Monday, 30 September 2013

Two quick shots with Minolta lenses

Just a quick post because I haven't really been out shooting yet, but managed a couple of quick shots over the weekend.

Spring has been very wet and wild here on the West Coast, with lots of storms and unpredictable weather. That also means a chance for fantastic sunsets in the evening if the storm clears in time. And fortunately, it has been. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to get out and capture it.

Spring Sunset. Sony a100 with Minolta 100-200mm f4.5
Best I could do was put the Minolta 100-200mm telephoto on the camera, hold it over the fence in my back yard, and shoot the sunset from there. Yes, this is the view from my back yard. Not bad eh!?

The light was getting quite low, so I bumped the ISO up to 400, set the aperture to f5.6, and concentrated on taking the shot at the optimum 'Steady Shot' setting in the viewfinder. The final result is plenty sharp enough.

On Saturday the weather was better than expected, with lots of sun. Our dog just loves to 'sunbathe' in any patch of warmth, and I couldn't resist snapping her up on our bed.

Sun Dog. Sony a100 with Minolta 35-70mm f4
Jessie is our 'baby', and the whole family adores her. She's been a fairly expensive addition to the family - requiring knee surgery when she was one year old (she turned two this weekend) - but we wouldn't be without her.

To be honest, I don't take many shots of her at all. I suppose I shy away from the 'cuteness' factor with my photos, but I will probably regret that later on? Anyway, I took her photo this weekend because I was keen to try out the Minolta 35-70mm f4 zoom. It's a lens I had with my a200 a couple of years back, and it's such a stellar performer. Maybe the 35-70mm isn't a hugely versatile focal range (about a 50 to 105mm in 35mm terms), but the addition of a fairly handy 'macro' function at the 70mm end, together with great sharpness, makes this lens an absolute keeper as far as I'm concerned. No, it's not f1.8 - but f4 across the whole zoom range is still fairly respectable. And it did this portrait of Jessie justice.

I've gone back to processing my RAW images in Aperture - I just like it more than Lightroom, even if Adobe have the 'better' processing engine (apparently). I also processed the photo of Jessie in DXO's filmpack software straight in Aperture. I chose Fuji Astia 100 and bumped up the film grain ever so slightly.

So just a couple of quick shots, with a couple of quick lenses. Hopefully I'll get out more now that daylight savings is here and the days will get longer and warmer. Bring on a long and productive summer!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

BE IN QUICK! SONY & DXO Software Giveaway

Thanks to Sony, if you hurry you can get DXO's film simulation Software Programme DXO Filmpack 3 absolutely FREE until October 31st! That's right people - ABSOLUTELY FREE!

This is not a joke or a scam - although it may be a way of getting you hooked on the DXO products :-)

I downloaded the programme and got the activation code last night - and it works perfectly. It even installs the plug-ins for any version of Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop that you might have installed.

Josh. Sony a700, Minolta 100-200mm @ f4.5

DXO Ilford 400 Film Simulation
The software is super easy to use - and has dozens of the most popular colour slide, negative and black and white film stocks. You can also add filters to the black and white images for literally hundreds of different looks! And it's FREE!

This is NOT a scam. Go HERE to download your copy and simply enter a valid email address to get the activation code. Thanks  Sony and DXO!

This is not just for Sony cameras - it works on any jpeg or tiff image. But do it NOW - if you are reading this after October 31st 2013, then you are unfortunately too late.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Sigma 50-500mm f4-6.3 APO EX 'Bigma'

One of the less obvious reasons to buy into a particular system when you are choosing which DSLR to go for, is to consider what your friends may already have. If all your friends all shoot Nikon, and you buy the only Canon, then that limits you in terms of shared learning that you can participate in. But, much more importantly, it limits you in terms of the extra gear that you might have access to. If a friend buys that new 40mm pancake lens that you've heard so much about - or better still that strangely exotic 15mm fisheye, and you both use the same camera system, then some borrowing and lending of lenses can take place (so long as you trust they will take care of your gear). But if you are the only guy with the Nikon, then you're kinda stuck.

Many people use this as an argument for buying a Canon camera, since 'most' of the entry-level DSLR purchases are in the Canon system. Oddly enough, my decision to move to the Sony range (apart from being taken with the incredible technology they are coming out with in their camera bodies) is due to my being able to 'borrow' a whole swag of Sony/Minolta/Zeiss lenses from a friend.

Case in point: I haven't even bought the camera body yet, and the other day as I was talking to him (Hi Stew), he said that he had something for me. And oh boy, did he ever...

Sigma 50-500mm f4/6.3 APO EX lens. Nicknamed the 'BIGMA' for obvious reasons.
From the back of his car he produced this 'bad boy' - the Sigma 50-500mm f4-6.3 APO EX lens - a massive (both in weight and size) 10x zoom lens. Stew told me he hardly ever used it, and it was mine if I was interested.

I'm not much of a super-telephoto shooter myself. I don't shoot a lot of sports or action, and I am definitely no bird or wildlife photographer. But, I do shoot sports occasionally - and really enjoy it. And whenever I do I always have to beg, steal or borrow a lens to do the job.

Well now, with the Sigma 50-500mm in my arsenal, I don't have to borrow anymore. Attached to an APS-C sensor camera like the Sony A200, this 50-500mm monster becomes a 75-750mm MEGA-monster! 750 freakin millimeters!

Of course that comes with its own unique set of problems. First - it's a relatively slow lens at the top end at f6.3. I'd prefer if it were f5.6, but we are talking 750mm, with an 86mm front element. It's big and heavy enough as it is, without doubling the front of the element to let in twice the amount of light! So I'll live with f6.3 and probably only shoot with it on sunny days.

Second - because it is still big and relatively heavy, with a telescopic zoom that stretches from here to eternity, it's a fairly unstable lens - hence the tripod collar. At the very least, I will only use this lens attached to a monopod, although it could probably benefit from my most solid, stable (and heavy) tripod. Sigma have bought out a newer (more expensive) version of this lens with OS for Canon and Nikon, and you'd have to say that a lens of this size and magnification could really use it.

But of course, with the Sony cameras, Image Stabilisation (Steady Shot) is built right into the camera (thank you Sony), so I don't need the OS version (which they don't make for Sony anyway). Even so, I will still limit this lens to monopod/tripod only use.

Internet reviews suggest that this lens is actually a surprisingly good performer - even wide open - and pretty sharp all over stopped down to f8. The lens Stew gave me is in pretty good nick, although I haven't had a chance to test it out yet. What I did notice, however, was that the tripod collar didn't allow for rotation into a portrait orientation - it seemed 'glued' into place. A quick check on the web revealed that this 'sticking' is a common problem. And sure enough, with a little CRC and careful (but firm) elbow grease, I managed to get the collar moving again. On some models the collar can come off completely - while on other models it can't. Alas, mine is in the later category. But I managed to wedge some q-tips soaked in Isopropyl Alcohol in the gap where the mount unscrews to release the locking pressure, and move them around the lens barrel to pick up the 'gunk'. Moves pretty freely now.

I'm looking forward to taking this lens out for a spin. In about a month we have some motorcycle street racing here in Greymouth. I can see some serious telephoto zoom action happening about then...

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Sony Alpha Lens Lineup

One thing I hear over and over again by photographers and internet reviewers when people ask them about the Sony Alpha system is the 'poor lens selection' - their words, not mine (see last post).

To the uninitiated newbie to photography, this sounds exactly like the put-down that it's intended to be. They may as well say "Don't buy a Sony Alpha camera, all the lenses suck!" And indeed, some of them almost go that far.

But is this really true? Or is the uninitiated aspiring photographer being sold a lie?

I believe that it is a lie. And in fact, I'd go so far as to say that not only is it not true, I also believe that it could be turned a full 180 degrees. I'd go so far as to say that Sony has the best lens lineup of any manufacturer out there today! Can anyone say 'Minolta'?

So much glass... but it's just the tip of the iceburg
It just so happens that I have lens brochures from Sony, Canon and Nikon - as well as from Minolta, so a 'real' lens system comparison can be made. The Sony 'A' mount is the same as the Minolta mount, so all Minolta AF legacy glass from the 1970s onwards will fit perfectly on the Sony bodies. Yet people seem to ignore this. Why? Did Minolta not make any decent lenses? Are you kidding me! Minolta made crazy, insanely good, fantastically sharp glass. And guess what. They are ALL Image Stabilised, thanks to the Sony 'Steady Shot' system being inside of the camera, not the lens.

One of my favorite lenses to put on the a200 is a Minolta 35-70mm f4, the 'kit' lens that came with the Minolta 7000 film camera. Man is that thing sharp! I also have a Minolta 100-200mm f4.5, and it's a beautifully made, smooth, fast and sharp piece of glass too! Then there's the famous Minolta beer can (70-210mm f4) of the same era. Solid, well made and, you guessed it, sharp. And best of all, these lenses can be had for a song.

So lets take a look at the lenses available for the Sony Alpha system. And yes, I am going to include Minolta legacy lenses. And no, I don't think it's cheating. None of these lenses are scarce or hard to come by (except for maybe the really big guns like the 600mm), and all work perfectly on all Sony bodies.

For fixed prime lenses we have a 16mm fisheye, 20mm, 24mm, 24mm Zeiss, 28mm (f2 & f2.8), 35mm (f1.4G & f1.8), 50mm (f1.4 & f1.7 & f1.8), 85mm f1.4 Zeiss, 85mm (f1.4G & f2.8), 100mm f2, 100mm f2.8 Soft Focus, 135mm f1.8 Zeiss, 135mm f2.8STF, 200mm f2.8G, 300mm f2.8G, 400mm f4.5G, 500mm f4G, 500mm f8 Reflex and 600mm f4G! As well as the macro 30mm f2.8, 50mm f2.8, 50mm f3.5, 100mm f2.8 and 200mm f4 macro. Extensive enough for you?

Everyone loves zooms nowadays though - right? So presumably the zoom lens range for Sony is left wanting? OK then, let's check it out.

We've got an 11-18mm f4.5/5.6, 16-35mm Zeiss f2.8, 16-50mm f2.8, 16-80mm Zeiss f3.5/4.5, 16-105mm f3.5/5.6, 17-35mm f2.8/4, 17-35mm f3.5G, 18-55mm f3.5/5.6, 18-135mm f3.5/5.6, 18-200mm f3.5/6.3, 18-250mm f3.5/6.3, 20-35mm f2.5/4.5, 24-50mm f4, 24-70mm f2.8 Zeiss, 24-85mm f3.5/4.5, 24-105mm f3.5/4.5, 28-70mm f2.8G, 28-75mm f2.8, 28-80mm f3.5/5.6, 28-85mm f3.5/4.5, 28-100mm f3.5/5.6, 28-135mm f4/4.5, 35-70mm f4, 35-80mm f4/5.6, 35-105mm f3.5/4.5, 55-200mm f4/5.6, 55-300mm f4.5/5.6, 70-200mm f2,8G, 70-210mm f4, 70-210mm f4.5/4.6, 70-300mm f4.5/5.6, 75-300mm f4.5/5.6, 70-400mm f4.5/5.6G, 80-200mm f2.8, 100-200mm f4.5, 100-300mm f4.5/5.6, and100-400mm f4.5/6.7. Are you sure that's not a decent enough lens line up for the 'average' photographer to choose from?

And notice the inclusion of the name 'Zeiss' in there. Pro's who use Sony (yes, actual Pro's who do actually shoot with actual Sony cameras) claim that these Zeiss lenses are the best they've ever used. And if it's Zeiss, then I believe them. And that's on the SONY system baby.

Is anything really missing from the extensive list above? Maybe (although I can't think of anything right now). But nothing that you couldn't find by going to a Sigma lens instead.

So next time some block-head camera know-it-all tells you not to buy a Sony because they don't have the lens selection that the 'other' (re: Canon and Nikon) brands have, just smile and nod. Oh and yeah, point them in this direction....

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Internet/Youtube Morons

Whenever I'm looking into new camera systems, makes and models, I do what any red-blooded computer savvy shopper does, I go on the internet.

But anyone who has 'researched' cameras this way also knows that there is a lot of 'dross' out there - especially on Youtube. This ranges from the 'unboxing' (who the heck cares) videos, through to the poorly shot, poorly lit, poorly recorded, poorly worded (umm, snort, sniff, er, arr, umm, snort, well, umm....) in-depth camera 'reviews' from teenagers (mostly) who got their first 'bitchin' camera last week and just had to tell the whole world about how amazingly 'rad' this thing is. Like, 'woteva'.

Then there are the 'opinion' reviewers - the guys who have never even handled/used the gear, but know immediately from reading the spec sheet just how crap/brilliant/boring this new camera will be, and why you should/shouldn't get it. Yes, opinions are like noses - everybody's got one. But some noses are bigger than others. And some people should just keep their big noses out of it!

I'm not going to name names, but there is one guy in particular who is very prolific in this 'opinion' type Youtube video 'review' of cameras. I know more than enough to take him with a grain of salt, but one I watched recently on his '6 reasons not to buy the Sony a77' really got my blood boiling.

Sony a77. Trust me... Buy one :-)
Now I'm not being a Sony 'fan-boy' just because I'm moving to Sony and will shoot their gear shortly... I'm really not.

Sony, Canon, Nikon, Pentax - they all make great cameras. Use whatever you want - and I don't mean exclusively. I have a Canon 50D with 10-22mm that I will keep and use, even when I make the switch over to Sony. Who cares?

What really annoyed me about what this guy on Youtube said - offering up to less experienced viewers as 'fact' - was the complete and utter rubbish that almost all (if not all) of his claims actually happen to be. Let me break them down for you...

Reason number 1 for not buying a Sony a77 is that the 24MP sensor won't be as good in low light than the 16MP sensor in the Nikon D7000.  For starters - can anyone tell me how one of these things is not like the other? The 'Sony' made sensor in the D7000 is 16MP, while the one in the A77 is 24MP. We're not comparing apples with apples already. And, according to the camera review website dpreview, the low light performance of the a77 is pretty darn good. They say, and I quote "In Raw mode, we can see what the A77's 24MP sensor is really capable of. Detail capture is very high indeed, even at ISO 800, although at this setting some noise 'speckles' are visible in areas of plain tone. Overall though, the A77 turns in an excellent performance in this test, delivering appreciably more detail than we've ever seen from an APS-C format DSLR before."

Is the sensor in the a77 the best low light sensor in the world? No. Of course it's not. But is that a reason not to buy it? NO - Of course it's NOT. It still amazes me how hung up on 'low' noise, 'high' ISO so many photographers are. Believe me - sensor performance will not be an issue with the Sony a77.

Reason number 2 for not buying a Sony a77 (and almost by inference any Sony camera) - poor lens selection. Now this one really gets my blood pressure rising. So much so that I'm actually going to do a more detailed analysis in a follow-up post to this one. I've heard this so many times from Canon and Nikon users, but it's just nonsense. Nuff said for the time being. But I will follow this up soon. Trust me - lens selection will NOT be an issue if you buy a Sony camera.

Reason 3 for not buying a Sony a77 - no Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) flash control. I guess that rules out buying a Canon camera too then? But actually - once again, the moron on Youtube doesn't have a clue what he's on about. Yes, the Nikon CLS wireless flash control is really nice. I've used it myself, and agree that it is (was) much better than the Canon system. BUT - it was actually Minolta who created wireless flash years ago with their film cameras. And yes, this wireless flash system has carried over to the Sony digital system - like the a77! For some reason (don't ask me why), Minolta never really ever made a big deal about their wireless flash system that they had for years before anyone else. In fact, the advertising and marketing team at Minolta really did drop the ball on many of Minolta's achievements. Sony is a little better in this regard - but it should still be they, and not Nikon, who we think of when we think of a 'creative' lighting system. Nikon - and finally now Canon, have only ever played 'catch-up'.

Reason 4 - poor re-sale value. Really!? Take a quick look at my blog and you'll see that I'm a photographer who regularly buys and sells systems - a lot. I don't think that I'll have poor re-sale value if I buy an A77 as opposed to a Nikon or Canon. And nor do I think that this should even factor into any purchasing decision you make on camera gear. Besides which, as we all know, camera bodies come and go... it's the glass that makes the difference (and holds its value).

Reason 5 for not buying a Sony a77 (and again all Sony's by inference) - no Pros shoot with Sony. Right about now I'm shaking my head in disbelief. Because 'A' - this is blatantly not true, and 'B' who cares even if it was!? Ever heard of Gary Fong? Sony shooter. Check out celebrity portrait photographer Brian Smith - a Sony shooter. Oh, and yeah - just another photographer you 'may' have heard of - Trey Ratcliff. Sony NEX shooter. And I could name plenty more 'professional' photographers I know here in New Zealand who are Sony shooters. Now is that a reason to buy a Sony a77? No, of course it isn't. But is it also a reason not to buy a Sony!? Oh please!!!!

And finally - reason number 6 for not buying a Sony a77... the new phase detection auto focus system will be great for video - but might not be good for photography. Pardon? Again, I must stress that this is a review from a guy who hasn't even handled one of these cameras. Yet he's prepared to tell you that the new autofocus system might not be 'good enough' for stills photography. What? Is 12fps not fast enough for you fella? To be fair, I haven't used the camera either. But I have watched a video showing someone actually using the camera to follow fast moving sports action - and their analysis... it's plenty fast enough.

There's a lot of good information to be found on the internet for someone looking at buying new camera gear. But there's also some complete dross as well. Sony are making (and have already made) some amazing cameras - and lenses - and don't deserve to be written-off the way many Canon/Nikon centric shooters do. I've used them all, and I'm looking forward to my move to Sony. I actually seriously see it as a step 'up'. So be careful what you read/watch on the internet (and yes, that includes this as well). Opinions are like noses, and some people have seriously big noses.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Sony A200 re-visted

Went over to Christchurch for PK last weekend (see last post) and had a great time away. Took lots of photos at the event, and will post some of my favorites soon.

On a slightly different note, I had a look around a few camera stores when I was over there - just window shopping, drooling over the latest models etc. What was the camera that I was the most excited/taken by? The Sony a77. Got to play with a Sony a99 too - which was also very nice, but way beyond my price range (mind you, so is the a77).

Of course on the trip home this got me thinking about my gear, and my direction in terms of upgrades or cameras I might afford in the future. Was I excited about possibly one day owning a Canon7D, a Nikon 7100, or a Sony a77 (hey, that's a lot of sevens)? I had held - and briefly used - a Canon 7D, and I must say I was somewhat underwhelmed. The Nikon 7100 looks like a nice camera - might be a possibility, although i saw a few Nikon's in the stores in Christchurch and didn't even bother to pick one up. What I made a bee-line for, and what got my pulse racing just a little bit, was the big Sony cameras.

A couple of years ago I owned a Sony a200, which I blogged about at the time. I really enjoyed using the camera, and raved about the images I got with it and the Minolta 35-70mm f4 that I purchased for it.

Ultimately, I chose to stay with my Canon system, since I had the 5D full frame at that stage and was shooting weddings etc. But a part of me was definitely sad to see the a200 go and I have often wondered whether I shouldn't have decided to change to Sony instead.

Well, last weekend in Christchurch was all the inspiration I needed to make the change, and I've decided to do just that... 'go to Sony'. I have minimal investment in gear at the moment anyway - owning a Canon20D, kit lens and 50mm f1.8, so a switch at this time wouldn't be too daunting. In fact, I might even make on the deal, since Sony a200 bodies are fairly numerous and going reasonably cheaply second hand - and classic Minolta AF lenses have always been amazing value on the used market.

My suspicions were confirmed this weekend when I bid for, and ended up winning, a Minolta Maxxum 7000 film camera with two Minolta AF lenses for $85.00NZ! The first lens is the one I was after, the Minolta 35-70mm f4 macro - the same lens that I used with my last a200. It's such a compact, reasonably fast (constant f4) and insanely sharp piece of glass that, even though it's a bit on the 'long' side as an everyday walkabout lens (52-105mm equivalent), I still wanted to own and use the lens - and it's just so darn cheap! Throw away the Maxxum 7000 film body, just keep the lenses, and I'm still only paying about $45 for each lens! That's amazing.

The second lens that comes with the film camera is another oddball classic Minolta AF lens - the 100-200mm f4.5. This 'mini beercan' also has rave reviews for sharpness, and a constant f4.5 aperture. The range equates to a 150-300mm lens on an a200 - not a bad telephoto zoom range, in such a small and compact lens design. They just don't make lenses like this anymore, and sometimes you've gotta ask yourself - why not?

There are a few a200's that I am watching online at the moment - all come with at least the standard Sony 18-70mm kit lens - quite a good lens by all accounts. So if I can snag one of these (after selling my Canon gear), my journey into the Sony camera system will be complete.

Then the dream of owning one of those sexy a77's Sony cameras can begin to become a reality...