Techy Camera Stuff, Plus “Where Can I Get My Nails Done?”

OK. For once a blog that is not about books, authors and writing. Today photography is on my mind.

(For camera buffs, enjoy the techy stuff. For non-camera buffs, skip over the techy detail, which is in  navy. For the colour-blind, apologies, you may have to read it all.)

Where Can I Get My Nails Done?

(See this in gorgeous full-size technicolor at https://gallery.staadecker.com?image=36 )

In May 2018, I drove three hours south to the shore of Lake Eerie to photograph birds of prey at the Canadian Raptor Conservatory. It was my second visit. On each occasion, it’s also been an opportunity for me to rent and try out a high-end camera and lens.

In 2016 for my first visit, I rented a Nikon D800 with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I loved the clarity and luminous images, but the camera plus lens felt like a millstone. I couldn’t see myself hiking into the mountains with that on my back.

Here’s an image I brought back with the Nikon from that 2016 visit (for fans of Nine Inch Nails):

Nine Inch Nails

(c) Copyright, Peter Staadecker, 2016.

(See this in luminous full-size technicolor at https://gallery.staadecker.com?image=31 )

For the 2018 visit, I leased a Sony Alpha 7riii, plus a 70-200mm f2.8 lens for the visit.

The Sony is mirrorless camera with an electronic viewfinder – a technology I’ve been increasingly curious about. It’s also a technology where Sony appears to have a large lead over competitors like Nikon and Canon. The advantages of mirrorless are often touted to be

·        A more compact, light-weight camera body

·        Fewer moving parts to cause camera shake

·        An electronic viewfinder with what-you-see-is what you get (usually) as far as exposure goes.

In the case of this Sony, it’s also a full frame sensor, with 42 megapixels, good image stabilization and very high ratings for image quality. It also has a reputation for very little “noise” on the image, even at relatively high ISO ratings.

The 42 megapixels may seem like an overkill, but  get requests to make prints in sizes approaching 1 meter by 1 meter (about 3 feet by 3 feet for the non-metric). Plus I do landscape photography. Make a 1 meter wide print of a forest with a zillion leaves, and you find out that you need many pixels. For that kind of work, 50 megapixels would be even better.

My workaround with my modest D5300 is to take a grid of  photos and let Photoshop splice them together into a seamless high-res BIG image, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Fortunately, Photoshop is an absolute wizard at that. Here’s a typical example, spliced together by Photoshop so well that no-one can see the joins.

first snow, ganaraska

(c) Copyright, Peter Staadecker, 2016.

(See this in glorious size and technicolor at http://gallery.staadecker.com/?image=33 )

Of course, like most things in life, the pros of the mirrorless technology come with cons too. These are often touted as

·   Short battery life

·   Overheating when used for long exposures

·  Small body is awkward to hold

·   Heavier lenses

The camera store employee who handed me the Sony gear watched my reactions. The camera was light and compact. The lens though, felt like another lead brick. He smiled, “You’ll hate the lens while you shoot with it. You’ll love it when you see the results.”

He gave me a quick, basic walk through of the camera operation. That was Friday afternoon. My visit to the Raptor Conservancy was set for Saturday. I had all of Friday evening to become somewhat familiar with the camera functions.

Like all modern electronics, there were enough functions and options to fill a phone book. Switching over from my usual camera – a modest Nikon D5300 – to the controls and the multi-level electronic menu of an advanced non-Nikon brand involved some rapid relearning. After about 10 minutes of complete puzzlement, things seemed to suddenly “click”. I hoped I would remember the core functionality for Saturday.

On the day, the Sony gear felt lighter than the Nikon D800 gear, in spite of the heavy Sony lens. I looked up the weight comparisons afterwards. I wasn’t mistaken. The Nikon plus lens combo was about 300 g (two thirds of a pound) heavier.

The electronic viewfinder was luminous and bright. Very nice. Rotating the camera into the vertical felt awkward, perhaps a matter of getting used to the camera.

For photographing the fast moving birds, I set the shooting mode to continuous – meaning the camera would take rapid repeated photos, up to ten frames per second, as long as I left my finger on the shutter button.  It was awesomely fast. These rapid fire images would come back to bite me though. When I got home and had to sort through almost 800 images, many (most?) of them showing empty space where a bird was going to appear, or had already passed through.

Also, on my modest Nikon D5300 I try to keep the sensor speed to ISO 400 and below for fear of a grainy image. I pushed the Sony up to about ISO 1600 at times. Back home afterwards I discovered that most of the Sony images were relatively grain free.

During the Saturday visit to the Raptor Conservancy, I did forget some key functions and that cost me time and missed opportunities as I fiddled with the camera. One of the other Sony camera users kindly gave me some quick advice, but still I struggled to find the exposure value (“EV”) compensation somewhere in the electronic menu, overlooking the huge in-your-face manual EV knob on the top of the camera. This cost me dearly when it came to photographing a snowy owl. You’ll notice a lack of detail in his wing feathers because of this.

 

Didn't I Cut My Nails Last Week?

(c) Copyright, Peter Staadecker, 2018.

I also inadvertently bumped my point of focus up or down the focus grid several times. This seems to be easy to do, until you’ve grown accustomed to the control layouts.

Clearly, there is a learning curve. Back home on Saturday night, the question was – how good would the images be?

Answer: the clarity seems excellent. My elder son looked at one of the images and said, “I can see more detail on the image, than I would by looking at the bird.”

Here’s an example:

New Hairdo

(c) Copyright, Peter Staadecker, 2018.

Given the detail above (damn – WordPress images don’t do it justice), it may surprise you that this this is merely a small section taken from the original image below. Yet the detail is still good.

(c) Copyright, Peter Staadecker, 2018.

There were of course some gotcha’s reflecting my newness with the equipment:

·        Not finding the EV compensation button was bad. I’ve already mentioned that in connection with the snowy owl.

·        Depth of field with a full frame sensor is shallower than on my D5300 with its smaller sensor. There was little grain in the images – I should have gone for a smaller aperture (larger f number) for greater depth of field, even at the cost of pushing the ISO settings much higher. ISO 2600? 3000?

·        If there is one overriding “What would I do differently?”, it would have been this topic of depth of field. When I next go back, I will set a shutter speed of between 1/1000 and 1/2000 of a second, set the aperture at least at f8 or smaller (higher f number), and let the ISO adjust automatically. The lack of grain/noise on the images will, I think, make that possible.

·        With the good image stabilization and high shutter speeds I should have tried more handheld shots without the use of the tripod.

So – is the Sony mirrorless a lovely camera and lens combo? Undoubtedly. Can I say that either the Nikon or the Sony produced the better images? No, I’m not sophisticated enough to judge that on short acquaintance. They’re both good. Have I decided to buy the lighter weight Sony? No. The price is too high to justify, good though the camera is. I’d rather travel to exotic locations with a less pricey camera, than overspend on the camera and travel less. Also, the Sony lens selection so far is too limited and expensive. Some third party lens manufacturers like Sigma and Tokina are announcing intentions to build more lenses that will fit this class of Sony and that may help.

I hope some of the high resolution technology that I tested will trickle down from the full size sensors to the smaller, lighter weight APS-C sensor size cameras. Plus, I hope when Nikon or Canon enter the mirrorless market in a serious way, the price will drop on full-size mirrorless cameras like this. For now, I’ll wait.

And if any of those photos whet your appetite, you’ll find some of them and more on https://gallery.staadecker.com

If you have comments/questions/advice on the technology or on the images, you know where to leave your comments …

Cheers until then.

Peter.

 

(Techy update 6-June-2018: I just watched a very positive YouTube review of a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens for the above Sony camera. It’s cheaper and much lighter than the 24-70mm f2.8 Sony G Master, and apparently still very good optically. At time of writing it doesn’t seem to be available yet in North America, but preorders are available on some US sites. Looks like some of the lens variety I was hoping for from third parties is coming slowly. The review I watched was:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP5hGBKs8Dg

(I’m still holding out for a lightweight, affordable 28-150mm lens … )

 

3 Replies to “Techy Camera Stuff, Plus “Where Can I Get My Nails Done?””

  1. Thanks for this, I was curious about the Sony. Good to read another first hand account. Agree with the comment about lens choices.

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