Dec 112013
 

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Around the World with the Sony Nex 7 and the Metabones Speedbooster

By James Vanderpool – His website is HERE, his Facebook is HERE

Hello all. I’ve been a fan of Steve’s site for a while, among others. I’ve always liked his real world reviews, and one thing that seems to not have many reviews in terms of photography is the speed booster from Metabones. (The vanilla way to get full frame in mirrorless!) I got the Nex 7 in about July of last year and had been using it almost weekly on photo trips. Though I was mostly pleased with the camera, there were a few things I was unhappy with like the low light performance and APS-C cropping of my all manual full frame lenses. When this adapter came out, I was extremely excited and purchased it almost immediately. Some things turned out like I expected, but there were a few surprises.

The very first time I used this adapter was shooting an event for a Roller Derby team. The adapter really came in handy that day, because the scrimmage was indoors and light was fading fast. I was able to get shots at much lower ISOs than I thought possible.

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One thing that did surprise me was the focusing. When I first got my adapter it couldn’t focus any lenses to infinity. Though I had read it about it online in EOS HD’s preview of the Metabones adapter, I hadn’t thought it would make it to the final product. This was really annoying, actually, as the farthest away I could focus was about 15 feet! (Which is why I’m almost stepping in on the action in all of my shots there, haha.)

The next day, I had the opportunity to be an assistant on a portrait shoot for the Derby team. The adapter really felt better suited for this sort of work. I could get in real close to get some amazing shots, and it worked wonders for isolating the subjects. You can see in two of my shots below that I also appreciated the extra space it gave me over a standard APS-C adapter.

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It took me a while to figure out how to properly adjust my adapter. To fix it: I had to 1) find tiny screwdrivers, 2) guess and test. Both steps took a few days, but number 2 was particularly difficult. The biggest problem was remembering that there wouldn’t be as much detail in landscapes (my testing method) as there would be in the standard adapter. When I remembered this, I checked my 35-70 zoom at 35mm with the standard adapter against my 50mm with the Metabones. They matched up, mostly. Since I don’t want to take up all Steve’s storage space, I won’t show all the photos I took but there are a few good examples of low light, landscapes, and street you should see. (Demonstrating speed, wide-angle, and ability to focus in an unstaged environment.)

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The next place I went to in my travels was Shanghai. Truthfully, I was only there for a 24 hour layover. But when I got an offer I proffered my wallet and went on a tour. (When was I going to be in Shanghai again?) I only took along my 50 1.4 for this trip. No tripods, no wider angled lenses. I had a lot of landscape shots, and a few street. I spent the most time (about two hours) in the Shanghai Pearl. When I got to the top I really wished for my tripod, but so it goes. Make do.

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I was able to stay in San Francisco for quite a while after I got back on account on free-living space. It is, to my mind, the perfect city for photography. You can walk anywhere and everywhere is beautiful, has character, and is full of history. I wish I could live there and photograph forever, but alas, it’s a pretty big investment to live there with no job already lined up. I’ll have to content myself with images for now and plan to visit again in the future.

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So by now you’ve seen the ISO, the shutter speed, and the lenses I use. I tried to keep ISO below 200 when possible, but I also tend to use my camera on shutter priority when not shooting landscapes. Before I get a bit deeper into the pros and cons of this adapter, I wanted to be sure you saw the pictures I shot with it. Though I may not be as talented as some of the posters on this site, I’d like to offer these as proof that yes, the Metabones does give your APS-C camera most of the characteristics of a full frame. Yes, you can take good pictures.

Now, for you detail oriented types.

Ergonomics

You know what my second favorite thing about this adapter’s ergonomics is? It’s small. With my 50 1.4 on the Nex 7, it’s barely larger than the 24 1.8 E-mount I started with. Considering that A) it gives a full frame field of view, and that B) on the Metabones adapter, it’s effectively f/1 in terms of light gathering (but not depth of field!) that is quite an incredible feat. Even my 35-70 3.4 is APS-C sized when you consider that it’s about an 24-50 f2.3 equivalent. Eat your heart out Sigma! (Only 17.6 oz, compared to the Sigma 18-35’s 28.8.)

My favorite thing about this adapter’s ergonomics is the tripod mount on the adapter. It is incredibly sturdy, so you can mount other accessories on an accessory. Madness! My personal favorite is my L-bracket from Really Right Stuff. Why not just mount it on the camera? Well, unless you have really expensive tripods you will always have a bit of drop between when you lock the camera into place on the tripod and when you let it go to take the pictures. This is especially a problem using the Nex 7 with my Contax lenses, as they’re often heavier than the camera. (I suppose with light enough lenses that wouldn’t be a problem, but then you wouldn’t be considering this article would you?) By attaching the camera to the tripod at the adapter instead of the camera, you change the center of gravity and make focusing much easier.

What bugs me, ergonomics-wise? Well, I can’t put my camera in the bag with the L-bracket attached. Time to bust out the Alan wrench!

Resolution

Now for the details! If you read the white paper, or the lens rentals blog post about the adapter you’ll know that resolution is better in the center with pretty much any lens. Also with any lens, it’s worse in the corners. Well, how bad? Have you noticed it?

At lower apertures, I wouldn’t focus anywhere near infinity. I’ve had a few photos I had to throw away because the corners were bad enough to distract from the image. However, this problem mostly clears itself up at higher apertures. Not entirely, but I don’t think you noticed and I certainly wouldn’t be afraid to print large. Here’s one last picture of San Francisco, followed by a ~90% crop at f/8.

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So, if you’re worried about corner softness just remember this: it’s only a few blades of grass.

Focusing

After the initial troubles with infinity, I found this was easier to focus on my Nex 7 than the standard Novoflex adapter due to the increased control over depth of field. In generous light, I don’t even need to use focus magnification to get critical focus. When the light isn’t so generous (admittedly 80% of the time) I still need to use focus magnification, but it’s a quicker process of getting in range before I activate my focus magnification function.

That being said, this will not make it easy to focus on fast-moving subjects like athletes, or even subjects just moving at street speed. It takes time, practice, and in the case of sports hundreds of exposures. (With the 50 1.4. My 100-300 4.5-5.6 was much easier to focus, but that is telephoto lenses, smaller apertures, and an APS-C depth of field.) Even though this allows you to use film lenses with most of their functions intact from 35mm it will not replace a split prism or rangefinder focusing system, let alone pro level phase detection autofocus. (For pro phase detect, think Canon 1 DX/C.)

Compatibility

My one true disappointment with this adapter was that it wasn’t compatible with all of my Contax lenses. My 100-300 4.5-5.6, a beautiful (if massive) lens had stabilizing metal flanges coming from the lens mount. Due to the glass elements of the Metabones adapter, this was impossible to mount. Other large lenses might run into the same problems.

Protection

Those same lens elements that stop me from mounting my 100-300 lens also protect my sensor from harm. A silver lining, indeed.

Well, in a little over 1500 words now I’ve told you everything I know how to tell you about my adapter, and a little bit about the travels I took it through. Feel free to ask me any questions about the adapter I didn’t already think to answer, or give me comments or criticism about some of my photos. I’m still learning.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the article!

Dec 092013
 

The Sony NEX-7 Takes Flight

by Bob Towery – 

www.dreamtomorrowblog.com

For the past three years, I have been taking my family to Ixtapa/Zihautanejo, Mexico, for a January vacation. We stay in a beautiful condo right on the beach, and for two weeks life could not get any more idyllic.

The first year we went, I did get out one day to attempt some serious photography. I hired a taxi driver and said “take me out to the country, where there aren’t any tourists!” I did enjoy this, and got some interesting local people shots, but after doing so realized this was probably sort of a dangerous thing to do.

So the last two years I just took my most basic kit, a Sony NEX-7 and the 18-200mm zoom. This lens is obviously slow and a real compromise, but realistically I’m just looking to get some vacation snaps, right?

Sun Splash

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This is the kind of “postcard” sort of shots that I would get. Nothing wrong with that. Except that I got frustrated. Here I was in this beautiful place, and I’m making post cards? Isn’t there something more? That night I went to bed (after a few rum “painkillers”) trying to imagine what I could put together photographically.

The next morning, as is my custom, I went for a walk on the beach. The entire round trip is four miles, so it’s pretty nice. As I was turning the door handle to leave, I realized I didn’t have my camera. “Why bother?” was my first thought. More postcards? But something told me I should grab it anyway and I did. (My grandmother always said: play your hunches.)

I walked along and tried to quiet my busy mind. Although on vacation, my thoughts turn to work, the other various things that occupy my life. I had the Sony on a shoulder strap, and my hand on the body to keep it from flailing around as I trudged through the morning’s wet sand.

All of a sudden a pelican appeared to my left, in my peripheral vision. As I swung the camera up to my face, I depressed the shutter to awaken it. I kept my left eye on the pelican and moving the camera quickly to try to get the bird framed I was totally startled. The EVF had this smeared image that lasted for a little over a second. My brain was totally confused as I still had both eyes opened, but I had seen this completely strange and unreal view in my right eye.

And at that second I recalled my dream, sometime during the previous night. Flight. I often dream of flying. Sometimes, it’s like a Superman thing. I take two steps downhill and I’m airborne. Most often though I’m in some kind of wacky flying craft. A platform, something like out of the land based Star Wars crafts. It’s nearly always semi-dark and I float along over a lit up city, small forests, that kind of thing. I have done a lot of private flying, and a private pilot’s nemesis, power lines, often appear in my dreams.

But not last night. No, I was a bird. Not just any bird, evidently, as the images from the dream began to appear in my brain. They were such a mess that I just sat down on the sand, closed my eyes, listened to the crashing Pacific Ocean waves and marveled at the dream replay. This was perhaps a jungle bird, a flying sasquatch. From another time. Slow, maybe just having one eye, as the colors and lack of acuity were so surreal. I considered that this bird every so often emerges from the jungle, only early or late, to briefly reconnect with the Ocean and the creatures along the shore.

This bird would take in the modern birds, faster, more refined, able to see right through the water to catch fish. And those strange upright creatures without wings. Unbelievably fast and loud creatures which carry the upright beings on their back. Once in a while, even a creature that had not changed that much from the prehistoric times, something I could recognize.

These images from my dream were different from I had ever dreamt before, and as I picked myself up from the sand I determined to attempt to make images that week that would represent these strange visions.

Over the course of the next few miles along the beach I developed the idea that I would use a slow shutter, early and late in the day, and create my version of this ancient being’s vision. Processing in Lightroom 5 completed the recreation.

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In closing, I’d like to make a brief point. To the extent I was successful, I believe it was mainly because after the dream, I was shooting with a real purpose. I intended to make certain types of images. I find I create much more compelling images when I shoot with a purpose, as opposed to “seeing what I can find.” This particular theme was pretty complex, but it doesn’t have to be. You can say “today I’m going to shoot yellow!” Or shadows, or only looking down or up. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but having a purpose orients our brain to find subject matter in a more interesting way.

Bob Towery – www.dreamtomorrowblog.com

 

Sep 122013
 

Quick Comparison: Canon 6D with 35 1.4 vs NEX-7 and Speed Booster 35 1.4

Before sending back the Canon 6D and lenses that I reviewed I ran out and snapped two test shots against a Sony NEX-7 with a Canon EOS to E-Mount Metabones Speedbooster Adapter. As most of you already know, the speedbooster takes your APS-C sensor camera and pretty much gives you the normal field of view and extra stop of light. It Increases Angle of View by 0.71x and increases the maximum Aperture by one stop. It’s a nifty device that can give you a full frame look and feel on an APS-C camera. Much has been written about the speed booster here and on other websites across the internet but I thought it would be fun to see the nEX-7 go against the 6D with the same glass.

So below are two generic test shots. One with the Canon 85L and 6d against the NEX-7 and 85L using the Speed Booster. Another with the 6D and Sigma 35 1.4 against the NEX-7 and 35 1.4 with Speed Booster.

1st shot, tripod, Canon 6D and 85L at 1.2 – click it for larger – this is direct from camera, RAW.

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Now with the NEX-7 and Speedbooster – 85L at 1.2. Notice the Bokeh..like a big blob compared to the Canon lumps. The Bokeh is from a TV in the back. Click image for larger. The cameras were set to A mode and aperture set to wide open. Cameras chose exposure to see if the NEX would expose correctly with the Speedbooster.

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Now the Canon 6D with Sigma 35 1.4 at f/2

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and the NEX-7 with 35 1.4 at f/2

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One thing to note: The NEX-7 with Speed Booster focused so slow it could never really be used in reality. Manual focus would be the way to go. With the 35 1.4 the NEX-7 and speedbooster would not work in Auto Focus so it had to be manually focused. The Speed B ooster is expensive but I can see how it could be useful to give you your focal length equivilant and Bokeh back to you when shooting on an APS-C camera. There is also a speed booster made for Micro 4/3 (Nikon G or Leica R glass to Micro 4/3) and Fuji X as well (Nikon).

You can see all available speedboosters HERE at B&H Photo.

Sep 022013
 

New Sony NEX-7 Firmware V 1.03 now available!

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This is a few days late and some of yuo may already have downloaded it but there is a new firmware out for the NEX-7 which adds a few things including the AF drive system for video shooting as well as the ability to enable or disable the movie button, which I know many have asked for many times. Also improves response times and IQ using wide-angle lenses. Take a look below at the list, and download it HERE for MAC OSX or HERE for Window (choose your version in the drop down menu).

Improvements over version 1.02:

Adds the AF drive system for movies

  • Note: The AF drive system for movies is added in order to enhance the scalability of future E-mount systems.
  • Benefits provided by previous updates and included in version 1.03:
  • Provides support for the SELP1650 automatic compensation compliant lens
  • Enables the SELP1650 lens to retract immediately after turning off the camera
  • Adds the capability to enable or disable the MOVIE button
  • Adds bracket shooting exposure settings (three frames / 1.0EV, 2.0EV, 3.0EV)
  • Improves response for showing auto review images
  • Improves image quality when using a wide-angle lens
  • Improves indication for using the “Flexible Spot” setting
Jun 112013
 

hasselblad_lunar_italian_malunarmah

Get your Hasselblad Lunar now for only $6995!

Yes my friends, just when we thought the new Leica X Vario was over priced we now have the opportunity to buy the Hasselblad Lunar on Amazon RIGHT NOW! There are eight of them in stock at only $6995 with the 18-55 Made in Thailand Kit Zoom. Yes, THAT Hasselblad Lunar, you know, the one that is really a Sony NEX-7 with a fancy covering? Yes, this IS indeed a Sony NEX-7. Same sensor, same menus, same control, same kit zoom. But instead of $costing $1100 it is $7000. 

The same soft-ish Sony old school 18-55 on the same innards of the NEX-7 with a HUGE outer casing and grip.

Haseelblad must be smoking something really strong to even think they would profit from such a thing.

I wonder how many they will sell within one year? Should be interesting. I have yet to see anyone shoot with one, even for a review. There have been 1-2 reviews but no one has shot with it, they just visually saw and held it and wrote about its cheap plastic feel. No shooting.

In any case, I would never recommend the Lunar but had to post about it being available in case any of you here are feeling a little bit crazy. It comes in Titanium/Brown, Bronze/Mahogony and Titanium/Black. It does appear one of the Bronze ones sold, as I believe there were 3 of each when listed, now there are two of the Bronze, so SOMEONE bought one :)

If you want this camera without the bling you can buy the NEX-7 with the same lens for $1098, take that extra $6k and go on a kick ass vacation to use it, but the people targeted by Hasselblad for the Lunar have enough cash to buy the Lunar and a trip around the world anyway. Then again, the Leica M 240 is $7000 and I own one and am not rich! But the M 240 is not an OM-D E-M5 with a Leica shell. It is unique and there is nothing like it. The Lunar is the nuttiest camera release of the past 20 years.

 

Oct 302012
 

And now for something completely different…

For years I have shot with large DSLR lens and bodies, mostly wildlife and mostly birds in-flight. Not long ago I unloaded it all for various reasons and picked up a Leica. I also picked up a Sony NEX7 + kit lens last winter and shot some snowy owls with it. Yes, snowy owls with a kit lens equipped NEX7, it worked like a charm and I think it gave me some unique images, some stock agencies even thought so. Using the wide angle, I used the 10 FPS to my advantage because at f/8 and 18mm (27mm equvelent), everything is in focus. Its amazing what you can accomplish with the small camera systems that is out there now.

The EXIF data in tact, thanks for looking!

Rob McKay

http://bokehenstein.com

http://www.flickr.com/photos/caughtintheair/

 

Oct 172012
 

Download the new NEX-7 Firmware Update Version 1.01

Well it seems that Sony has listened to the requests of the NEX-7 shooters and delivered a firmware update for their cameras! You can download the update HERE.

What will this firmware fix do?

Addition of capability to enable or disable the MOVIE button!

Addition of exposure settings of bracket shooting (three frames /1.0EV,2.0EV, 3.0EV)

Improvement of response for showing auto review image.

Improvement of image quality when using a wide-angle lens!!

Improvement of indication when setting “Flexible Spot”.

I just bow downloaded this update for my NEX-7 as I have been waiting as well! Thanks Sony!

Sep 182012
 

The pursuit of an ultra shallow depth of field

with the Sony NEX-7 and the Canon FD 85mm 1:1.2 S.S.C. Aspherical.

by Dirk De Paepe

Well, I never owned a Leica and I probably never will. Nevertheless I’ve admired those camera’s for as long as I can remember and I can’t stop dreaming about them. I love their concept. I love their looks. I love their feel. And above all, I adore their image quality. But I’m one of those guys (and I guess there’s a lot like me) that say: no, this is way over the top too expensive. I can’t justify to spend that kind of crazy money for a camera, so I won’t buy it. OK, if it was half the price (that would still be a lot of money), I would go for it. But I like to spend my money on other things too, so I’ll pass. That’s why I have settled for a Sony NEX-7, with some nice Zeiss ZM glass, Instead of an M9 with Leica lenses.

You can’t always get what you want. That’s a fact of life. Until pretty recently, taking pictures just for fun was one of those items for me (besides owning a Leica). I’ve always taken a lot of pictures for my job (product shooting and reportage work within our branch), but that’s different. There’s not too much creative freedom involved in that. Admiring good pictures, and thinking about what I could do, if ever…, was the farthest I got. Pretty recently though, when I got more time in my business, I could really bit by bit realize what I’ve always dreamed about: spending more “quality time” with my camera and reading more about photography. I already renounced the big and heavy DSLR a long time ago, so Steve’s site drew my special attention. Visiting it on a daily basis really broadened my way of thinking about photography, and consequently it changed my way of shooting. Where at first, I disagreed with Steve on a regular basis (this doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate his opinion – on the contrary, I always valued it very highly), I found it remarkable that more and more I began to think in the same direction. I always considered reshaping once opinion as one of the most valuable abilities, so this process was a very positive experience for me, since it led me towards new and interesting paths. Reading about those special lenses, like the Noctilux or the SLR Magic 50mm T0.95 and looking at pictures taken with them, made me dream about owning some glass that really could produce this fabulous shallow DOF and the 3D separation that goes along with it. But again, those lenses were out of my league, regarding their prices and the fact that I would only buy one “just for fun”.

One of the nice things about Steve’s site is that it also publishes guest contributions – which I often find very inspiring. Anyway, it was thanks to one of those that I thought of giving my old Canon FD lenses a second life with my NEX-7. And then I discovered the FD 85mm 1:1.2 S.S.C. Aspherical, a lens that I have never before given any attention, because I was shooting in a different way. But now I thought: this will probably offer me an amazingly shallow DOF, close to that of those two great examples, that I mentioned above. Of course, I wouldn’t compare this FD to those famous lenses, but still, whenever I read about this 85mm, it receives the highest appreciation and is by many authors considered as one of the best lenses ever made. I already had the Novoflex NEX/CAN adapter, and knew that the FDs work terrificly well on the NEX. So I went bidding on ebay on a very nice example and all of a sudden got myself a beautiful “ultra shallow DOF” lens for about 1/4 of the price of the above mentioned SLR Magic, or less than 1/10 of the Noctilux! And, as I mentioned, concerning shallow DOF, it probably comes very close to those two great examples, although not being a 50 mm. But still… So I consider this as one of the best buys I did in years! In the meanwhile, I got so enthusiastic about shooting with it, and it works so well together with my NEX-7, that I’d like to share some pictures, made with this camera/lens combination.

Of course, being an 85 mm and the NEX using an APS-C sensor, this makes for a very important crop factor and a compressed perspective, compared to a 50 mm on the M9. When, for instance, I focus on a person that I wanna picture from the waste up, I will have to shoot from a larger distance, thus focussing further away and loosing some of the shallowness in DOF. But on the other hand, the shallowness increases again with the tele factor, so that compensates. Over all I believe the DOF is pretty comparable. It’s mainly the compressed perspective that bothers me sometimes. That’s why I continue dreaming about shooting a 50mm with a full frame camera. But like I said, you can’t always get what you want, still this lens/camera combination can give very nice results. Often I can even benefit from the crop/tele factor, like in portraits or in the shooting of people in general. Being able to stay at a larger distance leaves the person more easily in his comfort zone, which typically results in a more spontaneous facial expression. It’s important to always look on the bright side of life, isn’t it…

My first picture is a good example of this: a non-posed portrait that brings the girl’s face very close, thus creating a great intimacy. Her facial expression stays very natural and makes you wonder about here thoughts. This picture is an out of camera RAW conversion, no cropping nor any other processing was done. It’s absolutely razor-sharp up till 100% enlargement, and introduces the haze already at the cheek. I believe the shallowness is pretty amazing. The background, which has no function at all in this case, is completely blurry beyond recognition, thanks to the wide open shooting. IMO this lens is a dream for portraits. And the focus peaking of the NEX made it possible to focus very fast and accurate, which is an absolute necessity when portraying in that kind of “instant” circumstances. IMO, both lens and camera are perfect for this kind of work.

Despite this, I love those “ultra shallow DOF” lenses the most, when they’re focussed at a medium distance, because then the background, although still blurred, remains recognizable. But at the same time, the object in focus benefits of a very clear separation, not possible to achieve with a less fast lens. With this wonderful 3D effect, you can evoke extra expression. Thanks to the information in the background and the great separation, you can bring a completer story. And again, the combination of the NEX-7 (with its focus peaking and brilliant viewfinder) and this Canon FD 85mm offers total control and very fast action. The “Kissing in the Park” picture is a good example hereof, where one really needs to act fast, to be able to freeze the action in the split second that it has its greatest expression. This picture was taken from a distance of about 10 meters and was cropped to 87,5%, since there was a bit too much grass in the foreground.

I really love this Canon FD 85mm lens in combination with the NEX-7. It’s really razor-sharp when shooting wide open. I find the colors to be rich, well-balanced and very natural and I like its bookeh. Of course it’s a somewhat heavy lens, weighing 737 grams, but it’s a lot of glass and, as far as I can tell, all ultra shallow DOF lenses are pretty heavy. As a matter of fact I always shoot it wide open, because I only use it, when I’m pursuing this ultra shallowness. I also own a Zeiss ZM Tele-Tessar 4/85mm for “normal” work, which comes in much more handy, due to its much lighter weight and compact format. I believe a lens like this Canon is made to shoot wide open, otherwise one wouldn’t wanna carry that weight… By the way, this Canon lens is available on ebay on a regular basis. I read it’s very familiar in terms of construction to the currently available EF 85mm f/1.2 USM that sells for over 2000 Euro in Europe.

I hope you can enjoy some of my pics, and share with me the satisfaction that for about 2000 Euro’s I have bought myself a camera/lens combination, that can bring an atmosphere and an expression to my pictures, for which, until recently, I thought I’d need to spend at least three times more money. Yes, I’m a happy man…

Sep 012012
 

Peaking into the past, present, and future with the Nex-7

By Vitor Munhoz – His website is HERE, his blog is HERE

The recent plethora of new goodies being announced made me stop to think about the pace and direction of photographic innovation. In particular, the new Sony Nex models got me wondering whatever happened to the Sony Nex-7?

Rewind to less than a year ago and anyone who was anybody online could not place Sony Nex-7 on a higher pedestal. It was the be all and end all of photographic achievement. While some prophesized the death of DSLR’s, others went out of their way to test it up against everything and even overturn the sovereignty of the Leica M9. Then, as if its 15 minutes of fame were up, new kids showed up on the block and cast the Nex-7 into oblivion.

How could such a revolutionary camera be overshadowed so quickly? Could this just be the new lifespan of technology or simply our short attention span? I refused to believe in either. There had to be something more.

I myself had a Nex-7 for a few months, and due to several gripes with it, thought it best to part ways. But it couldn’t have been that everyone had the same experience as me, considering I was using it solely with legacy lenses, such as the exotic Konica 21-35mm M-Hexar Dual and an old beat up Nikon 50mm 1.8 Series E. It also couldn’t have been the gorgeous colors, image quality or even that EVF which I miss to this day.

Coincidentally, whilst reviewing my old photographs of a village museum taken with the Nex-7, I began to form parallels between it and the camera. The village museum is a sanctuary of old technology. It nestles amazing tools from the past that have been abandoned with the coming of newer ones. What caught my attention was that the village museum didn’t simply carry random old tools – it displayed tools that survived the test of time despite newer technology. The printing press, the anvil, and even the rusty old steam donkey have each served a singular purpose, and in doing so, still hold relevance to this day. I don’t want to compare a camera to an anvil here, but regardless of the complexity of photography as an artform and a craft, the camera is ultimately a tool.

In our age, however, tools can be made to incorporate countless features, and I think what attracted many of us to the Nex-7 was that it wasn’t a simple tool anymore, it was the ultimate tool.

Here was a camera that was smaller than a DSLR with an image sensor that dethroned a Leica. It had a promise of future high-end lenses, led by the Zeiss 24 E, and access to professional AF if desired. Not only that, but also like the village museum, it breathed a second life into an entire world of optics unlike any other camera had with its new focus peaking mode. This camera served everyone and there was no job too big or too small for it. It could take on editorial, commercial, landscape, portraiture and why not even sports. It was in every sense of the term a “jack of all trades.” To my naiveté, however, I use the term “jack of all trades” quite too often without considering its second part: “jack of all trades, master of none.”

Such “Jacks of all trades” have a very arduous road to success and you don’t see them in village museums for a reason. Their relevance usually falls short when compared to the tools they were meant to assimilate. There is something about the simple, but dependable tools that have proven their worth, the ones that are still in the annals of history and, in some cases, used to this day despite technological advancements.

The same can be said about cameras. A year has passed and not much has changed: DSLR’s are still going strong and Leicas still cost an arm and a leg. As inventive and farsighted as the Nex-7 was said to be, I think what it lacked was clearer vision of what it was and whom it was for. The jack-of-all-trades was truly a master of none. As I began to cross off my list of uses for the Sony Nex-7, I felt as if it was all a foolish dream, much like what it must feel after buying an all-in-one TV remote/fax machine/nose-hair trimmer on a whim. The Nex-7 wasn’t here to replace anything.

For starters, Sony’s hotshoe is an anchor holding back the entire Nex and Alpha systems. The alternatives – a ridiculously priced conversion adapter or third party versions that only work sporadically – just aren’t acceptable. Even with a magical 24 mp sensor, commercial and portrait photographers will sound a clear “no, thanks” with the fear of a conversion adapter acting up during a photo shoot.

Second, the focus peaking mode is interesting, but it’s still a long way from being fully trusted. When it tells you absolutely everything in your frame is in focus because you’re shooting at f8 outdoors on a sunny day, I’m sure many street shooters with their legacy lenses will also join in with a “no, thanks.”

But above all, trying to embrace the entire system just caused me to question Sony and its priorities as a whole. Why should I invest in a system from a company that can’t be bothered releasing a single firmware update to their flagship Nex model? Instead, they attempt to resolve criticism of the Nex-7 by developing a replacement model. Three new cameras later (including the upcoming Nex-6) and no new lenses as we were made out to believe, no accessories, and no support. They give us the newest cameras like clockwork, but what are we truly gaining? Since my 4-month-old camera will soon be labeled previous generation I can assure you it’s definitely not something that will be remembered a few years from now. If there ever was a village museum for cameras, I don’t imagine it having room for the Sony Nex-7.

I don’t want to put anyone off of the Nex-7. It is capable of magnificent images and I’m sure many owners out there love it to pieces. I only wish that my experience and views can encourage discussion regarding the bigger picture and what us consumers are benefitting from this new age of market demand and supply. While we all wait for upcoming announcements, I hope that these new tools can help us achieve more than we could before, rather than just being this-year’s model waiting to be replaced in 2013.

Cheers,

Vitor Munhoz

Jun 152012
 

CALL OF THE WILD: Stalking the Perfect Nature Shot with Art Wolfe in the Rainforest

By Todd Hatakeyama – See his blog HERE

As much fun as I’ve had shooting the concrete jungle with savvy street photographers like Eric Kim and Steve Huff, my first and foremost passion has always been for natural, not man-made, landscapes. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to take a workshop-in-the-wild with the man widely regarded as one of the finest nature photographers since Ansel Adams, I packed up my gear and rain covers in my Naneu Pro U60 backpack and headed to Washington state for a lot of muddy hiking and an unforgettable experience.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Art Wolfe…shame on you! In a career spanning more than thirty years, Art has roamed every continent on the planet, taking pictures of the wilderness that have appeared in National Geographic and other magazines and in a string of award-winning books. His captivating photos of wildlife, panoramas, and native cultures have garnered such honors as the Alfred Eisenstaedt Magazine Photography Award and the National Audubon Society’s first-ever Rachel Carson Award. He has been named Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year by the North American Nature Photography Association and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. And his public television series Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge rocks–I’ve seen every episode. This was my chance to share in the adventure.

Me and Art – NEX-7 with Leica 90mm Elmarit-M f/5.6 1/100 sec ISO 100 handheld

From the outset, Art advised us to carry as much gear as we could lug in order to be prepared for both macro and landscape shooting and the changing light and weather conditions we might encounter. “If you have it, bring it,” he said, “because you will probably use it.” With this in mind, I stuffed my Naneu Pro bag with the Leica M9, a Sony NEX-7 with a Leica adapter, a Leica 21mm Super Elmar, a 35mm Summilux, a 90mm Elmarit-M, a Hyperprime 50mm f.95, a Sigma 30mm 2.8, a Sony 55-210mm, a Vanguard 225CT carbon fiber tripod, a Feisol CB-30C head, ND filters and graduated ND filters, some polarizing filters, 128gb of SD cards, Micro Lens Pouches to pad my lenses, and a couple of Street Strap camera straps. Any more than that and I would’ve needed a Sherpa to carry it all into the woods for me.

Naneu Pro bag with the Leica M9, a Sony NEX-7 with a Leica adapter, a Leica 21mm Super Elmar, a 35mm Summilux, a 90mm Elmarit-M, a Hyperprime 50mm f.95, a Sigma 30mm 2.8, a Sony 55-210mm, a Vanguard 225CT carbon fiber tripod, a Feisol CB-30C head

On Thursday night, I flew into SeaTac airport, where I rendezvoused with my friend S.K., a fellow alumnus of the Steve Huff workshops. By the time we made the two-and-a-half-hour drive in our rental car from Seattle to Port Angeles and checked into our hotel, it was 2 a.m., so we missed the initial evening meet-and-greet with Art Wolfe. Although Art encouraged all the students to do a pre-workshop shoot at dawn on Friday morning, S.K. and I needed what little sleep we could catch before the big day ahead.

SK and me – NEX-7 with 55-210 at 94mm f/5.6 1/13 sec ISO 200 handheld

We woke in time to grab a hasty breakfast, then joined our new classmates for Art’s two-hour introductory presentation. Illustrating his lecture with stellar examples from his own work, he told us what to watch for out in the field and offered us some tips with regards to composition, camera settings, and tripod techniques, among other topics. There were thirty workshop participants in addition to Art’s helpful assistants, Jay Goodrich, Bill Edwards, and Libby Pfeiffer, all of whom are accomplished photographers in their own right. S.K. and I were the only non-DSLR shooters in the group, he with his M9P and Pentax, me with my M9 and Sony NEX-7. I realized that it was going to be difficult to capture any quick-moving wildlife with the manual focusing Leica and without a long zoom lens. Ironically, that challenge was part of what appealed to me about the workshop with Art Wolfe. Having followed his work for years, I knew that he is a Canon DSLR shooter and frequently shoots with 300 to 500mm lenses. I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to get anything close to his shots with my Leica gear, but I was eager to see what I could do with the Leica despite its evident disadvantages for this kind of photography.

M9 with 21mm Super Elmar f/11 1/8 sec ISO 800 handheld

 Following the seminar, our entire group picked up some sandwiches at the local grocery store for lunch and set out for our first field shoot. Our goal was the Marymere Falls, located amidst the old-growth trees of the Sol Duc Valley in Olympic National Park. The weather wasn’t great– overcast skies with some light rain that turned the ground a bit muddy–but it could have been a lot worse. The most troublesome aspect was probably the wind around the waterfalls, which made them difficult to shoot with the mist blowing right into the camera lens at the closest and best vantage point.

M9 with 90mm Elmarit-M f/14 1.5 sec ISO 160 with tripod

I’d brought along my Vanguard 225CT carbon fiber tripod since Art recommended having one with me, but I rarely shoot with a tripod as my style of photography is more spontaneous and fast-moving. All of the DSLR shooters had their huge tripods and 70-200mm telephoto and wide angle lenses, some of which they set up in the streams to get a perfect shot of the waterfalls. S.K. and I, however, leisurely wandered around shooting the forest and anything we found interesting but without the use of a tripod. Once I reached one of the waterfalls, I set up the Vanguard and alternated between the M9 and NEX-7, experimenting with some long exposures. In addition, I would switch between handheld and tripod shots depending on the situation. It sprinkled intermittently, so I would shoot with the NEX-7 when it was wet and the M9 when the rain let up. The M9 is not weather-sealed, and I did not want to risk any water damage. Truth be told, the NEX-7 isn’t weather-sealed either, but at one-sixth the cost of the M9, it seemed less to risk in the rain. To my surprise, some of the shots came out so silky smooth that they are among the best shots of a waterfall I’ve ever taken.

NEX-7 with Leica 90mm Elmarit-M f/16 1.3 sec ISO 100 with tripod

After our excursion, we returned to Port Angeles and enjoyed some down-time with Art at the Downrigger’s Waterfront Restaurant which, as its name implies, had a nice view overlooking the coastal waters. We didn’t dare stay up too late, however, because Art was determined that we should make the most of the following day’s prime light. Although he mercifully scheduled Saturday’s field shoot for the afternoon, he encouraged the early birds among us to take pictures in the dawn hours as well.

After breakfast and a quick meeting Saturday morning, our Wolfe pack headed off to the Hoh Rain Forest. Speaking of wolves, the Hoh Valley is perhaps best-known as the location where the Twilight movies were shot. We stopped to pick up lunch in the nearby town of Forks, but I didn’t see any brooding, James Dean-wannabe vampires, shirtless-hunk werewolves, or pouty, overrated actresses.

Team Jacob, our rental car in the Twilight forest

The rain forest is also notorious as the wettest spot in Washington, and it lived up to its reputation. It rained off and on for much of the day we were there–unfortunately, more on than off. We made it to the Hall of Mosses without getting too wet and set up for some shots of the amazing trees, but Art heard the rain coming and told us to take cover under the forest canopy to keep us dry. It rained for a good 45 minutes, and we were all impatient to continue shooting. I had my umbrella with me so I was able to take a few shots in the rain, but after a while S.K. and I decided to head back to the Visitor Center to relax and dry off.

NEX-7 with 55-210 at 144mm f/5.6 1/40 sec ISO 400 handheld

When the rain stopped, we decided to take a different trail, where we ran into some of the other participants, socialized a bit, and continued snapping shots of the forest. We completed the mile-long loop and returned to our car, ready for dinner at a local pizza place, courtesy of Art.

NEX-7 with 55-210 at 55mm f/5.6 1/15 sec ISO 400 with tripod

Well-fed, dry, and recharged after our meal, we headed to the outer edge of Washington to Second Beach, so-called because it’s one of three beaches along this section of the Olympic Coast. This is an amazing beach with huge, majestic rock formations just offshore, but there’s a fairly steep 0.7-mile hike from the parking lot. This keeps the beach uncrowded, making it the ideal spot for a possible sunset shoot. We spent a few hours on the beach, as everyone attempted to capture the rocks against the setting sun, each of us trying to find the perfect camera placement and achieve the best results possible in the not-so-good conditions.

M9 with 21mm Super Elmar f/19 1/60 sec ISO 200 with tripod

But the waves were coming in and the clouds weren’t clearing. For awhile, it seemed we might not have a sunset photo op at all. At the last minute, a ray of light emerged, and we saw person after person scrambling up the beach in search of the ideal vantage point. A row of tripods sprang up along the shore, photographers clicking away, waves soaking their shoes as the tide rose higher and higher. Fearing for my Leica gear, I stayed furthest from the water and did the best I could to get a decent shot, but the photos I ended up with were only so-so. I’m not sure if anyone in the group managed an amazing shot, but I’m anxious to see the results once the gallery is up on Art’s blog.

M9 with 21mm Super Elmar f/19 1/4 sec ISO 160 with tripod

We then had to make the long, tiring hike back to the car in near darkness as night descended. During the two-hour drive back to the hotel, we stopped at McDonalds for a snack to fuel us up, because we needed to burn some midnight oil in order to sort through our photos and select the three best images for Art’s critique the next morning.

We woke up early again on Sunday, tired and sore from the past two days of hiking, driving, and shooting. With our three best shots prepared, we “Wolfed” our breakfast before meeting with the group for the critique. Art allowed us to submit previous work as well as pictures taken during the weekend workshop. I couldn’t find three new shots that I was really happy with, so I included one shot of a field of wildflowers I’d taken on a past trip to Paso Robles. The photos were loaded in alphabetical order by first name, so S.K. and I were near the end of the list. Art gave each of us an astute evaluation, and Jay Goodrich spruced up the photos with a few adjustments in Lightroom. Although many of the participants submitted good raw photos, Art had good, constructive criticism on how most shots might be improved. I really learned a lot about how to compose certain scenes and how to do the best editing in Lightroom.

M9 with 50mm Noctliux f/4 1/2000 ISO 160

Finally, S.K.’s turn for review came. Art rotated and cropped the first shot, which did make it better. Art really liked S.K.’s second shot and didn’t have any suggestions, but the third shot was his least favorite of the bunch. A few people later, I was up. Hoping to make a good first impression, I started off with the field of flowers. Art suggested I shoot lower and nearer to the first row of flowers, simulating the point of view of a bee. For my shot of the people in the tunnel, he suggested cropping closer and a bit off center to increase visual interest. His favorite shot, however, was my final photo, a view of the forest with its drooping moss and bright flowers. Despite my earlier misgivings, I guess some of my pictures from the workshop weekend were pretty good after all!

NEX-7 with 55-210 at 60mm f/5 1/100 sec ISO 800 handheld

Art commented that he had no idea what to expect from S.K. and me since we seemed to be ambling casually around the forest with our little cameras, eschewing tripods for the most part. But he was pleasantly surprised and impressed with our work, which was the best compliment I could hope for from the weekend. I had accomplished my goal of keeping up with the DSLR crowd. What’s more, my backpack was half the weight of everyone else’s!

NEX-7 with 55-210 at 89mm f/5 1/250 sec ISO 800 handheld

After reviewing my workshop photos, I found that I was not satisfied with the results of the NEX-7 with the 55-210 lens. The photos lacked contrast, were overexposed, and just didn’t come close to the quality of the Leica lenses. I suppose you can’t expect much for $350. On the upside, if anything were to get soaked and damaged in the rain, I would rather have it be that low-price combo than anything else I had in my bag. I did switch to the NEX-7 with the Leica 90mm Elmarit-M, which gave much better pictures, as well as the Hyperprime 50mm f/0.95.

M9 with 50mm Hyperprime f/0.95 1/1000 sec ISO 400 handheld 

I’m returning the Sony lens and am now seeking something better for a long telephoto option. Possibly the Sony 70-400mm with the Alpha adapter, or back to a Canon L lens with the Metabones adapter. I rarely shoot longer than 50mm so I have time to research the best option before I head out again with Art, perhaps on one of his incredible international photo tours sometime in the next year or two.

It was an amazing weekend of photography, learning, and fun. If you ever have the opportunity to enter the wild with Art Wolfe, I highly recommend doing it, regardless of the expense. I’ve taken many workshops in the past six or seven years, and I can honestly say I got more out of these three days than any other workshop. I can only imagine how exciting it would be on a 11+ day photo tour with Art in Patagonia, India or Myanmar.

Someday, I hope to do more than imagine…

Jun 112012
 

My New Glass Paintbrush – The SLR Magic 50 f/0.85 for Sony NEX – By Keith Lickteig • www.ScutFish.com

I’ve recently been spending a lot more time in Hong Kong where I have no plane to fly, no hangar to maintain, no giant smoker to sacrifice many tasty chickens upon. There’s few house chores, no gardening, no Jeep to crush shopping carts and sea shells with. I can work, do paper work, make calls, cry about money, but concentrating on nothing but work has truly made Jack a very dull boy. It’s time for a few healthy new hobbies.

What is there to do? It’s another day in Hong Kong with my beautiful Donna who flies me around the globe almost weekly. This alone is incredible. There’s so much to see and share with my family and friends back in the US and UK but the iPhone being my favorite camera doesn’t always cut it. So why not explore proper photography? Hong Kong must be the capital of camera ownership and sales. You can’t walk a minute in any public space without seeing a camera, a camera ad, a camera shop, being in someone else’s photo, or seeing my favorite, the ubiquitous “no photo” sign. The “no photo” sign is everywhere in Hong Kong and China. Heaven forbid someone should take a photo and steal a shops ideas of what are likely pirated goods.

Donna has always been a bit of a photography buff. By that I don’t mean she likes photography in the nude (a man can dream can’t he). Just that she enjoys old cameras and taking pictures, especially with film or mildly unusual formats. She’s helped fund a minute portion of the Impossible Projects instant film redevelopment and did they ever get the marketing name right on that one. It truly is just about “impossible”. She has a few fancy DSLRs with some type of fat fancy lenses that people on the street seem to ‘ooh and ah’ over, but her favorite digital is a small Ricoh point-and-shoot that has a lovely native square format. Of course I mentioned her antique Polaroid which I thought was going to be the coolest thing since, well, the last time I saw a real instant Polaroid in 1979. The black-and-white films currently available give mildly usable results when they don’t get stuck in the cartridge, but the color film is just pure crap. It’s my fault for getting her started on that one. I should have listened to the companies most honest marketing as it was never sold as the “Works Perfect Project”.

One of Donna’s latest acquisition is another giant anvil of a camera made by Fuji that uses near full format film of some sort, 6×6 maybe or something of the nature. Perhaps it is 120mm film judging by the pile of film rolls next to me all with the number 120 plastered on the canisters. Although a very nice camera that takes incredible photos, it’s not what I would say is a great journeying machine. It actually draws more attention than the average DSLR with a monster telephoto cannon of a lens. Whenever she takes it out for a photo people turn and look at her as it seems she’s replaced her head with a giant brick shaped camera. Really, it’s that big … the camera. She’s also begun playing with a few very old Rolleiflex twin lens cameras but we have no results from these as yet. I thought they would make really interesting bookends and had no idea anyone would bother using them. As it turns out the Rolleiflex’s are worth a pretty penny too. I’d have never guessed it by the number of them I see in the dusty old shops around town.

So now it’s my turn to get into the photo game. It’s something Donna and I can participate in together, and it will give me a much-needed mental escape from work. I read a good bit on the web and develop an interest in the smaller interchangeable lens cameras that seem to be really fueling a portion of the market. As we travel an insane amount I want to travel light. I want to be able to use little more than an iPad to edit and publish and would enjoy a camera that weighed-in a little less than Donnas Hubble like instruments (which was 24,000 lbs before it left earth). In the following days while Donna and I are on walkabout we step into a few shops and have a look at the makes and models available. Of all the incredible offerings we come across a little Sony number that seems to have really made quite a “Huff” on the web. It could hardly be any smaller, it supports assorted lenses, and oddly has the same sensor as one of Donna’s monster DSLRs. After a bit of Cantonese debate and haggling Donna hands over her debit card and it’s ours. Notice I said “her” debit card. Women’s liberation is marvelous gentlemen. I highly recommend we sit back and enjoy!

A few days go by with the new little camera and I’m enjoying taking photos while doing my best to not use the talented and more accurate automated modes. However, as hard as I try it’s just not all that exciting. The kit lenses perform very well and make it incredibly easy to capture what was in front of me, but essentially that is all they do, capture what I had no problem remembering in the first place. It quickly becomes time to step it up. It is after all an interchangeable lens machine, there must be options. Time to try out something else.

A quick comment regarding Sony menus (or any camera make for that matter) as I’ve read such horrible things about them. I’m guessing there are only so many buttons and options that can be fit into one square inch. Upon spending a mere six minutes with the cameras user manual I was able to place eight options of my choosing at my finger tips, with all now being less than two “clicks” away. Amazing. I didn’t have to rely on what a Sony engineer deemed to be the best workflow for me, I could choose my own. It was easy and no fuss at all, with no more need to click-through lists of menu options.

Off we go back to the shops to search out a lens that’s more interesting for the little cam. There aren’t many native options until we come across a Zeiss that was very well reviewed and apparently quite “fast”, whatever that meant. Apparently it wasn’t fast enough to get away so we took it home, plugged it in, and headed off to Thailand the very day. Why not?

The Zeiss performed remarkably well. The Zeiss focus was quite fast and the results were for the most part quite bright, colorful, and perfect. Almost too perfect. Perfect to the point of being clinical. I’ve had enough of clinics and “clinical” for one lifetime so upon returning to Hong Kong Donna and I visited more shops and started trying out filters, polarizers, super quasar numerator electron fluctuations among other devices. Again the results improved markedly and now every single pixel was in its exact and proper place, dimension, and hue. All with almost no effort on my part. Lovely, except of all the great works of art I’ve been so fortunate to behold, not one do I ever remember at a pixel level. Donna and I once climbed to the upper rotunda of the Basilica of St. Peters where I didn’t use just my eyes. Trembling, I put my hand against the gorgeous mosaic walls as I walked along and felt more than six-hundred years of history, passion, enlightenment, and sacrifice flown beneath my finger tips. To this day I cannot believe we were given access to such places. Amazingly we had little choice but to touch the mosaics as to step more than a few feet away would have us perched on a ledge with almost 300 feet between our feet and the floor below. It’s was an amazing experience. Grazie Papa!

In order to share my travel photos and journal with friends and family, and being one of a handful of people on the planet not using Facebook, I began studying WordPress and learned how to build a scratch website. After about a week I could load photos into my iPhone and iPad, edit, and publish to my newly created site without ever touching a desktop. Perfect, now I never have to leave my hammock.

As much fun as I was having with my new camera and lenses, there was still much missing. I was able to frame and capture moments to share beautifully, but without a little editing they lacked punch, life, or any character at all. There are times when I enjoy playing with a photo, and other times where I feel it’s important for the moment to speak for itself. No editing, no in camera processing. Just available light, a subject, and the moment. I had no idea how as a novice I could learn to capture such magic in a photo but articles across the web spoke of such things being possible.

Enter the “magic”. Although here in Hong Kong they say “Enter the Dragon”. I had been browsing the web more than ever before, reading about photography, available kit, techniques, reviews and such. Heaven knows there’s nothing worth while on television and I haven’t watched any form of televised news media in more than eight years (hence my great smile and cheerful demeanor). I began discovering images and write-ups of vintage lenses being adapted to smaller cameras like the Sony I’ve been studying. However, I was certain there was no way I’d get positive results from a fully manual lens with my novice skill level. I’m only a few weeks into this. The concept kept eating at me and I continued scouring the web for more information.

While back at work in the States I read a very “Huffed” up article about a company from Hong Kong of all places making native Sony mount lenses that seemed oddly interesting. The lenses were fully manual, very “fast” (that word again), and the demonstrated photos looked really interesting. Over the past weeks Donna and I had become really good at shopping for new camera kit and I knew there wasn’t a lens yet that was “fast” enough to out run me. Immediately upon returning to Hong Kong Donna and I headed out to find the sorcerers shop that made this magical lens. Of course after a hot shower and long nap, Orlando to Hong Kong is a long 24 hours in a seat.

Not long after beginning our search, Donna and I had discovered a handful of shops that carried or could source the lens. (I told you we are really good at the shopping part.) Wandering further we discovered one of the smallest shops in the entire arcade where there they sat, many different well sampled models of the much “Huffed” SLR Magic lenses. After a bit of Canton small talk with the shop owner and many “oohs and ah’s” over his beautiful baby (a real baby not the lens) I was ready to snap on SLR Magic and give it a whirl. I stepped into the hall, switched the cam to on, opened the aperture thingy (making the hole bigger), twisted the focus ring and finally began to grin. “This is absolutely amazing” is all I was thinking. I pointed at any and every thing playing with the dials while letting a kaleidoscope of imagery appear before my eyes. This went on for nearly ten minutes before Donna stepped into the hall and reminded me there was a button on the upper part of the device I was holding that when pressed would cause the images to be captured for later viewing. “Oh, that’s right” I exclaimed rather excitedly. I was having too much fun discovering aperture to remember anything else. I played around for many more minutes and checked out the other SLR Magic offerings. Then Donna asked me, “well honey, are you going to get it?” to which I replied, “Captain Donna (it sometimes helps if I call her captain), make it so!” And yet another lens came home to play.

The next day we of course departed for another adventure with new photo kit in tow. Well, Donna’s kit was in tow, mine easily fit in my shoulder bag. We headed out that night snapping away. The new SLR Magic lens was so cool, and amazing, and really just too much fun to put down. Even for a complete novice as myself there was so much to enjoy. Rather quickly I stopped thinking of it as a mere lens but more of a giant wet paintbrush. The effects, colors, drama one could create was endless. Do I want to capture a single subject, if so, just spin the dial. Do I want the world to appear, spin the other way. Make something glow, turn it a little more. Or how about miss the moment and shot all together in a giant swirling blur, way too easy. Walking down a very dimly lit street I eventually discovered this little dragon could see in the dark, at low ISO, and fast shutter speeds. This was the moment I finally comprehended what a fast lens was, while all this time I had thought I was so young and spritely. What was there not to love about this little lens. I recalled an article I read from a “Rockwell” engineer or photographer. He lambasted the SLR Magic company for even thinking of developing such a lens. According to the article, the author had never even laid his hands on the product, met the company founder or development team, yet found little to like about the company or product. Now that sounds like a magical review and talent to boot. Think of the money saved by reviewing without ever touching. What an amazing business plan.

With camera and lens in hand, I soon began to chat with other photographers on the street that would curiously check out my new kit as both my camera body and lenses were not easy to find on shop shelves at the time. l even became bold enough to take my gear into camera shops along my way and show it off to shop owners and their most curious customers. I’d let their customers try it out and watch them grin just as I did. Then I’d loudly say “talk to Mr. Lee (reading off the shop keeps name badge as if we were old friends), he can find you one I’m certain”. Meanwhile the shop manager hurriedly began researching on his smart phone. Salesmen are fun to play with. Especially in China.

Sitting in a cafe looking at the evenings photos I was questioned by a fella named Gary Tyson who claimed to know a thing or two about how cameras worked. He also mentioned he too was enjoying the Leica version of the same lens which is really not the same at all. The M-mount SLR Magic is a whole new barrel of a beast. Gary shared some of his remarkable photos and commented that there was a bit of “controversy” surrounding the SLR Magic lenses and brand. Once again I thought back to that “Rockwell” fella and so many forum comments from people bashing products that they had never seen, touched, explored, or even attempted to understand. Often only due to product price. It is then that I realized many “forums” can be as bad as news media outlets and not nearly as valuable as parting ones hind quarters from the couch, while getting out and exploring for oneself.

After two months with my SLR Magic I have thoroughly enjoyed every challenging minute with the lens. I don’t seem to care if the company stole the concept from a Happy Meal, painted it pink, and marked it up 500%. The fact is, whatever they did, they built it, they built it well, and made it available for me to purchase, saving me the trouble of building my own. It fits my camera (amazingly as a native lens), it functions beautifully for my tastes and needs, and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge and results. And if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to buy it. If it was too expensive I could have easily chose something else. Fortunately I don’t live in a one size, one price fits all world. If I wasn’t happy with the available product I’m free to search out other offerings. Free markets are amazing. What’s more amazing is how fast products like this are selling in Asia. High-end products of all genres are selling like hot cakes. I’ve recently watched people buy watches that were more than $60,000 usd. Things in these price ranges are flying out of shop doors. To many in this part of the world a $5000 camera body or even a $10000 lens is a mere toy. Something just to have because someone said it was good or “the best”. It’s likely it will rarely be used if ever to the degree of its design. I see it in aviation all the time. People spending hundreds of thousands on aircraft and sometimes millions just to have a spare or say they have “one of those” too. It’s very interesting to witness what motivates different people to spend.

To me texture and grain in a photograph are character. They are the flavor and smell of one-dimensional world.

So now I have a few new paintbrushes to choose from, and I’ve got an entire planet before me to explore along with my great partner in crime. Donna and I are having way too much fun searching out places to shoot. I recently spent more than five hours climbing the back halls, stairwells, and alleyways of one Hong Kong’s most notorious buildings. I observed all facets of life, vice, and underground activities. I met drug dealers, tailors, cooks, traders, you name it. I did my best to capture photos of it all with less than a handful being anything exciting or even remotely sharable. All poor photos due strictly to my lack of skill. The best part is that bodged photos no longer bother me. I’ll happily pack up my iPad, all my new paintbrushes, and head out for another adventure. Each time I try I learn a little more and my technique improves. I get better at choosing my settings, learn to focus faster, and are really learning how to work an area to compose the best shot while not disturbing my subjects. When I get a great shot it really makes me smile and I want to share the moment with my friends. When I don’t, I’m happy to have had the chance.

So where to go next? We never really know. Today we are in Japan and I’m certain our next destination will be as equally exciting. Maybe there will be something worth photographing, or maybe we’ll find one of those stunning spots better quietly enjoyed and remembered within the greatest canvas one has. Wherever Donna and go I know we’ll make the most of it. But perhaps a little more shopping first. I heard something about some “Voigtlander” people I really must explore.

Manual lenses like those from SLR Magic and Voigtlander are turning out to be a real treat for me personally. I enjoy how they help me get more involved with the moment I’m trying to capture. They are in no way easy lenses for a novice to use but that’s all part of the fun and enjoyment of the equipment. Day or night the wide aperture coupled with the appropriate filters and patience makes for great adventure.

Above my bright yellow airplane looked equally interesting in black and white and the old Buick below turned out much too sharp so I had to muck it up a bit. Both taken with the SLR Magic in very strong daylight.

Wide open the SLR Magic delivers great results in very dim light. Days after picking up the lens, George was more than happy to pose quietly for my practice as we waited for our whiskeys to come up to the perfect sipping temperature. Further below Trish tries to hide her cute, tiny, very round cheeks from a shot. The picture here is actually life-size, she’s super cute and tiny.

Although the new paintbrushes I have are more than capable of capturing beautifully clean photographs, it’s still a lot of fun to mess around with the results on iPad with a few editing apps.

Once again practicing wide open is a lot of fun. If I had only remembered that thing called ISO taking this photo would have been so much easier. By raising it I could have had a much cleaner shot without the motion blur and didn’t even recall the option until hours later. It’s of no worry, I’ll just have to head back to Dubai and get a few more shots of my friend Dave.

Shooting through grease splattered glass around the corpses of many fried fowl was a bit of a challenge. But patience gave me interesting results in a great part of town.

I could have spent hours taking photos in this tiny little work shop. It’s located on one of the lower floors of one of Hong Kong’s less than desirable buildings. If you didn’t know it was there you’d never believe it existed. I’m told that most of their customers don’t want to physically visit their shop, but I personally love it. It has great character. Past the double security doors in a room a room only a few meters long and wide, they are turning out some of the highest quality and renowned custom jewelry in the region. The shop has been here since the 1960s I’m guessing and the shop owner was more than happy to let me take photos of the jewelers working away at their work benches. After all, I’m a very good customer. Women’s liberation seems to be a two-way street … Damn.

Jun 022012
 

Comparison Re-Do – Leica X2, Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5 and Sony NEX-7

Ok guys here you go. A bandwidth busting set of full size images from four different hot mirrorless cameras. This time the cameras were all set on a solid surface before shooting so there is zero chance of hand shake or motion blur. You can click on any image for a full size file converted from RAW. Things to note. All cameras were set at f/4. All cameras used their own metering to expose and meter the scene. I converted from RAW and applied ZERO sharpening and changed nothing, so what you see if what came from each camera as covered by Adobe Camera Raw. Also, this was in full, harsh, mid day AZ sun. The light did not change during this 5-10 minute test.

To be honest, the fastest focusing camera here is the E-M5. This is followed by the X100 and X2 which are tied for AF speed and the NEX-7 is the slowest of the bunch for AF (with the Zeiss 24) though it is still very good. All cameras have fast and acceptable AF. Take a look at the files below and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Enjoy!

OK, 1st the Leica X2 – base ISO –  No possibility of camera shake – f/4. Price as tested – $1995

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Now the Fuji X100 at f/4 – base ISO – Price $1199 for silver$1699 for black set

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Olympus 17 2.8 – Base ISO – F/4 – Price as tested $1299

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Sony NEX-7 and Zeiss 24 – Base ISO – f/4 – Price as tested – $2300

May 302012
 

Leica X2, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D – One more quick comparison! Sharpness, color and DOF

Just thought I would post one more comparison between these three cameras while I could. Basically, this is just to show what will come out of each camera in the same light, same moment, same aperture. Each camera was shot at its base ISO of either 100 or 200 and the matrix/evaluative style metering was used on each camera so it could choose its own exposure. Just wanted to show what comes out in regards to sharpness, depth of field and color. DOF will be different on the Olympus as I am using a 25mm lens on a 2X crop sensor. Still, what you see is what you get. X2 and NEX-7 will give a 35mm equivalent and the 25 on the OM-D a 50mm Equivalent.

Each image was resized down to OM-D size of 16MP. So the Sony was resized from its native 24MP to 16. You can click on any image for the full size file, processed from RAW.

May 212012
 

Crazy Comparison! Nikon D800 vs Sony NEX-7 vs Olympus E-M5

JUST FOR FUN guys, so please  – no getting bent out of shape! I have done those crazy comparisons for 2 1/2 years and I do them for fun and “just because”. Why? Because I can! Basically I take each camera and shoot the same scene, at the same time, using the same aperture (and preferably the same focal length or equivalent) and I convert the RAW files to check for things like sharpness, color, dynamic range, etc. I used to do this many years ago for my own personal curiosities so I started doing them here as well, and many of you enjoy them. Some of you hate them. But the good thing is, if you dislike these sort of things you don’t have to read it :)

Since I have the Nikon D800 here (which is a BEAST of a camera) along with a Zeiss 35 1.4 I decided to put it up against the Sony NEX-7 with the Zeiss 24 1.8, which gives the NEX a 35mm equivalent field of view. Basically a big brute of a full frame DSLR vs a small mirror less APS-C camera. Now obviously the resolution of each camera is different with the Nikon coming in at a whopping 36 megapixels and the Sony coming in at a not too shabby 24 megapixels. Note that I am not doing this to say “Camera A is better than Camera B”. I am showing this to give you guys and idea of what each camera can put out using these lenses and this scene. :) There are many NEX shooters who come to this site and there are also many curious about the new Nikon.

It is my opinion after shooting the D800 for a few days that for me..well, the size and weight of this camera is a bit much. Sure, it can take a serious quality photograph but so can a NEX-7, or Olympus E-M5 or Fuji X100. But then again, If you are a DSLR guy then this is one of those “Holy Grail” cameras so if you do not mind the weight and size and bulk and cost, then this camera is highly capable of some crazy delicious output.

I did find it easier to manually focus my NEX-7 and OM-D than the D800 as even with its big and bright OVF I found 20% of my shots were missed in the AF dept (even when using the confirmation dot). I never miss focus with the NEX or OM-D when using manual glass. I’ll go over all of this when I write about the D800.

I also am starting to think that 36 megapixels is way overkill for just about anyone. I don’t care if you are shooting for huge billboards, 36 MP is overkill. Period. These RAW files are 76MB and they make my iMac a bit sad. :) But again, with that said, for anyone wanting crazy resolution and full frame benefits, the D800 is indeed a pretty wonderful camera. But given a choice I would take a smaller camera anyway over the D800 because if I owned this beast I would never shoot it unless I was shooting something like a live performance for $$ or in a studio environment (and even then I would choose my M9, as I have in the past). Id never ever take this out for daily shooting anywhere when I have other smaller cameras that are really just as capable. You do not need this kind of camera for street, for snapshots, for your kids, for daily personal use or if you are just resizing for web sharing or making small to large prints. Period. But again, I will write much more in my D800 review coming soon :)

Also, coming SOON (this week) . A NOT SO crazy comparison. The Leica M9 with a converted to B&W image vs Leica Monochrom vs Nikon D800 converted to B&W! Stay tuned!

On to the images! Both were shot RAW and converted using the latest version of ACR. What you see here is what you get! No corrections were made to color but I was finding that the D800 was overexposing in almost every shot I took so I did adjust the exposure in RAW for that file.  All images were shot at f/5.6. The D800 had the $1800 Zeiss 35 1.4 mounted and the Sony had the Zeiss 24 1.8 mounted. Both giving a 35mm field of view.  The last image was shot with the Olympus OM-D but all I had with me was my little 12mm f/2 so that one is also included at the bottom. 

Click on each image to open the larger version with full 100% crop embedded. 

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What do you think? I also shot one with the little Olympus but only had the 12 f/2 with me so wasn’t the same focal length at all.

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and someone requested that I try to pull out the shadow detail here on the Olympus file. Not a problem at all :)

Apr 302012
 

Sports Photography with the NEX-7:

An exciting, humbling, frustrating, mind-blowing experience.

By Matthew Durr – See his blog HERE

Just to get the formalities out-of-the-way, and to dispel or nail down any pre-conceived notions you may have of my experience, I am what you may call a retro-pioneer in the Sony NEX world. I first really started following Steve Huff’s site back when the first whisperings of the NEX-7 were abuzz, and have been checking back in ever since for all the neat stories, articles, and daily inspirations. Ever since I learned the confirmed specifications for the camera, I was interested in it for my first non-point-and-shoot camera purchase, my past cameras consisting of a borrowed Nikon d40 and d300, among various compacts I had around.

Soon after this, I learned how upon purchasing an adapter, mounting any lens ever made with full metering was possible. Then, I became truly fixated on the camera, as I previously only used manual focus lenses with the two Nikon bodies: a 50mm f/2 AI, and 80-200 AT-X (Tokina). However, using these on the NEX-7 wouldn’t really differentiate me from the crowd of the many that already use a multitude of legacy lenses on their NEX, so why would I call myself a retro pioneer? If the title of this article hasn’t already given it away, as far as I know I’m the only person that uses manual lenses in today’s world for…drum roll please…sports photography! My primary lenses now? The Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AI-s ED, and the Nikon 105mm f/1.8 AI-s, the whole small arsenal seen below in the poorly exposed cell-phone shot:

An air blower is a must for changing lenses so often to help ward off dust.

“Yeah, right, I call your bluff on this one…you can’t do sports with manual focus!” I can hear many people probably thinking this already. So, before I go into much more detail, here are just some pictures to refute that opinion:

So, how are these possible? Focusing on static subjects is easy, but how can I track a moving subject, let alone one who is running and sliding around full speed, without using the crazy fast sonic autofocus motors that drive most pro lenses today?

It’s simple. Practice, practice, practice (and peaking).

It may help to re-iterate that I already used manual focus lenses on a d300. This is a camera that has a very inaccurate single focus confirmation dot, rather than the precise 2 arrows and a dot of the upper-tier DSLRs. Focusing was always a challenge, as not only did I have to combat focus shift of my right eye seeing through the lens (where the eye makes a slightly out of focus image in focus), but even when the focus confirmation dot was lit up, I could still easily be well out of the critical focus range at large apertures.

Okay, so that means that these lenses would be even worse on the NEX-7, right? I’m looking through an EVF—essentially a tiny TV screen—to try to focus my images, and there is no focus confirmation dot, so how is this even doable? Well, besides the fact that the viewfinder image is quite large (with a 1.5 cm size and 1.09x magnification ratio), it provides live exposure feedback (will go into detail on that later), its refresh rate in normal light is real-time, AND that it is of a high 2.4MP resolution, it has focus peaking and magnification. For the uninitiated, focus peaking is a feature found in some of the more recent mirror-less cameras that outlines areas of contrast in real-time in a color of choice (for the NEX system, the choices are red, yellow, or white). Typically the areas of contrast, such as the edges of lettering on a player’s jersey, are indicative of areas that are in focus. Focus magnification, which should be viewed as an accompanying feature, simply zooms in the image wherever I choose to in real-time. On the NEX-7 I can select to see the image at 5.9x or 11.7x magnification, the latter of which each pixel in the EVF corresponds to a pixel on the sensor. Focusing with this method ensures very critically accurate focus—only if the player is relatively still. For the most part, focusing with mainly peaking is the only method I have time for, and generally speaking, is very accurate when used with the high-resolution EVF.

Seen here in a not-so-action-shot, the depth of field markings are outlined in yellow, as well as the edges of the lens, indicating general focus confirmation.

In practical use, by maintaining a colored outline on the players, focus is being tracked. With practice, tracking players moving perpendicular to the focal plane is possible (such as players running towards/from me), and snap-focusing from one point to the next becomes second nature—I just look for the color. Another trick that can help if I am having trouble finding the peaking color on the player is to watch the band of the depth of field move back and forth until it rests directly under the player, essentially zone focusing on the ground. Since I shoot in RAW, I also change the creative style to black and white. The RAW file is left…well…raw…while the peaking color stands out even more against the monochrome image.

Getting this shot was only possible due to following the line of the depth of field under the runner’s feet.

Then there is the live feedback display of the EVF. This is a feature I feel has not been lauded enough as a selling point for mirror-less cameras. When I have this turned on, what I see is what I get. Instead of an optical viewfinder, where no matter what setting I would change on the camera the view is the same, with the EVF, I always have a live depth of field preview, the overall exposure of the image, as well as what my white balance setting is compensating for. It should, however, be noted that in very low light, this becomes less accurate, as the frame rate of the EVF drops to compensate for the difference. In scenarios where there is a great deal of dynamic range, such as shadows under a tree on a sunny day, the shadows are usually quite crushed, and the highlights are usually blown. However, this rarely affects me in my shooting conditions, and this is an EVF-specific issue, as the actual picture, once taken, is unaffected.

So, let’s get onto the sub-heading of this article:

Why is this exciting?

For one, I am “going against the grain” in the modern rules of sports photography. I am being different, and getting results that seem mostly indistinguishable from shots taken with more robust cameras. There is also nothing more satisfying at a game than getting that shot, those one or two moments where I know I have a winner. Capturing such action shots with the challenge of manually controlling all the aspects of my camera, just like photographers did decades ago, is an amazing feeling. Doing so while saving a lot of money, as my 300mm cost me about a 1/10th of its younger autofocus brother, sweetens the deal even further.

Why is this humbling?

Choosing to go this route was a thought process that spanned over a significant timeframe, I pondered many other options with possible autofocus set-ups with Nikon DSLRs. I then realized that when using those tools, my equipment would determine everything for me: the focus, the metering, the entire exposure. Even if I shot in full manual, the camera would still do the autofocus for me, and, as mentioned above, trying to manually focus would be very difficult with only a confirmation dot in the lower corner. I decided that the limiting factor in getting the shot should be ME, NOT my tools. If a shot was blurred or exposed improperly, I was the one who wanted to be held accountable. Gordon Laing made a great point in a recent broadcasted Google+ hangout on using manual focus lenses that I absolutely agree with and speaks to the concept, “It’s actually quite liberating to shoot with old manual focus lenses…there’s none of this slowing down while [the lens] searches back and forth. You just take the picture, if it’s in focus or not, who cares?” I knew after starting out with the NEX-7, applying the lenses and camera this way would be humbling. I had a feeling that even with the peaking, I wouldn’t exactly have a high success rate at first, but…

Frustrating?

…I had no idea just how hard it would be to get consistent results. The first few games, I would fire off about 600 shots, and after some sorting in Lightroom 4, come out with about 50 or so keepers—less than 10%—that ranged from acceptable (pictures that were in focus but had little character) to great (those that embodied the action and spirit of the game). A few times, I doubted myself on my decision. Sure, the NEX-7 would still make a great general camera—which it definitely is—but I wondered if I had chosen the wrong path to get started with sports photography. There were so many shots I had captured that were just barely out of focus enough to render them unusable, and I was so mad at knowing that if I had just nailed focus, a truly amazing shot would have resulted, such as the picture taken below.

Funny enough, the focus point in this shot is actually the tennis ball, you may be able to see the softness in the player’s face.

Mind-blowing?

There is indeed a happy end to this. Keeping the fact out of the equation that my keeper rate has improved (and continues to do so) to about 40% over the course of only ten games, the amazement of how some of the select few pictures turned out is truly beyond me. In most situations, not only does the large effective apertures on my lenses isolate the subject from the background and keep the shutter speed very high, but it also enables me to stay in the sweet spot of the NEX-7’s sensor; the ISO range of 100 to 400. It is within these values that the amount of detail captured from the very high-resolution sensor can honestly make my jaw drop. In post, I can just keep zooming in and in on a picture with no loss in overall image detail, having the very real option to “shoot first, compose later”. In the right situations, specifically when critical focus is nailed and at ISO 100, the image at the pixel level is something to marvel at: standing 50 meters away from baseball and at 100%, making out distinct facial features is common.

Take this series for example:

Here’s the original:

Here’s the cropped final picture:

And here’s a 100% crop of his face:

 

Looking towards the future

So, what I’m getting at here, the NEX-7 is the ideal sports camera for the budget-minded enthusiast (if there is such a thing), right? Not at all. Any DSLR with a good, large aperture, autofocus lens can probably outperform me. If shooting conditions go south, and I have to pump up the ISO to get a decent shutter speed, it shows in my photographs. If it rains, I might as well forget about it, neither the camera nor lens is weather-sealed.

However, going through with this is an adventure, a lesson of sorts in patience and skill. I am forced to get intimate with the limitations of my gear, and to still work through mis-focusing, mis-exposing, and mis-composing to get the shot in the end. As a result of the times of hardship and struggle, when I eventually do get a DSLR with an autofocus lens, the experience I am gaining here and now should ensure I will be a much more effective photographer. Instead of worrying about camera settings and exposure, which will be second nature by then, my mind will be focused on composition and, of course, fast reflexes!

 

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