I love Nepal

May 10, 2015

One of the most amazing places in the world I had the privilege to spend time in has been Nepal. Nepal’s nature, culture and people have left a lasting mark on me.

It saddens me greatly that the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck on April 25th destroyed many of the cultural sights in the capital. Many of the places I have visited and wished to have had another chance to photograph are gone forever.  I’m glad to say that all my friends in Nepal are safe and have not been hurt by the quake.

Below are some images from the Khumbu region of the country:

Kathmandu is a very vibrant city that is a visual overload for photographers. Below are some images from my brief stay in the area after returning from the mountains.

I’m sure this panorama of the city has been changed forever after the earthquake.

First weekend with the Pentax 645Z

Apr 8, 2015

I have been using the Pentax 645D for over 4 years, and it has proven to be the most reliable all weather camera out of any system I own. It has accompanied me in snow, ice, rain and hot desert climates without skipping a beat. While it’s a heavy and slow camera compared to smaller formats, the resulting image quality never disappoints.

The Achilles heel of the 645D however, was it’s somewhat unreliable auto focusing system, which without live view required me to fire off multiple shots to make sure I had one image with proper focus. Critical focus is a must on high resolution cameras, without it the resolution advantages quickly disappear.

The 2014 released Pentax 645Z promised to fix a lot of the minor issues that were present in the 645D. Pentax/Ricoh included live view and vastly improved high ISO performance courtesy of the new Sony sensor – the same sensor that is used in the Phase one IQ 250 and the Hasselblad H5D-50c.

I was debating for a long time if I should upgrade to the Pentax 645Z given the modest upgrade in resolution (40mp to 51mp), but having seen some samples of the high ISO performance of the new sensor, as well as the lack of anything exciting being announced in recent months (including the new Canon 5DS), I decided to stick with the Pentax system due to it’s reliability, solid design, and my prior investment in multiple Pentax lenses.

My 645Z arrived the day before easter weekend, giving me 3 days to shoot with the camera and get a few initial thoughts.

As with the 645D, the new 645Z body does not try to be a fashion item or designer gadget disguised as a camera. Every function that is needed for actual picture taking is front and centre, while all the “fun” features are hidden deep within the menus, most of them turned off by default. The camera can actually be used through thick gloves in old weather due to it’s deep and comfortable grip.

The first thing that struck me about the sensor was it’s high ISO performance. Images shot at 6400iso are clean enough for big prints, even a few shots I tried at 12,800iso are remarkably good and usable for smaller reproductions.

The live view is great, and unlike my Sony A7R, remembers the last zoom state when it’s re activated. Many little details like this, present on both the 645Z and the 645D before it, show clearly that photographers still have a say in designing cameras at Pentax. Another welcome addition is the articulated screen. It will certainly get a lot of use especially on low angle images off a tripod.

From what I can tell, the battery life is noticeably shorter than on the 645D. Most of this I assume is due to the live view and my more frequent use of the back screen.

The files from the 645Z are remarkable and have a lot of dynamic range. More important than dynamic range (for me), is the fact that the files are not compressed like the Sony A7R files. This quickly becomes apparent when manipulating colours. None of the banding or bizarre posterization effects in lower tones seem to exist in the resulting DNG files. While I still love my A7R system for lightweight travel, I had to discard ruined images in the past from the lossy compression Sony imposes on it’s raw files.

Below are some additional sample shots from this weekend. I will try to post more comments about this camera as I’m getting more aquatinted with the differences it has compared to the 645D.


More images from Cuba

Feb 4, 2013

See my previous post for some additional images from this trip.

Real world Panasonic GH3 and the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8

Jan 27, 2013

I have spent over two weeks shooting with the GH3 alongside my other cameras in Cuba and must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by how useful it turned out to be for this type of travel photography.

The region I visited had a diverse geography, ranging from a busy city (Santiago), beaches, to a wet tropical climate in the mountains. The camera was tested in the city, farm villages and tropical forests.

The two other cameras I had with me were the Sigma DP2 Merrill and the Pentax 645D which is my go to camera for photographing landscapes. If I had to sum it up, the GH3 coupled with the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 outpaced both the Pentax and Merrill in the versatility department.

This camera and lens combination is very responsive, comfortable to use and easy to hold for many hours at a time. While I would like a sensor beyond the 16 megapixels, travel photography or journalism does not necessarily require much more resolution.

Shooting in Santiago was very chaotic. The car traffic, fast moving people and extreme heat all added up to a place no big or slow camera is very well suited for. While it can be done (and I have tried) the DP2 Merrill turned out to be a little limiting when a good moment presented itself. Due to it’s fixed lens and slow response I missed some potentially interesting shots.

The Pentax 645D on the other hand is simply to large to put up with for 8+ hours in a busy city and likes to attract attention. I have put up with it many times and still continue to do so because of the image quality rewards it provides, but at the end of the day missing to many shots or scaring people away with it’s imposing form factor can be frustrating.

I have found the GH3 to be a very reasonable replacement for something like a full frame Nikon D4 which in fact is not much lighter or smaller than the Pentax. Sure the D4 is more suited for sports and wildlife, but a 70-200 lens on a full frame body is a huge beast to carry around all day and attracts just as much attention as the 645D. I have encountered a photographer shooting with a D800 with the additional grip and the camera looked just as imposing.

Panasonic is marketing the GH3 for “multimedia journalists” which may become a new buzz word. However, considering the market for the Nikon D4, the feature set is not significantly different. Unfortunately, the low light performance of the smaller sensor is not quite in the same league as the D4, nor is the high speed shooting, a potentially big deal for some users. If you compare features like the articulated screen, which lets you shoot above a crowd, or the excellent video capability, things start to get more interesting.

It turned out that most of my photography in the city was done with the GH3 and the excellent  Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 lens. This lens is very sharp, focuses lightning fast and is very accurate even on moving subjects. With the latest firmware (as of December 11th) the lens has the ability to track focus and re adjust at 240fps. I have made some 16×20 prints of the above images and they hold up very well even at close inspection. The Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 performs as well if not better as some of the prime lenses already available for MFT. I find this trend very exciting for travel photography and documentary applications.

The weather sealing on both the lens and the GH3 body has also proven it’s worth. I was caught in dense rain with the camera and it kept on going without a hitch.

My initial observations made about the camera in a previous post still hold true. However, I must confess that I have gotten used to some of the button layout changes and the new scroll wheels which I did not initially like.

So far I’m very satisfied with both the image quality and handling. The video quality is excellent and I got some footage at 6400iso that is still usable for many applications. Good job Panasonic, now go and make more fast lenses.




Back from Cuba

Jan 9, 2013

It has been a great trip and a welcome break from sitting at the computer. I will be posting some images in the coming weeks as well as my impressions of the Panasonic GH3 and the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 lens. Stay tuned.