There was an important court case decided recently, one that holds substantial ramifications for photographic gear, especially cheap third-party batteries, but also other items that are frequently cloned. In Bolger v. Amazon, a California appeals court ruled that Amazon is liable for injuries caused by products sold by third-party sellers on its site. The plaintiff bought a replacement laptop battery from Amazon, which arrived in Amazon-branded packaging, shipped from an Amazon warehouse. The battery exploded after she had been using it for several months, injuring her.
She sued Amazon, which informed her that it had nothing to do with the battery she purchased “from Amazon” – it was sold by a third-party seller. Who’s really selling something “on Amazon” can take some looking to discover – it is disclosed on the item page, but in small print, and Prime, which used to apply only to things sold by Amazon itself, now applies to many third-party items as well. Amazon supposedly acted only as a service provider connecting buyer and seller and offering warehousing and shipping services. The third-party seller had a problematic safety record, and had been banned from Amazon, only to pop up again under a different name. The ultimate manufacturer of the battery was overseas and thoroughly shielded from American jurisdiction (it would take two to three years even to serve notice of the lawsuit against them). Amazon claims they have no liability, that what third-party sellers sell on Amazon is their own business, despite Amazon branding across the site, and despite the fact that it can be difficult to tell what is sold by Amazon directly and what is not. As of last week, a California appeals court disagrees. Amazon is nearly certain to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of California.
If the ruling holds, Amazon (along with Newegg and a couple of other companies that both sell products themselves and support third-party sellers) will need to police their third-party sellers more carefully. As of the evening of August 31, 2020, typing the names of popular camera batteries such as EN-EL 15 (Nikon), NP-FZ100 (Sony), LP-E6 (Canon) or NP-W126 (Fujifilm) into an Amazon search field brings up a mixture of three things. The top several listings are ads (marked “sponsored” in tiny grey print) for cheap third-party batteries, often bundled with chargers, sold by third-party sellers, except in the case of the NP-FZ100, where one of the top listings is a bundle of an apparently genuine Sony battery and a third-party charger, sold by a third-party seller.
There are more genuine Sony batteries in the listings (and fewer real no-name batteries) than any other brand – is this because the InfoLithium technology (basically accurate charge metering) is hard to clone? My Sony camera identifies and complains about third-party batteries (it pops up a warning every time it is turned on and disables the accurate charge metering, reverting to a four-bar meter only), while my Nikon uses them happily. The only third-party Sony battery I have is a Nitecore, a long-time, respected supplier. I don’t know if some other third-party maker has a battery that fully functions with InfoLithium, but the Nitecore is a new release from a good maker, so it seems unlikely.
Somewhere in the top five listings will be the original manufacturer battery sold by Amazon itself – the item the uninformed buyer probably thought they were looking for. Most of the remaining listings will be for cheap batteries sold by third-party sellers, with a mixture of better-known third-party brands like Watson (B&H), Green Extreme (Adorama) and RAVPower among many no-name batteries. Looking at the Canon batteries, there was one listing for a battery clearly marked “Canon” in the picture for a price too good to be true, about $25 cheaper than a Canon battery should have been. Looking at the description, the brand name on the battery was NOT Canon, despite the picture. They either deceptively used a picture of a Canon battery, or the battery they are selling is not only a clone but a counterfeit. In one case, there was a listing for a Watson battery for Fujifilm – but the seller was NOT B&H. Watson is a Gradus Group company, and Gradus is B&H’s umbrella for store brands, so a Watson battery should be sold by B&H (who apparently no longer sell much, if anything at all on Amazon – they used to). Could we be seeing a cheaper clone of a well-respected third-party battery?
Amazon is also extremely confusing for other accessories. I looked at remotes for the same few popular cameras, and essentially all of the listings were third-party products, largely with brand names that were random, unpronounceable combinations of letters (not things that looked like they should be words in another language). Sometimes, a remote would show up that simply won’t trigger the camera I had searched for. Several of the listings under “Nikon Z7 remote” were variants on (or even actual Nikon versions of) the infrared ML-L3 or the Bluetooth ML-L7. Neither of those will actually work with a Z7, which requires either a wired remote or a wireless unit with a receiver attached to the remote port. Many photographers wouldn’t have caught that…
Looking under (camera name) flash produced an odd mix of results – the manufacturer’s own dedicated flash units, third-party dedicated flashes ranging from respected brands to the same unpronounceable collections of letters that supposedly made the remotes, and quite a few non-dedicated flashes, not marked as such. Similarly to the batteries, Sony produced a higher percentage of original results than other brands.
Looking for cameras and lenses, there were a couple of distressing factors. Most were third-party sellers, and many of those sellers were poorly rated, some of them are companies those of us who’ve been photographing for a while will remember from the back pages of Popular Photography! They’re up to their old tricks again – the top listing for many cameras on Amazon is an ad for an “international version” (no US warranty) from an unbeloved old name or a newer company that appears to be in the same business. Most of the listings include a lot of worthless accessories, no-name tripods, very slow SD cards and the like. The picture always appears to include a huge number of pieces, until you realize that some of the included “accessories” are things like the body cap that comes on the camera (some enterprising sellers even show the rubber eyecup and the power cord for the battery charger separately and count them as separate pieces), while others are 15-piece cleaning kits, no piece of which should ever touch any camera not made by Fisher-Price. At least none of today’s Amazon sellers are trying to sell the body cap and the eyecup as add-on items.
Looking for the same items at B&H or another honest dealer with a good website is a completely different experience. There are no third-party sellers. Everything advertised at B&H is sold by B&H, with consistent policies. Batteries are generally either from the original manufacturer or B&H’s own Watson brand (clearly marked as such), although they are also carrying some Jupio batteries, a Dutch brand that is imported into the US by major distributor MAC Group. Remotes all trigger the correct camera, and flashes are all dedicated correctly, unless very clearly marked otherwise! Cameras and lenses always come with a US warranty, and every accessory kit has the brands spelled out. B&H acts like any other honest camera store. I personally won’t buy camera gear on Amazon except for a few small items I can’t get anywhere else (or if I’m deliberately looking for junk items for testing purposes). I buy my gear at Hunt Photo in Massachusetts, B&H in New York (generally online, although I have been to their store, which is WELL worth a visit if you’re in Manhattan) and Green Mountain Camera in Vermont. All three are honest, long-established professional dealers, and all three are Highly Recommended. There are many other honest camera dealers throughout the world, and many of them sell online, so you can find a good dealer even if you don’t live near one.
If the California decision holds, many of the third-party sellers who make shopping for camera gear on Amazon such a crapshoot will hopefully vanish as Amazon decides they can’t afford the liability. They disappeared from the back pages of Popular Photography under pressure from camera manufacturers, honest national camera stores like B&H and Adorama and regional dealers like Hunt Photo and Green Mountain Camera, along with the New York State Attorney General; only to pop back up on unregulated online marketplaces.
There are a couple of camera introductions and a number of lenses worth commenting on. At least to me, some of the most exciting are Sigma Art lenses designed specifically for mirrorless cameras. The Art series has included quite a number of exceptional lenses over the years, as they were among the first affordable super-high quality primes. Sigma has become a lensmaker worth watching over the past several years, probably the most innovative company out there and easily capable of producing a lens every bit the equal of any camera manufacturer design. The Zeiss Otus lenses were the first “super” primes to use more complex optical designs to produce an exceptional image, but the Art series brought autofocus and much more affordable price tags to similar designs. They have been extremely successful, with many of them among the finest lenses in the world at their focal length and aperture – often for surprisingly affordable price tags. One thing Art lenses traditionally have not been, though, is compact. Most of them have been very large for their focal length and aperture – sometimes even larger than the comparable Otus.
When Sigma brought the Art series to mirrorless mounts, the first entries were the already large DSLR lenses stretched to accommodate the shorter flange focal distance of mirrorless mounts. In effect, they were DSLR lenses with permanent adapters attached – there is nothing optically wrong with that approach (it’s just like an adapted lens with an excellent adapter, except with one less mount connection to go wrong) – but it doesn’t gain the size and weight benefits a dedicated mirrorless design can often have. At a time when Nikon and Fujifilm in particular have been producing mirrorless-optimized lenses that bring exceptional optical quality to relatively small packages, the gigantic Art lenses had an important drawback.
Over the past few months, Sigma has been releasing brand-new Art designs that take advantage of the design flexibility that mirrorless mounts offer, and they have been promising Art performance in much smaller packages. The new 85mm f1.4 and 24-70mm f2.8 Art lenses just arrived for testing, and my initial response to the very compact 85mm is “this thing’s f1.4?”. It really looks like a slightly oversize 85mm f1.8 or f2, rather than a f1.4 lens. It’s even a little smaller and quite a bit lighter than the Sony ZA 50mm f1.4, despite being nearly twice the focal length. It’s here for three weeks, and I really look forward to seeing if it lives up to Sigma’s formidable claims. The first day sharpness test is later in this article, and it does VERY well. The Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 zoom also put in an impressive performance on its first day here.
Fujifilm just released what looks like one of the more unusual lenses we’ve seen in a while at first glance – a 50mm f1.0. Given that it’s an APS-C lens, it’s really more of a fast portrait lens, rather than the blistering-fast standard lens it initially appears to be. As a matter of fact, its full-frame equivalent is not terribly exotic at all – it’s a 75mm f1.4 from a focal length and depth of field perspective (but it lets light in like the f1.0 lens it is). It is right around the same size and weight as the Sony 85mm f1.4 G-Master, while the brand-new Sigma is slightly smaller and significantly lighter (the older DSLR Sigma Art lens is significantly larger and heavier, as is the 85mm Zeiss Otus). The 85mm f1.4 Nikkor DSLR lens is significantly smaller and lighter, while the Canon equivalent is around the same size but heavier. Other than the much more expensive Otus, all of these lenses (including the Fujinon) are around the same price range. The Sigma is the cheapest at $1199, the Sony the most expensive at $1799, while all the rest are $1449 or $1499.
After accounting for the difference in maximum aperture needed to get the same depth of field, really good APS-C lenses are often not any smaller, lighter or cheaper than equivalent full-frame lenses. The Fujinon’s specifications fit right into the elite group of fast portrait lenses for other mounts, and initial tests by a number of Fujifilm X-photographers (brand ambassadors) who have had the lens prior to release indicate that it belongs in that group. As I have mentioned around other Fujifilm releases, they are really the only company releasing the kind of APS-C glass that will match the versatility of full-frame. A few years ago, when no APS-C system had a truly fast telephoto, Fujifilm released a 200mm f2.0. It’s just about the size, weight and cost of a 300mm f2.8, which is the full-frame equivalent. Coupled with an X-T4, it’s a very viable sports and wildlife lens for when the longest reach isn’t necessary.
When the makers and partisans of Micro 4/3 (and APS-C, but Micro 4/3 plays this up more) boast of the compactness of their telephotos, they’re often forgetting or glossing over aperture equivalence. Until recently, Micro 4/3 lenses, especially telephotos, have typically been much smaller and lighter than anything else with a similar equivalent focal length, but also much slower when equivalent aperture is considered. There simply weren’t high-quality telephotos that traded off speed for compactness to the same extent for any other mount. There have always been the no-name T-mount telephotos for any mount, but those three to six element lenses (which are 1960s modifications of the 1733 achromatic improvement of Galileo’s original 1609 telescope design – no computerized optical design in 1609!) are no match for modern optics like the Micro 4/3 lenses.
Canon’s new f11 extreme telephotos provide an interesting point of comparison here, because they are similar in equivalent aperture and focal length to many of the Micro 4/3 lenses. Panasonic has a Leica-branded 100-400mm f4-6.3, which is equivalent to a 200-800mm f8-12.6 in a full-frame mount. Canon is now making a full-frame 800mm f11 – close enough for an interesting comparison. The Panasonic lens is a zoom, but very long zooms are often used at or close to maximum focal length, so the prime vs. zoom comparison is better than it might be.
The Canon lens is quite a bit longer when stowed (282mm vs. 171mm), and about 25% heavier (1260 grams vs. 985 grams). At 800 mm, both lenses get longer (the Canon is a collapsible lens even though it’s a prime). I can’t find a length on the Panasonic fully extended, but it’s probably close to the Canon’s 352mm (it is described as “nearly doubling in length” when extended). Because of the much higher resolution of some Canon bodies, especially the R5, the Canon lens can put a lot more pixels on the subject (even after figuring in the effects of diffraction, which affects both lenses wide open). The Canon lens has no aperture control – it’s always f11, but the Panasonic lens is relatively slow, plus it’s losing a little bit of resolution to diffraction at long focal lengths even wide open, so it will generally be shot pretty close to maximum aperture. The Canon lens is a little over half the price of the Panasonic – as a matter of fact, Canon’s 600mm and 800mm f11 lenses combined are exactly the same price as the Panasonic, which zooms to cover both. I have neither Micro 4/3 nor Canon R bodies to test these lenses, although a friend and neighbor does have an E-M1 mk II and the Panasonic lens, so I should be able to borrow that this fall, to test against various other telephotos. The Panasonic lens has been out for a while and gets good reviews, while the brand-new Canons have been impressing their first users.
The most interesting camera body release of recent weeks is the new Panasonic S5. The S1 series are unusually big and heavy for mirrorless designs, while the S5 is right in the typical Nikon/Canon/Sony size range. As is typical for Panasonic, strong video is an important part of the package. The S5 does not disappoint, with 200Mb/s recording in 4K 60p (although there’s a catch – that mode imposes an APS-C crop – you get 4K 30p in full-frame). As of September, 2020, cameras capable of 4K 60p are still relatively rare. It is a Panasonic signature feature, found on the entire S series plus the GH5. Outside of Panasonic, the Fujifilm X-T4 is one of the few true hybrids to offer 4K 60p. The Canon EOS-R5 offers not only 4K 60p, but 4K 120p and 8K 30p as well – but with significant heat limitations. The Sony A7s III offers 4K 60p and 4K 120p, but the 12 MP stills almost make it more of a great movie camera that shoots convenience stills than a true still/video hybrid. The A7s III sits in a weird intermediate place between conventional still/video hybrids and something like a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera that really isn’t a still camera at all
Apart from the video-centric A7s III with its $3500 price tag and 12 MP stills, Sony’s potentially hybrid cameras are due for updates soon. The A7r IV is a newer body (a little over a year), but a 61 MP pixel monster would never be a first choice for video – its video specs are very good for what it is. The A7 III is approaching its third birthday, and there should be a new 24 MP Sony soon. It would be great to see 4K 60p and some high bitrates in Sony’s next bodies. Nikon could also improve the already good video specs in the Z series in the next iteration of the Z6 and possibly even the Z7. As of right now, the Panasonic S series probably has the strongest video capabilities of any full-frame hybrid camera, excluding the short-duration capabilities on the Canon EOS-R5. The S5 is right in a class with the X-T4 and the GH5 as far as its video capabilities go. It is very similar in size, weight and still photo capabilities to the Z6, A7 III and EOS-R6.
Until now, there hasn’t been a “standard” player among the L-mount bodies. All but one of the options were much bigger and chunkier than any other mirrorless system, and actually heavier than most full-size DSLRs like the Nikon D850. The exception was the tiny Sigma FP, which is an extremely unusual camera, lacking any sort of electronic viewfinder (or grip, or image stabilization, or even a mechanical shutter). The FP is a very interesting little camera with some exceptionally high video bit rates in a tiny package, but hardly a mainstream alternative to the likes of a Nikon Z6. The new S5, along with some of the newer L-mount lenses from Panasonic and Sigma, have eliminated the substantial size and weight penalty for choosing L-mount. The S5 is a conventional enough design that I would be very surprised if it had any significant image quality issues – 24 MP full-frame mirrorless is very well worked out by now, and this appears likely to be the same sensor as the Panasonic S1, which is one of the best 24 MP sensors. Video quality is likely to be very high as well. One thing that remains to be seen is whether there are any overheating problems in video recording. I would not expect any problem other than the advertised 30-minute limit on certain high-end modes, with Panasonic’s track record in building very successful hybrid cameras. There are two concerns worth thinking about with the S5. The first is that, like all Panasonics, it uses their DFD autofocus system, which is a modified contrast-detect system. It is not as fast as the phase-detect systems used by Canon, Nikon and Sony, and it can be annoying, especially for video. I haven’t been able to come up with a Panasonic of any recent variety for testing, so I have no opinion of my own, but other reviewers say that the DFD system is not especially capable. It is much faster than early mirrorless cameras that used pure contrast detection – this is no X-Pro 1 or NEX-5. It is generally seen as well behind the best of current cameras in speed and tracking capability. Sony’s various AI driven systems with their excellent tracking and Canon’s Dual-Pixel AF are probably the best on the market today, with the winner between them depending on what you’re doing, and with Nikon and Fujifilm not far behind. Any of the four are excellent in most circumstances, and Panasonic is not keeping up with these companies right now.
The second concern is the viability of L-mount. As the camera market shrinks, there is a real question about whether a fifth competitor is viable. Among Canon, Nikon, Sony and Fujifilm, there are already seven viable mounts, since Canon and Nikon both have DSLR and mirrorless mounts, and Fujifilm has distinct APS-C and medium format (superslide) mounts. The two DSLR mounts may eventually go away, but that is several years in the future, and will happen very gradually if it does – with all the bodies and lenses out there, we’ll be shooting Nikon F and Canon EF for decades. If the F and/or EF mounts were to be discontinued, the first thing to happen would be no new body introductions (but the existing bodies would continue to be sold new, probably for quite a few years). Both are on a maintenance pace of body introductions, but my best guess is that we are still several years from the last new body introduction, and probably close to a decade from being unable to buy a brand-new body. Nikon still sells one brand-new film body (the F6), and Canon only discontinued their last film SLR a couple of years ago. Lenses will persist even longer.
There are also two additional mounts from the major companies that I wouldn’t consider viable. Sony is barely supporting their old DSLR A-mount (acquired from Minolta ages ago) at all, basically selling through old stock. They just released a new adapter to use old A-mount lenses on current E-mount bodies, but they haven’t released an A-mount body or lens since 2015 or so. Although Canon is still trying to promote the EF-M mirrorless APS-C mount, but that mount offers almost exclusively cheap, slow lenses and no upgrade path to the more viable RF mount. Maybe they’ll keep it going on the entry level, maybe they won’t, but unlike Nikon and Sony, there’s no path to the full-frame system that primarily interests LuLa readers.
With seven viable mounts from the four major manufacturers, can an additional mount survive? If another mount sneaks through, what will it be? There are two small-market mounts that have large numbers of legacy lenses – Pentax K and Leica M. Due to the very high selling prices and the collector market, the more viable of the two is almost certainly Leica M, but either or both could survive. They both use standard sensor sizes, meaning that there is no sensor development investment – Pentax and Leica can simply buy off-the shelf sensors in any quantity they need. Leica claims to do some custom work on the filtration in front of the sensor, while Pentax makes no such claim, and my suspicion is that they simply buy the entire sensor stack out of a Sony catalog.
There are two small-market mounts (both, oddly with Panasonic involved) that depend more on newer lenses – Micro 4/3 and L-mount. My suspicion is that L-mount is the more likely survivor of the two, both because of the support from Panasonic, Sigma and Leica and because it uses standard sensors. As long as someone wants to release L-mount bodies, there will be full-frame sensors available and under active development. Even if volumes don’t support custom sensors, Sony is happy to sell highly capable sensors to anyone who wants to buy, and there are a couple of other suppliers of off-the shelf full-frame sensors.
APS-C is also a standard size, and even Fujifilm’s superslide format between full-frame and medium format is somewhat standard. Many manufacturers use APS-C sensors, although only Fujifilm makes a consistent line of upper-end bodies and lenses. The superslide format is used by Fujifilm, Hasselblad, Pentax and some older Phase One products, although only the GFX 100 and a couple of special-purpose aerial and document imaging cameras from Phase One use the newer 100 MP sensor – everything else uses the same venerable 50 MP unit. Micro 4/3’s unique sensor size has hampered sensor procurement. The most recent Micro 4/3 sensor was released in mid-2015, and is not only smaller than other sensor formats, but a full generation behind technologically.
This will be an autumn with quite a bit of camera and especially lens testing. A Sony A7r IV is now a permanent part of our test camera fleet, and I am already much more comfortable with it than I ever got with the short-term tester that passed through here last winter. The A7r IV is an extremely (and confusingly) configurable camera, with no less than 40 pages of primary menus with options seemingly randomly scattered, plus various options in those menus that open submenus with multiple choices – there’s one submenu that itself has 27 pages of choices (for assigning certain buttons). Due to the complexity, I now realize that I never got the short-term camera configured especially well. I am quite sure the A7r IV has well over 100 pages of menus in total, although I am not sure how to count fairly (do the same options for multiple buttons count once, or a bunch of times). The Nikon Z7 (the other modern camera around here on a permanent basis) has 23 pages of primary menus, much more logically arranged, and the longest single submenu is 7 pages long.
The Sony, like the Nikon, is a joy to shoot once you get it configured correctly, but it took me the better part of an afternoon to get our permanent tester set up right, and I’m still tweaking things occasionally (the Nikon emerges from the box pretty well set up, although I’ve made a few menu tweaks to it as well). They are similarly sized cameras, and both feel good in the hand and very solidly built. If Roger Cicala is reading this, I am waiting eagerly for him to tear down an A7r IV to see how good the weather sealing is!
Now that both of them are well set up, there are ergonomic features I prefer about each one. The Nikon’s top display is a great feature, and the two configurable front buttons are easy to reach (one challenge to people coming from Nikon to Sony is that the front grip-side button that feels like it should be a configurable button on a Nikon is in fact the lens release on a Sony). The lens release on the far side of the body is in a better place on the Nikon. On the other hand, the Sony’s permanent exposure compensation dial is a great feature. Not only is there always an exposure compensation dial, without pushing a button, it is marked, so it’s easy to see if the camera has some exposure compensation dialed in.
Having both of these cameras at hand all the time has opened up the possibility for some serious investigation of optics. I’m living in Vermont for the autumn, which gives a lot of opportunity for interesting and beautiful images. Test lenses will be here from Nikon, Sony and third-party manufacturers all autumn long, and there will be quite a few articles on lenses coming up. There won’t be MTF tests and other really scientific evaluations – why try to improvise what LensRentals does so well with hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment.
The best source I’ve found for scientifically accurate lab tests of lenses is LensRentals’ blog (https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/). Roger and Aaron do an amazing job – they have the right equipment, and they have access to multiple copies of every lens they want to test. Most of us can’t quantify sample variation, but they can. Before buying a lens, it’s worth looking it up on LensRentals and seeing if they’ve run it through their many machines. It’s also worth reading user reviews here and elsewhere – the sharpest lens in the world, with perfect edge to edge characteristics, isn’t worth anything if you don’t like its bokeh and style. Even a lens whose images you love isn’t great if you can’t deal with its size, weight and handling.
I do have a “Vermont lens-testing rig” set up, using a woodpile that is stacked close to flat. The camera is positioned at a distance from the woodpile to get the angle of view close, although it’s not perfect. It’s around 4.5 feet for a 50mm lens, 6 feet for an 85mm, 8 feet for a 135mm, and in the next county if I can get a test sample of the EOS-R5 and the 800mm f11. Woodpile shots are taken under roughly noon light (between 10 and 2), and cameras are set off using the self-timer. I’m using minimum standard ISO for lens tests (no reason to confuse the issue unless testing bodies). Nikon-mount glass gets a slight advantage from ISO 64, but Sony-mount glass gets a comparable advantage from 61 MP – and you can’t use a Z Nikkor on a 61 MP body, nor a G Master on an ISO 64 body.
The camera support is the Mighty Robus, a huge 6 lb Robus (B&H’s high-end store-brand tripod, and as solid as any Gitzo at just over half the price) carbon fiber tripod that claims to support 55 lbs, and actually supports much more than that at any rational height setting. I’ve tried sitting on the thing and it holds. Robus tripods are Highly Recommended if you don’t mind a bit of extra weight (the equivalent Gitzo or RRS is between half a pound and a pound lighter). I actually prefer the twist locks on the Robus over Gitzo – I find them smoother and more secure. RRS is the best there is, but a comparable tripod is more than twice the price of the Robus. For most things where you need a tripod that sturdy, the gear on top of it is heavy enough that you won’t notice the extra tripod weight. Robus doesn’t make a travel tripod (B&H does make some lower-end versions, under their Oben brand), but I’d love to see their take on one.
I’ve got quite a collection of lenses passing through in both FE and Z mounts, plus some F mount glass on the FTZ adapter. For the Sony, I have the 24-105mm f4 (a better sample than the one I had over the winter, although it still requires stopping down to f5.6 to look as good as the impressive little Nikkor 24-70mm f4), 50mm f1.4 ZA Planar, 85mm f1.4 Sigma Art, 135mm f1.4, 24-70mm f2.8 Sigma Art, 85mm f1.8 Zeiss Batis and 135mm f2.8 Zeiss Batis so far. I’m working on getting an 85mm f1.4 G Master and some other Sony glass (including at least one of the wide-angle zooms and one of the 70-200s) through here for test periods. For the Nikon, I have the 50mm f1.8, the 24-70mm f4 and the 14-30mm f4 Z lenses, as well as the 85mm f1.4 Zeiss Otus on the FTZ adapter. The 24-70mm f2.8 Z is on its way from Nikon, and I’m hoping to get ahold of the 85mm and 70-200mm Z lenses. Most of these are manufacturer-supplied test samples, here for varied and overlapping periods, while a few are my own collection. I also have an old 55-200 mm DX Nikkor, the purpose of which is to see the difference between all of this good and great glass and a lousy lens (I bought the DX Nikkor for $25 specifically to have a reference of what a cheap lens was like). I have not seen any previous lens test that includes both a $25 lens and a Zeiss Otus…
The big hole in this fall’s massive lens gathering is, of course, lenses that don’t fit on either Nikon or Sony bodies. I’m working on getting ahold of some modern Fujifilm gear in both X and GF mounts, and suspect I will have success with that – nothing confirmed as yet, but Fujifilm is generally good about press loaners. I’m not at all sure I can get ahold of a test sample of the 50mm f1.0, although it would be very interesting with the large collection of 85mm lenses – it’s only a little shorter in effective focal length, and it has very similar depth of field characteristics. I should be able to manage some of the less exotic Fujifilm primes and zooms.
I’ve been trying to get in touch with Canon for some review samples – I’d love to have a long-term sample of the EOS-R5 body, along with a bunch of their glass for shorter visits. Canon, if you’re reading this, get in touch… As is true of any mount, my interest would include some basic lenses like either the 24-105 f4 or 24-70mm f2.8, the 15-35mm f2.8, the 70-200mm f2.8 and the 85mm f2 (they only other primes they have right now are three f1.2 lenses, two f11 telephotos ), along with some exotics like the f1.2 primes or the 24-70mm f2.0. One or both of the 600mm f11 or 800mm f11 would be a lot of fun, although I’d like to try some more conventional teles as well.
I’d be very open to bringing an L-mount body or two and some glass through here as well, although I’m concerned about L-mount’s market position in a way that I’m not about Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm or Canon.
I’m hoping to get several long telephotos in both Nikon and Sony mounts through here as fall progresses, ranging from the sub $1000 Sigma 100-400mm up to the wonderfully compact $3500 Nikkor 500mm PF, and including several of the very good $1500-$2500 zooms. These are the lenses that a serious photographer who wants a good long lens, but does not specialize exclusively in wildlife or sports is likely to buy. The exotic long telephotos – anything from a 300mm f2.8 on up – are nearly impossible to get as test samples, and they’re all so good that it makes little sense to try a bunch of them. Their real market is people for whom that’s their bread-and-butter lens. If you’re shooting sports or wildlife every day, a $10,000 lens makes sense. The rest of us are likely to use a good midpriced zoom, or perhaps something like a Nikon PF prime.
If you need one of the exotic primes, pick your focal length and aperture, and buy or rent your manufacturer’s version (or mutter perplexedly if you need a Sony G-Master 300mm f2.8). I would love to get ahold of one of the exotics as a reference to compare the more compact and more affordable lenses to – it doesn’t matter if it’s Nikon or Sony, nor exactly which focal length it is, just like I have a Zeiss Otus in the mix of mid-focal length lenses… All the long lenses will see the Snow Goose migration at Dead Creek in Addison, VT, a couple of towns over from here, and one of nature’s real miracles.
Just for starters, here are some center crops (at or near f4 – the little Nikkor DX lens is f4.5 at 85mm) from a bunch of lenses on the Vermont Lens Test. All are actual pixels. Later articles will, of course, feature aperture series, edge crops and actual photographs – but this just shows a whole lot of lenses quickly.
Let’s start with a bunch of 85s…
Some Primes at other focal lengths