11.06.2016

The Sony 50mm FE 1.8 is just right on the A7ii.

Choreographer for Zach's "A Christmas Carol." 

It was Saturday afternoon. I could sit alone in my office and keep refreshing Nate Silver's 538 website to see how the election polls were changing or I could pack a couple of cameras into my little Tenba backpack and head over to the theater to watch a choreography rehearsal for one of the holiday musical plays. I chose the sane option and got packing. 

In days of yore I was far too busy schlepping Ben around to various activities on Saturdays to ever have time to attend early rehearsals of Zach productions. I'd arrive on the evening of the final dress rehearsal and shoot the images for press and marketing cold. No clue what would come next or how each dance number might end. It's not the optimal way to do good photography. One of the things we emphasize to advertising clients is the importance of pre-production and scouting. Now I've got the time to do that with my theater clients too.

I didn't have anything specific in mind, image-wise, but I did want to get the feel of being totally immersed in the rehearsal. The actors were working with the show's choreographer for most of the afternoon so I pulled my two cameras out of my pack and got them set up. A 70-200mm on one body and a nice, pedestrian 50mm f1.8 on the other. I'd watch while, see something I liked and then wait for the next round of that rehearsal. The beautiful thing about shooting a production early on is that, unlike the final shows leading up to the opening, when you see something you think is cool you can be sure you'll see it again and again as the actors work to get the moves and timing right. It's much easier to put yourself into the right position to get a good photograph once you know what to expect.

Shooting with a 50mm is sweet because when you get close to a foreground subject, like the choreographer above, you get this wonderful feeling of depth in the image. Part of it comes (in this instance) from shooting close to wide open (f2.2-2.5) but another factor is the relative size relations as your eye wanders back through the frame. 

Because this was an early rehearsal and none of the images I shot as "notes" were mission critical I played around more with cameras settings. In my advertising work I tend to enjoy tight control of all camera parameters. Manual exposure and usually manual focusing are a given. I rarely get to practice with all the AF modes on my cameras but I'm getting more adventurous. Today I set the A7ii to continuous AF with a wide area. I also took a chance by setting my taking aperture at f2.5. That set a higher bar for the camera's focusing system. I had a custom button set up for focus locking so I wasn't totally without a pair of water wings...

Another thing I did, which I would not do on an ad shoot, was to set the shutter speed to 1/160th to help freeze motion and to set the ISO as above. The only thing I used to vary exposures was the Auto ISO setting and the exposure compensation dial. I was a bit nervous in situations where I saw the ISO ramping up toward the 4,000 to 6,400 range but as I kept reminding myself, these were just visual "notes" to set me up for the final rehearsal in a couple of weeks...

I came away from my afternoon at the rehearsal with a bunch of fun shots. I've edited down from 600+ to about 211. Most just required a little pop via the clarity slider in Lightroom or a nudge on the shadow slider. Everything looked pretty good even though the lighting in the rehearsal space can only be described as DISMAL.  When I peep at shots made with the cheap Sony 50mm ($199?), shooting close to wide open, I am very pleased that I haven't thrown down hard cash on one of the more expensive models in the 50-55mm range from Zeiss.

This inexpensive lens is very nice and very capable. I'll save the difference in price between it and the super star lenses and buy myself a new set of tires. The set of Continentals that came with the car is past its prime and our tread wear indicators are smiling at me. I have my eyes on a set of Michelin tires at Costco but no idea if any one brand of tire is actually better or worse than another. Perhaps someone out in VSL land is a tire aficionado???
Chime in if you disagree on my tire choice...

So, back to the photography. I thought I'd be shooting so much more with the longer zoom but, to be honest, except for single portraits, I am getting a bit tired of compression for the sake of compression. Relaxing the frame and getting physically closer felt just right. Who knows? I may bend as we continue onward and even starting using something ridiculously wide, like a 35mm.  But that strikes me as a bit radical. Anyway, props for a cheap Sony lens. It's about time. Now, perhaps they would consider re-releasing that wonderful Alpha 85mm f2.8 in an FE mount. I might even cry tears of joy....

10 comments:

Art in LA said...

It's good to know that a $200 "nifty 50mm" works well. I still want to get a full-frame body one day, but the cost of the lenses (or LA-EA4 adapter) holds me back. An A7 + 50mm seems like a nice old school walkaround combo.

I remember the old camera store ads from the 1970s (usually the sports page) that bundled an SRT-101 (a full-frame camera!) + Rokkor 50 1.4. I wonder what those kits cost today, adjusted for inflation? My brothers got the family SRT-101s, so I used a Minolta XE-7 + 50 1.4 throughout college and beyond. I miss those days, but I still use that Rokkor lens on my NEX-6. I'll get an A7 one day, when I can buy one with a 50mm FE lens for under $1000.

Regarding tires, we have a set of Michelin Defender XT tires from Costco on our 2012 CR-V. I used to go to the smaller tire retailers because of their broad selection and price points. But, with Costco, you can trust that they will have the higher quality choice at a good price. The primary reason we go with Costco Tire is because I know there are tons of Costcos locations in case we need help somewhere while traveling. Costco has many more locations than the tire-only retailers.

If you want reviews and information about tires, try tirerack.com ...

Gato said...

I find myself hitting fivethirtyeight about 3 or 4 times a day lately. This election is not good for my blood pressure.

Another vote here for the 85 2.8. The A7 lineup needs a smallish, affordable lens somewhere in the 85 to 105 range.

I've had the 50 1.8 for about a week but only really used it once. First impression is very nice image quality but slowish focus with lots of hunting. I was almost ready to send it back, but guess I'll give it another chance after seeing how well it's working for you.

Kirk Tuck said...

Gato. I find that Xanax is pretty good for election jitters. Be sure you upgrade the firmware, it speeds up the AF and calms the hunting a bit. Optically, a very good lens.

Mike Rosiak said...

Tire Rack for comparison shopping.

Just got back from a few hours of knocking on doors, guided by a "filtered" list of only known supporters. That's how GOTV works. The gratifying part is when people come to the door, smile, and shake your hand for doing the work.

Gato said...

Kirk -- Thanks for the tip. The firmware update does seem to help. Will give it a better trial tomorrow.

Will have to try the Xanax -- Wild Turkey is just not doing the job. :-)

Ravi Bindra said...

Tyres vary by handling by grip in the wet, tyre noise and fuel efficiency. In Europe these are rated in symbols from A-E.

Michael Matthews said...

It's difficult to get very aficionado about tires, but the basic Michelins sold by Costco (or, in my case, Sam's Club) have served well on our CRV.

That includes handling when having a blowout after some lunatic put a bullet through one of those expensive alloy rims and into the tire. The shot apparently was fired while traveling at low speed in a state park. The blowout occurred at highway speed later; the bullet had penetrated the rim but only partway through the tire casing.

Kirk Tuck said...

Damn, Michael, that's a great story. I went over to Costco yesterday and bought the Michelin Defender XT tires. 90,000 mile warranty and good reviews from all sources. I'm sure there are better tires out there but I'm equally sure I don't need them...

One hour and ten minutes from start to finish on a very busy day at the store. Pretty cool. Just enough time for a slice of combo pizza and the purchase of some new reading glasses. How exciting!

does everyone associated with VSL own a Honda CRV????

Are we all that practical?

Art in LA said...

Honda sells about 300K CR-Vs each year, definitely top 10 in annual US vehicle sales, right behind the pickup trucks that you Texans love. I'm surprised by the VSL-CRV correlation too, but yeah, maybe we are all that practical! Perhaps we like to spend a little less on our very reliable cars to let us spend more on camera gear?

Regarding tires, I don't think there are equivalents to Leica or Hasselblad tires ... consider your Defender XTs to be high-end adidas or Nikes for your car.

We have Defender XTs on our CR-V too. I don't think you will get near 90,000 miles unless you are an absolute stickler about monitoring your air pressure and keeping everything aligned and balanced. As they say in the car world, your mileage may vary.

James Pilcher said...

Tires? I have Cooper CS5 Touring on my van. I have used only Cooper for summer tires for years and years. Never a failure. Nice handling. Good price. Sort of like a Sony A7II.

While you do not need them in Austin, Michelin X Ice are the finest snow tires on the market. Then handling they offer on snow and ice in the Colorado high country is nothing short of phenomenal. For me, X-Ice tires are the automotive equivalent of the Olympus E-M1.2 or Nikon D5; takes the toughest weather and just plain performs.