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  Reviews by: jeffbuzz  

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Zeiss 12mm f/2.8 Touit T*

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Review Date: Apr 19, 2020 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $999.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Stunning contrast and color. Optically corrected with very minimal distortion. Smooth and precise operation. Exceptional build quality.
Cons:

The Touit 12mm continues to be the widest autofocus prime lens available for the Fuji X mount. Other third party lenses exist but are manual focus and lack any electronic connection to the camera. The Zeiss is fully connected so you have autofocus and full EXIF data is communicated while shooting.

Image quality is stunning. Zeiss design, glass and coatings provide that unmistakable Zeiss "look". Sharpness from high micro contrast provides an almost 3D effect to images. Considering the extreme wide angle view, distortion is very well controlled optically so there is no need for destructive correction with in-camera or post-production profiles.

Build quality is typical Zeiss: solid and aesthetically pleasing. AF is quick and accurate. Manual focus is control-by-wire but also smooth and precise. On the Fuji mount version there is an aperture ring with one-third stop clicks and an A(uto) setting. The hood provides adequate coverage from glare and protection from light rain or snow so it is useful all the time. Having standard 67mm filter threads is helpful. Many ultrawide lenses lack filter threads so having this is a bonus for simple UV/protective purposes or ND/CPL usage.

In comparison to the alternatives I find the Zeiss the best choice for a Fuji X wide angle. It is much, much smaller and lighter than the behemoth Fuji 8-16mm. Image sharpness and distortion of the Zeiss are much better than the Fuji 10-24mm. Build quality and operational smoothness are better than the Fuji 14mm. Samyang and Venus lenses have "dumb" mounts offering manual focus only and pass no EXIF data to the camera. The image quality of the Ziess is far superior. The Samyang 12mm and Venus 9mm are much softer in the corners.


 
Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS


Review Date: Jan 23, 2020 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,998.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Useful focal range for wildlife and sports. Fast focusing. Great build quality. Weather sealed. Internal zoom. Good value.
Cons:
Slow aperture. Tripod foot. Size.

My favorite feature of the 200-600mm it is the internal zoom design. Yes, it makes for a longer package to carry. But the improved balance and sealing are worth it. Extending zooms like the 100-400mm are difficult to use on a gimbal because the balance point changes dramatically from one end of the zoom range to the other. This internal zoom design allows the 200-600mm to handle like a premium long lens should. The balance point barely changes from 200 to 600mm so you don't need to readjust the clamping point on the gimbal if you zoom.

AF performance is fast and quiet. There is no trouble locking and tracking moving subjects.

Despite the lens not wearing the "GM" badge, the optics are fantastic. Colors are clean and saturated with good contrast.

The relatively slow aperture can require using high ISO to achieve action stopping shutter speeds in anything less than full sun. I find myself shooting at ISO 1600 alot with this lens. f/5.6 is only available up to 300mm and the aperture drops to f/6.3 from 300mm up to 600mm. While the Sony sensors do fine at higher ISO it is still a sacrifice compared with an f/4 lens. Whether or not it is a worthy sacrifice is up to you.

Both the 1.4X and 2X teleconverters will work on this lens. Using the 1.4X TC brings your aperture down to f/8-f/9. The a7RIII loses phase detect AF beyond f/8. You are getting into really dark territory with the 2X converter bringing you down to f/11-f/13. The a9 is going to work OK at that level but the a7III and a7RIII will struggle a bit more. My preference to increase reach on the a7RIII is to switch to APS cropped mode in-camera rather than using a converter. Thus the aperture is not reduced but the recorded FOV is reduced by 1.5X by cropping the raw image.

It is difficult to compare this lens to anything else since it is rather unique. Third party SLR 150-600mm lenses from Tamron and Sigma cover a similar focal and aperture range but lack the internal zoom. Using them on Sony requires an adapter so AF performance will never match an E-mount lens. A similar focal range can be achieved with the Sony FE 100-400mm + 1.4X TC but at the cost of an even slower aperture and potential image degradation by the added lens elements. The 100-400mm is an external zoom which can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your needs. It is easier to carry the 100-400mm (with or without the TC). It fits in a typical long holster bag and can be strap carried with no trouble. The 200-600 is a different beast. The increased size and weight make front carry a challenge for anything more than a casual stroll. Hiking with the 200-600mm is more enjoyable with a backpack which requires extra setup time before shooting.

The tripod foot has no Arca dovetail. Even Tamron puts an Arca compatible foot on their lenses now. So you'll need an aftermarket foot if you want to use an Arca clamp. Sony's tripod foot to lens barrel interface is not great. Oddly, the interface itself uses a dovetail. Locking the foot is a two step process with a safety catch and then a screw clamp. The OEM foot and aftermarket options using the same design will have a big knob that I find too easy to knock loose. Bolt-on feet like the Hejnar are cleaner with no external knob but rely on a secondary pinch bolt to eliminate play when the foot is tightened. Regardless of which foot I've used there always is some degree of play in the foot attachment to the lens.

The hood is another oddity. Unlike many "super" tele lenses it is not a giant metal bucket that clamps to the lens. It is a nice plastic hood that simply twist locks in place (forward or reversed). The 100-400mm hood has a release button while this one just twists and clicks in. I have a tendency to be hard on hoods as I'm taking them on and off alot. So on one hand it is nice that this one is relatively inexpensive compared to the 600mm f/4 hood (8% of the price today) so replacing the hood will not be overly painful if needed. The hood does seem a bit lightweight for a lens of this size. I don't think I'd stand the lens on the extended hood too often.

Overall I find the FE 200-600mm to be a great value. As a more affordable and more portable option to the 600mm f/4 it opens up a world of possibilities at 1/6th the cost by giving up 1-1/3 stops of light. The zoom is much more flexible than a prime for different situations. It is also less expensive than the 100-400mm + 1.4X combo. Unless you are prepared to invest in the f/4 lens, and if you are primarily interested in the longer 400 to 600mm end of the focal range, the 200-600mm feels like the best choice.


 
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II

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Review Date: Oct 9, 2017 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Image quality, build quality, unique functionality
Cons:
Difficult to hand hold

I used the original TS-E 24mm for many years and really enjoyed it. The only gripe I ever had on the original was that the lens shift and tilt motions were fixed in either parallel or opposing directions. It was possible to switch the orientation but it required delicately unscrewing, rotating and reassembling the lens barrel. Not something I would ever do in the field. The Mark II version solved that beautifully and for me has made this lens perfect. I can swap shift/tilt orientation on the fly in seconds.

Critical focusing is challenging with any wide angle lens and more so when trying to utilize the tilt movements to control focal plane. Hand holding this lens works fine with the movements zeroed out. But to truly take advantage of the movements you need to work from a tripod.

The TS-E gives you access to view camera like movements to get effects that simply cannot be replicated through post-processing. If you are serious and willing to learn proper techniques, this lens can open up new creative possibilities.


 
Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X 124 AF PRO DX SD

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Review Date: Jan 11, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $450.00 | Rating: 6 

 
Pros: Build quality, smooth mechanical operation of manual focusing, consistent image quality across zoom and aperture ranges, constant f/4 aperture, minor vignetting at wide end with standard filters
Cons:
Images tend to be soft (i.e. not sharp and contrasty), auto focus is slow, not as wide as competing lenses (12mm versus 10mm)

I purchased the Tokina 12-24mm f/4 DX for a Nikon mount through a dealer and not second hand. I was immediately impressed with the overall build quality of this lens. It is easily on par with Nikon pro level lenses and Canon L series hardware. This also translates into substantial weight which should also be considered when mounting this lens on the DX style camera bodies on which it is designed to work. DX type cameras are all small body styled (without built on vertical grip like the Nikon D1,2 series and Canon 1 series). So unless you use an add on grip with your camera this is going to be a relatively front heavy setup for hand holding.

I prefer to manually focus most of time and this lens is a pleasure to work with manually given the large focus ring that operates with smooth precision. Auto focus hunts a bit in low light, low contrast situations on a D200. Probably more due to a maximum aperture of f/4 versus f/2.8 on the full frame equivalent focal length zooms.

Shooting interiors with this lens is a pleasure as it gives the equivalent angle of view of an 18mm lens on a full frame 35mm body. Showing expansive interior spaces is fairly easy and does not require backing all the way up into a room corner. Outdoor work is worry free as the build quality is reassuring no matter what the weather. Glare can be an issue when shooting with the sun near the frame edges but the included hood helps considerably and is a necessity for most bright days.

When it came time to process images shot with this lens I was disappointed. I found moderate softness all over the frame at all apertures. This surprised me given my typically positive experience with Tokina products. Sometimes you get a bad apple, no big deal. Since I had a new lens under warranty I simply called Tokina, popped it in a box, and sent it back for a checkup. I fully expected Tokina to make a repair and get back a better performer. Ten days later I got back the lens with a note from Tokina repair saying that this lens was tested and functioned within specification.

Now I still find Tokina products to typically be a good value and this lens is no exception. However, I feel the overall optics of this lens leave a bit to be desired especially if you plan to crop and enlarge images (or if you enjoy pixel peeping). Bottom line is that the 12-24mm will help you get shots that simply are not possible on DX format bodies without this breed of ultra-wide lens. The good news is that performance is quite consistent across all focal lengths and apertures. The bad news is that the performance is consistently mediocre. Do not expect to obtain razor sharp images, even at f/11, with this lens because it apparently is simply not designed to do that.


 
Acratech ballhead

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Review Date: Apr 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $250.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Size and weight Build quality High speed clamp release Rubberized knobs keep fingers warmer in winter Open design sheds dirt and water Outstanding customer service
Cons:
Delicate and susceptible to mis-adjustment Creeps slightly even under light loads

A tripod head is not as glamorous as the gear usually clamped to it, but it is often equally important in creating a memorable image. Different heads are built for different purposes. The Acratech Ultimate Ballhead is designed for travelling light and eliminating the excuse of not having a tripod when you need one.

Backpacking into difficult terrain and extended travel have a lot in common. Both situations reward the minimalist who is prepared to deal with the unexpected. The Acratech ballhead fits this niche perfectly. For backpacking, this head takes up a minimum of precious space and adds half the weight of many Arca style heads. The open design allows the ball to shed water and dirt better than traditional bottom closed designs.

This is not a studio ballhead. Macro and architectural work is difficult as the head tends to creep slightly even under light loads. This seems to be less an issue of clamping power (as the Acratech has that to spare) and more an issue of body flex. After composing a tight tabletop shot and locking down the ball, the frame always drifts slightly down with gravity.

While the Acratech defends itself well against external dangers of mother nature, it is susceptible to self induced (or rather user induced) problems. If the ball is left tighly clamped for too long, the ball will warp. I left a camera clamped in position overnight and the next day found the ball had a distinct tight spot in its rotation. My attempt to cure the problem by adjusting the tension on the clamp only made the situation worse. I returned the ballhead to Acratech for repair. Their customer service is exceptional. I don't know if the ball itself was replaced or if other adjustments were made, but after the no-charge service and fast turn-around it worked as good as new.

The Acratech Ultimate Ballhead is not for everyone or every situation. But as a travelling companion, it is hard to beat.


 
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L

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Review Date: Aug 22, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: <> Superbly smooth manual focus fell <> Wide angle perspective correction capabilities
Cons:
<> Lens is fixed with either perpendicular or parallel movements. If the user could easily switch from one mode to the other, this would truly be the perfect lens.

This lens is one of the reasons I use Canon equipement. To achieve view camera like movements using a small format system gives you a very powerful tool in a very convenient package.

As this lens comes from the factory with perpendicular movements, you must choose whether you need the default setup or have it changed over to parallel movements. My recommendation: if you make landscape panoramics, leave it as is. If you shoot interiors or anything else generally not requiring horizontal stitching, have the lens changed over to parallel operation. Use it for a while to decide if you really need it switched over before going through the trouble.

The image circle of all the Canon TS-E lenses is much larger than that of standard 35mm lens. When the lens is not shifted or tilted, you are shooting through the cropped down "sweet spot" of the lens, even when using a full frame sensor camera like the 1Ds. This is one sure way to reduce issues surrounding chromatic aberation found at the edges of many "normal" lens with 35mm image circles.

Critical focusing is tricky. Not due to the lens, but to the small viewfinder of the 35mm format. When making movements with a 4x5 or 8x10 camera, you have a huge piece of ground glass on which to analyze focus. This task is difficult in bright light through the eyepiece of a 35mm style camera body. You must use a tripod when utilizing any movements with this lens.

The price of these lenses must be due to their small production numbers. Considering it is manual focus and a relatively slow aperture, over $1000 is quite steep. It is built like a tank and the optics are excellent.