Shift, shift, shift. Shift happens. The audiences change. The target changes. The content changes.

Remember those great American cars from the 1950's? They were enormous and had wonderfully rounded and sculpted lines. Five tons of rolling art. Back seats that doubled as beds. Infinite trunk space and so much more. My very first car was a 1965 Buick Wildcat. It had an enormous V8 engine, a hood that took up real estate and an air conditioner that could chill a six pack of beer between San Antonio and Austin. Not quite as voluminous as the 1950's Cadillacs but still formidable in its presentation.

Except for collectors we don't drive those cars anymore. Cars have evolved. Maybe not in a sexy direction but certainly in a more practical direction. Padded dashes replaced sweeping metal ones. Headrests and seat belts were added. As gas soared in price cars shrank in size and weight. The sexy lines of the body styles were replaced with "jelly bean" designs that are more efficient at moving through air.

These cost cutting and efficiency changes were partly a result of the 1950-1990's exodus by Americans to far flung suburbs which created Herculean commutes. Cars had to be cheaper to acquire and operate as families moved from owning one car to owning two cars and accumulating mileage at a dizzying rate. With the decline of small towns and compact cities it became impossible to commute by walking for most people. Now (with the exception of people living directly in downtowns) it's virtually impossible to go anywhere without a car. That moves the idea of the car away from an aspirational acquisition to a necessary commodity, which strips away the glamour and allure of owning and using them.

If the millennial generation is any indicator we won't be going backwards to big car worship any time soon. In fact, this rising generation is almost completely car indifferent. Makes sense that something like 90% of Corvette buyers and 80% of Porsche buyers are also getting ready to apply for Medicare.

So, when I went out to buy a car a few years ago I had three parameters on my radar: Good gas mileage. Reliability. The ability to put enough gear into the car to make it efficient for business. Gone was any desire for the 400 horsepower cars of my youth. Where could I drive them fast? Not in Austin. Too much traffic. Gone was my lingering nostalgia for my old Karmen Ghia. Where would I put that Pelican case full of LED lights? And the C-Stands? And the nine foot long roll of seamless paper? I bought a Honda CRV but I could have done just as well with a Jeep Compass or a Ford Escape or a Toyota Rav 4....

In decades past Texas photographers seemed to have a penchant for purchasing used (or New, if they were doing well financially...) Chevrolet Suburbans. The rationale was the sheer amount of gear they could load into the vehicle and still have room for an entourage of assistants. I wonder now if there are any clients left who really need photographers to show up with tons of gear and a gaggle of people to move it around. It seems so ---- inefficient.

But that brings me to photography in general. When I started shooting for fun, and then for money, the camera that the masses (and I) thought was the coolest thing to own in the imaging universe was the Nikon F2, with a big motor drive on the bottom. There were some zooms floating around but those were the days when we strived to arrive on our jobs with a shiny Halliburton suitcase full of prime lenses. Single focal lengths. And we didn't want to specialize so we felt like we had to carry a full range of lenses in order to be ready for anything. It wasn't at all rare for someone to arrive and open their steamer trunk-sized Halliburton to reveal lenses from 15mm to 400mm in closely spaced focal lengths. Something like: 15, 18, 20, 24, 28, 35, 50, 55(macro), 85, 105, 135, 180, 200, 300 and 400mms. No wonder we felt the need for assistants; especially when one considers that there were no wheels on those Halliburton aluminum cases...

With bags full of Kodachrome 25 slide film we also needed as much light as we could deliver to the film gate. Those were the days of 2400 watt second and 4,000 watt second Speedotron and Norman electronic flash systems that tipped the scales at 30 to 60 pounds. And that was just for the box, it doesn't consider the weight of cables and heads and stands and more.

And none of this was efficient. Not at all. With the extra people, and the mountains of gear to get from one location to another, or one room to another, a hard working professional might only get four or five set-up shots done in a day. Add models to the mix and the number of shots shrinks even more.

So, what is my point in recounting this stroll down memory lane? Just as we are paring down the size and inefficiencies of our transportation options it would seem, from looking at the photography landscape, that it makes sense to do the same with our cameras and our basic working tools. We can still get from point "A" to point "B" with more efficient gear, we'll just spend less money and less time getting results that reflect the targets at which we are now aiming.

Just as independent bricks and mortar book stores have disappeared from our daily environment so too have traditional portrait studios. I can no longer drive around Austin and see large, gold framed, 24 by 30 inch "master" portraits in mom and pop studio show windows. No more large and gaudy portraits of debutantes and pledge sisters. The saccharine, soft focus child's portrait with a field of bluebonnets in the background has disappeared as have most of the local labs that counted on gauzy, big canvases of heavily retouched portraits to make a profit. Gone except in the most depressed and backward areas. Relics of a different aesthetic period in our culture.

Along with the retreat of the big framed, canvas portraits is the retreat of diffusion filters. vignetters, posing blocks, posing tables, English countryside backgrounds. Weathered (plastic) brick backgrounds and all the trappings of conventional, last century portraiture. It's a similar view over on the commercial side. The portraits we do now are environmental, for the most part. The lighting is either what is present in the environment or a good, designed approximation of that light. The key to success is in making the images seem real. A slice of life. The ultimate ascendency of the "snapshot aesthetic" sometimes helped along by "supporting" light not obvious light.

I am rarely asked to shoot portraits for display anymore. Recently we did one for a utility company located in rural Texas. We were following a tradition in their offices but, with the arrival of a new CMO (chief marketing officer) that may be a thing of the past as well. No, most of our work is headed to websites. Microsite or pop-up online campaigns. Little of it ends up in printed magazines or brochures, and even less is destined for walls. We mostly get paid to deliver images for three targets: websites, trade show graphics, video displays. Many of these projects, I think, could be done with cameras like the Sony RX10iii which can handle a surprising variety of visual content creation needs. I'll confess that many jobs now can probably be done with the latest iPhone, with the value add being the styling, lighting, point of view and taste of the photographer.

Photographic jobs did not magically  grow in complexity, level of difficulty or sheer technical demand as the cameras have gotten better and better. In fact, we are at a point where we are still buying cameras to handle the memory of previous times and not really accessing them for the performances needed today. Products and portraits still need to be lit and composed well. They still need to be post processed correctly. But the need for hyper performance faded as post production creation blossomed.

We may still want, or be able to, continue to do the work the way we've always done it but I think it is smart to acknowledge that so much has changed and, along with it, the way we do the business of photography has changed. We charge now for what we know instead of how long we work or what kind of equipment we bring to bear. The client is licensing the look, not the machinery of production.

I've proven this to myself so many times in the last few years. It's the reason the Sony A7ii trumps the A7R2 for everyday use. I use the full frame camera not for the high resolution or the low noise but for the basic look that lenses provide on the full sized sensor. When I don't need or want that look there are many cameras with smaller sensors that work as well or better for specific tasks. To pretend that we spend our days shooting double truck print ads for very high production value magazines is self-defeating. Like trying to drop a 600 cubic inch engine into a Volkswagen Jetta for one's daily commute. At some point the suspension gives out. Or the post processing load becomes unwieldy.

Newer cameras may make some tasks easier but a well honed skill set makes jobs easier still.

The latest Zeiss (or fill in the blank with your favorite lens brand...) lens may make for sharp photos but I'm betting the discipline of using a tripod with your existing lenses will provide a lot more bang for the buck.

You don't have to change. But you should be aware that the photographic world is changing around you. I know this is an Olympic year and the focus is on the high end DSLR cameras made for capturing sports. But the other 98% of the market might (most probably) be better served adapting the newer technologies and formats in order to make their work the best it can be.While being affordable, portable and fun to drag around.

I like change. If I can add value to any camera then all change works for me. If I can't add value without a specific cameras system then I have become nothing more than an equipment rental house. No glory for me there.

Shift happens. It may mean your cameras become cheaper, lighter, easier to use and more fun. Can't see how fighting that makes for a good business strategy. We're all in the consumer culture together. The DSLR was an aspirational tool a few years ago. Now vision and knowledge are the aspirational tools and the cameras are just the conduits.  The big camera and the bag of lenses seems now a bit like a Member's Only Jacket or a Camaro with a hood scoop. No longer cool and coveted. Now just an ungainly tool. No wonder sales are dropping; we no longer need to bring "window dressing" cameras to work. Now we can just use what works for the projects in front of us.

The lights are still too big....

I look forward to reading about a photographer from a newer generation who ably does high end advertising photography work with nothing but a long focal range fixed lens camera. Something like a Panasonic fz 1000 or a Sony RX10ii. It would signify to me that his or her client was hiring based on a portfolio of well seen images or video and not the last century swagger of gear ownership.


An evening spent writing a personal review of the Sony A7ii in a small hotel in Baton Rouge.

While the most flexible and most Swiss Army Knife-like of my cameras is the RX10iii with it's great, long lens and remarkable 4K video, the camera that most matches my personal vision of the perfect personal camera is a different one. You would be forgiven for thinking it has to be the Sony A7Rii but you would be wrong. While the R-2 is a great camera the one I reach for to do my work is almost always its sibling, the A7ii. Plain vanilla personality with the ability to deliver great images.

Let's take a look at this one now, even though it's been on the market for a bit less than two years now. Especially since it's been on the market for nearly two years.

Like the A7Rii the A7ii is a small, mirrorless body that fits well in my medium sized hand. It feels dense and durable but is much smaller and lighter than the Nikon bodies I had been shooting with. In truth, it feels (and probably is) smaller and lighter than the RX10iii.  It's more the size of an M series Leica than a traditional DSLR. The camera has all the good stuff inside. The EVF is the same as the one in the A7Rii and it will make a believer out of most photographers, when it comes to electronic viewfinders. There is little to no perceptible finder lag in my style of shooting and both of the A7 cameras I own have finders that are able to give accurate indications of exposure with a much better correspondence with what I eventually see on my calibrated monitor at the studio. One of the reasons I switched systems was my inability to accurately judge the actual, optimal exposure on the back screen of my Nikon D810 or D750.

Along with the exposure accuracy I have been preaching the benefits of "pre-chimping" via EVFs since 2010. You can assess color shifts, contrast, effects and, of course, exposure as you are shooting, and even when you are just looking through your finder, lining up your shots. It's a time saver and a shot saver and eventually all but a handful of camera models will be "upgraded" to use this viewing system.

The A7ii is staid and boring and reliable. The images coming from the 24 megapixel imager have great color and a high degree of sharpness. There is supposed to be an anti-aliasing filter in the make up of the sensor module but it does little to diminish the overall sharpness of the system. I recently did a series of portraits using electronic flash and my one issue was the need to tame color aliasing in the fine fabrics of several mens' suits. This is an indicator of high sharpness. For nearly every use I have (in taking portraits) the 24 megapixel sensor is more than enough resolution, and that resolution is coupled with ample dynamic range.

I tend to use the A7R2 when there is no limit to the sharpness and resolution I think I'll need. It's the perfect camera for big group shots (lots of detail for every face) and technical images of products that potentially need to be produced at extreme sizes for trade show graphics. But the uncompressed 14 bit raw files are huuuuge. They take up a lot of disk space. They require a lot of computer horsepower to batch process.... And that's exactly where its less endowed sibling, the A7ii, comes in most handy. It's 95% of the image quality of its sibling in a file that's half the size. I'm comfortable using it for any portrait, no matter how big, and for most advertising images as well.

I never intended to use the camera for video work as I'd heard from various review sites that the 1080p (no 4K) files were nothing special. The implication being that the files were less than sharp or less detailed than other available, 1080p, options. One day I grabbed the A7ii body entirely by mistake (the A7x cameras are nearly completely intentional on the exterior) and used it to shoot an interview for a video project. When I realized my error I was very nervous about how the video would cut together with the "higher quality" materials I'd already shot on the RX10iii and the A7Rii. I was anxious until I got back to the studio and ingested the material into Final Cut Pro X. The video looked great. Absolutely great. The quality reinforced what I've believed for years: You can't take my word or anyone else's word for the performance of cameras. You have to test them yourself. You have to shoot them and look at the files. Everyone has a point of view and it's highly probable that their points of view don't align with your preferences. Test the cameras that interest you yourself. You just can't rely on website reviews. Even if you like the way the guys write....

So, what's not to like?

We can bitch about the batteries all day long but they are what they are. You give up one thing (battery life) to get another (body size).

If you want to bitch about EVFs you've wandering into the wrong blog. I think a good EVF is a major plus for a camera.

After having used the Sony A7ii for a good while I've got the menu items I use memorized. I've got my function buttons committed almost to muscle memory and I've got my back button AF squared away. I've heard horror stories about service but I'll just keep buying the used bodies and hope Sony has their QC shortcomings conquered for the long term.

I am pretty certain that Sony will soon come out with a replacement for the a7ii and I can't wait. The used price on the existing models should (given a quick look at Sony history) drop like a rock. At a certain price we can even start thinking of them as disposables....

As far as I can see the A7ii is a boring, reliable, small, easy to handle package. Big performance. Small used price. Fun to use with older, manual focus lenses. So far, I love mine.

Just thought I'd share where I am with cameras at the moment. I started writing this last week in Baton Rouge but just finished up after lunch today. July was the busiest and most prosperous month in my long career. Just amazing. Sometimes the blog fell between the cracks.

Thoughts about mixing business and pleasure with the same camera and lens...

Just a few random thoughts about the separation of "church and state" when it comes to work and fun photography. Not that work and fun cannot combine but..... it's that "mindset" thing.

When I travel for most event assignments (trades shows, symposiums, speeches, etc.) I have to travel light. I've got to get my stuff on and off airplanes and wrangle it in and out of taxis, etc. by myself. While I always want to take all the cameras and lenses I own I am also trying to fit in lights, light stands, a tripod, some light modifiers and a couple of suits and pairs of dress shoes. 

This means I've settled on a combination of two, mostly identical, camera bodies and two zoom lenses. Right now I'm using the Sony 24-70 and the 70-200mm lenses but in the past I've used Nikon's versions and Canon's versions. Trying to wrangle a bag full of primes for that kind of work isn't practical. And yet when I leave town and travel to some times beautiful places I like to spend some personal time walking around, seeing new cities and shooting the kinds of images I've been pursuing for decades. Somehow, if I try to use the "work" lenses I just can't get the work stuff out of my head. Even the stuff I look for to shoot seems to be filtered in some subconscious process by the "work lenses." Everything feels very f8 and very visually "safe." 

The workaround that seems to satisfy my need for a personal/work life firewall is to bring an "art" camera and lens that is separate from the work camera system. It doesn't necessarily need to be a totally separate system or format, the gear just has to be different from the stuff I'll be using to make the work photographs. 

On a recent trip I was shooting with the Sony A7R2, the 24/70 and the 70/200. I used the Sony A7ii and the Contax 50mm f1.7 as my "personal" or "off the clock" system. It made a big difference for me. And when I really need more separation I'll stick my personal camera into the black and white mode. The limitation of one lens and one body is a nice, formalist exercise. It also helps by keeping the personal images out of the workflow of the work images. It's nice not to have to remove random images from a Lightroom catalog or a delivery folder....

Not sure how the rest of the world handles this but that's my method. 

Quick test of the Rokinon 135mm t2.2 Cine lens I bought a week ago.

Very early on in my photography hobby I got by for a year or two with only two lenses. One was the 50mm f1.8 Canon FD lens that came as part of a kit with the Canon TX SLR camera. The other was a Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens I bought from Capitol Camera, from their shop in the Dobie Mall. The 50mm was my everyday lens but the 135mm came out when I traveled and when I took portraits. While I am certain that there were better lenses around I was always pleased with the sharpness and the overall look of the images I took with that lens. 

I've owned and used plenty of 135mm lenses over the years but seem to have gotten side-tracked in the last decade by the use of 70-200mm and 80-200mm zoom lenses; especially the f2.8 professional variety. Last week I was up at Precision Camera buying some attachment or accessory for some other stupid and unnecessary piece of gear when I came across a very slightly used Rokinon 135mm t2.2 Cine lens with the Sony E mount. I bought it. Then I went on a commercial job for the better part of the week and didn't have the chance to check out the new lens. 

I spent the first part of Saturday (after swim practice and a family lunch) doing post production on the  jobs from last week and then, around 4:30pm I stood up from the desk, grabbed a Sony A7ii and the 135mm lens and headed out for a walk that ended up taking me back to the Graffiti Wall in the central downtown area. 

The Rokinon 135 is a fairly big lens and though it is not as heavy as its Nikon and Canon counterparts it is still more of a burden to carry around than is a good 50mm lens. The benefits of using a very fast 135mm lens are two fold: One is the additional compression the 135mm gives you over an 85 or a 105. The second is the ability to shoot close to wide open and drop foregrounds and backgrounds out of focus quite easily. Used near their minimum focusing distances and near their widest apertures the 135mm provide a focus isolation that is textbook cool.

While I haven't put the 135mm through an exhaustive test I can talk about a few of the positives and negatives of the lens. Intellectually I like the "cine" versions of the Rokinon lenses because I'm always thinking I'll be using the lens a lot when making videos and that I'd love to use it with a follow focus adapter. The rings are geared for just that use...  But that makes the focusing ring uncomfortable and knobby feeling. It's not optimized for still photography. It's the same with the aperture ring; "de-clicked" apertures sounds like a very cool thing, and I totally get the noiseless benefit when changing settings while rolling in video --- but to be truthful, this lens will see a lot more action in my use as a still lens and the aperture ring is too easily moved when shooting handheld to make it the perfect choice for a handheld optical tool. 

My third criticism is that these fast, long lenses push the envelope where focus peaking is concerned and make me fall back to using the (slower to implement) focus magnification features in the Sony cameras. I can't really fault the lens for this; it's more of an interface thing.

Weighed against these negatives is the fact that the 135mm focal length is interesting and fun, and that the Rokinon is a very, very good optical performer. Used close, medium and far the lens delivers a sharp image. I shot mostly at f2.8 and f4.0. I occasionally shot at f5.6 or f8.0 if I wanted to extend the focus range for more environmental detail inclusion and, at every aperture, the parts that were in the field of focus were nicely sharp and contrasty. 

I will keep the lens around because I like the look and I like the sharpness of the images. I will also start searching for some way to adapt, make or otherwise get my hands on a tripod collar that will work for this lens. With a good collar it would be a really wonderful studio portrait lens. In it's naked state it makes the smaller Sony cameras seem so small and delicate. I'm sure that the newer bodies are designed to take the strain of heavier lenses than this, after all, they've just come out with a 70-200mm f2.8 G lens that must weigh well over twice what this one weighs. But I hate it when the front of the lens/camera package starts to droop forward when in the vertical orientation on a tripod.  If you know of a tripod collar that fits please be sure to let me know....

This is a lens you bring when you have the image already in mind. It is not a "walk around" lens by any stretch of the imagination and yet, that's exactly what I spent Saturday afternoon doing. 

To recap: 

Videographer? Perfect lens for you. 

Photographer?  Look for the photo version of the lens instead of the cine version. 

But what about the lens? It's not outrageously big given the focal length and the speed. The plastic barrel assembly helps keep the weight down and feels very good in my hands. The lens is sharp at the apertures you've likely bought the lens in order to use (from wide open to around f8) and it does a great job doing out of focus backgrounds. The optical properties of the lens are as good as the MF units I've used from Nikon and Canon but the lens is available new for a price much lower than the "mint" used prices of its closest competitors. 

Finally, I would hesitate to buy this lens if I planned to use it on a DSLR versus a mirrorless camera. The focusing might be too tough to discern on an optical focusing screen and the live view on traditional DSLRs is too clunky to make the process much fun. The logical cameras on which to use this particular lens are the Sony A7 series cameras since they offer easy and quick focus magnification in addition to focus peaking. I have a good 70-200mm but my nostalgia for these old style, faster primes prompted me to buy it. You may not be subject to your own internal manipulation and, if you already own a focal length that covers this range, you may not feel that you need something like this (with all of its warts and foibles). You'd probably be right...

Good lens for some. Your needs may vary.


I happened to be in the house at Mar-A-Lago a few years back and I noticed this interesting painting...

During the heady years of the tech boom, and its after shocks, photographers like myself and, of course, Henry White, often found themselves in unusual places. During the course of one shoot I spent the evening at Donald Trump's house in Florida. It is called Mar-A-Lago and was built in the 1920's by one of the Merriweather-Post heirs. As I roamed through the house I was struck by this painting. It's an oil on canvas and on the bottom edge of the painting, in the center, there is a brass nameplate which reads: 

"The Visionary"
Donald Trump

The brass plate goes on to name the painter but I have long since forgotten his name. While it seems unusual to me to have a painting of one's self in one's home I have recently been coming around on the idea. I'm thinking of commissioning one for myself. I will get myself a brass nameplate to complete the effect. It will read:

"The Well Traveled Cynic"
Kirk Tuck

Taken with a Nikon D300 and the 18-200mm lens. 

To delve into art appreciation for a moment; I am captivated by the sun rays that come from top left to middle right behind Mr. Trump. They attempt to motivate the hard and overdone backlighting on the main subject but there is a disconnection since the sun is visually referenced at a different angle behind him. Ah. But, for a big enough commission, a painter may attempt to transmute the laws of physics....

I soon got bored looking at the art collection and headed off to find my seat for dinner.

I can recommend the lobster at Mar-A-Lago. It was very fresh!

Two Seascapes Just to Mix Things Up.

West Palm Beach. ©2008 Kirk Tuck.

The Breakers at West Palm Beach. ©2008 Kirk Tuck.

Ah. Those balmy, fun-filled days in West Palm Beach. I was there for a conference and stepped outside the hotel from time to time to make photographs of the changing light. These were both done with a FujiFilm S5 camera and a Nikon 18-55mm lens. They started life as Jpegs and stayed that way. I think this was the morning I swam laps with Gerhard Fritz Kurt Schroder, the former chancellor of Germany. It's good to get up early. One never knows who one will find in the swimming pool...


Look Harder. Sony 55mm f1.8 versus and old, cheap lens.

No matter what system I'm shooting I'm always looking for the one 50mm lens that will work with the system and just blow me away. I want something sharp, contrasty and a little punchy. And I want something that's still decent when I use it wide open. 

A few months ago I took a small chance and bought a Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7 lens. It's manual focus only and, when used with an adapter on any of my Sony cameras it refuses to give me exif info or even tell me what aperture it's chosen to use. But it is crispy and bright and all those things I mentioned I like in the paragraph just above. 

But rationally we are talking about a lens that is well over 20 years old. Certainly the optical magicians that work in the biz have made incredible improvements since then. Right? Well, that's certainly what I thought. My plan was to get by with the old, used Contax lens until I sorted out the right path with a "real" modern lens. My candidates were the Sony 55mm f1.8 (which gets uniformly rave reviews) along with the Zeiss Loxia and the Rokinon 50mm f1.5 (or Cine t - 1.5). The best way to get this all figured out is to play with the options. Put them on the camera you expect to use them with and shoot some images. I immediately discounted the Rokinon because of its size. Too big and too heavy for a fun, walking around town lens. The Loxia is in short supply and while it's the right size and all Zeiss-magicky the designers seem to have taken a traditional planar design and put it in a new package for a new generation. The specs seem to indicated to me that this is pretty much the exact same formulation that was used in the Contax lens I have in house. At any rate I balked at paying $1,000 for a lens that might not be quite as sharp as the Sony 55mm and might just have exactly the same performance as the lens I'm dragging around right now. 

I narrowed my choices down and decided to try the Sony 55mm and to gauge it against the ancient, Contax 50mm f1.7. I should never have done this. The comparison burst my bubble. Here I thought all those optical engineers were making vast and exciting technical progress but all the while they are trying to design lenses that are cheaper to make and can be brought up to 1980's performance levels by adding an almost lethal dose of in-camera and in-processing digital lens corrections. Shoot raw and turn off the lens correction in Lightroom and you'll see that the Sony 55mm vignettes like a mad bastard and also has some burly distortion. All of this is corrected in post processing (either in camera or in computer) but it does take a toll on the corners. You've probably noticed nearly every lens review lately talks about the "high center sharpness and soft corners."  The current lens makers get to cut corners on the actual construction of the new lenses while leaning on their computer programmers to kinda fix the stuff that might bother you. It's a compromise between ultimate performance and dollars charged. 

When I compared raw files with the borrowed Sony and the in-house Contax 50mm f1.7 I was pretty amazed to find that the older lens is much better corrected before hitting the computer enhancement routine. Less work has to be done. The older lens is at least as sharp and has smoother tonal gradients  to boot. The corners are actually better. 

There is a lot of exhilarating lens inventory out in the wild and all you need in order to get the value from it is an inexpensive adapter for a mirrorless camera. After having made this hands on comparison I was cured of my intention to spend more money to buy the latest and greatest. Instead, I went to KEH.com and looked for more old lenses. I love the Contax 50mm lens I have right now but the focusing ring is a just a bit underdamped for me and you already know of my love for the idea of identical back-ups. I found a "like new" copy of the Contax 50mm f1.7 lens and I ordered it right away. I learned my lesson the hard way a few years ago. I wrote a column about some piece of gear I was getting ready to buy and the markets went nuts before I could get my order in. It cost me actual money. My second copy of the Contax 50mm f1.7 is already on its way here.....

I was out shooting today. I needed it after a full week of shooting for clients. Here's what I got with the $150 dollar Contax lens and a $19 adapter. All taken with my favorite camera of the moment, the Sony A7ii...


Photographing small products at high magnification with the Rokinon (Samyang) 100mm f2.8 Macro lens. Tight on White.

The Old State Capitol Building in Baton Rouge, La.

The photo above is just for decoration. It was taken with an iPhone. It really has nothing to do with this blog post. Just thought I'd provide a disclaimer for the painfully literal...

It's been a raucous week for me. We spent the first three days in what ultimately turned out to be a successful photographic assignment in Baton Rouge. We hightailed it back home on Weds., by rental car, and hit the Austin airport in the middle of the night to pick up my car. I needed to get back so I could do pre-production for the job we did in Georgetown, Texas today. That and needing to be home to instruct the tree service that was scheduled to come by and thin out the jungle surrounding our place...

Today was spent photographing tiny ampoules for a subsidiary of Merck. It's a follow on to a shoot we did nearly two years ago and much has changed since then. On the first go-round I was using an early Fiilex LED unit and a Sony a900 camera, along with a Sony 50mm macro lens to do the work of shooting these tiny glass bottles against white. This time I used a Sony A7ii and my newest acquisition, a Rokinon 100mm f2.8 Macro lens. The (much brighter and equally well color corrected lighting came from two of my CooLED lighting units used in Photoflex soft boxes. The EVF enabled camera made shooting tight on white less of a challenge and much more of a pleasure.

Let's first talk about selecting the right background. When you shoot in tight any type of seamless paper is to ungainly to set up and too prone to deformation from humidity, etc. I prefer to use a stout gauge of Bristol board because the surface is very smooth and the (less UV brightened) quality of the white surface is visually superior while being physically stable. I'm using the #700 pound version. You could buy a large tablet of good Bristol stock from Bienfang or Strathmore and it would be more than big enough for your shots. I prefer the 30 by 40 inch sheets because they are easier to hand from a cross stand at table height. Before every white background macro shoot I head to Michael's Art Supply store and stock up. I bring multiple sheets in case we need to substitute in a clean sheet. 

The lighting is largely from a 24 by 36 inch Photoflex softbox illuminated by one of my big LED lights. Used close in we were able to stay at ISO 100 and use f16.5 at something like 1/15th of a second. The hell with diffraction, we needed the depth of field...

But the real story today is about the new lens. It's from Rokinon which is one of the nameplates used by Samyang for lenses marketed in the U.S.A. I bought it about a week ago and today was my first opportunity to put it through its paces. I brought along a Nikon 55mm f2.8 Micro lens as a back-up but the Rokinon was so easy to use and so sharp that the Nikon never came out of the bag. 

We weren't shooting at 1:1. It was more in the range of 1:2 to 1:4. The lens feels great and is a polished piece of manufacturing. People complain about Rokinon lens hoods but I was able to attach and use mine with no difficulties and it held in place well. 

I had the lens attached to the Sony A7ii and I've come to the conclusion that the A7ii is as sharp a camera as anyone, even the owner of an A7r2, could ever want. The AA filter is weak and the sensor is pretty darn capable. I am still thinking that the 24 megapixel sensor size in a full frame camera is more or less the optimum choice for most people, myself included. The icing on the cake is that the dynamic range is very comparable to what I get from the A7R2, which is one of the highest rated DR cameras around. Considering that I picked up a used A7ii for under $1200 I am amazed at the level of performance the camera delivers. Even more impressed when using it in a macro, studio setting. 

With the Nikon D810 I could use the live view mode but the refresh rate made it sub-optimal in available light situations. With the A7ii I was able today to shoot down to a quarter second and see a great electronic viewfinder image. The A7 series cameras are the perfect tools for shooting in macro settings. 

I was shooting on white and wanted the white to still have a tiny bit of detail. In this way I could assure myself of preserving the highest of the highlights in the images. I set the zebra function to give me the wacky zebra lines right at 100% (or 255) this meant I could easily make perfect exposures by lowering the shutter speeds until the zebras appeared and then back off by one third of a stop; just enough for the zebras to disappear. Then I knew that my white background was 1/3 of stop under 255 (or "blow-out"). Can't imagine an easier way to keep tabs on exposure!

I was using a manual focus lens for today's job because it just makes sense when shooting non-moving macro images. I enabled the focus peaking (I prefer yellow) and here's how I would proceed: I'd compose the shot using the finder and then using the two axis level on the back finder. Once I had the comp roughed I would hit the trash button which, in shooting mode, I have configured as the zoom/magnification control. Once I zoomed in on the image at 11x I'd rock the focus ring to get the focus peaking indications exactly right. No more Canon/Nikon back focusing adventures!

The combination of the right lens with the right focal length, the practicality and efficiency of the EVF, the quick confirmation of exposure via zebras and the ability to be sure you got what you wanted in focus, made this particular shoot much more efficient than the same basic shoot done with an old school, mirrored camera. 

I was going to say that the star of the day was the Rokinon 100mm f2.8 (which focuses down to 1:1) but in truth it was the blend of the Rokinon with the workaday, mid-brow Sony that made mis smile as I lined up one and a half inch ampoules and photographed them both singly and in small groups. 

The Rokinon 100mm Macro is about $550 while the OSS, AF Sony 90mm G lens is right around $1,000, but I've owned enough macro lenses to know that I'll probably be using them on tripods and also manually focusing them. I've been burned too many times by the slow focus acquisition of autofocus lenses across brands...and image stabilization isn't usually necessary for tripod mounted gear.

In my book, for my money, the third party lens does exactly what it is supposed to do. How do I know? Well, I get paid to do this and I've done it for a long time. When I look at my 27 inch screen, at an image from this system, and I can feel my pulse quicken a bit, I know I'm looking at something that's more than just the ordinary image from an ordinary lens. This one is one of the best bargains around. I'd buy one again in a heartbeat.

Next up...looking with renewed interest at Rokinon's 50mm DS Cine lens. Each successful encounter with the brand just pushes me to want more...