#667. Monday Post (13 Nov 2017) How I saved 20K€

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Nov 13


Last week was the Paris Salon de la Photo, the largest photo gear expo in the year. I went there with a shopping list that was longer than my hobby-spending bank balance. Fortunately, there was no way I could buy the whole list, as some items were incompatible with others.



The first items on my list were a tandem of new Voigtländer lenses, a 40mm f:1.2, and a 65mm f:2.0 mm APO Macro. I’d seen many images from the 65, and it looked like a fantastic lens. Many of my forum relations had actually already bought one, and it looked tempting. Though, frankly, I hardly needed it, because I own a 55mm Otus, which is fantastic, and which I use for close-ups with tubes. So good was the 65 that it was already murmured that it was a mini-Otus, the greatest praise to be lavished on a lens this side of Leica. But was/it really that good? First, 2 images, 50% crops of the 65, one at f:2.0, then f:4.0. Notice the sharpness in both cases, and the sunstars at f:4.0…



The next item, the 40mm f:1.2 is clearly not a mini-Otus. At that price level (pretty much 1000€ or $, like its sibling), and with its speed, its small-ish size and low-ish weight, it cannot be perfectly corrected, and it isn’t. Colour aberrations, focus shift, softness and other weaknesses were pointed out, mostly wide open and gradually going away when you stop down. One full picture, then a deep crop, first wide open, then f:4.0, all SOOC. Note the “two-for-one” lens, lovely in both cases, only quite different. Also the glow at f:1.2 that magnifies the lamps, the CA… But I really like the results! The 40mm f:1.2 exhibits glow wide open, which gradually goes away until f:2.8. The 65mm OTOH is very sharp from f:2.0, with only a minor gain until f:2.8n where it is clearly übersharp. This “opposition” continues unfortunately when it comes to rendering. The 40 has a lovely rendering for those who like “character” lenses (read: Pascal and his ilk). In that sense, it reminds of the Zeiss 50 f:1.5, or the Planar 50 f:1.4. Flawed, but beloved. The 65 OTOH has no such flaws and many virtues of the highest caliber. But the rendering, if flawless, is a bit rigid and cold, not unlike the Zeiss 50 f:2.0 Makro Planar. Highly valued, but not much loved.



The idea was the get the 2 lenses as a “light everyday kit”, for when I wouldn’t take my “standard everyday kit”, which does come in a 5kg. But how much would I be giving up in IQ? My questions were answered quickly: Voigtländer didn’t exhibit. Strike 2!



Next: Zeiss just released 2 new lenses in the Milvus line, a 35mm f:1.4, and a 25 f:1.4. Now I don’t own a 35mm, and the Milvus could just be the bee’s knees, except it would be very close to my Otus 28. Too much money and too much weight locked up in a duo with a lot of overlap. But there was a better idea. Let my Otus 28 go, and replace it with a Milvus 25 + 35. That way, I would “only” add 500gm to my bag (2x1kg lenses added, 1×1,5kg lens subtracted), and financially, it would be a wash or close. The 25 got a totally brilliant review from Lloyd Chambers, the 35 was acclaimed as well, and deservedly so, and, again, references to their being Otus-grade started to appear. I took the 2 lenses for a spin, only a very brief one because there were Press chaps and many customers around, and absconding with their 2 new designs at the height of a show would have been unneighbourly. The long and the short of it is: the Milvus 25 is a remarkable lens, quite possibly the best in the Milvus line, and quite possibly an überlens. Anyone should be delighted to own and shoot one. The 35 was just a teeny bit less impressive, but still at a very high level. Anyone? Well, not quite. Anyone but the very few who own the awesome, very heavy, very expensive Otus 28, a.k.a. Karl, the baddest (or bad-assest?) WA known to DearSusan. Yes, getting a 25 + 35 would make sense. Yes the IQ would suffer just a teeny bit. But my sense of achievement at having adressed my subjects with the best there is gear-wise (the substitute to adressing the subject with unbridled talent) would suffer by more than a teeny bit. Strike another 2! First, a comparison of 25 and 35, of a waste bin (!) Note, both lenses are sharp enough that the picture on the brochure produces moiré!



Then 3 comparisons between Milvus 35 and Otus 28, resized to equivalent sizes and equalized for WB. Look at differences in character and background.




Next: Sony, who have juste released the A7RIII. Would it make sense for me to upgrade from A7RII, especially considering that it incorporates the same sensor? Well, from a brief handling experience (and no shooting), I can say this. The body feels a lot nicer. Controls are more rational, better thought out, with a new joystick and touch screen, better placed. The pain of scrolling deep down into the menu structure should be over. The increased size of the grip made the camera feel much more comfortable in my hand, leaving room for the twin card slot and increased size of the new battery. The AF looked incredibly fast and tenacious through the improved EVF, latching onto the show’s visitors like a fighter plane’s missile tracking device. Impressive! But, as no shooting was permitted, spending will have to wait until images are available other than the JPEGs from the US launch. Although, at the time of writing, one deep photo review shows very much improved pics over the A7R II due to pixel shift. If this turns out to be only tolerably impractical (practical it is not, requiring a tripod, multi-second multi-shots and in-computer processing with Sony software), it could be a huge winner for my style of shooting. But, until then, strike another 1!



Last, I have long lusted for the Hasselblad X1-D. A perfect object, so it seems. Amazingly small for a medium-format camera, super design, simple to use with a touch-screen interface, a hallowed name suggesting a great shooting experience, and fine images showing awesome IQ potential. Notwithstanding the very negative reviews that came out early on, pointing out agonizing sluggishness, buggy software, etc… All things I thought could be cured by maturing firmware. I went on to the Hassy booth with anticipation and fear in my heart, ’cause desirable it may be, but cheap it is not, at some 15K for a 3-lens setup, and handled one (again, no shooting). It took me about 3 seconds to lose any lust. By comparison, the original A7R looked well made. Yes, the looks are gorgeous, and the format perfect. But where is the quality one is entitled to consider appropriate for a 7K€ piece of kit? Not only did it look and feel plasticky, but what killed it for me is this: when I focused through the EVF, it was slow. Not only not as fast as A7RIII, NEX 5 sort-of slow. 5-years-ago slow, even though it was set on the fastest AF profile (single point). And the AF motor groaned and vibrated. I could feel the vibration through the camera body. Ouch, that hurt! I may be unfair in being so dismissive so quickly, except that at that price level, my expecations were of a luxo object and experience, Leica-like or better, and I am not the first person to be so negatively impressed, including at DearSusan. Strike another 1!



There, you have it, here is how I saved 20K in a couple of hours’s activity. Not bad, eh?




But there is a rider to this story. The same day, I got a message from a chap called Kai, whom I knew from a photo forum. He was in Paris, and was I interested in meeting? Is a cat interested in saucer of milk? We met, he is a very talented Chinese ‘tog from Australia, on a 6-week photo break from work (!). And he had with him an all-Voigtländer kit, including a 40mm and a 65mm! Which he let me use, hence the ictures shown above. Again, testing at length while he sat there looking at me would have shown less-than-brotherly love, as he is very principled. He didn’t want to try my Otus, for fear of what GAS would do to him. Wow, the man has bottom!



Still, I got some pics, and they tell a good part of the story. Yes, the Voigtländers are fine lenses, very attractive proposals at their price-performance points, and very welcome additions to the now vast range of native FE lenses, but Otus-like not quite.



For a week when I did NOT spend money, it was as good a photography s****y-weather week as they come. One nice night Meetup, two shoots with Kai. Hmmmmm….



Let there be Light : Project Update 1

So far, 2 days into the project, 5 people have raised their hands to help 🙂 Thanks a lot to all volunteers 🙂 We look forward to working together.

Over the week-end, Philippe and I have already been (separately) working hard on an article on ETTR. Stay tuned for more. For those of you reading this who don’t know what Project Let the be Light is, all the explanations can be found in our #666 post 😉



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  • Dallas Thomas says:

    Phillipe the banner image is a cracker and the other are not far behind it. I was very interested in you comments regarding the 25 Milvus, should it be on my shopping list? Great article as usual, I look forward to visiting this show next year. The Kai you mentioned is he the YouTube Guy?

    • philberphoto says:

      Hi Dallas,
      No, this is a different Kai. He is a Kai after your own heart, living in Melbourne. Taking his photography and his baguette seriously in equal measure…:-)! As to the 25 Milvus, it is a fabulous lens. In my opinion, probably better than other Milvus, including the “new designs”, like the 50 f:1.4, 85 f:1.4, 35 f:1.4, or the best “older” designs (25 ZE/ZF f:2.0, 35 f:1.4). If I had to find an equivalent, I’d say the 21 Loxia. Very, very transparent, huge resolution, not much optical “signature” at all. The only advantage of the Otus 28 is the sheer beauty of the colours in the bokeh, which outshines the 25 just a little bit. But I would happily live with the 25 and would be thankful every time I shot it, except, in my case (but not yours), 25 is less useful a focal length than 28. 28 is a street lens, 25 is wider than I can swallow on an everyday basis. Have fun on your fabulous travels!

  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    Outside my realm of interest in “exotic” (to me) lenses, but I’m enjoying your pain and loving your pictures. 🙂

  • NMc says:

    For me not knowing much about lenses or Sony, something that seems missing from your discussed options is no mention of Zeiss Loxia for a lighter weight option. If you have discussed this in previous post I apologise, however these seem to be the most obvious comparison points with the Voigtlander’s. Of course if you are resisting these lenses because you already own an Otis and they cannot compete on quality, then we will have no sympathy for you! 😉
    Regards Noel

    • philberphoto says:

      Noel, you are 100% correct. A 2-lens kit, for me, needs to be between 28 and 40 at the wide end and between 55 and 85 at the ong end, with a greater span than 40-50, of course. That means, in the Loxia range, the only choice is 35-85, in theory ideal. Except that I don’t care for the Loxia 35, which I owned in the form of a ZM 35 f:2.0. It is one of the two Zeiss lenses I owned out of some 20 types I owned that I sold without any keepers or next to any to show for my having owned them. Now some people love it for wide open performance on subjects like stage performances in low light, but for my use (landscape, cityscape, objects close-up), it is not my cup of tea. But I could do a lighter kit that includes a ZM 35 f:1.4 (mounted on a helicoid adapter), an abfab lens + Loxia 85, a delightful lens, as shown by our reviews of both. But, before plunking down my hard-earned, trying the Voigtländer duo sounded like a good idea, plus they are both native (EXIF, no adapter, aotu switch to magnify), which the ZM is not. To give you a very rough idea, because I am comparing apples and oranges, and haven’t lived with them long enough to form a fully educated opinion, they are both a bit better than the (very good) Loxia 50, each in its own way, but a bit less good than the two best Loxias (21, 85). And a duo of 21 and 85 is just too much of a gap for me.

      • NMc says:

        Thanks Philippe
        That makes more sense to me now. I must admit that both Sony and Zeiss e mount approach to lenses is not logical to me, so many lens ranges/sub brands started and not yet one consistent completed set (other than a large three zoom set). This and their copying the Canikon trait for neglecting apsc shooters kept me away from Sony; even though on paper the (apsc) e-mount was the best fit for me.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Dunnon what went wrong – posted this before, and momentarily it appeared on DS, but it seems to have vanished.

    Love your shots of pont B ir Hakeim & the Solférino metro station, Philippe – available light photography, after dark, is one of my passions, and these are great shots. I’m not too keen on the green bicycle, it looks rather too hard to correct the distortion in post processing and, in that condition, very uncomfortable to ride.

    As to your incipient attack of GAS – 20,000 Euros is a heap of money, whatever you spend that much on has to be outstanding, and I don’t get the feeling that any of the stuff you’ve listed would revolutionise your photography, so I’m left wondering whether the incremental benefits could possibly justify the incremental cost.

    If I was starting over, I’d certainly be looking at Nik’s D850, for example – but that’s a hell of a wad of cash for a camera body that isn’t that much better/different than my D810. There’s a rumor that Nik are going to hot this up, by ceasing production of the D810 within the next few months (even though they aren’t keeping up with demand for the D850, yet). I might even ignore this, and pick up a cheap D810 when they’re about to terminate its production. I’ve just post processed about a thousand photos from my D810 and I’ve been sitting here, staggered by the quality of the images.

    Of course, that’s as an over-indulged amateur. Pros often need a medium format, because their clients want prints that I could use as bed sheets – but that’s pretty meaningless to someone like me, since I never print larger than A3 and only do that on rare occasions.

    And of course you don’t need to buy, to try – renting a lens or a camera body is always an option, and at these prices, a sensible thing to do before deciding you must buy something.

    I suppose these remarks aren’t good for sales, for the makers. Tough – Nik’s reversed its fortunes (or claims to have), at some cost to Brasilian customers – the others appear to be going OK – and some of their woes were the result of “unfortunate” manufacturing/marketing ideas anyway, rather than the impact of competition from cellphones. Some guys even use Daguerreotypes, others are using collodion wet plate cams, heaps are using film cams, and for the foreseeable future, DSLRs and other recognisable cameras are here to stay. What the various companies have to work at, is supplying sensible choices of product to this market. I would suggest that this no longer includes the plethora of pocketable cams with 4/3 sensors we saw a few years back – and as Pascal has mentioned on more than one occasion, it might be as well if they listen to what customers are asking for.

  • kaioyang says:

    Hi Philippe,

    Much obliged to have been included in your fine article and sorry to have missed all these during the past month. Have been busy PP my 14k trip photos as well as planning my next career move 🙂
    As usual with lots of wit and deep thinking. And you have taken completely different shots to mine at our meet up. Really fantastic to see! e.g. the locks at Pont des Artes – you took the symmetrical view and I took the side view. BTW for the record I’m not principled, just that my wallet is very shallow and can’t resist GAS so better stay away from temptations 😉

    Also have been thinking about the A7R3 upgrade from a R2 user point of view. Initially I thought the only real difference is the pixel shift mode, but have been really surprised to see David’s article about improved Manual Focusing experience. However, I’m still very indifferent to Sony’s pricing and marketing methodologies. The changeover cost is just way too expensive. Would love to see your view about this.

    • philberphoto says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Kai! As to your question, re:A7RIII. It is clearly improved over A7RII in almost every respect except what I would call “main-line IQ”. But main-line IQ was the strongest feature of the A7R line from the first iteration, so I don’t see that as a crippling limitation. My question at this stage is not “is it better?” or “is it better by enough of a margin?” but “will it let me take better shots, or more good shots, or both, than a A7RII?”. As I only very rarely use AF, that part of the answer doesn’t matter to me very much. What is left? Pixel shift. That is very interesting, but I haven’t yet seen enough pictures with this process ot pass judgement. Should be soon, though. Improved EVF. That could be a “sleeper” biggie, not only for now, but for later, as my eysight continues to decline. Improved handling. A major factor for some, but not for me, else I wouldn’t be shooting possibly the most awkward combo built around A7, with the huge Otus 28. Better construction/weather protection. Definitely good for peace of mind. I remember shooting in rainy conditions with a brilliant a very nice fellow along the embankment of the Seine. He protected his camera, I did not, but I feared that it might fail me, which it didn’t, and losing that fear would be nice. Overall, there is no killer reason the get thh new camera. My guess is that the price will start to drop soon, and that it will drop faster than the resale value of my existing body, which has already lost most of its value drop. So waiting for more info and/or better value seems to be a good option. And, in the meanwhile, take lots of pics with my existing camera…:-)

      • kaioyang says:

        Thanks Phillippe,
        It just happened that a couple days ago one of our local retailers had a 20% sale event which, was not supposed to include A7R3 and A9. However, their website had an error and it did not end up excluding A7R3 from the discount. So, now I have ordered one with 20% off (and the retailer actually honoured this mistake) and now I’m trying to justify this expense. So far, I’m still not convinced so probably going to cancel the order… Seriously what a waste of 20% discount…

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