Sony A7R II Sealed The Deal

Author: Joel Wolfson

My Preference for Mirrorless over DSLRs

©JWolfson_A7RII_blog_Na_Pali_aerial_01

I shot this stunning coastline on the Na Pali coast of Kauai (Hawaii) from a helicopter using the Sony A7R II. 24mm @ f8.0 1/800 sec.

It was a “Wow!” moment. I don’t say it very often when it comes to camera gear- in fact only about once a decade over my 30 year photography career. I had just finished doing an aerial shoot from a helicopter in Kauai. I had an absolute blast doing the shoot. I was a little nervous beforehand wondering how I would like using my new A7R II on a demanding shoot. I was thoroughly familiar with the camera and controls on it (I had been using the nearly identical A7 II for months.) The A7R II ended up handling everything I gave it on the shoot so then it came down to the performance of the camera and how it would translate my vision for the images.

Then I took my first look at the images and said “Wow!” out loud. This has only happened twice before: The last time was looking at 6X7 transparencies from a shoot in Italy and France from my Mamiya 7 II and the first time was looking at Kodachrome slides from my first Leica rangefinder. So that’s my average of about once a decade for a camera to really wow me.

I’ve found the Sony A7R II also renders very beautifully in black and white. 240mm f8.0 1/250 sec.

I’ve found the Sony A7R II also renders very beautifully in black and white. 240mm f8.0 1/250 sec.

I’ve found the Sony A7R II also renders very beautifully in black and white. 240mm f8.0 1/250 sec.

How I arrived at the Wow moment

Due to a hand injury a few years ago I started using Micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras and lenses until my hand was rehabilitated and I could hold and use my much heavier Canon DSLRs again. Micro 4/3 spoiled me as I was able to carry around so much gear that weighed so little. As much as I loved the form factor, light weight and the outstanding optics of that system, at 16 megapixels, it couldn’t meet my requirements for making very large prints.

Large fine art prints are an important part of my business. Although the 21 megapixel sensors in my Canon bodies were usually adequate there were times I wanted higher resolution to have the leeway for cropping and still make very large prints. Enter the Nikon D800E with a 36 Megapixel Sony sensor without a low pass filter. I bought it along with a complement of Nikon lenses. This was not an easy decision having been a diehard Canon user for decades. But much to my disappointment, Canon at that time, was on a path of lowering the resolution of their sensors, presumably for better low light performance, faster frame rates, and their assumption that pros and consumers didn’t want or need higher resolution then their top end of 22 MP. I think they were caught off guard by the number of pros like me that switched to Nikon for the higher resolution. It turned out that Nikon, with Sony’s sensor was able to produce astounding quality with no compromise in dynamic range or low light. I know some people would argue that the 5D Mark III is better in low light than the D800E (later replaced by the D810) but in practical terms, like making prints, it was more of a tie and the obvious advantage of higher resolution on the D800E.

The detail that the 42 megapixel sensor (no AA filter) in the Sony A7RII can render is impressive. For a 100% view of what’s in the blue rectangle, scroll down. 194mm @ f11.0, 1/320 sec. ISO 100.

The detail that the 42 megapixel sensor (no AA filter) in the Sony A7RII can render is impressive. For a 100% view of what’s in the blue rectangle, scroll down. 194mm @ f11.0, 1/320 sec. ISO 100.

The detail that the 42 megapixel sensor (no AA filter) in the Sony A7RII can render is impressive. For a 100% view of what’s in the blue rectangle, scroll down. 194mm @ f11.0, 1/320 sec. ISO 100.

Sony announced their first full frame 36 megapixel camera in the fall of 2013, the A7R, about 8 months after I bought my Nikon system. I read about it with great interest but there weren’t enough of the right lenses available for my use and using adapters for my Nikon lenses (or Canon for that matter), at that time was cumbersome. As innovative as it was, there were naturally a few problems with the A7R being the first of its kind. I followed Sony’s progression knowing it was only a matter of time before I might have the best of both worlds: The compactness of a mirrorless body with the high resolution and low light capabilities of a top notch full frame sensor.

Even after using the Nikon system extensively the cameras never really felt like a natural extension of my hands like my Canons did. I got used to using the Nikon gear and there was a feature or two I liked that my Canon gear didn’t have. However, Canon definitely has much better ergonomics and intuitive controls. Sort of like using a PC after being spoiled by the elegance and intuitive design of a Mac- only without the price difference. But whether I stayed with Nikon or went back to Canon I would have to deal with very large and heavy cameras.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

The game changed two years later when Sony started shipping the A7 II. I bought it along with some lenses. Thus began the Sony trial. At 24 megapixel the A7II was a slight downgrade in terms of resolution compared to my Nikon D800E but this was an experiment and my opportunity to try the highly improved second generation Sony A7 series bodies and by now they had some lenses in their line I could use professionally. Sony has always had outstanding optics. Along with their association with Zeiss and their acquisition of Minolta they have a great basis and history for premium optics. I’ve always loved Zeiss lenses and owned several over the years. Now I could use them on a compact full frame mirrorless body.

Naturally there are some things I’d like to see added or changed on this camera but not enough that I want to go back to DSLRs as a main system. The Sony A7R II is really a revolution in digital cameras. I think it’s quite possible that Sony could achieve their 5 year goal of knocking one of the giants, Nikon or Canon out of the top spots.

Watch for my next post about the mirrorless experience with the Sony A7 system.

Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It’s often necessary to use high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter and exposing for the shade you can end up with commensurately high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It’s often necessary to use high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter and exposing for the shade you can end up with commensurately high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It’s often necessary to use high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter and exposing for the shade you can end up with commensurately high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

Happy Shooting Everyone!

Joel Wolfson is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop instructor/photographer. Here is Joel’s bio.

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Website: www.joelwolfson.com

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Just Shoot!

Authors: Amy Horn & Vicki Uthe

One way to becoming a better photographer is to shoot more images. For a few years now, my good friend and Arizona Highways Photo Workshops trip leader, Vicki Uthe, and I schedule a photo outing a couple of times a year. We want it to happen once a month, but our schedules don’t always mesh. Luckily, this past week we both had a morning to meet so we drove to Jerome, AZ for some photo fun. With handheld cameras we hit the streets early morning while the town was still quiet. We walked one loop, changed lenses and walked the loop again. The light changed so drastically we found ourselves shooting completely different subjects on the second loop. Vicki is a Canon shooter and I own Nikon gear and we found ourselves using one of two lenses: Vicki: 11-16 mm or 100 mm macro Amy: 24-120 mm and 105 mm macro. Even with similar lenses and walking together, we captured very different images. We processed our images separately and agreed we would each submit a few of our favorites.

Vicki:

Amy:

By mid-morning we moved on to the Jerome State Historic Park, Audrey Headframe Park and then to our favorite location, the Gold King Mine. At the Gold King Mine the sun was directly overhead creating harsh shadows and flat light. But if you haven’t been there, it is a place you won’t want to miss! We both used our macro lenses to find those small details and the best light. After processing our images we only had one of the same subject – the red truck with the bullet hole window. Vicki shot it from the outside and I shot it from the inside.

Next time you want to practice, grab a photo friend or join us on a Meetup and shoot! Even if it is harsh light, take the challenge to make the most of the light.

Vicki:

Amy:

Red truck, Vicki’s shot

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Red truck, Amy’s version

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Amy Horn is a lecturer of photography at Northern Arizona University and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. View her current teaching schedule at ahpw.org or horndesigns.com.

 

Vicki Uthe is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

 

Adobe Lightroom: How to make your skies bluer

Author: Megan P. Galope

Have you ever had a photo that you really loved, but wished that the sky was bluer? Here’s how you can fix that in Adobe Lightroom.

Before:
Photo 1

In the Develop module on the right-hand side, scroll down to HSL / Color / B & W and click on the arrow to the right to open the panel. Be sure you are on the HSL tab (this is the default). Then click on the Luminance tab:

Photo 2One way to darken the sky is to move the slider next to Blue to the left. However, your sky may actually also contain some Aqua or Purple. The easiest way to darken the sky when you don’t know what colors it contains is to use the Targeted Adjustment tool in the upper left corner of the panel:

Photo 3

Click once on this tool, then go to an area of the sky in your photo. Click and drag the mouse downward. This will darken all colors in your sky. Dragging the mouse upward will lighten the colors in your sky. You can play around with dragging up and down until you get the color of sky that you desire. When you are done, click on the Targeted Adjustment tool again to turn it off.

Note that when you change the Luminance of a color, it will change it for the entire photo. So if you have other blue/aqua/purple items in your photo (e.g. water), those will also be affected.

After:

Photo 4

To learn more about Adobe Lightroom,  Arizona Highways Photo Workshops is offering Adobe Lightroom 101, 102 and 103 courses. Each course is one day and is instructed by photographer Suzanne Mathia. You can find out more about these courses here: http://www.ahpw.org/workshops/.

Megan Galope is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

My Favorite Non-Photographic Photographic Accessory

Author: Vern West

As a Volunteer Trip Leader on The Best of the West Workshop I became friends, as I usually do, with one of the participants. His name is Alex Tilley and he is the founder of a Canadian company Tilley Endurables. They make clothing for travelers. At the end of the workshop he gave me and my fellow VTL a Tilley Hat similar to the one he wore. At the time I did not appreciate what a nice gift this hat was. It has become one of my most valued “photographic accessories”.

Here in the desert a good hat is valuable to keep the sun off your face, neck and ears. This hat is washable, crushable and it floats. I have soaked in a river to help keep my head cool when it is hot. I have also had it blown off my head into a river and was able to retrieve it.

Tilley_endurables

There are other uses for it.

  • I have rolled it up and used it as a temporary bean bag when I need to steady my camera resting on a boulder or the ground.
  • When photographing and the sun would shine on the lens, flare shows up in the photograph. I frequently use the hat sun shade to my lens and prevent the flare.
  • It can be used as a wind block when photographing a flower. This helps keep the flower from moving so much in the wind.
  • I have used it as a makeshift lens protector by wrapping it around a lens when I had to stick an extra lens in my pocket and sprint across the desert chasing the light.

 

The Panasonic Lumix GX8: My Results Are In. . . Great Decision!

Author: David Goodell

A few weeks ago, after I purchased my Lumix GX8, I posted a blog stating that Lumix’ post focus was the reason I chose this camera.

Artisan Test

After spending a great deal of time going through the camera manual, setting up the menu choices, and deciding on the uses for the many function buttons I finally was able to test post focus.

The verdict: post focus is a winner and really fun. And it works — using my new Panasonic 45mm macro lens I have taken fantastic images.

Here are some of my images which, by the way, were all taken in my back yard:

David Goodell is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

In Photography, Size Matters!

Author: David Huffman

If you’re an involved photographer, you probably debate with your friends (or in your own head) your choices of equipment on several levels. In many situations, size is a major consideration, here’s why…Size matters for image quality, equipment cost and equipment weight.

Image quality is my primary consideration in most of my photography. If I’m going to invest the time to take a photograph and additional time in post processing to perfect it, then quality is my major concern. I’ll admit that I’m obsessed with image quality and always have been. In digital imaging cameras today, cameras use sensors of different physical size as the first consideration in design of the camera. The illustration below shows that there is a wide range of image sensor sizes. The pinnacle for most amateurs is called “full frame” which is a reference to the 35 mm camera format of a film frame 24mm by 36mm, roughly 1 inch by 1-1/2 inches in size. The total area of a sensor affects the ability of the sensor to gather light and hold detail. Larger sensors gather more light, very useful in low-light and night photography and when using higher ISO settings. This is true even with high or low megapixel sensors. In cameras made in the last 5 years, most cameras have at least 12 megapixels, more than sufficient for high quality images, but the larger sensor cameras will always take a higher quality image when compared to a camera with the same megapixels but a small area. You’ll notice this difference in enlargements and prints over 8×10 inches and in cropped images, also in pictures using high ISO settings at ISO 800 and higher. All of the image quality characteristics are subject to your individual perceptions of quality, so you’ll have to decide what is “good enough quality” for you. I demand the most from my equipment and processes and make prints often over 30 by 40 inches for sale, so image quality, sharpness and smooth tone gradation with low/no noise and grain are very important to me. Other factors including lens quality and technique are also major for image quality, all else being equal.

If this is the case, then you might ask, “why use small sensors?” This brings us to the second and third size considerations. Small sensor cameras are (almost always) smaller and lighter in size for the camera body and for the lenses. Most “compact” cameras with a permanently attached lens use a smaller sensor to keep the entire device small and portable, even pocket-sized. Most manufacturers today make digital single lens reflex cameras in two formats, or perhaps even three. The full frame Nikon cameras are referred to as “FX” and the next smaller size format is called “DX”, and these cameras have approximately 30% less sensor area. FX cameras require larger lenses to cover the full frame, and DX cameras can use smaller lenses.

Smaller format cameras with smaller camera bodies and lenses cost less to manufacture and weigh less. Total system cost and weight can be very important factors in your photography. I travel on photography adventures many times each year and carrying two bodies with 4 or 5 lenses, flash and other accessories weighs from 20 to 30 pounds fully packed, and this is a consideration for airline baggage and for daily trekking in the field. The cost of equipment systems varies a lot by manufacturer, so it is difficult to be specific, but I’ll estimate here that a full frame system with one body and three lenses probably costs 50% more than the next smaller size system. (Keep in mind, too, that if you’re using full frame for maximum quality, you’ll also invest in the best lenses of each zoom or focal length range, increasing cost and size.)

I’ve included side by side images of DSLRs to illustrate the differences in physical size. The best way to make these decisions is to try them for yourself in a real photography retailer. On line you can see the measurements and weights for comparison, but you’ll appreciate the differences if you hold them in your hands.

Left to right: Nikon D3200 (DX format), Nikon D810 (FX format) and Nikon F5 (full frame film camera, one of the last and the best film SLRs in my opinion)

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Also the differences in lenses are significant, left Nikon 18-55mm for DX format, right Nikon 24-120mm for FX format.

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David is a Photographer, Instructor, Author and Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. His books on Photography Instruction are available for Apple iPad, Mac and Amazon Kindle. Visit him at www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

No Need for All the Subject All the Time

Author:  David Halgrimson

It is not always necessary to get all of a subject in the image. Many times high impact and interest can be achieved by getting real close and focusing on a small part of a subject. This works with plants, animals, buildings, people and anything you shoot. The best way to do this, if possible, is to get physically closer rather than shooting from afar and then cropping in post processing. Make sure when getting close that you stay safe, safety first in my book. There are many ways to get close, moving our feet closer, climbing up, stooping down, moving left or right some times lying down and there is also the use of a telephoto lens. Always consider the subject, is it at your normal eyesight, is it down near the ground, small animals, is it swimming, is it tall or in a tree? Where ever it is take that into consideration when composing your shot and when possible get to the best angle.

Here are a few examples of getting in close.

For the duck, I was on my bell_MG_0763y next to the shore.

The Zebra I was stand a little over him._MG_6020

 

The Ostrich I was a little below but in a vehicle so could not change my position_MG_5950

The Spider, close with a macro lens and a little above to get the eye but at a safe distance just in case it didn’t like me._MG_5449

 

David Halgrimson is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.