Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Smallrig L-Bracket for Nikon Z6 Review

front view of the bottom plate.  The 2 screw holes are for an accessory bracket that can support the FTZ adapter.  This bracket is sold separately.

Extra gripping and camera protection have been on my mind here lately.  There are a lot of options out there of varying degree - quality, price, materials.  So many that it can be daunting.

What I have been doing is analyzing what it is I need and going in that direction.  For the Olympus PEN-F, I've just wanted something to protect the bottom plate from getting scratched up, same as the Nikon Df.  The Nikon Z6 was slightly different in that I wanted to have something that would add a little more vertical grip to the camera.

Final decisions were made on that basis.
 
How will the Smallrig L-Bracket perform?

Bottom rear showing the arca swiss ridge and centering indicator


First Impression/Unboxing

Even though the Nikon Z series mirrorless cameras have not been out for that long, there are quite a few l-brackets out there for it.  Most l-brackets are about the ability to connect the camera to an Arca Swiss compatible tripod head.  What I wanted for the Z6 is to add a little extra vertical grip to it.   A lot of the top makers left this area off, more than likely to cut down on weight that would be added to have metal across the entire bottom of the camera.

That omission is the reason a lot of the more well known brands were removed from consideration.

Price was also a factor, as the other brands also were, in some cases double the price or more and some were not even tailored to the camera, they were more the universal type.

Not only did I need the extra grip, I had a requirement that the battery compartment be open and not obstructed.

At $69, the Smallrig l-bracket for Nikon Z hit all the marks on paper.  The problem was that no one local had one. Smallrig's reputation is good online and their camera cages and other l-brackets get good reviews as well.  I decided to take the chance.

I ordered from Smallrig, located in China.  The item was listed as back-ordered.   Within a few days, though the item had shipped via FedEx and I received the item within 3 days after item marked as shipped.  Impressive!

I received a small non-descript brown box.  Opening the box, you get a pamphlet from Smallrig as well as the l-bracket, wrapped up very well in 2 layers of bubble wrap.

The fit and finish is excellent.  There is not a blemish on this thing.  It is solid feeling well worth the asking price.

bottom, you can see additional tapped slots for connecting standard tripod attachments or in my case a BlackRapid ConnectR.  You can also see the allen wrench at the bottom as well.


Installation

Smallrig includes an allen wrench with the l-bracket.  Not only that, but the bottom plate houses the wrench and holds it in place via a magnet system.  Very clever.

Before installing, I removed the side bracket.  I didn't want that part, only the bottom plate.  I wasn't sure if the side bracket was removable, so I did inquire about this via email to Smallrig before the order.  They very quickly responded and informed me that the side bracket is indeed removable.

Using the supplied screw and allen wrench, the bottom plate was installed quickly and easily.    It couldn't be any easier than this - which I'm sure every l-bracket is probably just as easy.

this is the area where the side plate of the l-bracket should be


Feel In Hand

Every edge is smooth, not a rough edge anywhere.  The bracket gives plenty of distance for your pinkie to rest on it without falling off the edge.

I really do not notice any additional weight either.

This things is darn near perfect!  It is 100% what I wanted.

It also gives plenty of clearance for the FTZ adapter.  In actuality, the bottom of the adapter does not touch the table top when the Smallrig is installed.

grip side.  Looks like some kind of lanyard or strap slot perhaps?


Final Thoughts

I will start out by saying that I will definitely be looking to Smallrig in the future if I ever need/want another l-bracket or camera cage.

This stuff is quality all around and the prices good.  Customer service is top notch.  I would not hesitate to recommend Smallrig products in the future.

If there are any additional questions about the product, drop a comment below and we can discuss.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Gariz Half Case For Nikon Df


I've really been seeing the benefit of l-brackets and half cases lately.  I originally got my first half case for the Olympus PEN-F, reviewed on this site previously.    Then, after getting the Nikon Z6, I needed a little more vertical grip and bottom protection so snagged a Smallrig l-bracket for it.  Review of that setup can be found here on this site soon.

I did try a half case, the Kinokoo brand from Amazon for the Z6 but it fell short of expectations.  A full review of that can be found here on this site, coming soon.

I saw the reviews and sample images of the Gariz, but wasn't sure if the $114 retail cost was going to be worth it.   The PEN-F case for $14 was an incredible value and the Smallrig l-bracket was $70 and the Kinokoo was $20.

I did a little hunting around the web and found that the Gariz half case for the Nikon Df was available used from Adorama.  Total cost, shipped was $50.

I noticed that there was some brassing of the bottom plate on the Df, so I wanted to get something to protect it.  I did not have a grip issue on the Df, so that was not a major consideration.
   
How will the Gariz half case fair?  Is it worth the $114 price tag at full retail?


First Impression/Unboxing

Being used, the Gariz did not come in the original packaging that I;very heard described elsewhere.  Adorama did package the half case in 2 layers of bubble wrap and shrink wrapped plastic.

Removing it from the packaging, the leather on the it looked in perfect condition as does the interior felt like material.  The only sign of use was some small scratches and imperfections on the bottom aluminum plate.

The build quality seemed top notch upon first inspection.


Installation

This is a very simple operation.  Just line up the tripod mount hole at the bottom of the camera with the half case and screw in.  No special tools needed because the connecting bolt has a connected handle for tightening it down.  Just in front of the connecting bolt is another 3/8" screw hole for connecting to a tripod or other such accessories.


Feel In Hand

The fit and finish are just great.  The case slides on and is snug around all connects points.

The feel of the case is solid and natural in the hand.

The issue I had with the Kinokoo case on the Nikon Z6 was the grip area.  It protruded out too much.  Made holding the camera feel weird.  The Gariz case does nothing have that issue on the Df.  It enhances the feel of the camera and that is a welcome thing.

The bottom is similar to the Minico half case for the Olympus PEN-F.  There is a door at the bottom that allows access to the battery compartment and SD card.

It is a little more difficult to extract the memory card, but not the battery.


Final Thoughts

I definitely appreciate the protection and feel that the Gariz half case provides.  If we look at the question posed from the beginning, which was "is the case worth $114USD?"  Well, this is one of the best half cases I've come across.  I'm not sure that you could find a better one for the Df.  I didn't really want an l-bracket for it.

I think the MSRP is probably double what I would want to pay new.  $75 seems more right to me.
I'm glad I found this half case at the used price I did.   If a half case is what you want, I can highly recommend this one.  I'll leave it up to you to decide if the price is worth it to you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Minico Half Case For Olympus PEN-F


Way, way back a few years ago I had the great fortune of being able to meet up with one of the members of a forum I frequent.  Paul from mu-43.com was looking to buy my Olympus EM1.2 and since he was going to be in town we decided to meet and proceed with the sale.

While there, he showed me his Olympus PEN-F and I noticed that he had a half case on his.  We both own the silver and black PEN-F variant.   The topic came up about how the silver finish appears to be a little less durable than the all black and that Paul just got an inexpensive half case to protect the bottom plate of his camera.

From what Isaw, it seemed well made and fit the camera well.  So, I decided to investigate getting a half case of my own.

Scouring Amazon, I found the Minico Half Case for PEN-F.  $13.99USD.
     
How does the Minico half case fair?


First Impression/Unboxing

Taking it out of the packaging, you get the half case and the tripod screw for attaching it to the camera.  An added bonus is that it also comes with a leather-like wrist strap to attach to the neck strap lugs on the camera.  I've never used the wrist strap from this set.

I opted for the dark brown.  I probably would have gotten the black if they had one....but the dark brown is close enough.

The bottom is rigid and covers the entire bottom of the camera.  It has a small door with a metal button clasp to allow access to the battery compartment.

The ports side comes up just a bit but does not obscure the doors of the PEN-F.

On the grip side, the the leather comes up about half way up the grip and wraps around.

There is also an additional tripod socket hole built into the screw that attaches the half case to the camera.


Installation

This is a very simple operation.  Just like up the tripod mount hole at the bottom of the camera with the half case and screw in the supplied bolt.

Feel In Hand

The fit and finish are just fine, especially for only spending $14 on it.

This is my first half case on a digital camera and I was not sure how I was going to like it.  I did like it, with extended use.    My biggest concern would be with the grip section.  It sits reasonable flat, but up enough to enhance the grip on the camera.  I'd still not trust it enough to hold it with one hand with a bigger lens and no wrist strap...but it does enhance and not detract.

The big thing that I wanted it for was protection of the bottom of the camera and it does that without sacrificing handling or access to the battery and memory card compartment.


Final Thoughts

Sometimes you need to spend a decent amount of money to get quality.  In this instance, the $14 was more than sufficient to do what I wanted it to.  Since my goal was really just to protect the camera bottom plate.  If you are looking for something to enhance the handling of add a grip to the front of the camera, then I recommend looking for some other grip attachment or case that has a more pronounced grip section.

However, I will give this case a thumbs up for its intended purpose. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Nikon Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8S Lens Review


Background

We dig deeper into the new Nikon Z mount with the purchase of the new Nikon 35mm f/1.8S prime lens.

Is it as good as others have said?   How does it stack up against other mirrorless prime lenses in the same focal length and field of view? 

Let's go on that journey together and find out!



Handling/Size/Weight

Compared to other 35mm prime lenses in the Nikon ecosystem, this one is actually larger than most.  However, do not let the size of the lens lead you to believe that it is a heavy brick.  Surprisingly, in hand, this is a light lens.

top down view of the Nikon Z (left) and Nikkor-S Auto manual focus lens (right)

side view of the Nikon Z (left) and Nikkor-S Auto manual focus lens (right)

This is a metal and plastic construction, with a very simple layout.   You've got the control ring that can be used for manual focus, ISO control, exposure compensation among other things.   This ring takes up most of the lens exterior.

The only other option on the lens is the auto or manual focus switch.

The control ring is easy to use and has a smooth operation.
On the Z6, it balances well.

The lens comes with a hood that clicks into place with a positive action and I have no fear of it coming off the lens by accident.

My only concern with the metal focus rings is using them in cold weather.   Not that the metal itself is an issue, I'm thinking more about the shooter!   If you don't want to use gloves while shooting in cold weather, it can be a challenge on your fingers holding that metal with bare skin.


Weather Sealed

Nikon made all their initial Z mount lens offerings weather sealed, and it is my understanding that they are to the same level as the Z6 and Z7 bodies.  I've not had a reason to use the lens in inclimate weather.  I have not personally tested the weather sealing, but I have no reason to doubt it's effectiveness.

Image Quality

Having used quite a few 30mm to 35mm lenses in my day, including the Nikon 35mm f/2D, 35mm f/2.8 Nikkor-S Q both of which are capable lenses - they are not in the same league as the Z-Mount prime.

Even shooting at f/1.8, this lens reminds me of the joy I experienced the first time I used my Micro Four Thirds primes.   More than acceptable sharpness wide open.  Shooting at f/1.8, you have more of an issue worrying about having sufficient depth of field on your subject than you do losing sharpness, especially if you are close to the subject.

This lens is SHARP, no doubt about it. 

Not only is it sharp in the middle, but edge to edge we found no major issues with the copy we have.   In the same way that we were pleased with the edge to edge performance of the 24-70/4S, this lens is just putting its money where it's aperture is and delivers every time.

You know what time it is!  Time to put the images front and center and give you the opportunity to determine for yourself what you think.

The below 2 images show the ability of the lens at wider apertures,  Given the close focus range, you can see in these images that the depth of field is small, but the in focus areas are indeed sharp.  Thanks to Kylo and Ren below for being unwilling models.

The day I bought this lens, it was non-stop rain for the entire day, so these are my first shots.  :)
I did process these images for the look I was wanting, so just take into account that these are not straight out of camera JPG or RAW.

I believe that a review of images should be about what the lens/camera/system is capable of producing.  Straight out of camera(SOOC) is a good baseline, but you can get a ton of those kinds of samples elsewhere - and you've probably already done so.

1/100, f/2.5, ISO 7200

1/60, f/2, ISO 1600
1/400, f/2.2, ISO 100

1/200, f/1.8, ISO 100

1/6400, f/1.8, ISO 100


Focusing

As mentioned about the 24-70/4S in z mount, the AF is quick and silent.   When first using it, there is a moment when you do not realize that it is in focus...and I'm sitting there waiting to hear the AF motor whir or the VR to kick in.  Yeah, both are silent.  Something to get used to for sure.

Even in very low light, from f/1.8 to f/2.8, this lens and the Z6 focused with little to no fuss.  Yes, as with any system the AF was a bit slower in lower light, but I would not call it slow or pokey.

This may be more about the Z6 than the Z35mm f/1.8S, but when I did the portrait shoot, I used the auto area AF mode with face detect.  I shot over 250 images during that multi location portrait shoot and when I went back to see what was in focus and what was not - I found 2 in total that were not.  That's not a bad hit to miss ratio.

Even in lower light, I had to be more aware of slower shutter speeds introducing blur than I did the AF.

Using the face detect AF, as soon as my model was in view, the green box snapped onto her face.  It made portrait shooting more efficient and the fact that I don't have to worry that the AF is off is great.

I will admit that I have never used the eye AF features available on other cameras.  They very well might be better, but in this implementation on the Z6, having the face and eyes in focus was good enough for my needs.


VR

No VR in the lens, IBIS in the camera body will give you 5 axis IBIS.  This seems to work well and as advertised.  No complaints.  Again, this is more about the Z6 than the lens.


Bottom Line

I debated whether to get this lens or not.  I have some friends that really like the less expensive f-mount FX 35mm f/1.8G.  They are getting great results with that lens and the FTZ adapter.  I was hooked on this lens when I was given the opportunity to test it out with the local camera stores demo model.

I, for one, am on the bandwagon that will sing the praises of this lens.  35mm may not be the focal length for you, but if it is then this is one of the best 35mm f/1.8 lenses that I've ever used and highly recommend it.

If you are on a budget or are just not a big prime user, but want to have one around for those times when you'll need light gathering ability faster than the native 24-70/4 can offer, then you might want to pursue looking at adapting f-mount AF-S and G options.   We've done that very thing with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and are satisfied with the results.

Let's answer the question I asked initially.  Is the Z35mm f/1.8S worth it?  In my eyes, yes it is.  So far, employing it in an environmental portraiture capacity in low light, it did very well and I'm not sure I would have been happy with just the f/4 on the Z24-70mm or even the f/2.8 of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G adapted.

1/40, f/1.8, ISO1250 

1/80, f/1.8, ISO 800 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Lens Organization With Brother PTH-110 Label Maker




As you've probably noticed from the many reviews posts in the past about the many manual focus lenses, I've acquired quite a few lenses.

When deciding which lenses to pick for the day, I realized that either mount up or mount down, they all seemed to blur together.   I'd too often need to pick up each lens and look at the inside of the front element (especially for the older manual focus only lenses) to know which was which.

Right around November, I saw that Amazon was having a sale on label makers.  This usually $25 Brother PTH110 model was $10 off.

Because I knew I would have more than one reason to use it, I picked it up.

Now, I placed identifying labels on the rear lens cap of each lens.  This makes finding what I'm looking for rather trivial now.

Never underestimate the power that a $15 purchase can have on simplifying life.

Sure, it doesn't save me a ton of time, but sometimes you are in a hurry and every last second could count.

The other benefit of this labeling system is quick identification in your camera bag.