Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Sony Alpha 200

Just bought a new 'toy' - the Sony Alpha 200 DSLR. Couldn't help myself, as it was going for an absolute song, brand-new, at a local electronics store. They were selling it without the lens (body only) so were basically giving it away. Picked up the body for $299NZ (about $200US).

Did a bit of reading up on it before handing over he cash, but for that price it was really a no brainer! And even though the a200 is now a discontinued model, it's got everything I want in a 'back up' system, and then some.

Obviously based on the Minolta DSLR's of old (like the 5D and 7D - yes, Minolta had them before Canon did), the Sony is packed with all the features I like, and none of the features I don't like. For example - no Live View (yeah) and no Movie mode (double yeah). But it does have 10.2 MP (just about right I reckon), image stabilisation - Sony call it 'Steady Shot' - built into the body (yeah), a self cleaning sensor (double yeah), and a very sexy vertical grip that I will get eventually (triple yeah)! It's also compatible with all the Minolta AF lenses as well as the new Sony ones (of course).

Speaking of lenses - because it doesn't come with one, I've purchased an old Minolta 35-70mm f4 macro AF lens off of Trademe just to get me going. The lens has very good reviews on the minolta users sites, and is known as the 'mini beercan'. If you know anything about Minolta lenses, you'll be aware of a 70-210mm f4 lens known affectionately as the 'Beercan' because of its looks and size. It also has great optics. I owned the 70-210mm f4 Beercan for a short time when I had a Minolta 600si film camera (what an amazing film camera that was), and am looking forward to getting another one now that I have the Sony Alpha 200.

Told you the vertical grip was sexy! I like more area to hang on to with any camera, but especially with the lighter, more plastic cameras. And the a200 is a light, plastic camera - but in a good way. Of course, I have to qualify all this by saying I actually haven't shot with it yet :-) The 35-70mm f4 hasn't arrived. But I do have the body in my hands - and I have used its younger sister, the Sony Alpha 100. I reviewed it for D-Photo when it was first released (about 4yrs or so ago), and really enjoyed the experience. Gave it a very positive review (from what I can remember). So I'm expecting as good, if not better things, from the a200.
Yes, I know that the low-light, high ISO capabilities of the Sony could be better (I'll try to leave it on ISO 400 or below), but it's all relative. I still remember shooting film and never daring to go past 400. And for those times when I go over 400, I've got Noise Ninja to deal with it anyway. And RAW - always shoot in RAW for better noise control.

I love the styling of the Sony (Minolta) DSLR's - with clever touches such as eye control AF (bring the camera to your eye and the lens begins to focus), a beautiful lcd display that automatically adjusts its orientation when you switch between portrait or landscape composition, and, of course, the in-built image stabilisation that means every lens you own is now an IS lens. OK, it's debatable as to whether in-lens or in-camera stabilisation is better - but at least with the Sony you get it ALL the time. With Canon and Nikon you pay extra to have it in the lens.

I'm looking forward to using it (this weekend), and posting some images, together with my initial shooting experiences. But as I said right at the start of this post, for $200US you can't really go wrong!?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Lens rundown & new landscapes.

Ok, so the studio didn't actually happen.

Trust me, I looked at it very long and very hard - and was almost to the point of signing up for a space to lease. But I did the math several times, and the best case scenario (in the short term at least) was only break-even, for a heck of a lot more work! So I decided - rather wisely I must say in hindsight - to flag the idea for now. Just as well too, because since then my design work has gone crazy and there aren't enough hours in the day just doing that. Starting a photography studio on top of that would have been crazy!

So I've been getting out and taking some landscapes - now that the wedding season is over. And I've got someone joining me on some my excursions now too. My 10yr old daughter, Emily, is still excited about photography, so I decided to encourage her further by taking her out with me a bit more, and getting her a 'real' digital camera, a Canon 10D.

We've gone out a couple of times, and I'm really glad I got her the 10D. It's still a great camera, with a 6MP sensor and the rugged DSLR chassis that will take the knocks without being too heavy for her. The 'pro' thumb wheel on the back for quick selection is also a big plus.

Her 10D came with a Canon 50mm f1.8 prime, which is a great combination. Granted she is a little limited in terms of focal length compared to what a zoom could offer her, but at the moment it's just about getting used to using the camera and all its controls. Eventually I will get her an 18-70mm zoom - probably the Sigma f2.8-4.5. Something light, but still with decent image quality.

For my own gear, I've settled on a middle-of-the-road kit for the time being - although that's been peppered with some very nice primes. I am still using the Nikkor 18-70mm f3.5-4.5 'kit' lens with my D300, and still enjoy using it. It's a light, fast focusing, silent lens which I have no problem using wide open at any focal length. It's on the D300 80% of the time, and I can't really fault the images I create with it.

Recently (like two weeks ago) I added the Nikkor 70-300mm f4-5.6 ED zoom to my arsenal, to give me more telephoto reach in a zoom lens. I haven't used it all that much yet, but I owned this lens a few years ago when I had my D70 kit and found it to be a very good performer - especially up to 250mm. I don't do a heck of a lot of long telephoto stuff - but it's nice to have the option now for when I do. I'll do a lens test and post that soon, giving my impressions and some examples of what it can do etc.

So my zoom range now covers from 18 to 300mm with mid-range glass. I'll find it hard to replace the 18-70mm - for the price it's just a heck of a good lens, but I will eventually replace the 70-300mm with the 'pro' Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8. That will probably be my only lens purchase next year from the wedding season takings.

To supplement my zooms, I have a trio of primes: 24mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8. On my D300 the 24mm becomes a 35mm (still ok for wide-ish landscapes, and a great walk-around street lens), the 50mm becomes a 75mm f1.8 (fantastic for portraits), while the 85mm turns into a 130mm f1.8 (roughly).
I got the 85mm towards the end of the wedding season, so didn't really use it as much as I would have liked, whereas I use the 50mm all the time, and surprisingly have been making good use of the 24mm as well.

I got the 24mm really cheap because it had been banged on the front and a chip taken out of the filter thread. I 'ummed' and 'arred' over getting it, but in the end thought 'what the heck' for the price I was paying for it. Turned out to be a bargain, and a great lens. Because it's a prime, which doesn't use many lens elements, and because it's so small and well-made, it can take the knocks and come out smiling. I even dropped it myself on the first wedding I shot! No problems though. Just put it back on the camera and away it went. Sharp, clear, contrasty images every time.

I'm very happy with the primes I have, matched with the D300 Nikon body - using the 18-70mm as my main zoom lens. The only lens I will 'eventually' replace will be the 70-300mm - with the 70-200mm f2.8 VR. The 'second generation' of this lens was released this year, so a lot of first generation lenses are finding their way to the internet trading sites. Because I shoot with a D300 I don't need the newer lens, so I'll save myself a couple of grand and opt for the first generation model.

And as much as I would like to own a 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor, i really don't want to pay the $2500.00NZ that it would cost to get one. Are they really $2000 better than my 18-70mm kit lens? Maybe. But somehow, I don't think so.