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Last month at PhotoFair in Newark, CA I managed to come home with more cool stuff. I bought a Voightländer Ultron 28/2 in Leica M Mount. I bought a beat up old FD 200/2.8 IF to play with , and I bought a Canon G7x Mark II. Then as if that were not enough, I wandered into Pro Photo Supply in Portland and they had a used Canon RF 35/1.8 IS. Since I didn’t have a single native lens for my EOS R I figured, yeah, gotta have that. But I wasn’t finished, I took the long way home through St Johns in North Portland and said hello to the gang at Blue Moon Camera and they had a LensBaby Velvet 56/1.6 used. Holy cow, this is getting out of hand.

The Velvet 56mm is Lensbaby’s take on soft focus, I love soft focus lenses, but I have hit you all up a little heavy on the soft side of imaging, so I’ll refrain for now, and write that up later in the year. I’ll say the RF 35 is outstanding, love that lens but I’ll be yacking it up another day.

Today I want to talk about the Canon G7X Mark II. I have liked this camera since Canon first introduced the Mark I way back in 2014. Some of you may remember I wrote up the Canon S110 a few years back on this blog, check that out here. That is a great camera and I love how small it is, truly pocket able. The G7X is that camera’s big brother, but what I like is that it is only a little “bigger.”  As far as true pocket size goes, the S110 will fit in your pants pocket, even jeans, the G7X although just a tad bigger, it is a little bit on each dimension and that pushes it out of the jeans front pocket for most people.

That said, the G7X is notably smaller than my old G9 which had a slower lens and a smaller sensor. The S110 has been my go to little camera. It has tiny size, a respectable 5x zoom range with a 35mm equivalent focal range of 24-120mm and a super bright f/2 on the wide end but a pokey slow 5.9 on the tele end. The S120 is a smidge faster at 1.8-5.4. I switched to the S110 from the G9 because it was smaller, faster and wider (G9 had more tele) and I was using it for size and convenience. The G9 had one feature I miss in the S110 and the modern G line and that is the optical viewfinder. Sometimes I just want to look through viewfinder. Some of the G line now has EVF but they add bulk to the body. If I bought a G5X the camera gets dangerously close in size to my M5 which is an infinitely better camera. So that is the dilemma with small cameras, you have to make trade offs.

I have been secretly Jonesing for the G7X and the G7X Mark II for a long while. Why? Because it is essentially everything the S110 is, and I have been shooting that S110 now for 7 years! Clearly I like it, right? Anyway but it has a much larger sensor and the tele end of the lens is still very fast. The G7X trades a little heft and bulk for lens speed and sensor size, oh and about double the price.

Lately the S110 has been relegated to use in my real estate business as a high pole camera. That is I mount it up on a 25 foot tall pole to get over view shots of homes. The M series cameras have replaced the S110 for my weekend fun shots due mostly to the better image quality. But the G7X Mark II has excellent image quality. I just didn’t want to shell out $700 for one. That is where PhotoFair comes in. I found a used one in great shape for a very good price about half the price of a new one. I told myself, “jeez, you don’t see them used much, I better buy it.”

Compared to the S110 the G7X has a sensor more than twice the size! It has a higher pixel count too, but still has a huge edge in noise and low light performance. I like to shoot with available light. This is especially true with compact cameras and built in crappy flashes. The S110 with its small 1/1.7″ sensor is still better than any cell phone but the monster size 1″ sensor in the G7X performs very well, it is nearly as big as 4/3 cameras! I would have been even happier if they left the pixel count at 12.2 mp like the S110 rather than the 20.1 as that would yield even better low light performance. But the extra pixels allow for cropping if need be so I guess that is cool.

Near as I can tell the 1″ sensors are the largest sensor you can get away with and still have a camera that is thin and flat when closed. Larger sensors require larger focal length lenses and that adds weight and bulk. I did not want a camera that was as big as my M5 otherwise, I’ll shoot the M5. This Canon G7X Mark II delivers just what I need for those random shots when I am out walking the dog or out at the beach, etc. Other than all the advantages I just went over, the G7X also has a rear screen that can flip up for overhead angle shots, or flip out for waist level shots, and even flip 180° to become a selfie cam!

Another advantage to larger sensors and their inevitable larger lenses is shallow depth of field. The S110’s effective 24-120mm lens is actually a 5.2-26mm. It is pretty hard to throw a background out of focus with a 26mm lens. The larger 1″ sensor in the G7X uses a 8.8-36.8mm zoom which is an effective 24-100mm. Comparatively the 36.8mm/2.8 will deliver much better shallow depth of field than the 26mm/5.9. I want to make it clear that both the S110 or S120 and this G7X are wonderful cameras. The S series is going to be about half the price, so keep that in mind. If you can swing the extra coin, the G7X is worth every penny. Take a look at the snapshot I took of my lovely wife in the car after dinner last weekend. Yes, I did apply a soften effect in Light Room, I don’t want to be murdered in my sleep.

I can say this camera will be handy.

Carron in the Car, Canon G7X ISO 400 36.8mm 1/125th sec @ f2.8

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Many moons ago Tamron made a zoom lens with soft focus control and it was quite the lens. They were not the first soft focus lens and they certainly were not the last, but it is the only quality zoom lens with the creative soft focus control I have ever seen. The lens is quite rare as Tamron only produced the lens from 1979-83 and it was a low production unit.

I spent a few years ‘Jonesing’ for the lens bidding on them at ebay and searching tables at camera shows like PhotoFair. I never found one I could justify the price on until I ran into a Canadian who had one that was broken. The soft focus actuation ring was stuck and the aperture diaphragm was a little wonky. So I picked it up on the cheap and promptly had it repaired. These things routinely fetch north of $400-$500 in good shape, and now I know why.

The lens is a Tamron Adaptall-2 SP 70-150/2.8 Soft Focus. With the soft focus turned off it is a very sharp lens wide open, throughout the focal range. It has three variable softness settings each getting stronger. Even on the third setting it doesn’t feel overdone like some soft focus lenses. My biggest complaint about the lens is the weight, it is a heavy beast. Tamron SP lenses in the Adaptall era were pretty stoutly built and this lens is no exception.

Some of you may remember the soft focus post I did a couple of months ago. The idea is not for the photo to be unsharp, but rather to induce spherical aberration to make the out of focus areas and smooth areas have a soft glow effect that softens the overall photo. Done right the lens will still render pin point sharp areas as sharp, like the catch lights in the eye of a model.

What I really like about the Tamron is its versatility. On a full frame camera like my EOS-R, the 70-150mm is really the entire classic portrait range. For tight close-up shots the 150mm gives the photographer a comfortable working distance. For a waist up shot the 70-90mm range might work better. It is nice to have it all in the same lens. That versatile focal range also grants a good use on APS/c cameras like my EOS M5 where the range is an effective 112-240 with the bottom of the range being in the traditional long portrait zone and the long end a solid tele for either dramatic close-ups or other long lens uses, sports, wildlife etc. I have a 0.71x focal reducer and when that is used with this lens on my M5 I get an effective 80-170mm f/2.0 soft focus!

On the up side this lens is razor sharp at all focal lengths but according to reports Tamron optimized it for 105mm. The lens has an effective soft focus system that yields excellent results. The lens has a fast constant f/2.8 aperture. The lens focuses real close for a 150mm at 3.3 feet. That yields an effective macro reproduction ratio on full frame at 1:4.8. 3.3 feet is not so good for 70mm but quite good at 150mm. As I mentioned above it is well built. It uses readily available 62mm filters. The lens is easily adaptable to a variety of SLR cameras with mounts still sold used and even some new mounts from Chinese adapter makers.

On the downside the lens is long and heavy. It has a nearly worthless built-in shade that is so shallow it would probably work on 28mm lens without vignetting. Like many other soft focus lenses I have used, the bokeh highlights become a bit more coarse when the soft focus effect is used.

In short this is a great lens for portraits and even some general purpose tele work. The size and weight are a bit of a problem when used on a modern small frame camera, but on larger cameras like the Canon 5D series or most of the vintage 35mm bodies it feels pretty good. The lens is a very capable performer with excellent optics and it even stops down to f/32!

I have a couple of sample shots one taken with soft focus at “0” (no effect) and the other taken at the maximum setting of “3.” You will noticed the soft glow all over the image taken at setting 3. But look closing at the details, they are still there. The writing around the lens ring is still crisp and readable. A diffuser filter would have lost detail and an out of focus shot would have taken the clean edge of the letters.

Tamron SP 70-150/2.8 Soft Focus set to “0” 150mm @f/2.8

Tamron SP 70-150/2.8 Soft Focus set to “3” 150mm @f/2.8

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