9.12.2012

Oh Yeah. Now this is what I'm talking about.


Here's a great video about the camera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjEwsnwbwbs

A while back I wrote a "wish list" of things I wanted to see incorporated into the new flagship camera from Sony. They did everything I wanted except for the carbon fiber construction. But I wasn't 100% serious about the carbon fiber anyway so let's let that drop.

What Sony has done with the a99 camera is to effectively and decisively leapfrog over Nikon and Canon and deliver a next generation imaging solution for photographers who are not mired in place by concepts of what constitutes a camera based on old traditions and metrics.  While the curmudgeons may not want video or an electronic viewfinder or some of the bells and whistles you'll find on this and other Sony cameras (a77?) that contingent of photographers is not necessarily the future of professional, commercial photography. They represent the past. And the past is already gone.  All around me I am keenly aware that the generation of image makers who are in ascendency are more and more comfortable slipping back and forth between video and stills. They are looking for cameras that create movies fluidly, unhampered by antiquated live view adaptations and legacy viewing solutions. 

This is why I predict that Nikon and Canon will come stumbling after Sony in a year or two with cameras that have electronic viewfinders. The movie creation aspect may seem meaningless to someone who does photography as a hobby but for someone who earns their living mixing stills and motion (and that will constitute, more and more, what successful photographers do to make a good living) the video capabilities of a camera are as important as how quickly it focuses and how nice the still image files look. I guess you just have to separate the markets when you look at new products.

So, from the press releases and the intro on DPReview we can make a list of all the things Sony got right:

-full frame sensor with the promise of great dynamic range and good high ISO noise performance.

-innovative and state of the art autofocus. With both PD on a chip and above mirror PD sensor.

-the use of a proven and easy to master body style and control interface.

-electronic first curtain shutter for fast response and lower noise.

-focus range control. Let's you set a min and max focus range for faster lock on.

-dynamite video !!!

-a headphone out jack for monitoring video sound.

-manual level controls in 32 steps for video sound levels.

-an interface that allows for the connection of XLR microphone connectors (another industry first).

-high level, unprocessed video out for highest quality.

-dual card slots that are configurable in the ways I suggested.

-true 14 bit raw files.

-the promise of performance, performance, performance from the new sensor.

-weatherproofing and long life shutter.

AND THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF ALL.......they're using the same battery as in the a77.

When I get one in my hands I'll write a long review but for right now I want to discuss why the Sony camera is a superior video production tool.  The a99 can shoot at 1080 at 60 fps with 28mps throughput and that's very cool but not nearly as cool as the three major things that are, right now, Sony exclusives in the full frame, high end DSLR camera/video market: The electronic viewfinder, the phase detection auto focus (full time) and focus peaking.

I was outdoors shooting video footage yesterday of a very famous athlete swimming a fast workout in our pool.  It was bright, direct sun light coming from straight overhead. In the days of shooting with a Canon 5Dmk2 the ambient light would have rendered the rear screen useless for shooting video without the addition of a cumbersome finder attachment like the expensive and heavy Zacuto finders. The optical finder, in the video mode, is locked off and vacant.  The camera's slow contrast detect AF would be useless in tracking a fast moving swimmer. We'd need a focus puller holding on to the front of the lens while I followed the action in the aforementioned expensive and kludgy finder strapped to the back of the camera like a goiter.

Not so with the a77 (and soon with the a99).  I was shooting yesterday with the a77 and the Sony 70-200 2.8 G lens. Since the ambient light was too bright to use the rear screen I did all the set up stuff using the menu in the EVF finder. When I was ready to shoot the image in the EVF was perfectly isolated from the ambient light and worked well. I was able to judge both exposure and color temperature while I was shooting, both on the screen, and in the case of exposure, with an on screen histogram. Shooting at 60 fps gave me a smooth set of video clips of the fast action and the higher frame rate allowed me to work at 1/125th of a second without getting a jittery look that can come from raising the shutter speed beyond 2x of the fps.

If I switched to program or aperture priority I would lose control of the shutter speeds but I would gain full, DSLR speed AF with my video footage. Even through a variable ND filter the camera locked on to my athlete at 200mm and wouldn't let go.  It was better AF performance than I've gotten with any video camera or hybrid, ever. If I wanted exacting control over shutter and aperture I had to go to manual mode which, with the Sony, means I lose AF.  No sweat. The inclusion of focus peaking makes manually tracking focus easy as pie. And the entire time you're seeing the exact results, via the EVF, that you'll see when you head in to edit.

Since the a99 uses nearly the same video system it will crush Nikon and Canon's current DSLR video production capabilities as expressed in the D800 and 5Dmk3.

There's a lot more to the a99 but when people (fellow photographers) ask me why I switched systems to the Sony I can truthfully say it's because this is where the future of professional photography is heading. I didn't want to be left behind.  And my experiences shooting video between the Sony and the Canon 5D2 is night and day. The gap has just widened. And since Canon and Nikon did their prosumer refresh and pro camera refreshes this year it will be quite a while until they even have a chance to rebut.  

If the high ISO performance and the touted 1.5 stop increase in dynamic range over the Sony a900 is accurate then this camera will be the hottest pro tool in the market for at least the next year.  And in the current state of the commercial photography field that's almost a lifetime.




For another take on the Sony revolution check this blog: http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2012/09/12/the-rx1-and-a99-is-sony-getting-its-mojo-back/

9.11.2012

Another shot taken with the Sony Nex 7, an adapter, and a Sony SAM 35mm 1.8 DT lens. What's the deal?

35mm 1.8 on an adapter.

I've decided that most people who talk about the performance of cameras and lenses have never shot with cameras and lenses or, what they've shot are flat, ugly and useless two dimensional test charts.  I've been looking a PhotoZone.de's reviews of different lenses on the Nex 7 and they speak as if there is a known sharpness issue with the Sony Nex 7's sensor. According to their numerical results you should be seeing a sharp center surrounded by a sea of optical jello in the image above. But the image above was shot hand held, without the benefit of image stabilization and at a fairly wide aperture. To make matters "worse" it was used near its close focusing limit which, for a lens not blessed with floating elements, should be its worst case scenario. It was even a manually focused lens hanging off the front of an adapter ring.  And yet, to my eyes the bowls in the center seem sharp where I've focused on them and the bowls in the bottom left hand corner of the frame seem to be sharp as well.

Could it be that I'm just lucky at picking out specific cameras and fortunate lenses while all the review sites are getting rejects? I doubt it.

 It finally dawned on me.  I must be doing something wrong. I must have forgotten some esoteric technique that allows me to really see these optical combinations in the eery light of their inadequacy. Oh well, I'll keep testing.  Something will come to me.



9.10.2012

How do you know when you've gone far enough with your post processing?


You don't. So you keep experimenting until you don't like it anymore and then back off.

Book Defies Amazonian Gravity and sells at near cover price!


Earlier today my first book (above) Minimalist Lighting, was selling at $33.95.  About a dollar off the cover price and way above the historic price model at Amazon.  Was it the Hunt Brothers trying to corner the market in books about small flashes or just some sort of algorithmic glitch in the clouds? Who can know. As I've chosen not to go through the process of revising the book it may become a collectible oddity.  If you haven't already snapped up a copy now might be the time to pounce.....




Do you ever go back and re-work images that you've taken a few years ago?


I've spent a few fun hours reworking some of my images of Jana in a program called SnapSeed. This one started life as a color image from a Canon 5Dmk2 but now it's taken on a life of its own as a black and white image.

I like the idea of letting images "rest" for a couple of years. Like aging cocktails in an oak cask. Then you get to like them all over again and you start to get a feeling for the threads of continuity in your work and it makes you understand that the art you do is a building process and that time is a critical element...

Sometimes, when you are photographing a model, it helps to create a small story to share...


Not always, but sometimes, when I work with a model to create images for our mutual portfolios it is helpful to both of us if we come up with a narrative or a short story that helps us imagine what the images are about. In this case the story was about a young woman who'd come to town to meet her old boyfriend only to be stood up. These images are from the originally intended rendezvous. We made other images outside, downtown, as she searched for her boyfriend in all the usual places. Needless to say, this was self assigned.




The venue for these images was Little City Coffee House on Congress Ave. A very early, independent coffee house in Austin which closed at the end of last year. The model is Jana and the camera was a Canon 5D mk2 fitted with an 85mm 1.8 lens.

Creating little stories seems to be more effective than lumbering around hoping something interesting will happen....













9.09.2012

Going Shopping with a Camera in my Hands. Looking for Color, Texture and Grooviness. Sony Nex 7+ 35mm DT






















Okay. I surrender. I'm using the built in HDR feature on both my Sony a77 and my Sony Nex 7. And it works.


I don't like a lot of the HDR stuff that I see on the web. In fact, I hate the flattened look and grainy, clarity overkill that I plainly see in so much of the work. But my friend, ATMTX, seems to have a light touch with it and he's always pushing me to stop being such a curmudgeon and try doing things like using the concepts of HDR to improve my work as well as using the rear screen of my cameras to compose with. "Use the force!"  He says.

After a recent post I read about throwing away a lot of stuff I knew I knew I decided to shelve my prejudices about photography and just go out and respond willingly to the stuff I saw. No big agenda. Just like moth to flame or a child to colors.  I gave up some control by putting my ISO on auto.  But I gave up a lot of control when I decided to turn on the in camera HDR in my Sony Nex 7.  This will seem old hat to some of you but in the Sony Nex there is a menu in which you can select HDR and then make a second selection for how many stops difference you want between each of the three shots that the camera uses to combine into one final frame.

The camera shoots the frames really fast and then micro aligns them and processes them into pleasing HDR files. For the uncertain it's nice to know that the camera also gives you a separate untouched jpeg that is the "correct" or center frame of the the three frame bracket.

All of the images in this particular blog post were done with in camera HDR and at ranges from 3 stops to 5 stops. I think they look darling and I didn't have to buy a book or go to a workshop in order to get them. Which makes me think that Sony is making a pretty damn sophisticated camera to be able to do exactly what I want it to do without any intervention from me....


All but the last image in this series were taken at the Austin Hilton Hotel, just across from the Austin Convention Center. I was out test shooting with the Sony LAEA-1 Alpha to Nex lens adapter, the 35mm 1.8 DT lens and the Sony Nex camera.  I like the combination very much and I can see using the Nex 7 as a primary shooting camera for professional work. I think mirrorless has come, now, totally of age and it's ready to compete with traditional camera paradigms. The Nex cameras, the Olympus OMD and the upcoming Panasonic GH3 are/will be capable of delivering nearly everything a typical, regional working pro needs in order to supply clients with professional images.  There will always be exceptions to this statement. I freely admit that micro four thirds and mirrorless Sony aren't ready to tackle high end architecture photography. Not because the sensors aren't ready but because there are no tilt/shift optics available and adapting the ones out there that are made for other formats isn't a solution because they are too long...


What I found after pixel peeping my take this afternoon is a camera that out resolves everything I've used before, handles like a dream and basically-----kicks ass. The other thing I found out is that the Sony DT series of inexpensive prime lenses kicks ass, squared. You can read tests based on flat resolution target bullshit or you can go out and shoot with the optics you are interested in and make up your own mind. I'll take the latter path every time. In my experience the Sony 35mm 1.8 DT, the 85mm 2.8 DT and the 50mm 1.8 DT are some of the finest performing optics I've shot with. But I'll be the first one to tell you that I don't shoot newspapers tacked to the wall or air force resolution charts.  And neither should you.  

If you want to test a lens you put it on your camera and then shoot the stuff you enjoy shooting.  Look at the results and make up your own mind.


So, all of these images are hand held with the camera setting shutter speeds between 1/60th and 1/80th of a second. I am consistently amazed at how the camera is able to align all three of the frames and make such perfect images.  If I'd had the camera on a tripod and the ISO set to 100 I can only imagine just how great the images could have been. But would I have liked them any better?



The Nex 7 is turning out to be the camera I really wanted from Olympus and Panasonic. But it's even more eccentric which endears it to me even more.  So much performance.  So many wild features. So many lens choices.  Has there ever been a better time for the actual practice of photography?


Finally, I've spent the last two years denigrating the whole idea of HDR. Do I feel guilty? Was I wrong? NO. The stuff that became known as HDR in common parlance was atrocious stuff. And it was applied to all kinds of inappropriate subject matter. I'm changing my mind and finding that judicious use of a three frame blend adds another tool to my creative and professional tool box. And that's okay. It's only when carpeting steps over the line to lime green shag that we have an aesthetic problem.....

Final note: The more I use the Nex 7 the less I want to use anything else. 














Out for a Sunday Afternoon Stroll with a customized Nex 7.


The very next day after receiving the Fotodiox Sony Alpha to Sony Nex lens adapter I found a Sony branded one, the LAEA-1, on the Precision Camera used shelves so I bought that one too. Today I put my LAEA-1 on my Sony Nex-7 and put a 35mm 1.8 DT lens on that.  Then I went out for one of my long, Sunday afternoon walks. About an hour into the walk I came across a small group of people at 6th Street and Brazos who were painting each other's faces and I asked them if they'd mind me taking a few photographs.  Of course they were more than happy to oblige.


I used the lens and adapter combination in the same way I would normally use the Nex 7, minus the autofocus.  I keep describing the Sony LAEA-1 as not having autofocus capability and I keep getting corrected by sharp eyed readers who are quick to let me know that, technically, the LAEA-1 will autofocus with most of the recent and current Alpha lenses.  I am here to tell you that while the reader/correctors may be technically correct no one in their right mind would describe the painful process of LAEA-1 try-to-focus as true AF.  Let's just say that if you have infinite patience you could use the Sony adapter in the AF mode and eventually you might have a frame creep, with great hesitation, into focus. Of course your chances are better if you are in bright, bright light (say a daylight scene supplemented with an 18,000 watt HMI for fill) and a focusing target with more detail than a ten million piece jigsaw puzzle... But why stress over it when the Nex 7, in combination with the 35mm 1.8 DT lens, does an amazing and quick job of assisting you in manually focusing with focus peaking?


I'm probably just responding to the newness of the process but I'm really enjoying the pleasures of manually focusing my photographs. It seems to also give me back more control over my sense of composition.  I'm not always starting from top dead center in order to get and hold a focus lock.  The focus peaking works over the entire frame.

So have I found out anything new by using the Sony Nex7 with an adapter and an Alpha lens? Yes. I've found that the Sony Nex 7 becomes the most responsive camera you can imagine because you'll never have to wait for focus lock. The lens info even shows up in the exif info in Lightroom.  Just don't think you'll be enjoying laser fast auto focusing. It's not in the cards for the economy model adapters.













A little ambiguity is bad for your anxiety but may be just what some photographs crave.


I photographed Jana downtown. It was a hot, clear day. The kind that makes your eyes see into the colors and the details of everything. We didn't talk much but we did create the outline of a little story and I just followed her around and documented our "story."  It seemed a fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

I hope no one has decided to spend their Sundays indoors with the TV on and some sports team running back and forth on the screen, in between commercials for beer and Viagra. There's so much fun to be had outside. Camera in hand.

The Canon 85mm 1.8 seems to have "Modigliani" bokeh in the background. Look at the way the two people on the right side of the frame make hemispherical slices off into nothingness.