19FEB2021 – Comments on Sony’s Latest Full Frame Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC)

Looking back on my older photography posts I discover that in April I will have had my Sony A7 III camera for three years.  I think this is a good time to review what I think about the recent progress that Sony has made and where the A7 III and my photographic needs stand.

First off, the A7 III is a wonderful camera.  It produces images that I never could have imagined possible ten years ago when I started using the Sony mirrorless cameras.  When I moved from my Sony A-850 DSLR to the NEX mirrorless cameras it was incredibly disappointing.  The autofocus didn’t deserve the name.  It was manual focus or nothing.  The battery life was laughable and the viewfinder was pretty sad.  I could get some good results from it, even results indoors that I might not be able to get with my DSLR but frustration was a constant part of the Sony photographic experience.    If I knew then how long it would take Sony to reach the A7 III level of capability I probably would have bitten the bullet and moved on to Canon or Nikon.  But I didn’t and now finally I am truly pleased with the system.  Sure, there are still some quibbles, I wish the LAEA5 adapter would allow me to autofocus my mechanical autofocus A-mount lenses with the A7 III but that is just that, a quibble.  If I wanted, I could buy an A7R IV or an A9 and get that functionality but that would be kind of crazy from my point of view.  So here I am with a very good digital camera and a chance to compare it to the newer Sony models.  After all, the A7 III is a generation before the IV series and a notch down from the professional A9’s and two notches down from the flagship A1.  So here are my thoughts.

Back when the Sony A9 first came out I was curious to see what the advantages of such a camera would be.  I rented it and gave it a tryout.  What I found was that it was a sports camera and the A7 III was not.  I know that was what it was touted as but it wasn’t apparent until I had it in hand just how inadequate the A7 III was for things like tracking autofocus or just how inadequate the file buffer was.  The A9 was light years ahead of my camera.  And even the autofocus I typically used for macro shots of insects and birds was more precise and faster and had additional capability that my camera lacked.  For instance, the A7 III can stay in magnified view when focusing repeatedly on a subject that I’m getting ready to capture.  But once the shot is taken it returns to unmagnified view.  The A9 can stay in magnified view indefinitely for shot after shot.  That is a great advantage.

So, the A9 has capability that I do wish I had.  But image-wise I think the A7 III files are at least as good as the A9 files.  There has been an A9 II update a few years back.  I haven’t tried it out.  From what I’ve read the improvements are part of the autofocus upgrades and allow for even better sports and wildlife action shooting.  I’m sure it’s very capable but once again the sensor hasn’t progressed in terms of high ISO capability.  In fact, based on the DXOMARK testing the A7 III still has the highest ISO rating of any full frame camera on the market.

Recently Sony came out with a $6,500 flagship camera, the A-1.  From what I understand it is an even more miraculous sports camera than the A9 series.  It has a ridiculously large writing buffer and can take thirty shots per second or something obscene like that.  But its sensor is not rated to a higher ISO rating.  It does have a 50-megapixel sensor.  But that also means you get 50+ megabyte file sizes which is starting to get cumbersome.  Maybe someday I’ll try it out just for laughs but that price tag is outrageous.

So here I am.  Other than my camera not being able to autofocus my two favorite a-mount lenses, the Sony 135mm f1.8 lens and the Minolta 200mm f4 Macro, I really don’t need any of the new cameras.  Even the new Sony A7S III really doesn’t interest me.  I’m not a videographer and its high ISO numbers surprisingly still don’t match the A7 III.  This was a bit of a shocker for me.  The A7S series is supposed to have the best low light sensitivity of all the A7 line.  But apparently the video improvements are what drove the new model and high ISO was left as is.

If I were a sports and wildlife photographer then the A1 or at least the A9 II would be the cameras I wanted.  If I was a purely landscape guy then the A1 or the A7R IV would provide me with the resolution I crave.  If I was a videographer and I didn’t want a full-blown video camera I’d be looking at the A7S III.  But I’m just a general-purpose photographer that does some landscape and some macro and a little bit of wildlife and no video.  So, all of those other cameras are overkill and sometimes inferior for my needs.

For yourself this review might help point you in the direction of which Sony full frame ILC is right for you.

Sony A7 III – A Camera Review – Part 2

Two years ago, almost to the day, I did a review of my brand new Sony A7 III camera.  I was extremely enthusiastic about the capabilities of the camera and described how the autofocus and some of the other features compared to great advantage versus my previous camera, the Sony A7S.  Well, two years is definitely enough time to finish my review and provide my perspective on it.

First of all, for those who are unfamiliar with the saga of Sony buying Minolta, inheriting their digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera project and then almost immediately switching to a mirrorless system it is a tale of woe and of course I was at ground zero for the event.  In 2008 I was shooting with a Pentax DSLR.  It was a pretty good camera and fulfilled my modest needs.  But I read the reviews and knew that out there were new sensors that provided higher resolution and lower noise levels than I could achieve.  Also, I coveted the performance of the Canon and Nikon full frame professional cameras with their remarkable low light capability and the associated ecosystem of fabulous full frame lenses.  But their $8,000 price tags horrified me since at the time I was driving a car that cost me $2,000.  But then an amazing thing happened.  Sony came out with the A-850 DSLR and for $2,000 I could have a camera which had the same sensor as the Nikon D3X which cost over $7,000.  I jumped at the chance and bought it.  And it was a truly great camera.  It produced wonderful images and had a number of Minolta lenses and new Sony lenses that opened avenues for the kind of photography I was interested in.  Plus, Sony was a powerful electronics corporation that produced the best camera sensors and they promised that in the future the advances in low light capability and dynamic range would surpass what was possible with digital imaging and in fact would also surpass what film cameras could do.  At that time, it was still possible to say that the resolution for a film camera was higher than what a DSLR could produce.  This meant that when next year’s model exceeded the performance of my A-850 I could sell it and for a small premium buy the newer model.  All photographers know that over the long haul it’s the cost of the lens system that you acquire that anchors you to a camera brand.  And I went right to work buying very expensive lenses and accessories like a really good flash system.  I was happy in the knowledge that I was investing in a long-term relationship with the Sony full-frame DSLR system.  So, all was right with the world.

And then Sony pulled the rug out from under me.  They announced that they had made their last full frame DSLR and in fact they were preparing to end all DSLR models and move into a mirrorless market with a completely new lens mount and, by the way, no full frame option was on the horizon for the foreseeable future.  The horror, the horror.

After that point I considered switching over to Nikon or Canon.  But my A-850 was a glorious camera and I loved some of the lenses my system included.  So, I figured I’d wait and see.  After that the story is a long and painful affair that meanders through Sony introducing the hybrid DSLT (digital single lens translucent) technology which split the image through a translucent film and thereby losing at least a half stop of light.  And the NEX cameras with their abysmal autofocus which essentially turned me into a manual focus shooter.  All through this I held onto the A-850 because it was still a pleasure to us.  But as time went on the technology of digital imaging was leaving it in the dust.  Even my NEX camera could far surpass the A-850 in low light shooting.  And so, after flirting with some of the earlier A7 cameras I started using the A7S as my main camera and saved the A-850 for occasions when good autofocus was indispensable.  And that brings us up to the A7 III.  When I started using it, I was able to finally say I had a camera that exceeded the A-850 in every way.  And so, I finally sold off the A7S and the A-850 and some of the parts of the A-mount that I wouldn’t need any more and the rest is history.  But that was a solid decade of frustration from Sony.  Job ain’t got nothing on me.

So here is my report on the A7 III.

The Sony A7 III is a remarkable photographic tool.  It is a quantum leap over the A7 I and A7 II cameras in almost every way.  The biggest improvement over those earlier cameras is the autofocus.  All of the earlier iterations of the A7 cameras had seriously deficient autofocus.  One of the worst offenders was my A7S camera.  It was so bad that manual focus was really the only alternative if a critically sharp file was needed.  Some of the earlier A7 and A7R cameras were better than the A7S but none of them had truly competent autofocus.  The Sony A7 III autofocus gives you sharp pictures quickly and reliably.  The A9 professional camera has even better autofocus and I can only imagine that the A9 II must be even more fantastic.  But I don’t usually shoot sports or birds in flight so tracking autofocus isn’t something I use all the time and know how to rate easily.  Suffice it to say I no longer have the experience of looking at photos I took and finding that the pictures are out of focus.  One very useful feature that I believe Sony pioneered is “eye autofocus.”  When this mode is turned on the camera looks for a face and then focuses on the eyes.  For occasions and portraits that’s as good as it gets.

The next notable improvement of the A7 III over the earlier iterations is the larger battery.  The A9 and the A7 III series cameras got a bigger battery and it is night and day over the A7S.  With this earlier camera I bought three batteries just to make sure I wouldn’t get caught with an empty battery but even still I did run into trouble when I needed to take a lot of photos.  The new battery solves that problem completely.  I have gotten well over a thousand photos on one battery and it still had plenty of charge left.

In addition to these selling points the cameras has all the other features that a photographer hopes and expects to find in a modern enthusiast level stills camera.  It has a 24-megapixel sensor with low light capability that even exceeded the A7S for the ISO level at which it could produce a noise free image.  It has two memory slots. It has all kinds of customizable features to take advantage of effects of dynamic range and bracketing and various creative features plus a plethora of programming and tethering options to allow the camera to be controlled via a smart phone or laptop.  I have even managed to use remote control and a custom hack to allow the camera to perform focus stacking.

Okay, I’ve raved enough.  It’s a great camera.  It does everything I need it to do.  I don’t even want the A9 or the A9 II.  Even though I know they are even more advanced and contain even more in the way of customizable features, I don’t desire these cameras as an upgrade.  And this is the first time I could honestly say that about the Sony camera line in the last ten years of owning them.  And that goes for the A7 IV if it comes out any time soon.  I simply don’t need it or even want it.  Sure, I’m saying that sight unseen and maybe they can trigger my gear lust with some feature that I don’t currently have.  One thing that I would be interested in would be an in-camera focus stacking option like Olympus currently has.  That would save me from having to bring along a tethered laptop every time I want to do an outdoor focus stack.  But I’d almost expect if something like that is added to a later camera that Sony might retrofit the older cameras with it as a firmware update.

So, there it is.  The Sony A7 III is a great mirrorless camera with plenty of features and a very nice lens line up available from Sony and increasingly from the third-party lens makers like Zeiss and Sigma.  If you really need a completely pro version then upgrade to the A9 series with even more capability for sports.  But otherwise the A7 III is a great camera.  If you do happen to need more megapixels than the 24 in the A7 III then go with the A7R III or A7R IV.

A Sony Fan-Lost-Boy Finally Arrives in the Promised Land

This post is only for the long suffering Sony A-mount users.  You know who you are.  You bought the A900 or the A850 and you were looking forward to Sony re-issuing all those great Minolta lenses and competing head to head with the Nikon D3S.  You saw nothing but upside from a technology powerhouse like Sony improving the DSLR.  And then they pulled the rug out from under you. Translucent mirrors that lost a half stop of light.  LED viewfinders that lagged by a second or two when you triggered the shutter.  And then the true mirrorless camera with contrast detect autofocus that didn’t focus.  The NEX series that was unbelievably small but suffering from all these problems.  And then the A7 cameras.  Series one then series two.  Painstaking progress.  Slowly the potential of the mirrorless becoming real but always something still missing.  And then the A9 the camera that had all the pieces!  And a $4,500 price tag!

But now, the A7 III.  Oh my brothers I just must joyously exclaim.  It is a real camera made by Sony.  Hallelujah, hallelujah, halleleujah. The joy of picking a point in the viewfinder, half-pressing

Sony A7 III with Sony 55mm F\1.8

the shutter and seeing the autofocus work instantly and precisely.  I could barely see the result through my tears of joy.  Huzzah, huzzah.  Never again would I focus, then magnify, then manually refocus to save the shot.  Now I go through the pictures afterward and every shot is perfectly focused.  And ISO 800 and 1600 and 3200 are perfectly usable and even ISO 6400 is often fine!  And if I want to do a macro shot with a non macro lens I use magnify to get precise focus on the exact spot I want and the 24 megapixels give me plenty of room to crop.

Nirvana, Valhalla, Heaven, Elysium, Paradise.  I’m home.  I don’t need to wait or hope or give up and change systems.  It’s done.  I’m there.

Sony you are finally forgiven for keeping me out in the wilderness all these years.

 

 

My Butterfly Chasing Rig – My Descent into the Maelstrom of Long Macro Madness

Anyone who has been following my various macro lens posts knows that I am still fiddling around with available lenses to construct a long macro rig to photograph butterflies with the A7 cameras.  Another problem I’m investigating is finding a tripod head that would provide quick release on the monopod but also could hold the weight of a 200mm lens.  Previously I used the Manfrotto 327RC2 light duty grip ball head with Quick Release but the weight of the Minolta 200 macro caused it to flop over.  I recently bought the Vanguard Alta GH-300T Grip Head.  It differs from the Manfrotto which had a spring loaded trigger.  The Vanguard has a friction toggle switch that you engage with your thumb.  So far it’s working excellently.  The test will be to see if the friction element is long lasting.  Now I’ll have to determine if the Minolta 200mm f\4 macro and the LA-EA4 adapter is better on the Sony A7 III than the Sigma 180mm f\2.8 A-mount on the LA-EA3.

 

 

Macro Rig – Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro & Vanguard Alta GH-300T Grip Head & Primos 65802 Tall Monopod Trigger Stick, 33-65″

 

Vanguard Alta GH-300T Grip Head

 

 

Manfrotto 327RC2 light duty grip ball head with Quick Release

 

Review of Sigma MC-11 Adapter – Using Sigma Brand Canon-Mount Lenses on Sony E-Mount Cameras – Part 1

As mentioned in earlier posts I rented the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens for Canon EF and the Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro for Canon EF to use on my Sony A7 III with the Sigma MC-11 adapter.  I had heard on a “The Camera Store” video that the MC-11 paired with Sigma Canon mount lenses  was practically equivalent to native e-mount lenses with respect to autofocus on A7 cameras.  The only caveat was that the Sigma lenses for which this was true were restricted to three series, the Art Series, the Sports Series and the Contemporary Series.  Unfortunately for me I was interested in the Sigma 180mm f\2.8 macro lens which is not in any of these series.  So I rent ed this lens and the 150-600mm sports Series lens to compare how they performed with the MC-11.  I can now confirm that the lens series that are specified by Sigma for use with the MC-11 do indeed autofocus with Sony A7 cameras utilizing all the various capabilities of the autofocus system of the Sony A7 III (at least as far as I was able to determine).  And unfortunately, I can also confirm that lenses that aren’t in those sanctioned series of lenses have much less autofocus capability than those that do.  Many functions such as autofocus while remaining in magnified view don’t work at all.  As far as the accuracy of the autofocus it’s not as clear whether the capability of the lenses differ that much because I was using it as a macro lens and that type of lens usually doesn’t autofocus as quickly as normal lenses.  My sense is that it is less capable.  It feels like the autofocus that was available on the first generation of A7 cameras.

But the main message of this post is if there are Sigma lenses that extend the lens range for the A7 cameras in one of these three lens series (Art,Sports, Contemporary) you can expect to get near native autofocus capability with the Canon mount versions on the MC-11 adapter.

Shooting Sigma Canon Mount Lenses with the Sigma MC-11 Adapter on the Sony A7 III – Part 2 – Sigma 180mm f\2.8 Macro

Because it’s been raining and cold for weeks here I took the Sony A7 III with the Sigma MC-11 Adapter and the Sigma 180mm f\2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon to a “butterfly conservatory” to get in some macro shooting.

This was a fairly challenging environment for the auto focus because the light level was low.  What I found was that the autofocus works but it is far from fast and because it is a macro lens it can get lost in the focus wind up if the light level is low or the subject contrast is low.  Several times I switched the lens to manual to reset it after it lost its mind.  But as I said it was a fairly challenging lighting situation.  My take on this is that the 180 mm Macro is an acceptable autofocus lens on the MC-11 but far from state of the art.  The lens itself takes excellent macro and other photos.  I am seriously thinking of getting it either in the Canon mount or possibly the amount for use with the LA-EA3.  I’ll have to rent that mount version soon to check it out and see if it’s any better.

By the way, the turkey vulture wasn’t at the butterfly place.  It was in a tree pretty far from my spot on a road side.  It’s a pretty extreme crop so the autofocus was working well when the lens was used as a telephoto lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Quick Note on the Sony A7 III Sensitivity

Shooting with extremely long lenses like the 150-600mm Sigma requires higher shutter speed and to compensate for this, higher ISO levels are required.  This gave me a chance of seeing the result of using 6,400 and 10,000 (and higher) ISO sensitivities.  And I will tell you I am extremely impressed.  I have a hummingbird picture at 6,400 that is perfectly fine.  I’m sure if I subjected it to very close scrutiny and blew it up to 200% I’d find issues.  And that would be crazy.  My point is this camera has really excellent 6,400 ISO results.  The next test is to take some photos at that sensitivity in a low light indoor environment.  If it passes that test then this is the camera I was looking for when I was looking for a successor for the Sony A-850 in 2011.  The A850 was a great camera.  It had a best in class 24 megapixel sensor and  shot beautiful 100 ISO photos.  Even 200, 400 and even kinda sorta 800 ISO photos were also very good.  but try to take photos in a restaurant at 100 or even 800 ISO.  You’ll have motion blur and worse.  So I used to take 3,200 and 6,400 ISO shots that looked like a Monet painting with color noise swirling around everything.  I tried to convince myself that I liked the result but it was pathetic.  Now here I am a mere seven years later and all’s right with the world.  Well, that’s assuming the indoor tests go as hoped.  That also assumes the low light autofocus is as advertised.  Stay tuned.  Results will follow soon.

Shooting Sigma Canon Mount Lenses with the Sigma MC-11 Adapter on the Sony A7 III – Part 1

Last Thursday I received the following equipment from LensRentals.com:

  • Adapter – Sigma MC-11 Canon EF to Sony E, serial 51758012
  • Bag – Lowepro Lens Case 11 x 26cm, serial S810466
  • Case – Sigma LS-137K , serial S814943
  • Filter – Sigma 105mm Protector, serial S645658
  • Filter – Sigma 86mm Protector, serial S641204
  • Hood – Sigma LH1164-01, serial S498651
  • Hood – Sigma LH927-01, serial S412678
  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM A1 S for Canon, serial 51367833
  • Sigma 180mm f/2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon, serial 13268931
  • Tripod Foot – Sigma 150-600mm S, serial S872113
  • Tripod Ring – Sigma 150-600mm S , serial S872109
  • Tripod Ring – Sigma TS-21, serial S454931

I mentioned in an earlier post that I watched a video that the TheCameraStore guys did that tested Metabones and Sigma (MC-11) adapters for Canon mount lenses onto Sony e-mount cameras.  In the video they said that on Canon brand lenses the Metabones adapter was better than the MC-11 and had pretty good autofocus.  But they also said that on Sigma brand lenses (of Art, Sport and Contemporary series) in Canon mount the autofocus was virtually identical to native Sony lens autofocus.  Now that really got me thinking.  Sony lacks really long glass  and a 200mm macro lens.  Sigma has a 150-600 that is pretty sharp and a 180mm f\2.8 macro that is also reputed to be good.  The 150-600 is part of the Sports series and therefore one of the lenses that the MC-11 is tuned for.  The MC-11 isn’t programmed for the 180mm macro so that was a question mark.  I decided to rent them and the MC-11 and test them out.

Between work responsibilities and bad weather I’ve only had a chance to do a little testing but I have confirmed that the MC-11 does give the 150-600 truly excellent autofocus very similar to a native lens on the A7 III.  And the 180 macro does not have that native autofocus programming with the MC-11.  The display registers an array of rough squares for the focus points.  This looks like the older autofocus from the version II A7 cameras.  So I can confirm the accuracy of the description of the MC-11’s ability on the Sports series.  The 180mm macro autofocus is definitely at a lesser level than with the specified series lenses.

But I still am interested in the 180 macro as the best choice for the A7 III camera.  So I’ve been trying it out for some bird photos including hummingbirds.  So far I like the results.  Next I’ll try some butterflies if they show up in the next week or so.

 

Sony A7 III with • Sigma 180mm f/2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon and Sigma MC-11 Canon EF to Sony E adapter
Sony A7 III with • Sigma 180mm f/2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon and Sigma MC-11 Canon EF to Sony E adapter
Sony A7 III with • Sigma 180mm f/2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon and Sigma MC-11 Canon EF to Sony E adapter
Sony A7 III with • Sigma 180mm f/2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon and Sigma MC-11 Canon EF to Sony E adapter

06MAY2018 – OCF Update

This week I’ll finish up reading Larry Correia’s “Monster Hunter Seige” and post a review.  The hard cover version came out back in July but I buy the paperback for convenience and that version just got issued.  The site has been a little slow because I’m putting together a sort of “best of” post on my southwest landscape trip for a link that Captain Capitalism is providing me and it’s a time-consuming endeavor.  It’s like eleven hundred files and I’m still learning how to use Capture One.  So bear with me.  That post should be pretty interesting for the photo enthusiasts.  As I mentioned earlier I’ll get those rental lenses on Friday the 11th and that will spawn some interesting posts on the viability of using Sigma lenses with Canon mount on the Sony A7 cameras.  That may be interesting to Canon shooters with Sigma glass who have been interested in switching to Sony and anyone who is still constrained by Sony’s telephoto and macro lens choices.

The other thing I am interested in writing about is the direction of right wing movement.  I am trying to formulate my own particular spin on what makes sense going forward.  There is a lot of confusion and undirected anger that doesn’t seem to be producing much in the way of results.  And there seems to be a certain amount of opportunism and charlatanism that makes it difficult to know what is solid and worthwhile.  Sometimes it seems that several people have each latched onto a different piece of the puzzle needed to reform the current situation but like the blind men and the elephant they only “see” a small part of the reality and are missing the big picture.  And because of that, they diagnose that small part of the problem and their solution doesn’t address the broader situation.  And some of the “wise men” are too extreme.  They would throw out the baby with the bath water.  The more I think about solutions for the social disintegration the more I think that restoring the common-sense institutions we used to have is the solution.  Stopping unlimited immigration is neither impossible nor radical.  Restoring respect for the traditions and institutions of our forefathers is important and relatively straight forward.  And replacing social justice and reverse discrimination with actual justice is so rational that it shouldn’t even require explanation.  I think some of the emphasis on race reality is a response to the absurdity that occurs when racial and sexual protectionism and intersectionality tactics are used to attack the American white middle and working classes.  If you eliminate these irritants then the rules of American society should be competent to allow different types of people to function relatively harmoniously.  Anyway, that is what I’m starting to think.  I’m definitely interested in other opinions.  And I read around to hear what other people are coming up with.  For instance I’m going to read Gregory Cochran’s “The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” and David Reich’s “Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past” to see if there’s anything in biology that rules out my optimism for a functional multi-ethnic America.

And finally, I’d love to get more feedback from the readers.  Even if it’s negative.  It’s useful to know what you like and what you don’t.  Or even to just say hi.  It’s definitely appreciated and part of why I made this site.  I am interested in hearing other points of view.  And if you find something interesting on-line pass along the link.