Nov 252011
 

A flock of Chocolate Cake Turkeys made by Carrie

 

This Thanks Giving, we got together with some of our family to have dinner and spend some time together. My brother and I also got to do some photographing of the food and of some really nice edible decorations Carrie made. Case in point, the chocolate cake turkeys above and below.

 

Carrie's Chocolate Turkeys

 

Carrie's Chocolate Turkeys

 

Of course, it just isn’t Thanksgiving unless there is an actual meal.

 

Thanksgiving meal.

 

Thanksgiving meal, Cranberry Relish and Sweet Potato CranCherries

 

Delicious imported meats and dates.

 

A Pumpkin on a Stick by Carrie

 

Of course, it’s not quite Thanksgiving without people, so here is my brother-in-law, Daniel.

 

Daniel

 

Our cousin Carrie, in addition to making the cool chocolate cake turkeys, also created the following shark and pumpkins!

 

Carrie's Happy Shark

 

Carrie's Candy Pumpkins on dining table.

 

The photographs above are taken with the A77 at various ISO levels. All of which were hand held. Post processing the files was definitely quite a bit different from processing files from the A700. For one thing… sharpening the files is problematic. Due to the high level of luminance noise, if you apply sharpening, even a clean image will suddenly blossom with white sharpening artifacts, looking like it was riddled with luminance noise. :(

Sadly, this appears to be the case, even when using ISO 100 with flash. In contrast, my brother’s Canon Rebel T2i is shooting some fairly clean images.

It looks like the learning curve will continue with the A77. But basically, the camera likes and needs a lot of light. It really likes bright scenes.

Nov 212011
 

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 3200

So, while walking around the greenery around the office buildings, I saw some mushrooms having pushed through the wood chips. I also noticed the light was rather poor, only some LED and flourescent lighting from the walkways. Sounded like a good time to give the higher ISO capabilities on the A77 a try, since up till now, it’s all been lower ISO(s) in good light.

The above was shot at ISO 3200, which would have been at the bleeding edge of unusable on the A700 in similar light. However, with the A77, the performance was such that I not only used higher ISO(s) to fairly good effect, I also hand held the shots.

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 3200

The above shot was done with the Tamron at the wider focal length to bring in more of the scenery. It was amazing how much of the scene not only exposed well, but there were plenty of details being pulled out by LR3/ACR. Now, there was noise. Plenty of it, in fact. Much more luminous noise than I had gotten from the A700. However, the images are also much larger, and once scaled down to what would have been the A700 sizes, produced much more usable images than the A700 would have been able to provide.

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 16000

The shot above was photographed at ISO 16000. Yes, it was quite noisy. No, in its current level of quality, I would not use it for general use… perhaps in those “it’s either get the shot or get fired” kind of situations. I’m really hoping that the quality will improve with the upcoming version 1.04 firmware for the Sony DSLT-A77, which is supposed to address some of the image quality issues at higher ISO(s).

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 3200

As with most things, however, it really comes down to what you intend to use the tool for and whether you can live with the issues and faults of the tool. I knew about the noise issue going in. But I also knew I was going to be able to get much more serviceable shots with the A77 because of the improved handling of the camera. Given that only a small fraction of of what I shoot falls into the low light/high ISO range, this was a more than acceptable tradeoff. When the Sony DSLT-A99 comes out, it will have a lower sensor density and thus better low light/high iso performance. I might trade up for the improved ISO IQ and the full frame, but the A77 is a joy to photograph with.

No regrets other than wishing I had gone with the body and 16-50/2.8/SSM Sony “kit” lens, which would have provided weather sealing and silent autofocus for video.

Speaking of video, will be posting some in the near future.

You can check out higher resolution shots at my gallery.

Nov 202011
 

A scenic walkway within Otow Orchard

My brother is up in the Bay Area visiting for the holidays and one of the places we went visiting was the Otow Orchard in Granite Bay, California. This is an amazingly beautiful orchard that specializes in persimmons!

The drive up had me going through some very colorful fall color foilage. Upon arriving at the orchard, we took some photos of the area.

Hand held macro shot of blossom

While walking, we came upon some blossoms against a backdrop of fallen leaves. The above shot was taken hand held with the A77, employing the focus peaking. The articulated LCD on the back makes this a fairly easy task. Being able to see what is and is not in-focus via the live view is likewise a pain-free experience.

Of course, the focus of the orchard is, was, and always will be the persimmons:

 

The orchard has literally thousands of these Hachiya persimmons peeled and hanging from little strings to be air dried over the course of several weeks until they are little natural sugar covered versions of themselves. Like sweet dried apricots, but without any hint of tang or artificial sweetness. Just absolutely delicious and good for you! Loaded with vitamin C and fiber.

Array of persimmons air drying on wooden racks

 

And when I say thousands, it is quite a site to behold, as they are literally like an army of golden lanterns.  However, fruit isn’t the only thing that this orchard had going for it. :) They also employ a small army of honey bees!

Without the concerted efforts of these bees, there would be no fruit. Since it was a cold day and we are towards the cooler part of the season, the bees have been out of sight. Which is fine, since I really didn’t want to get stung! However, my brother was much more eager to get a closer look at the slumbering workers.

Sterling got pretty close up to the hives. While there were only a handful of bees actually making some fly bys, it only takes one or two to release their “red alert” hormone/pheremone into the air to summon the full force of their colonies… Something I had no interest in doing, since bees can fly faster than the average human can run and… well, when it comes to running, I’m pretty below average. :)

Speaking of my brother, here is a shot of him photographing a tree in fall colors.

I’m dying to see how his shot of the tree turned out. Though I think one of my favorite shots from the trip to the orchard was of their farm cat. The cat was calm and very cooperative, even with me and my brother firing off shots with our cameras… patience is truly a virtue.

Interested in giving Otow Orchard a visit? You can reach them at:

URL: http://www.otoworchard.com/
Address: 6232 Eureka Road, Granite Bay, CA 95746

[smugmug_albums album="Otow Orchard Persimmons"]

Nov 132011
 

Handheld shot of Mustard blossoms with 70-200mm/2.8 G lens and Sony Alpha SLT-A77V DSLR. Rear LCD display was extended and flipped up so I could shoot looking down. Focusing was done via focus peaking and manual focus.

I recently got my Sony Alpha A77 DSLT. I’ve been quite anxious about this camera for several reasons:

  • It will be replacing my reliable A700 DSLR
  • There have been serious concerns regarding image quality coming out of the A77
  • Shipping delays due to flooding in Thailand
  • Firmware issues with shipped units
  • Cameras crashing
  • Fast enough SDHC cards

Well, I got my camera. Most of the concerns were addressed, save one: image quality.

The very night I received the camera, I took some high iso, low light test shots. What I saw really gave me a sharp jab to the gut. The images looked bad. Really really bad. Shooting even at moderate ISO levels was revealing noise where I not previously not expected noise before.

Well, today, I got a chance to walk around a local park with my new A77. Here are my thoughts:

  • Focus peaking, the highlighting of areas of high contrast to aid in manual focus, ROCKS!!! Seriously, it was an absolute joy to use.
  • Articulated LCD screen makes low angle shooting a pain free experience, at least for my neck.
  • Auto focus is fast. Lock on is quick and solid, though I would have preferred for all of my lenses to be SSM/USM/HSM, for totally silent focusing, only one lens is blessed with SSM. Focusing was fast on all lenses I tried. Though I will be going through the micro-AF adjustment for each lens before too long, to get the most out of what I have.
  • Buffering and shot to shot performance was great. I was using the Sandisk Extreme Pro 16GB UHS-I 95MB/second SDXC cards. They basically made sure that whatever was in the buffer would clear out ASAP.
  • 24MP allows for ALOT of cropping options.

Original 24mp shot scaled down.

Cropped 6mp shot from 24mp original

Here is a shot I took. It is unprocessed and is a straight conversion from RAW to a JPEG. Had this been shot with the 12MP A700, I would have tried to crop it, but ended up with an image without much room for adjustments…

With the A77′s 24MP image output, however, it is possible to perform a tighter crop and make adjustments on the resulting cropped image, and still have something you could print at a good size. The tighter crop, while a rather small crop of the original, comes in at around 5-6MP. That’s alot of cropping headroom provided by the A77′s 24MP sensor.

However, having said that, 24MP is alot of photosites to shove onto an APS-C sized sensor… And the penalty is noise. Even at ISO 100, there is luminous noise that shows up in the image, when you zoom in. This can be handled via processing, but it’s something I would like to see Sony improve on with a firmware update… perhaps allow for in-camera photosite binning.

Below is an example shot and two progressively cropped images. It was shot with the 70-200/2.8 lens, hand held, articulated screen up, and focus peaking on. This allowed me to place the camera literally on the ground to get a very low angle view.

Low angle rock shot. Sony A77, 70-200/2.8G. (original, dimension: 6000x4000)

The same shot from above, but cropped, and slightly post processed:

Rock shot, cropped and post processed. (cropped to: 4600x3000)

And the above shot, even further cropped:

Further Cropped Rock Shot (cropped to: 3000x2000)

What I love about this is that given a well exposed shot, properly focused, and developed well, you will be able to get a good deal of detail from a shot, even when cropped severely.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this camera can do in a variety of other environments. Dark aquariums in particular…. but so far, it seems that so long as I work within the strengths of the camera, it will produce amazing shots with rich detail, even when cropped down to a 6MP in the final image.

The A77 is a strong camera. However, given that it is prone to noise, it is a camera that will require some care in getting the best possible image out of it… not unlike how the A700 was, when it was first released. It will take some time to get used to the camera’s uniqueness, but I’m confident that it will serve me well for the next 4+ years, just as the A700 had for the past 4 years.

Notes:

  • All images posted here were shot at ISO 100
  • No external flash was used
  • No tripod was used
  • Camera used: Sony SLT-A77V
  • Lens used: Sony 70-200/2.8 G SSM
  • Memory Card: Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-I 16GB 95MB/second SDHC/SDXC
  • Post processing: Adobe Lightroom 3
  • While the original exported JPG(s) from LR3 contained the GPS data in the EXIF headers, they got munged after being uploaded and processed by the site. :(