Over the last year, I’ve rented a few compact interchangeable lens camera systems. Some were µ 43 and some were APS-C. Some felt just right, and some felt too small. None were full-frame (35mm FF format).

I don't care much about the debate over full-frame versus APS-C sensor size etc. What I want to know is the ease of use and a range of quality lenses for the camera system. All my photos live in digital format and are viewed online on a computer screen. The last time I made prints was in 2006. I share my pictures on social networks like Facebook and Google+. Image quality is very important, but the ease of use is even more important. All the cameras I've tested to this point have performed well.

My professional photographer friends Gevon Servo and Scott Wyden seemed to love the Sony a7 cameras. Gevon especially loves using his Sony a7 with his Nikon lenses. So I took advantage of the long weekend to rent a Sony a7s and Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS. I think I'm in love.

The Sony a7s and Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS feel solid. Professional. This was the same feeling I had when I used the Fuji X-T1. This is a modern-looking camera with a vintage camera build feel. I've hardly put it down since I unpacked the box from Lensrentals.

Last night I spent a few minutes poking around the menus and setting up the camera. This was not as easy as I would have liked. Setting aside the fact that I am used to Nikon's camera menu, finding things in the camera menus was more challenging.

One of the reasons I love the Fuji X-T1 was the access to manual controls for aperture, ISO and shutter speed. I didn't have to mess around with hard to read menus. The Sony doesn't have as many manual controls but and the menu system was quick but not as easy to navigate.

Confirming the Sony a7s to transfer images to my iPhone was very easy. I'm very impressed given how flaky doing the same thing on the Panasonic GM1 was. The Olympus OM-D M-1 and M-5 were not as hard to set up as the Panasonic but not as easy as the Sony.

Sony α7s + Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS @ 70mm, ISO 50, 1125 at f/4.0

Once I had the camera set up the way I wanted, I took it out to the local farmers market. One of my very first photos was of some colourful tomatoes displayed in a basket of produce from Chickadee Creek Farm. I shot these over to my iPhone via the built-in wi-fi of the Sony. The image is straight out of the camera.

Transferring photos from the Sony to my iPhone and iPad was easy. I selected the Send to Smartphone option from the WiFi menu and selected one or more or all the photos I wanted to transfer. The camera told me to connect my iPad or iPhone to the indicated Wi-Fi access point name and provided the password to use. Once my iPad or iPhone was connected, I launched the free Sony app, and the images were transferred. I am very impressed with how quickly the files transferred. In comparison, this seemed to take transfer more slowly on the Olympus and the and Fujifilm X-T1.

Sony α7s + Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS @ 70mm, ISO 50, 1500 sec at f/4.0

I love shooting with this camera. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) doesn’t get in the way, and focusing is fast. I love how the Sony a7s automatically switches from live view via the back LCD to the EVF as soon as my eye is placed in the viewfinder cup. Though I didn’t do any test, it feels faster than the Fujifilm X-T1 system. This isn’t as important to me as it was in the past – I shoot mostly landscape, and my kids are done with Tae Kwon Do –, but I still have little nieces and nephews who seem to move faster than a locomotive.

Gevon uses his Nikon lenses with his Sony a7. He has an adapter that allows him to attach his Nikon lenses to the Sony. Unfortunately, the Nikon lens electronics aren’t compatible with the Sony. Focusing must be done manually. Gevon has suggested that auto-focus wasn’t that import because of the focus peaking feature of the Sony α7s. I tested this out myself. It was easy to find and enable and worked like a charm. The Sony a7s highlighted yellow on the outlines of the object when it was in focus. Together with the manual focus assist – the α7s filled the viewfinder with a super zoomed-in section of the subject – I had no challenges manually focusing on my subject.

Sony α7s + Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS @ 58mm, ISO 100, 1200 at f/4.0

Another feature I like that I wish I had in my Nikon is facial recognition. Although I prefer photographing landscapes and nature more than people, my wife and I attend a lot of family gatherings. I’m almost always the designated photographer. The Sony α7s and Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS produced some bokehlicious images. Bhavna and I had lunch at World of Beer in New Brunswick.

This place is incredible! Hundreds of beers are available in draught or bottle. Bhavna and I were overwhelmed with choice. I washed down an interest interpretation of the classic Margherita pizza1 with an ale from Scotland that has kelp as one of the ingredients. World of Beer even has cocktails made with beer. I finished up my European style lunch with a "DON’T BE A JACKASS" cocktail2 and Bhavana had a "HOTI MOJITO".

This will soon become my favourite restaurant!

Sony α7s + Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS @ 65mm, ISO 32, 180 at f/8.0

We spent part of the weekend car shopping. Bhavana's mini-van is acting up. It's almost 14 years old, so this is expected. We test drove a new Honda CR-V and a new Acura RDX. A new RDX is outside our budget, but Bhavana liked the luxurious feel of the car. We tried negotiating for a 2013 certified pre-owned RDX. Alas, the dealer and we could not agree on a price, so we walked away without a new car.

Sony α7s + Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS @ 70mm, ISO 100, 180 at f/4.0

Tomorrow I have to return the camera to lensrentals.com, and I wish I didn't have to. Although I only had the camera for a weekend, I fell in love with it. Beautiful images. This is the Sony α7s. It's on my Amazon.com wish list. I finished up the weekend with a delicious and refreshing ale from the Williams Brothers Brewery in Scotland.

  1. Freshly diced tomato & mozzarella over a basil & pine nut pesto, drizzled with a sweet balsamic glaze & topped with fresh arugula. ?
  2. Tito’s Handmade Vodka mixed with fresh-squeezed lime juice and simple syrup, topped with Ginger Beer and a splash of a Citrus-Flavored Wheat Beer. ?

I took advantage of a borrowlenses.com Independence Day deal to rent an Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH zoom lens (Equivalent to 24-70mm). Over 6 days starting July 1st I used the camera and lens in a variety of situations. I loved the kit and didn't want to send it back. It took photos that looked excellent on a computer screen but still something felt lacking.

I had intended to use the kit to shoot some fireworks photos but is a rush didn't read the manual. In my defence, I received the package from FedEx that same night. However, I didn't get the OM-D E-M1 to pair with my iPhone via wi-fi and opted to shoot fireworks on my Nikon. I did get a few late evening photos of the open fields and my family, which was a good test of the low-light ability of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 as you can see the camera performed admirably.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1400 sec at f/3.2
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/3200s at ƒ/2.8 on 1 July, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1800 sec at f/2.8
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 12mm, ISO 200, 1160 sec at f//10

Since I had the camera the week, I got to experiment with the various features and menus. The E-M1 has an overwhelming number of menu options. It seemed daunting at first, but the different on-camera prompts helped me find my way through them. Unlike the Fujifilm X-T1 which has a lot of manual control knobs, the E-M1 is more like my Nikon. Changing camera settings required me to stare at the read LCD while turning a camera dial. It's not a failing of the E-M1. This is how most DSLR cameras work. I like the knobs and dials of the Fujifilm X-T1 more.

I had a chance to shoot flowers, food, and people during the six days. The µ 43 12-35 mm lens present the same field of view as a 24-70mm lens on a 35mm FF camera -- just wide enough for some landscape and groups photos but close enough for portrait shots.

The lens and the camera took excellent shots, but I felt that I did not like the quality of the background blur (booked). Something didn't feel right.

I experimented with the focus packing mode. The results were mixed, but I think the failure was in my skill, not the camera. It's something that if I had more time with the camera, I could get better at.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/2000s at ƒ/2.8 on 5 July, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 2000, 1/80s at ƒ/8 on 3 July, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/200s at ƒ/2.8 on 6 July, 2014

Most of the reviews I have read about mirror-less cameras complain that auto-focus isn't quite up to par with a DSLR. While there is some truth to that, I think most of the criticism is hogwash. I used the continuous autofocus mode with object tracking and was able to nail action shots just fine. I didn't test the camera in high-speed sports situations, but in my experience, for most consumers, the camera will perform well.

These are action shots of my kids having fun at the Community Park Pool in Princeton.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 27mm, ISO 200, 1/4000s at ƒ/2.8 on 6 July, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/200s at ƒ/9 on 6 July, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1160 sec at f/8.0

Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH @35mm, ISO 500, 1/60s at ƒ/4 on 6 July, 2014

As I mentioned the bokeh was not attractive.

As with the Fujifilm X-T1, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has built-in wi-fi and iOS software. Using the Olympus Image Share app I connected the E-M1 to my iPhone. I was able to control the E-M1 and snap some photos as well as download images to my iPhone (or iPad). I don't recall the details, but I feel the Fujifilm app was easier to set up and use, especially when it came to geotagging.

I think all new DSLR must include a Wi-Fi option. I loved taking photos, downloading to my iPhone, making slight adjustments in Photogene, and sharing them on social media. With my Nikon D5100, I use an Eye-Fi Mobi card to do the same trick but having it built-in to the camera means I can use any brand of SD card and access to a higher capacity.

So the OM-D E-M1 is a capable camera. That's my opinion. With the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mmF2.8 II ASPH zoom lens, the entire kit gets quite expensive. More expensive than the X-T1 with a similar lens. The X-T1 body is slightly smaller and lighter (without lens) and, in my opinion, produces better results. However, the E-M1 would be on my main camera if I owned micro 43 lenses.

A few weeks ago, I drove up the Rock Brook at the other end of town to try my hand at long exposure photography. I enjoyed the experience, and I got good results with my ND filter. With the recent rains over the weekend, I thought it would be great to go back.

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.Elliott Erwitt

I’ve read a lot about the “mirror-less” cameras from Olympus, Panasonic, Sony, and Fujifilm. Over the last few years, I’ve rented the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and OM-D EM-5 Camera, the Fujifilm X-E1 and borrowed the Olympus PEN EP-3 Camera from a friend.

But recently Fujifilm introduced the Fujifilm X-T1. The accolades keep pouring in. I’ve seen minimal negative things written about the Fujifilm X-T1 and the camera and the X system in general, have been well received by amateurs and professionals alike.

Rock Brook, Water, Woods
Fujifilm X-T1 + Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 10mm, 6s at ƒ/16, ISO 200 — Credit—Khürt L. Williams

Many reviews have been written about the Fujifilm X-T1 by Frank Doorhof, Ken Rockwell, Photo Shelter and others so this won’t be a review. Those other reviewers will do a better job than I could. However, I want to document my experiences using the camera and one of the Fujifilm X lenses.

Fujifilm X-T1 + Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 10mm, 18s at ƒ/16, ISO 200 — Credit—Khürt L. Williams

Almost all of my camera rentals are from lensrentals.com. The prices are reasonable — they even include an Amazon Prime typing shipping option — and they are flexible. Since my wife and I both work, I find it more convenient to have packages held at the FedEx Office Print & Ship Center near my office. I never miss a packed delivery, and I can stop by on my home in the afternoon and pick up my rental. When the equipment is ready to be returned, I can easily drop it off at the same facility on my way to work in the morning.

Because I prefer outdoor photography, I chose to rent the Fujifilm X-T1 and Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 R OIS wide-angle lens which has a field-of-view equivalent to a 15-36mm f/6 full-frame lens. I planned on going back to the Rock Brook for some long exposure photography. I added the Tiffen 72mm Variable ND Filter to my rental. The rental included a camera bag, the battery and charger, and the Fujifilm EF-X8 Shoe-Mount Flash. I did not use the Fujifilm EF-X8 Shoe-Mount Flash.

Rock Brook, Rocks, Forest, Trees
Fujifilm X-T1 + Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 10mm, 15s at ƒ/16, ISO 200 — Credit—Khürt L. Williams

I had read that the X-T1 is well constructed and the reviews were correct. The X-T1 felt solid in my hands; like the Pentax P3 film camera, I bought in college. The camera body and dials and knobs are made of metal. My eyes were drawn to the control knobs on the top of the camera. The camera and lens controls were easy to find. I did not have to hunt around in on-screen menus as I do with my Nikon. I found myself quickly changing aperture, ISO, and shutter speed while composing my shot.

I found the focus ring on the X-T1 to be smooth. I usually don’t trust myself to focus on my subjects manually. I’ve had two eye surgeries, and sometimes I feel my vision isn’t “just right”. But the ease of using the manual focus ring and the Focus Peak mode boosted my confidence. I used auto-focus only a few times during my shoot. The Digital Split Image focus mode reminds me of the split image focused on my Pentax P3 film camera, but I preferred the focus peaking mode.

While I didn’t use the auto-focus mode enough to form a strong opinion, I didn’t experience any of the expected delays bringing subjects into sharp focus. The auto-focus mode on the X-T1 feels improved over my experience with the X-E1.

Rock Brook, Trees, Rocks, Forest
Fujifilm X-T1 + Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 10mm, 15s at ƒ/16, ISO 200 — Credit—Khürt L. Williams

Besides outdoor photography, I am also a fan of HDR photography. The X-T1 has several auto-bracketing functions, but for HDR I use only Auto Exposure bracketing. My Nikon D5100 has AE bracketing as well, but I am annoyed that I have to trigger the shutter for each shot. Not with the X-T1. One press of the shutter captures three shots of the same scene at different exposures.

Rock Brook, Forest, Trees, Water, Rocks
Fujifilm X-T1 + Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 10mm, 14s at ƒ/16, ISO 200 — Credit—Khürt L. Williams

But where the Fujifilm X-T1 blew me away was with the Camera Remote. Last year, I started using an Eye-Fi mobi card to capture and send JPG images from my Nikon D5100 to my iPad or iPhone. I could then do some slight processing before sharing the pictures to my blog or Facebook. It’s a form of instant photography. However, I’ve often wished I could use my iPad or iPhone to control my Nikon. The Fujifilm Camera Remote does that.

The X-T1 has a built-in wireless access point. I was able with to connect my iPhone1 to the X-T1 and control every aspect of the camera. I adjust the focus, aperture, the ISO, the shutter speed, the shooting mode etc. I used the Camera Remote to set The X-T1 up for long exposure and HDR photography. With this setup, the camera shake is nearly eliminated. Minimising camera shake is important for long exposure and HDR photography. Even a breeze can ruin an image.

I have a bird feeder set up in my backyard, but my 85mm f/1.8 can’t get me close enough to the birds. I would have loved to setup up the Fujifilm X-T1 on a tripod with the Fujinon XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS and patiently sit in my living room monitoring for some interest bird action shots. Of course, if I had known the X-T1 could do this, I would have rented two lenses. The wide-angle isn't ideal for this scenario.

One of the cool things about the Camera Remote is that it also did wireless transfers of the photos to my iPhone or iPad. I set the X-T1 to transfer photos to my iPad, so I could check that I had captured what I wanted. Some of the images were uploaded to Facebook right from the middle of the Rock Brook. How cool is that!

Rock Brook, Rocks, Water, Trees, Forest
Fujifilm X-T1 + Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 10mm, 18s at ƒ/16, ISO 200 — Credit—Khürt L. Williams

Another possibility is that I could attend the independence day fireworks events, capturing photos, sending them to my iPhone and sharing them quickly on Facebook or uploading to Flickr etc. Or I can shoot and download selected images to my iPad for post-processing and later share.

It wasn’t until I came home and downloaded the images to Adobe Lightroom that I realised that the Camera Remote app used the GPS on my iPhone to embed geolocation data into each photograph. WTF! This is awesome. For me, this is a manual process in Lightroom; assuming I remember to do so.

For me, the Fujifilm X-T1 is the near-perfect digital camera. I love the look and feel of the camera. The all-metal body and knobs remind me of the built-to-last cameras of my youth. The focus peaking manual focus and smooth focus ring of the lenses make me feel confident that my photos will be in focus. The Camera Remote feature duplicates and surpasses the features of the Eye-Fi Mobi card and opens up new photographic possibilities for me.

  1. I often listen to music on my bluetooth headset when I'm out shooting. ?