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


31 October, 2016

Epson Hot Press Natural - tough

Zeiss Touit 32mm - Pizza, North Burleigh Heads, Queensland [Click image to enlarge]

There may be a bit of heresy in this, but once in awhile, there's a reason to choose Epson's Hot Press Natural printing paper for a reason other than its image reproduction qualities — HPN is tough.

HPN is not a coated paper, so it's hard to scratch or injure. And there are those times when I want to be able to hand out great looking prints without handling them (or expecting them to be handled) with kid gloves.

Yes, it might be that an image would look better on a coated paper that accommodates photo black ink. But none of that matters if the print won't make it back home with the person to whom I've given it.

29 October, 2016

x-rite i1 Display Pro

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

Because I print wide format, I soon learned how expensive ink and paper are. Trial and error will never be entirely left behind, but soft proofing (seeing an approximation on the screen of how an image will look using a particular printer and paper) is invaluable.

But for soft proofing to work effectively, there has to be monitor calibration to ensure the display is speaking the same language (with the same accent) as the printer.

For example, if my monitor is set too bright, then I will dial down the brightness on an image in Lightroom to make it look right. But when I go to print — the brightness of the image having been turned down — the print will come out too dark. Colours are similarly affected by a misadjusted monitor.

For monitor calibration, from time to time I use a colorimeter — a device that sits on the front my monitor to measure how it responds to colour patches that x-rite's profiling software provides on screen. Then I adjust the monitor to respond to the images in the same way that my printer will respond to the images when they're printed. And, happily my display has little drift so I don't have to calibrate too often.

Some people claim to be able to calibrate from a reference image. You print a known image, and judge from the print whether the monitor is too bright, too dark, too red.... You get the idea. I don't doubt the claim that it's doable; I'm just know I'm not one of those people that can do it.

Even though it's relatively inexpensive, my non-Apple, wide-gamut (96% Adobe RGB) monitor is more amenable to such calibration than most Apple displays, because it allows direct hardware adjustment. But I understand that the i1 Display Pro can work with Apple's current crop as well. (I have to admit that the resolution of Apple's 5K Retina Display looks pretty impressive — too glossy, but impressive)

This discussion (finally) leads me to my point. In moving to the Mac I upgraded my colorimeter from the older x-rite eye-one Display 2, to the i1 Display Pro. The new device is a joy.

The old, egg shaped, device had its day. It did the job and it did it well, but it came from a time when most monitors were still Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs). The old colorimeter had suction cups on the front to make it stick to the display's glass surface. But when I used it in on my LCD flat screen, I had to be careful not to let the cups stick as they could damage the screen.

Without an in-depth review of the i1 Display Pro (there are plenty of those around), I can say it's the difference between night and day. Easy to use and essential for predictable colour.

There are other colorimeters out there, but I have no experience of those.  So, the most that I can say is that the i1 Display Pro works for me.

19 October, 2016

Switched to the Mac

Sony/Zeiss 55mm - Coolangatta, Queensland [Click on image to enlarge]

I've moved to the Mac (OS 10.12 Sierra), leaving behind my Windows 7 machine.

I inherited the Mac.

The PC was over 4 years old and it was struggling with Lightroom, so it came at the right time. The PCs ancient graphics card wasn't recognised by LR, and the program and the PC both struggled with any but the simplest HDRs or panoramas.

The switch has forced me to do a badly needed cleanup. Over the years utilities and files have accumulated. With the advances in Lightroom I won't be needing the external sharpening, HDR and stitching programs.

I have, however, loaded the Nik suite from Google. I'm still a big fan of Silver Efex Pro 2. But I'm still worried that Google won't be updating the (now free) suite.

What made the switch possible is the Adobe Photography Plan (Lightroom and Photoshop) being agnostic about the platforms. If you switch off the PC version, you can download the Mac version and off you go. Thanks, Adobe.

I haven't calibrated my monitor on the new system yet. For that I had to pop for the i1 Display Pro. Once that's done I'll be able to get the printer going.

30 September, 2016

Another beach picture

Sony 70-200mm - at the top of Kirra Hill, Coolangatta, Queensland

While on vacation at the beach we went up onto Kirra Hill as it affords a pleasant outlook over the beaches and the ocean. On that day, however, the view was uninspiring. But there were others at the top and they provided my subject matter for the evening.

23 September, 2016

Happy (belated) birthday to the blog

Sony/Zeiss 55mm, f/1.8 - Colour in the backyard [Click image to enlarge]

The blog turned six last Tuesday. 

Just a note about the photo above: I'm not a gardener. So, when there's colour in the backyard it's nothing to do with me.

Photokina is on, and everyone else is talking about it. So, although I'm not there, I'll mention two announcements that caught my attention. The first is about the Sigma 85mm, f/1.4 Art, and the other is the Zeiss Loxia 85mm.

Sigma 85mm, f/1.4 Art: I'm a big fan of the Sigma 24mm, f/1.4 Art when used with Sigma's MC-11 adaptor. So I know that Sigma has the expertise to make lenses of outstanding quality. The new 85mm Art looks like an inexpensive alternative to both the Zeiss 85mm, f/1.8 Batis and Sony's 85mm, f/1.4 GM lens — without a significant loss of quality. If the quality of the new Sigma is in line with it's predecessors, it's going to be a serious contender in the price/quality stakes.

Zeiss Loxia 85mm, f/2.4 Loxia: This is the logical lens to complete the Loxia lineup (21, 35, 50, 85mm). If I was into video, I'd be looking very carefully at this line. I love the Loxia 50mm. It's my everyday lens. But, I already have an 85mm Batis, so I'm not in the market for another 85. 

(I'm watching out for a 135mm autofocus. Zeiss, Sony, Sigma; are you listening?)

18 September, 2016

Back from vacation

Sony 70-200mm - Kirra Hill [Click image to enlarge]

Sorry for the gap, but I've been on vacation at the beach.

For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Brisbane City and the State of Queensland: While Brisbane (in the southeast corner of Queensland) is semi-tropical, for beaches you need to head north to the "Sunshine Coast" or south to the "Gold Coast."

From Brisbane we went 100 kilometers south to the southernmost part of the Gold Coast — Coolangatta. Coolangatta is just at the border of New South Wales.

Australian Spring is the time of the whale migration back to the Arctic and we could often see them from the beach. (And, no, the 70-200mm was not long enough to provide useful shots.)

28 August, 2016

Samyang 135mm for the Sony E-Mount

Samyang 135mm, f/2.0 - In the call centre [Click image to enlarge]

This isn't a full review of the Samyang 135mm (also sold under the brand name Rokinon). Its optical qualities have been reviewed by more qualified reviewers than me, so I've provided some links to those, below. But, my experience has been very positive and without reservation, I can say this lens is a high-quality bargain.

A couple of months ago I was photographing the work in a call centre. There were limitations: There were some workers I was not able to photograph, and on the walls of the cubicles and on the computer screens there was material that I couldn't show.

I shot everything wide open. At f/2.0 the lens allowed me to keep my shutter speeds up and provided the shallow depth-of-field I needed to keep the faces in focus but signs and computer screens sufficiently out of focus.

It's a big lens and (relatively) heavy. But a fast, full-frame 135mm is always going to have a lot of glass. It might be the longest focal length E-Mount prime at the moment.

But now the slightly bad news. The Samyang is a manual focus lens and that slowed things down. I lost some shots. It's also manual aperture, but I shot everything at f/2.0 so that wasn't a problem in that situation. 

The focus ring on the Samyang is relatively smooth, but has a fairly short throw — a little over half a turn. The build quality is really good for the price.

Focus peaking was not good enough to be the only guide. Happily, the focusing assistance on the A7RII helped to get the job done — even when I had to hold the camera up over my head. I don't think I could have done the work with the Samyang on a DSLR.

The Samyang does not report any EXIF data to E-Mount cameras, so the Sony stabilisation (on the A7RII and A7II, for example) is only 3-axis, rather than 5-axis; so you have to manually set the focal length. But the A7RII's stabilisation did its job. (I believe the Nikon version reports focus confirmation.)

If I could have found a used, Sony/Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 (A-Mount), I would have gone for that. But those kinds of used A-Mount bargains seem to have dried up. I'm sure that's because of the utility of the A7 line using Sony's LA-EA4 and LA-EA3 adaptors. 

There are rumours that there will be a Zeiss Batis (E-Mount) 135mm. I hope that's true. I'd be happy with f/2.0, but what a bonus it would be to have f/1.8.

A Sigma 135mm Art that would work with their MC-11 adaptor would also be very welcome.

Only time will tell.

Some Samyang 135mm reviews:
Dustin Abbott 
Patrick Murphy-Racey (YouTube) 
The Phoblographer 
Samyang 135mm, f/2.0 [Click image to enlarge]

22 July, 2016

"Nice camera you got there, Buddy."

I have two topics: The first is about the, "Nice camera you got there, Buddy," view; and, the second, is about the belief that judgements about lenses (or cameras) can be made from the images displayed on the web. (Reviews with high-res examples or 1:1 crops excepted.)

None of this is about a lack of good will. Everyone has been very kind to me, and we are all just trying to make sense of what we find on the web. I'm grateful for all the comments that fellow forum users have made over the years. I've learnt a lot.

I've used both of the images shown in this post on the blog before — the Bahá'í Temple from the post that precedes this one, and the Bookseller from a post in April of last year.

Bahá'í Temple (Loxia 50mm, ISO 100, at f/4.0, 1/1600) [Click image to enlarge.]

I put the The Bahá'í Temple picture on a forum, and I had a very kind comment about the image with a remark that it was a "very sharp lens!" I was surprised at the mention of sharpness because the web image is only about 1 megapixel (783 x 1280 pixels).
There is no way of judging the sharpness of a modern lens by a 1 megapixel image.

There isn't enough space (or interest, I'm guessing) for an in-depth discussion of acutance. But in the case of the temple, because there is so much contrasty scroll work, the viewer's eye immediately recognises that detail, making it appear sharper than it really is.

I wasn't thinking about how "sharp" that scroll work would appear when I took the shot, but I did know what it meant when I went to do input sharpening in Lightroom. And, when I downsampled it to an sRGB jpeg at 1280 pixels vertically, I knew it would be a good screen match.

The Bookseller (Loxia 50mm, ISO 250, at f/2.8, 1/60) [Click image to enlarge.]

Another commenter felt that the Bookseller image demonstrated Zeiss "pop." The Loxia does exhibit a bit of its own "pop;" but the photo has "pop" because the subject was surrounded by white plastic that brought in soft light for his face (it had begun to rain at the market) contrasted by the muted colours of his sweater, jacket and hat, and the plane of focus caught his glasses, his pupils and his beard.

Both photos were made using the Loxia and a Sony A7II. Both were shot in good light (see the settings), and neither was heavily cropped.

I love the Loxia and I know what it can do, but I believe that I could have taken either picture with similar web-display results with my loved, 10.1mp (but now long gone) Panasonic LX3 from 2008. Neither image, on the other hand, could be printed effectively without the qualities that I expect from the Loxia and the A7II.

Most displays are very low resolution and are working hard to address the whole of the sRGB color space. And, in any case, most images on blogs, websites, and in on-line galleries (including my own) are low resolution. (We keep them low-res to avoid having them stolen.) And, those images will not be made higher resolution by being viewed on a higher resolution display (such as an Apple Retina). And, most images on the web are in the sRGB color space. Their color gamuts will not be expanded by being viewed on a wide-gamut display.

Of course, the simple answer to the comment, "Nice camera you got there, Buddy," is, "Yup."

17 July, 2016

Is the frame half full or half empty?

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Bahá'í Temple [Click image to enlarge.]

The Bahá'í Temple in Wilmette, Illinois can be extraordinary bright as the cement used in its construction is embedded with clear and white quartz. On this day (above) the temple was significantly brighter on the other side; and, in any case, my 50mm was not going to capture the whole building. (And I didn't want to stitch frames in post.)

I think the half-building image is more interesting in any case.

16 July, 2016

New Gallery

My new Gallery's landing page looks like this.

It's taken a while, but I finally reorganised my gallery. I still have some tinkering to do, and I'm sure I'll find some errors; but this is the final format.

I've broken it down into a number of categories. This isn't because I think there are devotees of photos in those categories, but because they will serve as aids to finding (or, it's to be hoped, re-finding) images.

When in the gallery, you only need to click on an image to resize it to your browser page.

To get to the gallery, just click on the "Gallery" tab at the top of this blog. To return to the blog, just click on the "My Blog" link at the left of the gallery pages.

Before any new image goes to the gallery, it will first appear here, on the blog.

08 July, 2016

Epson Legacy Papers - Australia

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

At the end of last year I wrote about the (seemingly) impending introduction of Epson's new line of Legacy Papers. Epson has now officially announced the papers in the US with a press release last month. That US release, however, wasn't mirrored on either Epson's international site or their Australian. And, I think it's telling that the Australian market is entirely lacking the preview information that has been all over the US wide-format printer paper market.

There are, of course, ways to get the new papers through overseas delivery. While B&H won't ship the Legacy papers to Australia, Adorama will (25 sheets of A3+) for US$145.00. The only hitch is that the shipping is $92.60. That's brings the cost to US9.50/sheet. Regardless of price, I'm not interested in sourcing paper through overseas deliveries.

The short version is that I'm not going to be testing the Legacy papers in the near future. I'm only going to test what I might be using myself and that means papers available through the regular channels here in Australia.

I suspect that the Legacy Baryta and Legacy Platine are made by Canson in any case, and I'm quite happy with those papers under the Canson banner. Since the Epson versions seem to be more expensive, they probably have their own formulae and those might have some useful improvements.

The Legacy Paper that most intrigues me, however, is Epson Legacy Fibre, which appears to be a matte paper with enough holdout to be able to accomodate photo black ink. That I'd like to try — seemingly, not for a while.

07 July, 2016

Sigma 24mm with the MC-11 - low light on the street

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 "Art" w/MC-11 adaptor - Election Campaign - Brisbane [Click to enlarge]

I was out the other night using the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 with the MC-11 adaptor (see above). The important bit of this report is that I didn't have to think of it as an adapted lens at all. It functioned seamlessly as an E-Mount lens.

The 24mm is my only Sigma lens, so I keep the MC-11 on it all the time. That's important for me because when I change lenses, the rear cap from the lens going on goes onto the lens coming off. With the MC-11 always on, the Sigma 24mm is just another E-Mount.

It was reasonably low light, so the focusing speed wasn't what I would expect in normal daylight. I haven't done any side-by-side testing, but in low light I think the Sigma is about as fast as the Zeiss 85mm (Batis).

03 July, 2016

The Greens Campaign in Ryan 2016

As I've mentioned before, the Australian Greens in the Federal seat of Ryan in Queensland have been kind enough to allow me to photograph their volunteer campaign work.

Over the many weeks of the recent election campaign here in Australia, I've seen door knocking, meeting organising, placard waving, phone calling, roadside sits, bicycle tows, polling-place banner raising, and the handing out of "how to vote" cards — and I didn't see all of it, or even a large part.

What I learned is that for the Greens it's not just a campaign, it's a cause. It's not just about votes, it's about ideas.

My thanks, again, to the Greens workers that let me follow their efforts, and to the candidate for Ryan, Sandra Bayley, and her campaign coordinator, Don Sinnamon.

28 June, 2016

Zeiss Loxia 50mm — Still my favourite

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Low Tide on North Stradbroke Island [Click image to enlarge.]
Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Late afternoon on North Stradbroke Island [Click image to enlarge.]
Zeiss Loxia 50mm - View from the Ferry Jetty on North Stradbroke Island [Click image to enlarge.]

The Loxia 50mm f/2.0 continues to be one of my all-time favourite lenses. I have to admit, however, that when things are moving a bit quicker, then the Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 is the better choice.

Work carried me out to North Stradbroke Island for the day, but I only had a few minutes to grab a few personal shots. All of these are from the bay side of the Island. The other side is the open ocean side. It has gorgeous beaches and features the transit of the whales when they move to and from their Arctic waters.

It was a little cooler than it looks. It's winter on this side of the world, but Brisbane is semi-tropical, so a jacket was enough.

18 June, 2016

Door Knock 2016

The Australian Greens in the Federal seat of Ryan in Queensland have been kind enough to allow me to photograph their volunteer campaign work. 

Every weekend, volunteers take to the footpaths to talk to their fellow citizens about the issues that matter most. It's a huge undertaking. (So, of course, I could only photograph a small part of it.)

The door knock is only one of the many efforts of the volunteers; so my task of documenting their work is far from done. At this point, however, I do have enough photos that I'm happy to share, in this short slideshow.

Thank you to all of you who tolerated my shadowing you. And my thanks to the Greens candidate for Ryan, Sandra Bayley, and to the campaign coordinator for Ryan, Don Sinnamon.

16 June, 2016

Sigma 24mm with the MC-11

Sigma 24mm "Art" w/MC-11 at f/1.4 - Bardon Queensland [Click on image to enlarge.]

The Sigma MC-11 mount converter does give the Sigma 24mm the feel of a native Sony FE-Mount lens. The focusing is quick and accurate and all the expected information is reported in the Exif data.

Lightroom is able to apply Adobe's Sigma-lens profile with no problems. But even though I have a user preset to apply lens profiles on import, it's not automatic for the 24mm. That may be because the 24mm is a Canon mount.

There is a bit of focus noise, but I don't know if that arises from using the converter, or whether it's inherent in the lens. It doesn't bother me, however, as I think only the photographer can hear it. But then, I'm not a videographer.

The mount connection between the lens and the MC-11 has confidence-building tightness — no wobble. And it's a match aesthetically.

13 June, 2016

Bright sunshine

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

Bright sunshine. Sometimes you just have to go with it.

Happily, the camera automatically underexposes this kind of scene, thinking that it can't really be this bright. That, of course, saves the bit of colour and the shadow.

11 June, 2016

Out of Sight, out of mind.

I'm an immigrant.

I came to Australia in 1989 and became a citizen in 1992. I'm grateful to have been accepted here, and proud to be an Australian.

I am disappointed, however, by Australia's current policy regarding our fellow human beings seeking asylum — those men, women and children often called, "boat people."

We have closed our doors to the "boat people" who came seeking our protection.

We have incarcerated men, women and children guilty of no crimes, save to escape persecution. And we have stripped them of all hope — seemingly as an example to others who might seek our shelter.

We have used the law to prevent the doctors, nurses and other professionals who have toiled in our camps from speaking out about what they have witnessed.

We have forced genuine asylum seekers (who will die or be persecuted if they return to their "home" countries) onto even more perilous paths.

We say that by 'stopping the boats,' we've stopped the deaths at sea; we've only stopped the deaths on our sea.

There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that in testing early language translation programs, the designers experimented with colloquial phrases. One of the phases was, "Out of sight, out of mind." As the story goes, it was translated from English into Russian, and then back again. It was returned as, "Blind and insane."

—Bill Danby

08 June, 2016

Sigma MC-11 opportunities

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - My friend, John [Click image to enlarge.]

[This is not a discussion for those who shoot Canon or Sigma bodies and also shoot Sony. It's a no-brainer to want to be able to use Sigma's Canon (or Sigma) mount glass on both your bodies.]

The Sigma MC-11 gives Sony E-Mount users access to a range of Sigma lenses. But the first question has to be: What are the practical opportunities?

Sigma has been very clear that its MC-11 Mount Converter is only for still photography; that it only works with a selection of Sigma lenses; and, that it doesn't support autofocus-continuous (more about that later). After hearing that, videographers, sport and action photographers would be thinking (correctly, I believe) that the MC-11 option isn't for them.

It's also important to note that the Sigmas are not weather sealed. A wedding photographer, for example, might find that a deal breaker. On the other hand, the Zeiss Batis lenses are weather resistant and the Zeiss Loxias have mount gaskets to improve their weather resistance. The Sony/Zeiss full-frames are also weather resistant. Samyangs, however, are not sealed.

Today I'm only going to talk about the Sigma "Art" primes. A "zoom" discussion may be for another day.

The Sigma full-frame "Art" primes (20, 24, 35 and 50mm) have shown the world that Sigma is at the top of the full-frame DSLR lens game. As modern, high quality lenses, the Sigmas may be relatively inexpensive, but they are not cheap. And, high-end glass is a long-term investment, so some price disparity can't be a dominant factor.

In the various reviews, the Sigmas are usually, and favourably, compared to Canon or Nikon lenses. And with these comparisons, functionality is not an issue — but in using Sigmas with the MC-11, it is.

With the MC-11, the Sigmas all return distance and full exif data to the Sony bodies. That means that stabilised Sony A7 series bodies will afford the 5-axis stabilisation that they do for Sony and Sony/Zeiss lenses. In my limited experience with the 24mm on the A7RII, the stabilisation works well, and the focusing is both quick and accurate, even in lower light.

For me, however, I don't see an advantage for the Sigma 50 or 35mm lenses over their Sony/Zeiss counterparts. The Sony/Zeiss 55mm, f/1.8 and the 35mm, f/2.8 are outstanding lenses. And, if I really needed a 35mm, f/1.4, it would be the Sony/Zeiss, despite its higher price.

The Sigma 24mm is a stop faster than its Zeiss 25mm cousin, and it's substantially less expensive. (In Australia the Sigma 24mm is less than half the price of the Zeiss 25mm. In the US the Zeiss is about half again the price of the Sigma. But don't forget the cost of the MC-11.)

In 24/25mm, there are still opportunities to use depth-of-field for subject isolation — one of the reason why I like 24mm. So, I don't think that a stop of difference should be ignored.

The Sigma 24 and the Zeiss 25 rate about equally in DXO marks, And, while Sigma says that "autofocus continuous" isn't available on the 24mm using the MC-11 — it is on the A7RII, and with eye focus.

If autofocus is less important to you, you might consider the Samyang 24mm, f/1.4 (manual focus, and manual aperture), but with a native E-Mount (that does not report distance or other Exif data). The Samyang 24mm is fast, very sharp and a bit less expensive. Samyang also offers its 24mm in an E-Mount cine (clickless aperture) version.

I like the 24mm focal length over 35 more generally. And I'll have more to say about the Sigma 24mm with the MC-11, in the future.

The Sigma 20mm has two (sort of) counterparts: The Zeiss Loxia 21mm, f/2.8 (manual focus and manual de-clickable aperture), and the wider, but autofocus, Zeiss Batis 18mm, f/2.8. Both of these Zeiss lenses are two stops slower. And, while both are more expensive, the disparity is substantial, but not huge; and, both are, of course, native E-Mount. (To avoid confusion, there's also a Sony 20mm, f/2.8 A-Mount and a Sony 20mm, f/2.8 for the APS-C "NEX" E-Mount.)

Zeiss lenses are known for their high build quality, their contrast, 3D pop, and colour rendition. I'm dodging those discussions, as those issues are addressed in specific lens reviews elsewhere.

I would like to have seen Sigma shift from native, Sony A-Mount support to native Sony E-Mount. But Sigma has to know that they are in an increasingly crowded field of native E-Mounts, with the Sony, Sony/Zeiss, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Samyang, Lensbaby, Mitakon, and Tamron offerings. The MC-11 also means that both Canon and Sigma body owners, can use a Sony body to make their Sigma lens investments more versatile.

And, hey Sigma, How about a 135mm, f/1.8?

06 June, 2016


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

I'm back from the US. Thank you for your patience. 

I spent a day in Los Angeles and went out on to the Santa Monica Pier in the middle of the day, trying to beat my jet lag. I'd been to Santa Monica before, but hadn't been out on the pier.

I'm originally from Chicago, the starting point of Route 66. Santa Monica is the western end of the Route.

I only took the Loxia 50mm to the US. It's great and it worked as expected. But I suspect, however, that for shots in good light the Sony RX100III would have served the purpose. (I don't have a RX100III.)

13 May, 2016

David S Danby

My younger brother, David, passed away on the 1st of May.

David was a man of great curiosity and wide knowledge. (At University he was a philosophy major with a chemistry minor.)

David Danby
David S Danby
David had lost both feet and much of his vision to diabetes. He had been on kidney dialysis for over 10 years. It's an insidious disease. Yet, whenever we spoke he was interested in something new and was looking forward to something on the horizon.

For most of David's working life he was a movie theatre manager. First at the Wilmette Theatre, then the 3-Penny Cinema in Chicago, and later, octaplexes (8 screen theaters — he hated those).

He was full of surprises. When the photography of Vivian Maier came to light I was telling him about her, partly because many of her photographs were taken in the neighborhood where we grew up — one was taken outside the door of where we grew up. His response was nonplussed: "Yeah, I knew her. She used to stop by the theatre and we'd talk." Holy Hell.

For the last 25 years we were separated by a continent, an ocean and the equator. He visited Brisbane and we returned back to Chicago; but it was hard. 

So, I'm headed back to Chicago. I hope you will forgive a brief hiatus.

Love you, Dave.

30 April, 2016

Sigma MC-11 Mount Converter

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Noosa Beach Life Guard
From the reports, Sigma's MC-11 is beginning to ship.

I'm looking forward to seeing one in the flesh. Even without the benefit of firsthand experience, I believe the MC-11 will be an significant advance for E-Mount users because this is Sigma firmware driving Sigma hardware. No code cracking or interpreting. The results should be lenses operating as they would if they were provided in native E-Mount.

If the MC-11 is foreign to you, have a look at Sigma's 2 minute shown below.

2 May Update:

It seemed clear to me from the Sigma site and the video that the MC-11 is only intended to work with a certain selection of Sigma lenses. And, it's not touted for video or even autofocus continuous. There's even an LED on the side of the converter to alert the user to the compatibility of any attached lens. Nevertheless, there's a reviewer calling for a firmware update because the MC-11 isn't working well enough with Canon lenses.

More concerning, however, is a report that the converter causes focus jitters at the smallest f/stops with the 50mm f/1.4 Art.

31 March, 2016

Silver Efex Pro — Goodbye and thanks for all the control points

Zeiss Batis 85mm - Emma Nixon of Cloudstreet [Click image to enlarge]

Whom the Gods would destroy, they first set free.*

You have probably read that Google has decided to offer the Nik Suite of programs free of charge. As Mike Johnson (The Online Photographer) has already speculated, this appears to ring the death knell for the suite. If Google was committing to improving the suite, or even maintaining it into the future, I think Google would have told us by now.

Yes, free software is an easy investment. But with new software the real investment isn't in dollars, it's in the time necessary to master the tools. Under the circumstances I doubt the move will expand the user base in a substantial way.

In my opinion, Silver Efex is the standout program in the Suite. So, this will be a particularly heavy blow for me and the rest of Silver Efex Pro's fans.

I'm probably not as affected as some. I don't use the presets, borders, film emulations or tones, and I think Lightroom's conversion to B&W, colour channels, and split-toning are as good or better. But, I am a serious user of the control points and the structure tools.

Silver Efex's fate will probably take a while to be sealed, however. But when the end comes it will come quickly — when Silver Efex is broken by new or upgraded operating systems.

Is there a chance of a miracle cure? Google might yet take pity on us and maintain the suite. Or there might be buyer. Maybe...
*In your face, Publilius Syrus, et al.

21 March, 2016

Jason Lanier - Generous Photographer

Zeiss Batis 85mm - John Thompson of Cloudstreet at CD Launch in Brisbane [Click image to enlarge]

There are a few photographers who have taken the time and made the effort to share some of their knowledge and experience on YouTube. Over time I'll mention a few of them, but first up is Jason Lanier.

Firstly, many of Jason Lanier's videos are excerpts from his workshops. He's a working photographer and it seems clear that workshops are an important aspect of his professional work. He's also an Ambassador for Rotolight and a member of Sony's Artisan program. So his videos are also publicity, both for his work and for his sponsors.

The short version is that he's done a lot of videos and there's a lot to be learned: Behind the scenes at workshops, working with models, working with light, views on equipment, work at weddings, travel, the business of photography....

I've found his videos very helpful. Thanks, Jason.

Here's an example: