Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Each of us has a great amount of creative potential inside.

What is the trick to letting it out? For me, hard work is the answer. There is always an aspect of craft to every form of art. Pianists need to exercise their fingers regularly; painters, their hands and arms; dancers, their entire bodies. Writers must write, painters must paint, and photographers need to make photographs. Listening to music, watching videos of dancers, reading other people's books all day is going to give you information but will add little to your craft. You see, the moment your fingers hit the keys or the shutter, you have committed yourself to creating art. And that's where the journey begins - day after day.

I came to Germany nearly 24 years ago because I thought I wanted to study musicology, earn a doctorate and return to the US to teach at a college where I could introduce my students to good music. It took three semesters before I realized that, even more than the music itself, it was really the musicians themselves who fascinated me: the biographies of the composers and performers and, as I became better connected in the music world, the actual lives of the performers, composers, critics and even instrument makers. I didn't have a very good background in music theory, either, which really slowed me down and eventually made me switch back to studying languages.

Over the past 28 years I've been a teacher in some capacity. I have never liked George Bernard Shaw's saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach," because it sometimes hits home too closely. However, during my teaching, I always did the same assignments the students did. I wrote the short stories, took the pictures, acted the scenes - whatever it was - because I like doing, too. 
Teachers are indeed important, but we are all students of the world, so let's keep on doing!

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!