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. :(
Sep 192011
 

Egret Wading Through Water, Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

In California, we seem to always be trying to get things “back to the way they were”. Case in point, the various salt ponds used for taking ocean water and evaporating them until large masses of salt is formed for bulldozing and harvesting. Many of those are being converted back into wetlands for birds and other dwellers.

Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

Over this last weekend, I got a chance to take a walk down part of one of these reclaimed wetlands with my daughter on one of our “get lost” adventures: Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

California is filled with places like this. While this isn’t nearly as well populated with the wildlife that say the Don Edwards Nature Preserve is, it is well on its way to becoming just as populated. The expanse of this place is enormous. Had we more time and endurance, we would have gone further around the massive loop that is this project space.

Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

The Eden Landing Ecological Reserve is a great place. Definitely will be visiting again, perhaps during the wetter season, to see if life is springing forth.

Egret in Flight, Eden Landing Ecological Reserve
May 032011
 

I’ve been lusting after the Sony A77 DSLR camera, which is the slated successor to the A700, which I currently shoot with. However, between the economic slump, wanting to save up for bigger and better things for the family, and getting great advice from the likes of Zack Arias to justify everything you spend on, I’ve been wondering, do I really need a new DSLR body, short of my camera just dying?

A Recent Trip To The Aquarium

As folks who know me knows, I like photographing wildlife, in the wild or on display. My goal is always to photograph wildlife in a pleasing manner, as if they were free. To that end, I’ve worked to take great shots with the gear that I have. Flashes and lights don’t help, if the light will harm the wildlife or if such lights are not allowed where you are shooting. Say… at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s deep sea exhibits.

Spotted Jellyfish – Shot with A700, 70-200/2.8, ISO 6400

The above Spotted Jellyfish was photographed with my aging Sony A700 DSLR, which I’m so eager to replace. Shot handheld at ISO 6400 to freeze the motion in the dim aquarium lighting. I absolutely love this shot. I couldn’t help notice that as I shot this and other shots, others equipped with DSLR(s) were engaging pop up flashes *shudder* or had their ipod and android camera phones pressed to the glass to photograph or record a video of the wildlife.

I’m also a big fan of the swifter underwater wildlife currently on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium: sea turtles.

Sea Turtles – Shot with A700, 70-200/2.8, ISO 6400

This sea turtle was photographed handheld at ISO 6400. Click on the image to see more sea turtle photographs from the same shoot. I just love how the images turned out. They are beautifully rendered.

Note, these were shot during a busy weekend. There were many adults, children, and swarms of pocket cameras thrust out at the turtles. However, there are always openings for taking a shot and I’m finding that my patience is often rewarded.

Image Quality Has Gone Up… But The Equipment Hasn’t Changed

The funny thing here is that I’m getting more sharp images despite not taking along a monopod, no tripod, no external lighting, and no special filters. Same camera, same lens, same processing via LR.

There are some differences, however, in how I’m shooting:

  • Agorabastas settings for the A700
  • Taking my time to get the shot
  • Making sure I’m well anchored before taking the shot
The Agorabastas settings are settings used to do high iso jpeg shooting to further suppress noise on the A700. For this trip, I shot RAW+JPEG, but only processed the RAW files to get the final resulting images. A few of the settings employed also stands to suppress noise in-chip, which really gives your camera a whole new character.
I’ve also been taking more time to take my shot. No rushing. Maybe take a burst of 3-4 shots for safety. Brace against anything I can, and when I can’t, I adopt a stable pose.
Sea Turtle – Show with A700, 70-200/2.8, ISO 640
Do I Need The Upgrade…?
I think it is fair to say that I am always honing my shooting skills. Trying out new shooting styles, postures, bracing, settings, breathing, composition, and post processing techniques. There is always something new to learn every time I go out to shoot and every time I come back from a shoot.
And ultimately, it begs the question… perhaps I don’t need to upgrade?
In truth, I would say that there is no need to upgrade. Limitations encourage me to improve my technique and to better maximize what I can do with what I have now.
Having said that, there are shots I know I just can’t shoot. Shots which a faster camera body would allow me to. The distance from one to the next represents a good chunk of change. A small voice tells me, with time, new techniques, and a deeper understanding, the need to upgrade becomes less and less. Still, it would be _nice_. :)
Jul 132010
 

First off, the iPad is an amazing media consumption device. Whether you are talking about ebooks, images, and/or videos, the iPad rocks. For the price, however, you kind of expect it to.

I bought the 64GB wifi iPad. Why not the 3G version? Well, because I already pay for a mobile device and saw no point in paying again just so that I can surf the web. I also happen to own a 3G to wifi converter, so I can share my wireless goodness with my iPad and that of others as well.

The image above was taken on my dslr and was published on Smugmug with my laptop. Downloaded it to the iPad, dunked with it a bit with filter storm, and am posting it to my blog using Blogpress.

It’s not perfect, but it is very workable. The camera connection kit is on the way, which would let me do some preliminary work on jpegs and do quick uploads online from my iPad while on the road, without hauling around a laptop… At least not until I get back to the hotel room. :)

It is certainly no laptop replacement, but then again, I didn’t buy it to replace my laptop. I bought it to supplement my laptop and give myself more options. It can do 90% of what I normally do on a laptop, but weighs half as much, is small and thin, and has no critical moving parts. Oh, and it has a phenomenal battery life. So far, with video playback, app installs, game playing, and heavy network use, it is still able go pull 9-10 hours of usable life. That is amazing.

Next time, remote and tethered shooting with an iPadtwist..