24 August, 2015

Sony A7rII - People don't know what they want....

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Rain at the Camberwell Markets in Victoria [Click image to enlarge.]

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups.
A lot of times, people don't know what they want
until you show it to them.
— Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek, May 25 1998

With the NEX-7, I thought Sony had done all they could for me. An outstanding 24mp sensor, a bright and beautiful EVF, and an incredibly small form factor — t0 name just few of its many virtues. With an APS-C camera like that, who needed full frame?

Enter the A7. An absolutely tiny full frame, with an outstanding 24mp full-frame sensor. Once again, what more could anyone want?

Stabilisation? More than half again as many pixels? The A7rII has arrived with a vengeance.

Kai from Digital Rev seems convinced (video is 9:32):

Michael Reichmann and Kevin Raber (of the Luminous Landscape) also published a more than glowing review with some samples HERE, and this (21 minute) video.

21 August, 2015

Low-Key Portraits

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - The Great Court, Uni of Queensland

If I'm planning for a low-key environmental portrait, and there's an opportunity to provide pre-shooting preparation, here's what I suggest:

Nothing should distract from the face. So, in service to that principle:

Clothing colours generally
Dark, solid-colours. No patterns, stripes, checks, polka dots, graphics, logos or text. Textures (like cable knit) are okay. Wide (distracting) lace should be avoided.

Dark (but not black), long-sleeved shirts or blouses. The (non-distracting) texture in a shirt or top that adds to the "reality" of the portrait can be lost in black clothing.

Long, dark pants or long skirts. Jeans or denim is fine. Leggings are fine if they're opaque, dark and without distracting patterns. Black leggings/tights are okay because the further away from the face, the less relevant and useful any texture or detail is.

Shoes and socks
If feet are going to be showing, dark shoes without distracting details. Avoid the reflecting or patterned trainers that seem ubiquitous these days. Preferably not sandals. Avoid distracting socks or patterned tights.

As little jewelry as possible. Avoid wide or distracting belts, belt buckles or anything that's shiny. Avoid wrist watches.

Hair and Makeup
The simpler the better. Only the makeup that's necessary for daylight. Avoid distracting nail polish.

Reality bites
Do subjects take all this advice? Often not.

16 August, 2015

Shutter speeds

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Crane Reflection [Click to enlarge]

With all the other advances, little attention seems to be paid to the current state of shutter speeds.

In the olden days, my Olympus OM2-S's fastest shutter was 1/1000th of a second. That was pretty standard at the time. But now, we don't think twice about 1/8000th of a second.

That's three full stops that don't need to gained with a neutral density filter. There are, of course, times when you want motion blur or narrower depth of field, and need the filter. But it's just another bit of latitude that seems to work for us these days.

I just wanted to register my gratitude, even before electronic shutters start delivering substantially faster speeds.

11 August, 2015

Batis 85mm and the Tyranny of Physics

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Cut Sunflowers [Click image to enlarge.]

I've mentioned before that I didn't move down (in camera size) to Sony mirrorless from DSLRs. Instead, I moved up from Micro Four-Thirds (and smaller); first to APS-C, and then to full frame.

Mirrorless is attractive to me because of the small body sizes. But until Sony and Fujifilm got into the miniaturisation act, both APS-C and full-frame seemed unattainable in small camera bodies. Sure, Leica had always demonstrated that full-frame could be done with relatively small bodies and lenses; but I couldn't afford Leica. There were some attractive fixed-lens cameras, but I wanted interchangeable.

First came the NEX-7 and then the A7 series. Eureka. But while camera bodies were smaller, lenses were still problematic. Sony and Zeiss tactically addressed the problem of lens size with slightly slower offerings. Where f/1.4 was common, they offered f/1.8 or f/2.0. And, f/2.8 became f/4.0.

The Sony/Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 is brilliant and small because it's f/2.8 and unstabilized. The Zeiss 50mm Loxia is brilliant and small because it's f/2.0, manual aperture, manual focus and unstabilized. Voigtlander's 15mm (even version III) is brilliant and small because it's f/4.0, manual focus, manual aperture and unstabilised. Sony's 70-200mm f/4 is relatively small for this range because it's f/4.0.

But 85mm is another matter. 

85mm is a classic portrait focal length. A reasonably fast portrait lens is not just a convenience, it's the point. You have to be able to control the background. Yes, Zeiss makes it work at f/1.8, but it couldn't be slower than that. So the Batis 85 is pretty big. Not huge, but it's the husky sibling in the family. But I don't mind. If portraits are the order of the day, where my Batis 85mm goes, so goes the 70-200mm.

So I have my (mostly) small kit. It all fits nicely in a Domke F-3X "Super Compact" bag. But physics is still out there, lurking — I can hear it breathing.