A Little Flurry of Sony News

Sonyalpharumors.com has upped the odds of the A7 III being announced tomorrow (26FEB2018) to 75%.  Of course the calculus of rumor mongering is far from an exact science, but in this case I think he’s probably right.  And just to sweeten the occasion Sigma has announced an FE mount lens.  It is an Art Series 105mm f/1.4.  And it looks like a beast with its own tripod mount.  Looking toward the horizon I hope after the announcement it won’t take long to learn if this new camera has good autofocus.  One interesting development in the rumor is the fact that the autofocus system has more contrast detect points than phase detect ones.  This continues a change in direction from the A9 which had many more phase detect than contrast.  I’ve always thought the contrast detect points were much less functional so I see this as a bad sign.  Time will tell.

 

What Am I Missing in the Sony E-Mount Lens Line-Up?

A few years ago the answer to this question would have been everything. Especially for the new full-frame 7 series cameras, the line-up was woefully poor.  In the last three years Sony (and Zeiss) have really stepped up to the plate and launched a goodly selection of high end lenses for the FE (full-frame e-mount) cameras.  In fact at this point the wide angle options are pretty much complete.  For the normal range there are several excellent options including a 50mm f/1.4, an 85 f/1.4, a 100mm macro and the recently added 70 – 200 F2.8 G Master zoom.

What is left? Telephotos.  Now, Sony has added a 100-400mm zoom.  But I would say that Sony is lacking a telephoto zoom that reaches 600mm.  If I were a sports photographer I’d be looking for a 600mm F/4.  But that is a very expensive lens.  I think what would be appropriate is for someone like Sigma or Tamron to produce an e-mount version of their existing 150 – 600mm zooms.  This would provide the compromise between price and capability that a large number of amateur wildlife and sports shooters would be willing to pay for.  In fact I know that if Sony produced this lens it would probably be too expensive.  So it is a natural fit for these two third party manufacturers.

The other thing that I would like to see Sony produce is a 200mm macro. I currently use the Minolta version with an adapter but since it’s a screw-drive focus system it either has to be used as a manual focus on the LA-EA3 or with the “translucent mirror of the LA-EA4.  Both of these are compromises.  I also think the chance of Sony manufacturing this lens is zero.  So once again I think this is a good opportunity for Sigma.  They already have a long focal length macro and this would probably only require adapting it to the e-mount.  This lens probably won’t have as many buyers as a 150-600mm  zoom.  But I throw it out there because I’m greedy and annoying.

There is a rumor on Sonyalpharumors.com that Sigma is about to announce a major effort to break into the FE market. The initial offering has been guessed to be a 35mm f/1.4.  This is a lens that Sigma has done a good job on already in their Art Lens series.  Whether it would require a major modification to work on the e-mount is a question.

So if we assume Sigma is looking to get the maximum bang for their buck in the Sony ecosystem then they should go for some of the open focal lengths that they already have technology for.  In that case both the 150-600 and 200mm macro are lenses they already make and represent gaps in the Sony line-up.

If you’re listening Sigma, get busy. You make money and I get to stop complaining.  A win-win.

You’re welcome Sigma!

The Camera Store Reviews the Sony A9 Camera

The Camera Store up in Calgary Alberta, Canada does a lot of good reviews of Sony equipment. Chris concentrates on the photo side and Jordan addresses the video aspects of each camera.  They’ve been fairly enthusiastic Sony users without succumbing to fanboy-like blindness to the shortcomings of mirrorless cameras in general and Sony in particular.

This review is fairly late in the game for the A9 but I think time has given them a little perspective on the camera and I think that is why they have nailed the real significance of the A9. They realized that the true niche that the A9 fills is the perfect wedding camera.  The silent shutter, excellent autofocus, fast sensor readout and 20 frames a second guarantees that the perfect shot of the bouquet toss or the kiss or the toast won’t be missed.

And waiting until this late date allowed them to compare the A7R III to the A9 and see when the A7R III provides a cheaper but adequate option and where it doesn’t. It’s a long video (about an hour) but it’s pretty good.

Some of the highpoints is the recognition that the fast sensor read of the A9 effectively eliminates rolling shutter problems whereas the A7R III cannot. Offsetting this advantage is the lack of good video options in the A9.  This is attributed to the soon to be announced A7S III or A9S options.  And finally there is a discussion of how the use of any Sony e-mount camera as a sports or wildlife camera is handicapped by the lack of native long telephoto lenses.  This lack may soon be corrected.  Nevertheless it explains why the A9 hasn’t managed to convert large numbers of Nikon and Canon sports shooters yet.

Very interesting discussion.

 

Lenses for Sony – Part 2 – Wide Angle Lenses for Full Frame Cameras

A couple of years ago the lament among Sony A7 series users was that there were no lenses for their cameras.  It would be hard to make such a claim about wide angle lenses for the A7 cameras today.  If you set aside the cine lenses there are 25 e-mount full frame lenses from 10mm to 35mm.  Looking only at what Sony manufactures themselves you would still have fifteen lenses.  Adding in Rokinon, Tokina, Voigtlander and Zeiss, that number increases to 25.

  1. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
  2. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 AF FE
  3. Rokinon 35mm f/2.8 AF FE
  4. Sony 16mm Fisheye Conversion Lens
  5. Sony 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens
  6. Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G
  7. Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
  8. Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS
  9. Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 OSS
  10. Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS
  11. Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
  12. Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS
  13. Sony FE 28-135mm f/4 G PZ OSS
  14. Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
  15. Sony FE 28mm f/2
  16. Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA
  17. Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Sonnar
  18. Tokina FiRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF
  19. Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 Hyper-Wide Heliar
  20. Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6 Ultra-Wide Heliar III
  21. Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Super-Wide Heliar III
  22. Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8
  23. Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2
  24. Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8
  25. Zeiss Loxia E 35mm f/2 Biogon

As mentioned above, this does not count the specialized lenses used for motion picture shoots called cine lenses.  Counting all the models from Rokinon, Sigma and Zeiss this adds up to 18 wide angle cine lenses available for full-frame e-mount cameras.

  1. Rokinon 20mm T1.9 Cine DS
  2. Rokinon 24mm T1.5 Cine DS
  3. Rokinon 35mm T1.5 Cine DS
  4. Rokinon Xeen 14mm T3.1
  5. Rokinon Xeen 16mm T2.6
  6. Rokinon Xeen 35mm T1.5
  7. Sigma Cine 35mm T1.5 FF Prime
  8. Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 18mm T3.6
  9. Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 21mm T2.9
  10. Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 25mm T2.1
  11. Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 35mm T2.1
  12. Zeiss Compact Zoom CZ.2 28-80mm T2.9
  13. Zeiss CP.3 15mm T2.9
  14. Zeiss CP.3 18mm T2.9
  15. Zeiss CP.3 21mm T2.9
  16. Zeiss CP.3 25mm T2.1
  17. Zeiss CP.3 28mm T2.1
  18. Zeiss CP.3 35mm T2.1

Luckily for me I don’t shoot motion pictures so I’ll take that as an excuse not to say anything about cine lenses.  Which is lucky for the reader since I don’t know anything about these lenses and anything I said would be highly suspect.

The fifteen FE lenses manufactured by Sony are divided into several groupings.  The supposedly highest quality are the G Master (GM) lenses.  Next in quality are the G lenses.  After that are the ZA lenses which are produced under quality standards provided by Zeiss.  And finally, there are the just plain FE lenses.  Honestly, I am of the opinion that the actual qualities of a lens should be determined on a case by case basis.  Because of the higher prices for the highest quality classes it’s reasonable to compare equivalent lenses and determine whether the more modestly priced lens gets the job done for you.  In general, the biggest advantage of the Sony brand lenses is the alignment of firmware in the lenses and cameras to provide optimized autofocus.  It’s possible this also applies to the Zeiss Batis lenses since Zeiss and Sony are linked by cooperative agreements.  But that is only speculation on my part.  In general, the reputation of the Sony brand lenses is good.  The only caveat is that none of the Sony lenses are warranted as water proof.  There is mention of weather sealing but I do not believe they are as resistant to moisture as some of the professional grade Canon and Nikon lenses.  If water proof ability is needed then check the manufacturer’s warranty.

The next series of lenses I’ll talk about are the Zeiss Loxia and Batis series.  Zeiss is an old guard German lens manufacturer with a reputation for producing excellent lenses.  And the Zeiss lenses are known to be weather resistant.  Up until very recently all of Zeiss’s lenses were manual focus.  The Loxia lenses are manual focus lenses.  I currently use the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 for landscape and general outdoors shooting.  I can attest that it is extremely sharp and has an excellent look to it.  I’ve also tried the Loxia 35mm and 50mm focal lengths and found them equally excellent.  So, if manual focusing is not a problem (landscape applications) then the Loxia lenses are highly recommended.  The Batis are the first Zeiss autofocus lenses.  They have the same excellent sharpness and look of Zeiss glass but they come with the advantages of autofocus.  They aren’t cheap but they are actually less expensive than the Sony GM equivalents.  If you have plenty of money then the Batis line provides another quality choice.

Voigtlander is another old German lens maker.  However, I believe the current company is really a Japanese company using the name.  Voigtlander provided some lenses for the Leica M-mount that were much less expensive than Leica glass.  They weren’t touted as highly as Leica lenses but they had a reputation of being very good.  Also, some of their designs were extremely compact.  For some types of shooting, like street shooting, this was an advantage.  Two lenses that Voigtlander produced in the past were the 12mm and 15mm Heliar designs.  These had a good reputation for compact size and low distortion in an extremely wide focal range.  Recently Voigtlander re-issued these lenses in e-mount and added to the niche by designing a 10mm wide angle for e-mount.  I have used the 12mm and found it to be an excellent lens for its kind.  I own the 10mm and also think it’s excellent.  But let me give full warning, 10mm and even 12mm are very odd focal lengths.  .  Even a slight raising or lowering of the of the camera out of the horizontal will cause wild distortions of the objects in the field of view.  So, don’t expect to use these lenses for portraits unless you’re in a fun house.  I believe Voigtlander will be issuing their 35mm f/1.2 lens in e-mount.  That would be an interesting lens to experiment with at f/1.2.

Rokinon makes extremely inexpensive lenses.  In the past there were quality problems associated with poorly centered lens components.  Lately I’ve heard that the quality control has improved quite a bit.  However, it is important to realize that the components and the construction techniques are not built to last forever.  Taking that into account you can get excellent results from some of Rokinon’s lenses for comparatively little cost.

Tokina currently has a 20mm e-mount lens.  I have not seen it.  However, Tokina makes very good lenses.  It would be nice to see both Tokina and Sigma get into the full-frame e-mount lens business.  It would be good for the competition and good for pricing.

So that’s a rundown on what’s out there.  What does it mean?  It means you have choices.  Even if you have a limited budget you have choices.  Because in addition to the lenses I’ve mentioned, if you don’t mind forgoing autofocus you can manually focus almost any lens in the world by using an adapter to put it on your A7 family camera.  In addition to adapted manual focus lenses some of the more modestly priced Sony wide angle lenses are actually quite good.  The Sony FE 28mm f/2 is $423.  I’ve used it and it’s actually extremely good.  For another $477 you can add the Sony 16mm Fisheye Conversion Lens and Sony 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens to it and get three focal lengths for a total of $900.  The Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Sonnar is the kit lens that’s usually included with the A7 camera.  If you buy it separately it’s $700.  It’s a good lens and very compact.  And now that high ISO really works it’s a perfectly useful lens for indoors too.  The   Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is $300.  The autofocus version $550.

If you have more money you have more choices.  Voigtlander lenses are between $800 and $1,000.  The Zeiss and pricier Sony selections run into the $1,200 to $2,200 range for the wide angle lenses.  Are they worth the extra money?  To some people.  Landscape photographers want the sharpest lenses they can get and they want the nicest colors.  They worry about chromatic aberration and distortion.  They want a 3-D look where the details pop off the print.  They will pay the extra money to get the look they want.

Bottom line, you can get the wide angle lenses you want for the A7 (or A9) cameras.  If only the telephotos were so lucky.

The Future of Photography

Today I was watching a video on photography by Tony Northrup

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za2AeCujDZk&feature=youtu.be) .  Basically, it’s one of those “Here are my predictions for 2018” videos.  Tony goes through Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Pentax and Fuji.  He has a variety of predictions and comments.  Some interesting, some obvious, some debatable.  What I found significant was a couple of statements he made about Canon and Nikon.  Apparently both Canon and Nikon are expected to produce full frame mirrorless models in 2018.  And in addition, Tony noted that last year Sony passed Nikon to become the second largest producer of full frame cameras and that the way things are going Sony will pass Canon in 2018 to become the largest.

And that is actually sort of amazing.  Tony Northrup is a former mirrorless skeptic.  Up until the second generation of the A7 system he doubted that a full-frame mirrorless camera would ever have the autofocus ability to compete against the professional grade Nikon and Canon models.  But in just three years Sony has gone from a novelty camera manufacturer to where they are now.  Now, having been the victim of years of Sony dithering I can state categorically that their success has nothing to do with superior implementation of their products.  Anyone who has had to deal with the Sony camera menus knows that’s simply not the case.  So, what it must be, is that the time of the DSLR is past and the advantages of the mirrorless camera are now so obvious that even Sony can’t help but succeed.

So, if it’s to be mirrorless cameras going forward, who will be left standing when the dust settles?  Will Canon and Nikon pivot and reinvent themselves as mirrorless camera companies?  Will Sony parlay their electronic and video expertise to dominate market? Or will one of the other mirrorless companies like Fuji or the micro four thirds manufacturers take advantage of their smaller form factor to pull ahead?

Who knows?  Certainly not me.  But at least I feel like I’ve won the first part of the bet I took when I stuck with Sony when they went from DSLR to mirrorless.  Now all they have to do is get out of their own way and give their customers the cameras and lenses they want to buy.  This year they came out with two amazing cameras, the A9 and the A7R III.  Both cameras are essentially ground breaking.  The A9 is the first mirrorless camera that could easily be used by either a professional sports shooter or a wedding photographer and perform as well as if not in some ways better than the Canon and Nikon equivalents.  The A7R III is a versatile high megapixel camera that can perform at the level of Nikon and Canon enthusiast cameras for everything from landscape to portrait to occasion shooting while providing the very best picture quality available.  What remains for them is to finish off the line up with updates of their high ISO stills / video camera (the A7S III) and the basic A7 III plain vanilla version.  Once the larger battery, better autofocus and joystick control of the A9 is introduced into these updates, Sony will have provided mirrorless shooters with the tools they’ve been waiting for.  And it will become difficult for Canon and Nikon to convince the market that mirrorless cameras haven’t already matched DSLR performance and in some ways surpassed it.  When I tested out the A9 last summer and saw what it’s like to shoot continuously with absolutely no blackout between frames I knew that mirrorless was the future.  And when I saw how good the autofocus on that camera was I no longer doubted that Sony might be a part of that future.

So, the great mirrorless game is afoot.  Who will take an early lead and who will be left at the gate?  Predicting these kinds of things is almost impossible.  But I’ll string along with Sony for the foreseeable future.  They’ve chosen wisely and are now fighting on their own electronics turf instead of on the DSLR field.  I like their chances.  But I have to say that after following along with these guys for all these years I have a sort of fatalism about how clueless they can be about avoiding obvious problems.  Please Sony, don’t screw it up.

Lenses for Sony – Part 1 – Introduction

 

For a long-suffering victim of the notorious Sony (A mount/E mount) bait and switch, lenses have been both a sore point and an important topic.  Specifically, much thought had to be given to what strategy would allow you to get the kind of photos you wanted now but minimize the cost of eventual lens duplication when Sony finally got their act together and produced a native version.  I could go on and on about adapters for every lens mount known to photography, manual lenses of all description from the cheapest old 50mm nifty fifties made with radioactive thorium coatings to top of the line Leica glass costing in excess of $10,000.  We could discuss the perils of using wide angle rangefinder lenses on the very short e-mount registration distance and we could discuss the tradeoffs between the slower AF speed of the LAEA3 vs the light loss of the translucent mirror in the LAEA4.  We could talk about these things but let’s not.  All of these work arounds are like those very old moving pictures from the turn of the 19th century that chronicled the failures in aviation that preceded the Wright Brothers.  There were planes that flapped their wings like birds.  There were giant corkscrews that pitched around like a top until they toppled over and vibrated apart.  And there was that glider with three levels of wings mounted on a bicycle that collapsed as soon as it reached the bottom of the ramp it was on.  All these horrors are relics of the past.  The only reminders for me are a few modified Contax G lenses and a few adapters for them still hanging around my photography room (very sad).

Now that Sony has gotten around to filling out the FE lens line up to a pretty convincing degree the lens decisions that a Sony photographer has to make are much closer to the decisions that a Canon or Nikon shooter makes.  Native or third party?  Manual or autofocus?  Fast, large, heavy and expensive or slow, small, light and cheap?  Interestingly, if you’re short of cash and go for the more reasonably priced choices you sometimes end up with a very satisfactory lens.  For instance, the Sony FE 55mm and 28mm lenses are among the least expensive in the line-up but are both very good performers.  But there is no getting around the fact that gear acquisition syndrome (G.A.S.) is a very common and seductive disease.  I know because I am a sufferer of this disorder.  Oh well.

So how do you go about choosing the lenses you should buy?  Well, even before you talk about budget, decide on what lenses you do and do not need to do the kind of photography you plan on doing.  If you’re a portrait photographer, you won’t need a 10mm wide angle lens.  If you shoot high speed sports like motor cross racing you probably want good autofocus capability and a manual focus lens will have limited application.  One thing I find interesting is what I find myself using in real life as opposed to what I own.  I have a Minolta 200mm macro lens that I typically use on a manual focus adapter.  Well actually it’s an LAEA3 and can autofocus but not with a screw drive lens which the Minolta macro is.  Anyway, although the primary mission of this Minolta lens is for macro, I find myself using it for all sorts of things.  It’s a very sharp lens and I like it for landscape, portraits and even cityscapes.  Another example of what I actually use vs what I have is the 35mm focal length.  I have the Sony f/1.4 and f/2.8 35mm FE lenses.  Without a doubt, the f/1.4 lens is the better lens and in a darker indoor environment it should be my preference.  But it is a much bulkier and heavier lens.  So, suppose I’m going to a family occasion and want to enjoy myself but still take a few photos.  I take the f/2.8.  It fits much more conveniently in my jacket pocket and along with the high ISO capability of the Sony A7S does a very nice job without the extra stop of light.  And how about autofocus for landscape photography?  You might say who needs it?  Just set it to infinity and have at it.  An interesting question comes up.  What if the infinity stop is off by a small amount?  Would a good mirrorless autofocus camera be able to correct for this?  These are questions that come up.  There are some very high quality manual focus lenses now available for Sony e mount.  Zeiss and Voigtlander both have some interesting wide angle manual choices.  These lenses tend to be much smaller than the autofocus lenses of the same focal length.  Should they be an alternative for you?

So, I’ve made some broad statements here that taken alone are pretty meaningless.  In the succeeding parts of this sries of posts I’ll concentrate on specifics and some things I think I’ve learned about lens choices for Sony FE cameras.

November Vegetation in New England

Here are some photos I took in the last week or two.  Already all the more colorful leaves are now completely gone.  The hard frost last week took care of that.  The days are short and I’m looking forward to the Holidays to distract me until January.  Then I can remind myself the days are getting longer, as I shovel that February snow.

November Wild Cherry and Bokeh
November Leaves
November Forest Spot
November Leaves
November Leaves
November Leaves
November Weeds
November Weeds
November Leaves
Mushroom in November

SonyAlphaRumors (Almost) Got it Right

So, even though it wasn’t the A7 III or the A7S III it was an A7 series camera that came out yesterday.  And even though I really don’t need 42 megapixels for my file size I must say I am sorely tempted to buy this sucker.  It’s coming out at the end of November so I’ll pay attention to the reviews (and maybe rent it first to make sure I’m a good fit for it).  Basically, they’ve taken the A7R II and added a lot of the good stuff from the A9 to it.  It doesn’t have the enormous AF coverage that the A9 has but the AF capability is said to be close to the A9 performance.  It’s got a 10 fps mechanical shutter, dual card slots, enhanced high ISO capability, enhanced auto-focus modes, larger buffer, improved video options, a joystick, touchscreen AF placement and a lot of other fantabulous stuff.  It sounds pretty compelling.  Well, I was hoping for the 24 megapixel sensor of the A9 in a slightly less capable package for a lot smaller price tag but this A7R III checks every other box.  Could this be photog’s next camera?  I wouldn’t bet against it.  Stay tuned friends.  I’ll share my thoughts as the reviews come in but it sounds really interesting.