22 March, 2017

Sigma MC-11 — better and better

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Looking at art, looking — Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

After reading reports that some lenses close down, focus, re-open and then take the shot (sometimes causing a mis-focus), I decided to check out the Sigma 24mm and 85mm Arts while attached to the Sigma's MC-11 Mount Converter.

One of the assumed benefits of mirrorless cameras was that they were exempt from the front and back focusing errors to which DSLRs can be prone. So, it seemed a useful question.

I'm pleased to report that from what I could see in my tests, neither the 24 nor the 85mm Sigmas close down on focus, on either the A7RII or A7II.

I'm presuming that this will apply equally to the upcoming Sigma 135mm, f/1.8. I'm also guessing the 135 is due soon as there is a firmware update for the MC-11 to accomodate it.

And a final note: I'm not sure many people "get" the MC-11 Mount Converter. It's not just a tube making a generic connection between Sony E-Mount bodies and applicable Sigma EF Mount (or Sigma SA Mount) lenses. The MC-11 applies E-Mount firmware to Sigma lenses that have been designed to be able to directly accept that information. That's why, for example, the MC-11, provides Sony's eye auto-focus that other adaptors do not.

It's true that the MC-11 will work with some Canon glass. But it's sad to read reviews marking the MC-11 down because it doesn't do those non-Sigma lenses as well as it does the Sigmas. That it works with any other lenses at all is a bonus, icing on the cake, an Easter Egg.

Here's the short version: I believe that the Sigma 85mm Art with the MC-11, on an A7RII, is the best lens on the best body. I think the combination uses every bit of Sony's 42.4 megapixel sensor, provides (reasonably) fast auto-focus, eye focus, and throws in the 5-axis stabilisation that Canon and Nikon users can only dream about — usually for less money than comparable Sony or Canon lenses. 

Good times.

10 February, 2017

Go figure

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Hats on the Santa Monica Pier

With all the recent news and discussion surrounding the Sigma 85mm Art, I've had a look at the relative prices between the United States and Australia.

So, for example, in the United States (at B&H) the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art (for the Canon Mount) and the Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis are the same price, and the Sony 85mm GM is 50% more than each of those.

In Australia (at CameraPro) the Zeiss 85mm is 49% more than the Sigma, and the Sony is 107% more than the Sigma.

Yes, 107% — in Australia the Sony is more than twice as much as the Sigma. 

But there's a little more to the tale: The price of the Sigma just went up in Australia (at least at CameraPro), seemingly on the recent news of its DXOMark score and the DPReview report. Before the last few days, the Sony was 137% more than the Sigma 85mm Art.

14 January, 2017


Jasmine, 2003-2017    [Click image to enlarge]

These aren't New Year's Resolutions, mind you. These are resolutions that just happen to have been made near the beginning of the year.*

I'm going to print more. Not just images that others want (or might want), but images that are mine and I want. Prints are "real" in a way that electronic images can never be. This resolution led me, of course, to the issue of print size. A4 is great for the desktop, or for a collection, or for what we might call "snaps;" but I think an archived image needs A3 (or A3+). I added the A3+ because Epson papers (such as Hot Press Natural) don't come in A3 — but if I'm going to be focusing on the Canson papers, that shouldn't be a problem.

I'm going to cull my images in Lightroom more carefully. I just opened a new Lightroom catalog, so it seemed like a good idea. I organise my Lightroom catalogs into calendar years and I noticed (not for the first time) the unnecessary size of past catalogs and their backups. So, why is it hard to throw images away? I think I'm afraid of admitting the low number of keepers amongst the dross.

I'm going to make more personal images; not to be confused with making my images more personal. This means getting off my... couch, and taking more pictures. Once you have the gear this is the least expensive stage of image making.


*So, because these aren't "New Year's Resolutions," I can add or subtract as I see fit. That seems fair to me.

06 January, 2017

Epson Hot Press Natural - We hardly knew ya

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Yorktown Historical Park [Click image to enlarge]

I love Epson's Hot Press Natural. It's been my "go-to" matte paper for years. I know exactly how a particular image is going to print on a HPN. And that's a good thing because Lightroom's soft proofing of matte inks and papers isn't nearly as strong as it is for photo black ink on glossy.

HPN is one of Epson's "Signature Worthy" papers. So it's surprising (and disappointing) that Epson has let this paper go out of stock here in Australia — and not for days, but for weeks. And, this isn't the first time.

To add insult to injury, at this writing, Epson's "Legacy" Papers still aren't available here in Australia. We just don't seem to be on Epson's radar.

But, as the song goes, "If you can't be with the one you love...."

So, what now?

I'm going to try out two possible replacements: Canson's Infinity Rag Photographique (310gsm), and the popular Hahnemühle Photo RagThe Hahnemühle  has some limited optical brightening agents (OBAs), but its longevity stats are very good anyway. I'm going to try to keep an open mind.

I'll try each of these with the "canned" paper profiles for my Epson 3880. If I choose one of these two, then I'll get a custom profile.

Crane's Museo Portfolio Rag is reported to be a beautiful matte paper (and OBA free), but it's longevity estimates with the Epson K3 inks I use, aren't impressive. I'll try out the other two first.

Wish me luck.

02 January, 2017

RAW images are flat

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Santa Monica Beach [Click image to enlarge]

When I import my RAW files into Adobe Lightroom, Adobe has decided that any decisions about what my images should look like will be up to me — thanks, Adobe.

So, in order to leave the processing decisions to me, Adobe delivers the RAW images as raw as possible. This is particularly apparent by the absence of contrast or sharpening adjustments and without the white or black points having been set.

Lightroom's RAW images appear flat because RAW images ARE flat.

Some other image processing programs apply adjustments on your behalf on import. So those tweaked images look... well... less "raw." And that's fine it you want the program to make some of the initial decisions for you. 

So far, so good. What disappoints me, however, is that some software "reviewers" seem to presume that because auto-adjusted images look more like JPEGs than Lightroom's unadjusted ("flat") files, it's an indication of the inherent superiority of the auto-adjusting programs.


Is this important for everyone? Clearly not.

Is this important for anyone? If we're unwilling to leave image quality on the table, then I believe that we need to understand what makes digital images tick and learn how our respective image processing programs address the range of digital elements.

Is control a lot of work? Absolutely, yes.

31 December, 2016

Happy New Year

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - University of Virginia [Click image to enlarge]

Many thanks for visiting over this past year.

And, of course, all the very best for 2017.

30 December, 2016

The Chicago Cubs and the Curse of the Billy Goat

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - On the way to the Billy Goat [Click image to enlarge]

The story goes that in game 4 of the 1945 World Series, William Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern was asked to remove his pet goat, Murphy (for whom he had a ticket), from Wrigley Field. In retaliation Sianis, supposedly, cursed the Cubs.

Well, whatever curse there might have been ended with the Cubs win of the 2016 World Series. For my part I wasn't watching the games, as I assumed from the early Cub losses that they remained doomed.

So when we visited Chicago this month, my Bride and I decided to revisit the Billy Goat Tavern and Grill on Lower Michigan Avenue. I hadn't been in the Billy Goat for over thirty years. It seemed just the same — except for one small change: They now serve Coke instead of Pepsi.


Aside from the curse, the Billy Goat Tavern was the inspiration for the Saturday Night Live routine, the Olympia Restaurant (see below). Behind the counter are John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. The customers are Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, and Robert Klein (who hosted that night - January 28, 1978), and the waitress was Laraine Newman. Washing dishes in the back is Don Novello (who wrote the script).

The Billy Goat had been a haunt of Second City comedians and newspaper people from the Tribune and the Sun-Times, both (then) nearby.

25 December, 2016

Merry Christmas

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Chicago Christmas Lights

I had a few moments as the day drew to a close here, so I thought I'd send a Christmas message.

I hope that Christmas was as happy for you as it was for me – with my family all at home and not a snowflake in sight.

And, if you had hopes for a delivery from the big guy in the red suit, I hope he came through for you.

24 December, 2016

Happy Holidays

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Chicago

I'm back from the United States in time to wish you all the best for the Holidays.

It was cool in Virginia, but downright cold in Chicago. So while it's nice to travel it's even better to return, especially to a Brisbane Summer.

I took more gear than I normally do, but that didn't turn out to be very helpful.  It might be better to invest in a superzoom, bridge camera with a bit more focal length flexibility. Oh well, plenty of time to think about that.

19 November, 2016

More Super Moon

Both images Sony 70-200mm - More Super Moon [Click image to enlarge]

What the heck. Two more Super Moon pictures.

I don't think the moon will be doing anything special for a while.

16 November, 2016

Super Moon

Sony 70-200 - Super Moon, Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane [Click image to enlarge]

It seems like only yesterday when we had the "Blood Moon." And now we have the "Super Moon." 

In Brisbane, the highest hill is Mt Coot-tha. And it was loaded with watchers and photographers wanting to see a super bright moon come up off the horizon. 

There was a bit of haze, and the sun was still up, so the moon didn't appear until it was up by about 7 or 8 degrees. I usually avoid crowds, but it's fun to photograph the moon watchers. And one other thing: This was the brightest moon since 1948, the year of my birth.

04 November, 2016

Hillary Clinton for President

Sony 70-200mm - "Waiting" Coolangatta, Queensland [Click image to enlarge]

We Americans rightly talk about our Constitution and its protections, but often forget that any constitution can become useless in the absence of the trust and good will of the electorate — or of our elected officials.

You don't have to look at too many other countries to see that freedom and justice require more than words on a page. The Philippines, for example, has a constitution with a bill of rights that provides, "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws." Sounds familiar, yet thousand have been murdered — at the behest of the Philippines President.

The Philippines President, in turn, took an oath:
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So help me God.
Again, sounds familiar. But without trust and good will, they're just words. Any idea that justice (there or in the US) will be protected in the absence of trust and good will, is not only misplaced, it's dangerous.

For some years now a 'my way or no way' view of politics has been damaging our nation. If history has taught us anything it's that compromise is fundamental to the effective governing of a pluralistic society. The ignorant often complain about 'back room deals,' seemingly unaware that negotiations and compromises between competing interests are the only ways forward.

There's no question that we have serious problems. But, anyone who believes that the system is so broken that there's nothing left to lose, has no idea what 'nothing to lose' really means.

In casting my vote in this election, the principal questions seem to be which candidate can foster trust in the system and which candidate will be more likely to place the good of the nation ahead of blind ideology and grandstanding.

The innumerable divisive positions of Donald Trump convince me that his election would send the United States in exactly the wrong direction on both counts. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has a lifetime of public service that was characterised by consultation, negotiation and compromise.

So, I voted for and support Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.

Do I expect that the Republicans will attempt thwart any effort by Hillary Clinton to govern? Sure, that's the kind of party they have become. But demographics are militating against them. More and more young people want government to work. All we can do is to try to move in that direction.

10 November 2016 - Post Election Update