Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 - A Year in Review - Part II

Personally, I think the year 2014 marks the beginning of decay for traditional full frame DSLRs, mostly due to Sony's line of mirrorless A series full frame cameras.  I am using the first generation A7 and I think it's one of the best cameras I have used.  Certainly it's not a camera for all situations. If you need to shoot sports, DSLRs still has its place, but it won't be long.  Phase detect autofocus on mirrorless is improving in leaps and bounds in the last two years.  In a few more years, I am sure the speed of tracking focus on mirrorless will be as good, if not better than DSLRs.  The only ingredient that's needed for success, is the lens line up.  This is where the Canon/Nikon systems hold a superior advantage.

Even APS-C sensor DSLR cameras are being corroded by the mirrorless competition.  The likes of Sony A6000, Fuji XT-1, Olympus E-M1/E-M5, Panasonic GH-4, and even the Samsung NX-1 are very capable cameras and some of them even offer 4K video, for those who are video centric. No DSLRs currently shoot 4K (not counting the Canon C-series).  Frankly, I don't miss the optical viewfinder all that much, and the EVF makes a world of difference for manual focus lenses, which I use most of the time.

My wish for the coming years is for Sony to make some nice, fast primes, so that I can sell off the rest of my Canon lenses, and buy the native mount Sony equivalent.

I look forward to 2015, which I believe will be another exciting year for photography!

Sunset - Sony A7 & Leitz Projection 200mm Lens.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 - A Year in Review - Part I

2014 has been a year of gear shuffle.  For the last few years, I shot mirrorless cameras alongside the Canon DSLRs. The ratio tipped to the mirrorless as the years went by, and in 2014, I have pretty much stopped using Canon cameras and sold my 5D Mark II, which I thought I would use quite often, but I didn't.  Instead, I bought an Olympus E-M5 to replace my aging Panasonic G1 to cover the M4/3 and the Sony A7 to replace the full frame 5D Mark II.  I still have my Canon 1D III, for now.  My plan was to have a camera to cover a specific sensor size: M4/3, APS-C, and full frame. This plan is working out quite nicely.

Photography -- I am happy to say that I did take a lot of pictures this year; more than I thought I would, and there were few pictures that I quite like too.  The Sony A7 clocked about 18,000 pictures since May of this year; 5D Mark II, less than 700 in 2014 and about 8,000 between 2013 and 2014;
Olympus E-M5, about 6,000 shots in 2014; for NEX-6, it was roughly 3,000 (essentially the first 4 months of 2014); Canon 1D Mark III, about 1,000; Canon 20D IR, 1,500. There were almost 30,000 pictures taken this year with various cameras, averaging 80 pictures a day.  Of course, only a very small percentage of them were usable.  As it has always been, most of these pictures were taken on my way to work, or coming home, and around my workplace or my neighbourhood.

Surprisingly, I find myself stopped lusting over faster lenses. My focus has shifted to more non-standard lenses.  I scouted the camera shows and antique markets for the slower, invariably German made, but much more interesting lenses from folder cameras, non-interchangeable lens cameras, rangefinders, large format lenses, etc.  All these lenses require some work to mount them on some sort of focus helicoid, but the effort is worthwhile.  I really enjoy the rendering from most of these lenses. There are challenges, of course, in mounting and using some of these lenses.
One of the challenges is the use of very long lenses. For example, the Dallmeyer Dallon is 12 inches (around 300mm). Finding tubes that long to fit the lens has been difficult.  I was using lens barrels like that from the Vivitar 200mm 3.5, 135mm f2.8, etc, with glasses removed from the lenses, but the problem is that the openings at the rear is too small and restricts the mount of light going through, therefore the lens would vignette very badly.

I have found a solution by using extension tubes. There are very cheap 3-section extension tubes with NEX-mount for around $8 each.  The length of one set is about 50mm.  I bought 4 sets of these, but unfortunately the mount is of very low quality.  Too much play when mounted.  I converted them to use a much better mount and they are now excellent tools, which can be combined and be long enough for lenses up to around 300mm or even longer, when focus helicoid is added to the length of the tubes. I have already used it on the Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar 210mm f5.6, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 210mm f4.5, and even the Dallmeyer Dallon 12 inch (300mm).  All seem to have worked well.  I look forward to using these lenses when the warmer weathers roll around.

To be continued...

Withrow Park - Sony A7 & Kodak Ektagraphic 76mm f3.5 Projection Lens

Sunday, December 7, 2014

High Shutter Speed Anomalies in Sony A7 and NEX-6 with Manual Focus Lenses

Update: As Mike pointed out, this phenomenon is caused by the first curtain sync being enabled. Thanks Mike!

The first time I took a picture with the NEX-6 and Soligor 80-200mm lens that  resulted in a picture with one side darker than the other, I didn't pay much attention.  In fact, I thought it was the lens.  Over time, this happened infrequently and I didn't really want to investigate more.  But when this happened with the Sony A7, I thought this must have something to do with the camera.

Essentially, when pictures taken at high shutter speed, starting at 1/3200s, you can see that one side of the picture is darker than the other.  As the shutter speed goes up, the severity of the darkness gets worse.  This is more apparent on vertical shots and shots with a lot of white content.  What is happening is similar to using the flash with a shutter speed faster than its rated sync speed; the curtain does not close fast enough and thus leave a portion screen darker than the rest.

Curiously, this does not seem to happen with auto focus lenses from Sony, at least not noticeable.  With the Zeiss 35mm f2.8ZA at 1/6400s, there is very little difference across the frame, and with the Sony 50mm f1.8 on the A7 at 1/8000s in crop-mode, there is also no apparent differences.  So, this seems to be an issue with just manual focus lenses.  It's disappointing, but nothing much you can do.

Sample picture; note dark left side. Taken with Leitz Hektor 120mm f2.5 Projection lens at 1/8000s.