Posts Tagged ‘closer’

A closer look at the Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN for Micro Four Thirds

12 Jan

We’ve got a pair of Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN lenses in the office: one for Micro Four Thirds and the other for Sony E-mount. In this article we have some impressions of the MFT version, as well as some other lenses in this class worth considering.

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The 16mm F1.4 acts as a 32mm equivalent lens on the Micro Four Thirds platform. It’s an interesting focal length to end up with: not quite 28mm equiv., which many people would consider the gateway to wide-angle, but also noticeably wider than the near-normal of 35mm equiv. I didn’t expect it to make any difference but found myself constantly fighting against too much stuff creeping into the edges of the frame in a way that I don’t with a 35mm.

In terms of handling, I felt the 16mm worked best when mounted on the larger Micro Four Thirds camera that feature prominent hand grips: its comparatively long length feeling a little unbalanced on the smaller, rangefinder-style boxes, though it’s light enough that it doesn’t end up feeling too front-heavy. The lens’s only control point is a large by-wire focusing ring. It’s a little under-damped for my tastes, rotating fairly freely but it was effective on the few occasions I ended up having to manual focus (turns out LED Christmas lights and autofocus do not always play nicely with one-another).

Optically, I was pretty impressed with the lens, the F1.4 (F2.8 35mm-equivalent) aperture gave me plenty of control over depth-of-field and sufficient light for low-light work. Sharpness seems good if not necessarily stellar and with what appears to be pretty good cross-frame consistency, until you reach the extreme corners. As you’d expect, the performance gets better if you stop down a couple of notches. The 16mm is pretty resistant to flare, even when given significant provocation, with good levels of contrast maintained even in contre jour images with veiling flare.

Autofocus was snappy to the degree that I didn’t ever really have to think about it. Only the aforementioned Hybrid AF/LED Christmas light mismatch caused me to even give it a second thought. It’s fast and quiet to the degree that you just don’t notice it, and can concentrate on composing your shot instead.


My impression is that the Sigma is sharper, two thirds of a stop faster and comparably priced to the Olympus 17mm F1.8. However, I don’t think it’s quite as easy a win as that makes it sound. The Olympus is significantly smaller and features the lovely snap-back manual focus clutch and linear manual focus system (faux-cus by wire, perhaps?), both of which are definite bonuses. So, while I’d find it hard to choose between the two, I probably wouldn’t rush out to replace a 17mm if I had one, not least because I personally prefer the narrower angle-of-view that the extra 1mm brings.

1mm in the opposite direction is the Panasonic 15mm F1.7. It usually retails for around $ 100 more than the Sigma, despite being rated as half a stop slower. Again it’s smaller than the Sigma, meaning it handles better on a smaller camera body. Similarly, the 15mm offers a neat operational advantage over the DN, at least for Panasonic shooters: the lovely Leica M lens style front aperture ring (worth the extra $ 100 on its own, in my opinion and well worth lobbying Olympus for firmware support for, if you’re on that side of the system). Optical performance is perhaps a step up from the Sigma, leaving the 16mm F1.4 DN DC as an attractive extra option for Micro Four Thirds but not an absolute must-have, from my perspective.

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Updated: A closer look at Sony a9 image quality and autofocus

27 Apr

While combing through our thousands of images from Sony’s a9 launch event last week, we’ve taken a critical look at the camera’s revamped JPEG engine and the effectiveness of its 653-point autofocus system. Read more

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Take a closer look inside Canon’s impressive EF 200-400mm F4L IS

11 Jun

Canon has posted a video showing its massive EF 200-400mm F4L IS USM Extender 1.4 X reduced to its component parts.

The Canon 200-400mm is an impressive lens. This hefty telephoto uses no fewer than 33 elements arranged in 24 groups, including Fluorite and Ultra-Low Dispersion glass, and features a built-in 1.4X teleconverter. Canon’s stop-motion video is rather charming, and makes a nice change from the computer-generated exploded imagery that we’re used to seeing. 

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A closer look: Iconasys Product Photography Turntable

18 Feb

You may have noticed a new feature in our camera reviews lately – an interactive, 360-degree view. With selectable hot spots, the 360-view gives our readers a closer look at a camera’s notable body features. We’ve been excited to roll them out in reviews like the Sony Cyber-shot RX1R II, and now you can take a look at how we put them together using the Iconasys 360 Product Photography Turntable. Peek behind the scenes and see how it works, and give us your feedback on the new feature in the comments.

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Good sport: a closer look at Canon’s EOS-1D X Mark II

02 Feb


The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is the company’s latest pro-level DSLR, now built around a 20.2MP CMOS sensor with Dual Pixel AF technology. It uses a body that’s the most subtle possible evolution of the classic 1D design, which makes sense, given how many of its long-standing professional users will need to find it familiar the moment they use it. Inside, though, almost every aspect of the camera’s feature set has been overhauled – from the autofocus system to the video capability, the ISO range to the card format it uses. Let us talk you through the biggest changes.

Autofocus improvements

The EOS-1D X II features a similar AF module to that found on the previous flagship 1D X, as well as on the 5D Mark III and 5DS/R, but comes with some notable improvements. For a start, the coverage is larger, with the central region expanding vertically by 8% and the 20 points on the left and right flanks extending vertically 24% more than before.

All 61 points can now focus at F8, which will be very useful when shooting telephoto lenses with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. 41 of those points are cross-type, having both horizontal and vertical line sensitivity. 5 central points are dual cross-type and have wider baselines that offer high precision focusing for F2.8 and faster lenses. The center point works down to -3EV in One-Shot AF. It’s not available in AI Servo because it requires a longer sampling interval, which would slow down AI Servo.

Also improved is AF point illumination, based particularly on feedback from wedding and event photographers. Points can now remain lit red when focusing, which helps you keep your AF point over your subject in dim situations. Additionally, two brightness levels are available so you can fine tune brightness based on your preference.

You can read more specifics about the very similar previous 61-point module in our EOS 5DS coverage here.

Metering Sensor

The 1D X Mark II gets a new metering module. It’s now a 360,000 pixel sensor that is used both for metering and to provide scene awareness to Canon’s ‘Intelligent Tracking and Recognition’ (iTR) autofocus system.

The sensor itself is a two-layer CMOS chip, with red, green and blue information captured by the top layer and infrared detected further down into the silicon.

Touchscreen LCD

The LCD screen on the back of the camera has received a significant upgrade. It’s now 1.62 million-dot, up from 1.04 million-dot. This represents a move from 720 x 480 to 900 x 600 pixels and the increase in resolution is noticeable. Images look crisp and clear on the back, thanks especially to Canon’s ‘Clear View’ technology that uses optical coatings to reduce reflections.

The LCD is also touch-enabled, but you can only use touch to select a focus point in Live View, either for stills shooting, or to refocus on subjects during movie shooting. It cannot be used to operate menus, nor (annoyingly) is it enabled in playback.


The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II ships with a new battery, which allows for 1210 shots on one charge. The nice thing is, the battery compartment remains backwards compatible with the older 1D X battery. However, if you use the older battery, frame rates will drop to 1D X levels (12 fps with AF, 14 fps in live view or with the mirror locked up). Heartbreakingly slow, we think you’ll agree. 

Dual Pixel AF

Dual Pixel AF makes its debut on a full-frame sensor with the 1D X II. Every pixel on the sensor is split into two separate photodiodes, one left-looking and one right-looking. Comparing the phase difference between strips of left-looking vs. right-looking pixels essentially allows the camera to determine exactly how much to move the focus element to acquire focus, much as the dedicated phase-detect module in DSLRs do. Approximately 80% of the frame is available for focus using Dual Pixel AF, and the technology is particularly useful not just for this extensive coverage, but for the inherently accurate focus it provides – because focus is performed at the imaging plane, there’s little possibility for mis-focus and the inaccuracy issues dedicate phase-detect sensors in DSLRs display.

Perplexingly, Dual Pixel AF can only be used in One-Shot AF in Live View, meaning it can’t be used to continuously focus (though it can for movies). We weren’t given any reasons as to this limitation, and given that continuous focus is certainly possible – as it works during movie shooting – it seems an odd omission.

Read our original coverage of Dual Pixel AF, with an in-depth look at how it works, here.

Canon embraces CFast (and Compact Flash)

Canon has decided to adopt the CFast standard while also providing a CompactFlash slot for backwards compatibility. The logic of this move is to ‘futureproof’ the camera. For now, Canon has provided the option for super high-speed data rates without alienating its existing audience, who most likely have a large collection of CF cards.

Should you own a CFast card, you’ll be able to capture 170 Raw files in a burst: just a fraction below the 180 JPEGs that its predecessor could manage (the Mark II will shoot JPEGs continuously until you run out of card space). CFast is also required for 4K video recording.

Video capabilities

On paper, the EOS-1D X Mark II has very impressive video specifications – moving far beyond what its predecessor was capable of and incorporating most of what the more niche EOS-1D C offered. The standout spec is the ability to shoot DCI 4K footage (4096 x 2160 pixels) at up to 60 frames per second. This capability is the same as the 1D C, though the X II doesn’t include that camera’s Log Gamma option.

To give faster access to video shooting there’s a Video/Live View switch around the live view button just to the right of the viewfinder. In addition, the camera gains a headphone socket for audio monitoring during recording.

Full HD options

In terms of 1080 video, the camera can record at up to 120 or 100 frames per second (without audio) or at 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24 frames per second, depending on whether you’ve got the camera set to PAL or NTSC mode. Interestingly there’s also the option to capture true 24p footage, as well as the 23.98p approximation offered in NTSC mode.

The camera can output a ‘clean’ signal across its HDMI port, for use with an external recorder or monitor (which could be used to provide focus peaking and zebra warnings, if needed), but this stream is 1080 only, not 4K.

Touch-to-focus video

The other video-friendly hardware change on the 1D X II is the addition of touch sensitivity to the rear LCD. This is only used for a very limited number of features but one of these is to position and re-position with autofocus point during video recording. Combined with the camera’s Dual Pixel AF sensor design, this should make it easy to adjust focus in video without the risk of the lens over-shooting or adding distracting focus wobble to video clips, as can happen with contrast detection autofocus.

Touch to focus can also be used for One-Shot AF in stills Live View shooting. 

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Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4 IS Pro: a closer look

06 Jan

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4 IS Pro

The weather-sealed M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4 IS Pro is the latest in the company’s range of high-end ‘Pro’ lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system and the fifth such lens to date.

Like the other Pro lenses, the 300mm F4 IS Pro features the company’s snap-back manual focus clutch system that reveals a distance scale when you pull on the focus ring; engaging manual focus and proving a linear focus response with end-stops to the ring’s travel, to give a traditional manual focus experience.


The lens is relatively compact, given its long reach. Although its F4 maximum aperture is equivalent to F8 on full frame in terms of depth-of-field and light gathering (in total image terms), its still impressively small and light for 600mm equivalent lens. The lens itself is 227mm (8.9”) long, and relatively easy to add to a mid-sized camera bag.

The 300mm weighs 1.27kg (2.8lbs) meaning that it’s relatively easy to handle and carry. As Olympus points out, this is around one third of the weight of equivalent full-frame 600mm lenses. However, this lightness doesn’t come at the expense of solid-feeling build, with extensive use of metal giving the F4 Pro a reassuring sense of robustness.

Image Stabilization

The lens IS offers correction of pitch and yaw movement (tipping up / down or panning left / right), and this combines with the in-camera systems on the E-M1 and E-M5 II to offer six stops of stabilization, according to CIPA standard testing. The company explains that the gyroscopic sensors in the lens and those camera bodies calibrate one when the lens in connected to the camera, to ensure they work in sync with each other.

Sadly this full capability is not realized when the lens is mounted on the E-M10 II or older Olympus cameras, nor is it compatible with Panasonic’s Dual IS system on the GX8 that works in a similar manner.


The closest focus distance on the 300mm is a pretty impressive 1.4m (4.6′) from the focal plane (1.15m front of the lens), giving a maximum magnification of 0.24x. This doesn’t exactly make it ideal for macro work (Olympus would probably point out that it’s akin to 0.48x magnification on a full frame camera, in terms of how much of the frame an object fills), but it does allow its use fairly close to the subject, increasing the lens’s utility beyond safari and birds-in-flight (etc.).

The lens features a focus limit switch to prevent it hunting across its full focus range, when being used for more distant subjects, so this close-quarters capability shouldn’t affect long-range performance. Olympus suggests wildlife, sports and stage performances as sensible use-cases, in addition to telephoto macro photography. The company’s internal analysis of images uploaded to Flickr apparently shows that 54% of images shot around 600mm equivalent are of birds.

Tripod ring

The 300mm F4 IS Pro has a built-in, rotatable tripod collar, as you’d expect on a long telephoto lens. However, Olympus is confident enough about the effectiveness of the stabilization that it allows you to remove the ring that the tripod foot is mounted on and replace it with a smooth ring to cover the mounting studs. This cosmetic ring is included in the box, meaning you don’t have to try to rotate the tripod foot out of the way or keep catching your hands on the mounting studs if you shoot handheld.

The foot on the tripod collar features Arca-Swiss compatible grooves cut into it, allowing a sturdy connection to a tripod without the need for an additional plate.


The lens is a relatively complex design, made up of 17 elements arranged in 10 groups. These elements include three extra low dispersion (ED) lenses, three high refractive index (HR) lenses and one extra-high refractive index (E-HR) lenses.

Olympus also touts a ‘nano’ coating that eases light across glass/air boundaries to reduce internal reflections and minimize ghosting and flare. Also helping to minimize flare is the retractable lens hood. It attaches using a normal lens bayonet but the outer sleeve of the hood can then be pulled back over the lens barrel when not in use and pulled forwards only when needed.


Although a 600mm equivalent prime isn’t usually considered a must-have part of every shooter’s camera bag, it’s likely to do a pretty good job of acting as a ‘halo’ product – underlining the company’s commitment to the system and its use in a wide range of circumstances, as well as showing-off what it is capable of. It feels significant that Olympus would explicitly highlight that the 300mm F4 is sharper than the older 300mm F2.8 for the Four Thirds SLR system – another niche but impressive optic that when it was released sat at the apex of that system’s lineup.

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Second time lucky? A closer look at Sony’s new RX1R II

15 Oct

Sony has just announced a brand-new full-frame camera, the Cyber-shot RX1R II. Successor to the RX1 and RXIR, the new model brings some significant updates, most notably the same sensor and hybrid AF system as the company’s flagship mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, the A7R II. We’ve had our hands on the R1XR II and we’ve put together some first impressions. Click through to read more

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Under the hood: A closer look at the Sony a7R II

17 Aug

There’s a lot of new technology in the Sony a7R II, and here we were briefed on some of the salient features by Sony engineers during a recent Sony Digital Imaging event in Portland, OR. Join our Technical Editor Rishi Sanyal as he explains some of the capabilities of this camera, and why they matter to photographers. Click through to read more

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A closer look at the Nikon Coolpix P900 megazoom

02 Mar

The Nikon Coolpix P900 has the longest zoom of any camera by a large margin. Whether you’re a nature photographer or just spying on your neighbors (not that we’d recommend that), the camera’s 24-2000mm should cover any situation. We got our hands on this monster zoom and will run through its most notable features right here.

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CP+ 2015: A closer look at Canon’s forthcoming PowerShot G3X

13 Feb

Alongside new DSLRs and the EOS M3, Canon quietly announced a new high-end PowerShot last week. The G3 X hasn’t been released yet, but we’re at the CP+ show in Yokohama Japan, where a prototype (displayed under glass) offers some clues to its specification and ergonomics. Click through for some images and a little informed guesswork. 

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