Review: Billingham Bag for Leica M

There are currently numerous choices of camera bags on the market today. There are the basic nylon bags like Lowepro and then there are the higher-end bags like Billingham. I own and use both and both companies are good in their own way. In this review I will be looking at the Billingham for Leica M bag.

Leica bag for protection

This bag is about five years old. I purchased it to house my Leica M8, which I don’t own anymore. I kept the bag because it fits a standard sized DSLR with 24-70mm f2.8 lens perfectly, although there is not a lot of room inside with this combination. The bag is made out of two pieces of high-quality canvas with a waterproof membrane in-between them.

Exterior of the bag

Side of the bag

Left side of bag

Underneath gets very dirty

One of my main issues with the Billingham Leica bag, and in fact, most of the Billingham bags, is that they do not include feet on many of their bags. This creates an issue every time I set the bag down. Because of the light canvas material used these bags get very, very dirty. Billingham does include feet in some of their larger bags, but their Leica bag and the Hadley Pro, both bags I own and use, do not. I can’t help but thinking that without feet my expensive camera has a greater chance of getting hurt when I set the bag down on a hard surface. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid and the inside padding is enough to stop anything from harming my camera, but why take the chance? Just include feet that raise the bag up slightly and it won’t be an issue.

Leather straps

Leather wear and tear

By far my greatest issue with this bag and all of Billingham’s bags are the leather used for the straps. They incorporate a leather strap quick release stud system that is very handy and quick, but eventually the leather fails and there is no resistance between the small and large holes in the leather. The leather straps can easily be moved back and forth on the system. This does not instill confidence in the bag, especially when I have an expensive camera system inside and all that is stopping it from falling to Earth is a piece of worn leather. I’ve had the bag for five years, however, the leather wore out within the first year of use.

Billingham for Leica

Underneath the bag

Shoulder pad

The shoulder strap and pad is very comfortable and I’ve never noticed any issues with it.

Inside flap

Canon 5D Mark III inside

One thing to note is that I do not use this bag on my professional shoots. I use the Hadley Pro and Lowepro bags with my Saddleback to store my gear for my professional shoots. So this bag has not had hard use. I mostly use it while traveling as there are not many nice looking camera bags for people who don’t want to look like a photographer.

All in all the Billingham for Leica M bag is a brilliant bag. It’s made in England of high-quality materials and incredible workmanship. Although at $264.95 I would argue that this bag could be a lot better. I would be willing to spend a bit more to have a bag that I feel 100% confident with. But until someone develops a camera bag that is stylish, durable and highly-functional, I will stick with Billingham.

Review: Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC Lens

I remember when I began my photography passion, obsession some 17 years ago. Even then I can recall wanting the newest and the best equipment. To me, at that time, equipment was more important than anything else. I have since learned that training and experience is vastly superior to camera bodies and lenses. However, when I was younger I equated expensive gear with great results.

My first big lens purchase was a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L lens. I soon realized prime lenses were sharper than any zoom, so I bought a few primes. I shot everything with prime lenses, unless I was on holiday and then I would bring my Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens. Which was a brilliant lens, but for me, didn’t produce sharp enough results for anything other than holiday snaps. That was sold and a few more Canon L primes were bought. When I entered the field of wedding and event photography I tried using prime lenses for an entire year and found myself struggling markedly. It was a case of trying to obtain the sharpest images possible while also obtaining the images my clients wanted on the day. Using primes for wedding and event photography just doesn’t work. Not with my style of shooting anyway.

Shot with my 1st Canon 24-70mm f2.8 in 2006 on Canon 1D Mark II N

So, knowing I needed to sacrifice quality for obtaining the right shots, I began looking for a zoom lens that covered a large range from semi-wide to semi-telephoto and my natural choices were with a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L version I or version II and the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens. I did what everyone does when looking for new equipment, I turned to the internet. I watched all the comparison videos and looked at all the major photography websites that did comparisons.

It was clear to me that the new Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens was the king of the mountain. The absolutely best mid-range zoom you could buy. But, like all things in photography, it wasn’t. This new chap, the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens was half the price and had vibration control, Image Stabilization to us Canon shooters.

In my younger days I wouldn’t have given the Tamron a second glance. I would have simply gone for the lens that was the most expensive and optically the best. Which, there is very little question, the Canon is. But, when you make your living as a professional photographer, suddenly the most expensive doesn’t sound that great. It lowers your profit margin and at some point you have to look at what the best gear is for you. I decided on the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens and I haven’t looked back.

Shot with the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC Lens - Razor Sharp Middle!

Be warned, this is not a comparison between the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens and the Tamron, that has been done numerous times. This is a review of the one I chose, why I chose it and what the results have been since. Nothing infuriates me more than seeing a comparison website giving us samples of wrist watches and car wheels as examples of what a lens or camera can do. So I aim in this review to show you real life results, captured on the job, a job I was paid to do.

Right, so let’s get into it; why should you buy this lens?

What I like about the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens:

1. It is one of the sharpest lenses I have ever used. I’m not comparing zooms and primes here. This lens is razor sharp in the middle.

2. The Vibration Control is at least as good as Canon’s Image Stabilization if not a bit better. I have handheld this in dimly lit churches at 1/10th of a second with nearly tack sharp results at 100%. Nobody can produce a tack sharp image at 1/10th of a second handheld regardless of what they say. But it was sharp enough to look sharp on the screen. Which is good enough for most purposes.

3. I like the weight of this lens and the feel of it. It feels just like an L lens.

4. It’s weather sealed and even with some of the expensive L primes that isn’t always the case… uh hmm… Canon 35mm f1.4 for instance.

5. The lens hood goes on tightly and stays there.

6. There is limited vignetting, even though I love a bit of vignetting, I know some don’t.

7. There is a lens lock. Not that I ever use it, but it’s there for when you’re walking around don’t want it zooming in and out on it’s own.

8. It has a 5 year warranty. Much longer than Canon’s. However, having owned Nikon previously, their 5 year warranty came in handy, I used it twice on one lens. Whereas I have never had an issue with any Canon L lens. That is neither here nor there, but just something to think about. Do they give a 5 year warranty because they know something will happen, or do they do it just to be nice and they’re charitable?

9. The focus seems very quick and I’ve not noticed any lag like some other reviewers have.

What I dislike about the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens:

1. The zoom rotates in the wrong direction for Canon. It rotates the zoom right to left instead of left to right like Canon’s lenses. Meaning, if you have all Canon lenses and you change to the Tamron mid-wedding, or you have the Tamron on another body you will inevitably try and zoom left to right and it won’t let you. It only takes a second, but in that split second you could miss a crucial shot.

2. I truly hate how soft this lens is at the corners at f2.8. It’s not just the corners that are affected, it’s anything outside the middle. You wouldn’t notice on most shots, but try taking a group shot that fills the frame and you’ll see Aunt Bessie on the side, outside the middle, totally soft. “Well, just use a smaller aperture” you might say. Fair enough, but sometimes, you’re just shooting too quickly and you forget, or in England especially, you just don’t have enough light to go f5.6 or f8 and when you get home and put them on the big screen, they’re just not sharp outside the middle.

3. Lens distortion at 24mm is appalling. Doing group shots I have to straighten the image out in PS and sometimes I just can’t get everything to line up correctly. So it constantly looks like the people are leaning to one side, but the building, or whatever is in the background is straight. It’s a weird effect and I find it off-putting.

4. All of those issues are minor, really. 10 years ago I would have thought this lens was the best lens in the world. It’s an incredible machine and I’ve taken some of my best photos with it. However, this lens lacks one major thing. An almost intangible thing, really. A certain je ne sais quoi that Canon L glass has that this does not. I cannot define it and I certainly cannot show you in any sample images. Let us just say that, even with the old Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L lens you felt like a National Geographic photographer. In fact, when I first purchased that lens back in 2006 and I went to Europe with it and took my first few shots, I said to myself, “Ah! That’s how National Geographic photographers get their shots.” All L glass has that je ne sais quoi. That certain something that you can’t explain and is wholly intangible. That being said, I still believe the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens is a real winner.

Distortion at 24mm. Look at the Chimney on the Right.

Distortion at 24mm with Softness at Edges

Who should buy it and who should save their pennies and buy the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens?

That is a difficult question and one that I can’t truly answer. If you don’t have the money buy the Tamron and you’ll most likely be very pleased with it. I have been this whole past year I’ve been shooting with it. Having not used the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens personally I can’t really recommend it. I will be using it for my weddings and events next year though. Why? It is that je ne sais quoi again. I just miss L glass. Maybe I’m still the same as I was when I was younger. Maybe I am a slave to the newest, the latest and greatest. Or maybe Canon really do have something special in their L glass that nobody else has.

You will have to judge for yourself.

Finally, if you’ve liked this review and are purchasing this lens, please do so using the link below:

Canon 1Ds Mark II More Thoughts After Use

I have been shooting with the Canon 1Ds Mark II as my backup for about a month now. If you read my previous post you know that I am and always have been a really big fan of this camera.

But how has it been faring after a few shoots in totally different circumstances?

In the last couple of weeks I have done a wedding and a couple of engagement photography shoots. I’ve also done a kid photo shoot chasing them around finding Easter eggs as well as personal shoots for my own use. Each of these shoots has its own set of issues and I wanted to put the Canon 1Ds Mark II through its paces.

How did it do? Very well! It’s not perfect though. Here are my main issues as well as, what I feel, are its main strengths. Some of these were brought up in my previous post, but not everyone would of read that.

• The LCD screen. I said it before and I’ll say it again, this thing is nearly useless! Colors are off, sharpness doesn’t reflect the actual sharpness of the image and I always think I’m shooting soft only to come home, load up the images and they’re razor sharp.

• The buffer on the 1Ds Mark II is tiny. I mean TINY! Shooting quick successive images in RAW is nearly impossible unless you’re willing to wait quite a few seconds for the preview image to show up on the LCD screen. I totally understand why Canon decided to make both a full frame and cropped frame 1D series camera. The 1D is for action and the 1Ds is for studio. The 1Ds Mark III however and the even newer 1Dx don’t have buffer issues, which is probably one of the reasons why Canon has gotten rid of the cropped frame 1D and merged both the 1D and 1Ds into the 1Dx. They now have the technology to make both a huge resolution sensor and fast buffer. There’s just no need for a cropped sensor anymore.

• Unless you buy the 1Ds Mark II with its original battery, which will most likely be old and not able to hold a good charge, or you buy a new Canon battery, the NP-E3, you’re going to be very unhappy with the after market batteries made for this camera. They don’t seal correctly on the housing and instead they leave a small gap about the size of the thickness of a quarter, or 50p piece if you’re using English money. This totally voids and negates all the benefits of buying this weather resistant, weather sealed machine. This might feel like a moot point, but I don’t think it is. Looking around on eBay I found dozens of sellers advertising their 1Ds Mark IIs with new batteries only to find, upon closer inspection, that they were almost all after market batteries. I’ve had to spend the money to buy a new Canon battery for my 1Ds Mark II because I just couldn’t handle seeing my gorgeous camera with a small sliver taken out of it where there weather proofing was supposed to go.

Notice the sloppy fit on the after market battery!

• Images even at ISO 100, when zoomed in 100%, are grainy. Totally reminds me of when I would scan in my Fuji Provia film. The images at 25% and 50% were smooth, fine images, but once you get in close grain is prevalent. It’s not a bad thing and I actually kind of like the look. I’ve found that with the 5D Mark II my images are sometimes too grain-less and too razor sharp. Every spec and impurity shows up in huge detail. But it’s something to be wary of before you buy this. If you were born into digital photography and have only known grain-less images, you’re probably not going to like the images the 1Ds Mark II makes. If however, your favorite photographer is Henri Cartier-Bresson, you will love it!

Ok, now onto the things I love:

• Silly, insanely fast auto focus. I recently showed the 1Ds Mark II to a pro photographer friend of mine, she uses the 5D Mark II, and she put her finger on the shutter button and pressed really lightly just trying to engage the auto focus. Before she even had time to fully compose her shot the camera had auto focused and fired off a shot. All I heard from her was, “Ah! Oh, wow!” And that’s the way I feel about it’s auto focus.

• Weather sealing! I recently did a shoot in Brighton and the weather was supposed to be awful. Luckily it wasn’t, but knowing I had a fully weather-proof camera and L lens really put my mind at ease. I wouldn’t dare take my 5D Mark II out in that kind of weather.

• It just feels right in my hand. Owning the 1Ds Mark II and the 5D Mark II I find myself reaching for the 1Ds Mark II far more than the 5D Mark II. That isn’t to say I think it’s a better camera, it’s not. The 5D Mark II is one of the world’s greatest machines. I just like the feeling the 1Ds Mark II gives me. It’s the difference between buying a used Audi S4 with its 4.2 liter V8 engine and the newer V6 model. There is just something about the sound of the engine, that throaty groan when you throw it into 6th gear and fly past that Corvette. It’s just a nice feeling and even though the newer S4s are a better car, better handling, bigger, better on consumption, etc. you still love that V8 sound. I love the sound the shutter makes when it’s taking a shot. I love that I can throw it over my shoulder and have it hit something and not scratch or break. I love the weight and the feel of it in my hand. I just plain love it.

It’s not for everyone and I wouldn’t tell anyone to sell their 5D Mark II to get this. I would say though, if you’re in the market for a backup, or have just switched from zoom to prime lenses and need another body to extend your range and stop you from having to switch lenses every 5 minutes like me, go for the 1Ds Mark II. It is cheaper than a 5D Mark II and you’ll be able to use it in a hurricane!!

Better yet, if you have the money, buy the 1Ds Mark III and forget everything I just said. Because that has all the best points of the 1Ds Mark II and none of the weaknesses. But personally, even if I had the money, I’d stick with the 1Ds Mark II. It’s really a great machine and a hell of a bargain!

***UPDATE*** After shooting with the 1Ds Mark II for the whole of the 2012 wedding season, I decided to sell it and grab another 5D Mark II to use as my second, which at it’s current price since the release of the 5D III is a bargain. The 1Ds II is a beautiful machine and very capable, but the noise at high ISOs was killing me. The LCD was just too hard to read any data from it and I couldn’t make decisions I was happy with using the LCD as a preview. It constantly had me second guessing my images. The buffer… again, just frustrated me too much. And with the 5D Mark II being so inexpensive, I now think there is a new bargain camera on the market. Perhaps the biggest bargain we have ever seen in digital photography.

Canon 1Ds Mark II Review

Taylor w/ the Canon 1Ds Mark II

In 2005, when I was still an amateur photographer, there was one DSLR that I dreamed of having but couldn’t possibly spend the money on; the Canon 1Ds Mark II. At a price of $8,000 or £6,000 it was way out my budget. In fact, it was way out of most photographers budgets, pro and non-pro alike.

The Canon 1Ds Mark II features a 16.7 megapixel sensor, a 2 inch 230,000 dot LCD screen, 45 point auto focus and is capable of 4 frames per second. A feature set that in 2005 was cutting edge. Seven years later those numbers seem quite antiquated. Especially when you can get a newer technology camera, say the Canon 7D for about the same price as a used 1Ds Mark II. The 7D goes for about £1,000, brand new! The 7D has an 18 megapixel sensor, a huge 3 inch 920,000 dot LCD screen and a burst rate of 8 frames per second. It also does HD video and has much better high ISO performance.

But it isn’t full frame. So, for me, it’s out!

The Canon 5D Mark II is my primary body. I can’t say a negative word about it. It’s nearly everything I’ve ever wanted in a digital camera. But when I needed to purchase a backup body, mostly to photograph weddings, I did my due diligence and chose wisely. I didn’t want another 5D Mark II as I shoot in bad weather constantly and the 5D Mark II has horrible weather sealing. Even the 7D is better weather sealed. I also wanted faster autofocus. If the 5D Mark II has any drawbacks it is these two: weather sealing and autofocus.

My options were: Canon 1Ds Mark III, with its giant LCD screen and the same sensor used on the 5D Mark II with 21.1 megapixels and costing, used, about £2,200. The Canon 1DX, I won’t even comment as it’s still brand new and very cost prohibitive to all but the wealthiest photographers. And then there’s the Canon 1Ds Mark II. The workhorse that many professional photographers lovingly used for a couple of years, including Annie Leibovitz. Well, if it’s good enough for Annie, it’s good enough for me.

Having done my research and not wanting to spend £2,200 or more on an extra camera body I sprung for the Canon 1Ds Mark II. My reasons are:

• The 1Ds Mark II at 16.7 megapixels is still an incredibly capable machine. I never shoot at full resolution unless I know my client if going to need giant enlargements anyway. For a wedding I shoot on RAW 1 or jpeg medium with the 5D Mark II and I shoot jpeg medium with the 1Ds Mark II at its highest quality. Images are huge and I don’t see any need to go larger. In fact, Canon seems to agree with this as they’ve made their new 1DX an 18 megapixel camera, which is a step down from its predecessor, the 1Ds Mark III at 21.1 megapixels.

• The autofocus on the Canon 1Ds Mark II is simply mind-blowing and when compared to the 5D Mark II it really shows why it’s part of the 1D series. Almost before I’ve pressed the shutter halfway down it’s already focused and ready to shoot. Sometimes it’s even faster than I am and I have to catch up to it. Sounds like a weird concept but it’s just that fast.

• I find it captures skin tone incredibly well. It reminds me of film actually, Kodak Portra, or Fuji Provia. It contains visible grain, something that people are trying to avoid like mad, but I think DSLRs are actually getting too good and the pixels are too clean. I like a little grain. Gives the image a bit more depth and flatters a bit more. Again, this sounds like a really odd thing. Most people want DSLRs that have NO grain even at ISO 3,200 and higher and here I am saying I prefer the look that the 1Ds Mark II gives with its grain. There are situations where I would prefer to use a higher ISO, something above the 1,600 on the 1Ds Mark II and for that I would definitely reach for the 5D Mark II. Food photography in dark restaurants for instance.

• Weather sealing. The Canon 1Ds Mark II is nearly waterproof. With an L series lens that has the rubber washer on the base it can be dropped into water and still come out ok. I haven’t tested this, but I have taken it out in the rain and I didn’t worry about it at all. There’s something nice about that. Knowing that even when the weather is bad you can keep shooting.

• Ability to write to 2 cards. This is a huge advantage, especially when photographing weddings. Because there are so many wedding photographers writing articles online to boost their page rank, the average person is much more clued up on what to look for in a wedding photographer. One of the main things these wedding photographers advocate is that whichever wedding photographer you choose has a backup camera or is writing to 2 cards, thus backing up every image they take. It also means I get to use all of those SD cards I bought at various times and for various point and shoot cameras.

In summary, this is not a direct comparison to the Canon 5D Mark II. It is simply my reasons why, if you’re on a budget and are looking for a second camera body, you should look into the 1Ds Mark II instead of doing what everyone else does and spending a fortune to get a machine that will lose 25% of its value the moment you purchase it.

Things aren’t all rosy with the 1Ds Mark II. There are a couple of features that I’d like to see on it, such as:

• A larger, high resolution LCD screen. The current one is just plain rubbish. The low quality 2 inch LCD screen on the 1Ds Mark II is almost unusable. It doesn’t show the image colors correctly and I’m constantly thinking I took a bad shot. However, having used film for 10 years prior to going digital I have a very good understanding of how to make a great image without a preview. It’s just nice to have it. I don’t even mind the size of the LCD screen actually, just the resolution. Awful!

• A self-cleaning sensor would be nice. I love knowing that every time I turn my 5D Mark II on and off it shakes some of the dust bunnies off the sensor and onto, well, someplace else. Only to return minutes later. But still, for a brief time they are redistributed.

• Better high ISO performance. Images on the 1Ds Mark II above 800 ISO are, how can I put this? Not that great! Anything below 800 and you’re dealing with some of the nicest files ever to come out of a DSLR, above 800 and you are going to have a lot of editing to do. I like grain, but not that much.

And that’s it really. So why didn’t I just buy the 1Ds Mark III then? It’s got everything I want on the list above? Price! I wasn’t prepared to spend £1,000-£1,500 more for a camera that didn’t have anything that would really enhance my images. After all, 8 years ago I owned the Canon 1V. A film camera with NO LCD screen, NO self-sensor cleaner (didn’t need it) and film at the time above 800 ISO was nearly unusable as well. I actually like taking a leap back in time and shooting with the 1Ds Mark II. It makes me feel that I won’t have to compulsively buy new equipment every 2 years. And I like having a camera that not many wedding photographers in Sussex have. Everyone shoots with the latest and greatest and here I am with my 7 year old Canon 1Ds Mark II creating images that are far superior.

If this camera does one thing good it’s this; it shows what a great photographer can do and it highlights what a bad photographer is bad at. You need to know your stuff to shoot with this thing. And, having spent 16 years doing this, I do.

I highly recommend this camera to any photographer needing a 2nd body. Let the other people take the hits on the newer gear and in 2-4 years pick that up for a fraction of the cost when new. It’s the smart way to play this new digital game.

***UPDATE*** After shooting with the 1Ds Mark II for the whole of the 2012 wedding season, I decided to sell it and grab another 5D Mark II to use as my second, which at it’s current price since the release of the 5D III is a bargain. The 1Ds II is a beautiful machine and very capable, but the noise at high ISOs was killing me. The LCD was just too hard to read any data from it and I couldn’t make decisions I was happy with using the LCD as a preview. It constantly had me second guessing my images. The buffer… again, just frustrated me too much. And with the 5D Mark II being so inexpensive, I now think there is a new bargain camera on the market. Perhaps the biggest bargain we have ever seen in digital photography.


1Ds Mark II is Great for Skin Detail

Images are Razor Sharp Even with Shallow Depth of Field


Canon 100mm f2.8 L Macro Lens: Never Ceases to Amaze Me

Every photographer has their own favorite lenses, camera bodies, etc. My favorite lens at the moment is the Canon 100mm f2.8 L Macro lens. Oh, don’t be fooled by the macro designation, this lens is a heck of a lot more than just a macro lens. It also does a brilliant job of being a portrait lens. The short telephoto range of 100mm is ideal for limiting distortion and achieving a pleasant, blurred background.

However, where this lens really shines, is up close and personal. It is capable of capturing just about anything, no matter how small. Take my watch, for instance; with the Canon 100mm f2.8 L Macro lens and some decent light streaming in from the window, I was able to capture every detail. Note the platinum bezel and face. Each brilliant microscopic piece of platinum is separated out and distinguished. You can even make out the small metal fibers around the letters inside the bezel, that wrap around the face. One of Rolex’s new security features. It might not be visible at these resolutions, but cropped to 100% you can see each and every metal shaving produced when the engravers stamped ROLEX.This lens never ceases to amaze me. It’s quite possibly the best lens Canon has ever made. I use it for food photography, portraits, macro and much more.

Commercial Photography Sussex Rolex Yacht Master

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