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Archive for March, 2014

canon-eos-m-2I currently own several cameras including two DSLR models and a high-end ‘point and shoot’ the Canon S110. As I have mentioned in previous posts I have been fortunate enough to own a lot of great gear over the years. In fact I have owned more than 100 cameras and at least as many lenses since that first Canon AE-1 in 1979. I have used some pretty cheap gear as well as some of the most exotic gear ever made. But one of my favorite cameras, certainly right now and perhaps ever, is my Canon EOS-M.

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Mini in a parking garage. M with 18-55 at 24mm; ISO 6400 1/30th second @ f4

The Canon EOS-M has had limited success in a crowded arena of mirrorless camera bodies. To salt the wound, the world’s number one camera maker was very late to this party. The US version of the EOS-M uses Canon’s venerable APS-C 18mp sensor from the EOS 7D, 60D, T2i, T3i, etc. It also utilizes a DIGIC 5 processor. This body uses the larger APS-C sensor against most cameras in its price range (Canon lowered the price substantially after a sluggish start) that use a Micro 4/3 sensor. The biggest advantage to the larger APS-C sensor is probably the high ISO quality. This camera will shoot magnificent photos at ISO 3200 and very good images at 6400. The digital noise at 6400 is very noticeable but has a nice look that is almost like a vintage film grain rather than noise. Some manufacturers have released mirrorless bodies with a full size (full frame 35mm style) sensor which is yet even better, but these models are priced well over $1000 and some over $2000.

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Muffin the Cat, M with 22mm f2 at ISO 100, 1/80th second @ f3.5

The EOS-M uses its own special EOS lens mount which is decidedly smaller than the full-sized EOS EF lenses. Canon was wise to offer a fully functional adapter to use the full line of EF lenses from Canon and every other compliant lens maker. EF lenses can be used on this camera with full electronic compatibility. Because the camera is mirrorless, the lens mounts very close to the sensor. There was no need to create retro-focus lenses to make room for a mirror box like is necessary with a DSLR. This allows the use of a variety of adapters to use old school rangefinder lenses that will not achieve infinity focus on a DSLR. Legendary glass from Leica, Nikon, Zeiss, Canon and many others are now useful with cameras like these.

The nice thing about the old rangefinder lenses is that they are very small in size. The disadvantage to the smaller Micro 4/3 and even the APS-C sensor is that those older wide-angle lenses are either less wide or not wide-angle at all due to the “crop” factor. But on the positive side, the cropped image is in the center using the best optical part of the lens. Generally image quality is inferior near the edges of a lens’ image circle. Crop sensors effectively crop the “inferior” part out.

I mentioned earlier that the larger sensor will perform better at higher ISO values. The reason for this is due to the light gathering ability of each individual pixel. For those who have experience with film, you will remember that high ISO (or ASA if you are an old guy like me 😉 ) had a grainy characteristic. To make the film more sensitive to light each photosensitive Silver Halide crystal had to be larger thus more coarse. When the image was enlarged to print size, that coarse grain was more visible. The same is true with an electronic image sensor. To gather more light each photosensitive pixel must be larger. The next section has been simplified because I am photographer not an engineer. (How ’bout that Star Trek reference?)

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Lacamas Creek, Camas, WA. M with 22mm f2. ISO 100, 0.6 seconds @ f/22

If a full frame sensor has 18 million pixels each pixel is larger than the same 18 million pixels on a micro 4/3 sensor. A full frame sensor measures approx. 24mm x 36mm a micro 4/3 sensor measures approx. 18mm x 13.5mm. So this is where the technology gets amazing! The full frame sensor has approx 864 square millimeters of area to hold its 18 million pixels which means there are  20,833 pixels per square millimeter. The micro 4/3 has only 243 square millimeters making it more dense with 74,074 pixels per square millimeter! That means that each pixel on the full frame sensor is nearly 4 times larger than the pixels on the micro 4/3. Without any electronic or software enhancements there is a huge light gathering advantage to the full frame with the same resolution of 18 million pixels. A Canon APS-C sensor measures approx. 14.9mm x 22.3mm which translates to 54,216 pixels per square millimeter. Of course most full-frame sensors have between 24 and 36 million pixels so the light gathering ability is more like double but they offer higher resolution. The bottom line to all the techie talk is that the Canon EOS-M offers the amazing compact convenience of a Micro 4/3 camera with a sensor that is 36% larger. I wrote this lesson on light gathering to drive home one of the things I most like about the EOS-M; high quality images at high ISO values.

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My lovely wife at our favorite Mexican restaurant; M w/ 22 f2 at ISO 1000 1/40th second @ f/3.5

Back in the day when I had more invested in camera gear than I did in my house; I always liked to buy the fastest lenses possible. Canon 85mm 1.2L, 300mm 2.8L, etc. I love available light photos. Sure, I had a boss flash system and I still have a Norman lighting kit. But available light is just perfection. It brings soft light, great shadow detail and no harsh edges or shadows. To be able to shoot at 3200 ISO and still get crisp and contrasty images is a dream come true. This little EOS-M delivers the goods. I take this thing with me when we go out for dinner. The little 22mm f2.0 pancake is razor-sharp and very slim. Coupled with the ability to shoot at 3200 with great results and the bright f/2.0 opening I can get shots anywhere.

The EOS-M had one critical advantage to other mirrorless bodies; Full functionality with EF lenses. I have six EF lenses that will all work on this camera with the Canon EF Adapter and they are fully functional. Autofocus, electronic coupling the whole bit! That sold me beyond any of the other features the M has or has not. There are other mirrorless bodies that stack up well against this one and may be a better camera. But this guy lets me use lenses I already have, so for me it is the cat’s meow.

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All this equipment and a bunch of adapters fits in this little bag!

The last two posts I wrote on this blog were about vintage lenses. I love the fact that I can play around with these old lenses and not have to deal with film processing. Photography is fun again and this little camera has played a significant role in my excitement for making images. Sure, I trekked out into the woods or mountains from time to time schlepping the big DSLR and a giant LowePro pack full of glass. But most of my image making was professional. You know a JOB. I am a Realtor® and I shoot homes for my clients and for other Realtors® This little guy is great. I went on a short afternoon hike with my wife and took this Canon EOS-M, a Canon EF-M 22mm f/2.0 pancake lens, EF-M IS 18-55mm, EF-80-200 USM, FD 50mm f/3.5 macro, FD 135mm f/3.5 and my old Gitzo 220 Reporter. The whole thing sans the tripod fit in a tiny old Tenba camera satchel that is too small to fit my EOS 50D with just one lens on it!

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Betsy the Lab. M with 22mm f2. ISO 2500 1/30th second @ f/2

I find the EOS-M so handy I figured it would eliminate my need to use the G9 I have had since it was new back in the day. As much as I loved that old G9 it is nearly as big as the M and well; it just isn’t in the same league. I sold the old guy on EBAY and bought a brand new S110. That camera is truly a pocket-sized dream and I figure I’ll carry that almost anywhere, even places I won’t bother with the M. I’ll save that for another post.

The EOS-M with the pancake 22mm f/2.0 is small enough to take on nearly every occasion. The 22mm yields a perspective equivalent to a 34mm on a full frame sensor. It is a nice modest wide-angle that can still deliver a decent head shot or give a nice overall view of the environment as well. The 18-55mm IS STM features an image stabilizer and that seems to work well. Image stabilization  is something Canon does very well and it shows here. The image stabilization is in the lens but controlled by the camera which I find a bit weird. But it works.

The camera features lenses that are STM which is an acronym for Stepping Motor. These help provide crisp accurate focus while shooting live video. Yes the EOS-M will shoot high definition video in true 1080P resolution up to 30fps and 720P at up to 60fps! I love this camera!

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Moon, M t-mount 4.5 inch 900mm with 10.5mm plossl eyepiece ISO 6400, 1/15th second

Right after I bought this camera I ordered a bunch of lens adapters for it on EBAY. They run about $8-12 each and now I am ready for anything. That said, I found yet another fun thing to do with this camera. I was able to take advantage of its light weight. I was looking through my little 4.5 inch reflector telescope on a Dobsonian mount and decided to mount the little EOS-M on the scope with an eyepiece adapter assembly. The camera was light enough that I could easily counter its weight and voila’ I got this shot of the moon. I need practice using the scope adapter but not bad for a quick first effort, right? Later on in the summer I intend to do a whole series of telescope shots.

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Wifey took this shot of me using the EOS-M with her Canon Digital Elph

The love fest is not without its complaints. The camera sucks the juice out batteries like a hungry teenager on a bag of Doritos. I ordered up two extra batteries and any extended shoot will likely need all three. Canon stripped some of the features they offer on the DSLR cameras that could have been included on the M. That was a bone of contention for many reviewers when the camera first hit the market. But it was over $800 when it first came out. Now that the price has been slashed to around $600 with a lens, it suddenly doesn’t matter that it lacks some of the DSLR features. The other issue is that Canon has not really brought many lenses with the EF-M mount to market. There is the two lenses that I have plus an 11-22mm STM with Image stabilization that is not available in the US anymore 😦 I am a wide-angle nutcase, I kind of want that 11-22mm. I have a Tokina ATX 11-16 f/2.8 which is a great lens but it is huge. The 11-22mm STM IS is tiny. I may just have to go on EBAY and buy one from Japan. But still only 3 lenses. Sony and Panasonic offer way more glass options for their small mirrorless cameras. Well I have blathered on enough about the Canon EOS-M. I strongly encourage you all to get a mirrorless camera and have some fun with modern lenses and the old classics too.    

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My Nikkor 105 f2.5 with EOS adapter

Ask any serious photographer from the 70s and 80s about the 105 2.5 and they will likely presume you  are referring to the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 portrait lens. I have been shooting seriously since the late 1970s. My first SLR images were produced on a borrowed Mamiya Sekor 500 DTL. I was hooked and decided to buy my own SLR which turned out to be the Canon AE-1. I have remained loyal to Canon ever since. My ‘money’ 35mm and now digital cameras is and has always been Canon. In the 70s and 80s however Nikon was the pre-eminent “Pro” camera in the 35mm arena. No matter how well Canon delivered on lenses, and in many areas they were superior, they could never seem to kick Nikon off the perch as the top “pros” choice. Well until the auto-focus era at least.

As a dyed in the wool Canon fan, I have owned more than 70 different Canon lenses including some of the rare and exotic stuff. One lens however that Nikon made that I always appreciated and respected was the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5. I had a Canon 85mm f1.2 L which was amazing and a Canon 100mm f2.0 which was a solid lens but not the optical equal of the 105-2-5 Nikkor. There was no reasonable way in those days to mount a Nikon lens on a Canon body and I certainly was not going to buy a Nikon body just for one lens. So I never owned one. Until now at least. The modern digital camera era and the modern Canon EOS system both allow for a variety of adapters so we enthusiasts have an opportunity to shoot older classic glass on a modern digital camera.

Nikon had several lenses they produced including this one, that were such strong performers that they began to “steal” pros from the ranks of the legendary Leica M series rangefinders. Nikon deserves credit for having a lead role in moving  Japan out of the ‘cheap imitator’ status, and into being known as a quality innovator and producer of top grade equipment.

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The history of the 105-2-5 dates all the way back to 1949 when Nikon was making lenses to fit Leica screw mount bodies. That old lens in its day was the fastest 100mm class lens in the world. The original lens used a Zeiss Sonnar design that Nikon held onto until the mid 1960s. Then they began working on a Xenotar design that would emerge in 1971 as the Nikkor Auto 105mm f2.5 lens I am writing about today.

This lens was available in the 1970s for a price that was a little steep for a non-enthusiast but down right cheap for a professional grade optic. It was an absolute staple for any pro shooting Nikon. Nikon did make a very expensive f1.8 version of the lens that was every bit as good, but it was very heavy and bulky. The 2-5 was just so damn handy. It was small and compact and utilized Nikon’s standard 52mm filter size.

hat-2There are several incarnations of the lens beginning in 1971 with the Auto Nikkor then the AI Nikkor and finally the AI-S Nikkor. The primary difference is the subtle changes in the lens mount to accommodate the evolving technology in the camera bodies. The final AI-S version did offer a built-in lens shade. The earliest versions had older style lens coating but by the mid 70s these were all using Nikon’s best multi-coating.

This lens is first of all about as sharp as any lens you will ever use. Anything sharper would likely need to be confirmed on test equipment. The lens also has beautiful color rendition and snappy contrast. The lens is tack sharp at all f stops and clear across to the corners. Nikon continued to manufacture this lens all the way to 2005 in manual focus. This is a testament to the greatness of this lens.

I can honestly say the lens is awesome but one thing I also must add is that sharpness is not the only thing to chase these old classic lenses down for. You see, modern lens manufacturing and design has yielded a lot of zoom type lenses that can seriously challenge and perhaps even best the resolution of older lenses like this one. These old lenses have character and charming quirks in their operation. They often have a unique bokeh that can not easily be reproduced. They force us to manually focus and maybe even set up our shots. This is why photography is such fun. I must say, I get allot more ‘circular file’ shots using these old lenses than I do with a modern EOS USM autofocus lenses 😉 But the ability to use ultra shallow depth of field with a wide 2.5 aperture in a compact lens is very appealing.

Shooting these classics is just fun and the images produced will look fantastic so long as you can achieve proper focus with manual operation. I remember I used to be amazing at getting precision focus quickly back in the day when auto focus was fantasy. Now I must admit, I too am a victim of AF-itis. I suck at manual focus now 🙂 These old lenses are going to have to serve as a “tune-up” for my manual focus skills. You should should try it too. Camera shows like PhotoFair will have these lenses for good prices. The 105-2-5 should be available on EBAY if you can’t wait for a show, with prices between $75-$200 depending on age and condition. Go ahead, go bid on one right now 🙂 Or check out one of my two favorite Camera stores, Knight Camera right here in Vancouver, USA or Seawood Photo. These two shops have great deals on a variety of vintage gear!

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