Less is Better with Age

By Rick Jacobi

I was fortunate to be a trip leader this last May on a workshop in Tuscany for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. I have been on a lot of workshops and have done some extensive traveling. Mirrorless cameras have become more popular over the last couple of years because they are so much lighter. I am still seeing though; a lot of people traveling long distances and more than one airport change carrying a heavy bag of photo equipment. I used to be one of those people with the big 40lb black bag.

I now carry one camera body {Sony] and two lens. Lens 24-70and 70-200. In addition, a small back up camera body just in case. It can fit all in a small camera bag weighting less then 15lbs which is a lot easier to carry than the 40lb or so bag. Do I miss some shots by not having a wider-angle lens a macro or a 100-400? The answer is yes. But the question is how many, and I figure less than five photos that I would keep on a week-long workshop or trip. To me I’d rather feel comfortable walking through airports or the streets of a city enjoying myself rather than carrying all that weight and having a sore back the next day. Those shots I might miss don’t make up for the discomfort of a large camera bag. I am not saying to sell your equipment and buy a mirrorless camera. Just take what you think you need and then take less.

If you are driving that is a different story. I am talking about traveling by air and connecting flights. If it is one flight or a car then take the kitchen sink but again take only what you think you will need. As we get older less is better and you will still get great shots. Just give it a try.

Rick Jacobi is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Spring is time for Cactus Blooms…and a new camera

Author: David Halgrimson

It is spring and everyone is taking and posting images of the beautiful cactus flowers currently in bloom. I guess I just have to join in and share a few of my own but with a little twist to the story.

Cactus 5

I normally shoot Canon and know my equipment quite well. However we photographers are never happy just using the same equipment over and over, where is the challenge in that.

So I bought a new camera, not new new but new to me, a Sony NEC 5N. This is a small mirrorless and viewfinder-less camera with amazing abilities. It does all the major things we look for, shoots RAW, has aperture, shutter, manual as well as all the canned settings, i.e. scene mode, video and much more. It also has interchangeable lenses. The problem is, it works completely different than my Canons so after reading the printed manual, very general, the provided PDF extended manual and a third party full detail manual, I was on my way.

Two things I discovered right off 1) using the LCD monitor to compose, check settings and focus is not too easy in bright sun and 2) using the Control Wheel to select menu items and items within the menus is not easy. Trying to rotate the wheel vs. press the wheel, two separate options, takes finesse and creates much frustration.

But that said, I took it in hand and headed out to walk the neighborhood looking for cactus flowers. I used an 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens, shot in RAW and aperture priority and here are some of the images. Not all are as sharp as I would like but that’s me still learning and not the camera.

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

Sony A7R II Sealed The Deal

Author: Joel Wolfson

My Preference for Mirrorless over DSLRs

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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.

Subscribe to Joel’s email list and Be The First to Get the Latest on his workshops, articles, blog posts, tips, and more

Joel’s blog has additional articles about photography and travel.

Website: www.joelwolfson.com

Email Joel info@joelwolfson.com

 

Panasonic Lumix GX8 – Is it a good decision?

Author:  David Goodell

Is my purchase of the Lumix GX8 a good decision??

A few days ago I purchased a Lumix GX8 which will be delivered tomorrow. Why buy this camera instead of a Sony,  Olympus, or Fuji? One feature separated this camera from the others – post focus.
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I plan to use post focus for my macro photography because it will allow me to increase the depth of field of my close-up photos. Briefly, post focus uses 4K video to take photos at each of the cameras 49 focus points and then allows the photographer to pick the photo which focuses on the point I want. Or, and more importantly for me, you can pick several or all of the photos and focus stack them using Photoshop or another program. There is a negative however – post focus creates 8 MB JPEG files which could be a problem. We will see. For sure I will have to be careful in selecting my white balance.
Will it work for me? I will let you know in a few weeks.  If you want more information about post focus check out these websites: youtube.com/watch?v=oAhOC9ta36Q and youtube.com/watch?v=6wFRy8VQKuQ

Is The Mirrorless Honeymoon Over?

Author:  Joel Wolfson

I shot this with the Sony A7 II while conducting my Villages of Tuscany workshop in Italy. 240mm f11 1/250 sec. ISO 125

I shot this with the Sony A7 II while conducting my Villages of Tuscany workshop in Italy. 240mm f11 1/250 sec. ISO 125

My last mirrorless post was about my “Wow!” moment with the A7R II and why I switched to mirrorless after decades of using DSLRs. It’s been about a year and now that the honeymoon is over, do I still like using my mirrorless system? Short answer: Yes. Like any successful relationship, there are challenges along the way but I still enjoy day to day life with my Sony A7 system. I recognize the flaws but overall the pros outweigh the cons.

Now that I’ve been using the Sony A7 full frame system for nearly a year (A7 II and A7R II) and using a variety of lenses (3 Zeiss, 1 Sony) it’s a good time to point out the pros and cons. Because I’ve owned both Canon and Nikon DSLR systems they are my basis for comparison. Your own mileage may vary.

 Pros:

 Lightweight and compact: This was a major factor for me, particularly because I travel a lot and it’s really nice not to have to carry as much weight and bulk around. In spite of the small size and weight you still get a full frame 42MP sensor with spectacular dynamic range and low light capabilities.

 No chimping required: The eye level electronic viewfinder (EVF) essentially allows you to see a preview of your final image before you fire the shutter. Yes, you can use live view on your Canon or Nikon but you have to pull the camera away from your eye yielding an unsteady grip or necessitating a tripod and it’s very slow and clunky.

If your exposure or other settings are incorrect, even way off on your DSLR, you won’t know it until you take it away from your eye and look at the review image on the LCD (aka “chimping”). In the ideal world we should check our settings every time we pick up the camera. But in the real world we sometimes see something cool, grab the camera and shoot before we realize we had the exposure compensation, white balance, ISO or something else set for a completely different situation from the last time we used the camera.

 Depth of field preview: Although you can allegedly “preview” depth of field on many DSLRs the viewfinder can get very dark as you stop down, especially if you’re in low light. With an EVF you can see it all through a bright viewfinder and previewing depth of field is much easier.

 Low light: Although some DSLRs are spectacular performers at high ISO in low light, it can be difficult to see through the viewfinder, especially if you’re using a slower lens (eg. Canon 24-105 f4.0 L or Nikon 24-120 f4.0G). The EVF on the Sony allows you to see in the dark with a bright viewfinder even in very low light. Add to that trying to see the effect of depth of field with the lens stopped down and a DSLR viewfinder becomes useless.

 Manual focusing: Because the A7RII has focus peaking indicators and instant magnification in the viewfinder you can manually focus easily, precisely and in low light compared to DSLRs which are more difficult to focus manually through the viewfinder. The focus peaking indicators aren’t super accurate though still useful.

 Rendering quality of Zeiss lenses: Sony has had a long relationship with Zeiss and many of the lenses made for Sony cameras are Zeiss. Of course the technical performance of Zeiss lenses is stellar but there’s also a quality or look to how they render on the A7R II that is beautiful. Interestingly that distinctive rendering isn’t as obvious on the A7 II body. I can’t explain that but it may be due to the fact that the A7R II has no anti-aliasing filter and the A7 II does. The standout favorite of my Zeiss lenses is the Batis 85mm f1.8. Not only does it render beautifully but is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used (Nikon’s 85 1.8G is comparable technically but doesn’t have the distinctive rendering)

I’m not privy to Zeiss’s influence on Sony’s own designs and manufacturing but the Sony lenses I’ve used also have very nice rendering on the A7R II. In my mind, photographic equipment is merely a set of tools to communicate something meaningful to me as an artist and also to the viewer. So although not as tangible as features or specs the rendering can be an extra tool of communication, particularly when trying to convey a sense of something more subtle (but still very important) like beauty or warmth.

Other pros: In-body 5 axis stabilization means you still get stabilization with non-stabilized lenses. There are also numerous lens adapters so you can use your Canon, Leica, and other lenses on the A7 bodies. Although I no longer have my Canon gear, the Metabones EF adapter is highly regarded because it allows full autofocus capabilities with Canon lenses.

Not a deal breaker but the built in wi-fi and corresponding smartphone apps make it very easy to transfer images to my iPhone from the camera so I can send off a lower res version right away. I can also use my iPhone to control the camera.

Sony A7 II and Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 lens. The rendering is still classic Zeiss and beautiful but the Zeiss lenses render even nicer when used on the A7R II. 1/250 f9.0 ISO 100

Sony A7 II and Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 lens. The rendering is still classic Zeiss and beautiful but the Zeiss lenses render even nicer when used on the A7R II. 1/250 f9.0 ISO 100

 Cons:

 Menus: They are kind of a mess with little logic to the order or access. Especially annoying is placement of the format option which I use frequently. Also no place (eg. “My Menu”) to store frequently used options. It’s possible Sony will update this via firmware as they’ve made other significant upgrades this way.

 Autofocus Tracking: Although much better in the A7R II than previous models, if your main interest is sports then don’t give up your Nikon D4/D5 or Canon 1Dx. Granted these are very different cameras but one camera can’t do everything and the Sony A7 bodies are simply not made for super fast AF tracking.

 Battery life: There are settings you can use to help conserve battery power (eg. turn on “Airplane” mode) but in general the battery life is poor compared to Canon or Nikon DSLRs. It’s not a huge deal but still annoying because it requires more frequent changing of batteries.

 Eye sensor: There is a built-in sensor in the eyepiece that switches from the LCD display on the back to the viewfinder when you put your eye up to the camera. It’s handy but too sensitive with no way to reduce the sensitivity enough. If you are using the handy flip-up LCD to shoot video, for instance, your image blacks out every time you get the camera close to your body because it trips the sensor. This may not affect many people but I find this to be an oversight on Sony’s part.

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Sony A7R II from a helicopter at 80mm f8.0 1/400 sec. ISO 400 with polarizing filter.

After using the Sony A7 system in a variety of situations for a year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I still like using the system for the reasons cited above under “Pros” and in my previous article. I continue to keep my eye on developments in camera technology but there would have to be pretty compelling reasons for me to switch systems at this point.

Happy Shooting Everyone!

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

Subscribe to Joel’s email list and Be The First to Get the Latest on his workshops, articles, blog posts, tips, and more

Joel’s blog has additional articles about photography and travel.

Website: www.joelwolfson.com

Email Joel info@joelwolfson.com

 

Considering a Mirrorless Camera?

_DSC1317Author & image copyright:  Rick Jacobi

There has been a lot of discussion about Mirrorless cameras among photographers especially in the last year. One of the main reasons people are talking is the size and weight difference between DSLR and Mirrorless. The Mirrorless bodies and lenses are a lot smaller, which means less weight.

I was a Canon photographer for many years. The last Canon camera I had was the 5D Mark lll along with four lens. The lens were 24-105mm, 100 Macro, 100-400mm and 70-200mm. About a year and half ago I bought my first MIrrorless, which was Fuji X-T1 four fifth sensor along with two lens. I liked the camera but I felt I wanted a full frame and Sony had just come out with the new A7ll full frame. I sold my Fuji, lens and all my Canon equipment and bought the new Sony.

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When I sold the Canon Body and lens I felt that I had lost my best friend. Could I ever get a sharp photo again? It is like selling your car and thinking you will have to walk from now on. I had A7ll for a few months but did not like EVF, because it was not up to par with the experience of looking through the Canon viewfinder. I liked the feel and the weight of the Sony but the EVF bothered me every time I took a photo. Then Sony came out with A7Rll and with all the reviews I read, I knew that I had to have that camera. I traded in my A7ll and bought the new Sony A7Rll and 24-240mm lens.

The biggest concern in giving up my Canon was wondering if I would ever feel really comfortable again with a camera. Would I regret selling my Canon? Would I ever have a best friend in a camera. The answer is overwhelmingly, YES! I finally feel comfortable with my camera [Sony A7Rll] and I don’t have any regrets selling my ex- best friend [Canon 5D Mark lll].

I am not trying to sell anyone a Sony but rather hoped that by sharing my experience it would help you in your decision making process should you be considering a change from a DSLR to Mirrorless. It is definitely not an easy decision and very hard to let go of your DSLR but I am happy that I made the switch. I have less weight and get tack sharp photos. The EVF in the later model is so much better and with its added features it makes shooting that much more fun.

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Now my photo travels are so much more enjoyable without the heavy gear bags. Since I do a lot of street shooting, the the 24-240mm lens handles everything I need and the photos are (did I say) tack sharp! Sony has a lot of lens and adaptors too so you can use your Canon or Nikon lenses.

If you are thinking about changing I would recommend renting a Mirrorless camera for a few days to test drive. You may even want to rent a couple different models before finding that perfect new friend in your camera. Currently there are four great mirrorless cameras on the market: Panasonic Lumix, Olympus OM-D, Fujifilm x-T1 and Sony. Mirrorless cameras are not for everyone but there is a strong market trend going in that direction with many professionals making a switch too. I personally think this is the future in photography so I hope Canon and Nikon get on board or they risk being left behind.

Advantages of Mirrorless:

  • Smaller size and less weight
  • Fast frame speed
  • Live View – what you see is what you get.
  • Ease of manual focusing with focus peeking. {Love this}
  • Face and eye tracking.
  • EVF – what you see is what you get.
  • EVF – image review.
  • Easier to clean
  • Less camera shake

Disadvantages

  • Battery life is shorter. Need to carry two or three batteries with you.
  • Harder to focus in low light but easy to do with manual focusing and peeking.

Rick Jacobi is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.  These photos were taken with the Sony A7RIII at the AHPW Creepy Crawly Critter workshop.