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February 2014 Archives

February 20, 2014

Epitome of Lens Design: Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2

Optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss set out to design and produce the ultimate camera lens based on more than a century of knowledge, and the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 is the result. It is available for Nikon and Canon cameras, and I had the opportunity to use the Nikon version, designated by ZF.2. Considering how good the $1,700 AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is for practical shooting, what does the $4,000 Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 have to offer?

For one thing, the Zeiss optic offers manual focusing and only manual focusing. Not only that, the focus ring needs to rotate through 248 degrees to change from its 2-foot close focus distance (about the same as the Nikkor) to infinity. This makes for extremely precise but extremely slow focusing for still photography.

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It’s also a large, heavy lens, beautifully made of metal. It’s about twice the length of the Nikkor and nearly three times the weight. By comparison, the focusing ring on the Zeiss is nearly the size of the Nikkor lens. The focusing ring uses ball bearings like the finest cinematography lenses to ensure a smooth, silky feel free of backlash or play. There are stops at the minimum focusing distance (19.7 inches) and at infinity. And the focusing ring rotates in the proper direction for the camera on which it is mounted.

Distance markings are engraved on the lens and filled with bright yellow. And there are depth-of-field markings for each aperture from f/1.4 to f/16. These are similarly engraved and painted.

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As beautiful as the Zeiss lens is, the real art is in the optical design. Based on the Zeiss Distagon formula, the 55mm Otus utilizes 12 elements in 10 groups. The resulting images are as close to flawless as I have seen. There is barely a hint of vignetting, color fringing, or chromatic aberrations, even at f/1.4. The only noticeable aberration was the smallest amount of coma in point-source light at the edge of the frame at f/1.4. From f/2 to f/16, the images are flawless. Sharpness and contrast from corner to corner are excellent at f/1.4 and remain so throughout the aperture range.

With the lens mounted on a high-resolution digital SLR such as the Nikon D800E and the system on a steady tripod, the image quality is nothing short of outstanding. Even at f/1.4, contrast is high with no veiling glare in the shadows, and there is an almost three dimensional quality to the images.

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Click for larger view. Exposure: 1/125 second at f/1.4, ISO 100. Camera: Nikon D610 with Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 lens. ©Stan Sholik

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Click for larger view. Exposure: 1/125 second at f/1.4, ISO 100. Camera: Nikon D610 with Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 lens. ©Stan Sholik

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Click for larger view. Exposure: 1/500 second at f/1.4, ISO 100. Camera: Nikon D610 with Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 lens. ©Stan Sholik

While it won’t be the lens of choice for action photographers, wedding photographers will benefit from the ability to hold detail in the bride’s dress and the groom’s dark clothes. Landscape photographers will benefit from its ability to hold detail in both highlights and shadows. But portrait photographers will be in for some post-production work smoothing skin tones and blemishes.

Zeiss promises that the Otus 1.4/55 is only the first in a line of Otus lenses designed with fast apertures and the highest optical and mechanical standards. The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 represents the epitome of the current state of lens design and manufacturing—and at a price representative of that achievement.

February 21, 2014

Comfortable and Functional ... To A Degree: Joby Pro Sling Strap and UltraFit Sling Strap for Women

Your body type may determine how much functionality this design will deliver.

By Joan Sherwood

I recently tried the Joby Pro Sling Strap and the Joby UltraFit Sling Strap for Women. Both feel good and are functional, but each has its own issues. I was an early adopter of sling straps, and I’m still a big fan, but they haven't reached the perfection I envision for them one day. 

There are three ways to wear the traditional strap that attaches to the camera strap eyelets on a DSLR, and I’m not fond of any of them. I can’t stand the insecure feeling of a camera strap hanging from just one shoulder. It’s an invitation to theft or a catastrophic slip-and-break accident. A strap just over my head puts far too much strain on my neck, particularly with heavier professional DSLR and lens combinations, plus I always have to keep one hand on the camera to keep it from bouncing around as I walk. And with the traditional neck strap in a cross-body position, you can feel that it just wasn’t designed to be used that way. It doesn’t hang well across my chest, the strap is always too short, and it’s not easy to raise the camera to my eye.

The Joby Sling Straps use what they call a SpeedCinch pulley system. You wear the strap in a cross-body position with the camera hanging at your hip or cinched behind your back. The strap threads through the buckles in a way that allows you to shorten, lengthen, or lock the strap in place at a certain length. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to use, though the locking clamp takes a little practice to feel natural.

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The Joby Pro Sling Strap is the top of its line and my preference between the two Joby sling straps that I tried. The shoulder portion of the strap is strong like a seatbelt and has a ribbed underside, but it’s soft and supple so that the edges don’t dig into your neck. I think it would benefit from a gripping surface on the underside where it lies across your shoulder blade, though—something to hold the strap in place when the user bends forward. It’s far too easy for the weight of a camera to urge the strap to slide around your body, even with a fairly snug but still-comfortable cinch. The entire strap is made of a textile custom created by Joby.

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The attachment mechanism centers around a metal bolt and cylinder with a rubber washer on the bolt side and a plastic collar that smoothly rotates on greased bearings around the main cylinder. A thumbscrew lets you hand-tighten it into the tripod socket and then a coin groove allows you to secure it more firmly.

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Trust in this type of tripod-socket connection is what divides sling strap users from sling strap haters. Many photographers fear that the screw-in connection in the camera’s 1/4"-20 tripod socket will gradually come loose, and in one horrific moment their most cherished glass will crash to the sidewalk. There are horror stories out there.

The strap makers have addressed this security concern in their own ways. Joby offers a Camera Tether, which gives you a secondary point of connection as a failsafe. It loops a strong but slender tie through the camera’s strap eyelet and tethers it to the sling strap with a screw-lock carabiner that doesn’t impede the movement of the sling strap. This tether is included with the new Joby Pro Sling Strap but is listed as an accessory with other models.

The Joby Pro Sling Strap worked well for me, with certain limitations. For me, the SpeedCinch pulley system works to hold the camera where I want it to hang on my hip, but not for the full-cinch, behind-the-back, close-to-the-body position. It works great on the male model in the demo video, but I’m a short stocky woman with a moderately large chest. The closest I can get to a secure cinch is to have the chest strap above my right breast and passing through my armpit. Needless to say, this is not a look that lends itself to professional appearance. As a plus, it does come in two sizes: S - L and L - XXL.

Joby makes the UltraFit Sling Strap for Women to address the squashed-breast issue, but in my testing I found that this works only for slender women (such as the one in the Joby demo video).

201402we_joby_UltraFit_SlingStrap_Female_VideoStill.jpgThe UltraFit Sling Strap for Women is available in just one size and is only large enough to use with the camera at my hip with the strap extended to its full length. When I tried cinching it up, the strap had nowhere to go but the above-breast, armpit position. On a slender coworker, it worked as advertised but the camera strap was still easily susceptible to slipping around the body when she bent forward.

Finally there’s the issue of carrying the camera behind you. It’s great if you have an awareness of where it is at all times and how much space your camera body and lens combination occupy back there. Have you ever been wearing a backpack, and instinctively turned sideways to get through a narrow space only to be reminded that you’re now thicker in a side orientation than you are full forward? Imagine turning sideways to go through a subway turnstile or a closing door and hearing your lens smack against a hard surface. If you plan to carry your camera behind you, practice, practice, practice knowing where it is and how much space it needs at all times.

That said, I’m still a fan of the sling strap for midrange size cameras and I would recommend this one. I prefer the SpiderPro camera holster system ($135) for comfortably carrying weightier pro DSLRs and big lenses. Having that weight on your hips instead of around your neck and shoulders makes a huge difference. But the SpiderPro’s nylon and Velcro belt with its big plastic buckle are best suited for hiking gear and casual clothing. The Joby Pro Sling Strap ($69.95) is more elegant and comfortable (with your camera at your hip), and has the capacity to complement professional clothing. 

About February 2014

This page contains all entries posted to Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives in February 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2014 is the previous archive.

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