Friday, 30 July 2010

First images with Tokina 19-35mm f3.4/4.5

Lens arrived this morning, and I was able to take a few quick shots at lunchtime to get some very quick first impressions.

First, my copy looks mint - very clean body and exceptional glass, so I'm very happy on that score.

Also, the quality of the fit and finish on the Tokina is indeed impressive for a third-party consumer-grade lens offering. It looks, and feels, like it is built to last. Even the lens hood seems to be made from a thicker, tougher plastic than many of the Nikon hoods I own. Very nice.

The lens handles nicely on the A200 - it's about the right size and weight, and the rubber grip around the zoom is, well, nice and grippy :-)  It doesn't make too much noise when focusing (no more than my Minolta 35-70mm f4) and latched on to focus quickly (outside in bright daylight). So far, so good.

I've purchased this as a landscape lens, so my initial test was with this in mind. I set the A200 to ISO 100, shooting RAW, and worked in aperture priority with the aperture set to f8. This should give me a fairly good idea as to the overall sharpness on the Tokina when used for landscapes. When I actually get it out into the field for some real landscape work, I'll probably go to at least f11 or f16 - and use a tripod - but for a quick test using the lens hand-held, f8 was fine.

As you can see from the few images posted here, f8 was more than enough for back-to-front sharp images. These were all shot at the 19mm setting - although as other reviewers have noted about this lens, the metadata would suggest that the Tokina is actually shooting at 20mm?

That would mean I'm getting an equivalent field of view of a 30mm lens in traditional film terms - not 'ultra' wide, but wide enough. And because the Tokina is a full-frame compatible lens, once I upgrade to a full-frame Sony camera, then the 19/20mm will really be a 19/20mm!

But talk of 'ultra-wide' aside, the first few images I've taken with this lens on the A200 have been very positive. Really nice colors, good contrast, lots of detail, and great front-to-back sharpness from the f8 aperture. Initial impressions are that the Tokina 19-35mm well deserves its legendary status as the 'plastic fantastic'.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Tokina 19-35mm coming

After much deliberation, and a good deal of internet searching, I weakened and purchased a Tokina wide angle lens for my Sony A200.

And here it is, the Tokina 19-35mm f3.5-4.5 wide angle zoom lens. And although it's considered to sit at the 'consumer' end of the Tokina line, the general consensus form internet reviews and actual users is that this lens consistently punches above its weight, and is a match for many of the more expensive wide angle zooms on the market.

Made largely of plastic, but with a metal mount, the lens does have ED elements, and Tokina uses Hoya glass (I've always been a big fan of their filters) for relatively true colours.

It's also internal focusing, so the barrel doesn't change length when zooming, and the front element doesn't rotate - making the use of filters for landscape photography (my prime reason for getting this lens) a pleasant experience. That's pretty impressive for a lens that sits at Tokina's 'consumer' end, and cost me $200NZ in mint used condition.

Of all the third party branded lens manufacturers, Tokina has the best reputation for building solid, built-to-last lenses that can take a lickin and keep on tickin. And even though this isn't from their 'pro' line, I have no doubt it will be a solid, well built unit that will last a lifetime.

From all that I've read, sharpness is decent, even wide open, but gets bitingly sharp at around f8 (as do most lenses) - perfect landscape f-stop territory.  And although not a 'fast' or 'silent' focusing lens, it will be plenty fast enough, and plenty silent enough, for all the landscapes I'll want to take with it :-)

It's arriving tomorrow, so I'll get a chance to use it over the weekend (all going well weather-wise). Will then post a hands-on user report, with images. Can't wait.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A few more reasons to love the Sony A200

Continue to be very happy with my new Sony A200 and Minolta 35-70mm f4 combo. Went to Reefton (an hours drive from where I live) this weekend with the family, and we stopped at on old train memorial to have lunch. The kids started to play on the train and I couldn't help myself - perfect photo opportunity!

The sharpness of this lens is just crazy - and the colours are fantastic.

Having said that, the Alpha 200 isn't the fastest at processing images - takes a while to write to the card, even in jpeg mode. I do find myself having to wait for the images to write before I can review - which would be annoying if I was using it to shoot a wedding as my main camera. It won't replace my Nikon D300 anytime soon shooting weddings.

This image of Joshua has an almost HDR quality to it - even though it's pretty much straight out of the camera. I have the Dynamic Range Optimiser on the Sony set to 'Standard', and I don't think it's applied to the RAW file anyway? Anyway, the colours zing from this lens/sensor combination. Couldn't be happier with the results.

While we were having lunch, a very well-fed Weka (NZ native flightless bird) came out of the bush to 'share' some of our food. Must be my week for bird photography as well. He wasn't shy, and came within a couple of feet of us to get the food we dropped for him.  I easily filled the frame with the 75mm end (105mm equiv.) and took a few 'portrait' shots of him as well. The 35-70mm f4 is turning out to be a great portrait lens. I'm sold!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Cookie came to Visit

Got a shock on Thursday afternoon when my daughter came in from outside saying there was a parrot in our garden!

I grabbed my camera, and sure enough, a parrot (Rainbow Lorikeet to be exact) had perched itself on top of some trellis fencing we have in our back yard. It posed there for a while while the kids and I snapped away (using my 70-300mm Nikkor on the D300), and then proceeded to follow my son inside the house! A very tame parrot indeed.

I found it some apple to eat - which turns out was the right thing to give it - and then it spent the afternoon using me as a tree (it took a liking to me for some reason), and pooping everywhere in the kitchen.

Turns out, her name is 'Cookie' and she belonged to friends of ours (not that we knew this at the time) who had lost her the night before. A quick call to the SPCA, and a follow up from an advert left by Cookie's rightful owners in the local paper, and she was back with her rightful family before tea.

Almost felt sorry to see her go. We kind of bonded over the course of the afternoon. Being used as a tree and shat on by a friendly parrot, makes a guy feel closer to nature somehow.

We won't be getting a bird anytime soon.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Minolta 35-70mm f4 Quick Test Pt2

Went out this afternoon to put the a200 and 35-70mm through their paces with the other side of my photography - landscapes.

I set the camera to f11 to give me good depth of field, and probably the sweet spot in terms of overall lens sharpness. Then I headed out to the coast road, and to our local wharf area.

There was some nice low late afternoon winter light coming in off the sea, so I stopped at a popular spot along the coast to take grab a view of the coastline. Even though the 35mm end equates to around 52mm (normal field of view) in traditional terms, I still got enough of the scene in to suggest an expansive landscape. It may not be ultra-wide, but it's good enough.

Although only really a 'grab' shot, I do like the light coming in from the left, forming those shadowed curves in the sea from the breaking waves. And not surprisingly, at f11 everything is super sharp - from front to back. I'm liking this little lens more and more every time I use it.

Then it was off to the wharf. There are a couple of old cranes that have been a part of the Greymouth urban landcsape for as long as anyone can remember - but they are in danger of being torn down now by the council. They are old - and probably dangerous (they are fenced off from the public), but make a great subject. I decided I'd better photograph them before they disappear. 

One criticism leveled at the 35-70mm f4 lens is that it's prone to flare. The lens hood that is supposed to go with it is very small and doesn't give much protection from glare, so I decided to use a deeper rubber one instead. I shot with the sun just outside the frame to 'torture-test' the lens, and although I did get flare in some of the images, overall I thought it handled my 'worst-case-scenario' very well.

I also decided to shoot with the sun full in the frame, and was surprised with the result. The sensor on the Sony handled it beautifully, and I got my favorite shot of the evening.

The late afternoon sun was casting some beautiful golden light, ideal for shooting this building down at an historical park at the end of the wharf. Still on f11, the 35-70mm is a beautifully sharp lens, and I really love the colours it produces. Very true to life - yet quite vibrant at the same time.

As I was leaving, I saw that the building silhouetted nicely with a couple of cabbage trees, and I couldn't resist taking a few last shots. I have the a200 set on 'standard' Dynamic Range Optimiser, yet I was still surprised at the amount of detail retained in the black shadows of the RAW file - even though the histogram of the jpeg on the lcd screen showed clipping.

So I've used the Sony a200 over the weekend now, paired with the Minolta 35-70mm f4 lens - a combination that all-up cost me $350.00NZ. I've used it to take portraits, landscapes, and macros - tortured it with sun, and checked it out for sharpness. And as far as I'm concerned it's passed everything with flying colours (almost literally :-) Am I happy with the purchase? You bet I am.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Minolta 35-70mm f4 Quick test

Was busy at home today, but managed to get out this afternoon and fire off a few quick portrait shots with the 35-70mm f4. Since the 35 to 70mm on the A200 relates to a 50 to 105mm (roughly) in 35mm film terms, it's really the ideal portrait/candid style lens. And it's so tiny! Uses a 49mm filter thread. Here it is attached to the A200. Doesn't look too out of place because the A200 isn't that big either!

Took my model (my ever willing daughter Emily) outside and stayed about 1.5meters away to gauge how a subject would fill the frame at 35, 50 and 70mm.

The first image was shot at the 35mm end, and this equates to about a 52mm (normal) focal length in traditional terms. Opened the aperture up to f4, cause I always shoot portraits wide open - and had a reasonable distance between Emily and the background (about 6 meters). Not surprisingly, f4 hasn't blurred the background out hugely - but man-oh-man is she sharp! Great overall sharpness, even wide open. Oh yeah, that's what I like.

Now we have f4 at 50mm (75mm equiv). Still amazingly sharp, and now, because of the change in focal length, the background bokeh is starting to work for us. Still not great, but softening nonetheless. Nothing else has changed in terms of mine or Emily's position. I simply zoomed in closer with the lens. Really great colours for an overcast day, and did I mention how sharp the image is overall!?

And finally, f4 at 70mm (105mm equiv). Background has softened up more - although it's fairly harsh in terms of bokeh. But Emily is still tack sharp, and I would have no hesitation in using this lens wide open for portraiture. Of course I still haven't used it extensively, but early indications are that it is as good a lens as the user reports on would indicate it to be. Very pleased :-)

Also finished with a quick test of the stabilisation that Sony uses - Steady Shot. And early indications would suggest that this too works as it should.

Took one shot inside at 10th of a second without Steady Shot turned on..

and then another shot straight after with Steady Shot turned on...

The results are - quite plainly - clear :-)  Steady Shot does make a measurable difference, with pretty good results down to one 10th of a second (using the 35-70mm zoomed all the way to 70mm). You can't actually see any difference while you are taking the shot, although when you turn Steady Shot on, a small bar graph appears in the viewfinder to show you that it's working. Wait until the bars move down to the smallest, and take the shot (it's easier to do that it is to explain). Anyway, seems to work a treat, and I intend to simply leave it on all the time, unless I mount the camera to a tripod (in which case it is recommended that you turn it off).

Friday, 2 July 2010

First shots with Sony A200

The Minolta 35-70mm f4 arrived yesterday, and I got a chance at lunch time today to get a couple of quick shots with my new kit.

The lens has a quasi 'macro' function - when you flick a switch at the 70mm position it takes you into 'macro' mode, which you then have to focus manually. There is a hack for this that requires a little lens surgery so that you can use autofocus in the macro mode - but I think I'll leave it as it is. I don't think macro is something I'll use the lens for a lot, so I don't mind focusing manually the few times I have to.

But having said all that, it was the macro mode on the lens that I decided to try out at lunchtime.

I've been reading a few lens user reviews over at (great site for Minolta/Sony users), and many write about the Minolta 'look' to certain lenses. If that's true (and the 35-70mm f4 is said to have 'the look'), then I like it - very much. Clear, saturated, yet true-to-life colours - the 35-70mm performed very well. I only took a handful of shots, but the ones I took were very pleasing. And the macro mode worked well, even with manual focusing - although the manual focus ring itself is very small. Workable, but small.

The shots here were taken in macro, ISO 100, f8 @ 125th (or there abouts), and while the depth of field is pretty shallow, the area of focus is bitingly sharp! Bokeh looks good too. Reasonably creamy and not too harsh.

The A200 handled the colours - especially the vibrant purples, exceptionally well, and overall I was very pleased with my first few shots. I will take more this weekend, using the lens in its 'normal' range (i.e. not macro), to give it a full test of sharpness etc.

And in one final note: I've set the A200 to shoot in Adobe RGB, using the single central focus point, auto ISO (which will limit its range from ISO 100 to 400), auto WB, and shooting RAW. Pretty much how I set up all the cameras I use - although I play around a lot more with these settings on my Nikon D300. I'll probably tend to leave the Sony pretty much as-is? Anyway, more soon.