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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

That's more like it!



It seems I have had a change of luck! Today in the mail I got the following items:

1x replacement Canon EF-S 17-55mm IS

1x replacement Hoya Pro1D CPL

1x Samyang 8mm Fisheye

1x Transcend 16gb SDHC

I also received an email from ebay informing me I have been refunded in full for the Canon 70-300mm L that I was having trouble with!

Even more amazingly the Canon lens is the best copy out of the 5 I have had so far, focus still isn't perfect but it's the best I've tried, it gets it right a lot of the time and when it doesn't, recomposing the shot normally does the trick. At the very least it's better than no lens at all! Hopefully at least one day at Bristol balloon fiesta will result in some sunshine so I can really put the lens through it's paces!

The Samyang 8mm is quite remarkable, it's very sharp at f/5.6 and has excellent edge to edge consistency despite the incredible 180 degree angle of view! It's such a cheap lens in the scheme of things especially considering the ambitious optical design so I am very impressed that the quality control appears to be so good! It's not going to be a lens I can use every day and the novelty would quickly wear off but I get the feeling it will be well suited to taking photos of hot air balloons.

The Transcend is a great memory card and I already have one which has worked flawlessly for the past 8 months, they may be affordable but in my experience they are rock solid unlike Patriot and several other cheaper brands!

I'm still waiting for a spare battery but I will have access to mains electricity so I could probably cope in a worst case scenario, on the whole I am much better equipped for the trip to Bristol.


Now it just remains for either the weather or riots to ruin everything!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Get your shoes on NEX-5, this could be your chance to shine!



I explained earlier that it's starting to look like I may not have a decent lens to put on my 60D when I go to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta next week so I have been giving thought to the fact that I may have to rely on my NEX-5 instead so this morning with the sun blazing I decided to make sure it was in fighting shape by taking a few photos of this old art deco cinema that is currently being torn down in my town. The building did not have listed protection and the owner wanted to build something new so unfortunately this is the result. There is some controversy over the circumstances of this happening, it has been stated that the building was not legible for listed protection because it has undergone too many alterations inside over the years however once demolition had begun it was clear to see that most if not all of the original interior was intact and original. There is a long tradition of knocking down historic buildings in Bridgend with the case of the highly attractive town hall being flattened to make way for offices being a notable example!

As sad as all this is, the photographer in me was attracted to the complex shapes and textures and with a clear and sunny morning sky these were only enhanced by the long shadows. Another benefit of the clear sky is the fantastic contrast between yellow and blue!

For these photos I used the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with the NEX-5. It's not a perfect lens, it has soft boarders at 18mm, it has field curvature at 55mm and can suffer from (easily correctable) chromatic aberration at the image boarders but despite all that it's not a bad little tool, centre sharpness is excellent at all apertures, colours and contrast are first rate and the image stabilization is great. The lens is very well made with a metal finish and the front element does not rotate. I tend to set this lens to f/5.6 and put a circular polariser on the front and this normally delivers very punchy and usable images.

The second image was shot using the "sweep panorama" feature built in to the NEX-5 which I find to be a very useful addition, it doesn't give extremely large images but for web use or moderately sized prints it can save a lot of time and effort by removing the need to use computer software to stitch the images, it has done an excellent job here apart from the stunted car that the eagle eyed amoung you may notice but otherwise I never fail to be impressed by this feature!

End of the Embassy cinema in Bridgend

End of the Embassy cinema in Bridgend

Losing the will to live!



It really starting to look like I won't have a decent lens to put on my 60D for the Bristol balloon fiesta at this rate! In my previous post I explained that I was having trouble with trying to buy a few high quality lenses.

My fourth copy of the Canon EF-S 17-55mm got sent back last week as it had a front focusing issue, I have just been informed the lens is out of stock and I will have to wait for a replacement to arrive which means only a 50/50 chance of it arriving on time and even then there's no guarantee it will be a good copy but anything at all would be better than nothing, I could use contrast detect AF in liveview if necessary I just need the lens to turn up in the first place!

The second lens is an even worse story, I purchased the new 70-300mm L lens from a supposedly UK based ebay seller who appeared to have a good track record but it turned out the lens was in HONG KONG! But that turned out to be the least of my worries, the lens arrived and was faulty, the zoom ring was almost seized solid and the image noticeably soft. I informed the seller who provided me with a UK return address. I paid a high price for express delivery with insurance however the next day the tracking informed me the delivery had failed as the recipient was not at the address! I messaged the seller again and they replied saying their UK agent was "in the process of relocating" !!!! What a complete joke! They seller than asked me to WAIT until the lens was returned back to me and then pay to send the lens back to HONG KONG!!!! I just cannot believe the absolute incompetence! It's also worth noting that the seller paid for the original import duty themselves but deliberately under-declared the value of the lens by some £700 to reduce the costs! I also discovered that the sellers ebay name is just a facade and that the supplier is actually one of ebays largest Hong Kong based sellers! They have no actual presence in the UK apart from someone to accept returned items but they are in the process of moving house! The worst part is that they charged what would have been a competitive price for a UK product but I ended up with a Hong Kong sourced item at a price that was much greater than any of the legitimate sellers in Hong Kong who are up front about where the item is!

Needless to say I had run out of patience so I escalated the ebay case I had already opened, it was obvious trying to settle the matter directly with the seller was completely futile. I now have to wait 48 hours for ebay to make a decision, fortunately if the seller provides the UK return address I can already prove I have tried to send it back, if the seller provides a Hong Kong address I am under no obligation to return the item because the seller misrepresented it's location in the first place! I get the feeling the seller was fully aware of this and that they were trying to stall for time until they had a genuine UK address for me to send the lens to so they could avoid a situation where I was not obligated to return the item.

It has been nearly three weeks since I first purchased the lens and there is no way on earth I will have a replacement in time for Bristol next week and even if I get refunded I would probably not have sufficient time to buy a lens from a different seller and receive it in time! I will have to use the trusty 55-250mm which has great image quality but the focus isn't quite perfect especially with fast moving targets, this was less of an issue with the 350D where a slight misfocus was not as noticeable but with the 60D and all it's pixels hungry for high MTF levels it's a lot more noticeable, I took the lens to an airshow last month and the shots that were in focus were fantastic, the lens delivers simply amazing sharpness for it's price but more often than not the images were just slightly misfocused, this was the main reason for purchasing the 70-300mm L!

Those two were just the main hair pulling frustrations of the month! In addition I bought the excellent Samyang 8mm fisheye, I thought it would be a great lens to use with hot air balloons and the price is very reasonable so I went for it only to be told "we apologise but this lens is currently out of stock and will be dispatched direct from the supplier in Poland" and guess what? That's right it's now due to arrive AFTER I leave for Bristol!

I was also optimistic enough to buy a CPL filter for the as of yet non existent 17-55mm, a relatively expensive Hoya Pro1D to be exact, that arrived the day after I paid and you can't go wrong with filters can you? Well you can if they arrive sealed but once opened have dust, smudges and a scratch on them! I can't even image how that happened unless the filter was a retuned item they tried to palm off as a new one! Needless to say it was another return case with the replacement due to arrive the day BEFORE I leave for Bristol, I wonder if it will arrive? I wonder if I will even have a lens to put it on?

I'm starting to get the feeling I might just take my NEX-5 and kit lens at this rate, it's not a prefect lens but it always focuses accurately so I would at least be able to concentrate on taking photos and not worrying about technical problems!

I will update you on my situation as soon as I have anything new to add!


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A general update



As usual it has been a while since my last update! I'm going to make this a general update just to make up a post!

A few changes have gone on recently and I made the decision to offload a few cameras that it made no sense for me to keep any longer. I also wanted to save some money to buy some decent autofocus lenses. There is a child on the way and I wanted to get a few killer lenses to last me a long time because money will surely be going elsewhere in the near future! This sounds simple but in reality it has turned out to be very complicated!

I sold my beloved Canon PowerShot Pro1, I really have no need for a prosumer digicam, especially when it is no more compact than a mirrorless model with a smaller sensor. It was and still is a highly capable camera with a great lens but I just never use it anymore, it was just pointless keeping it any longer so I sold it on ebay where it fetched a surprisingly good amount of cash, that L badge is still unique among Canon compacts and it shows in the resale value which is incredibly high for such a dated camera, it made twice as much as my Olympus E-410 which I sold last year!

I also Sold my Panasonic G1! This camera was almost perfect for using manual lenses and the kit lens was about the best on the market too, the external controls were amazingly comprehensive, the EVF is still impressive and the overall handling is excellent but there was just no escaping the poor sensor performance which to be honest has put me off the idea of ever owning a m4/3 camera again. My former Olympus E-410 was a noisy camera but the G1 was something else! I often found RAW images taken at ISO100 became very noisy after a little PP, admittedly my RAW converter of choice CaptureOne tends to bring noise out in any file in the quest for amazing detail but to have so much noise at base iso was still a shock. To make matters worse, noise seemed to be worse when using legacy lenses, we all know micro 43 cameras perform in camera lens corrections even to RAW files but I soon discovered the level of noise was different when using the kit lens too, I found photos taken at iso 400 with the kit lens contained no more noise than photos taken with manual lenses at iso 100 but had as much detail even at identical exposure settings, quite why there should be a difference in noise handling depending on if a legacy or native lens is attached was a source of bafflement and frustration. The nail in the coffin for the G1 came in the form of an excellent offer I saw online for a Sony NEX-5, I knew the camera had less manual controls and no EVF but reviews pointed to a far superior sensor so I couldn't resist trying it out and I was no disappointed, the Sony handles noise just as well as my Canon DSLR which means I can dare to go above base ISO and still have relatively clean images to show for it. Just about everything about the G1 is better than the Sony except for the image quality which to me happens to be the most important thing so reluctantly I decided to let it go and keep the Sony. Now I need a camera that combines the features of the G1 and the image quality of the Sony, the NEX-7 has just been leaked and it appears to be that very camera! I just hope it doesn't cost too much!

So earlier I was saying how buying a few good lenses hadn't turned out to be as simple as I had hoped, the key phrase here seems to be quality control! I swear every time I try to buy a more expensive lens I get a cheap experience in regards to quality control! In the past few months I have been through four copies of the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 and am currently awaiting the fith! The first was de centred, the second had extremely soft edges, the third front focused at all focal lengths and the fourth which I have just returned focused fine at 17mm and 55mm but front focused severely at 28-40mm! I am currently waiting for my 5th copy! I have also tried the Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 both macro and non macro and have had no more luck with those, excellent image quality when if focus but all of the three I have tried have had focus problems! I'm going to Bristol next week for the hot air balloon fiesta which is probably the highlight of my year in regards to taking photos and at the rate I'm going I won't even have a reliable walkaround zoom to take! To say I'm pulling my hair out is an understatement! I even bought a 17-85mm as a stop gap which focused absolutely perfectly but I should have read the reviews, I had no idea the corner sharpness was so poor at the wide end! I have two options at the moment, hope the next copy of the 17-55mm is a keeper or buy the 15-85mm which whilst having a slower aperture is apparently a match for sharpness whilst having a more versatile range!

The other lens I was looking for was a long zoom for airshow and nature photography, again I chose a lens and proceeded to go through four different copies before giving up, the lens in question was the Canon 100-400mm L, the closest I came to a keeper was pin sharp wide open at 400mm, but only on the bottom half of the image, the top half gradually degraded to mush as you got to the top of the image! In the end I decided to compromise on focal length and try the 70-300mm L but when that turned up the zoom ring was almost seized solid so that one is currently on the way back too, I'm dreading receiving the replacement because I have literally gotten to the point where I expect a dud copy every time. I also tried two copies of the Tamron 70-300mm SP but neither were as sharp as reviews led me to believe! I'm getting sick of sending lenses back to say the least!

The one lens I have purchased since my last update that was fine was a used Canon EF 85mm F/1.8, it focuses fast and accurately and is sharp at all apertures, if it wasn't for this lens I may well have thrown my camera gear off a bridge in a tied up sack this month!