A Tale Of Two Bodies…

I’ve really enjoyed using my Sony A7iii camera and lenses for the year or so I’ve owned them, except for one  (not so small) issue – the weight of it all.  OK, if I am just using one of the smaller prime lenses, like the 35mm f2.8 or 55mm f1.8, it’s just fine, but when I’m fully tooled up to go and take landscape photos, complete with 24-105mm, 16-35mm, 100mm filter kit, and tripod and ‘L’ plate, all in my backpack, the whole thing weighs a ton – well, actually about 12 kg.

A6300058

Porthleven Harbour – A6300

As I get older, that really does start to be a problem, especially if I have to walk any distance, or climb any hills to get to where I want to shoot… In truth, it’s limiting my enjoyment of my hobby.

So it seemed natural to see if there was a lighter weight option, even if it was only for these outdoor treks. (I sold my last camera, a very competent Olympus OMD kit, because it didn’t really deliver the landscape image quality I was looking for, and knew the full frame Sony was going to be bigger and heavier, but guess I underestimated it…) So what to do? Rather than get something completely different, I figured the smaller Sony A6000 series camera might do the trick – same lens mount, so I could (with reservations) swap lenses, and the body would act as a useful backup should the A7 fail.

A6300107

Valerian – A6300

The latest A6400 body looked very nice, with excellent AF, and menus and features very similar to the A7iii, but the best price I found was a fairly substantial £800+ for the body only. What I did drop on though was the previous model – the A6300, still a very competent camera, but with the latest Sony cashback and some odd price matching going on, this came in at just £455 net, including the kit 16-50mm pancake lens – not bad at all.

Next thing to get was lenses and filters… The Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f4 lens would give me the same field of view as the 24-105mm on the A7iii, and the 10-18mm near enough the same field of view as the 16-35mm f4 on the A7iii, but physically very much smaller and lighter of course. I picked up very tidy used copies of both for decent prices, and then a Nisi M75 filter holder and a couple of grad/ND filters, again much smaller than my usual 100mm kit, and fine for these smaller lenses. With my smaller Manfrotto Befree tripod, and a smaller rucksack I already had, the whole lot came in at barely 6kg, just half the weight of the equivalent A7iii kit…  Good so far!

A6300066

Porthleven – A6300

Our trip to Cornwall was a great opportunity to try it all out, and I took both kits with me for comparison. I have to say that for ‘walking around’ the A6300 and the 16-70mm lens was a revelation – definitely manageable, although big enough to still need some kind of bag to carry it around in.  The shots from it were all good – lets face it, handheld shots aren’t really much of a test of absolute image quality, and any modern camera is capable of that.  But it was nevertheless still a ‘proper’ camera to carry around, and certainly overkill for ‘holiday snaps’ – I love using my iPhone for that.

A6300179

Hepworth Sculpture – A6300

But later on, I decided to try some ‘serious’ photography – sunsets, and some wider shots around Porthleven harbour and Kynance Cove. What was immediately clear was that the  daytime shots with lots of detail in were simply not as sharp or contrasty as I expected, especially towards the edge of the frame – ‘OK’, but not the superb quality which  I was used to with the A7iii. And then the evening shots… Hmmm – very noticeably lower dynamic range on the RAW files, and any significant amount of post processing to lighten shadows would see them break up somewhat, with lots of ‘noise’ in the darker areas.  Much harder files to process and ultimately not as good as the A7iii (to be expected, but I didn’t expect the difference to be so great.) Even the shots using grad filters to balance exposure weren’t perfect, whereas with the A7iii I could often get away without bothering to use filters, just tweaking everything needed in Lightroom.

A6300236

Lizard Point Lighthouse – A6300

So that rather put me off, and I reverted to using the A7iii for the rest of our trip. I took several panorama shots, and also some HDR merged sunset shots with the A7iii, and was very comfortable all round with it, accepting that the heavier weight was worth it for the quality.  When I got home I did some comparison sharpness shots at various apertures on both the smaller ‘E’ series lenses and the ‘FE’ full frame lenses and I was shocked at just how much better the full frame lenses are – even in the centre of the frame the 16-70mm wasn’t as sharp as the edges of the 24-105mm, and the contrast was lower too.  To be fair, the 24-105mm is a hard act to follow – it is excellent, and only a little less sharp than the primes at some settings. A similar story with the 10-18mm too – not as crisp as the 16-35mm f4, with some obvious smearing at the edges and corners. I did look at the possibility of prime lenses for the A6300, but there isn’t really a lot to choose from.

A7303975-HDR

Porthleven Sunset – A7iii (merged in LR)

Now I guess that for most folks, the A6300 and it’s lenses would be fine, but with my obsession for image quality, it just wasn’t going to cut it, so both lenses have gone back…  I still have the A6300 itself and the kit lens just now, and may well keep that for when I want something better that my phone, but don’t want to go out fully ‘tooled up’.  I think it was a steal at the price. I’ll probably keep the M75 filter kit too – if I choose to use the prime lenses I’ve got (24mm f2.8 Samyang, 35mm f2.8, 55mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8) on the A7iii, it will work fine with those and I can get a body, a couple of primes and the filters all in a shoulder bag.

So after all that, I’m back to where I was a few weeks ago – I reckon I will just have to put up with the extra weight of the A7iii and it’s lenses, and maybe not try to climb so many hills!

A7303937-Pano-Edit

Porthleven – 11 shot merged panorama – A7iii

 

Steaming Along…

a7302653Excellent evening with TimeLine Events, London Camera Exchange and Sony UK at the Barrow Hill Roundhouse, the last surviving railway roundhouse in the United Kingdom with an operational turntable. Built in 1870, it was threatened with demolition in 1991 when the site was closed by British Rail.  It was saved by a group of volunteers who have transformed it into a railway museum and events venue.

Home to a collection of both steam and diesel locomotives and rolling stock, it also has an operational signal box, the Roundhouse Halt platform and Springwell Branch running line. a7302499A highlight of the visit was spotting 60163 ‘Tornado’ outside undergoing minor repairs and annual re-certification.  This A1 Pacific ‘Peppercorn’ locomotive was built in 2008, the first steam engine built in the UK since 1960. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering!

a7302486-editPlenty of opportunities to take photos of the locos on display, and there were a group of re-enactors posing in period costume.

With the temperature outside around -5℃, it wasn’t much warmer inside the roundhouse, so glad of the opportunity to use the café between photos! A chance to try some different Sony lenses, but thankfully nothing I can’t live without…  A few more photos from the evening, all taken with the SonyA7iii and either 24-105mm f4 or 55mm f1.8 lens…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An Afternoon In London…

Our 45th wedding anniversary celebrations included a weekend in London, staying in the rather swish Mondrian Hotel. It’s a pretty cool hotel, with great rooms, good restaurant and it’s own nightclub, but for me it’s killer attraction is a location on the South Bank next to Blackfriars Bridge.

You step straight out of the hotel to the riverside, and it’s just a short walk to the Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre and Borough Market. You can see St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and iconic buildings like The Shard and the ‘Walkie Talkie’ Building. There are any number of talented street artists performing – always something to see.

It wasn’t at all a photo trip, as you can imagine, but I did manage a few quick photos with my trusty iPhone – I say trusty, but I’m still getting to learn all the features that this new model has. Most photos were taken using the Moment Camera app so I could capture in RAW, and I am currently processing them in Lightroom Mobile, with final tweaks like borders in Snapseed.

These photos were all taken during our afternoon walk on a cloudy but dry afternoon.

A sunny day in Wales…

A7300301

Seafront – Aberdovey

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t always rain in Wales – just most of the time! But when the sun shines, it’s glorious, especially by the sea. Here in Shropshire we are actually quite close to Wales, but about as far from the sea as it’s possible to get – it’s well over 2 hours drive through mid-Wales to the coast (a little closer to the North Wales coast, but you have to pick your spots there.)

A7300311

The only ‘crocs’ you’ll find here!

We do love the sea, so despite the fact it was still school holiday time, we decided to take a trip to our favourite haunt, Aberdovey. After a fairly grim journey – not holiday traffic, just the dreaded roadworks – we arrived to glorious sunshine in Aberdovey around noon.  Although it was the middle of the holidays, there were still a few car parking spaces on the seafront car park, so that’s where we settled. It’s a typical seaside town, with a harbour, pretty-painted houses along the seafront, a few decent pubs and the usual seaside shops – buckets and spades, and a few gift/clothing shops. And the beach of course – beautiful fine sand all the way from the road and car park, right down to the sea itself. Then there are the views – across the Dyfi estuary to Ynyslas (more later!), across sand dunes, and with the hills as a backdrop – what’s not to like on a sunny day?

IMG_4396

Fish & chips from Shelleys

A quick paddle in the sea (no Mediterranean temperatures here), and chance to also take a few photos. Then the highlight of any trip to the seaside – fish and chips! Only one chip shop in Aberdovey – Shelleys, on the seafront, but definitely up with the best (as evidenced by the queue out of the doors and up the street…) Well worth the wait, we came out with our fish and chips and settled on a bench overlooking the beach to scoff them.  Wary of the seagulls that were ready to pounce, I kept a very close eye on mine! And good they were too – 10 out of 10 for taste, and pretty good value too.

A7300319-Edit

The sand dunes of Ynyslas Nature Reserve

M reminded me that as a child she went to Borth – just across the estuary, so off we set.  It’s a bit of a drive – back into Machynlleth, then south towards Aberystwyth, before picking up the coast road again. Borth itself isn’t that special (not to me anyway) – its a bit of a sprawl along the beach road, and for most of it you can’t really see the sea as there is a huge concrete seawall holding back the stoney beach. Anyway, we backtracked and found the spot that M remembered – Ynyslas.  There was the caravan site where she stayed and the sand dunes she crossed to get to the sandy beach.  A long time ago!

IMG_4397

Mr Whippy ’99’ ice cream

We parked at the very end of the road, right on the beach (it floods at high tide, so watch out!).  Fabulous views back across the estuary to Aberdovey, and then we took a walk through the sand dunes (now a very well organised nature reserve.) More great views from the top of the sand dunes!

After partaking of that other Great British Seaside Tradition – a Mr Whippy ’99’ ice cream – it was time to turn our back on the sea and head home. What a great day, and it didn’t rain once!

A7300323

Aberdovey (from Ynyslas Beach)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

North Coast 500 Adventure – Part 1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Loch Lomond (in the rain)

Our first road trip for quite a while, and top of my bucket list, the North Coast 500 (NC500) is marketed as Scotland’s answer to US Route 66. Roughly 500 miles long, it starts and finishes in Inverness, and pretty much follows the coast road around Northern Scotland. Planned as a holiday rather than a photo trip, there was obviously going to be lots of photo opportunities, but not much time for considered and contemplative photography – right from the outset I figured it was going to be pretty much snapshots only. So, no filter systems, just my Olympus E-M1ii camera and 12-100mm ‘superzoom’ lens, and a Pen-F and 17mm as ‘backup’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Glenfinnan

Starting from home in Shropshire added another 250 miles each way to the start point, so it was more like a NC1000 for us! It all started in rather damp fashion, with a grim drive in the rain through the M6 roadworks in Cheshire. Fortunately the rain eased off after that and we got to our first overnight stop on Loch Lomond without incident, although the rain made another appearance. Staying in the excellent Lodge on Loch Lomond overnight, with the added bonus of a sauna in our (upgraded) room set us up for what turned out to be an eventful second day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ferry Crossing

It started well enough, with a steady drive up through beautiful Glencoe, followed by a brief stop in Fort William to take in an exhibition of Scottish Landscape Photography.  All good stuff.  Then the plan unravelled – the swing bridge at Spean Bridge on the A82 had jammed in the open position, totally blocking the route northbound.  Rather than waiting until it was hopefully fixed, or taking a 90 mile diversion, we opted to cut across to Mallaig via Glennfinnan, and take the ferry to Skye, before crossing back to the mainland and working along the coast.  We had an anxious hour’s wait as the ferry was fully booked and we had to go standby!  Fortunately they squeezed us on, and we had a bracing 35 min journey across The Sound of Sleat to Ammandale, incidentally pretty much the only way to Skye before the Skye Bridge was opened in 1995. Not so lucky were the dozen or so cars in the queue behind us – they had wait for the next ferry 2 hours later… So it was then a straight drive to Broadford, and across the Skye bridge to pick up our original planned route – we were on Skye for just 25 minutes!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Torridon Hotel

After a further couple of hours driving on fairly twisty and narrow (sometimes single track) roads, it was a relief to get to our hotel in Torridon – straight into the bar for a well deserved gin and tonic! A decent enough gin selection, but nothing compared to the almost 400 whiskies on offer! A beautiful hotel, albeit at the top of our budget, but so full of Scottish style and charm.

Up bright and early next morning (more sunshine too!) for our first ‘serious’ part of the NC500 – the Applecross Peninsular, and the infamous Bealach Na Ba pass through the mountains.  Reaching just over 2000ft at its highest point, this is not a road for the faint-hearted, or for camper vans – one section is very narrow indeed, with a gradient of 1 in 4, a series of hairpin bends, and

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Start of Bealach Na Ba

very steep drops just beyond the crash barriers! However, the views are simply amazing, looking out across the hills towards Loch Carron in the south, and Skye and its outlying islands to the west. After a brief stop at the summit viewpoint to take in the vista, it was all the way down again into the quaint little village of Applecross with its beautiful, if rather stony beach.  A quick lunch at the excellent Applecross Inn and we were off again, along the coast road back towards Shieldaig.  More amazing scenery as we tracked along the coast – mountains to our right, and sea to the left, with Skye and its islands of Rassay and Rona in the distance. With so much to see, and so many places to stop off and admire the views, it took us a good couple of hours to make the return journey to the hotel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn amazing day, and one that completely surpassed our expectations. Roll on tomorrow, and Part 2!