Digital Photography Review - News

April 21, 2019
Tokina announces new 100mm F2.8 1:1 macro lens for Sony E mount cameras

Tokina has announced the FiRIN 100m F2.8 FE Macro Lens for Sony E mount camera systems.

The lens is constructed of nine elements in eight groups and features a nine blade aperture diaphragm. It features 1:1 maximum magnification, has a minimum focusing distance of 30cm (11.8in), uses a 55mm front filter thread and includes a printed magnification scale on the extending lens barrel to add an extra visual cue when composing shots.

The lens measures in at 123mm (4.84in) long by 74mm (2.91in) diameter and it weighs 570g (1.3lbs). The Tokina FiRIN 100m F2.8 FE Macro Lens is listed for pre-order at B&H for $599. Included in the box is the lens, front and rear lens caps, a BH-533 lens hood and a manual.

April 21, 2019
Seeing into space: Cosmic Microscapes with photographer Neil Buckland
A slice of meteorite, sandwiched between two linear polarizers.

Neil Buckland is obsessed with detail. For more than fifteen years, the Seattle-based photographer has been doing stitched landscape photography composed of dozens of images, captured on everything from Micro Four Thirds cameras all the way up to medium format. These days, he's become enamored with a new type of landscape - one that is very, very small. It also happens to come from space.

"I've always been fascinated with abstract photography of ordinary things," Buckland says. "There's beauty everywhere, and I especially love using macro lenses to reveal more detail than I can see with my eyes - an extension of seeing more detail is capturing more resolution, more clarity, more information."

When it comes to his newest work, which he's titled Cosmic Microscapes, the objects of Buckland's abstract photography are anything but ordinary. They're impossibly thin slices (i.e. 30 microns 'thick' - human hair averages 90 microns) of formerly space-faring objects that have crashed into Earth over the millennia. And though most of these slides are around 0.75"x1.5" in size, Buckland is making prints from them that are around 12 feet wide and even larger.

By rotating the polarizers, Buckland can alter the visible colors seen through the sample.

I had a chance to sit down with Buckland in his studio in south Seattle to discuss not only how this project came to be, but also how he manages to produce these images – and this insane amount of detail – on a fully custom-built rig.

'The depth-of-field is 3.5 microns thick'

It all started when Dr. Tony Irving of the University of Washington first came to Buckland's studio three years ago to have meteorite slices photographed for a scientific presentation. At that time, Buckland didn't know what this project would grow into.

Buckland's rig is almost entirely custom-made for this specific purpose.

"The first time I looked at [the slide], I thought, 'okay, nothing special,'" Buckland said. Then, Dr. Irving used two linear polarizing filters to pass cross-polarized light through it. "What is this magic? With the cross-polarized light, you get these crazy colors you never knew existed," Buckland said. The colors tell scientists a lot about the chemical composition of what they're looking at – but they also happen to be stunningly beautiful.

Buckland started out using a standard macro lens on a Pentax K-1 DSLR, and while this served him well enough for Dr. Irving's scientific presentations, one thing led to another – and another. He soon bought a Venus Optics 2.5x-5x macro lens, but that also wasn't enough.

Buckland must make incredibly fine adjustments to ensure precise focus across a 1.5" specimen.

After months of tinkering, Buckland found what he was really after: a 10x microscope objective, mounted to his camera via a custom-made adapter, with the camera on a custom-made reinforced metal mounting base that weighs in at around 50 lbs. Despite the concrete construction of his studio building, Buckland couldn't work with a lighter stand. "My biggest, heaviest tripod was useless," Buckland said. "A UPS truck would pass by and I'd see the camera live view shake like crazy." And when you're using Pentax's Pixel Shift technology at this level of magnification, you need absolute and complete stability.

This is because a 10x microscope objective is more magnified than you might think. "I'm only seeing 2 millimeters square of the slide," Buckland said, which is about what you'd see looking through the microscope with your own eye. "But I want to see the whole thing," Buckland said, and so he captures 300 to 400 2x2mm tiles and stitches them together. The capturing process can take up to 4 hours per slide, and focusing alone can take an hour or so. The depth-of-field is only around 3.5 microns(!), so precise calibration is necessary to ensure the whole slide stays in focus throughout the capture process.

Buckland takes a break from lining up his camera to pose for a portrait.

"I've looked at these slices my entire career, and no one has ever really been able to see more than one or two millimeters of the thing at a time [with this detail]," said Dr. Irving. "When you take a slide and you look at it as a geologist, you move it around. But when you move, you lose the context. So there is a practical aspect that these images make for an enhancement of scientific study."

The images already look amazing on a 65" OLED monitor in Buckland's studio, but of course, on the digital display you can still zoom in to see greater detail – and just keep zooming. But then you're moving around again, and losing context. So how do you avoid that? You make prints. Really, really big prints.

Seeing the whole picture

Neil and his pup, Brian, next to a print in his studio.

As referenced earlier, one of Buckland's specialties is stitched panoramic images of vast natural landscapes. The creation of these images was largely inspired by Thomas Hill's early paintings of what would become some of the United States' most treasured national parks.

"I'm obsessed with detail. When I make these giant landscape prints, I want you to stand in front of them and feel like you're there," Buckland said. "With this custom rig, I can do that with a micro subject – not just giant landscapes." Thus, the name 'microscape' was born.

Here's a sampling of some low-res images of Buckland's meteorite work (and you can see far more here).

After spending anywhere from 6 to 10 hours capturing, stitching and cleaning up a meteorite image, Buckland selects a relatively small crop for a final print. His Canon wide-format printer is limited to prints 44 inches wide, so for a 12-foot-wide print, he has to divide the image into strips. These are then painstakingly cut and mounted together, with careful attention paid to a lack of visible seams between the strips. And even though they're enormous, the detail isn't exactly lacking.

After all, prints that large can often fall apart when you're too close - they're meant to be viewed at a distance. "That doesn't work for me," Buckland said. "I want you to get really, really close to my prints – you can't get too close, because your eyes won't be able to focus at that point." Dr. Irving said that, aside from the educational advantages, "if you have the time to stand in front of it, you can really appreciate it – like all art."

What's next

A gallery visitor lingers in front of Buckland's more modest-sized 30 x 40" prints.
Photo by Nate Gowdy | Courtesy Neil Buckland

Dr. Irving continues to bring more samples to Buckland, who continues to photograph them in staggering detail. But Buckland isn't satisfied yet. In addition to a newly opened gallery showing in Seattle, Buckland aims to produce a traveling exhibition of mammoth prints to be shown at natural history museums and continues to tinker with his photography setup for even better results - including considering Panasonic's Lumix S1R and its 187MP high-res mode. But in the meantime?

"I just ordered a 20x microscope objective, which would probably quadruple the number of tiles - which is totally insane." Buckland said. "There's just no logical reason to capture that much detail!" he laughs.

So I ask, why do it then? He points to an enormous, stitched image of El Capitan at sunrise in Yosemite national park hanging prominently in his studio. "Why would you climb such a thing? Because it's there."

Neil Buckland is a photographer based in Seattle who specializes in nature, portrait and product photography. He also runs educational workshops, both at his REDred Photo studio and on location around the world.

April 21, 2019
Ricoh GR III shooting experience: "Shut up and take my money"

'The best camera is the one you have with you'. I think Gandhi said that. It's not true, of course - the best camera is the Pentax MX and unlike Gandhi I'll fight anyone who says different.

What is true – and what the author of that aphorism meant – is that the best camera in the world is of no use whatever if you leave it at home. Like many photo obsessives, I carry a camera with me at almost all times, even if it's just the 12MP camera on my phone. The cameras I tend to reach for when I leave the house now are a far cry from the gear I used to shoot with professionally. Gone are the days of carrying two Nikon D3S bodies and a brace of F2.8 zooms on my back, and my back is happier for it.

I'm much more likely to throw a Fujifilm X100F or Leica M10 into my bag these days, despite the inconvenience of fixed lenses. More recently I've been enjoying the versatility of the Nikon Z7 with its 24-70mm F4 kit zoom. But none of the cameras I just mentioned are really, truly, pocketable. That's where the Ricoh GR series comes in.

This is a composite image created from several Raw files from the GR II. I'll often shoot sequences like this on hikes, to simulate the effect of a much wider field of view. I downsized this shot for upload - the original is enormous.

Incidentally, this is the fire lookout hut where Gary Snyder wrote one of his most famous (and one of my favorite) poems. 'Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout'.

Ricoh GR II - stitched image from multiple frames.

I owned a Ricoh GR II for quite a while, and I loved it. The breast pocket of my favorite jacket still has a GR II-shaped shape crease in it, which I suspect is permanent at this point. While 28mm isn't my first choice of focal length, it's great for casual shots of friends, street scenes and general outdoor photography. The GR-series have always been fantastic cameras for hiking and cycling with thanks to their solid build quality and small size, and 28mm is perfect for quick trailside landscapes.

Fitting the GR II's relatively small 16MP files into my workflow ended up being awkward

The only reason I sold my old GR II (to one of my DPReview colleagues, in fact) was that I found myself working on projects that really needed the 24MP+ resolution available in contemporary DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Fitting the GR II's relatively small 16MP files into my workflow - pin sharp as they undoubtedly were - ended up just being awkward, so off it went to a new home.

Had I known how long it would be until we saw a Mark III, I might have kept hold of it. But when the GR III was finally announced, it seemed to solve three of my main frustrations with the GR / II.

While I don't naturally gravitate to the 28mm focal length, it's a great focal length for scenes like this. And the GR III is so small that I can dangle it over a balcony without fear.

ISO 500 | 1/40 sec | F5.6

Firstly there's the resolution boost. 16-24MP isn't a massive leap, but it's enough to make a difference, and enough to make modest cropping an option. I tend to prefer 35mm to 28mm, and in 35mm crop mode the GR III outputs 15MP files – effectively the same resolution as the Mark II at 28mm. I don't shoot in crop modes often, but it is nice to have the option of cropping later and being left with a usable amount of pixels.

Secondly, autofocus has been updated to on-sensor phase-detection. This promises faster and less hesitant AF than the notoriously hunting-prone GR II.

Finally, the sensor in the GR III is stabilized. There's some debate about this point – why do you need stabilization to shoot at 28mm? Well, if you're shooting on a DSLR or most ILCs, you probably don't. Large, heavy cameras absorb moderate handshake pretty well. But with a camera as light as the GR II / III, designed to be used one-handed for grab-shooting, the (figurative) helping hand is actually very useful. I've found that I can safely hand-hold images down to around 1/10sec with stabilization turned on, which is turns out to be very valuable when it comes to things like capturing flowing water, or just keeping ISO low in darker conditions.

An APS-C camera with a stabilized, modern sensor that fits into a shirt pocket? Yes please.

I had held out a vain hope that the GR III might feature some kind of built-in EVF, perhaps of a similar kind to that offered by the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI and its ilk. Realistically though, the minute that Ricoh told us that the GR III would feature IBIS, and would actually be smaller in form factor than the II, I knew there wouldn't be room for an EVF. It turns out there wasn't room for a flash, either. Oh well. I know a lot of photographers who were heartbroken by the loss of the latter, but it doesn't really bother me.

I was nervous to learn that Ricoh had redesigned the GR III's lens, but looking through my images I'm reassured to see that images from the GR III are at least as sharp as I'd expect from previous models. Bokeh isn't amazing, but opportunities for blurring backgrounds on a 28mm F2.8 lens are pretty slim unless you're shooting in the macro range.

Great bokeh? Not exactly. But considering the physics of a 28mm equivalent F2.8 lens, I don't care. The GR III's lens is impressively sharp at all apertures and focus distances, which is much more important to me in a camera of this type.

ISO 200 | 1/125 sec | F2.8

I'm getting ahead of myself. Picking up the GR III after using a GR II for so long I felt like I immediately knew the camera. Comparing them directly, it's obvious that Ricoh has tidied up the user interface quite a lot, as well as dispensing with some of the GR II's physical buttons, but none of the changes have really got in my way. For quick pictures I use the GR III in almost exactly the same way as I used to enjoy shooting with the GR II: in aperture priority mode, usually between F4-8, using auto-area autofocus.

The rear screen is now touch-sensitive, and partly as a consequence it is covered in a layer of highly reflective glass. This makes it almost impossible to accurately preview composition on a bright day, so I've taken to mounting an old 28mm optical viewfinder I had lying in a drawer, which gets me close enough. the downside is that with a finder added, the GR III is no longer quite so pocketable.

Perhaps the GR III's major achilles heel is
battery life

Another option for outdoor use is to increase the screen brightness (I have the movie button set to provide quick access to this setting) but there is a cost. Perhaps the GR III's major achilles heel is battery life. While you can eke out a few hundred shots per charge in a single session with minimal image review, if you're shooting at slower shutter speeds (where the IBIS kicks in) or working with boosted screen brightness, you're taking a risk without at least one spare battery in your pocket. It's not quite Sony Cyber-shot RX1R II-level bad, but it's bad. And like many small battery cameras, the GR III's battery indicator goes from the cheerful-looking full bars icon to the unhappy no bars red blinky icon with very little warning.

This shot demonstrates one of the major shortcomings of the GR III - it's virtually impossible to discern what's on the screen in bright light. I shot several versions of this scene at different exposure settings, and used an external finder for framing.

ISO 100 | 1/1250 sec | F7.1

Fortunately, the GR III is equipped with in-camera charging, via the (more or less) standard USB-C interface used by a lot of cameras and mobile devices these days. The GR II used a fiddly connector which looked like standard USB mini but wasn't. I have three of them, because twice I thought I'd lost my last spare. A full charge takes a couple of hours, but I've found even ten minutes plugged into an external battery pack is enough to get me out of trouble.

Unfortunately there's no workaround for the GR III's autofocus system, which – sadly – is still pretty hopeless in low light. In bright conditions it's definitely improved over the GR II. I don't think there's any doubt about that. Autofocus is acquired faster and with less hunting, and the overall impression in decent lighting is that the GR III focuses about as quickly as a Fujfilm X100T/F. But take the thing indoors or – heaven forbid – start trying to shoot after dark, and it falls apart quickly. The obnoxious green AF light provides enough light for the camera to (eventually, usually) lock on, but it can take several seconds. No kidding.

Ultimately though, I'm prepared to forgive the GR III most of its foibles. The fact is that it's a fast, responsive (usually) camera with a great sensor, effective in-body stabilization and a sharp lens which fits into my shirt pocket. I started this article with a quote and I'll end with another - 'shut up and take my money'.

Ricoh GR III real-world samples

April 20, 2019
DPReview TV: Fujifilm X-T30 vs. Sony a6400

The Fujifilm X-T30 and Sony a6400 are two of the newest, most exciting mid-range mirrorless cameras on the market, and while they may not look similar at first glance, both include impressive features and performance specs. Chris and Jordan break down the differences to see which comes out on top.

Get new episodes of DPReview TV every week by subscribing to our YouTube channel!

April 20, 2019
Secrets of a professional photographer's workflow: Brian Ach
Brian Ach is an editorial and commercial photographer.

As photographers, most of our focus is on capturing images—finding good material and getting shots with all the gear we’ve spent so much time and money accumulating—but what happens next? For a lot of us, we download the images to a computer and edit a handful that catch our eye, and then… well, there are more photo shoots to pursue. Maybe we’ll apply some keywords, perhaps mark a few favorites, but too often the photos we worked so hard to create are just dumped onto a hard disk and forgotten. We know we should do better, but who has the time?

Professional photographers, that’s who.

To learn how a pro handles this process, I talked to Brian Ach, who frequently photographs celebrity portraits, high-profile events, and glamorous autos for numerous clients. You may remember his work from his stint as Prince’s official photographer during the musician’s 2011 international tour (the photos he returned to after Prince’s passing in “Purple Reign: Photographer Brian Ach shares his experiences of working with Prince”). He outlined his entire workflow, from preparing to leave for an event through handing off final images and making sure everything is backed up.

Brian's outlined his entire workflow, from preparing to leave, through handing off final images and making sure everything is backed up

Although a professional’s workflow is different from that used by most photographers, there are aspects anyone can use in their own workflow to better manage their library.

A man of many skills, Brian shoots everything from rock and roll world tours to automotive ads. Shown here: Journey at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Understanding Expectations

To get a sense of how Ach’s workflow may differ from most photographers’ approaches, I asked him to describe the types of high-pressure assignments that he encounters. In most cases, time is the number one factor at play.

“If I'm shooting an event for Getty or WireImage or AP Images, time is of the essence,” he said. “If you're doing the red carpet and don't have an onsite editor, you want to turn around your best pictures as quickly as possible and get them up on the wire so you can get placement and, basically, make money. From the end of the event, the goal is to have everything captioned and up on the site in two hours. That's the worst case scenario—you're really looking to do it quicker than that. Often it will be trying to get your top 10 or 15 pictures out in 45 minutes or less.”

'Always import your card immediately after you're done shooting.'

He noted that when shooting a big job like the Academy Awards or the Tony Awards, photographers are usually hard-wired via Ethernet cables to editing stations on site where editors send images out as soon as possible. Sometimes he shoots the red carpet as a solo photographer, where there may be on-site runners who collect memory cards every 15 or 20 minutes from each photographer to deliver to editors. And, of course, there are plenty of events where he’s responsible for everything.

“Usually when I’ve worked with Getty, it’s what they call a hired job,” he said. “I’m often the guy inside the party, which means I’ll have an editor on site. You have 1500 frames and you need to send them out as soon as possible because you want to beat everybody else and get the stuff out correctly.”

When shooting a high-profile event, it is essential to get your photos up on the wire before other photographers.

During the Shoot

Regardless of which type of event he’s shooting, Ach has developed a consistent workflow through years of hard-won experience.

“I do everything the exact same way every time, because once you have a workflow, you do it the way you do it,” he said. “If you change anything—you have to trust me on this—you will screw it up in a big way. Something will happen. It took me probably my first year-and-a-half to two years, no lie, just to get a workflow.”

Usually we think of photo workflow as the process that begins after you’re done shooting, but for Ach it’s earlier than you might expect: in his studio preparing to leave, formatting cards and making sure batteries are charged.

'I always keep fresh cards in my right pocket. Cards that I've shot on, I keep in my left pocket.'

“It’s very hard for me to separate out the workflow from shooting,” he said. “When I get to the event, if I know I'm shooting multiple cards I always keep fresh cards in my right pocket. Cards that I've shot on, I keep in my left pocket. Always. I've learned not to put them back in the bag, or put them in my jacket or anything like that. Right pocket, fresh cards. Left pocket, used cards. So after I shoot the event, I come back to the studio. Whatever is still in my right pocket I just put back in the bag.”

Celebrity portrait shoots are another high pressure assignment that Brian specializes in - he often has only a few minutes with his subjects to nail the shot. Shown here: Director and screen writer Christopher McQuarrie.

We’ve all received the advice that it’s best to capture photos correctly in-camera, but in environments like these, it’s even more critical.

“White balance and exposure are two of my biggest things,” he said. “Put a gel on your flash, create a custom white balance, and then get it right [before the event begins]. I don’t want to have to waste the time afterward processing it. It sounds so obvious, but it’s not if your editor has to tweak your white balance for every shot and you’ve got 100 shots and your red carpet photos are coming out slightly yellow. The editor may not have time to do it—they may need to just send it out.”

To assist editors, or for his reference later if he’s doing the editing, Ach will mark images during the shoot that stand out, using a camera’s built-in tagging or image-protection features.

'Go out and over-shoot everything and be brutal on yourself when evaluating'

“You can help your editor by tagging certain photos that are very good or very important,” he said. “You’re not trying to tell the editor how to do their job; you’re simply saying ‘here’s that photo.’ They can look at the previous 10 or 15 frames, or the 10 or 15 afterward, and pick whatever they think is best based on your recommendation.”

And how does one know which images rise above the others? “It’s training your eye," he said. "Look at books, look at everything and try to figure out what makes them good. And then go out and over-shoot everything and be brutal on yourself [when evaluating them].”

Ach mentioned he once shot New York Fashion Week events and had a day where he shot 17,000 frames. “Thank God I had an editor who was very good, and he was able to quickly whittle that down," he said. "It’s just pattern recognition, and knowing what the shot is and what’s good. And the only way you can get better at that is shooting a lot and looking at a lot.”

Not all of Brian's assignments involve models and celebrities.