Category Archives: Honest Reviews

A Portrait Shoot with the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8

A fast 85mm has long been a favorite among the portrait photographer’s toolbox. Slightly telephoto, this particular focal length lightly compresses the image so that models are comfortably nestled within the background. From a design perspective, large apertures like f/1.8 or even f/1.2 remain cost effective and practical because at longer focal lengths, glass elements necessarily become prohibitively expensive and oversized. Lastly, the 85mm’s working distance lets you stay close enough to the model yet provide a lot more depth-of-field (and bokeh) than your fast 50mm or 35mm.

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15 y/o Mikaila Storrs (left) and 19 y/o Peyton Lake (right) at Newport Beach. Makeup and hair by Jordan Takeda.

So what do we look for when choosing a 85mm portrait lens? Three things spring to mind. First, it has to be easy to handle because the last thing you’d want is a lens encumbering you after the models are made up and the studio is paid for. Try shooting with an EF 85mm f/1.2 all day and you’ll see what I mean.

Next, of course, is image quality but that is often a broad and nebulous term, and 85mms, in general, have been great performers. More specifically, a defining feature of the 85mm is its ability to throw the background out of focus, isolating the subject in a cocoon of soft blurriness. So a good portrait lens should have its own character.

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The girls riding and looking back in a Surrey, a four wheeled bicycle contraption available for rent all along the sunny coast of California.

Finally, since for large aperture primes we’ll be working with a narrow depth-of-field, fast and accurate autofocus is absolutely essential, much more so than for shorter focal lengths. I defy you to eye-focus with a manual lens, on a non-split prism focusing screen, at variable light and working distances. You just can’t do it, consistently, so professionals rely on quality AF at longer focal lengths.

So for this hands-on review, we are using the latest and greatest from Zeiss, their Batis 85mm f/1.8. We briefly looked at its technical specs when we first laid our hands on it, so rather than doing that again here, we’re going to jump straight into the good stuff. We called up Peyton and Mikaila, they drove to Newport Beach from Hollywood and San Diego respectively, and we rented a few bikes along the beach boardwalk. A fun Sunday afternoon in California.

Continue reading A Portrait Shoot with the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8

Got GAS? Honest Questions We Need to Ask Ourselves

So here I am, thinking about dropping some hard earned cash on another camera system. I’ve definitely been a sucker for hype and the latest generation of cameras have lured hours of my attention from actual work. Maybe I was going to procrastinate either way, but at the end of this tunnel, I will probably be losing a hefty amount of cash to replace it with several hundred grams of magnesium alloy housing some serious CMOS circuitry.

Photographer or Photo Enthusiast?

As large camera manufacturers start churning out the hype machines, many photo-enthusiasts will start salivating for these new imaging monsters; bigger resolution, better dynamic range, higher sensitivity, faster processing, more connectivity, etc. It’s enough to make you go out and justify maxing out your credit card in order to ignite a spark that hasn’t been lit since the last time you purchased a camera.

But before you do that, you need to ask yourself this question: What do I need this for? It’s pretty simple but for many, this could be like walking through a land mine.

It doesn't matter how good your gear is, if you're not going out there photographing then you've purchased yourself an expensive paper weight. This sunrise shot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was captured at 5am.
It doesn’t matter how good your gear is, if you’re not going out there photographing then you’ve purchased yourself an expensive paper weight. This sunrise shot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was captured at 5am. I’m not an early bird but when you get shots like this, it’s enough to get me out of bed!

As mirrorless  cameras start eating away at DSLR sales worldwide, the old guard of photography; primarily Nikon, Canon and Pentax have been trying to stop the hemorrhaging of their entry level and enthusiast range of cameras.

To this day, nothing excites me more than placing my eye against my Canon 5D Mk III eye piece and seeing a tried and tested system in that reflex but for many, it’s totally unnecessary to carry a bigger, heavier camera all for the sake of that mirror box . You see, many families now want great image quality without carrying the big DSLR, these mirrorless cameras can provide just that but on the other end of the spectrum, enthusiasts might require a sturdier built machine that can withstand nature’s elements.

Continue reading Got GAS? Honest Questions We Need to Ask Ourselves

Are the Extra Dollars Worth the Upgrade to the Full Frame Sensor?

Most professional photographers work with full frame cameras. No surprise here, it is known to yield the best image quality. That said, the latest APS-C size sensors have improved drastically lately. The Sony A6000 and the Nikon D7200 and the D5300 are the proof that this sensor size can be excellent (for the most camera geeks of you, you will have noticed that these 3 have the same 24.3MP Sony sensor but Nikon has its own way of working with it).

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This test here is showing how close it can be. The gap seems to get smaller and smaller lately, so is it worth upgrading your gear to have a full frame sensor knowing a full frame camera and all the lenses are significantly more expensive? There are many criteria to take into account.

Investing into a camera system can be very costly. The body itself is expensive but the lenses are the most expensive purchases. Fortunately, the lenses can last for decades if well maintained and treated. They also lose less value over time then the camera body. But even if we can change the camera body relatively more easily, the system we invest in determines the lenses you will buy.

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Questions: Is it worth investing in a full frame sensor nowadays knowing the APS-C size (and even the micro 4/3rd sensors to a lower extent) have a great image quality, most of the time similar?What criteria are to take into account?

Continue reading Are the Extra Dollars Worth the Upgrade to the Full Frame Sensor?

Sony A7II: Field Test! (Part2)

(We gave our first impressions here in Part 1 on the A7II. We’re now about to detail its image quality in real life.)

Sony just announced the all new A7rII (please read here our Top 7 Game Changing Features of the A7rII) with some amazing new features. We love how aggressive Sony is on the market forcing the “big ones” to react or die. This is an excellent competition, forcing every manufacturers to move forward and offer some real innovative technologies that Canon and Nikon (10 reasons to switch to mirrorless) have not been too prompt to do these past 5 years, thinking that their reputation and their cameras were good enough no matter what (Will they go full frame mirrorless?).

Official Sony Mirrorless website

“You will never regret, even a second, the images produced by this sensor”.

That being said, with the A7 series announced back in October 2013, Sony had already declared war to Canon and Nikon with this new category of weapons stating new references on the market especially with the A7s in terms of ISO performances. This series was very well engineered right from scratch and no one can deny its success now. The A7II is thus a refinement of the A7 featuring new assests/ skills that we have been discussing in the first part here.

As you already know, I loved how handy and well built this camera is. It is very practical and easy to use even though I think I could use one more customizable button. I also had to point a few flaws but they are not significant considering the qualities and the delight that this camera will offer you! So I am now going to test and review the image quality, for those who cannot put $3200 on the table to splurge on the all new A7rII (body only), the A7II offers already a great quality enjoyable for most of us, enthusiats and even pro-photographers — as I discussed here in a previous article —  for half the price, $1600 body only.

Image Quality

It is clear that the image quality depends on the lens you are using. It is then difficult to establish a clear ranking unless you do scientific tests and multiple comparisons with different cameras with the same lenses like DxOlab would do. Continue reading Sony A7II: Field Test! (Part2)

Sony A7mII First Impressions (Part 1)

At last! This little wonder eventually arrived at home. It arrived in a quite nice bundle from Amazon at only $1800. This bundle included, among other things, a flexible tripod, a spare battery with an independent charger (very important), a remote control, 3 filters, a case to carry it around, a 64Mo Sony memory card, screen protectors, a HDMI cable etc. Considering that this is one of the latest full frame camera on the market, this is pretty inexpensive. Take a look at my other article comparing the A7 to other full frame cameras from Nikon and Canon. Just a few words about its look. I know this is very personal, some might hate it and other will love it. I am in that last group. I think it’s just retro and modern at the same time in a very subtle way. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is better looking in my opinion but this is another category, a micro 4/3rd. So thumbs up to the designers as I think it’s a very good looking camera.

The Build Quality

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As you already probably read everywhere that the A7mII has a new grip, new dials and customizable buttons and of course the 5 axis sensor stabilization, I should not go over this again. But I must say that I’ve always been impressed to find a full frame sensor into such a small body, and now with the 5 axis IBIS, it is even more amazing.

So here I’ll give you my impressions on its build quality and handling before talking about its image quality in a following article. By the way, I can already tell you that i’m going to test the Rokinon 14mm f/2.5 FE mount, the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro and its LA-EA4 adaptor, and this kit lens (Sony 28-70mm F/3.5-5.6) that deserves good critics!

Continue reading Sony A7mII First Impressions (Part 1)