An Open Letter & Petition to Sigma Photo to Create a Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Camera

Sigma DP3 Merrill

Sigma DP3 Merrill

Dear Awesome Sigma,

I’ve owned Nikons, Canons and Sony cameras. A few years ago I abandoned my Nikon DSLR equipment in 2008 and switched to the Micro Four Thirds standard. This mirrorless format has become the best go-to camera setup I have ever owned in my career as a pro photographer both because the technology is cutting edge, and it’s more of an open standard and cooperative between photographic companies which in turn benefits the customer, and the end user, allowing us to choose a wide variety of different lenses from different manufacturers. However, In between this transition, I owned the Sigma DP1 and DP2, which contained a Foveon sensor, which is completely different than the traditional Bayer sensor technology used in most digital cameras on the market. The Foveon sensor captured sharp details, better color and deeper dynamic range in a unique way that I had never seen before in a modern digital camera and in my opinion the Foveon sensor is a superior technology that goes unrivaled in the photography industry.

I feel Sigma could enrich the mirrorless community by developing an M4/3 mirrorless camera that contains a Foveon sensor. It would further enhance an already strong community of professionals and amateurs currently using the open Micro Four Thirds standard and give consumers a really strong third option when comparing and shopping for camera bodies.

This would be a dream come true for a lot of photographers, especially for me, which is why I decided to create a petition. Olympus and Panasonic are excellent companies as well, but I’m really a big supporter of Sigma’s progress and efforts and I feel that creating a system for the M4/3 format would be a step in the right direction for such an excellent company!

Click here to sign the letter at Petition.org!

Micro Four Thirds: SLR Magic 26mm F1.4 Toy Lens Review

SLR Magic 26mm F/1.4 Toy Lens Review

My First Review: SLRMagic 26mm F1.4 Toy Lens

Finding a great lens that’s not perfect but creates the emotional effects using natural blur is one of the most satisfying experiences a photographer can discover. Not only that, if you’ve never tried manual focusing a lens then you are missing out on the hidden power of having complete control over how your images develop. Often, auto-focussing limits the control you maintain and you wind up disappointed with the flawed images. Usually the focusing is off on the subject matter because the autofocus wasn’t accurate and you didn’t notice the problem until viewing the images on a larger screen. Why let a machine determine how your images turn out? It doesn’t matter how advanced the technology is, cameras are still stupid and overprone to error. As a creative artist you should take complete control over this step in your art.

Over the years as a photographer, I’ve come to realize that slowing down and maintaining manual control over the photographic process creates better end results that wind up more pleasing.  There’s so much effort lost in trial and error; if you’re serious about your photography, a cheap manual lens is a good buy to learn the art of manual focusing and selective focusing. I love the SLRGear 26mm F1.4 manual focus “Toy Lens” for a reason. It’s cheap, inexpensive and yields outstanding results. I’ve been shooting with this lens for about four months now and want to include some thoughts on my experience with the toy lens.

SLR Magic 26mm F1.4 Toy Lens

The Sweetspot of This Lens

Before purchasing the lens for about a hundred dollars I read reviews that questioned the sharpness and quality of the lens. I can assure you that the “sweetspot” of sharpness that I discovered with this glass is nothing short of impressive. To me, the quality of the images were excellent. This is a specialty lens but is in no way a toy. I’ve been very satisfied with the quality. The sweetspot is great but a little unpredictable. With careful manual focusing on a Micro Four Thirds camera, you can expect to get awesome results. The blur is natural and doesn’t have to be photoshopped to create this haunting effect.

The lens feels very similar to a Lensbaby, but much more intuitive and cheaper! The sharpness is great. I’ve got the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens, and the sharpness is comparable to that lens but with it’s own sweet spot. The notable flaw in the toy lens is the chromatic abrasion and some purple fringing that is hard to avoid in bright light, along occasional lens flare. It’s a normal lens. The truth is I find myself shooting more with this lens than the Panasonic 20mm pancake lens because it is manual. What you do is focus your subject matter and the natural blur from the lens emphasizes the focal point.

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Shooting Wide Open is Essential

To get the most from the toy lens, shooting in broad daylight is not recommended mainly because of chromatic aberration, purple fringing, and a lot of light fall off when using a smaller aperture. Plus, to maximise the unique blur, you have to shoot the lens wide open in lower light. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend stopping down the aperture unless you have no other choice to avoid overexposure. There have been several instances where I was forced to close down the aperture in order to get the shots properly exposed. I tend to be a guy that likes to shoot in sunny daylight. It’s nice to utilize the entire day to capture as many images as possible. It’s preferable though toy lens wide open because the blur, color, and unpredictable effects are most striking wide open. Going through an abandoned house out in the middle of nowhere is a good example of this…

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Why I Love the SLR Magic Toy Lens

To put things mildly, I’m madly in love with this lens and it’s effects.  Forget about having to manipulate images in photoshop to achieve similar effects. In fact, I frown on the use of photoshop to achieve moody blur and other creative effects. It’s nice to have a lens that gives me this extra ability to experiment, goof around and have fun. The lens is cheap, affordable and doesn’t empty the bank account but it gives amazing results. The lens is a little small and awkward to use and makes your camera look funky but the images are overall pleasing and moody. This takes the perfection out of digital imaging and replaces it with intuition. There’s tons of extra creative applications that you cannot do with a traditional lens. This item should be in the camera bag of every photographer that uses a Micro Four Thirds camera.

My vision of photography reflects the moody environments that I explore. When venturing into the desert solo, I want to capture the memories of a time and place. These stories, these feelings are part of a beautiful land. As a tour guide, wilderness guide, and adventurer, I am constantly educating vistors (tourists) about my country and the history of the land. There’s no better way for me to communicate those feelings than with photography. This art has provided me a vessel to communicate deep thoughts and feelings. The SLR Magic 26mm F1.4 lens is a welcome addition to my equipment and it inspired me to write a review.

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Final Thoughts

The SLR Magic 26mm F1.4 Toy Lens has won the position of being the first review for Talking Tree Photo. The main reason; It’s an intuitive lens. There’s nothing about it that makes it a toy. Consider this lens a serious tool with good potential. So I give full kudos to SLR Magic for making a greatly inexpensive product while keeping the quality high. ‘mAs I get more funds coming in, I looking forward to trying out some more products offered by SLR Magic. They deserve some worthy recognition for their efforts.

This lens is essential for those who want the maximum flexibility and get bored easily using traditional equipment. The time spent with this lens makes traditional photography feel more like real art. With the unique blur and bokeh you achieve from an imperfect lens, it’s more like making photographs instead of shooting snapshots. The manual experience will force you to think harder and when photographing the world.

If you like low light, and wide aperture lenses, this investment is pennies on the dollar compared to most other wide-aperture lenses. You can’t go wrong for a hundred bucks. So I encourage you to support SLR Magic and give their 26mm lens a buy. They are available through eBay. Currently, the only store that they have is on eBay, so go here to find out more about them: SLR Magic eBay Store.

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All images by Nathan Cowlishaw

My Love Affair with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm F2.5 Pancake Lens – Perfect for Landscapes!

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I want to share briefly my experience with the amazing, Panasonic Lumix 14mm F2.5 Pancake lens. It’s beautiful, ultra small and compact and a joy to shoot with. Combine it with the adventurous Olympus OM-D E-M5 and you have quite a professional and pocket-able mini-landscape combo! I’ve shot with this lens both on Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras; the G1, GF1 as well as the E-P2! The lens looks perfect on all these camera bodies and significantly smaller than the legendary Panasonic 20mm F1.7 Pancake.

My first impression of this lens, when I first got it in the mail, was how dinky it was in size and the feeling was somewhat bitter-sweet! However the lens quickly grew on me and I’ve began using it as my primary wide-angle because of the ease of use and it looks very streamlined with the Olympus cameras. I like it better than the Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake that I have. BTW, the old Olympus 17mm got a really bad rap, but I really love the sharpness and quality of that lens. Maybe I’ll post another short review with image examples shot on the E-P2, since that lens has also created some superb landscapes with my talent, of course.

Yes, I did own the legendary super wide-angle Panasonic 7-14mm lens but it was real bulky and unable to accept screw-on filters which left something to be desired… It produced some stunning landscapes for me over a few years time and I loved it but ended up selling it on eBay while keeping the 14mm pancake! As a standard wideangle, it’s not super-wide, but it’s adequate for any landscape or architectural work. It is capable and adequate for professional work as well. I’m not the type of guy that buys into all the marketing hype and I’m definitely not a pixel-peeper either. The photo of my feet, wearing Chacos above the San Juan Goosenecks was captured with the same Pancake. This photo example was good enough to get accepted in a Santa Fe art gallery along with some of my other prints that will be on exhibition soon at the Jezebel Gallery in New Mexico. The great thing about the 14mm lens is that it’s a prime.  I prefer prime fixed focal length lenses versus zooms which is probably another reason why I chose to sell the Panasonic 7-14mm When I was shooting the Panasonic super-wide zoom, I was always shooting at the widest field of view; 7mm and I miss having that capability of course. What would be really cool is if Olympus or Panasonic could engineer a super-wide prime (not a fisheye) that could produce good outstanding results? I would invest money in such a lens especially at the 7mm focal length!

In this short post, I’ve included real world results of my work with this lens to demonstrate it’s characteristics and show you it’s capable of some serious work. I’m very happy with the results I have gotten so far and have taken many photos with it on my OM-D!

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For a pancake lens I was mesmerized by the quality of the glass. This is the San Juan Goose-necks near the Navajo (Diné) Reservation in the Four Corners region. This image was shot with a Panasonic GF1. The rest of the images below were shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M5. All the images were post-processed on an iPhone using Snapseed and Pixlr Express, and Instagram Filters. All photos were shot in Jpeg right off the OM-D with minimal processing except for using filters and lightening shadows in the dark areas of some of the photos.

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The following photos were below were during flash flood that took place in Zion National Park in July of 2013. while hiking with my best friend, Omar Hernandez. We got stuck in a massive cloudburst, and water started to come off the cliffs forming instant water falls. Back in 2008, I was stuck in a flood in Havasupai which gave me a lot of experiences under such dire circumstances and this definitely was not the first time I’ve been holed up by flash flooding. It was sure a beautiful day to take pics though out on the Angels Landing Trail.

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In conclusion, I would highly recommend this lens for any dedicated Micro Four Thirds user. It is a wonderful little lens at a dirt cheap price that you cannot beat being that it’s a prime. It’s perfect for adventurers and hikers who want to travel light. I got my lens on eBay, brand new for around $150 dollars. That’s unbeatable! You get excellent image quality in a compact package. It’s a joy to shoot and reinvigirates my excitement to do photography every time I shoot. I love the Micro Four Thirds camera system and the variety of lenses available for the format. I was first introduced to Micro Four Thirds while attending the 2008 PMA convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. It prompted me to sell off my Nikon equipment. Stay tuned for more interesting posts…

Converting to Manual Focus & Learning Lens Repair

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This is one way to gain an edge on the competition amongst professionals in the photography business… Learning to repair one’s own equipment in case of a stuck shutter, or a lens with sticking aperture blades, as was the case with this Minolta 58mm 1.4 lens. I disassembled it and put it back together again after re-lubing the aperture with rubbing alcohol and cleaning the excess dust from between the elements making it look brand new. I paid $10 bucks for it at the local thrift store!

Many of the lenses that are being made these days are auto-focus and highly calibrated and much harder to fix. Learning to fix these old lenses allows me to collect broken ones from eBay, or elsewhere at a much cheaper price. The demand for manual focus lenses is going up though, because people like me have discovered the joy in having complete control over every aspect of their photography. The art of manual focusing has a learning curve and could be considered by some to be a sub-field within the trade of photography. Learning to repair these old lenses though gives me an opportunity to really enjoy my equipment, building a bond between me and the tools.

I’m surprised how popular these old manual lenses are getting. The demand for vintage lenses is skyrocketing because of the new mirror-less technology that many camera manufacturers are implementing in their latest digital cameras. My personal equipment consists of mirror-less cameras made by Olympus in the Micro Four Thirds format. I highly recommend these cameras and those made by Sony under the label; NEX. All these cameras can utilize these old manual focus lenses with special adapters that can be purchased relatively cheap. Anyone who is half serious about photography should learn the art of manual focusing because it develops a skill set that can set you apart from the soccer-ball mom crowds who use Canon as their brand and refuse to move beyond the zoom-lens.

I have no problems with soccer-ball mommies if they are willing to learn the process of photography before calling themselves pro. I also advise people to avoid the zoom lenses, because they stifle the creative process. Fixed focal-length lenses are the best for mastering photography, because they force your feet to become the zoom and you begin thinking more about composition. I also prefer shooting with medium telephoto primes because of the tighter crop factor with allows the photographer to really isolate the subject matter.

These are just a few thoughts on my mind for tonight. So stay tuned for more tips! :)

 

Sunrise at Toroweap in the Grand Canyon

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Beauty is all around out in the Grand Canyon south of the Utah Border. You take a dirt road from Colorado City, 67 miles across the rugged Arizona Strip before getting to this spot. The dirt road is so primitive that a lot of people are not willing to take the risk. This area is a hot sport for serious landscape photographers who are familiar with the Southwest. I photographed this with an emphasis on the porous sandstone bathed in early morning light.