Gear, Photography, Review, Technology

Bag Review: Trakke Assynt 17

Both as a photography nut and a regular guy, I’m a sucker for man-bags and backpacks. I currently have an F-Stop Loka UL with a couple of ICUs, two Peli cases, a Billingham Hadley Pro and a Contax/CCS Heritage bag on the photo side. For the manbag I also have a leather manbag from Billy Bags and a Trakke Assynt backpack. I had been using the Hadley as my daily bag but getting older my back can be a bit tetchy so decided to go down the backpack route.

After agonising over assorted Sandqvists I stumbled on the Trakke Assynt on my doorstep in Netil Market’s Outdoor People stall. The Assynt comes in a a few colours, most notable the lovely shade of blue I chose, which contrasts so well with the signature orange interior. It’s Waxed cotton and seems to be well made using steel and wood as well as waxed canvas (more on this later).

I spent my student days wandering around with a waxed canvas fishing bag, which I foolishly gave away to a relative for actual fishing use. Ever since I have loved unstructured canvas bags because of the way they fit to the wearer contents of the bag. The trakke does this but also has a wee bit of padding down the back as there’s a slot for an iPad or (very) small laptop adjacent to wearer’s back.

The main compartment has a drawstring with a beautifully tactile spherical wooden toggle and then the lid is secured by stylishly utilitarian stainless steel buckles. There is also a zippered pocket on the outside of the lid which is well waterproofed and where my headphone and Digital Audio Player usually live. As well as the padded section for the iPad the bag also has a zippered internal pocket which is handy for pens, business cards or a compact camera like my Olympus XA or similar.

It’s not a photographers bag with no padding to the front, however, to load it with photo gear I use Domke wraps, which come in various colours and are invaluable for throwing gear into hand luggage cases when I travel. I have never had damage to lenses this way, but I try to avoid carrying TS-E lenses this way as the tilt mechanism can move.

Now to the reason that, unfortunately I cannot recommend Trakke. It’s a great looking, well designed bag however, unlike the waxed canvas bag of my student days, the Trakke hasn’t worn fantastically well. It rubs against the back and belt towards the base and, in my case, this means it wearing through completely to have a small hole after about 18 months of regular use. I wouldn’t mind so much but this is a premium product at around the £150 mark and should really last much better than this…


Gear, Photography, Review

Half frame fun!

A couple of years back I stumbled on a fun little camera at a car boot, a Konica Eye complete with it’s funky logo which i couldn’t resist. It turned out to be a half frame camera, which was something I’d never tried before so I thought, why not give it a shot. I put a couple of rolls through it but on the second one most of the exposures were ruined because I’d accidentally set the camera to ‘B’ and overexposed everything. This put me off the camera but the idea of getting pairs of images side by side and seeing what the contrasts are remained kind of seductive.

More recently while poking around on eBay I came across a £10 half frame SLR – A modified Yashica FX-3 Super 2000. These Yashicas were popular choices to be modified as ‘Mugshot Cameras’ for police use. I’ve read a bit about ‘mugshot’ cameras since buying it my FX-3 fits quite a bit of what is out there with the following mods;

  • Shutter Speed Fixed to 1/125
  • Mask in the film chamber – this appears to be glued in place and is quite thin, it has therefore bent a little in use.
  • The viewfinder is also masked.
  • The wind on has been re-geared to suit the half frame use.

So, the main down sides of the camera are the fixed shutter speed and the lack of metering, which would be understandable in a fixed studio situation. The positives are as below;

  • The lens is not fixed to the body, which is a huge relief.
  • Even better, the aperture on the mounted lens actuates so I have some exposure control.
  • The self timer mechanism is in place and working – not something I care about but a nice to have.
  • Everything works properly, though the wind on is a bit wobbly, and the cosmetic condition is decent.

The included ML 50/2 was in very good shape and free from fungus – dabbling in the Contax/Yashica system for a few years now I’ve tossed a couple of mouldy ones. All in all a worthwhile £10 . So what was it like in use?
I downloaded a Sunny 16 app to my iPhone and went out to try it. Everything worked well and the cheap Yashica 50/2 on the front proved a very decent performer. Check out the images below…


Exciting News from Zeiss.

This blog is named for an old Zeiss trademark, because I like the lenses they produced for the Contax/Yashica system back in the 70s-90s. One of the main reasons I bought a Sony NEX-6 then A7r was to be able to use Zeiss lenses. I have the Sony/Zeiss FE35 & 55 and a couple of Contax G fit lenses too.

Nice though the Loxias looked they duplicate the ones I already have and I never felt that I wanted to spend so much on manual focus lenses. Therefore  I’m very pleased that Zeiss have now announced a new AF range for the A7 series- to wit (sic) the Batis range. Starting with a 25/2 and an 85/1.8.

I’m sure the 85 will be a great lens but, for me the 25 is the lens I’ve been waiting for since getting my A7r last year. I’m particularly keen to sell my 35/2.8 and try out the 25/2 as a good native FE wide angle would be a fantastic addition to my walk around kit. All I can say is thank goodness the lenses won’t be available for a few months as all funds are currently being soaked up getting our house up to scratch as a holiday rental.

If, dear reader, you would like to stay in Hastings, Edinburgh or London and help me raise the funds 😉 our Holiday flats are listed here… AirBnB

ZEISS Batis 2/25


Wyke Road (Contax G90mm Sample)

A bonus upload for today. This was seen in hackney Wick last December. Made with the Contax G fit 90mm this shot really shows the sharpness and ‘Pop’ that the lens can deliver on the A7r in good light. I was lucky enough to spot this lens, in the rare black version, in Cash Converters for a relative pittance and snapped it up. Rather than go down the helicoid route I had went for the latest version of the Tech-Art adapter which meant a bit of a wait before I could make use of it but n this walk I tried to use it as much as possible and I’m really pleased with the results.

Definitely a keeper and a great lightweight alternative to the C/Y fit 85/1.4 Planar with the added bonus of being an AF lens and, in all honesty, while the AF hunts a bit I’d say that it is quite usable and definite improvement on using the Canon 24-105L on my Metabones smart adapter III which drove me mad…

I am really enjoying the Manual aperture ring too, I wish more makers would follow Fuji’s lead on that front. There’s an honesty about changing that setting on the lens which is really appealing and direct.


Gear, Photography


My Sony A7r has been repaired, at last. On Friday I’ll be able to go and collect it to do some serious shooting at the weekend.

Meanwhile I’m in a slightly crappy hotel room in the north of England and this is what I saw in the bathroom this morning… So I grabbed my iPhone to capture this minimalist landscape in miniature!


Gear, Photography


Shot with my newest lens – a Contax G 90/2.8 Sonnar for the old Contax G1/G2 AF rangefinder style cameras. I was lucky enough to pick up a black one so it matches nicely with my A7r. I’d like to have tested it out a bit more – most of what I’ve been able to shoot has been in less than ideal conditions and tends to suffer from a bit of shake – but sadly my A7 let me down about a month ago and still isn’t back from repair.



New things – Contax RTS III, Zeiss 25mm & Zeiss 18mm


I had a bit of a protracted and unsatisfactory purchase from an Oxfam shop via eBay recently, however it worked out OK in the end I got an RTS III with a 25/2.8 MMJ Distagon, in place of the 28/2.8 that was originally advertised, OK it was full of Fungus but in the end that has cleaned up nicely (albeit I had to spend an extra £100 to sort it out). I’ve also sold off a lot of my other non-Zeiss lenses via eBay which has freed up some cash to allow the purchase of the long wanted 18mm Distagon. It’s a vast improvement over my Tamron 17mm and the rendering is everything I’d hoped for! Here are a couple scenics from a recent trip to Edinburgh, all on the A7r as I’ve yet to get to grips with the beast that is the RTS III.

Edinburgh Castle - Zeiss 25mm F/2.8

Edinburgh Castle – Zeiss 25mm F/2.8

Edinburgh Castle - Zeiss 18mm F/4

Edinburgh Castle – Zeiss 18mm F/4

Edinburgh Castle - Zeiss 18mm F/4

Edinburgh Castle – Zeiss 18mm F/4

Gear, Review, Technology

Thoughts on the Sony A7r

Note: This review still counts as WIP as I’m adding more as I continue to use the camera…

Having enjoyed the NEX-6 as a platform for my Contax glass and for the compact body and good handling, I never quite got to liking the kit lens, although the power zoom implementation was very good. When the A7 & A7r were announced I felt that I might end up with one. Last year I was given the 1Dx as an insurance replacement form my ageing 1Ds and never felt it was quite the right for me – I don’t really have much need for lightning AF and wanted a higher resolution body. When I got a really great deal from Park Cameras for my 1Dx and a useful Tax rebate I decided to pull the trigger…

I’ve got the body itself but have also bought into the system overall and added the FE 35 & 55 lenses, the battery grip and a Metabones Smart Adapter III for my Canon glass. Having had the NEX-6’s big brother for over a month now, and have had a real chance to get to know it. The form factor is great, I absolutely love having a full frame Digital Camera that is roughly the size of my Contax 159MM. That said I’m a 6 foot guy and the body is a tiny bit too short in my hands, I do have the battery grip – more on that later.

Contax 159MM & Sony A7r

Contax 159MM & Sony A7r


The Camera

The size is one thing, but I feel that the ergonomics have gone slightly backwards from the NEX-6. The video button is now harder to use, and I’m not a fan of the physical exposure compensation dial as it limits you to ±3 stops, which is a bigger problem as the camera consistently underexposes so I usually have +1/3 or +2/3 of a stop dialled in. Otherwise exposure works fine with my favoured Av mode. The front and rear dials can sometimes both do the same thing which is OK but a bit weird. I’ve also found I can mix up the rear dial with the exposure compensation occasionally.

Like the NEX cameras rear screen tips up and down but isn’t fully articulated. It’s a good screen but not touch sensitive, which is a decision I found puzzling with the NEX-6. I feel that if you are going to have apps and WiFi the screen must be touch sensitive – entering passwords and the like is a pain using the d-pad.

In use any camera shake is highlighted but I feel that the well documented ‘shutter shock’ seems to be a bit overplayed. I have, however, noticed it at times. Whet has surprised me is that in some cases depth of field seems less than I’d expect. I have yet to understand why that is.

Adding the battery grip not only adds battery life but gives a bit more stability and gives me an additional set of controls to allow easier use in portrait mode. As it happens I didn’t buy it for hand-holding but to allow as an extra-large tripod spacer – it gets the TS-E lenses away from any chance of fouling on the tripod.

Ergonomically the grip isn’t as big an improvement as I’d hoped, it’s actually slightly too big making the camera a little top heavy. I also find the battery door catch fiddly, which would be OK if I didn’t put the grip on and take it off regularly.

On the subject of batteries, the A7 is supposed to be a pro/semi-pro camera, so why no charger in the box sony? Also why can I not charge batteries in body when the grip is attached. Finally, with such a short battery life from the NP-FW50 there should be 2 in the box, when you buy the camera. I don’t machine gun, and have learned to switch off between shots (praise be to the firmware update for making that possible…) but in no way can I go a full day on a single battery.

Sony A7r & Canon TS-E 17mm

Sony A7r & Canon TS-E 17mm



The two FE primes are superb, this has been well documented elsewhere, including the DxO test that placed the 55mm not all that far behind the Zeiss Otus on a D800. In use they also produce RAW files that simply don’t acre the cr*p out of me. The level of vignetting and distortion on both lenses is reasonably well controlled optically. As I worked with the lenses I found the 35 is more to my taste and it is also bitingly sharp and gives ample resolution on the 36mp sensor. I do tend towards a slightly wider field of view and what I’d love to see is something like the old Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Distagon revived and made at the quality level of these lenses. I’d also like to see a lens on the level of the 85mm f/2.8 Sonnar as well.

I Also love the fact that, via a Metabones Smart adaptor III my Canon glass works perfectly in Av mode – albeit the TS-E 17mm looks a bit foolish! The Canon lenses will AF but they are very slow and it’s not very practical. In reality I mainly wanted to be able to use my TS-E lenses, so that’s OK. I will need to add an FE mount zoom at some point, for walk around use.

The sensor is particularly brutal on adapted lenses and while most of my Eos lenses hold up to the 36mp sensor it has really highlighted the Tamron 70-300 VC’s relatively poor resolution at the long end. On the Manual focus lenses side my Tamron glass is pretty much out of it’s depth but the Contax Zeiss glass all seems to be good.

Focussing & Viewfinder

This is perhaps the biggest drawback to this camera. I enjoy using it with the two FE primes, where the AF. Performance is mostly acceptable. Though it doesn’t always lock where I want. As I’m rarely shooting at f/2.8 and above that’s fine though it may be a problem for fast lens fans. I also find manual focus using peaking to be harder than it was on the NEX-6 and the viewfinder seems less clear. I also finding can’t use Zebras because of this. It felt like heaven when I picked up my wife’s Canon 5D II, looked through the finder and watched it focus crisply, the other day.

In Conclusion

I like the A7r a great deal it has a lot of the attributes I want in a camera but there are a number of issues Sony needs to resolve for the next high end E-mount body. Key among those are a charger in the box, a fully articulating touch screen on the rear. better AF, better focus peaking, more accurate exposure and a ‘soft’ exposure compensation dial with more than 3 stops. I would also like a slightly taller chunkier body or, at least, an add on grip which makes it about 1-2cm taller.

We know that the lens range is going to improve, and I look forward to the rumoured Zeiss 16-35. Once that is out I’d also love to see a 25/28mm and an 85mm both at f/2.8, because combined with the 55/1.8 they would give a near perfect walk around set.

Ultimately I’m happier overall with the A7r than my Eos 1Dx – it suits my regular shooting styles better, though improvement to the Manual focus so I can get more reliable results from peaking without magnifying the image would be welcome. However, I’m glad I still have access to a Canon DSLR as I do shoot the occasional event and I’d still be happier with a 5D II in that situation than any of the mirrorless cameras I’ve yet tried.

Maxxi Rome - A7r & TS-E 24mm

Maxxi Rome – A7r & TS-E 24mm

Gear, Photography

29.04.14-07.05.14 -> Holiday in Rome (Blog Note)

I’ve been on Holiday in Rome. It was the first long trip I’ve done since going all in on the Sony A7r and ditching my Canon 1Dx. Mostly I ran with the Zeiss FE 35 & 55 lenses and I have to say it was an absolute joy to be out there shooting with a small discreet but high quality outfit. I have also learned a few things about working with the Sony too. One example; I beleive it under-exposes so I default to dialling in 1/3 of a stop of over-exposure.

All in I made around 500 exposures (some of which I think are pretty darned good), so rather than making a photo-a-day posts I’m going to make a number of longer multi-image posts with some different edits from the set, This way I can hopefully tell a story about my impressions of Rome. Look out for these interspersed with the regular ‘shot of the day’ type posts over the next couple of weeks.

I did get the chance to use a couple of my TS-E lenses on the trip too. The shot below, of the foyer in our apartment block, is a 3-image flat stitch from my Canon TS-E 24mm.