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Nikon Df DSLR

Review Date: Jun 6, 2017 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

Pros: Small (for a full-frame DSLR anyway), light, traditional look and feel, and oh that gorgeous D4 sensor.
This camera really demands a split-image focusing screen for manual lenses, and the silver version (which I have) has slightly uneven color between the various parts which makes it look cheaper than it should. It also feel more substantial, but then t would be heavier.

This is far from a perfect camera, but then what is. I don't care too much about the usual complaints of dial locks (I have no problem working the controls quickly without looking) or the price (it has a D4 sensor and is made in Japan, what do you expect?), but this camera could have been so much more.

I know interchangeable focusing screens are passe, but this is a camera marketed for using older AI and even Non-AI lenses, so at the very least a proper split-image and micro prism screen, or better yet an interchangeable screen like in the old days (and Canon's current 6D and recent 5D2). I'd be willing to live with 96% instead of 100% frame coverage, through even 100% and interchangeable screens is clearly possible as Canon proves with its 1D-whatever models (which have a wonder split-image screen option, by the way).

My other complaints are fairly minor. The chrome finish is inconsistent from panel to panel (different plastics?) and makes the camera look cheaper than it should. Nikon used to get this right on its plastic bodies in the 80s (look at an FG to see a nice ever surface that is consistent even at panel gaps), so no reason they can't get this right on a camera in this price class. Oh well, the black is gorgeous, but since I bought used I didn't get that option.

My other complaint is that the plastic (the frame is magnesium, but like most DSLRs its covered by polycarbonate) body covering is a bit thin and lacks the solid feeling of say a D800 or Canon 5D3. Again, not the end of the world as the camera seems to be pretty tough, but it would likely feel like something worth what it costs had the plastics been a bit thicker.

The rest, however, is FANTASTIC!!!!! I also shoot Leica and own a Leica M-D 262 (the screenless M240 variant) and the Df loses absolutely nothing except ultimate resolution to the M, while gaining in dynamic range and high-ISO performance. This is the best sensor I've ever used, with just the right balance between pixel count and pixel size. Color is fantastic, noise is extremely low even without NR in camera at up to ISO 12,800 and while ISO 50 is a pull, dynamic range and color remain excellent even at this lowest setting that is so useful when shooting fast prime lenses (a 1/8000th shutter speed also would have been nice, oops, that's another complaint).

I only own one autofocus lens for use on the Df (the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G), but even without a split screen, the Df is wonderful with my many manual focus Nikkors; even the 50mm f/1.2 AIS.

Not perfect, not a lot of "value" for the spec-sheet crowd, but this is a very fun camera to use, and the results are, at least for what I use a DSLR for, outstanding.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Review Date: Oct 28, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $2,400.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Versatile and fast AF system, great handling, robust build and terrific image quality.
Big and heavy, but you know that. No interchangeable screens and poor manual focus using stock screen.

I've used the 6D for years and also use (and love) Leica rangefinders, but I added a 5D3 to my Canon outfit when I started doing more event work.

The 5D3 is an outstanding combination of capabilities and price (since the recent price drops), and while now four-years-old, with the exception of a few very minor nits this remains pretty much everything I could want in a DSLR. What are the nits?

The focusing screen cannot be changed (5D4 also has this issue) which is a problem for those who like using manual focus and reflex viewing with ultra-fast lenses like the 50mm f/1.2L (live view is terrific). I do this for low-light portraits and for that use the 6D is a better setup with the precision matte "S" screen.

AF system is a bit complex when first picking it up, but oh man is this thing a rocket once you pass the learning curve. This was the reason I bought my 5D3, as I would often want to grab a shot of someone in a crowd and with the simple 11-point AF system of the 6D I wouldn't be able to track my subject as he or she moved around. With the 5D3 I can quickly put a focusing point on my subject and then move around while the subject also moves around and keep my subject in focus, even with fast lenses and in moderate light. Who says weddings and events aren't sports?

Coming from the 6D I also love the build quality of the 5D3. I never found the 6D lacking in build quality, but the first time I handled the 5D3 I knew right away that this was a whole other level in terms of build quality. I've used and abused the 6D for more than 3 years, in rough weather, vibrating in a motorcycle tank bag and other such use and never had an issue, but the improved build quality of the 5D3 is very confidence inspiring.

Finally image quality is absolutely what I expected it to be. The 6D is better at high ISO (6400 and up), but up to 3200 there is very little difference other than the 5D3's slight resolution advantage. Color, noise (up to ISO 3200), dynamic range are all about equal, perhaps a hair better on the 5D3 though that may be resolution talking, but honestly both cameras offer more than I need as I never print larger than 20X30" and rarely go larger than 11X14", and even ISO 3200 shots from the 5D3 or ISO 6400 shots from the 6D are stunning at 11X14.

I bought this just after the 5D4 secs were leaked (August 2016) and carefully considering if the newer camera offered anything that would really make a difference in my photography. I wanted the higher-end AF system, but other than illuminating AF points (present on the 6D) there was really nothing that was worth an additional $1,000 to me. Sure, the dynamic range and increased resolution wouldn't hurt, but I've never really been limited by the 6D's sensor and so I went with the older model.

As I write this I've used the 5D3 alongside my 6D for two events (Rotary Club functions) and a long business trip where I left everything else at home except for the 5D3 and the EF 35mm f/1.4 mk II. With that setup, I photographed bars, a historic battlefield, the interior and exterior of a 19th century protected cruiser (USS Olympia) and 20th century battleship (USS New Jersey, and never once did I wish for any additional or different equipment. Sure, other lenses would have presented other views, but the 5D3 with a fast prime was a fantastic combination in all lights and conditions from harsh sunlight to available darkness.

Yes, the 5D3 is now 4-years-old, but I really think digital cameras have essentially hit a plateau where improvements are incremental and upgrades no longer mandatory.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Review Date: Sep 29, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: VERy sharp Effective IS 1:1 reproduction at very high quality Weathersealing
None whatsoever

What can I say that hasn't been said already? This is a fantastic lens, perhaps one of Canon's very best. The IS is extremely effective at portrait distances, and while nowhere near 4 stops at macro distances, is still a real help (perhaps 2 stops?).

I use this for portrait, landscape, event and macro photography and it excels in each of those roles. While "only" f/2.8, it will throw most backgrounds delightfully out-of-focus and the bokeh is extremely smooth and appealing. It has a very flat field and is incredibly sharp at all apertures and distances, from corner to corner. If anything for portraits it might be too sharp, but I often solve that with either a filter or in post.

If you like the 100mm focal length and want to get really close on a Canon DSLR, just buy this lens. There is nothing better in this range.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS

Review Date: Sep 28, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $700.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Very small and light for a stabilized 24-70mm f/4. At 24mm can almost match a good prime at f/4, and easily does so from f/5.6. Very sharp and almost no distortion at any focal length, though not quite up to L prime level. Lock switch very convenient. Macro mode not a substitute for a real macro lens, but excellent for a general purpose zoom.
At full-retail price ($900) not a great value, especially with the updated 24-105mm f/4 mk II on the way at $1100 (IQ on the new one remains to be seen, and much bulkier). Doesn't zoom to 105mm like its older and soon-to-be-released younger f/4 siblings do.

I bought a used copy of this lens here on the forum, sold it on, and then bought another one, only brand-new (at a nice discount). The reason is that I happen to like having reach to 105mm in a walk-around lens, but value small size, light weight and image quality at the wide end more than the extra reach.

I've had a love / hate relationship with the 24-105mm f/4 L for more than three years now, which coincidentally is how long I've been shooting full-frame Canon. My first 24-105 came bundled with my 6D body back in late 2012 and I used that lens quite a bit before getting bitten by the L Prime bug.

Once I bought the 35mm, 50mm and 100mm L primes, I found I was only using the 24-105 as a 24mm prime, and 24mm is, by far, that lens' worst focal length. Abundant distortion was my main complaint, but it also suffered from zoom creep (zooming to longer focal lengths through gravity as I walked), which really bothered me. It was also bigger and heavier than the 24/1.4 L, which I have yet to purchase, but eventually will.

I sold my original 24-105 and bought a used 24-70/4 here on FM forum thinking that it could be my family vacation lens (I previously used the 24-105 in that role), but I soon regretted the lack of 105mm reach as I often like to grab a candid portrait. With buyer's and seller's remorse over my swap, I sold on the 24-70/4 and bought another 24-105, again here on the forum, and took it with me for a weekend getaway in San Francisco.

Well, I had my 105mm reach, but zoom creep and distortion reminded my why I had sold my first copy, and so my second one is on eBay right now, while a brand-new 24-70/4 is on order. I seriously considered the new 24-105 mk II, but then I saw that it is even bigger and heavier than the mk I, and so I'm back to the 24-70.

This lens really is good enough at f/4 to make a moderate-speed prime redundant. I will still buy the 24mm f/1.4, but specifically for the f/1.4 and the creative possibilities that aperture brings. For casual (non photograph-oriented) travel, this one zoom lens really does replace my bag full of primes. When I travel light, this lens really is all that I need, while I can stuff the very light and surprisingly good 50/1.8 STM in a corner of my bag in case I want to go chasing available darkness.

No, this lens doesn't rival the best Canon primes at 28mm or longer, but its close enough, especially stopped down to f/5.8 or f/8 not to matter much, and at 24mm it is even better. That it is the same size, and much lighter than the 24/1.4 L is just icing on the cake, and makes me a lot more patient in saving for that faster prime.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Review Date: Jul 8, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,350.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Buy this for f/1.2, beautiful bokeh, sharp (in the center), excellent color, high build-quality, weather sealed, accurate focus.
Strong chromatic aberrations, soft in the corners at most apertures, heavy, expensive.

This is a love it or hate it lens, and I just happen to love it. The Sigma 50/1.4 ART is a better lens in every measurable way except maximum aperture, but there are some lenses that excel in non-measurable ways. Those non-measurable things can be very important.

I also shoot Leica and own both Leica's damned-close-to-perfection 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH and an uncoated Carl Zeiss 5cm f/1.5 Sonnar made in 1937 with air bubbles in the glass. The Summilux is, by all measurable ways a vastly better lens than the Sonnar, but there is something magical about Sonnar portraits that causes people to hunt these lenses down and get them converted and adjusted to their modern Leica cameras. The Canon 50mm f/1.2 is not a Sonnar, but it is great for the same reasons the Sonnar is great.

I've rented this lens about a half dozen times over the years and have always enjoyed using it for portrait and event photography. Auto focus is difficult wide-open unless you use the center point and then crop in post (focus recompose isn't a great idea, especially wide open or up close). That said, wide open or close to it there is magic in this lens. The bokeh is about the smoothest I've ever seen, every bit as good as the Leica Summilux and with the benefit of autofocus and much closer focusing than a rangefinder can. At wide apertures everything is so far out of focus that sharpness matters little (the center is very sharp when properly focused, even at f/1.2).

This is a specialty lens. When I travel with my 6D I usually bring just my 35/1.4, and MAYBE bring along the 100/2.8 Macro. This is not a travel lens, or a landscape or architecture lens. This is a PEOPLE lens, the one I would bring to an intimate jazz club or a wedding reception.

I would also like to mention focus shift and quality control. I've rented copies of this lens that had pretty severe focus shift between f/1.4 and f/2.8 at close distances (never had any problem at all beyond two meters), but newer copies seem to be better. I just bought this lens last week and after testing it for wide-open AF micro-adjust (none required) used it for an indoor event (Rotary club meeting) where I took a lot of low-light portraits and a few candids.

My event shots were all perfectly focused. After the event, I set up my focus target and tried slightly stopping down at a close distance (24 inches) and focus shift was present, but so minimal as to not matter to me as available depth of field still covered the area focused on. My lens has a date code of UE, meaning it was made in March of 2016. It would appear that Canon has solved some of the early focus shift issues and vastly improved calibration before shipping the lenses out from the factory.

I've wanted this lens for a few years, and with this, the 35/1.4 L II and the 100/2.8 L IS Macro feel that I have essentially a complete set of high-end Canon glass for the way I like to shoot with a DSLR. This 50mm is definitely the weak-link in the chain when it comes to all-around versatility. The 35 and 100 are as close to "perfect" as a lens in their category can be. This 50/1.2 is no Otus or even Sigma ART replacement, but it is a delightful lens that will return gorgeous images when used within its limitations.

If I didn't have the Summilux for my Leica, I would have gone for the Otus or the Sigma ART, and still may, but for the way I shoot, this lens is a good fit and while expensive for what it is, I really wanted f/1.2.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T*

Review Date: Jan 5, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,700.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Almost no CA/fringing, extremely sharp at any distance and aperture, beautiful color and smooth bokeh in both foreground and background.
Manual focus only, heavy, not weather sealed, expensive

This is probably the best lens I own, and I say that as a Leica owner. This lens is sharper and has better control of chromatic aberrations than any other lens I've ever used, including Leica's 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH and 50mm f/2 Summicron (non-APO). I am sure that the Zeiss Otus lenses and Leica's APO lenses are just as good or possibly a little better, but those are all considerably more expensive and none reach as long as 135mm.

135mm has long been a favorite focal length of mine, especially for outdoor portraits and semi-macro photography (this lens will reach 1/4 life size without extension tubes). It is also a great focal length for indoor sports, but the manual focus design will limit its usefulness there. I also look forward to using this lens for indoor events where the reach and f/2 aperture will help, but if that is the primary use Canon's also excellent, not to mention lighter and cheaper 135mm f/2 L is probably a better choice.

I was actually planning to buy the Canon when I read a review of this lens and started looking at images from it. Since I maintain two complimentary (but not overlapping) series of lenses I had no problem choosing this manual focus lens to pair with my other Zeiss lenses (35/1.4 and 25/2), having autofocus Canon lenses of 28/1.8, 50/1.8 STM and 85/1.8 for when small size, light weight or autofocus are required. I also have the Canon 24-105 f/4 L that overlaps everything except the 135mm Zeiss. I tend to reach for the Zeiss kit when I'm after a slower workflow and more creative control, while I'll generally use the Canon primes for fast-paced events and the zoom (or a Leica) for casual travel.

I can't recommend this lens strongly enough. Back as a teenager shooting Minolta, my first lens was a 45mm f/2 prime, followed by a K-Mart brand (Kiron made) 135mm f/2.8. I've loved the perspective of a 135mm lens ever since, and it is great to have this focal length at this quality level.

If you like 135mm and can live with manual focus (I use the "S" precision screen in my 6D, focus is easy with no focus shift), you won't be disappointed.

Canon 6D with 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar, Wide Open at ISO 12,800, 1/60th handheld by Andrew F, on Flickr

Canon 6D with 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar, Wide Open at ISO 12,800, 1/250th handheld by Andrew F, on Flickr

Canon 6D with 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar, Wide Open at ISO 12,800, 1/250th handheld by Andrew F, on Flickr

Canon 6D with 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar, Wide Open at ISO 1600, 1/500th handheld by Andrew F, on Flickr

Canon 6D with 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar, Wide Open at ISO 400, 1/320th handheld by Andrew F, on Flickr

Zeiss 35mm F/1.4 Distagon T*

Review Date: Dec 30, 2015 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,100.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Beautiful color, beautiful rendering, just a beautiful lens.
Very heavy, manual focus can be tough on a modern DSLR

This is definitely a niche product, manual focus only, and as such it cannot really compare directly with any of the more mainstream options from Canon or Sigma. It is slower and more difficult to focus, though it can be more accurate when using live view or a good focusing screen. It is also probably the heaviest 35mm prime lens available for the Canon (or Nikon) system.

In every quantifiable way I should not have bought, and should not keep this lens. The problem was once I attached it to my camera and took a few informal portraits (in a harshly lit store no less) and then viewed those images on my computer, I just had to have it. This lens has not disappointed me after purchase, and while I don't always use it (I also own the ultra-cheap canon 35mm f/2), when I do I am never disappointed with the results.

Using this lens on my 6D comes close to shooting with my Leica in visceral pleasure of shooting. There really is a difference when focusing manually, slowing down and taking my time. I find with manual focus I tend to also think more carefully about depth of field, exposure and composition. I'm less lazy, experiment more and while I take fewer pictures, I get more keepers.

Would I buy it again? Not sure, but since I got it for an excellent used price, I'm holding onto it at least as long as I have a Canon DSLR.

Canon EOS 6D

Review Date: Nov 7, 2015 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Small enough, cheap enough, fast enough, far better than just good enoug.
None for what it is and what it cost.

I had a 6D a few-years-ago and sold it, which was a big mistake. Finally bought another and am very happy to have it back.

I am a hobbyist of about 35 years, and generally prefer the look and feel of older cameras from the 70s. My mot used cameras are my Leica M-E, M Monichrom and for film a old Leica M5. Still, rangefinders may be fun, but they aren't the most practical for casual use, especially for family travel where you want to be in some of the pictures. Likewise rangefinders positively stink for longer lenses than 90mm or wider than 28mm, usually requiring an auxiliary viewfinder.

With just a 35mm or 50mm the Leica is my favorite tool, but as a married traveler who enjoys creating large photobooks after each trip, a DSLR remains a very useful tool, and the Canon 6D is the best I've used for that role.

Last year I sold my 6D to buy a Nikon Df and a few primes, but I found I was using the Df the same way I was using my Leica. So, another 6D is here, and a most collection of quality lenses that play to the advantages of the DSLR for travel. The 24-105mm f/4L is a wonderful travel lens. For many trips, this lens and a nifty fifty (love the new 50/1.8 stm) are all that I want or need, but for longer trips, a 70-200mm f/4 L IS on the long end and a 17-40 mm or 16-35mm f/4 L (haven't decided which yet) will make for an extremely versatile outfit that can do pretty much anything.

6D image quality is fantastic, everything I could ask for and more at the price. AD is great in low light and the camer is. Rey easy to handle and balances well with the 24-105 (Nikon Df was great with primes, but ungainly with the 24-120).

So this time I think the 6D will stick around for a while. I could care less about a newer model coming out, or about higher megapixels in the Somy. For my money on a travel camera this is still as good as it gets.