street 218: The Olympus XA

 

street 218

This was shot using an Olympus XA, which I picked up in a moment of Ebay-madness for a mere £60. This really tiny 35mm camera, made between 1978 and 1985, somehow manages to contain a roll of full-frame film (in this case Tri-X 400).

Despite it’s size the XA is a fully functional rangefinder, though it’s easy to zone-focus if required. Exposure is semi-automatic, offering aperture priority as the only option. I’ve found this to be more than adequate for me, and the metering seems to be spot-on, but there’s always the option of taking more control by adjusting the ISO speed setting. The shutter is a near-silent leaf shutter with ultra-light release, which certainly keeps camera shake to a minimum. The miniature lens is actually pretty high-quality with reasonable sharpness and contrast. Aperture is from F2.8 to F22.

All of this makes it just about the perfect street camera. It’s a triumph of design, both functionally and aesthetically, and is joy to shoot with.

Interestingly the XA only has a couple of aperture blades so the aperture is nearly square. It’s not exactly designed for beautiful bokeh then, but that’s hardly a reasonable expectation of this sort of camera.

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Having said all that, and despite the fun I’d had shooting with it, when I sat down to scan the first test roll I’d pretty much decided that I would sell the XA. Why, I thought, would I want to go through the rigmarole and expense of developing and scanning 35mm film? Why should I bother with all this process when the results would be virtually indistinguishable from digital? Medium format is one thing – but a compact 35mm camera – it didn’t seem worth the effort.

What a surprise I was in for!

Firstly I was amazed to find that scanning a 36-exposure roll of 35mm film was much easier than 12 medium format frames. This is because I can load two strips of 35mm film, with six frames each, simultaneously into the film-holder. The Epson Scan software then automatically recognises the individual shots and scans them into separate files without any further intervention being required. Why it doesn’t do this for medium format is beyond me. The whole process is quick and easy.

Secondly, I’d expected dust to be more of a problem with 35 mm. I figured, due to the smaller area, that whatever dust there was would be far more damaging to the image and harder to clone away. This does not seem to be the case.

The real surprise however came when I looked at the scans. It was obvious, even after being digitised, that 35mm film does have a visible special quality that is very different to digital sensors. It’s hard to define but there’s a better gradation of tone and a different handling of the highlights. It’s both more grainy but paradoxically, somehow more smooth. It’s perhaps debatable how much of this special quality is left once the files are are compressed and then viewed over the internet on tiny smartphone screens, but I can see it when I’m working on the files – and that matters.

Of course this could be a case of confirmation bias, where because I know it’s film I fool myself that I’m seeing something that in actuality isn’t there… but I’m clearly not the only one who catches something going on with film, even after scanning.

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To be honest I think I was hoping that I wouldn’t see a difference, that I could simply return to the convenience of using digital cameras for most of my work (with just the occasional medium-format roll or two when the mood takes me). Instead, on the basis of what came out of the Olympus XA today, it obviously isn’t going to be that simple. Even in smaller formats film is getting its claws into me.

Saul Leiter published by Kehrer Verlag

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Saul Leiter is currently a serious challenger to Ray Metzker for the position of my all-time favourite photographer. He was a real artist whose colour street work was relatively unknown during his lifetime.

He used colour in the most beautiful, painterly manner and his photographs often give the impression of a carefully controlled palette. His unusual, strong compositions are precise and delicate abstractions. He would often shoot through glass to render the image indistinct and frequently made impressive use of the spatial compression that longer lenses create.

He was simply an astonishing photographer and by all accounts a humble and lovely man.

A large number of the photography books that interest me cost many hundreds of pounds, despite being only a few years old, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a superb hardback overview of Saul Leiter’s entire career published by Kehrer Verlag.

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I paid just £31 for it brand new. Go get a copy before it costs £900!

The printing is good quality, the colours are great and there are numerous essays. There are even some smaller page inserts with reproductions of some of Leiter’s paintings.

I’d be over the moon if I took just one or two shots that are as good as some of the photos in this book.

You can see some of Leiter’s work on the Gallery51 website.

There is a recent documentary about him available on dvd here.
 
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The Ricoh GR

IMG_20141130_131335_1As a quick glance at my recent photographs will show, I’ve lately been shooting a lot with the Ricoh GR. It’s a wonderful camera and I’ve found it very inspiring. In fact it’s reminded me how much fun photography can be. I’ve rediscovered the sheer joy of simply shooting anything that catches my eye.

The following is not a review… it’s more a collection of my thoughts after a couple of months of extensive use.

The GR is the latest in a long line of compacts, stretching back to the Ricoh GR1 released in 1996. They are loved by street photographers and have been used by none other than Daido Moriyama.

My Ricoh, the one in the pictures here, is the limited edition version. For what it’s worth I didn’t buy it because of it’s limited status, nor because of it’s rather odd (but not unpleasant) greenish colour, but simply because it came with the GH-3 adaptor, a hood and a leather case for a very good used price.

The Ricoh GR is tiny and very lightweight but, unlike earlier GR models, it has a relatively large APS-C sensor squeezed into it’s diminutive body. It also has no anti-aliasing filter. It’s therefore no surprise that the image quality is superb.

The lens is a fixed 28mm equivalent which is gorgeous and really sharp across the whole of the frame. The widest aperture is f2.8. Some photographers will be put off by the fixed lens but it’s perfect for me because I only shoot prime lenses. I honestly think that the discipline and involvement in the shot that prime lenses require leads to better photography. Of course, even now in the age of computer designed lenses a good prime is still likely to be of superior quality to a zoom. Others may be put off by the rather wide 28mm field of view. I might initially have preferred a 35mm for street photography, but I’m learning to like the extra width and for landscapes 28mm is a real advantage.

Perhaps the most special feature of the Ricoh GR is the snap focus. This allows the focus distance to be set at 1m, 1.5m, 2m, 2.5m, 5m or infinity. With a 28mm lens this makes zone-focusing really easy. The infinity setting is also extremely useful, especially at night when auto-focus struggles. It’s always mystified me why a lot of cameras and lenses, even high-end ones, often leave the photographer stuck with no distance markings nor depth of field indicators on displays. This makes zone-focusing pretty much impossible. Even finding infinity can be problematic. Not so with the GR. But that’s not all… the Ricoh GR allows you to have the best of both worlds. You can set it up so that if you half press the shutter you’ll get auto-focus but if you quickly give the shutter a full press it will shoot instantly at the current snap focus distance. This is such an obviously useful feature that it should be available on all cameras.

In case this is not clear to all readers, zone focus is not some old-school, purist, out-dated technique. It is almost essential for any shooting situation where time is extremely short, such as street photography. Even the fastest auto-focus systems are still sometimes too slow to capture fleeting events but even if they were instantaneous, or you spray and pray on continuous, there is still the frequent problem of them focusing on the wrong thing.

Obviously one of the main attractions of the GR for street photography is stealth. It’s so small that in many situations it’s virtually invisible, but even when spotted it looks like a tourist point-and-shoot. This is very much in contrast to cameras such as the Fuji X-100,  Olympus OM-D and Panasonic GX7 which rather draw attention to themselves and their owner.

The Ricoh GR is one of the most customisable cameras I have ever come across. Just about every function can be assigned to every control, and all of these settings can be recalled via the ‘MY’ settings on the mode dial. Even the focus distance can be recalled.

There is a special TAv mode where you can set shutter speed and aperture and let the camera choose ISO. Perfect! This is somewhat compromised by the inability to set a limit on how high ISO can go but it’s still very useful in a number of situations.

IMG_20141130_131407_1The controls are abundant and the main shooting controls are placed so that the GR can be shot with one hand. There is a mode dial, a control dial on the top, a jog controller on the back, a four-way controller, a host of other buttons and even an AEL/AFL – C-FA button. This really is a photographer’s compact.

It’s not just street photographers that are catered for however: there’s a level and tilt gauge, built in 2-stop ND filter, interval timer, multi-exposure mode, auto-bracket and a host of other features. There’s even a pop-up built-in flash.

Want to sync flash at 1/2000 sec? The leaf shutter in the GR makes that possible.

IMG_20141130_131425_1Another example of the thought that has gone into the design of this camera is the fact that although there is a bulb mode, there are shutter speeds of 60 secs, 120 secs, 240 secs, and 300 secs. It’s so obvious when you think about it. Why should long exposure necessarily require a remote control?

There is an adaptor, the GH-3, which allows for the use of filters and a hood. The camera is somewhat prone to flare so the hood is important in bright sunlight. The GH-3 is unfortunately made of plastic – but you can’t have everything. In addition there is a wide-angle converter lens, the GW-3, which turns the 28m equivalent lens into a 21mm equivalent. There is remarkably little loss of image quality when using the GW-3 and there is negligable distortion, even in the corners. It is however rather large and the GR can no longer be described as “compact” when it is attached. It’s great to have the wide-angle option though.

IMG_20141130_131542_1There are a few downsides of course, nothing in life is perfect after all:

(1) This is the big one. There is no viewfinder. This is why I ignored the Ricoh GR for so long. It’s only when I developed a lot more experience with various current cameras that I realised what the GR had to offer. The LCD on the GR is actually very good, even in quite bright light, so it’s not too much of a problem. It also helped that I already own a Voigtlander 28mm optical viewfinder. Sadly the frame-lines of the Voigtlander are way-off when it’s used on the GR, in fact the entire field of view more closely approximates what the image will look like, but it works well enough if I really feel the need.

(2) The display screen does not tilt. This is likely due to size constraints. It’s not a big deal but could be annoying if the camera is low down on a portable tripod.

(3) You will get moiré in some images. Without the blurring effect of an anti-aliasing filter some repeating patterns, in buildings and fabrics especially, will interact with the regular grid on the sensor and result in a nasty interference pattern in the image. The colour swirls of moiré can be removed in post with some effort, but the patterns of lights and darks are very hard to get rid of. I’ve not yet had much problem with moiré but it’s inevitable sooner or later. I know of one photographer in the Netherlands who found it turning up all the time in the brickwork of the old buildings.

(4) Manual focus is available but is not operated by a ring on the lens. Worse, a very awkward combination of button hold and jog dial is required. Put simply, manual focus is fiddly and not very practical. With snap focus this is not too much of a problem but it could have been so much better.

(5) Auto-focus is none too good in low light. Again snap comes to the rescue here.

All things considered however it’s a stunning camera. I can see myself using the Ricoh GR as my main carry-everywhere camera for the foreseeable future. Processed with VSCOcamApart from the fixed 28mm equivalent lens there is little reason to use anything else. It won’t match my Sigma Merrill’s for landscape image quality but it’s not that far behind and it’s a far better camera.

Small cameras are not just useful for street or casual photography. The photo on the right shows my Ricoh GR being used for long exposure work. It’s fitted with the GH-3 and a Formatt-Hitech 67mm filter holder with a ProStop IRND filter. It’s still a tiny package that can be carried everywhere.

I am a long-time sufferer of gear-acquisition syndrome. The Ricoh GR might just be the cure.

Having said that, I have just spent more money (when will it end?) on a MeFOTO DayTrip tripod which is a much smaller model than the MeFOTO RoadTrip in the photo below. The tiny Ricoh needs a tiny tripod.

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William Klein: Life is Good & Good for You in New York

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The latest photo book on my shelf is the Errata edition of William Klein’s Life is Good & Good for You in New York.  When it was first published in 1956 it was a ground-breaking work. Blurred, grainy, anarchic. It’s full of a restless visual energy. The photos are simply wonderful. It’s a fine demonstration that sometimes the essence of a place is not fully captured via straight, transparent photography but instead via the use of methods associated with pictorialism. You can see that Klein was a significant influence on Dado Moriyama.

The reproduction is pretty good; not brilliant but perfectly acceptable given the price. The photos are much reduced in size compared to the original and in some cases are almost too small but it’s unquestionably a good thing that we have an opportunity to see Life is Good in its entirety without taking out a second mortgage.

The book includes an essay, William Klein and the Radioactive Fifties, by American Art historian Max Kozloff

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I’ve posted about this subject before; something is really screwed up in the world of photography book publishing. I assume that it’s most likely an issue with licensing but it may also be incompetence and agents and photographers are probably part of the problem too. Here are the current prices (on Amazon UK) of some important photo books that I am interested in buying:

William Eggleston: Chromes (2011): £745.00

Ray K. Metzker: Light Lines (2008): £349.98 

Mark Cohen: Grim Street (2005): £246.39

Takuma Nakahira: For a Language to Come (2010): £69.94

There are countless other examples at similar prices. Some have only used copies available – also at absurd cost. Note how recently these were published (at sensible prices) – did the publishers simply not print enough?

Now I might just manage the Nakahira, though I’d rather not for that amount of money, but I think you’ll agree that the other prices are simply out to lunch. This is a ridiculous situation. It’s so self-defeating, if these books are not available at sensible prices then nobody will buy them and nobody will make any money (apart from dealers in hard-to-find and used books). It’s frustrating and absurd that many of Metzker’s photographs are simply unavailable to me. Surely I’m not the only one waiting to hand over money for reasonably priced editions of these books? Why in an age of print on demand can this situation not be resolved?

It’s a shame that there aren’t more Errata editions available.

Another Sigma Merrill: the DP3

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I’ve had my Sigma Merrill DP1 for a little while now. Do I like it? Well the best indication is that I just bought a DP3m to complement it.

My main motivation was the fact that I need a mild telephoto for landscapes and city shots but the DP3m is also a nice portrait and semi-macro camera.

The leaf above was shot as a jpg. I’m so used to shooting RAW that I tend to assume that any new camera will be set up this way to begin with and generally end up shooting a bunch of jpgs before I realise.

Having both the 28mm equivalent focal length of the DP1m and the 75mm equivalent of the DP3m will cover a lot of situations and will allow me to get that special Foveon image quality over a much wider range of shots. The DP3m is identical to the DP1m apart from the longer lens, which is also slightly larger physically. The two cameras still make for a pretty portable rig as I can fit both of them into a small bag.

Of course, the DP3m puts out files that are equally as astonishing as those of the DP1m. I have come to really appreciate the Foveon sensor.

One other nice thing I’ve realised about the Merrills is that they use a leaf shutter. This means that very high flash sync speeds are possible. I tested this on the DP3m and was able to get a sync speed of 1/1000 sec and, dependent on the aperture, it should go even higher.

What don’t I like about the Merrills? The things that annoy me about these cameras aren’t the issues most often raised. I can live with the awful battery life… they’re small, cheap, charge quickly and changing them is no worse than swapping rolls of film. The long write times don’t bother me at all… after all the camera doesn’t lock up. The Sigma Photo Pro software, though pretty dreadful, is usable and only minimal processing is required before moving over to Lightroom. Other issues like the slow start up time are irrelevant to me and I actually find the menus and control layout pretty well done. There are only two real issues for me: the lack of a tilting LCD screen, which is a total pain if the camera is on a tripod low to the ground, and the lack of an electronic viewfinder (or option to add one). I use an external optical viewfinder on the DP1m, a Voigtlander 28mm Brightline, but it’s not that accurate for framing and obviously it shows no shooting information. Using an optical viewfinder on the DP3m however is unlikely to be very useful as the 75mm equivalent focal length will lead to much greater inaccuracy. I have therefore, on both cameras, resorted to sometimes using a rather hideous but very effective solution, using a loupe and some shock cord, suggested by Brent Simison. You can see this in use on my DP1m below. As I say It’s pretty ugly, but it works really well and in bright light it’s essential.

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The tripod, by the way, is the MeFoto Road Trip. It’s lightweight, folds down to just 39cm in length, has a reasonably decent ball-head, and is pretty sturdy.

I really do find it astonishing that Sigma have not addressed the viewfinder and LCD issues on the upcoming DP Quattro. It’s almost like Sigma want the Foveon to fail. Photographers from around the world, some high profile, have tried to get Sigma to understand that putting this wonderful sensor into these slightly crap cameras is crazy… but Sigma don’t seem to be listening.

I guess if I was trying to find more faults with the Merrills I would have to also bring up the lack of a true long exposure capability. They’ll go to 30 seconds but that’s not going to take you into Joel Tjintjelaar territory. I’m not sure how much this bothers me right now – in fact I sometimes think I never want to see one of those exposed-for-five-minutes totally flat milky seas and off-white cloud-smudged skies ever again.

So this is hopefully where it stops for me (yeah, right!): everyday and street shooting with the Panasonic GX7 and landscape, fine art and meditative shooting with the two Sigma Merrills.

Six weeks with Micro Four Thirds and the Panasonic GX7

wpid-IMG_20131123_124734.jpgI’ve been shooting with the Panasonic GX7, my first Micro Four Thirds camera, for six weeks now and I’m able to share some thoughts on the camera and the Micro Four Thirds system.

As I discussed in a previous post, the main motivation for this pretty large photography purchase was my dissatisfaction with the lens offerings for the Sony NEX system rather than any particular camera needs… but I also took the opportunity to get the best interchangeable lens body I could find.

Full-frame was out of the question; the cameras and/or lenses are simply too large for my needs and I actually prefer the extra depth of field that cropped sensors provide, especially when the light gets low and it becomes necessary to shoot wide-open. There is of course one full-frame camera which is small and has small lenses: a Leica… but that’s silly money (the dentist’s camera, as someone called it) and in some important respects the Leica is less flexible than many cheaper cameras.

I briefly considered a Fuji X-Pro1 or X-E1 but decided against because of the slow autofocus, problematic sensor, lack of lenses and the fact that the 23mm f1.4 was way too pricey. I was thus left with the obvious choice of a Micro Four Thirds camera, which in the end came down to a close-run thing between the Olympus OMD EM5 and the GX7 (the EM1 is simply too big, not to mention the fact that it’s a shed-load of cash).

I chose the GX7 because it offered a number of things that the EM5 didn’t (wireless, 1/8000 shutter speed, tilting viewfinder, focus-peaking) and also because I preferred the rangefinder shape to that of the mini-SLR styled EM5. In most respects I have not regretted my decision. In use I have found the GX7 to be a responsive, flexible camera with good image quality. Best of all it is fun and instills the desire to go out and shoot. It is also discreet and non-threatening, in fact I chose the silver version not just because I like the retro look but also because it makes the camera look less “Pro” which is important when street shooting.

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The tilting viewfinder is genuinely useful, not only does it allows you to take shots from a lower angle whilst using the viewfinder but if you tilt it just a little it keeps your nose away from the LCD screen. This is especially important because a great feature of the GX7 is the ability to change the focus point by dragging your finger across the LCD (which can be done while using the viewfinder) and you really don’t want to accidentally change the focus point with your nose.

In terms of sensor performance the GX7’s dynamic range is impressive. There’s a little more visible noise than the Sony NEX at higher ISOs but it’s not a massive difference.

I only have two significant complaints about the camera. Firstly, the battery life is appalling. I doubt if even two batteries would be enough for a full day of intensive shooting. Frankly the battery life is borderline unacceptable in a camera of this class. Secondly, there is no auto ISO option when in manual mode. I was aware of this issue before I bought the GX7. This is a serious omission and a real shame. I came close to rejecting the GX7 because of it and I know a number of photographers who actually have. I may still in the long run be forced to move over to the EM5 because of this feature, but time will tell. This is very short-sighted on the part of Panasonic, especially as they have been told countless times that it is sorely missed on other models.

The subject of auto-ISO in manual mode is often misunderstood and some photographers, who clearly don’t understand what it might be used for, get very high and mighty about how it isn’t necessary. It’s really very simple: there are a number of situations where you will need to set both the aperture and the shutter speed. Obviously if your subjects are in motion then you will need to set a high shutter speed. Now, if you also need a large depth of field (because you simply want everything to be in focus or if you are zone focusing) or if your lens has a sweet spot at a certain f-stop then you will also need to set a fixed aperture. At this point there is only one parameter left to control the exposure: ISO. If you’re taking a shot of something static, or you’re in a studio you can manually set the ISO and all will be well but if you’re outdoors in rapidly changing light conditions, perhaps moving frequently from bright sun to shadow then, if you can’t set the ISO to auto, you’re going to end up spending a great deal of time fiddling with your ISO setting – and YOU WILL MISS SHOTS as a result. (The street photographer Jonathan Auch, who demands of any camera that it offers auto ISO in manual, has pointed out that when working in New York on a sunny day there can be a 4 or 5 stop difference when moving in and out of the shadows of tall buildings.) I simply can’t understand why this simple fact escapes Panasonic and those hostile photographers who appear on forums whenever auto-ISO in manual is discussed. There really is no viable alternative; Aperture priority is not an option because it may drop the shutter speed too low, and shutter priority will likely choose a too wide aperture. You might be able to get by without auto-ISO in manual if you could specify a minimum shutter speed when in aperture priority but, guess what… you can’t do that on the GX7.

There are a number of other supposed issues with the GX7 that have repeatedly come up in reviews and forums so I’ll address those here:

(1) It feels plastic and hollow.
To some extent this is true. I noticed it when I first picked one up in the shop but I don’t notice it anymore; it feels perfectly solid and is certainly of a reasonably high build quality. It’s primarily made of metal not plastic. The initial feeling may have been the result of me having a Nex-5N and Nikon V1 both of which are very solid and heavy bodies.

(2) The viewfinder image is small.
This is also true. I certainly noticed this initially when compared with the lovely Sony FDA-EV1S but again I do not notice this anymore. I am perfectly happy with the viewfinder image now, though I am primarily a street photographer; other photographers may have more of an issue with it.

(3) There are “tearing” or “rainbow” artefacts in the viewfinder.
I’ve never seen these – and I even tried to generate them by moving my eye rapidly around the view. It’s now becoming clear that some people are more sensitive than others to the effect, which is a consequence of the field sequential technology used by Panasonic, where the different colours are displayed in rapid succession. One thing I will say is that the colours in the viewfinder are great.

(4) The eye sensor is too slow and there is a long lag before the viewfinder image is displayed. I do not find this and the image comes up faster than it does on my NEX. There is a lag – but it is small.

But enough of that! the GX7 is a wonderful camera and I don’t hesitate to recommend it – just make sure you try the viewfinder before parting with your cash.

And the Micro Four Thirds lenses? Just perfect. I bought the Panasonic 14mm f2.5, the Olympus 17mm f1.7, the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 and the Olympus 45mm f1.8.

wpid-IMG_20131123_124112.jpg The 45mm, 25mm and 14mm with hoods.

The lenses are tiny, with the exception of the PanLeica 25mm. Just look at the next picture which puts the Sony 50mm f1.8 alongside the Oly 45mm. These are both portrait-length lenses (75mm and 90mm equivalent respectively):

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The 14mm is average optically, though very useful, but the other lenses are stunning, especially the 25mm and 45mm. I’m using the 17mm a lot because it’s a 35mm equivalent, my current favourite focal length, and has the pull ring which reveals distance markings and allows for easy zone focusing.

And best of all, the GX7 and those four lenses can, with a squeeze, fit into a tiny bag that measures 24cm by 15cm by 12cm.

The Nikon V1 revisited, plus its very own fast 50

imageI’ve been shooting with the Nikon V1 for a while now and am able to offer some more considered comments

I also recently picked up the 18.5mm f1.8 lens, which I highly recommend, and in many ways it’s brought out the best in the V1.

Visible in the photo in addition to the V1:

Nikon 1 Nikkor 18.5mm F1.8  lens.

Gariz soft-release: This simply sticks onto the shutter-release button. I use one on the NEX5n also. It makes the button easier to find, easier to use (you can use various parts of your finger to trigger it), and it can reduce vibration when you push to fire the shutter.

Richard Franiec grip:  A usable grip was a serious omission from the V1 and it’s simply not comfortable to carry for long periods of time. The Franiec grip is not especially cheap but it’s made of aluminium alloy and nicely styled to match the camera. It’s held in place using VHB tape (yes, it’s simply taped on!) but mine appears to be stuck fast and it really does make carrying the V1 much easier.  Available at www.kleptography.com/rf/

OP/TECH Cam Strap: A cheap and comfortable wrist strap. I generally use a wrist strap but it’s also a good idea when using the Franiec grip; VHB tape is very strong, but you never know.

The 18.5mm f1.8 lens

This is a really nice lens and I’ve been shooting with it a lot more than the 10mm lately. It provides a 50mm equivalent field of view and is very compact. It’s nicely sharp, even wide-open. The 18.5mm really shows how good the V1’s auto-focus is because on the V1’s small sensor the 10mm has so much depth of field that most things will be acceptably in focus anyway.

It’s a revelation and a pure joy, coming from the NEX5n, to be able to shoot a 50mm equivalent at f1.8 on a sunny day (here’s where the V1’s 1/16000 shutter speed comes in handy), with near-instantaneous auto-focus.  I’ve also been surprised by how much background blur I can get if the subject is reasonably close. We’re not talking about a fully melted, creamy bokeh here but it does provide some pleasant subject-isolation.

The other huge benefit of the 18.5mm is that it keeps the ISO down when there’s less light. Although it may not give the same D.O.F as a 50mm f1.8 on full-frame it does provide the same light-gathering. This is important because the V1 introduces significant noise at higher ISO settings (I never use it above 800). It won’t make the V1 a first-choice for night-shooting but it certainly makes a difference to image quality in dimmer conditions and at higher shutter speeds.

The V1 after 2 months

If anything i like the V1 more now that at the beginning. I’ve got used to its quirks and weaknesses and discovered more of it’s strengths.

Focus: The auto-focus is simply wonderful. It’s pretty much instantaneous and very accurate. To be honest I’ve often been happy leaving it set to auto-area with face-recognition on. After the NEX5n, especially the painfully slow Sony 50mm F1.8, the AF is a pure joy. Every so often in poor light, or if presented with a very low contrast scene, it will hunt – but it’s rarely an issue.

Build quality:  It’s built like a tank (and is almost as heavy). A few weeks ago I got the wrist strap caught while taking the V1 out of its case and as a result dropped it from waist height onto a tiled floor. There’s irony for you. Despite thinking that the V1 was done for, I can find no ill effects apart from a tiny dent on the lens, and it’s worked flawlessly ever since.

Image quality: IQ is surprisingly good. There’s a nice feel to the raw files and I think I am beginning to see the slight film-like quality that some people refer to. The colours are great and I also find that the V1 files make nice monochrome conversions. It’s not all good though; the dynamic range is not very wide, highlights are easy to blow and there’s the ever present noise.  Cropping is pretty much out of the question too…at only 10 megapixels the files don’t leave much room for manoeuvre. It must also be said that at this resolution you’re probably not going to use the V1 on a fashion shoot for Vogue.

The forced image review is still a total pain, though I have since discovered that a quick half-press on the shutter will make it go away. Still ridiculous though.

Perhaps the most telling thing is the fact that I tend to pick up the V1 when leaving the house instead of the NEX5n. It’s just more fun to shoot at the moment. This is not always a good thing because although the V1 is great for street photography it’s not so good for other types of shot where resolution and IQ are paramount. Certainly I have ended up in situations where the NEX would have been better – but the V1 has generally done a reasonable job.

In the long-run I can’t say where the V1 will fit in to my photography. Some of the affection I have for it clearly stems from the failings of the NEX5n. It’s quite possible that I would prefer a Panasonic GX7 for example ( I would certainly hope so given that it would cost almost five times what the V1 cost me), but I enjoy shooting with the Nikon V1 and that’s got to be good for my photography.

(I may discuss the bewildering options for cameras in late 2013 in another post soon.)