Today Peter from Leaf Benelux visited me and brought along a Leaf AFi 7 camera with two lenses a 90mm MF and the 180mm AF.
In my review I will be using those two lenses.
First what is the Leaf AFi 7 ?
With the Leaf AFi Leaf delivers a system that is very close to a fully intergrated system that operates seamlessly together making it for the photographer feel and act as a one piece camera. I say very close because however you look at it, it's no DSLR (and that can be a good thing).
The Leaf AFi consists of a body and a digital back and of course an extensive lenslineup.
Because the system is based on the Rollei system this is good news for owners of that camera and their lens collection.
Also it's good news for people who are broke after buying the AFi because they can start hunting the lenses on ebay for cheap and later upgrade to the new versions.
The system I'm using at the moment is the so called AFi 7 which boasts a 33MP digital back, at this time the largest available although the AFi 10 has just been announced which has a stunning resolution and a bigger sensor, I'm really looking forward to testing that one in time but for the time being I will concentrate on the AFi 7.
First the specs of the AFi 7
CCD size : 48x36mm
Speed FPM : 50
Resolution : 33MP
Pixel count : 6726x5040
File size TIFF : 190MB (16bits)
File size MOS / RAW : 63MB
Compresses MOS / RAW : 36MB
Sensitivity : 50-800 ISO
Dynamic Range : 12 stops
One focus point
The camera is powered by the normal Leaf batterypacks which are loaded in the grip and if you want (and I advise to do it) under the back when shooting on the card.
When shooting tethered the camera is powered by the firewire connection.
For the back I have some negative experience with the battery life of the Leaf battery packs, they run out in cold weather within 1-2 hours.
I use third party Samsung battery packs which are three times as heigh but they run app a whole day.
I recon the grip will use MUCH less power so you whould be ok with one battery in the grip and one third party for the back.
Look and feel
Somehow I'm always rather quick with getting used to a camera, manuals are fun for things that are not clear from the start and I strongly believe that if you NEED a manual something has gone wrong in designing the camera.
Of course I agree that you need to read the manual for the hidden features (in this case for example the focus trap (later more)) and the final understanding of the machine, but you should be able to pick it up and work with it from the start.
The AFi does not dissapoint in this.
The layout of the controls are basic and very easy to understand.
In short the controls are located on the left side of the camera and consist of a dial for shooting modes, metering and focusmethods.
Using the dials is one way of setting up the camera, but you can also use the red dot and access the more advanced settings in the menu which is shown on the grip.
More on the grip.....
With most cameras it's the way the manufactorer designed the camera that dictates how you should handle the camera.
With the Leaf AFi this is not the case, the grip itself can be positioned in four different settings, making sure there is always a comfortable grip option if you are using the prims or the wastelevel finder, for me this is a big plus when you are working alot with the camera, it can give you just that little extra in comfort.
But it all counts when we pick up the camera and start shooting.
The Leaf AFi is responsive and it feels almost like the camera knows what you are willing to do and does it for you.
Some cameras you have to work and they feel somewhat sluggish, the AFi is not that kind of a camera (and I don't mean it's pshychic).
The AFi that was delivered to me uses the wastelevel finder instead of a prism, if I would buy the system I would probarbly also buy the prism.
At the moment I use the 645AFD/III and the RZ67 ProII both with a Leaf Aptus22 digital back and although I love them both I have a bit of a preference for the RZ67Pro II, it was bought to play with film but over the last few weeks it has grown to be the main camera I use in the studio, I orginally planned on only using it with the waistlevel finder but I recently ordered a prism for it, for the following reason.
waist level finder
When working with a waistlevel finder there are some things you have to realise.
The image is stunning, it's large as it can get and the sense of depth is amazing, it's something that most students that look into my camera fall in love with (and to be honest it's one of the reasons I bought the RZ (and the wonderful cocking the shutter lever and shuttersound)).
On the WLF you will see the image first on the focus screen for composition according to the manual, for fine focus you can pop up the magnifier and fine tune focus.
Well for me it means I only use the magnifier, somehow I can't work with the focusscreen only I hate it, with the magnifier I see the whole image and I can focus much easier.
But when you see the picture something weird (well actually it's not weird) happens, the image is mirrored, meaning left is right and right is left.
When I bought the RZ67ProII I tried to shoot handheld the first two days and than gave up, the camera with the digital back is just not balanced enough for me to handheld the whole day, so I bought a studio stand (which I know learned to love) and when using that making compositions with the mirrored image is no problem.
The story changes a bit with the AFi.
Because the camera is wonderfully balanced (and I mean wonderfully) I did not find the need to shoot from the studio stand and when I don't need to I love to use it handheld, for portrait work this is not a real problem, for location work this is no problem, BUT.....
When working with a dark gray background and a pitchblack studio and low key lights and shooting full body with movement of the model in a rapid tempo I felt a little seasick after a few minutes, keeping the camera straight became a struggle of counteracting the way my brain would adjust the camera and before I knew it I was paying way too much attention to keeping the camera straight than to my model.
I decided to work a bit slower and it worked out fine, but for that kind of work give me a prism
That's not to say I hate a WLF, it gives me much more movement and communicating with the model is much easier without a camera in front of your face.
Also the lower angle from which you are shooting is a big plus of course.
The good thing is you can use both and changing takes less than a few seconds.
By they way, there is an option in which you can let the AFi show you if you have your camera level, but when I'm looking through the maginifier, taking notice of my model, taking care of composition and coaching my model I don't really have time to also check the level meter.
As with many things, for some photographers it's a gift for some it's a gimmick.
For me I will probarbly opt for the prism for the fast paced work, and the WLF for the OH effect and the sheer fun it is in portraits.
Landscape portrait landscape portrait
With a prism camera changing from landscape to portrait is a breeze, just tilt the camera and you're off.
With a WLF we have a problem, unless you know a little acrobatics (most of the time serious expressions will be out of the question from your models and your back will be hurting after a few days).
So with the WLF that has to be solved different.
In the case of the RZ67ProII this means setting a lever for R and rotating the whole back, setting the lever back again and you're shooting portrait (or landscape).
This is a very fast way and the back is never exposed to the outside world during the procedure.
If I have to find ONE negative thing about the AFi it's the way they solved it on the AFi.
To rotate the back you have to remove the back (exposing the sensor to the outside), rotating it and reconnecting it.
The button to release the back is FIRM, meaning you need both hands to operate it, because the back is a VERY expensive piece of equiptment this scares the living you know what out of me. In practice it's not as bad as it sounds but I won't be changing the postion on the beach I think (time to take up acrobatics..... or buy a prism)