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Camera Review



Leica X Vario (2013 - Present)

Well, took the plunge and downsized from the 5D - not so good at carrying weight on the hills these days.
Found this wee device ticked most of the boxes for my current requirement -
 Reasonable weight/size
 Good manual focus if required
 Good menu system/controls
 Nice sharp lens
 Reasonable zoom range
 Reasonably good ISO range with well controlled noise
 Dioptric adjustment on viewfinder
 No sensor cleaning
 Very quiet shutter

Going by some of the reviews of this camera you have to be an idiot to buy one - read no further I'm an idiot!

Most of my snaps fall within the range of the zoom which is 28mm - 70mm equivalent and the lens is marked as 28/35/50/70. The lack of the 70 - 105 range is a bit of a blow but then to get the same quality in the lens would require a larger unit as the EF lens indeed was.
The lens is slow (3.5-6.4) but looking at the noise performance at the higher ASA/ISO's I think it should be OK.
The weight saving is considerable -
 5D with 24-105 + batt - c. 1600g
 XV with VF2/grip/batt - c. 840g
A preliminary check of noise at ISO 1600 compares OK with the 5D at ISO 1600 so that'll do me and the manual focus works well with a good indicator on the screen to adjust.
The sensor is only an APS-C rather than full frame but the quality is as good as the 5D which is enough for me and the lens is marked as for full frame so the brain is happy.
Decided to use the Olympus VF2 viewfinder which works fine and a lot cheaper than the Leica EVF2 part (also with more subdued branding). Having said that I do find occasionally that the screen is green when switched on which then requires another repower. This apparently has been seen by a reviewer using the Leica EVF2 as well.
The grip makes a difference to the feel (obviously hopeless compared to the T90/5D but then again is a smaller camera) and my hand doesn't seem to be hitting the control wheel which is a problem some users are having.

Also decided to use the old strap from the AE-1 - just borrowed the rings from the leather Leica strap - and reapplied the black amalgam tape to avoid odd scratching, etc.
As far as aesthetics go the camera is quite an elegant traditional style of design and feels good in the hands. The 'ol Leica red dot is a subdued matt red (unlike the bright red of the publicity shots) and complements the black body well (reminiscent of the yellow branding on the T90 which set the design off quite well).
So, basically for me it seems to be a bit of a collection of things I liked with my previous cameras all in one package - no sensor cleaning, no lens changing, good sharp lens, nice menu/controls, good manual control, very little shutter noise, good size and weight.
JPG's from the XV look good and I tend to dial in -0.3 EV which gives good results in the main.

I tend to use a UV filter on my cameras and I must confess that trying to get the correct filter for the X Vario is somewhat of a Black Art. I was beginning to wonder if a special handshake or something was required but in the end I think it is now sorted. The lens is 43mm (shown as such inside lens cap) but it seems that the thread pitch can vary somewhat. The initial filter used was a B+W 010M F-Pro MRC UV filter - part number 40228 with a 0.5 thread pitch but this only went on part of the way. A better fitting is the B+W 010M F-Pro MRC UV filter - part number 23185 with a thread pitch of 0.75 - of course you might expect such technical info to be available in the lens/camera specification but that would be too easy. It looks like 0.75 is the standard pitch these days but some earlier lenses used a 0.5 pitch.
I'm pretty certain that the Zeiss T* filter would also be OK thread wise but haven't tried it.
EDIT: Recently managed to obtain a thinner filter ( B+W 43mm XS-Pro Digital Clear MRC Nano Filter (007M) Item Number 45384 ).


Leica X Vario

In use so far - quirks/annoyances/ticks
When turning the camera to a portrait position the strap can hit the left side buttons and bring up the various menus (ISO/WB/etc) (EDIT: no longer an issue since using fingerloop). Also the PLAY button is easily operated with my nose when using the EVF - hugely annoying, leads to missed shots.
When shutter is pressed the EVF will freeze while the file is written - even with all review settings set to OFF - annoying, leads to missed shots.
EVF is low res so not much good for checking exposure/colours - OK for framing.
For me the LCD is useless in the daylight so have to live with the poor EVF - the 5D LCD was the same but then it had a proper VF!
Miss the 70 - 105 range a bit but I can live with it.
Battery life doesn't seem to be great - trying to reduce the chimping to see if it improves but at the moment it looks like I may need to carry 2 extra batteries. Subsequent usage has shown the battery life to be poor as against the old 5D.
Have to set the Date/Time each time the battery is changed unless it is done very quickly - annoying. EDIT: Leica says it is a fault so need to send camera back to Germany now OK since fixed in factory.
Self Timer function needs to be set for each use, can't be left on.

Menu system works well.
Lens appears to be quite good.
I like the fact that the XV lens is marked in 35mm equivalent ranges which suits my brain (28, 35, 50,70) and I can quickly set the lens to these prime focal lengths if required.
'Slow' lens not too much of a problem and the well controlled noise at the higher ISO's allows noise reduction to work quite well.

EDIT: Just recently tried the finger loop and it is superb - I now use this rather than the traditional neck strap. I tried out the various sizes and although the Medium was the correct fit I went for the Large and it works well as it gives just a wee bit of extra space to ease the handling particularly when moving to vertical orientation. Build quality of the loop is excellent but unfortunately the same can not be said of the handgrip - the top came off the other day due to shoddy glue!

File sizes can be an issue these days with digital cameras -
5D 12.8Mp CR2 - c. 14M
XV 16.2Mp DNG - c. 24.5M (out of camera)
       - c. 17.1M (Adobe DNG compressed - no loss)

I tend to process using Lightroom but it would be good if Aperture had support also - Aperture supports DNG but the camera model must be supported in the OS

Update: OSX Yosemite (10.10) with Digital Camera RAW Compatibility Update 6.03 supports the XV along with Aperture 3.6

What would I like to see improved?
Well - occasionally I have had some snaps that are not particularly sharp where I expect them to be but haven't been able to eliminate user error (I rarely shoot on a tripod) so if there is a quirk there I wouldn't mind a F/W update. Other than that the problem with the buttons being accidently touched/hit I'm sure could be improved in F/W.
I've also noticed that there is a delay after taking a snap before the camera is ready for the next shot - I've reduced all the menu options and use very fast SD cards to minimize this but maybe a DNG only option in firmware would help (eliminate the jpg processing) - I just hope the internal CPU is beefy enough (I'm a fan of using way too powerful CPU's to avoid delays but I guess that then impacts the battery performance). If the shutter is pressed halfway it does stop the freeze but this shouldn't be necessary when the review option is set to OFF (this also suggests that processor throughput is not the problem but buggy firmware is). EDIT: I have noticed that if flash is used (v1.2 F/W) then the delay does not occur so I now see this as a bug rather than insufficient processor power

All said and done the price of the XV appears steep to many folk but I see that it cost about the same as the original 5D with the 24-105 lens and each has its pros and cons (having said that I notice that Leica have reduced the price now and I have seen them at good dealers at 2/3 the original price which isn't bad for a camera with a quality Leica zoom).
EDIT: the XV has been discontinued but the price of old stock was much cheaper and I would consider a used model in good condition very good value.
Some folk would say why not a Fuji X-Pro1 at half the price and indeed I was seriously interested in that camera (especially since the XPan experience was excellent) but I didn't feel comfortable with the usability of it and the lack of dioptric adjustment was a showstopper for me however I am mightily impressed with the way Fuji improves its cameras (even if already sold) with firmware updates. Leica needs to up their game in this department as a lot of the quirks with the XV could be fixed in firmware however my feeling now is that the XV will go the way of the dinosaurs now the model T is available.

In summary - I'm quite liking the X Vario but in all honesty it is very overpriced for the quality provided when I compare it to the T90/5D cameras I had (bearing in mind I paid the original mugs price rather than the more realistic street price that is now available. The pricing obviously includes a substantial premium for a good lens and a name brand but I would still place the operational quality of my old SLR's (Canon) at a higher level.
I needed to get the camera serviced in Germany for the Date/Time No Backup problem and this appears to be fixed and the F/W upgraded to 1.2 along with a repaired grip. The service took c. 35 days and improved a few wee things but still no fix for the Auto Review - OFF bug ( I don't think the problem is slow CPU because a halfpress of the shutter will kill the review so it appears to be shoddy F/W.

I have definitely noticed that very occasionally in bright daylight the AF just does not focus correctly but allows the shot to be taken so if you need to be confident of getting the shot I think the choice would be use MF or get a Japanese SLR. Interestingly I could get the same result on demand when trying to AF on a christmas tree in quite poor light.

Lifesize Views - HERE


Compact version of above link - HERE

Handy walking case.
Found a nifty case from Mountain Warehouse which just happens to be a washroom bag but was excellent for alpine walking - it hangs on the pack waist belt and allows easy access to the camera with the EVF mounted. The bag offers a reasonable amount of protection, is relatively incognito and the black colour with red trim matches the camera quite well. There are a few zip compartments for odds and ends like lens covers/SD cards/batteries, etc.

MountainLife Travel bag - HERE





Canon EOS 5D 35mm SLR (2006 - 2013)

The great step has been taken and the T90 honourably retired in favour of a digital model. Personally the T90 was a great camera and still is however the attraction of digital for me has been quite compelling. Having said that I wanted a digital SLR that would be reasonably close in feature set and performance to the old T90 - it has taken a while but I reckon the EOS 5D is pretty damn close so we will see how it goes!


Comparative features between T90 and 5D HERE


How did I decide on the 5D? - see below, The Digital Question.


The 5D styling stacks up pretty well with the original Luigi Colani inspired design of the T90 (although no yellow unfortunately) and the size and weight of the body are not too dissimilar.


The feel of the body in the hands is excellent and not too dissimilar to the T90. The overall noise is lower without the film transport motor drive with the shutter giving a reassuring dull "kerplunk" - it feels solid enough. The eyepiece cover is rubber piece held on the strap which is pretty shonky given that the T90 had an inbuilt device (the AE-1 had a separate piece also that sat in the flash hotshoe when not in use). The Quick Control Dial on the back makes quick work of the menu system and the Main Wheel Dial by the shutter button works similarly to the T90 albeit not quite as smooth.


The T90 still has a few wee features that the 5D lacks (multi-spot metering, multiple exposure, slightly faster fps & flash sync) but none of these are for me a showstopper (I guess multiple exposure can be done in a photo editor these days).


I find the LCD info in the viewfinder gets "lost" compared to the brighter red LED displays of the T90 and the ISO setting can easily be overlooked since you need to hit a button and use the Custom Control Dial - double-edged sword, nice to be able to alter the ISO at will but easy to forget the setting. 


The neck strap for the 5D is quality but a bit "in yer face" and large so I've promoted the ol' AE-1 strap that was used on the T90 - maybe it will bring good karma for the hopefully trusty 5D.


As for all the techo performance stuff well I would refer folk to www.dpreview.com for an indepth review.




Canon 5D Front
Canon 5D Back

The original curvy Canon as designed by Luigi Colani featuring inbuilt winder and AA battery storage introduced c. 1986 and end of production in 1996.


Canon T90 - The 'ol grandpappy!

Unfortunately much as I liked the 5D with the 24-105mm zoom I found the weight and bulk was getting a bit too much so had to move it on - thought about keeping it as the prices used are cheap but decided that somebody else may as well have a "shot" at an affordable full frame SLR.



Camera Review



Minox AL 35mm Rangefinder

No longer in the collection this was the camera I used for the simple box Brownie type days -  just go out and snap.


The AL was at the lower budget end of the Minox range and produced in white rather than the usual black however I liked it for the simplicity, 35mm film size and reasonably sharp lens (the lens was not in the same class as the rest of the Minox range however). The lens was 35mm/f4.0 with fixed focus. I loved the simple exposure settings (bright sun, cloudy, overcast) and small pocket size.


Loading the film was a hoot as it always seemed as though the whole camera was being dismantled (most of the outer casing slides off) and the trapdoor front needed to opened for the lens to extend out. This trapdoor was in fact a weak point since the hinging was a combination of metal and plastic with the result that the plastic broke and I needed to fit a black one from another model of Minox since no white ones were available.


The feel of the camera was one of a metal box to hold a good size film with a reasonably good quality lens and minimal exposure requirements.


The Minox for me was a fun wee camera and was great for travelling.


Minox AL

Camera Review



Contax T3 35mm Rangefinder (2002 - 2006)

I wanted a small camera that I could carry around "in the pocket " in order to take a quick snap but it needed to give a high quality result (this satisfies the "Box Brownie mood that sometimes grips me). I find the image quality of the Zeiss lens to be excellent (nice and sharp) and difficult to tell apart from results from the SLR.

The only problem so far has been around the battery cover where there are signs of corrosion which looked like the result of electrolyte leakage from the battery - however since the battery has never been a problem I am at a loss to why this should be occurring.

Unfortunately since I have drifted away from film the T3 has been sold. Replacing it is impossible since in the digital world the sensors of the compacts are as yet nowhere near the quality of SLR sensors whereas in the film world the film quality was the same for a given format.

Contax T3

Camera Review



Hasselblad XPan 35mm Rangefinder/Panoramic (1999 - 2006)

This camera is a flawed gem. I find image quality of the 45mm lens is excellent but the state of the black paintwork on the body is parlous. Given the fact that the body now looks thoroughly used (My T90 is c. 14 years old and looks in better shape)  the camera itself is a joy to use. I have never worried too much about the fact the shutter speed is difficult to read on the rear LCD since moving the eye back is easy enough - what I like is that I can carry the unit in a Lowe photo bag with the T90 and is great for travelling. 

The shutter actuation feels good and I have no problem with the viewfinder at all. Folk do say it is heavy but I am used to a T90 so it is not an issue at all.

The only major problem I had was soon after purchasing it I found the negs were overlapping and the neg spacing was very irregular - a bad fault for a "quality" brand. The repair took c. 7 months and I think the camera travelled right round the world in that time but at least the repair was good and the problem has not recurred at all.

To be sure to avoid the light falloff problem with the lens the circular centre filter is recommended but it does cost an arm and a leg.

A lot has been said about the big price on these XPan's but I guess that is the price of the Hasselblad brand and all said and done I love the panoramic format which is switchable on the fly and the fact it uses 35mm film.

The image quality from the 45mm lens for me is outstanding. The lenses are actually made by Fuji as is the original camera (TX-1) the XPan is based on.

The XPan II looks like it has some improved features but if the paint finish is still a bit bodge then I'm glad I got mine a while ago (at a cheaper price) - no regrets at all.


XPan
XPan Top View

Camera Review



Canon T90 35mm SLR (1990 - 2006)

The T90 is a fantastic camera and very robust (I got mine in c. 1990)  however there is a bit of a problem that crops up with the shutter dying. This seems to only happen after a few years and there has been a bit of discussion in the newsgroups about it.


This is what I did to fix mine and it has been going OK for quite a while now -

Open the back and press the stop down button once or maybe twice and if you see the shutter shudder then close the back and operate the trigger - I did and it worked fine, give it a run on H continuous to loosen it up. I think as the camera ages it needs to be exercised as the lubricants are probably tightening up and causing the safety mechanisms to cut in. There is also a school of thought that the problem may only occur when the main AA cells are removed for storing the camera. Whenever the camera is empty just give it a good thrash on both low and high speed continuous motor drive. I tend to leave my AA's in and periodically check them for good condition. Having said that I tend to use the lithium AA cells which have excellent shelf life, are durable and reliable not to mention lighter with four cells weighing about the same as 3 alkaline ones.


The only real criticism is the ease at which the rubber eyepiece detaches from the viewer and of course mine was no exception - last seen somewhere near the Sydney harbour bridge in the 1990's. Don't believe anyone who says the EOS ones are the same - they are not and need to be butchered to fit but don't look right as the dimensions are more rectangular than the original piece.


The T90 is not a light camera but does fit the hand beautifully. It is quite noisy with the shutter actuation and motor drive but I've learnt to live with it.


A film leader out mod could easily be done in hardware (I got mine done by Canon early on) so anyone getting a second hand unit should check this (I think this actually appeared as a Custom Function on later EOS cameras). 


The Luigi Colani inspired styling of the T90 is simply sensational and even when I upgrade to a digital (probably EOS) I don't think I'll be able to let it go - it deserves retirement as a fine objet d'art for the mantlepiece.

The styling makes it the grand-pappy of all the EOS cameras and feature for feature (in my opinion) the only EOS body that came near the same feature set as the T90 was the EOS 3 which was quite expensive when introduced.  It just goes to show how good the T90 was (and still is)  and how long it took for a proper equivalent EOS to appear on the scene. Needless to say the time for EOS film cameras is passing so to get all the T90 features in a digital body is the next milestone.


When it was first introduced folk were uncertain as to how long the LCD display would last - it still looks great to me so no worries there.


For me a great touch of the design was the yellow branding which makes it feel more elegant than the stark utilitarian white that has been used on all the EOS bodies since.


A great camera, no question, simply a classic.


T90 Body
T90 Naked

Camera Review



Canon AE-1 35mm SLR (1978-2003)

This was my first real camera obtained in 1978 and quite frankly it was a brilliant wee camera that took great snaps. It was a shutter-priority camera at a time when many manufacturers seemed to prefer aperture priority but was tremendously successful in the marketplace. The last time I used it was in 2003 before it was sold ( a bit of a wrench) and it was still going strong (I held onto the neck strap which still serves me well on the 5D (after tireless service on the T90) since the later straps were all a bit cumbersome).

The biggest nag was the multi-legged bug that lived in the viewfinder which was not too bad since it was in the prism box on the focusing screen so didn't interfere with the actual image taking. I often wonder if it got a headache with all the mirror clunking occurring!

A feature that I liked which you don't get in more modern camera bodies was the fact that the rewind knob movement would indicate that the film was in fact winding on! There was also something nice about using the film advance lever which motor drives have now displaced.

In its lifetime no repairs were required apart from a light sealing job. Because of the age of the camera the light sealing foam inside the body needed replacing after c. 22 years but this was easily done by a good camera repair shop.

The only obvious defect was a crack in the plastic by the self-timer led but this was merely cosmetic so no worry. The only camera I would have upgraded to would have been the A-1 but the brilliant T-90 gazumped that.

I would still recommend it today if in good nick and while film is still available.


Canon AE-1

Camera Review



Polaroid SX70 Land camera (1970's)

This was an interesting camera but expensive to run.
Basically I thought it might be useful to give more ready access to the snaps rather than depend on the vagaries of photo labs at the time however the downside was that the filmpacks (10/pack) were pricey and the flash bars were disposable and also pricey.
I think from memory each flash bar had 5 or 6 bulbs and were not reusable.

All in all the technology was interesting (a crude variation of the digital environment really) but for me pricey and gimmicky - Ok for folks wanting an instant 'hardcopy' I guess.


Polaroid SX70

Camera Review



Koroll S (1973)

This was the first camera I really used which was my Dad's old one that he had in the 50's.
I don't think the lens was any great quality but it used to take medium format film rolls (120) and had a wee metal cropping frame in the back for the different size of frame (square 6x6/rectangular 6x4.5?).
It came with a brown leather case which by the time I got it was pretty battered.
Produced by a crowd called Bencini an Italian firm from Milano.

The lens barrel needed to be pulled out of the body and then the shutter button would then move a metal lever inside which actuated the shutter - this seemed to be a leaf type with a fine spring from memory.



Koroll S
Koroll S Rear

Camera Review



Kodak Box camera

Mum used to have one of these although I never used it.
I struggle to remember which model it was but it was black cardboard with textured finish.
A few snaps in the family album were no doubt taken with it.


Box Brownie