Goodbye Canon – hello Sony A99!!!

The search for the ultimate camera continues…

I’ve been very impressed with the dynamic range (DR) of the Sony sensors after seeing the amazing files coming out of the Nex cameras.  I was so impressed, I decided to get a divorce from Canon and go all-in with Sony and its new full-frame flagship … the A99.  Some of the key selling points for me; 1080/60p video – the only full frame camera that shoots 60p in full HD, the tilt/swivel rear LCD (I shoot a ton of overhead and lying on the ground shots), some innovative focusing features, a light body compared to Canon/Nikon counterparts, built-in image stabilization – Canon/Nikon I.S. is lens based, and an overall design that’s geared toward multi-media shooters.  Its very video focused, more than any other DSLR.

The Sony A99, Nex5n and Olympus EM5 ... shot with a crappy camera phone

The Sony A99, Nex5n and Olympus EM5 … shot with a crappy camera phone

Like I said, I went all-in with the A99.  I bought the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm/2.8 zoom (the finest standard zoom on the planet IMHO) and the Sony 70-400mm G zoom.  The A99 has a built in crop mode that lowers the image from 24 megapixels to about 10mp, but you get a 1.5x crop on your lenses.  So that already long 70-400mm becomes a ridiculous 105-600mm lens.  Right after buying the A99, I had the opportunity to shoot a holiday party and I’m very happy with the results.  More importantly, the people with the cash are happy with the finished images.  Sweet.  There was a wall of windows on one side of the room and the blazing mid-day sun was blowing out everything camera right of the singer.  To camera left was virtual darkness and they didn’t want me to use a flash.  Grrrr…  My assignment was simple – shoot people having fun, performers and people eating.  I’m posting a couple samples from that shoot, nothing was done to the RAW files outside of shadow/highlight recovery.  Darn nice if you ask me.  The images I delivered got a little more work in Lightroom, but just a little color adjustment, a but of noise reduction and some sharpening.

A high ISO shot with lots of highlight and shadow recovery

A high ISO shot with lots of highlight and shadow recovery

The camera was great, I got just over 600 shots on a single charge.  Most of the people shots were short bursts and I just chimped away all of the images that weren’t keepers.  That’s less than half what I could get with my Canon, but this is an all EVF camera, so its sucking lots of juice the entire time the camera is in use. The Zeiss is just awesome, has that great Zeiss rendering and micro-contrast, combined with the impressive tones from the Sony sensor.  There’s a lot of latitude in the Sony RAW files for highlight/shadow recovery.  The original images have much darker shadows and the highlights are blown from the wall of windows.  I’m very impressed with the lack of banding or posterization with the crazy contrast I have going on in most of the images.

Nice example of shallow depth of field

Nice example of shallow depth of field

The Sony A99 is a fantastic stills camera.  Notice the emphasis on stills.  The AF with the 70-400G is really slow indoors, but beyond that its awesome and it produces beautiful files.  There’s a cool feature called AF Range – you can set the minimum and maximum distance the lens will focus … say 6-15 feet … so you can just have the camera focus on subjects in a certain area.  This would be really handy at something like an auto or cycling race where you can just keep a certain corner or the finish line in the range and nothing else.  Nice.  Its not all rainbows and puppy dogs though, it has issues with video.  Quick summary: its dreadful. Absolutely wretched.  So bad its unusable as a video camera if you have decent eyesight.  My dog even turns up her nose at the A99’s video – and she eats poop.  But that’s another post.  I’ll update with more A99 info soon.  If you have any thoughts on the A99, please share with a comment.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

What’s old is new again

Before I dive into discussing some of the compact camera options like the Sony Nex 7 and the Fuji Xpro1, I’m going to talk about some of the lenses I’ll be using.  I’ll be shooting with a bunch of old manual focus (MF) lenses including some Minolta Rokkors and a really cool Kiron Macro lens.  I’m a big fan of old manual glass – they’re a great combination of low cost, bulletproof construction and optical brilliance.  Back in the day lenses were all metal and incredibly well constructed.  Minolta glass was made in Japan with Swiss watch precision and top-notch optics.  You get a lot of bang for the buck.  Some of the more popular mounts such as Canon FD, Minolta and Olympus OM are no longer used, but the glass was produced for decades leaving tons of great lenses that are very affordable.

Kiron 105mm/2.8 macro lens in Canon FD mount on the Fuji Xpro1

Kiron 105mm/2.8 macro lens in Canon FD mount on the Fuji Xpro1

Manual lenses are great for video too, you can make aperture adjustments on the lens and the focus ring doesn’t spin forever so focusing is very accurate.  They even have a nice little distance scale on the lens so you can estimate your focal plane at any given aperture right on the lens.  My favorite thing about MF lenses – I can easily repeat rack focus moves.  The beauty of modern technology is that people way smarter than yours truly have figured out that you can make an adapter to mate all the brilliant MF lenses to pretty much any interchangeable lens digital camera on the planet.  So you simply buy an adapter that serves as a coupler between an old lens and a new camera mount, and it works beautifully.

I’m back to a Canon setup for paid work after a brief flirtation (more on this one soon) with a Sony A99.  Most of the time I’m carrying something compact in my messenger bag with my laptop.  My entire travel setup fits in a small shoulder bag and I’m losing nothing in terms of image quality (IQ).  I’ll cover how the lenses and cameras perform while shooting stills and video.  I’m not some obsessive pixel-peeper, so my tests will be images from trips and photo walks, not a bunch of test charts.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris