Tag Archives: camera

The Pentax 645Z Non-Scientific First Impressions

Becky At The Refuge

Self-Portrait taken with the 55mm lens at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

I believe I mentioned  in a recent post that I’d sold my firstborn (ok, I don’t have kids so that’s not entirely true – I sold someone else’s firstborn – just kidding) to purchase a new Pentax 645z medium format body and a couple of used lenses (the 55mm and the 28-45mm zoom).  I haven’t really gotten out with it, much; this camera is sort of like saving the “good” silverware for use at that special dinner party.  Also, I currently live in a part of Texas that is totally blah when it comes to scenic landscapes, especially in the summer. Hey, I was born in Montana and also lived in Washington State, so I tend to measure everything else by those yardsticks.  I did, however, need to get the camera set up and start learning how to use it so I wouldn’t be wasting valuable sunrise or sunset time fumbling around the controls during its use while on vacation.

I’ve got several reasons for adding this camera to my Canon family:

  • I’ve wanted to follow in my father’s photographic footsteps.  After all, Dad is the person who instilled in me the love of photography.  Back in the day, when the family lived in Montana, Dad would take his Mamiya medium format film camera and drive up to Glacier National Park or maybe Big Mountain in Whitefish to spend the day capturing the scenery.  One of my bucket list goals is to get up to Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana, and photograph the snow ghosts in black & white with my new medium format camera, like Dad did.
  • It’s been a great desire of mine to try out medium format for landscapes as I love the dynamic range capture ability of medium formats.  To see the sensor of a medium format camera compared to the sensor of a full-frame camera is always an eye-opener.  Sure, I could rent a medium format, but I figured that for the price of repeated renting (basically to take along for each and every one of my vacations), I might as well just buy the camera outright for use for the rest of my life (fingers crossed that I at least live long enough to justify the price of camera and lenses).
  • I’m really interested in comparing the 645z to the Canon 5DSR

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE my Canons.  I love Canon glass and I love my 1DX and 5DSRs.  That won’t change.  The Pentax 645z is like the rich aunt coming to live with the family, promising to buy a new house of the family’s choice, for the family’s use in perpetuity.

Why did I choose the Pentax 645z, a camera that’s been around since 2014, as opposed to the new Hasselblad X1D-50c mirrorless or the Fuji GFS 50S mirrorless?

  • Price – I wanted a new, not used, camera body. That was non-negotiable. On the BH Photo site, the Pentax lists at $6,996.95, the Hasselblad sells for $8,995.00 and the Fuji sells for a comparable $6,499.95.
  • Online reviews and sample images; I used Flickr.com a lot for sample image review.  I must admit that the images are all comparable, so I knew that whichever medium format camera I chose would produce great pics.
  • Established quality and reliability.  The Pentax is a great brand and it’s been around long enough to have established its quality and reliability with users (a Pentax was my first SLR purchase when I entered high school, eons ago).  Hasselblad – well, that goes without saying, and I did consider purchasing this camera except that it is more expensive and the wide-angle landscape lens I wanted to pair with the camera (Hasselblad XCD 30mmHasselblad XCD 30mm) has been on backorder forever.  The Fuji looked interesting, but it’s brand-spankin’ new, I’ve never used a Fuji before (nor have I ever used a mirrorless, actually) and it didn’t have enough reviews or images to change my mind away from the Pentax.  It’s also easier, at this point, to find used Pentax lenses from places like KEH and Lensauthority.
  • AF fine-tune adjustment (aka micro focus adjustment).  This was the major deal breaker for me (aside from price).  I wanted the camera to have some sort of AF fine-tune adjustment in its menu.  I don’t care that lenses are supposed to focus perfectly with all cameras of the same brand – they don’t.  I have had to use micro-focus adjustment on every single one of my Canon L-lenses to make sure they focus correctly between all of my Canon models.  I read that legacy lenses for the Pentax (like the 55mm lens I own) have front/back focus issues and need to be adjusted.  In all my research, I never found out if the Hasselblad or the Fuji had the ability to fine-tune focus.

Below are my first thoughts of the camera right out of the box and after a couple of very short photo sessions:  a morning session at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, and a session at my DIY studio in my apartment.

Out of the box:

  • Without any lens attached, it’s actually as light as my 5DSR and definitely lighter than my 1DX.  It feels like that to me, anyway.  The heaviness comes from the lenses. That 28-45mm zoom lens I have is a freakin’ tank!  The 55mm lens, on the other hand, is light as a feather.  Ok, allow me to amend this:  any lens affixed to the Pentax after hefting the camera with the 28-45mm zoom attached would feel light as a feather.
  • The Pentax 645z body is sort of “boxy” compared to my Canon’s, but I love the grip – it’s a deeper grip which allows my small arthritic fingers to get a better handle on the camera.
  • This camera has a built-in remote receiver, so I don’t have to attach a wireless receiver to the hot shoe or any other internal attachment point like I do my Canons.  Plus, the Pentax wireless remote sender is cheaper than the ones purchased for my Canons (naturally, it must be purchased separately, because – well – they want to make all the money they can off of you in terms of accessories).  That said, after use for all the self-portraits, I can say the Pentax wireless remote is definitely less sensitive and much slower than my Canon wireless remotes.  I can hold my Canon remote sender behind my back or on the floor (pushing the button with a toe) and the Canon picks it up.  Not so with the Pentax remote sender/receiver setup.
  • Cameras of different brands will, of course, have their buttons located in different positions, those buttons will represent slightly different uses, and even the way a lens is attached to the camera body will be different.  So, I continue to have a bit of a learning curve.
  • Both of my lenses (55mm and 28-45mm) needed to be AF fine-tuned.  Easy enough, except here’s the kicker:  unlike each of my Canon cameras, which allow for, and keeps in the camera’s memory, each of the settings for the wide-angle as well as the telephoto portion of a zoom, the Pentax 645z does not do that.  Oh, it does remember the AF fine-tune settings for each separate lens, but when it comes to fine-tuning the AF of a zoom lens, it only remembers the last setting entered for that lens.  So, I must remember the separate settings for the 28mm focal length and the 45mm focal length, then re-adjust in the camera depending upon which focal length I choose to use for a shot.  Oh well, memorization is good for the aging brain, right?  It just takes a little more time to set and then re-set focus adjustment for focal lengths, so it’s good I am photographing only landscapes and not wildlife or sports.Speaking of which, I did not purchase this camera for sports or other action shots.  I only wanted this camera for landscape and portrait imagery.  Good thing, because the Pentax 645z has a speed of 3 fps (frames per second) as opposed to my Canon 5DSR (5 fps) or 1DX (12-14 fps).
  • All of my Canons sport L-brackets.  I love those things because it allows easy setup on the tripod for vertical or horizontal shots.  Initially, the closest thing I found to an L-bracket for my Pentax 645z was to purchase two separate quick-release plates from Really Right Stuff (RRS), which I did.  Each plate is $55.00.  Another, later, search dug up camera plates for this camera as sold from KES (Kirk Enterprise Solutions).

Regarding quality, I LOVE the results from this camera.  Below are some landscape and studio self-portraits captured using each of the focal lengths on my lenses.  The dynamic range is amazing, as is the ability to crop to 100% and still get awesome resolution.

Sunrise On Big Sough

Sunrise over Big Slough in Brazoia National Wildlife Refuge (28-45mm zoom at the 28mm focal length)

Boardwalk Over Big Slough

The boardwalk over Big Slough at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (28mm focal length cropped)

Boardwalk Over Big Slough

The boardwalk over Big Slough at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (28-45mm zoom lens at the 45mm focal length)

The Brazoria NWR trip was the very first time I’d used this camera and lenses, and of  course I’d forgotten the AF adjustment settings for the zoom lens focal lengths. So I messed around with the adjustment there at the refuge, not really knowing if I’d applied the right settings (I had not). Thankfully, these zoom lens shots still look pretty good, as long as you don’t zoom in 100% on those two black-bellied whistling ducks perched on the railing way in the background.

Becky At The 55mm Perspective

Taken with the 55mm lens

Becky At the 45mm Perspective

Taken with the 28-45mm zoom at the 45mm focal length

Becky In Her Studio

Taken with the 28-45mm zoom lens at the 28mm focal length with the top and sides cropped.

Becky And Her Backdrop

Taken with the 28-45mm zoom lens at the 28mm focal length with the camera and tripod moved much closer to the subject and the top and a bit of the sides cropped off.

These self-portraits were all edited with some very minor sharpening applied.  The 100% crop below of the second image in the series above shot using the 45mm focal length, however, is the original with no sharpening applied.

IMG0257_100 pct crop

I’ll be taking this camera and the lenses (as well as my Canons)  along for my Mt. Rainier National Park and Glacier National Park trips this year.  I am super-excited about this and will, of course, share my thoughts and images here.  I especially want to see just how well this medium format camera does with high-ISO environments, like night photography and other general low-light conditions.

 

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Filed under Equipment, HD PENTAX-DA645 28-45mm f/4.5 ED AW SR Lens, Pentax 645z, Pentax Lens, Pentax-D FA 645 55mm f/2.8 AL[IF] SDM AW Lens, Uncategorized

My Review of Mindshift Gear’s Rotation 180 Panorama

RLatson_Panorama At The Top

The National Parks Traveler just published my latest gear review:  The Rotation 180 Panorama camera pack.  If you are interested in reading about this, click on the photo above.

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Filed under Big Bend, camera backpack, Equipment, Mindshift Gear, National Parks, Photography, Travel and Photography

A Short (and Unscientific) Review of Tamron’s New 150-600mm Lens for Canon Mount

Canon 1DX and Tamron 150-600

The Canon 1DX  and Tamron 150-600mm lens

Because this Tamron 150-600mm lens is so new, Lensrentals didn’t have it in stock for my original reservation date. So, I told them to send it when they could. One week later, it was in my hot little hands. Here’s my take on this brand new lens.

The Tamron 150-600mm  lens retails for $1069 at BH Photo and at Adorama and is available for Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts.  Right now (well, as of Feb 15), you can only pre-order the lens here in the USA.

Out of the box:

  • It weighs .03 lbs less than the Sigma 50-500mm, so both are equal in terms of heft.
  • When I first received the lens, I discovered that the lock switch did not work at the 600mm focal length. A Lensrentals tech told me that the lock switch was there only to work at the 150mm focal length to make sure the lens didn’t accidentally move out to a longer length while one was carrying the lens on their shoulder.  Really?   I should think the lock switch is supposed to work at any focal length, and not just the 150mm focal length. I may hate the locking mechanism on my Canon 100-400 but at least it works at all of the focal lengths.
  • If you have microfocus adjustment on your camera, test the lens to make sure the focus is hitting like it should. On my 1DX, it was spot-on. On my Canon 5D Mk III, it was front-focusing.

A Day at the Park

I took my Canon 1DX and this lens out for a morning spin at Brazos Bend State Park, located about halfway between my home and Houston. Btw, mornings are the best time to go out there for birdlife and for few-to-no crowds. I made a return trip later in the day and the place was packed. I got out of the car, looked at all the people and then at the full parking lot at one of my favorite stops, got back in the car and came home.   As I was exiting the park, I looked over to the entrance and saw a long line of cars waiting to get in.  No thank you.

How did this lens do?

As far as image resolution – and this is my opinion only, based upon my own photographic results – I believe this lens is as good as or better than the Sigma 50-500.  I kept the f-stop between 8 – 10 because I’d read other reviews indicating sharpness was better achieved at these apertures (same as with the reviews I’d read about the Sigma lens).   Had it been an overcast day rather than the gorgeous, sunny day that it was, my ISO would have moved from 500 up to probably 1000 – 2000.  As it was, I kept my ISO between 250-500 depending upon the light at any one spot.  My shutter speeds ranged between 200 – 800.

After reviewing the magnified images on my camera’s LCD screen, I was ready to throw in the towel concerning this lens.  Then, when I got the photos downloaded to my computer and I could get a better look at them, I was blown away at the sharpness. Yet another lesson to me that I should never quite trust what I see magnified on my camera’s LCD screen in terms of resolution clarity.

(Note:  To see high-res versions of these low-res uploads, click on each image)

Ibis

The original, cropped a little to get rid of extraneous stuff.  Only adjustments were my normal curves and sharpening – things I apply to all of my images so nothing else special was done

Ibis

65% crop of the original

BUT…. while this lens produces very nice images, it still has some quirks.

Focusing…..Oy Vey

I’d read other reviews about this lens having an issue with tracking and focusing. Yup. I had problems myself, but I don’t think to quite the extent that some reviewers experienced. Tamron didn’t do such a great job with the focus tracking, and I had a difficult time trying to get the lens to focus on anything in motion. Out of all of the photos I took while tracking movements of the birds, maybe 2 or 3 were in-focus. And I was using a Wimberley gimbal tripod head to keep things steady. I highly doubt I would have gotten those 2 or 3 decent shots had I tried to hand-hold the lens even with image stabilization engaged.  The Sigma 50-500 was much,  much better at tracking action images like birds in flight.

And speaking of focus, I discovered that it’s practically non-existent if using any of the focus points other than the ones in the middle of the screen. My 1DX has multi-focus points, and I sometimes use different points whenever I am in Servo Mode because the part on which I want to focus (like the eyes) may be in the far left, far right, upper or lower portion of the image;  to have moved the focus smack dab in the middle of the composition would have cut out a part of the subject.

Aside from the items above, focus – as long as I used the middle focal points – worked just fine and was relatively quick.

Image Stabilization (VC)

Because I kept the camera and lens on a tripod, I didn’t really use image stabilization except a couple of times. It’s just different from what I am used to with my Canon lenses.  At least the image stabilization with Tamron is not so jumpy and unpredictable as with the Sigma 50-500.

A Couple of Questions:

  1. Do I think this a good lens to use for sports (or any other type of fast action like birds in flight or bears battling for a prime spot at Brooks Falls)? No, not at this point in time. Won’t be until Tamron gets their focus tracking issues fixed – if they ever do  (Tamron, I hope you are reading this post).
  2. Would I purchase this lens for my own uses? Hell yeah! I’m gonna get one….AFTER waiting awhile in the hope that Tamron gets all that focus stuff fixed. It’s a fantastic lens for getting stationary or reeeeaallllly slow-moving shots, but not so much for the faster action.

Ibis In The Tree

Little Blue Heron

Soakin Up The Rays

Gator

This lens doesn’t quite match the resolution output of a Canon prime, but like the Sigma 50-500, it’s an affordable option. Since my credit scores are not quite to the point that I could attempt to take out a loan for the Canon 600mm, this Tamron 150-600 (when the focus problems hopefully get ironed out) will be a great alternative.

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Filed under birds, Brazos Bend State Park, Canon, Equipment, nature, Parks, Photography, Tamron 150-600

A (Unscientific) Review of the Sigma 50-500mm at the 500mm Focal Length

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-winged teal (I think) at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

As of late, I’ve been suffering a little cabin fever on the weekends. I want to do something photographically (other than edit archived images), but don’t know what. My part of southeast Texas is not the most photogenic for landscape imagery, but it is definitely a treasure trove for bird photography; Brazos Bend State Park, a number of wildlife refuges including Brazoria and Aransas NWRs, the wetlands parallel to the Gulf Coast and Padre Island National Seashore are all within a 30-minute to 4-hour drive away.

I go out to the nearby state park and Brazoria NWR often, but the birds tend to be skittish and are generally too distant for the reach of my Canon 100-400mm lens, thus requiring some degree of image cropping during the editing stage. After seeing others with their big honkin’ primes out at these places, I always suffer a little angst over the fact that I don’t own a super-telephoto, myself. So for yucks and giggles, I reserved a number of super-telephoto lenses with Lensrentals.com to try out over the next couple of months: The Sigma 50-500mm, Tamron’s new 150-600mm lens, Canon’s 800mm prime and I even decided to try out (for the fun of it) the Nikon D800 camera and Nikkor 600mm lens.

This particular post is about my thoughts (with samples) of the Sigma 50-500mm lens at its longest focal length (because I only want the long length for birds – I’m not interested in any of the shorter focal lengths since I already own that aforementioned Canon 100-400mm which I love…well, except for that damned push-pull zoom mechanism).

This is a TOTALLY unscientific review. Everything written here is my opinion only. I’m going to try not to be much of a “pixel-peeper”, either, but I do have high standards that I expect from my full-frame Canons and a good lens.

The photos in this post are relatively low-res;  if you want to see a higher-res shot, just click on the photo and it will take you to that image that I’ve uploaded to my photography website.

My thoughts:

A Canon 1DX and this lens are a little bit heavier for my small hands than my 1DX and 100-400. But then I had no intention of hand-holding this lens as I planned on attaching it to the Wimberley gimbal tripod head I recently won off of eBay (saved myself $200 and it works like a charm).

Canon and Sigma

The Sigma 50-500 at it’s 500mm length, attached to my Canon 1DX on a Wimberley gimbal head and Induro tripod legs

I like Sigma’s focus ring (unlike that stupid push-pull of the Canon 100-400 – what the hell was this company thinking at the time it did that??).

I also like the easy lock switch (My Canon 100-400 has a ring that you have to turn to get the lens to lock at a certain focal length – to get it to stay locked, you need to make sure that ring is turned clockwise as tight as possible).

I’d read in other reviews of this lens that one needed to set the f-stop to at least 8 for optimal sharpness. So all of my images taken at Brazos Bend State Park and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge were between f8 and f10. Because the weekend has been warm but cloudy and overcast with some rain (and a little bit of sun here and there), and to offset the small amount of light getting in through the aperture because of the f-stop settings, the ISO ranged between 400 to 2000 depending upon the outdoor lighting conditions at any particular moment.

Goldfinch

A goldfinch (I think) at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Sigma’s OS (analogous to Canon’s IS and Nikon’s VR – image stabilization) is really odd and I don’t like it at all. It was as if the lens took on a life of its own whenever I switched from non-OS to OS. I’d look through the viewfinder and try to focus on a subject only to have the lens actually jump to a slightly different point in the composition. I had to keep moving the lens back to where I wanted the center focal point to be and then quickly snapping the shutter button. I don’t have that issue with my Canon 100-400 or 70-200. As a result, I only snapped a few shots with the OS turned on.

I captured a few images from my car window (cars make good blinds). I did this because had I gotten out of the car (heck, had I even opened the car door), my subject would have flown away. With my 100-400 lens, I don’t need a bean bag for stabilization and it’s easy to hand-hold. With this Sigma lens, I wished I had a bean bag. I’d anticipated this issue, though, so I used a pillow I’d brought from home on which I rested the camera and Sigma lens for stabilization. The bean bag is going to be a near-future purchase.

Hawk

A hawk on a fencepost at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas – taken from my car window

I had pretty much figured this lens just wasn’t going to cut it for me. I’d read too many reviews about Sigma’s inconsistent QC issues, but I figured Lensrentals would have tested the lenses before putting them out for rent (and this lens was inexpensive to rent for a few days).  Nonetheless, I would magnify the view of an image on my camera LCD and what I saw caused me some consternation. So imagine my total (and very pleasant) surprise when I got home and saw the day’s photos after they’d been downloaded to my computer. Ok, some of the shots were a little grainy because of the high ISO, but at an f-stop of at least 8, and on a tripod, my images turned out quite nice! Moral of this story: don’t base your judgment solely by what you see on your camera’s magnified LCD screen.

Conclusion:

I know I only had this Sigma 50-500mm for a couple of days.  So, this review is not in-depth.  That being said, I totally agree with the comment of  one of my Facebook Fans:

This lens will never take the place of a Canon or Nikon prime, but it’s definitely an affordable substitute.

Migrating Geese

Migrating geese making a stopover at Cross Trails Pond, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Next weekend (hopefully), I’ll see how the newly-released Tamron 150-600mm measures up.

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Filed under Brazoria NWR, Brazos Bend State Park, Canon, Equipment, Parks, Photography, Sigma lens, Texas, Wildlife Refuge

My Review of the Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW Camera Backpack

As a contributing photographer and writer to the National Parks Traveler site, I share monthly photo column space with another photographer.  In addition to this, from time to time, I also write reviews about various and sundry photography gear.  The Traveler has just published my most recent review about a Lowepro camera backpack.

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A Review of the Lowepro Flipside 500 AW Camera Pack

Lowepro Flipside

Hi Everybody!  Happy Holidays!

I have been a super-busy gal during my holiday time off, having written three different articles for upcoming photography columns in the National Parks Traveler.  I also recently finished up and just had published a review of the Lowepro Flipside 500 AW camera backpack.

If you are considering getting this pack for your camera adventures, then click on the photo and you will be taken to the Traveler’s site to read my article.  And, while you are at it, take a look around the Traveler’s site and become a member.  I am!

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Filed under Big Bend, Camera Bag, Equipment, Lowepro, National Parks, Photography

Christmas Fun with the Canon 250D Close-Up Lens Filter

Pirate Nutcracker Ornament

I recently received my December 2013 edition of Photoshop User.  Within that edition is their “Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide”.  Naturally that was the first thing I turned to upon opening up the magazine.

Jingle Bells

The Canon close-up lens filters were items reviewed in this gear guide.  These can be used for a Canon or Nikkor lenses.  It mentioned how fun these little items were and compared to a real dedicated macro lens, they can be purchased at a fraction of the cost.  So I figured, why not?

Snowflake Ornament

These filters come in several thread sizes, and there are actually two different filters.  The 250D (which is what I ordered) is good for focal lengths of between 30 – 135mm, while the 500D is good for focal lengths of 70 – 300mm.

On Camera

I affixed the close-up lens filter to my Canon 40mm lens to create a light, easy to carry, pseudo-macro lens which I then used to photograph ornaments on my Christmas tree.

All of the images you see of the ornaments in this blog post are totally un-cropped, so this should give you an idea of just how close I can maneuver my camera and lens to get these shots.  Mind you, the depth of field (DOF) is pretty shallow (as you can see) and no, it’s not a dedicated macro.  But, for what is essentially a magnifying glass (utilizing pretty good glass) that is light to use, easy to affix, easy to pack into a gear bag, and produces pretty darned good close up images, I’d say my $87 (this includes 2-day shipping) was well-spent.  It’s going with me on my forthcoming December road trip to Big Bend National Park.

Christmas Ball Reflection

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Filed under Christsmas, Close-Up Lens Filter, Equipment, Holidays, Photography