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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Porthleven – 11 shot merged panorama – A7iii

 

Looking Back…

As we approach the end of 2018, I’ve been looking back over my photography and also picked a few of my favourite photos from this year.

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Perch Rock – E-M1ii & 12-40mm

I started the year with a couple of Olympus cameras – a Pen-F, and an OMD E-M1ii – both excellent cameras with amazing features.  The E-M1ii was probably the best-handling camera I’ve ever used, and the arsenal of lenses I had acquired over the previous year or so were all excellent. Despite this, somehow the results I was getting didn’t really make me happy.  I tried every which way to get the result I wanted, but there was always something that didn’t quite work for me.

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Loch Lomond – E-M1ii & 12-100mm

I’d tried a Sony A7Rii previously, and although I liked the image quality, I just wasn’t sure about going back to a full frame camera with it’s bigger lenses etc;  one of the things that attracted me to the Olympus had been it’s compact size and much lighter weight. When the new A7iii came out with it’s superb image quality and better handling, auto focus, viewfinder and battery life than the ‘old’ models, a change was inevitable… I realised that convenience was never going to be a match for image quality.

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Ramshaw Rocks – Sony A7iii & 16-35mm

Rather than risk the uncertainties of eBay, I sold all my Olympus gear to mpb.com – not the absolute best prices, but fair enough, and of course a risk free and speedy transaction. This bought me an A7iii body and a couple of decent prime lenses, to which I’ve added the superb 24-105mm ‘everyday’ zoom, and the super wide 16-35mm f4 Zeiss lens. I’m certainly happy with what this camera can do – the RAW files are truly amazing, and there is no significant image degradation even with fairly heavy post-processing. (By contrast, the Olympus files would ‘break up’ under even modest processing, with nasty artefacts and excessive noise.) No such problem with the Sony camera.

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Double Trouble – Sony A7iii & 55mm

To be fair, I haven’t used the camera to it’s full potential – in fact I haven’t used it a lot as yet, but every photo I have taken with it so far has exceeded my expectations. The images (especially those taken with the prime lenses) are razor sharp, and the massive 15 stop dynamic range means that shadows can be recovered in post-processing without creating excessive noise. So much so that I think I’ve only once needed to use my graduated filters – I’m seriously thinking of abandoning them altogether, which is a fair weight saving when walking.

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Lichfield Cathedral – Sony A6300 & 20mm

I did dally with a Sony A6300 for a while – I figured it would give me an additional more portable option than the A7 kit, and at a pinch would do as a backup body, but it just complicated matters.  The image quality, although great, just wasn’t quite as good, and I found myself always wondering which camera to take when I went out, so in the end let it go. Too many complications! Just having one ‘proper’ camera makes life much simpler…

With the improvements over the last few years in the cameras in smartphones, they are at last a viable alternative to a dedicated camera for everyday use (holidays, walking, family occasions etc). So when the A6300 kit went, I got myself a new iPhone XR, and haven’t looked back – for social media posts and general family photos it’s plenty good enough, and of course it’s with me all the time. I’ve just acquired a wide angle lens for it, and that opens up more photo options. Telephoto lens next maybe?

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Plas Power Woods, Wrexham – Sony A7iii & 24-105mm 

So what does 2019 have in store?  Well, I’m certainly planning to get out more with my Sony camera – I’ve already booked to go on a couple of one-day events – not so much photo workshops as ‘opportunity days’ – the chance to shoot subjects that wouldn’t otherwise be as easy to access.  I’ve realised that I don’t really get much from traditional group photo workshops; they tend to be quite expensive, and with up to 12-14 attendees it can be rather limiting – all standing in line to take the same shot. So I’ll mostly be going it alone…

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Peatswood – iPhone XR & Moment w/a lens

I’m also super-excited about using my smartphone for ‘off the cuff’ photography – there are so many photo opportunities in everyday life, and having a half-decent camera with you all the time is definitely the way to go.  This photo was taken on my iPhone while on a family walk, and entirely processed using Lightroom Mobile & Snapseed on the phone itself.   It obviously takes longer to ‘process’ a RAW image from the phone than it does to use the standard JPG file that phones capture by default, but it really does open up some interesting possibilities.

I don’t think I will ever give up having a ‘real’ camera, but who knows!

Do You Need A ‘Proper’ Camera?

FullSizeRender (1)I absolutely love my Sony A7iii camera. It’s a fabulous camera to use, and with it’s full frame 24Mpx sensor, unrivalled dynamic range, and superb Zeiss and Sony lenses, it’s capable of the highest quality images.  The downside though is that it’s a fair amount of kit to carry around, and needs to be used carefully to get the best out of it. Fine for a dedicated photo ‘expedition’ but overkill for casual photography – definitely not something to carry around all the time.

Enter my new iPhone XR – every iteration of mobile phones has a better camera built in, and the latest iPhones are no exception. A 12 Mpx camera is standard, and amazing processing power means that photos can be subsequently edited to alter the depth of field – something that defies the usual laws of photography. But how good is the camera for ‘everyday’ photos? – those situations where you wouldn’t realistically be carrying a ‘serious’ camera and lenses.

FullSizeRenderToday gave me the opportunity to check that out – a bright and cold start, with lots of great colours in the sky, and pretty much wall to wall sunshine for the rest of the day.  Photo #1 was taken very early, and just a few yards from home, while photo #2 was taken an hour or so later when the sun was fully up. The rest of the photos were taken late morning – looking across at a local wood, and then near the local canal.  All photos were taken in RAW format, using the Moment Camera App, and then processed in Snapseed on the phone to convert to mono or enhance the colour etc, and to add the border and frames.

Snapseed (1)A phone-camera is never going to be a match for a dedicated camera with a much larger sensor and inter-changeable lenses, especially for nature or sport photography, or in adverse lighting conditions, but for ‘casual’ shooting the results are pretty amazing.  I’m confident that with my new phone I can take photos that I wouldn’t otherwise get, just because I wouldn’t have a bigger or better camera with me. I have a wide angle adapter lens on order which will help with landscape and architectural shots, and I may also get a telephoto adapter too – ideal for portraits.

Judge for yourself whether you think these are ‘worthwhile’ photos – I’m certainly happy with them.

 

A walk in the woods…

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View from our balcony…

Our early autumn short break brings us back to one of my favourite places on Planet Earth – the Lake District. Specifically we are staying at the Brimstone Hotel, on the Langdale Estate, just outside Ambleside. Its a superb place – just 16 rooms, set aside from the main hotel here, but with full facilities and its own exclusive spa. Best of all is the ‘Reading Room’ – a kind of executive lounge with complimentary tea, coffee, snacks, beer, wine and soft drinks all day. Its a beautifully quiet spot, perfect for relaxing after a walk around the dales.

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Ready to shoot!

So yesterday I ventured out on my own for a couple of hours with my camera gear. The hotel is surrounded by woods, and there is a river (Langdale Beck) just behind. So it wasn’t exactly far to go, and my short stroll through the woods and along the river turned up several beautiful locations for photos. Although it was a fairly bright day, the shade meant using the tripod for most shots and there were opportunities for some nice long exposures of the water.  I didn’t need to use a ND filter at all – just a polariser to cut through some of the reflections.

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The weir at Chapel Stile

With my camera set up on the tripod and ISO set to 100, lens stopped down to f11 or f16, I was good to go. These photos are RAW files pretty much straight from camera, with the shadows lifted a little, and a little bit of ‘punch’ from adding clarity in Lightroom. I’ll probably tweak them a little more when I get them loaded onto my desktop as editing on a tiny 12″ laptop screen is never terribly satisfactory, but it gives me a good idea of how they should turn out.

All in all a very pleasant afternoon out and about, and a few photos I’m happy with. What’s not to like!

Gear used: Sony A7iii with 16-35mm or 24-70mm lens, Formatt-Hitec Firecrest polariser, Gitzo Mountaineer tripod.

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Wet and bedraggled….

A7300402So the heatwave and drought of Summer 2018 had to stop sometime didn’t it?  Well, that was today, and temperatures in the high 20’s were replaced by 18deg, and persistent rain. Not that we didn’t need it of course – the lawn in our garden is completely yellow through lack of rain, so hopefully that will do it some good.

It did however mean that my trip today to the annual Festival of Transport in Audlem was a bit of a damp affair, actually a very wet affair, and to be honest I almost didn’t bother. Seduced by a weather forecast that said it wasn’t going to rain after 1pm I pottered up there at around 2pm only to find it was far from dry – some of the exhibitors had already called it a day, and most of the others were huddled with the meagre number of visitors under the trees.  A7300420Still, the showers did ease off a little, and I was able to wander around for an hour or so, albeit with camera in one hand and umbrella in the other – wasn’t really sure whether to believe the Sony claims about weather-resistance, but decided not to chance it so kept camera and lens well-covered.  Likewise it wasn’t a day for changing lenses either, so stuck with the rather awesome Zeiss 55mm – I know I am a zoom person at heart, but goodness, these prime lenses are so sharp and contrasty!

A7300396So despite the weather, I took a few photos of the cars, before heading down to the canal to catch a view of some of the collection of narrow boats that had assembled for the day.  Lots of restored classic working narrow boats as well as the usual leisure conversions (I’ll post these photos later).

A great way to spend a few hours (despite the rain), and best of all, it was free, and just 7 miles up the road from us…

Here are a few more photos of the exhibits.

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Here we go again…

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Daisy-Mae 85mm f1.8

There were so many things I loved about my two Olympus cameras, but ultimately I just didn’t find the overall image quality satisfying. The Pen-F was retro-chic, and had knock-out features like keystone correction, and Livetime mode (great for long exposures), and with smaller prime lenses gave me real portability.  The E-M1ii added pro-quality construction and ergonomics, Pro-capture for fast moving action, blazingly fast AF, and battery life that rivalled good old DSLR cameras.

Without doubt these cameras are superb for sport and wildlife (because the 2x crop factor brings subjects in that much closer) and there is a great array of compact and reasonably priced lenses available.  Sadly only the c. £1k Pro lenses make the best of the cameras (and these lenses are no longer small!) but even then, for me, images just didn’t have the ‘punch’ or saturation of cameras with larger sensors.  In poor light, or high contrast subjects where recovering detail from shadows is needed, they really fall down.

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Sony 85mm f1.8

So, even though it means going back to a larger, heavier setup and foregoing some of those unique Olympus features, the whole kit has gone, and the new kid on the block is a Sony A7iii. Resolution at 24mpx is a little higher, but this is a full frame camera so a sensor four times the size, and that really shows in image quality.  I can’t say I care for the Sony ergonomics – the body has lots of squared off corners – it just isn’t as ‘organic’ as the E-M1ii, and the button and menu layout aren’t exactly intuitive, but it does have great battery life, and the AF is ‘good enough’ for what I want. From all accounts its not as well weather sealed as the E-M1ii so I definitely won’t be taking it out in the rain!

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Sony 28-70mm ‘kit’ lens

Although my camera came with a fairly basic ‘kit’ zoom lens (it was the only way to get it quickly) my plan is to just use this for ‘walkabout’ or casual shooting, and get prime lenses for anything ’serious’. I’ve made a conscious decision to use just prime lenses with a limited range of focal lengths rather than wide-ranging zoom lenses – I’m hoping that rather than limit what I can shoot, it will actually enhance my creativity.  Without doubt it will mean sharper and crisper images – something of a holy grail for me.

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Sony 85mm f1.8

So far, in addition to that ‘cheapo’ everyday zoom, I’ve picked up the 85mm f1.8 Sony FE medium telephoto lens, a general purpose 35mm f2.8 Sony Zeiss lens, and a Zeiss Batis 25mm f2.8 wide angle. This latter lens was one I tried a few months ago at a Sony event, and the sharpness and contrast blew me away.  Still on the shopping list is a Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8, but that is waiting for more funds!

All is looking good so far, and these are just a few photos I’ve taken in the week or so I’ve had the camera. Watch this space!