Tag Archives: direct from the sensor

Mastering blur – a month with the Otus 28mm f/1.4, 55mm f/1.4 and HCam Master TS

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f1.4.

  • Introduction

About a month ago, I was extremely fortunate to test two of the best and most impressive lenses for full frame cameras, together with a new tilt/shift adapter meant to mount manual lenses on a mirrorless system.

Namely, I got to test the HCam Master Tilt Shift adapter together with a couple lenses from the Otus line from Zeiss: the Nikon mount 55mm f/1.4 and the yet to be released Nikon mount 28mm f/1.4.

The main purpose of these lenses is admittedly for high-resolution stills and video, I like to do things differently. This is why I spent a few weeks in France testing them, and I was especially interested in seeing how well they would perform with long exposures, or when they are shifted, tilted, and of course how sharp they are wide open.

  • Disclaimer:

The purpose of this article is to share some of the images I shot with these lenses and some of my impressions. I am not sponsored nor have been paid by either ZEISS nor HCam for this test. Additionally, it is not meant to be a formal test with charts, or shooting a wall of bricks at different apertures to look at distortion and such. Its purpose is really to see how the adapter and lenses behave in the field, when used for fine art still photography. Unless mentioned otherwise, the images you will find below have been shot on a Sony a7RII in uncompressed RAW mode, imported in Camera RAW and Photoshop for minimal editing (curves, contrast etc). They have only been edited by applying minor white balance, curves, and contrast tweaks, and nothing more except for a B&W conversion with Silver Efex Pro2 for a few of them. Each image was eventually downsized for web browsing and saved as high-res jpgs files. The behind the scenes images were shot with a Sony RX100 IV.

  • The HCam Master TS adapter:

This very solid and precisely machined adapter is German-made. A detail worth mentioning as it sticks to the reputation, and is extremely well built and sturdy. It is meant to mount Canon EF lenses (or other adapters for medium format for that matter) on a Sony E mount mirrorless. Unfortunately, it does not have electronic connections, which means that you can only use fully manual lenses with it (unless you are willing to go through this route). For that reason, I was sent Nikon mount Otus lenses with an extra slim adapter, but I’ll get back to this later.

Unlike any other adapter though, the HCam Master TS allows the photographer to tilt and shift the lens with respect to the camera body. It allows for 10° tilt and up to 15mm shift in each direction if the image circle is large enough, which brings and incredible freedom of creation and control for the position of the focal plane and the perspectives, respectively.

Thanks to a very smart and secure system that can be locked in place when needed, it is possible to rotate both the lens and camera independently, and this allows for manipulating the direction in which the lens is shifted and tilted, as well as the orientation of the camera (landscape or portrait). The HCam Master TS system can therefore be used for either architectural, fine art, and/or portrait photography.

The Master TS system is meant to be used on a tripod: the foot can be securely tightened through a couple of screws onto an Arca/Swiss type plate (included in the box), and because both the lens and the camera can be rotated, it is no problem to orient, tilt and shift to the maximum amount the setup. Since the camera/lens setup is mounted on the tripod using the foot, it is good to note that it is the camera that shifts and tilts with respect to the lens, which is opposite and an advantage compared to modern FF T/S lenses. In some occasions during my trip to France however, the use of a tripod was forbidden, which forced me to use the system handheld. In some rare cases I ran into the issue of not being able to tilt all the way because the system would come into contact with the camera. Using the Otus lenses however was nice because I only had to open slightly more the aperture in order to “increase” the amount of blur in camera, so it was not a real issue.

For more details on the adapter, please see the images below:

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Front view of the adapter mounted on the Arca/Swiss type plate. Canon EF mount (lens) side.

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Back view of the adapter mounted on the Arca/Swiss type plate. Sony E mount (camera) side.

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Front view of the adapter; Canon EF mount (lens) side, zoomed on the lens release and rotation system (no rotation here).

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Front view of the adapter; Canon EF mount (lens) side with about 20° rotation of the camera mount.

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Back view of the adapter; Sony E mount (camera) side with 15mm shift one way or the other and roughly 20° rotation of the camera mount.

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Side view of the adapter with with 10° tilt of the camera mount.

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Side view of the adapter with with 10° tilt, 15mm shift, roughly 10° rotation of the camera mount and 45° rotation of the lens mount.

  • Nikon F to Canon EF mount adapter:

Because the HCam Master TS has no electronic connection and the Canon versions of the Otus lenses require it, I decided to test the Nikon F mount versions. Which means that I needed a slim, sturdy and secure Nikon F to Canon EF mount adapter in order to mount the lenses on the Master TS and keep infinity focus (the flange distance for Nikon being larger than Canon, one such adapter exists).

After reading a few reviews online, I settled for the FotodioX Pro adapter (without focus confirmation chip), which was well rated and allowed me to remove it in the field from one lens and put it on the other in a matter of seconds, with no need for extra tools.

  • Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 & 28mm f/1.4, Nikon mount:

What to say besides these are two exceptional lenses?? They are solid, and they are things of beauty. The front and back lenses are amazing to look at, the focusing ring is smooth, precise and a pleasure to rotate, and the aperture ring (only for the Nikon mount versions) is precise, and lets you choose aperture with a 1/3rd stop precision on small f-stop numbers, and larger steps at smaller apertures (see picture below).

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BTS image in Paris at the Pantheon of me shooting with the Sony a7RII, HCam Master TS with 10° tilt and Otus 55mm f/1.4 fully open.

To address the elephant in the room, these lenses are BIG and HEAVY, especially the ZEISS Otus 1.4/28  it is bigger than the (ZEISS Otus 1.4/85). But this is exactly what you want in such fast lenses: a large front element (77mm filter thread for the 55mm, and 95mm diameter for the 28mm!!), huge image circle, especially if like me you want to tilt and shift them.

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Phone snapshot of the Otus 28mm f/1.4 when I received it, with a quarter coin as a size reference. Please forgive the low quality and keep in mind this is a pre-production lens, and that the box was therefore not the box it will be shipped in.

  • BTS images:
  1. Otus 55mm f/1.4 @1.4 (in Paris, in front of the Pantheon):

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My setup for most of my shooting in France: Sony a7RII, HCam Master TS and either the Otus 28mm or the 55mm (here with the 55mm, tilted at 10°)

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Front element of the 55mm. As you can see, it was rainy, but thanks to such a wide aperture and the added tilt, the rain drops are invisible in the final image (see below).

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Zoom on the 55mm lens / Nikon F to Canon EF Fotodiox / Master TS adapters. No light leak visible for normal exposures, no problem under slight rain.

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Live view on the back screen of the Sony a7RII. It’s hard to tell here, but only the top of the cross on the Pantheon is sharp. See image further down for confirmation.

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Final image after conversion from uncompressed RAW file shot with the Sony a7RII. Only the cross is focused, the lower parts of the image blurring out very nicely. For those interested, we can see two nice out of focus highlights with 9 sides, as expected from the 9-blade aperture. Please not that with a full 10° tilt, no vignetting can be seen.

   2. Otus 28mm f/1.4 (at one of the most beautiful Loire Valley Chateaus, Chenonceaux) DSC00207_adj copie

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Sony a7RII, HCam Master TS and Otus 28mm (with 10° tilt and camera ~5mm shifted down).

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Live view on the back screen of the Sony a7RII. Only the castle is focused.

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My setup for long exposure: additional Cokin Z-Pro adapter and holder, Formatt Hitech ND16 Firecrest 100x100mm filter and storm jacket to protect from light rain and any possible light leakage coming from the multiple adapters.

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Final image after conversion from uncompressed RAW file shot with the Sony a7RII. No light leakage after ~3 minutes long exposure @f8. The Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 is a great lens for long exposure tilt/shift photography!

  •  More images shot with this system:

1. BTS:

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Shooting ~3 minutes long exposure with the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 @f5.6, together with tilt and shift at Villandry, one of the nicest castles of the Loire Valley, famous internationally for its French-style gardens.

   2. Otus 28mm f/1.4:

f2.8 DSC00374_adj copie     Shooting in the rain at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right, @f8.

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Shooting in the rain at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f8.

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   The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt down, @f2.8.

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Zoom of the previous image.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt down, @f5.6.

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Chambord. On a tripod, maximum diagonal tilt @f5.6 and ~5mm vertical shift (camera lower than lens). Slight vignetting in the upper left corner.

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Zoom of the previous image. Maximum sharpness is clearly located on top of the highest tower.

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Chambord. On a tripod, 6 images stitched (3 horizontally, over an approximate 10mm distance total; 2 vertically shifted positions accounting for about 5mm), no tilt @f2.8. Slight vignetting in the upper left and right corners.

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Chambord. On a tripod, 6 images stitched (3 horizontally, over an approximate 10mm distance total; 2 vertically shifted positions accounting for about 5mm), no tilt @f8. Each image is a ~5 minutes long exposure. No more vignetting is visible.

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Chambord. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right @f4.

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Chambord. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right @f4.

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Chenonceau. On a tripod, maximum tilt and ~5mm shift down (for both) of the camera @f5.6.

A few extra images shot in Boston, MA:

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On a tripod, no tilt nor shift @f8.

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Zoom of the previous image, top left corner.

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Zoom of the previous image, bottom right corner.

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On a tripod, maximum tilt down, no shift @f2.8.

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  Zoom of the previous image.

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On a tripod, maximum tilt down, no shift @f1.4.

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 Zoom of the previous image. Please note that at f1.4, only the eyes are sharp, the rest getting blurred as you move away from the focal plane.

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On a tripod, maximum tilt down, no shift @f4.

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 Zoom of the previous image.

2. Otus 55mm f/1.4:

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Pantheon, Paris. On a tripod, maximum diagonal tilt @f4. Vignetting is visible but still very manageable.  

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  The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f5.6.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt down, @f4.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f4.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f4.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right, @f2.8.

f1.4 DSC00526_adj copie The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f1.4. 

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris & Concorde Square in the distance. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right, @f1.4.

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Zoom of the previous image.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris & Concorde Square in the distance. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f4.    

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The Louvre Museum in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f5.6.

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Villandry. On a tripod, maximum diagonal tilt @f5.6.

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Villandry. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt @f5.6.

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Chambord. On a tripod, maximum tilt to the right @f4. Three images stitched in post, vertically shifted over an entire ~15mm course. Vignetting is clearly visible in the upper left, right and lower right corners.  

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Chambord. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt @f4.

  • Final thoughts:

As you probably have noticed, I’m very excited about this particular setup: either 28 or 55mm Otus lens mounted on the HCam Master TS and a Sony a7RII mirrorless camera. The Otus lenses themselves are AMAZING and top quality, very pleasant to use and optically perfect. The HCam adapter is top notch, strongly built (which is a necessity when dealing with lenses like the Otus), and very precise and easy to adjust. As you have seen, paired together, you will be able to tilt the camera 10° with almost zero vignetting, unless you add a good amount of shift with it (about 5mm each way with the 28mm or 7mm each way with the 55mm). You have probably noticed that it’s also very easy to control the width and position of the focal plane, and that if pushed to the maximum (Master TS tilted at 10° aperture set to f1.4), you can make it extremely shallow!

As a conclusion, the Otus lenses are unique, because of course of their optical quality, but also because their wide image circle make them perfect tools for fine art still photography, and not only for video. They leave you quite a lot of freedom to unleash your artistic vision. Using the ZEISS Otus lenses and the HCam Master TS adapter on my Sony a7RII is the most exciting experience I’ve had with gear and artistically speaking in a very long time.

 

  • Gear:

You can find any of the gear mentioned in this article through the links below:

HCam Master Tilt Shift

Nikon mount 55mm f/1.4

Nikon mount 28mm f/1.4.

Sony a7RII

Sony RX100 IV

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Testing the Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS for long exposure photography

IMG_20150417_145332I was very fortunate to get my hands on a Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS and could not help but test it for long exposure.

You will see below some straight out of camera shots, as two new images that I was able to process. This is not meant to be a full review of the lens, more of a road test to see how well it works for long exposure photography.

General Comments: First of all, let me say that the lens is HUGE! It takes 95mm diameter filters, and feels very sturdy and smooth when using it. It also has a nice foot to mount it directly on a tripod head, which is a nice addition. I never used it though, because my setup was steady enough that I was not bothered by vibrations, however big the lens is.

A quick snapshot of my bag with the lens inside, together with the very nice 16-35 f/4:

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One tip for doing long exposure: no matter the camera or lens, I ALWAYS wrap my setup with a cloth to avoid light leakage from the sides of the mount or lens. I used this lens in the same way, and you’ll see below that I had no diffraction issue: mission accomplished 🙂

 

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Un-processed images: Now let’s look at a few “almost SOOC” images: (almost because some have been stitched)

DSC01342_adj copieEXIF: 28-135mm @28mm, f/8, ~8 minutes, ISO 50, ND16 Firecrest filter

Panorama sans titre2 copieEXIF: 2 images after stitching, 28-135mm @45mm, f/8, ~4 minutes each image, ISO 50, ND16 Firecrest filter

DSC01425 copieEXIF: 3 images after stitching, 28-135mm @72mm, f/8, ~3 minutes each image, ISO 100, ND16 Firecrest filter

 Pretty good, right? 🙂

Final images: Now let’s see a couple images after processing:

DSC01425 copie_resizeEXIF: 3 images after stitching, 28-135mm @72mm, f/8, ~3 minutes each image, ISO 100, ND16 Firecrest filter

DSC01509 copie_resize EXIF: 3 images after stitching, 28-135mm @80mm, f/8, ~3 minutes each image, ISO 100, ND16 Firecrest filter

 

Conclusion: I have made up my mind. Even if the lens is mostly made for video, it’s an amazing piece of hardware, including for long exposure. The constant f/4 aperture is also a great treat. I am going to make this lens a permanent addition to my gear!

As usual, don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions below or in PM.

Two intense weeks with the Sony a7R.

Those of you who followed my last trip know that I brought along my new Sony a7R camera. Before this trip, I was working exclusively with my Canon 5d Mark III and thought it was the best camera I could use for long exposure…

So it was a challenge at first for me to make the decision that I would mostly use the a7R for that trip. I was concerned that not being familiar with the system and might have issues while shooting and realize later that all my pictures were junk. I could not have been more wrong… but let me elaborate.

The gear I used during the trip:

Sony a7R

Sony Vertical Battery Grip for Alpha a7/a7R/a7S

Metabones Canon EF Lens to Sony NEX Camera Lens Mount Adapter Mark IV

Mirex Canon to Sony E mount tilt/shift adapter (for manual aperture control lenses)

Sony Wireless Remote Commander

– a bunch of Canon lenses including 24mm TS-E, 17-40mm f/4.0, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2

My first impressions after I received the camera:

Initially, I thought that the camera itself was small, maybe too small, compared to my Canon 5d Mark III. But rapidly I realized the size and weight of the a7R was were actually a great advantage compared to my Canon. Smaller means lighter, and lighter means less strain when you carry it around, or that for the same weight you can pack up an additional lens. Cool!

On top of the obvious increase in resolution (36.4MP for the Sony a7R; 22.3MP for the 5D), another huge difference in my opinion the absence of anti-aliasing filter on the images. I was very curious about that point, I after shooting a few images, I want to stress out that they are EXTREMELY sharp, much more than the 5D. So much that I had no idea what my lenses were capable of until I used the a7R . Really impressive! (see images below)

My other first impression was “I still can’t believe this is a mirrorless camera, and I can attach any FF (or MF) lens I want. This is amazing!!” And true to its promises, with an adapter, I could mount all of my very precious tilt shift or fast lenses on it.

My third main focus was the back screen that can be oriented in almost any direction, and allows the photographer to shoot from very high, or very low, which is almost impossible with Pro Canon or Nikon cameras.

Field use:

My first day using the camera “seriously” was in Death Valley National Park, CA. As you can imagine, there are smarter ideas than going there in August, and it was 120+F (52+C), but I still braced myself, and thought it would be a test for both the machines and the man 🙂 I spent almost two days in the area, and used my a7R most of the time. I have to say that I was very much impressed by the little guy. It worked very well, and looking back at the pictures from then I am surprised by the low noise level and very small number of “hot pixels”. One thing I should say is that after almost a full day under the unforgiving blazing sun, the a7R internal temperature was over 120F and the firmware shut the camera off to prevent it from burning white. Only solution for me, use the 5d instead and cool the a7R in the car with the A/C running.  I shot with my 5d for about 30 minutes until the a7R was ready to go, and the 5d turned extremely hot because of the insane heat. Here is a behind the scenes image of when that happened:

I need to state now that one of the things I like the most with the a7R is the Electronic ViewFinder (EVF). Some people say they don’t like it… well, especially for long exposure, I think it is amazing! Why? Two main reasons: 1/ no need to tape the viewfinder anymore to avoid diffraction, it’s electronic! 2/ I use the back screen a lot to setup my camera at the best spot, and it implies that the outside isn’t so bright that you can’t see a thing. With the EVF, you don’t have this issue anymore. You can just take a look with your eye stuck to it, reducing the ambient light to virtually zero, and use the zoom in function to digitally zoom on a detail and precisely focus on it. Something impossible on any other Pro SLR out there!

Along the trip, it became clear to me that another very important feature makes the difference between the 5d Mark III (and other high end cameras) and the Sony a7R. Only the a7R allows you to shoot at ISO 50. Why is that important? Because some day, the sky is just too bright to use exposure times longer than 2 minutes at ISO 100, even with 16 stops. Sure it’s rare, but it happens and why not have the advantage? But my main reason why I love the low ISO follows: if you want to shoot wide open with fast lenses or tilt/shit lenses, you’ll need to either increase the filter attenuation (sometimes not possible), or reduce the sensitivity of the sensor. Impossible when you’re stuck to ISO 100. Going down one stop to ISO 50 can make all the difference between an OK photograph, and a killer shot 🙂

The one drawback of the camera to me is the absence of a counter during long exposure shooting like that of the 5D. This is not a big deal, since you’ll always have a watch or cell phone with you, but it would make things easier, especially that the screen at the back actually stays on during the acquisition. No doubt a firmware update should solve that issue and allow time to be shown on the screen in a future version.

Side note: you know I do long exposure, and use mostly tilt/shift lenses when I work. Being able to rotate, tilt and shift such lenses implies that they have cracks on them. And having cracks for long exposure photography is an issue since it will create diffraction patterns and ruin the photograph. This is the reason why every time you see a behind the scenes picture of my camera, it is wrapped in a cloth. Old school, but effective method 🙂

A few test shots:

You will find here a few pictures I shot with the A7r during that trip. They are plain Raw images, with absolutely NO PROCESSING. To give a better idea of the quality, I also added a couple 100% crops of these images.

Bodie Ghost Town, CA:

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Yosemite NP, Vernal Falls, CA:

As you can see, the images rendered (again, raw with no adjustments) are very sharp, due to the absence of the anti-aliasing filter.

Please note that these photographs have been shot with my 24mm TS-E lens. They are two horizontal images (top, bottom) that have been stitched together. Exposure times of at least 4 minutes for each, and I used the new Firecrest Formatt-Hitech ND 16 stops filter. I will write another article later focused on this filter alone.

Verdict:

I would recommend the Sony A7r camera in a heart beat. It is a great camera for most subjects (with the exception of action shooting when using third party lenses), and especially for long exposure.

In my opinion, the a7R has a number of advantages compared to the competition that make all the difference: the EVF makes focusing much easier, especially in bright environments, and no need anymore to cover the viewfinder to avoid diffraction during LE. The size and lightness are also nice features, and above all, being mirrorless, the a7R can be used with any third party lens provided the right adapter (Nikon, Canon, or even medium format lenses!). Of course, that is without mentioning the absence of anti-aliasing filter, increased resolution, lower ISO, and the exciting new and future native lenses…

So seriously… what’s keeping you from switching over to Sony? 🙂

 

Bonus:

As a bonus, here is one of the images I showed you before, fully converted to B&W:

Details: 24mm TS-E lens, two horizontal pictures stitched (top/bottom); f8; 275 seconds; ISO 50; 16 ND stops Firecrest from Formatt-Hitech.

For more photographs from that trip, or to order Fine Art prints, please follow this link to my website.

Direct from the Sensor: One in three T/S LE…

Here is a picture that I shot today at the Christian Science Center in Boston.

It is one of the three tilt shift long exposures (more than 3 minutes each) that I shot and will stitch together to get the whole scene. I kept the exact same adjustments for all three, except for shifting them up and down to prevent any distortion (converging lines caused by tilting the camera sensor plane up or down).

I also tilted the lens (to the right) so that only the building to the center left is on focus, the rest getting blurred the further it gets from it.

Keep an eye out for the stitched raw image… hopefully some time soon 🙂

One in three