Jan 042012
 

Well, I’ve owned the A77 for a few months now, and have been shooting as much as I can with it.

Banyan Tree - Edison Estate Home - Florida

Banyan Tree - Edison Estate Home - Florida

I’ve got to say, I really enjoy shooting with the A77. Before my trip, I also got the vertical grip for the A77 so that I can shoot verticals without having to hold the camera at an uncomfortable angle, especially with a heavier lens mounted.

People have complained at length about the EVF for DSLR(s) and when the A77 came out, that was no exception. People wanted to “see” what they were shooting in all the infinite colors which their sensors could not capture. The fact of the matter is, for me, being able to see what the camera is capable of seeing is more useful. I can see when the camera hits its limits, which occurs much sooner than when my eyes might hit their limits. With the live histogram displayed with the live image from the sensor, I’m able to compose and adjust the exposure so that I’m not clipping highlights or colors. That is something that I can’t do with an OVF. Continue reading »

Dec 102011
 
Panorama of Brisbane shoreline and pier

Panorama of Brisbane shoreline and pier

My work recently relocated further up north from Palo Alto to Brisbane. While this has increased the distance of my commute and taken my away from readily accessible places to dine and shopping centers, it has given me easy access to some stunningly beautiful scenery along the length of the commute as well as in the areas surrounding the offices where I work. The above image was stitched together from four horizontal shots made with the Sony A77 mounted on a panning ball head.

Sub ISO 100 Shooting

One of the biggest complaints people have made about the Sony Alpha A77 DSLR is that the camera produces images with more noise than normal. And that is true. For the given sensor density, noise is a fact of life, at least with the current level of technology. For these shots, since I was going to be doing long exposures anyways, I went for the sub ISO 100 settings of ISO 50 and ISO 80. The end result are images with very low levels of sensor noise, even when capturing exposures as long as 30 seconds long.

Brisbane Westward - Evening

Brisbane Westward - Evening

The above shot was stitched from 2 photographs shot wide to provide a good view of both sky and water. It isn’t as post processed as the wider panorama, but I’m okay with that for this version of the image.

Still learning the ins and outs of this camera. It is very different from the A700 that I had been shooting with before, and I’m sure that with newer firmware updates, there will be incremental improvement to image quality as well as increased proficiency, on my part. The location is also new to me. Understanding how the environment changes with the light, such as the fog rolling in and the rapid change of the skyline colors.

Definitely will be producing more photographs of the area.

Sensor Dust and SLT

One thing I noticed, when shooting stopped down apertures, was the presence of dust and hair. This kind of freaked me out since this was an SLT, but I was able to clear things up with an arctic butterfly and the camera’s vibration-based cleaning cycle.

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 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. :(
Jul 292010
 

A while back, I bought the LowePro FastPack 350 as my “carry everything” bag. In truth, while it carries alot, it does not carry everything. And its bulky.

So, in an attempt to defeat bulkiness, I sought out a new bag. After much searching, I became aware of the LowePro Classified 160AW.  Having used it on and off, I have to say, so long as I don’t need a laptop on my person, I love it. :)

A short discussion had folks wondering what I put in it. So, since pictures can do a better job than words alone:

Gear I normally pack into my FastPack350
(excluding cables/chargers/etc.)

That’s one flash, a pack of batteries, a CF card holder, an extension ring, an A700 DSLR w/17-50/2.8 lens, a 50mm/1.4 lens, a 70-200/2.8 lens, an Apple iPad, and a 15″ MacBookPro.

With the exception of the MBP, everything fits into the Classified.

Nothing in my sleeve… yet.
In goes the 50mm/1.4
Next goes the 70-200/2.8, lenshood is extended!
In goes the camera with mounted lens… FYI, the camera
can be stowed away with the 70-200/2.8 mounted, in this bag.
Yep, it closes.
The iPad goes into the sleeve pocket.
The card holder, extension tube, and pack of batteries in
the outter most pocket.
And there it is. All full and happy.

Note, one of the original reasons why I opted to get a Fast Pack 350 was because a good deal of weight on one shoulder/arm/etc. can cause a good deal of strain. This is no different. There is a belt you can hook onto the main strap and one of the D rings to stabilize the bag as well as take some weight off your shoulder. I strongly recommend using it, unless you like neck/shoulder/back pain.

The FastPack 350 can hold all that and more, thanks to an extra large top pocket. The FastPack 350can also hold up to a 17″ laptop. Fits the 15″ just fine. Note, with all that gear AND the laptop, it gets heavyenough that you might still get some back pain.