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Summer 2015: Two new cameras that have lit up my radar

Leica Q and DxO ONE

I own a lot of cameras. Both digital and more recently, film. I have enough cameras that any reasonable or even unreasonable person will ever need. So it takes a special device to pique my interest these days. In the recent flurry of announcements, there’s actually two cameras that have hit my radar.

No, it’s not the Sony A7R II or the Sony RX100 IV or RX10 II. I’m sure those are solid updates to already favorably rated cameras. I’m looking for something different. Something that will both challenge me and give me different shooting experiences. That’s why I’ve started dabbling in film — shooting old, cumbersome but wonderfully tactile antiques. It can be difficult but fun.

Last week, Leica announced the Q, an entirely new camera with a fixed 28mm f1.7 lens coupled to a full frame 24MP sensor. It’s expensive, of course — It’s a Leica. But once I got over the $4,250 “shock”, the camera started to look interesting. Why? It’s compact, full frame and with classic controls. I already have my favorite 35mm focal length covered but not so for the slightly wider 28. For cities and architecture, 35mm works but it’s not nearly as interesting as 28mm, which is wide but not uncomfortably so.

There aren’t many 28mm equivalent compacts, the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR come to mind. Both are crop sensors. The Coolpix A is a dog and the GR is slowish (but faster than the Coolpix A) and point and shoot like. Neither really interested me. With my recent dive into old film cameras, I’ve come to appreciate the classic controls and with options for manual distance focusing. The Leica Q has all of this. From what I’ve read, it has the all the requisite controls, exquisite build, super sharp lens but, surprisingly, fast autofocus and even image stabilization. It’s like they took the classic Leica stuff people like and finally updated the technology for the 21st century. It’s not funky like the Leica T and it’s not technologically behind like the Leica M.

I won’t be getting the Q anytime soon. Not unless I win the lottery, and I won’t since I don’t play the lottery. Perhaps in a number of years, on the used market, the Q will fall to a more palatable price.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s the DxO ONE, announced today. This thing is very intriguing and for a wholly different reason from the Leica. Imagine a small high performance 1 inch sensor mated with a super compact 32mm f1.8 prime lens. It has a lighting connecter that couples with an Apple iPhone. It’s the best implementation of a smartphone / camera hybrid I’ve seen. Unlike the bigger and cumbersome Sony QX lens camera, which uses Wifi for communications, the ONE uses a fast hardware connection. Unlike the Leica, which I like for its tactile, classic controls, I like the DxO for its complete re-imagining of a modern camera. It’s highly connected, modern and thinks way outside the box. At $599, it’s more tempting. But I’ll need to find out more before considering it seriously.

What do these two camera have in common? They both have large aperture prime lenses between 28mm and 35mm, which are my preferred focal lengths. They both offer the promise of a new shooting experience, different from any camera in my vast and growing collection. Finally, they offer, in theory, great image quality in a compact size.

The benefit or curse of having so many cameras is that, more than ever, I look for unique devices that fill a niche rather than worry about going for a more general “safe” choice. The Leica and DxO have certainly gotten my attention in this vast and noisy world of photography.

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ROT Rally selfies, smartphones and keep it fresh through technology

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade – Austin, Texas

What’s the first thing you do after riding 30 minutes to parade down Congress Avenue at the ROT Rally? Take a selfie of course. Or at least, use that smartphone to shoot the Texas State Capitol during blue hour.

It’s ROT Rally season again. Yes, many thousands of bikers have come to Austin to do what bikers do. I enjoy capturing the tamer aspects, via street photography, downtown. It’s my fifth year and things are about the same, every year. How do I keep it interesting?

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas
Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

Over the years, I’ve changed what I shoot. I started with sparkly neon bikes, when amped up with HDR, they look especially nice. It was a deliberate process, encumbered by using a tripod. More recently, I’m on a street photography kick, it’s light weight and fast.

My preferred cameras also change. It keeps things fresh and I get to play with my growing camera collection. Last year, the Fujifilm X100S was the primary with the Pentax K-01 in a small supporting role. This year, no surprise, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II gets top billing. I shot it with the Olympus 17mm which gives me about the same focal length as last year’s X100S. I also shot a few with the Pentax Q7, in black and white, which I really adore. Finally, I shot film too with a vintage Olympus Pen FT half frame camera.

I’ll do another posting when I finish the roll and eventually get it developed. But for tonight, I feature photos taken with the newest technology in the E-M5 Mark II. Yes, these photos are colorful, a bit gritty and with motion blur. They seem somewhat painterly and for me they capture the feel of the event.

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

This newest Olympus has some pretty special technologies. And while technology is always in service to the image and the creative goal, it’s interesting to talk about. These were all shot between 1/4 to 1/20 of a second or slower and are hand-held. Some are in-camera HDRs where the camera shoots 4 images at different shutter speeds, combines them accounting for camera shifts and people movement. The 5 axis, 5 stop image stabilization certainly helps but the sophistication behind this blows my mind. The net effect is that I get to create a different kind of image, in a way not possible before.

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

All the latest gadgetry is fine but I use it to explore photography. It’s also the reason I’m shooting film. Distinct technologies, old or new, create a different mix of advantages and disadvantages. New cameras create exposures too easily and I find myself pushing its boundaries. Conversely, exploring film counter balances all the new tech. Manually metering and manually focusing a 50-year-old camera pushes me in other ways. I’m really having fun challenging myself and it keeps things fresh, even if I do go to the same events year after year.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.

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Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.


Haiku Photo: ROT Rally 2015

The Paramount after the 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

ROT Rally Parade
Terminus at Paramount
Let the parties start

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The fisheye does architecture and I embrace massive distortion

Circular Flow, Emphasized - Austin, Texas

Circular Flow, Emphasized – Austin, Texas

I was at a loss of how to use a fisheye lens. Sure it was fun shooting the book signing over at Precision Camera but what else? You know I’m a city person that likes architecture, but how wacky would a fisheye be? I decided to embrace the distortion head on and I found the perfect place to shoot it.

The neighborhood around the former Seaholm Power Plant is starting to take shape. The first phase is nearly complete, the corporate tenants are moving in and the first store has opened. In fact, the new residential towers in the area across from the Pfluger pedestrian bridge have turned into a quiet and desirable spot. The centerpiece of the pedestrian bridge is its circular ramp that allows joggers and cyclists to flow smoothly on to the bridge. The fisheye had an exceptionally nice effect, I think.

Wildflowers at Seaholm - Austin, Texas
Seaholm Courtyard - Austin, Texas

I headed across the bridge and towards the old power plant. I discovered that, used in a particular way, the wild curves are somewhat tamable. Sure the distortion is still there but I think these two shots don’t scream fisheye. The look more like super-wide angles.

I decide to convert these to black and whites, like the super-wides I created in downtown San Francisco. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the San Francisco architecture photographs and I wanted to echo the look but with a fisheye twist.

Stairs to the underbelly, Seaholm Development - Austin, Texas

But of course, why use a fisheye to minimize the effect. Here I show it off. These stairs lead to underground parking for the entire complex which is comprised of the retrofitted Seaholm Power Plant, a small shopping area and a substantial condo building. You can see the condo in the background, which is the last to be completed.

Super Structure #1, Seaholm Development - Austin, Texas
Super Structure #3, Seaholm Development - Austin, Texas
Super Structure #2, Seaholm Development - Austin, Texas

I’m glad the architects kept the maze of steel and catwalks intact, behind the power plant. The utilitarian structure now acts as modern art that hints at the building’s original purpose. In fact, I’m sure the dark pipes in the second photo are actual art pieces added to the structure. I had a chance to visit Seaholm years ago, before any hint of renovation and I don’t recall these dark elements.

They’ve added skylights too, which should help light the multilayered substructure. You can see how the Seaholm Power Plant looked before the renovation, It was a fantastic industrial space. The main building is now corporate offices, which is disappointing. I was hoping the the power plant’s interior would house a large shopping mall where the public can admire its structure. The main hallway had the feel of an old train station, sort of like a minimalist, industrial Grand Central Station in New York City. Unfortunately, just a single tenant gets to enjoy this centerpiece. Perhaps they might let me take some “after” photos.

Smoke Stacks #1, Seaholm Development - Austin, Texas
Smoke Stacks #2, Seaholm Development - Austin, Texas

They also kept the giant smokestacks. They loosely define the boundary of the power plant from the new areas beyond. There’s a grassy plaza that forms a courtyard bounded by stores and the large condo. The three buildings forms a nice semi-enclosed space — I like how this turned out. Beyond the courtyard, to the east, the new Central Public Library is going up. To the north, the streets are now seamlessly connected to the neighborhood that continues to sprout new high-rises. To the south, the popular hike and bike trail and greenbelt that runs along the river.

Framed, Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge - Austin, Texas
Mighty Oak in Fisheye - Austin, Texas

Back across the pedestrian bridge, I’m now by the river front park. The framed opening is the same structure shown at the top of the post but from below. And just to show it’s not only architecture that can benefit from some fisheye fun, here’s a majestic Oak Tree.

The Olympus 8mm fisheye might be a very specialized lens but I certainly had more fun with it than expected. This Pro lens is high quality and expensive however, it might be just the ticket for anyone wanting to create that unique perspective. My thanks to Charles from Olympus that let me use it for a couple of weeks, before it hit the stores.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 8mm f1.8 Fisheye Pro lens.

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Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.


Comparing the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 Pro to the 8mm f1.8 Pro fisheye

Precision Camera in Super Wide Ange - Austin, Texas

Precision Camera in Super Wide Ange – Austin, Texas

Precision Camera in Fisheye - Austin, Texas

Precision Camera in Fisheye – Austin, Texas

A quick, fun comparison of Olympus’ newest lenses. The Pro grade 7-14mm f2.8 super-wide angle and the 8mm f1.8 fisheye. I snapped these outside my favorite store in Austin a couple of weeks ago.

I played with these lenses for a couple of weeks. I’ve done a few posts about them too.

The fisheye does architecture and I embrace massive distortion
Exploring Austin’s antique stores in super wide angle
The fisheye and the book signing

I’ll add more links here as I do more postings.

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I took both photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 Pro and the Olympus 8mm f1.8 Fisheye Pro lens.

If you find these posts interesting, please consider using my affiliate links for any future purchases.
Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.