Tag Archives: snapshot

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:

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? 🙂

 

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? 🙂

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!!! 😀

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 🙂 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? 🙂

 

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.

 

How to: SHIFT lenses

Several of you asked me about Long exposure Tilt Shift photography. It sounds fancy and intimidating, but it’s more fun than intimidating 🙂

These days, the Canon 24mm TS-E f/3.5 is the lens I shoot mostly with. Why is that? Because it is an extremely sharp wide angle lens, which is great for architectural and landscape/seascape photography, but not only.

It also does TILT and SHIFT. What are these? Well, you can find very detailed descriptions online, but let’s try and keep it simple for now by considering one after the other.

SHIFT: prevents distortion, allows panorama stitching

This is probably the most used feature of these lenses. The very large image circle allows to shift the lens, and consequently the field of view without tilting the camera sensor up or down. And that is whole the secret. When taking architectural pictures, pointing the camera up (resp. down) will introduce distortion, and lines will converge up (resp. down; see pictures 1 and 2). You HAVE to keep the sensor leveled in order to keep perspectives right and vertical lines perfectly parallel (see picture 3 in after the stitching paragraph below).

Exaggerated distortion showing converging lines when the sensor is tilted up (left) or down (right), not long exposures:

Picture 1 - No shift up convergeancePicture 1 - No shift down convergeance

The other big advantage of using a shift lens is that photographing panoramas could not be easier. The procedure is very simple: set up the camera and field of view so there is no distortion and converging lines, take the first picture, leave the camera as is but shift the lens (therefore the field of view) so there is 30% to 50 % overlap between the consecutive images, take a new photograph, repeat the procedure. Most of the time I will take 3 to 5 pictures like this (I like to have ~50% overlap in the successive images), and use Adobe Photoshop or Kolor Autopano to stitch the images together. At the end of the day, you get a very large image file that allows you to print huge panoramas, and the effective field of view in the end is much larger than any wide angle lens you could use, without distortions caused by fisheye lenses. If you ask me: no drawbacks, only advantages 🙂 But bear in mind that such large picture files require powerful computers and a decent amount of RAM memory to process.

On a more technical point of view, you will need a sturdy tripod, ballhead and bubble or electronic if you want to have perspectives as good as possible or photograph panoramas like the one below. A perfect alignment is not mandatory, but it makes the stitching software do a better job, and will reduce the amount of post-processing work required.

Long exposure raw images before stitching: (photographed at the Christian Science Center esplanade in Boston MA)

9N6A04839N6A04849N6A0485

Long Exposure raw image after stitching:Picture 3 - Christian Science Center stitched

 

Tilt/Shift lenses come in many different flavors and focal lengths, but the most common focal distances range from 17mm to 90mm for Canon and Nikon full frame DSLRs.

 

Next time I’ll tell you more about TILT photography, what it is, and how it will impact the photographs.

 

In closing, here is a teaser: a couple behind the scenes pictures of last weekend’s photoshoot. I found a nice location with a single bench and a fence (introducing a nice leading line), which I photographed using both Shift and Tilt.

The second image shows water treatment facility, and the fence makes a very nice compositional element that brings the eye to the main subject: these huge bellied tanks. And guess what, I used both Tilt and Shift! 🙂

20140526_140852[1]20140526_155021[1]

Please use the comments section below if you have questions regarding this subject ot to let me know what you’d like me to talk about in one of my next posts.