22OCT2022 – OCF Update – Sony Photography

 

Politics has been so all consuming lately that I haven’t had a chance to write about anything else.  But in the last month or so there’s been a lot of buzz about Sony’s imminent release of their latest update of the high resolution camera, the A7R V.  When I’m interested in breathless reporting I go to sonyalpharumors.com and listen as Andrea tells us confusing and sometimes inconsistent things about the future.

The Sony A7R cameras are very nice pieces of kit and using them for macro is a very attractive proposition with their 61 megapixel sensors and other high resolution accoutrements.  But 61 megapixels is a little bit more than I think I need.  Plus the price tag is now coming in above $4,000.  And for a man of my limited means that’s beginning to seem high.  Plus I do a sort of mixed landscape, macro, walk-around photography that seems to play to the Sony A7 IV all-around camera sweet spot.  So let’s just say that my interest in the Sony A7 V hullabaloo is more on the academic side.

But what did intrigue me was the talk about AI based autofocus.  And here’s why.  I’ve been hearing and reading from various sides that phone cameras are catching up with dedicated professional cameras.  And the reason given for this is that phone cameras have highly intelligent algorithms that provide very precise autofocus and excellent sharpening and color representation.  And that as we reach the limits of what lenses and mechanical devices can do for optical focusing and image stabilization it will be this advanced artificial intelligence that will render phones as the future of photography.

Now, currently I don’t think things are really all that simple.  In fact I’ve spoken to some photographers who have very good phone cameras and they say that although they get very nice shots from their phones, they wouldn’t put one of these files up against a full frame landscape shot as a source for a large print or even as a basis for a cropped photo.  Apparently there is a bit of surface magic going on that doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

But that being said, I am positive that adding a strong algorithm to a very good camera like any of the various Sony A7, A9 or A1 cameras would be a very useful and fruitful step.  For things like birds in flight and sports tracking it would be a step in the right direction.  Just like the eye-AF function was a game changer for good focus, having a program with many times the speed of human reflexes concentrating on evaluating the auto focus and recognizing the changes to the image and anticipating the expected changes to the focus result would improve results greatly.  Even for something like fast moving insect macro photography, having the latest algorithm to optimize the changes in focus point would provide a much higher rate of success in something that has a very short time window.  I could imagine that specialized algorithms might be available for individual subjects like birds in flight or hovering hummingbirds or even butterflies on flowers.

As you can see I’ve let my imagination run away with me but I’m sure there are sports photographers salivating over the idea of an algorithm specifically formulated for football wide receivers running for catches down the side line.  Or how about one specially formulated for NBA stars pretending to be fouled to obtain a penalty shot?

Anyway, I’m intrigued by just what AI may have in store for us in the future.  One thing I hope is that a lot of it might be available as a firmware update to our already very capable cameras.  But honestly I’m not very aware of exactly what capability my camera’s “Bionz-XR image processor has.  It may be a genius or a dolt.  So I’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile my present camera has been doing a splendid job of taking all the pictures I ask of it.  At this point I have no need of an upgrade.  All I ever watch nowadays is the new lens info.  And even that is sort of a reflex.

So I’ll just see where everything goes and enjoy photography for what it is.  Fun.

Active Insect Macro Technique on Sony A7IV – Continuous Auto-Focus vs. Single Auto-Focus and Magnified View

When I was using the earlier Sony A7 cameras for insect macrophotography it was always a struggle to manage to get good focus on active insects like butterflies and bees.  When magnified view appeared in the A7S (and elsewhere) I started using that to get really close focus on the heads of bees and other small critters.  But the challenge was to perform the magnification button clicks and focusing before the little buggers moved on.  And another complication is that only single auto-focus and manual focus work with magnified view, not continuous auto-focus.

So recently I decided to try using continuous auto-focus instead of magnified view with the active insects.  And I’m satisfied that, all things considered, this is the better technique.  Probably those coming from camera models with a longer history than Sony of competent auto-focus are not surprised by my finding.  After all, continuous auto-focus isn’t a new technology.  But it is to me.  Having competent auto-focus on a Sony A7 camera is a relatively recent phenomenon.

What I think are the big advantages of this technique are really just the lack of the disadvantages that the magnified method has.  With the continuous autofocus method there is no rush to try to restart the magnified view after every capture.  This alone is worth a lot.  Between continuous auto-focus and multiple shooting modes I can take a dozen shots in the three or four seconds it takes to get two shots using magnified view.  And sometimes that is all the chance there is to get the shot.  Looking at the results confirms that the number of keepers is much higher.  Not to mention how much lower the annoyance and frustration levels are when shooting this way.  It makes it easier to keep a handle on the environment and react to the movements of the insects faster.  And this should be obvious.  When in magnified view there’s no way to find the bug when it flies to a new location.  You’re force to take the camera off your eye to find the insect again.  Often, you’ll have to back it out of magnified view and start over once you relocate the target.

So, here’s my restating of the obvious but if it helps anyone else out there in Sony camera world then good.

Guest Contributor – TomD – Sony A7 IV Camera First Impressions

Tom | Flickr

(Editor’s Note – I’ve decided to collect Tom’s observations into a separate post and I’ll update it as they come in.  I’m very interested in these observations as I wait for my A7 IV to wend it’s way through the delivery chain. – photog)

 

The A7IV showed up unexpectedly early last Friday the 24th. Your’s?

Cameras are so complicated these days at configuring one to my preferences is almost like moving to a new house.

Sample below, some of the wife’s yard decoration.

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DSC00104.jpg

,,,

 

I haven’t had a chance to wring it out yet. Other than the impression that focus seems to be instant in all circumstances and that the form factor is more comfortable in my hand, I don’t have a lot to report.

To someone who has had a succession of now 8 Sony cameras, the much-ballyhooed new menu system just means that I have to relearn the menu system. The function button above the control wheel thankfully still gives immediate access to 95% of the functions that I use the most. And you also still have 7-8 buttons and controls to which you can assign functions.

I’m looking forward to playing with the face and eye tracking.

Still playing with the camera, it will take a while.

Just learned a couple of things, my camera, at least, does much better images with the exposure dial kept to -.7.

Tried several exposure stacking series and found that, in aperture priority, the camera mostly but not always creates the different exposures by varying the ISO. All the other Sonys have always varied only the shutter speed. One series inexplicably varied both ISO and shutter.

Big disappointment: My LA-EA 4 does not function at all with this camera.

On the other hand, the focus on my 90mm f2.8 macro has always been sluggish and hunting on my other cameras but it is instant and responsive on the A7IV. The eye autofocus is unbreakable on my animals around the house

 

30DEC2021 Update

Here is a a shot of mine wearing a 28-70 f2.8 lens.

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DSC03882.jpg

 

Sony A7 IV – The Unboxinification

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

 

The Eagle has landed.  After a day of doubt and hand-wringing over duplicitous freight and shipping dealings, the package arrived intact and seemingly unharmed.

Now comes the fun part.  I will start playing around with old lenses and new lenses and settings and adapters and just plain messing around with autofocus and hi ISO picture quality and all manner of to-doings.  I may neglect some of my duties to God and Country today but who could blame me.  This is my kid under the Christmas tree moment.  “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

LA-EA5 Compatibility – The Last Piece of the Puzzle

So recently I’ve been looking at the Sony A7 IV camera as the natural replacement for the my Sony A7 III.  It ticks all the boxes.  It’s got a sensor that is very close to the A7 III great sensor but with a few needed improvements thrown in.  It’s got better autofocus and tracking capability, improved menus, a fully articulated and touch sensitive LED, more megapixels and a better viewfinder.  It’s got a lot of other jazz that’s associated with video but since I don’t do video it’s just noise to me.  That’s everything that I could ask for in a camera.  But the one extra thing I was hoping for was that it would be able to autofocus my old motorless A-mount lenses with the LA-EA5 adapter.  When Sony introduced this adapter they didn’t enable all their cameras to use this feature.  And for me that was a sore point.  I have a couple of A-mount lenses that are extremely good and making them autofocusable would make them much more  useful to me.

So it was with great joy that I saw this link on another photo site.

ILCE-7M4 – Lens|Compatibility Information

The A7 IV will allow me to autofocus these lenses and now I just have to sell a kidney to buy the camera.

Huzzah, huzzah!

 

Sony Unveils the A7 IV Full Frame E-Mount Camera

Sony announced the upcoming A7 IV e-mount full frame camera.  The preview I saw at the B+H Photo site was pretty impressive.  It’s supposedly has most of the autofocus and other upgrades of the A1 top of the line camera in this new standard camera.  It’s even got the reversible LCD screen which people making vlogs really want.  I has bird eye auto focus tracking and all the other stuff that nature and sports shooters want.  They claim tha the AF capability rivals the A1.  That probably will have to be confirmed in the field.  I’ve seen reality sometimes lag behind such claims.  But that being said, I’m sure that the Af on this new camera will blow away what I can do with the A7 III.  I would like to find out if the LA-EA5 will be able to use non-motorized lenses on this camera but that is sort of a minor point that reflects my senitmental attachment to a couple of old A-mount lenses that I own.  The price is $2,600 which I guess is sort of expected.  Ouch!

The release date hasn’t been announced.  But it is fairly certain that I’ll trade in my A7 III for this camera.  It just makes sense.  For you Sony shooters this is an interesting moment.  Do you need the latest and greatest?  Personal choice.

 

Testing the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and Sony 135mm f\1.8 A-Mount Lenses with Sony LA-EA5 Adapter on  Sony A7R IV Camera – Part 1 – The Eagle Has Landed

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

 

So the box with the camera and the adapter arrived.  I’m charging up the battery and figuring out what shots I’ll try today.  It’s cloudy day but there should be more than enough light for most outdoor work.  This should be fun.

 

Here are the camera and the adapter (Sony A7R IV Camera, Sony LA-EA5 Adapter)

 

 

Here is the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and Sony 135mm f\1.8 A-Mount Lens on the adapter and camera

 

 

And here is the Sony 135mm f\1.8 A-Mount Lens on the adapter and camera

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

02AUG2021 – Photography – Sony A-Mount Lenses on the E-Mount A7 Cameras

I just put in my rental order to Lensrentals.com for the Sony LA-EA5 A-mount to E-mount adapter and the Sony A7R IVA camera.  I’ve been wanting to find out if using this adapter on the A7 cameras that are “allowed” to autofocus motorless A-mount lenses would be a valuable option for me or not.  I have two very high-quality A-mount lenses that currently can only be autofocused using the LA-EA4 adapter.  This adapter uses a translucent mirror that contains some rudimentary auto-focus points rather than the much more capable sensor based autofocus capability of the modern Sony mirrorless cameras.

This rental will allow me to test this new adapter to see if these old lenses can be returned to reasonable and productive use.  If they do perform satisfactorily, I’ll still have to purchase one of the cameras that have this capability with motorless A-mount lenses.  Currently only the A7R IV and the super expensive A1 have this capability for full frame shooters.  Neither are what I’d want to shoot.  But if the upcoming A7 IV camera will be given this capability then I’ll trade up my A7 III and get the LA-EA5 for the sake of using these old lenses.

The two lenses that I am primarily interested in using are the:

Both are extremely sharp optics that produce images I like.

Auto-Focusing Motorless A-Mount Lenses on the Sony E-Mount Cameras – 10APR2021 Update

Up until last year the only way to auto-focus motorless A-mount lenses on the A7 and higher e-mount cameras was with the LA-EA4 adapter that Sony sold.  And it had a translucent mirror built into the adapter to provide autofocus points to control the autofocus of the lens on the camera.  This had several difficulties.  One was the translucent mirror itself which acts as a beam splitter and wastes 30% of the image light to the autofocus function.  And because it uses the adapter’s autofocus system instead of the camera’s, all the advances in autofocus that have accrued over the time that the E-mount cameras have evolved are unavailable when using the LA-EA4.  In other words the autofocus is very limited.

But in 2020 Sony launched the LA-EA5 adapter with the ability to autofocus motorless lenses through the camera’s autofocus system and without the beam-splitter in the light path.  This was a marvel when it was announced and there was great rejoicing among the owners of old but sharp Minolta and Sony A-mount glass.  But because it is Sony we’re talking about, they had to make it a tragedy.  They only programmed the adapter to provide this capability for three cameras, the A7R IV, the A1 and the APSC camera the A-6600.  I have since attempted several times to contact Sony to determine if they will update their firmware to let this adapter work for my camera, the A7 III.  Of course, they have completely ignored my requests.

But there is one other option.  If you have an LA-EA4 adapter you can purchase a third-party kit from China to replace the firmware on this old adapter, remove the translucent mirror and use it to auto-focus these motorless lenses with any of the Sony E-mount cameras.  Gary Friedman has been an E-mount expert user since the mount was invented and he writes how-to books about their cameras.  He has produced a couple of YouTube videos on this subject.  One demonstrates how to modify the LA-EA4 and install the Chinese autofocus firmwareThe other demonstrates the way both the LA-EA5 and the hacked LA-EA4 focus with various Minolta lenses.  It is valuable to know that even with the LA-EA5 and a compatible camera the speed of the autofocus is much slower than with E-mount lenses.  And the autofocus with the Chinese firmware on the LA-EA4 is very uneven.  It starts and stops several times to reach a focus point.

I have an LA-EA4 and after seeing the video I am considering doing the retrofit myself.  It costs about $200 which is about the cost of the adapter I think but I am intrigued with the thought of being able to autofocus my Minolta 200mm f4 macro and Sony 135 f1.8 A-mount lenses.  I guess that sort of makes me some kind of a fanatic but Sony leaves me no choice.  When I buy and install the firmware, I’ll do some tests and post them for the curious.

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.