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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:

IMG_20150417_124539

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 πŸ™‚

 

IMG_20150412_165545

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

Β Pretty good, right? πŸ™‚

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.

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Preparation of my upcoming exhibitions in Paris

IMG_1754I’ve been lately hard at work preparing the two exhibitions that will take place in Paris next week.

I feel very fortunate to have the help and support of many people for these two HUGE events. To name but a few, Sony US and Sony France (in particular, Kayla, Astrid and Romain) have helped a great deal with the marketing materials, press releases and more. Chritophe Marlot and JosΓ© Alcantara were of course instrumental in letting me show my work in their galleries, thnak you both! And Christine and Philippe for their incredible help and support in way too many ways to describe here.IMG_1755

You will find higher two photographs of the flyers and posters that Sony France printed. These will be sent to their partner pro photography stores in Paris. don’t they look great!? πŸ™‚

Please click the following link to access Sony France Press Release (in French): Press Release Sony France.

Details of the show on the flyers and in the text below:

Kusch+CO

25 rue de Verneuil

75007 Paris

France Thibault-ROLAND-flyer-US-KuschBJF

27 rue de Verneuil

75007 Paris

France

Thibault-ROLAND-flyer-US-BJF

Below are some of the photographs I will show next week right after signing and numbering them (they are all of course limited editions):

18594_1602552453348086_4490956993676541288_n 11350838_1602552910014707_4146764417238019095_n 20150502_121127 20150502_122451 20150502_12211520150502_121127 20150502_125413

And these two are the largest prints I have ever had printed to date: ~50×150 cm! (~20×60″!)

 

20150502_124403

20150502_123758 20150502_123831 For those of you who wonder how my limited editions are, I sign and number them on the front side (see higher) and use a seal on each one of them, and add my signature, number in the series and the title on the back, see below:

20150502_121037 20150502_121748 20150502_122056 20150502_124316

Building a technical camera – Part II

20150322_125637

Step Two of Building a technical camera: taking apart a GX680

For those of you who did not see my first post about it, you can find it here. In a few words, after many discussions with my photographer friend Satoru Murata, I decided to throw myself into a new project: building a technical camera that I can use to mount almost any lens on a Sony a7/II/R/S body, much like the Cambo Actus system, but on the cheap side.

Getting to it now. You will find higher and below a few pictures of the (very functional) Fuji GX6800 III I bought recently and took apart these last few days…

Scary, right? πŸ™‚

Because it was the first time I took one apart, I actually ended up removing more parts than I should have, but I guess it does not matter too much since I’ll show you next that I basically milled (cut out with a power tool) entire parts of the camera (already done) and I’m now too committed to go back and put things back together.20150322_125815

To get to the bare minimum of the camera (front, back elements and railing, see the terrible phone picture below), all I needed to do was de-attach the bellows from the front and back elements, and mostly to unscrew and remove the camera body (back element) from the railing system.

11046131_10153153202593485_1501836423_oThe idea now is to keep the front standard as is, because it has all sorts of movements (tilt, shift, swing) for the lens. However, I want to modify (mill) the back element in order to remove the different parts with red arrows on the picture below: a couple of posts that were used to screw the body on and the front and rear metal parts on which it rested.

The goal is to create a platform on which I can fix a 2-way rail. This rail will eventually be used as a support for the camera board and it will allow for left/right shifting of the camera (great for shooting panos, blue arrows on the picture below).

Sans titre-1 copieI’m also thinking about adding swing to the back of the camera. The way I see it, it will require a precision rotating stage (similar to what can be found in science labs doing optics), but I’m having issues finding something cheap and precise enough. Ideally, it also has to be about 1 to 2 inches (~25-50mm) in diameter and I would like to have: a knob to rotate the stage, and one to lock in it place. It also needs to handle 3-4 pounds (~2kg) of weight. If you have suggestions, please fire away!

Conclusions of this part:

1/ Taking this guy apart was easy peasy, and probably the most straightforward part of the project. I can’t stress enough that I’m happy I’ll never have to put the Fuji back together. It seems now that I have multiple small parts all over my work table, and I have no clue where most of them would go πŸ™‚

2/ Next part is using a milling machine to reduce some of the back element in order to create a nice resting platform. I’ll show you some pictures of this step, but if you are not familiar with how to work these machines, please don’t go ahead on your own repeating what I’ll do. You can get hurt. Badly. If not worse.

3/ If you are aware of where to acquire new or used (small 1 to 2” dia) rotating stages (with a precision adjustment knob and able to carry ~3-4 pounds), please shoot me a message. I am currently designing the next steps, and would love to get my hands on one. Worse case scenario, I’ll start with a prototype that does not have swing if I can’t find one.

4/ As usual, if you have questions or ideas, send them my way!

Till next time!

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 πŸ™‚ 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.Β  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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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:

DSC00554 copy

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? πŸ™‚

 

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.

Getting a 50mm f1.2 lens for a third of the price: FD to EF mount conversion

When fine art photographers take pictures, they usually go one way or another: either they want focus throughout the whole image (mostly the case when it comes to landscapes, seascapes and architecture), or they want very shallow depth of field. This is the case for macro photography, tilt photography, or even more street life and portraiture.

Here are a couple examples of almost infinite depth of field (left) or shallow depth of field (right, where only the lighthouse is on focus and the foreground out of focus) taken from my own portfolio. Please note that I chose a shallow depth of field on the right image to accentuate the effect of tilt (the article explaining tilt photography is under development).

Land's End One

If you want a better idea of shallow depth of field applied to portraiture, please check out the amazing photographs of Eric Lafforgue on his website.

 

I know, I know.

I am not a portrait photographer, and I will probably not branch out any time soon. But I love blur (often called bokeh BTW), and I have been developing a few projects that will require insanely shallow depth of field, which means a lens that allows me to do that.

Now, how do you get shallow depth of field? Well, I won’t go into the details, but to keep it simple, the wider the lens aperture, the shallower depth of field. On a side note, large aperture lenses collect more light, and so people often refer to them as “fast” lenses (because you can use a faster exposure time).

This sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? What’s not so cool is the price of such lenses. For instance, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 retail for about $2200 and $1600 (USD) respectively.

Before you start pulling your hair in grief, let me tell you a secret: you can get old FD lenses from the 1980’s for a third or a forth of that price… and use Ed Mika‘s conversion kits in order to use them on your new EOS (or Sony E mount, via an adapter) cameras. So now we’re talking, eh? πŸ™‚

Which brings me back to my original point: these last few days I’ve been working on such a lens (FD 50mm f/1.2) to convert it to EF mount (meaning the new Canon EOS mount. I was not as straightforward as I though, and I needed to place the lens in a vice (YIIIIKES!!) and drill a few screws out using a milling machine (YIIIIIIIKES!!!!), but here is what I got at the end of the day:

Coverted 50mm1.2 1Coverted 50mm1.2 2

And guess what the best part is? IT WORKS!!! πŸ˜€

You will find below a couple test shots with the converted FD 50mm f/1.2 wide open:

My work desk, with a familiar picture in the background, and a new one on the laptop. My faithful EF 24mm TS-E lens on the desk: (focal point ~50cm away, f/1.2, 1/3 shutter speed, ISO 100)

50mm 1.2 test shot 1

An image I captured in a historical graveyard in Cambridge, MA (USA): (focal point ~1.5m away, f/1.2, 1/125 shutter speed, Formatt Hitech IRND 3 stops, ISO 100)

Graveyard

So now, we’re talking πŸ™‚ I’m currently waiting for the big brother: the FD 85mm f/1.2 and will convert it as soon as I get it.

Maybe some actual Fine Art Photography with them soon? πŸ™‚

 

If you want to know more about Ed Mika’s conversion kits and buy one yourself, please follow this link or go directly on his eBay store.