump.


Hands-on with the Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

The Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cinema lens is the second in Fujifilm's new line of MK lenses designed for Super 35 and APS-C cameras. MK lenses are designed to appeal to the emerging production market, offering features and quality typically associated with more expensive cinema lenses at a price point that's attractive to budget-conscious cinematographers. The MK lenses are based on Fujifilm's excellent Cabrio line of cinema lenses (which cost $15K and up), and share the same coatings as well as a similar mechanical build, but at a cost just under $4,000 they're more accessible to a lot of users.

I reviewed the first MK lens, the MK18-55mm T2.9, a few months ago and really liked it. Since the two lenses are designed to work as a set, they're basically indistinguishable except for focal length, so if you want to read my detailed thoughts on how the MK lenses perform I recommend reading my earlier review, which for all practical purposes applies to both lenses.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

If you're not yet familiar with the MK cine lenses, you may be surprised to learn that they use Sony E-mount. Why? Fujifilm wants to address the growing market of independent filmmakers, small production houses, and other professionals who use the Super 35 and APS-C formats. Sony has a huge presence in this market thanks to cameras like the FS7, FS5, and even a-series mirrorless, and many users of these cameras adapt other lenses, such as Canon EF-mount, to their cameras.

What about Fujifilm's own mirrorless cameras? The company has announced plans to release MK lenses in X-mount later this year so that Fujifilm shooters can take advantage of them as well.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

When I tested the MK18-55mm lens earlier this year, I did so with a Sony FS7, a Super 35mm camera mounted on a shoulder rig with rails, a follow focus, and an accessory EVF. However, Fujifilm emphasizes that the MK lenses are also designed for use on similarly sized APS-C sensors, so this time I decided to go that route. Unfortunately, during our short window of time with the lens I didn't have access to a rig for a full setup, so I was limited to basic tripod and handheld use.

When mounted the Sony a6500, it's easy to see how large the MK50-135mm is compared to the diminutive camera. While it's technically possible to shoot this combination handheld, it's not terribly practical thanks to its large size and all mechanical controls.

The great news is that the video I captured looked beautiful, and the lens appears to deliver the same quality that we saw on the MK18-55mm.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

I also tried using the MK50-135mm with the full frame Sony a7R II in Super 35mm mode. The size mismatch is a bit less obvious than with the a6500, however it's no more practical for shooting handheld. That's not necessarily a bad thing – chances are good that if you're considering this type of lens, you're planning to rig it in some way.

In fact, this lens works very well with both the a6500 and a7R II (in Super 35 mode), and would be a great lens to pair with either of them. With a basic set of rails and a follow focus, the setup would work just as effectively as with a dedicated video camera.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

One of the reasons for using cinema lenses is that they often come in matched sets, and this is the case with the MK lenses. The MK18-55mm and MK50-135mm are physically identical, including T2.9 iris, gearing, dimensions, and even weight (right down to the gram). They're also matched optically, meaning they can be interchanged seamlessly without changing the look of the resulting footage.

Why are matched lenses important? In a cine setup the lens is often mounted on rails, and likely has attachments such as a follow focus or matte box. Ideally, you don't want to have to readjust every accessory each time you change lenses, and having physically matched lenses means you can swap them in and out very quickly without needing to readjust everything. The MK lenses are so similar that I would have a difficult time telling them apart without seeing the zoom range printed on the lens barrel.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

When it comes to build quality, the MK50-135mm is very solid thanks to its all metal construction. As with most cinema lenses, it's completely mechanical, and every movement feels well damped. It's a pleasure to use and gives one the sense of using a high quality piece of precision equipment.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

One thing that sets the MK50-135mm apart from most still photo lenses is the large 200 degree focus rotation angle. This offers a lot more precision than you'll get with the shorter focus throw of a DSLR lens, or the unpredictability of focus-by-wire, so it's easy to make very fine adjustments as your subject moves. The lens includes very precise distance marks, in both English and metric units. This is particularly helpful if you have a separate focus puller who is following the action in a blocked scene.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

The MK50-135mm also has a parfocal design, meaning it can maintain precise focus while adjusting the focal length. As still photographers, we don't usually worry about this capability since it's easy to refocus after zooming. In contrast, when shooting video you may actually intend to zoom while recording, and you want to maintain focus on your subject through the entire transition. Losing focus during a zoom can ruin the shot.

I was really impressed with the parfocal performance on the first MK lens, and the MK50-135mm performed to the same standard.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

Another common property of cinema lenses is that they resist breathing, a phenomena that causes the lens's field of view to change slightly when focus is adjusted. This becomes particularly important when you're doing something like racking focus between two subjects; you don't want the field of view of the scene to change when you do this as it can be very distracting. The MK50-135mm suppresses lens breathing very effectively, which is not surprising given that the MK18-55mm did so as well.

Hands-on: Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

Based on a couple days of use, I really like the Fujinon MK50-135mm lens, which – not surprisingly – is the same conclusion I came to after testing the MK18-55mm version. They're both beautiful pieces of equipment that are a joy to use, and which deliver excellent results. The fact that there are now two of them spanning the entire 18-135mm range makes me want the set even more. If you're a videographer using an E-mount camera, it's really tough to go wrong with these lenses.

The MK lenses should also appeal to Fujifilm X-mount users. In particular, we found the Fujifilm X-T2 to be a credible 4K video camera, especially since it's capable of outputting F-Log gamma over its HDMI port. We don't yet know the exact release date for the X-mount versions, but Fujifilm tells us it will be later this year, and we saw prototypes at NAB in April.

The MK50-135mm T2.9 will be available in E-mount in mid-July for a price of $3,999, which is just slightly higher than the $3,799 MK18-55mm.


Hot mess: Remembering the Leica M8

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

The M8 was Leica's first digital rangefinder. Smooth, sleek, but distinctly rough around the edges, it nevertheless laid down the basic pattern for the cameras that came after it, while remaining true to its film roots.

I share an anniversary with the Leica M8 - sort of. The M8 was announced in the same week that I started my career as a camera reviewer - September 2006. We were both very green, both a little unsteady on our feet and both decidedly unpolished.

Up to that point, Leica's experiments with digital had been unconvincing. The clunky Digital Modul R was emblematic of the company's lack of confidence when it came to digital. Designed to clip onto the back of R8 and R9 film SLR bodies and in effect convert them into digital cameras, the Digital Modul R was a good idea but a bad product. It took two years to actually ship, and when it did, it was extremely pricey, costing more than $5000 (and that's without a camera body on which to mount it).

In the mid 2000s, whether or not Leica would ever bother to risk an digital M-series rangefinder was still an open question. After the much-maligned M51, Leica's approach to upgrading the M-series in subsequent decades might charitably be described as 'conservative.'

When it finally arrived, the M8 was a mixture of new technology and traditional rangefinder operation. It featured a 10MP APS-H format CCD sensor, a decent-ish LCD screen and a modern-ish menu system, but it retained the pure rangefinder focusing system and (by and large) the same ergonomics as previous M-series film bodies. And it was not, as Leica's representatives were at pains to point out, definitely not intended to replace the M7.

Compared to Leica's long-serving flagship film rangefinder (M7, left) the M8 was slightly bigger, heavier and noticeably cleaner in terms of design, thanks to the omission of the film wind and rewind levers.

For a lot of people, rangefinder shooting is a pain, but if you love it, you love it. While the rangefindery parts of the M8 were for the most part nice and mature, Leica was new to digital, and it showed. The first M8 I used personally, in late 2006, was a buggy mess. Its frame counter was basically just a random number generator, and its battery level indicator wasn't much better. It also crashed frequently, and had a nasty habit of getting worryingly hot when it was turned off and placed inside a camera bag. These days, Sony trolls like to shout and scream about the a7-series overheating, but you could have fried an egg on thatt M8.2

And then there was the shutter. Leica's M-series film bodies have rubberized cloth shutters which operate with an almost apologetically quiet 'snick' sound. I still shoot with an even older IIIC from time to time and unless you're standing right next to the camera, its shutter is almost inaudible. By comparison, the M8's shutter fired with a loud whirring 'ker-cloink' which I could never quite get used to. Very un Leica-like.

Not a great picture, but a good illustration of the M8's ability to render detail. The lack of an AA filter meant that pixel-level output at low ISO sensitivity settings was very crisp.

Another thing I struggled to get used to was the M8's 1.33X crop. When you look through the viewfinder of a crop-sensor DSLR, the increase in magnification is effectively invisible. You don't need to mentally convert the field-of-view of an 18mm lens to 28mm equivalent in order to frame your shot accurately, because what you see through the finder is what you get.

Things aren't so simple with a rangefinder. In a rangefinder, framing is approximate to begin with, and the limits of the frame are indicated by bright lines in the finder, which change depending on the lens you have mounted. Adding a crop factor makes things even more complicated.

Since the 1980s, there have typically been three sets of framelines built in to Leica's rangefinders, which change to show indicators for pairs of focal lengths: 28mm and 90mm, 35mm and 135mm and 50mm and 75mm, depending on the lens you have mounted. Simple, right?

A rough illustration of the scene through an M8's viewfinder with a 35mm lens attached. The inner framelines represent the approximate coverage of the 35mm lens (~50mm equivalent on the cropped-sensor M8) and the outer framelines represent 24mm (~30mm equivalent).

Almost all of Leica's film rangefinders since the 1960s have featured 0.72X magnification finders, which are well-suited to shooting at the 35mm focal length, with 28mm lines (where present) indicated at the extremes of the finder. Of course on an M8, 35mm = 46mm, so Leica had to change the framelines.

But but this is where it gets confusing, because the magnification of the M8's viewfinder was actually reduced compared to film (i.e., full-frame) cameras, to compensate for the increase in effective focal lengths resulting from the cropped sensor.3 When you attach a 35mm lens, you see framelines covering ~50mm and ~30mm equivalent fields of view. That's all well and good, but of course rather than the 35mm lens field-of-view being represented by the outer set of lines, as would be the case on a non-cropped film body, they're the inner set of framelines because of the crop. The outer set of lines is actually for 24mm and the two sets are pretty close together in the finder (see illustration above).

The end result is that with a 24mm or 35mm lens attached, the view through the M8's finder looks a bit like a deconstructed zebra crossing. Faced with unfamiliar framelines, some experienced M-series users also found themselves second-guessing their effective focal lengths quite a lot when first using the camera. The M8's framelines were optimized for accuracy at 0.7m, becoming increasingly inaccurate beyond that, which didn't help matters either.

One of the weirder features of the M8 (and subsequent digital rangefinders) is the design of its memory card / battery compartment. Like the older film models, the entire baseplate must be removed if you want to swap either the battery or memory card. Sure - why not?

Let's assume though that you've familiarized yourself with the unique framelines, you've grown used to the grey-on-black-on-grey menu system, you don't mind removing the entire base of the camera to swap batteries and your M8 isn't one of the ones that self-immolates. What kind of pictures can it produce? Really nice ones, actually - on the whole.

Although there were definitely better sensors on the market in 2006, the M8 was reasonably competitive in terms of detail and noise levels at low / medium ISO sensitivities, and the lack of an anti-aliasing filter means that images are really, really sharp. Auto white balance has never been a Leica strength, and JPEGs from the M8 tended to look a bit murky, but it was easy enough to get acceptable results from converted Raw files.

Leica M8 Review Samples

36 images • Posted on Jul 31, 2007 • View album
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As far as image quality was concerned, there was one major gotcha though, which inexplicably made it past Leica's experten: infra-red sensitivity. Too much of it, to be specific. The M8 was very sensitive to IR light, which isn't major issue most of the time, but when it's a problem, it can be a real show-stopper. As reviewers found out, you'll mostly see it when shooting green foliage (which sometimes comes out looking too yellow) and black manmade fabrics (which often come out looking distinctly magenta).

Leica's solution - shipping two screw-in IR filters to all M8 owners for free - was really more of a goodwill gesture, and wasn't until the introduction of the M8.2, in 2008, that the problem was actually solved.

The M8.2 also introduced a quieter shutter, a more discreet black dot, a nicer body covering (the fluffy plastic finish of the M8 was cheap-feeling and icky), more accurate framelines and a badly-needed scratch-resistant coating on the rear LCD.

Partly because it was so quickly superseded, second-hand M8s can be picked up relatively cheaply these days, at least by the admittedly insane standards of previously-owned Leica digital rangefinders. But if you're really curious about trying one, my advice would be to save a little extra and grab yourself an M8.2 instead.

Read about Leica's current flagship digital rangefinder, the M10

1. The M5 was a highly advanced and eminently practical camera when it was released in 1971, but an utter commercial failure, and is widely (and probably unfairly) talked about as The Camera That Almost Ruined Leica.

At any rate, the M5 served as an early lesson (it would not be the last) to Leica's product planners that while a lot of photographers might balk at weird film loading, external light metering, limited close focus capability and eye-wateringly high pricing, just about the only thing that Leicaphiles won't put up with is change.

2. Author is a professional exaggerator. Do not attempt.

3. This might sound odd, but makes complete sense. Effective focal lengths are increased by the sensor's crop, so Leica reduced the magnification of the M8's finder because inevitably, M8 users would be mounting wider lenses to achieve similar fields of view to the 'classic' 28/35/50 primes. Hence the addition of 24mm framelines which actually show a 30mm field-of-view (etc.).


Meeting Owl robotic video offers 360-degree views of conferences

Filed Under News: Digital Photography Review

Owl Labs, a startup backed by Android co-founder Andy Rubin, has launched a new camera called the Meeting Owl. This 360-degree camera is designed specifically for companies and groups, enabling them to hold video conferences without the burden of manually operating the cameras. The Owl does the hard work itself, automatically focusing the video feed on the person who is talking. Oh, and guess what it looks like? Yep, an adorable, productivity-increasing owl.

The device features a 360-degree camera on the top of its cylindrical body, as well as a total of 8 omnidirectional beam-forming microphones for capturing audio from all directions. The combination of the two enables Owl to capture everyone around a table at the same time, presenting viewers with a full view of the conference room. The camera shifts focus onto whomever is speaking, and presents split-views if multiple people are engaging in a conversation. The microphones isolate important noise from unwanted ambient sounds.

Owl Labs has designed its conferencing camera to work with major video conferencing platforms, including Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and GoToMeeting; the camera is plug-and-play via a USB cable. According to the company's website, 'limited quantities' of the Meeting Owl are available at this time, with shipping starting within the next four weeks. The camera is priced at $799.

Via: The Verge