Friday, April 18, 2014

The Sony A7

Minolta f4-4.5/28-135, 1/60 sec., f5.0, ISO 1600

Here is my hands-on A7 report. I have had it for eighteen weeks and kept 13,000 shots, so I should have enough experience to talk about it a bit. Besides, I've been proofreading Gary Friedman's new book on the A7/r cameras and have gained some insights from that great book, too. So here goes:

What I've always said about Sony DSLRs goes for this mirrorless camera, too. It feels good in my hands and is very easy to control even with my eyes closed. And how often are we in situations in which either there is no light or you have no time to look at your camera's buttons? Everything is there where you need it. Two wheels - front and back - plus a handy exposure compensation wheel on the outside right corner for those moments when the zebra comes into the frame. By "zebra" I mean the new highlight clipping tool that lets you know if you are overexposing certain areas. There isn't anything for black clipping, but you can always look at your histogram to see what's going on in the shadows.

Now, I bought the kit lens to go with this camera because I figured it would be good to have at least one that was made for a full-frame E-mount camera. I also purchased the LA-EA4 adapter for Alpha lenses. The Sony website was running a deal where you'd get the adapter for €100 cheaper plus an extra year on the guarantee free. I went into my favorite camera store in Stuttgart and told them about the deal and they matched it. Good salespeople. The native FE lenses that have been released up to now are light and of good quality.

I also use the camera with my old full-format lenses, ranging from the Zeiss f2.8/24-70 to the Tamron f2.8/70-200. I've tested it with all my lenses and it works with all of them - Tokina f2.8/28-80, Samyang's f1.4/85, the Sony 75-300 SSM and all the old Minolta lenses, including the f2.8/28mm, f1.4/50mm, f3.5-4.5/28-105, f4-4.5/28-135, f4.5-5.6/100-300. But it also works very well with the APS-C lenses, such as the Samyang 8mm fisheye and the Tokina f2.8/11-16. Yes, there is a crop factor to be added to those wide angles, but you still get a good quality image with this camera.

 Samyang 8mm, 1/250sec., f8, ISO 250

I received the hot shoe adapter in February so I was then finally able to use flash and remote flash with the camera. Sonys are configured so that a camera's pop-up flash can trigger a remote flash. Since the A7 doesn't have a pop-up flash, I have to use the adapter with my PixL Soldier radio triggers. Sony has changed its hot shoe so that it will fit other makers' flashes, triggers, etc. now but it doesn't fit my older Sony flashes, such as the HVL43AM and HVL58AM. At first, I pulled out my 25 year-old Nikon SB-22 and it worked. Having a middle contact, it shot in manual mode just fine. (A Canon flash wouldn't have worked, I've been told, because it doesn't have the middle contact.) At least I had a bit of extra light for the dark months of the year until the adapter arrived. I'm happy to report that using the flash on top of the A7 does not result in the same slight lag as one got used to with the A77. The A7 also works just fine with the triggers.

FE28-70, 1/60sec., f7.1, ISO 100, with SB-22 on camera
When the sun has set, I have no qualms shooting at 6400 ISO with the A7. My Auto ISO setting reads 100-6400 and the best thing about the setting on this camera is that it is really automatic - even in manual shooting mode. That means you set your shutter speed at 1/250 sec. and your aperture at f5.6 and walk around town and the ISO takes care of the rest for you. ISO 3200 or 6400 doesn't give you the prettiest pictures, but they are certainly usable.

FE28-70, 1/200 sec., f5.6, ISO 3200
I have found that the kit lens focuses slowly. However, if you change your shooting style to DMF and then get ready to focus manually (using the handy focus-peaking feature), then you'll do fine. All the other lenses focus fast enough on the camera.

Recently, I picked up the Zeiss FE 1.8/55 lens, the one that got top ratings on the DXO Mark test site. Now I feel as if I'll be able to shoot without any adapters out in the sun and in low-light situations as well. With an open aperture you see chromatic aberrations in high-contrast areas, as you would with any lens, but in normal lighting situations, the performance is excellent.

Zeiss FE 55mm, 1/320 sec., f3.5, ISO 1600
A couple of months ago, I read about the apparent problem of light leak in some A7 cameras. Having tested my model, I have to say I see no problem.

All in all, it's been wonderful shedding some weight and moving up a class to the full-frame world. The A77 has faster auto-focus and the new, small A6000 even faster, so if that's what you need, you might want to wait. The focus-tracking is pretty good, but I'm sure other cameras are better for action sports.

Zeiss FE55mm, 1/400 sec., f4.0, ISO 400
I've installed the double-exposure app, which has been fun to use because it makes me twice as aware as usual when I make a picture because I know it will be combined with another image. Actually, if you are shooting in RAW, both images are saved as RAW and JPEG files and the combined JPEG is also saved.

Double-exposure app from Sony
I have not done much work with JPEGs on the A7. The only reason I switch from the RAW format is to shoot an in-camera HDR or when using the double-exposure app. So I leave you for now with this straight-out-of-the-camera HDR and wish you happy shooting with the Sony A7.

FE28-70, 1/320 sec., f9.0, ISO 200

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stuttgart silhouettes

Here is a series of images I took this week in the center of town. The Victory Column is being surrounded by scaffolding for some reason, presenting photographers with a unique opportunity to capture this landmark in a different light.

Enjoy it while it lasts!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

To be a photographer

What I love about being a photographer

No one has ever asked me if I like being a photographer, so I assume they must think it’s natural to enjoy the kind of work I do. And do you know what? I do.

Before I became a serious photographer…

- I had always taken a lot of pictures, but I must admit now that I didn't really know what I was doing. I knew nothing about the attributes of light, didn't care about composition, was blind to issues such as focus, depth of field and color.

- taking photographs of strangers on the street was as far from my mind as spending my afternoons standing in front of camera store windows looking at the offerings.

Working the streets
- I would sometimes look at the cloud formations in the sky and comment on their beauty, but I would not consider their texture and how the light was changing every second, casting new light on everything around me.

The Neckar River
- walking through the streets was boring for the most part. If I was lucky, an interesting new advertisement might make me chuckle. The homeless people depressed me and the rough citizens scared me. Now they fascinate me and every step of the way I compose shots in my head and stop when a scene overpowers me.

"Zu spät"
- I could work only at my school or in my office. Now I can work anywhere and everywhere. My world is my office and my mind is my drawing board.

Our tree farm
- time would slip through my fingers and precious moments would melt away. Now I am able to capture these moments and arrest time.

Our baby at two months
- my sense of aesthetics consisted of the poles “pretty” and “interesting.” Monet was pretty and Bacon was interesting. Now I’ve come to appreciate more fully the whole spectrum between these poles and, more importantly, Monet and Bacon have switched positions! I find beauty - or at least artistic value - in nearly everything. What a gift!

On the streets of Stuttgart
- I thought that creating art was a tiring process of working at your chosen medium until you reached some magic point where you could finally call yourself an artist. Little did I know how much fun the process is! And the best part is that all art forms feed my artistic hunger and make me fuller.

- I thought that creating a piece of art took lots of time and, being who I was, I would never have the patience or endurance to finish a piece. Now I know that I can think in short episodes (“A day at the airport”) or in longer series (“A decade of carnival in Cologne”).

Taking a break in the fields
- discovering new things usually took great effort. Now I am open to all sorts of experiences, but not just having them; now I want to savor them and capture them with my aesthetic eye. Whether it be watching a parade or plane-spotting at the airport, there are always things to be learned and new angles from which to see them.

Landing and taking off
- I often didn’t know how to act in groups. What was my role? Now when I am at an event, I am the photographer and as such can act within that role a bit more securely than if I didn’t have a role to slip into.

- I had stared at many a beautiful woman, admiring the aesthetics that I was raised to praise. Now I find admiration for so many things that even an abandoned tire or a smoldering fire pit fascinates me. And the beautiful women? They are still there and I can appreciate them even more with my well-trained eyes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Worldwide Photo Walk V

Banners celebrating Stuttgart on Reunification Day were still hanging two days later
October 5, Fynn and I went on our fifth "Worldwide Photo Walk," an organized gathering of nearly 30,000 photographers around the globe who take pictures in one of over 1,200 cities on one day. In past years, I had led two of the walks in Stuttgart and have enjoyed participating in the others along with Fynn as a "walker."

The weather was awful. Whereas it has threatened to rain the past years, or rained and then stopped in time for the walk, this year it rained all morning, so Fynn and I decided to wait it out and go after lunch since the leaders had decided to do a six-hour marathon this time. Unfortunately, we missed seeing some friends we had hoped to meet there, but we got to see their pictures online. Registered walkers could post their best photograph on the official website. Scott Kelby will then choose his favorite and give thousands of dollars of prizes to the winner. One can always hope, right?

My favorites are Andy's photo of the old violinist and Jennifer's double-exposure of her son and the autumn leaves.

If I had been a bit more bold, I would have entered this picture as my best. It reminded me of Andreas Gursky's photo of the Rhine River, the most expensive photograph ever sold (though mine is much more interesting!).

This photograph can also be purchased for $3.1 million
Fynn has developed a good eye over the years. This year his pictures ended up better than mine. I was walking around with an 8mm fish-eye lens most of the time to try to get some interesting angles - and I did - but nothing beats an all-round zoom lens for street photography!
Fynn took this one outside the Staatsgalerie with a Sony A700 and a Minolta 28-105 lens.

My best shot was of Fynn standing in the Königstrasse.

Of course, he also took some of me, too.

And as one can see: like father, like Sony.

At the end of the tour a wedding photographer was up at the Eugensplatz to take pictures of the couple. They weren't expecting to see 25 other photographers there. We gave them a nice backdrop to one shot where it looked as if the couple were posing for the paparazzi. Were they not?

What we saw:

What the photographer and the couple saw:

What onlookers saw:

Meanwhile, on our way home, we walked past a slightly older couple showing how they keep their wedding vows alive:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Driving through Manhattan

After I picked up our rental in downtown Manhattan, I had to drive back up to E. 101st Street to our great bed-and-breakfast to pick up the family before driving down to Richmond. Having my trusty Sony RX100 with me, I put it up on the steering wheel as if I were driving through Russia's traffic-crazy roads.
Except that I wasn't really expecting to have to defend myself in court with video evidence of another driver's offensive maneuvers. I just wanted to take some shots of New York life before we left the metropolis.
Below is a fairly typical scene - or at least I think it is: a doorman holding a cab door for a hotel guest without really communicating with him.

The next shot shows a beautiful fire-escape next to a building with new balconies and different fire-escapes. Surprisingly, the architecture didn't really fascinate me quite as much as I had expected.

As I climbed up 1st Avenue, the wealth seemed to be left by the wayside and signs like this one popped into my eye.

Then the most outrageous thing happened! I hadn't expected to have the entire avenue taken from me by a bus, but this one waited until I stopped for a red light (what was I thinking, right?) and then pulled through the intersection from my right side all the way over to the far left lane!

Think that's bad? His buddy in the next bus came up on my left and left me no room to escape. I was just waiting for Matt Damon to crash through the two buses in an old Renault 4 with the Soviet police force in pursuit!

As might be expected, nothing of the sort happened. I got up to Spanish Harlem and down to Richmond within a mere 8 hours!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Manhattan II

As well as capturing the sights in Manhattan, I also had my eyes out for shots with artistic merit. Many of them I found interesting for their architecture, usually the combination of lines and reflections or the juxtaposition between new and old.

One World Trade Center

The building with the sailboat-shaped windows

Old pilings

The U.N. Building

The Freedom Tower

And then there was the moment I looked down and saw a blonde shock of hair looking out over the sparkly water, her fingernail polish nearly matching the color of the river water.

Old modes of transport contrasted starkly with the ever-changing cityscape.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


This is the Manhattan skyline that we had all wanted to see. Quite a sight!

After an emergency landing in Canada and a false start getting into the public transport (Tip: buses take only MetroCards and coins), we finally made it downtown. The Metro is a nice and easy way to get around town, once you figure it out.

When we emerged from the Metro, we were accosted by cartoon figures wanting posing tips. Nothing against trying to make a buck, but the charm of the ability to secretly take a good picture with my little Sony RX100 outweighed the charm of pulling out my wallet in Times Square in order to give these goofballs $1.

I can highly recommend the Circle Line Tours, boat rides around the southern tip of Manhattan, leaving from the W. 42nd Street pier. The tour guide, Mr. Mason, was very interesting to listen to and what better way to show your whole family the sights of Manhattan - for only $142! We had ordered two-day New York Passes for the family, but after loosing a day in the woods of Newfoundland, we decided to cancel them (don't forget to buy the cancellation insurance).

And as you can see, the 90% chance of rain for Wednesday turned out to be a bluff! We had sunshine and, as a bonus for photographers, some interesting cloud cover during the tour.
It seems that "Lady Liberty" was the highlight of the boat trip for many. We chose not to go to Liberty Island but were satisfied with the view from the water.

There were all sorts of interesting boats chugging and sailing around on the Hudson River that beautiful day.

Ellis Island is also on the tour, of course. This is where our forefathers from Europe and Asia got the funny spelling for their names. I always wondered what a conversation between two immigration officers must have sounded like:
"This next boat is from Poland, what do you want to do to these names, James?"
"Let's spell them all with -ske 'cause we did the last ones with -ski and the ones before that with -sky. Then they'll be able to tell each other apart."

For me, however, the spires of the churches of industry were what kept my eyes busy. The Freedom Tower is nearing completion and is as tall as it will be when it opens. You can watch a time-lapse video of the building of the tower here.

 The Chrysler Buliding has the most beautiful spire of all the skyscrapers.

And the Empire State Buliding has the most recognizable spire. Can you find it in the picture below?

One World Trade Center (as the Freedom Tower is officially known) is 1,776 feet tall and sticks out from the surrounding buildings not only on account of its height but also because of its architecture, which had a very controversial genesis.

We walked around downtown and were duly impressed by the view.