Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sony A700 vs A77: More tests @ ISO 1600

Sony A700 vs A77: More tests @ ISO 1600

From the new wing at the Virginia Museum in Richmond
1/40 sec., f5.6, ISO 1600, 70mm, Sony A700

In this post I'm presenting some pictures I've taken recently (Aug-Oct 2011) with both the A700 and the A77. All of these pictures were taken using ISO 1600, some inside, some outside, some at night or in concert settings - trying to get the whole spectrum of real-world photography.
I've processed them all as I normally would have, including noise reduction, sharpening, etc. The way I see it, if Lightroom can clear the noise in the pictures from the A700, it should be able to do so with those from the A77, too.
Construction on the Hugunot Bridge in Richmond, VA
1/8 sec., f8, ISO 1600, 10mm,  Sony A700
The two pictures above were taken in fairly low-light situations. ISO 1600 allows you to use a faster shutter speed in daylight situations, as in the picture below. I like chasing pigeons with my wide-angle lens!

1/1250 sec., f6.3, ISO 1600, 10mm, Sony A700

Coming home after the Volksfest last month, I saw this half-collapsed couple in the underground station and thought it worth a shot. The A700 (and Sony 16-105 lens) did a good job capturing even the design of the treads on his shoes.

1/13 sec., f5.6, ISO 1600, 105mm, Sony A700
The next photo was taken in a typical indoor situation. There was some natural lighting coming from a skylight in the ceiling and artificial light which was in use for the film.
1/50 sec., f7.1, ISO 1600, 45mm, Sony A77
As I've written several times before, high-ISO photos often look much better when converted to black-and-white because the chromatic noise disappears totally and the rest looks like "artistic" grain.
1/100, f5, ISO 1600, 75mm, Sony A700
I am still testing my many different lenses with the A77. The following two concert pictures were taken with the Tamron 2.8/90mm and Minolta 1.7/50mm prime lenses. I hypothesize that the quality of the lens will prove to have quite an effect on the quality of the resulting photograph.

1/40 sec., f2.8, ISO 1600, 90mm, Sony A700

1/100 sec.,  f2.8, ISO 1600, 50mm, Sony A700
This picture was taken with Sony's Zeiss 2.8/24-70mm, the best lens in Sony's collection. I see a measurable difference in the quality of pictures I take with it.

1/100 sec., f3.2, ISO 1600, 60mm, Sony A77
And here's one last picture for all you camera freaks. I am not impressed with the quality of this high-ISO photo. I hope I learn some way to improve the quality with the A77.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sony A77 - First test: High ISO

Sony A77 - First test: High ISO

This is a test - only a test. Yes, I'm testing my readers' interest in camera technology and I'm testing to see whether other Sony Alpha photographers will be interested in seeing the results of my first days and weeks with the new Sony Alpha 77, which I purchased at Fotohaus Sänger in Stuttgart on Friday. 
Frau Sänger called me when the camera came in because I told her I wanted to buy one from her. She received only two that she had ordered, the rest having been delayed indefinitely due to the flooding in Thailand. "So you're lucky you got this one. There won't be any more deliveries to Germany until after Christmas," she told me. The purchaser of the first of the two cameras was still at the cash register when I held my new camera in my hands. It felt good. A bit lighter than the A700, which I've been using every day for the last two-and-a-half years. 
I was excited about the possibility of being able to make (HD) videos with the new camera and thought the specifications looked appealing. I had watched all the promotion videos and read all the available material before Friday afternoon, so I didn't hesitate. I took it straight home. 
I spent the good part of Saturday at a good friend's 40th birthday party, which included an organ recital in the church where she celebrated with nearly 100 guests. I took the new camera and tested it in all sorts of different situations.
I was thinking that since the Sony (and Nikon and Canon etc.) technology has progressed so far in the past couple of years, I'd probably end up shooting jpeg files with this camera, if for no other reason than to save space on the memory card (and my hard drives). With the A700 I shot only RAW files, which averaged about 18MB per 12MP photo. With a 24MP APC-S sensor, the A77 files are nearly twice as large (24MB for RAW and 14MB for jpeg extra fine files). I post-process nearly every decent picture I take, so I am partial to RAW files and will probably remain so, but will either have to delete more before doing the back-up or be somewhat more frugal on the front end when taking pictures. However, that is difficult with this camera because it shoots 10-12 frames per second! 
This first picture is an extra fine quality jpeg from the camera which I've processed a bit in Lightroom 3. I've uploaded the next three photos in full quality here so you can download them and peep at the pixels if you like.

1/40 sec, f4, ISO 1600, jpeg, Tamron 2.8/17-50mm lens at 50mm
1/40 sec, f4, ISO 1600, RAW, Tamron 2.8/17-50mm lens at 50mm
1/80 sec, f4.5, ISO 3200, jpeg, Tamron 2.8/17-50mm lens at 50mm
Here on the screen, you can't really tell a difference, can you? I have posted high-ISO pictures first because that is what interests me and most of the other Sony users at this point. How good is it in low-light situations? Well, it isn't a Nikon D3s, but then it only cost €1299 and not €3700. The jpeg shows globlike noise not dissimilar to the Panasonic Lumix FZ38 bridge camera I had for a while. The noise in the RAW files consists of fine dots of grain. Neither is what pixel peepers like to see, but after smoothing it out a bit in post-processing, it pretty much disappears.
Yes, you say, and with it disappears the sharpness of the image. True. You come out with a somewhat water-colory wash, but it's better than grain, most would say. 
Grain. In the good old days of film photography, I usually used 400 ISO Ilford black-and-white film. I think I may have "pushed" a few rolls to 800 ISO. Then I had to write that on the roll of film so the processor would add an appropriate amount of developer to the mixture. And boy could you see the grain in the dark parts of those pictures! But back then (1989) people called it "artistic" and "interesting". There were even grainy filters you could put on pictures to make them look like that in print. And yet everyone is trying to fight it now.
These were the first three pictures in a series of test shots with the new Sony Alpha 77. Further shots will follow with various lenses, in different lighting situations and with different settings.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Walking from home to the Neckar

Walking from home to the Neckar

Sunday was a beautiful day, so I took our toddler for a walk in her stroller down to the Neckar. When the light is right, there's nothing that isn't fun to photograph.

The 1950s-style diner in the parking lot of a motorcycle parts superstore  provides interesting reflections.

Once we got down to the river, the autumnal light was in full force, urging me to notice nature's wonders.

The island in the river is home to an outdoor pool complex, which is protected by a row of poplar trees.

One bank near the island is home to the Suttgarter-Cannstatter Ruderclub, where rowers start and finish their trips up and down the river.

Walking back from Untertürkheim through Wangen, one can see lots of stone heads peering out from the facades of the old apartment buildings. It's worth a walk through there just to see the sculptures. 

And there are always interesting surprises around nearly every corner, such as this entrance to an office building.

And finally, here's a quiz for you. Can you guess what this is?
What is this?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another day, another demo

Another day, another demo

This protester makes her position clear to the on-looking police officers. She doesn't want to have her city dug up over the next 10+ years in order to put the train station underground. Would you?

Following an alert on facebook at 9:15 a.m., Julia and I changed our plans and instead of going to the zoo, we went to see what the newest fence looked like. The Deutsche Bahn put a fence up the day after Germany celebrated its reunification for the 21st time. After showing some weakness by hinting that they had calculated how much it would cost to renege on their contracts (€1.5 bn), they countered with strength the morning after a long weekend. Several dozen protesters were able to situate themselves on the hill behind the fence before the last link was bolted shut. Then they were asked to leave.

Although the anti-escalation crew members were present and the police officers maintained their composure (for  the first couple of hours, anyway), even the strains of an accordion player couldn't help everyone remain calm. Tempers flared in some cases.

Ever get the feeling someone else is listening in on your conversation?
 A small group of students watched the demonstration while two squads of police officers prepared to march up to the fence.

Then one by one the protesters behind the fence were carried off to the police van, where their personal data were collected.

I heard someone say, "They get good-looking police officers so that the men don't act so aggressively."

I had to believe there was some truth to that theory when I saw the women in uniform up at the fence.

Helen and Harold Demure
Two protesters stayed up in a tree, assuming that it would be more difficult for them to be removed. They were finally brought down at 1:30 p.m.

The action is behind you!
The press was allowed behind the fence, as were several emergency medical technicians. However, then this EMT attempted to throw a safety rope up to the people in the tree, the police protested and dragged him off. He was very heavy and had a backpack on and took a tumble down the hill. I think I was the only one to get a picture of that.

Dietrich Wagner was left in peace and then left in peace
The 66-year-old protester who had nearly been blinded (he retained some eyesight in one eye but is legally blind) remained on the hill under the occupied tree, away from the main group of demonstrators. The police left him alone. On September 30, 2010, he was shot full in the face with a water canon during Germany's worst protest of the century.

The grass is not greener on the other side of this fence. Stuttgart has been split apart by this construction project. The past two days (Oct. 10-11, 2011) Stuttgart has been paralyzed by a strike by the tram and bus drivers. Yesterday there were 50 miles of traffic jams in and around the metropolis. Yesterday evening as I was going to pick up my son from the other side of town and had to detour around the weekly Stuttgart 21 protest at the train station, I tried to imagine what the traffic situation would be like with a huge pit in the middle of the city for 7-10 years and major delays and disturbances in public transport. That will be really messy. The two "stress tests" that the plans for the new train station have passed did not take into consideration the construction period and how it would affect the citizens of the metropolitan region of Stuttgart.

Modern weapons
A man who appeared to be the chief of police (he had about 6 stars on his shoulder) was positioned outside the fence and chatted amiably with the protesters, most of whom he appeared to know personally (from other demonstrations). Cell phones were in use on both sides of the fence, the police using them along with their radios to relay the newest commands down the line and the protesters to call other supporters. So who won at the end of the day? Well it is not as bad as in the Genesis song, "The Battle of Epping Forest", during which Peter Gabriel sings "There's no one left alive; it must be a draw. So the black-cap barons flip a coin to settle the score." However, the protesters were all carried off, Mr. Wagner rode away on his bicycle of his own accord and even though the police threatened to use mace (pepper spray) when the fence was nearly toppled, the day ended in a draw. It probably didn't hurt that the mounted police rode in to save the day!
The next day, a ditch was dug through the hillside so that blue pipes could be laid to pump out the ground water before the big dig. However, the following day the Deutsche Bahn was ordered to fill it back in.