Friday, May 19, 2017

ISO 6400 is the new ISO 3200

I think by now I've used the A99ii on two events where the low-light capabilities were tested. On the last event, a local election night coverage,  I set it to Auto ISO but soon discovered that all the shots were in ISO 6400, so I set it manually to 6400.  You can set the maximum and minimum ISO like this:

It doesn't go in smaller increments, so over 6400 you get 12800 rather than 8000.

 The good news is that images look really great at ISO6400.
Color is nice, noise is barely noticeable. I did use some flashes this time to supplement the light coming from the window and the venue's brown lights. The lights were set to 1/16 or 1/32 so as to blend well with the ambience.

That said, as soon I went over 6400 ISO, photos were visibly degraded. Color was smudged and brownish. Also, the pixel count does not really matter at that point. I wish the camera would just decrease the number of pixels at that point, to save on disk space.
Due to compression you might not be able to tell but there is just no point for this photo to be 42.4MP. I have to admit that these photos are still usable, even though I might personally not like their quality very much. Sometimes your clients just want a documentation of what's happening.
There are some good news though. The photos would look better in high ISO if the light is between 3200K and 5600K. It will look better if the contrast is good. Also, if you left the high ISO on by mistake, as in the A99 in a lot of cases the photo will NOT be overexposed. The camera will figure out that it has enough light for the pixels and will compensate.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Good news and Bad news

I had a little more time and real life experience to check the A99ii. The good news: high ISO as expected is much improved. This makes the A99ii in low light and even regular room situation a totally different camera than the A99. For the first time shooting inside a room that I didn't use ANY flashes and put the ISO to auto without worrying.

I also took one photo in real high ISO 16,000 and the results were so so.
The photo looks kind of okay as long as you don't look to closely realizing the woman's face isn't really all there. So I guess that is reasonable. The A99ii is NOT the A7s, but as long as your eyes can see something, the camera will also be able to see it well. That was definitely NOT the case with the first A99. Here is another sample from a church wedding, still no flashes employed, even though I had them with me.
I actually m now using the flashes more for outside shoots than for low-light shoots. The rationale as I mention in previous post is that I want to put my clients in the shade so they will squint less.

Now for some bad news: The inner RAW viewer on the A99ii probably creates a jpeg version of the photo taken that does not represent the final output really well. I wasn't really sure that the photo about of the bride in tears was in focus until I get home and offloaded the photos. Even zooming all in, I wasn't really sure. I guess I could have used Wifi to take a better look, perhaps I will try it next time. I am pretty sure now that I can't rely on the internal viewer, even when zoomed in, to tell me how good the photo would look later on. I do hope Sony will fix that, but I am not holding my breath as the previous A99 model didn't receive any update except for accommodating some lenses.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

First impressions

On Saturday, I had two photo shoots with the A99ii. The morning one was a maternity photo shoot with this nice couple I know. We drove out to Lewis and Clark, a very nice campus surrounded by trees. It is actually even too large for someone who doesn't know it very well. On the other hand it is totally free and allowed to shoot there unlike most places in Portland, including some public parks tat require you to have a permit and insurance or pay an entrance fee on some days.
I knew I wouldn't see all the benefits during a daytime photoshoot where the A99 would probably be more than enough. The menu system on the A99ii is quite overwhelming, not that much better than the A99's but with more options, so more wondering around. The good news: You can utilize the custom buttons for the things you need. I programmed the one in front of the camera to eye-AF and the back lower one to "Live View Display", a vunery important option to me, to be able to switch between seeing what the camera sees or a brighter higher ISO display that makes it easier to focus manually in dark situations or see the objects when using flashes to light a scene. I did not end up changing that option until my second gig that day.
So the A99 was kind of a slow camera in a lot of situations. You could do a burst but it was both very loud and slow to clear to the card. Even though the files are larger, they seem to clear faster to the card. That is a double edged sword as you might end up with more photos than you would actually want, having to go through them, store them and more.
Other than that it didn't feel like a new camera. I did have to decide how to light the couple expecting the baby, and I tried a few things. In a few shots I let the sun light their faces.

 As you can see the photo works as the sun is filtered a little bit by the tress, but the pregnant woman is squinting.
Other shots, the scene was back lit by the sun and ambient light lit their face.

I also used a reflector in some shots, especially when it was just the woman.
 As you can see she also squints in that one, even though I did try the trick of having eyes closed, counting down and then opening the eyes.
For the final couple shot I put them in the shade and used my Yungnuo YN560IV flash hooked to the Godox external PB8205 battery to light their faces. The flash had a softener and Chinese lantern on it to make the light as soft as possible while still using full capacity.
You can see that even though the light was softened since flash is pretty close compared to the sun, there is some easily fixable shadows on his face and on her chest.. That said, her eyes in this photo are wide open or at least as much as is possible when standing in bright day light.
I guess instead of geeking out my new expensive camera, I geeked out on lighting, always the better choice. That said, in future events, the A99ii will let me use existing lighting to light a scene, perhaps with just a little help from LEDs or flashes.
The night job I had that day was working a photo booth at a prom. Not a very exciting job, but it's good to get into the high school market any way you can. For the first time I was supposed to use the HDMI to show the photos to the kids whose photos i was taking, on a large screen. Unfortunately, the A99ii as well as other Sony still camera use a totally different HDMI connector than other pro cameras . So I ended up not using the screen and showing the photos on my LCD screen the old way. Zooming through the photos is much easier and more responsive on the A99ii, so that's a real plus in these types of situations. Ordered a cheap converter on e-bay for future use.
 The other photographer manning a similar photo booth with a Nikon pro camera was using OVF for taking all the photos reminding me how different the Sony brand is. I looked at the at my LCD and so had better more direct contact with my subjects.
Coming up, an evening party at a school, using probably low light photography with available light and an afternoon Independence day party, so tune in for more blog posts.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Got the A99ii

The A99ii got here two days before deadline from The PIXEL Connection in Chicago.
The box was surprisingly small which I liked. No more boxes that are too large!

Immediately selected the front button as Eye AF :)
Two things I already wish Sony would have fixed from previous model: USB-3.0 support also meaning support for higher speed SD cards, like the A9 does, and video modes.
I can't believe that after all this time, the mark ii sill uses the video mode to select M mode for video. This was a real annoyance on the jobs where I took both stills and video and often forgot to switch to video mode then realized it, stopped the recording and switched to video mode, creating unnecessary small video files and wasting time. Why not just press the record button and use whatever settings the regular dial is using for stills? Too easy? Not distracting enough from your work? To switch from stills M mode to the same M mode in video I have to take my eye off the eye piece and look at the top of the camera to make sure I get the dial to the right location. That is really uncomfortable when doing documentary work.
Something else that is still weird. Looking at a photo I took at ISO4000 in camera, shows a LOT of noise, and higher ISOs even more so. That noise disappears when you look at it on my laptop. Does Sony cleanup some of the noise, or does the internal viewer reads the files wrong? Wish I had answers. That said, I am impressed in how the ISO 4000 version looks on the PC as useable  as the ISO 12800 one. I don't want to upload the test photos, but will have three gigs on Saturday to test the camera in different settings.

Friday, April 14, 2017


Yes, it's been a while since I posted. I was kind of busy moving to the US, where I now live in Portland, OR.
I moved from relying on the Zeiss 50mm 1.4 to using the Sigma 85 1.4 and the Minolta 200mm 2.8 more and more as I like look that they give me. I only revert to the (rather expensive) 50mm when taking photos in receptions where I "pose" people together. Even then when I have room I will use the Sigma 85 1.4 because I like the look and I can stand away from people and disturb their conversations.

I still use remote radio flashes to operate my Yongnou flashes. As you can see in the above photo the flash is far away from the people and not mounted on my camera. This makes for pleasing soft shadows and kind of looks as if the light is coming from a window. I was actually using a cheap LED light for back light on this one because one of my flashes was acting up.
 I am starting to add external batteries from Godox that use Lithium-ion batteries instead the AA batteries that I have grown to hate. I did get a cheap AA battery run external battery but it was so awful I returned it. It didn't even tell me when the batteries were dead. Godox's prices are coming down and if I had a time machine I'd probably buy Godox flashes as well.
Had some issues with my camera, problems with auto-focusing and some dirt on the sensor I couldn't get rid of. Luckily, Sony sent their technician here to one of the local stores for a special promotional day and I got my camera and Sony/Minolta lenses cleaned for free after biking there and waiting in the rain. Was so worth it!
Oh and some "small" news - I just ordered a brand new A99mk2 for my birthday! I seriously like the A99 but truth be told, even with fast lenses, I still feel like I need to rely too much on flash photography. Sometimes you come into a room and the lighting is great, even if there is not a lot of it. I could try to recreate the same atmosphere with my flashes, but why bother if you have a good sensor? In that sense the A99 was seriously behind comparable cameras such as the Canon 5Dmk3, pretty old now but still does pretty well in high ISO with relatively little noise.  Sure, the A99mk2 will not shoot in absolute dark like the A7s but it will definitely provide me with more artistic options and functional solutions for when my flashes run out of juice, overheat or get broken.
I want to thank my parents for helping my finance this important purchase and my friend Ori Cohen for helping me to choose where to buy from.
My A99mk2 should arrive by the end of the month from Amazon Canada. I hope to post more often and tell you what my experience with it is like.
 Also, my Instagram is now more active showcasing my work so feel free to follow me @zinmanamit

Monday, August 10, 2015

The A7r II

I am still waiting for news about the A99 II, to be announced next month if the rumors are correct. However, the release of the A7r II is a real game changer, and I am seriously tempted to buy one along with the LA-EA4 converter. It will be seriously expensive, but this is the first time that I am tempted to cross over to e-mount territory.
Here are the reasons:
1. 5-Axis stabilization - I've been doing a fair bit of hand held video and this could be really useful for me, eliminating the cumbersome use of tripods and monopods.
2. Eye tracking focus - I seriously would use this feature. As time goes by I find myself using more closed shutters, going up to 4.0 and even 5.0 with my 50mm 1.4 lens, for anything but studio or studio-like work where I have time to re-check photos and move a model. But with good eye tracking focus I could try going back to 2.8 or even lower and create some stunning well focused photos even in demanding environments.
3. Shoot at near darkness - SLTs are not known for their ability to shoot at high ISOs. It seems that the A7rII creates really nice photos at ISO 6400 with barely any noise and has workable noise up to double that. The A99 has noticeable noise at ISO 1600 and gets really funky at 6400.
4. More pixels - This will be quite useful for printing and for crops.

So, if the A99 does not have ALL of these which I really like and could boost my work, why should I spend all that money on it when I can get one mirrorless future proof camera that already has all I want and need?

I will keep you updated as to my decision in the upcoming month. I might wait to April (my birthday to make a final decision). Then again, I might not.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The importance of having an adjustable LCD screen

One of the better reasons for me to get the A99 instead of the Canon or Nikon competition is the 3-way adjustable rear 3-inch LCD. As you might know, the A99 is the only full-frame digital SLR to offer a tiltable screen. This never fails to amaze me. Canon, for example, has a superb articulate LCD which is used on the 70D SLR which I used while my A99 was being fixed (along other cameras) which not only is adjustable but also is a touch screen, like your cellphone's.
Many photographers seem to agree with me.

Hetzer, for example, on the Canon rumor board wrote, "A fully articulating screen is brilliant for stills. Low-level work (macro etc), overhead, astrophotography and just anywhere you can't get you head directly behind the camera."

Apparently, for reasons of pride and conservativeness, not only that there is no non full-frame model to offer this (I guess Sony technically has too, if you consider the A7), future models will probably also NOT get this feature because it is considered "amateurish", perhaps due to its origin in video camera models. 
All this is silly to me, as professionally speaking, I adjust the LCD all the time. It simply allows me to better compose high or low angle shots without having to contort myself or go look for a chair or an apple box. While my A99 was away I had to make due sometimes with the A900, a very good camera producing excellent colors, but I simply had to stop doing some of my favorite composition types, or just "guess" high angle shots, that is, hold camera high and hope the framing was okay and the moment was right.

Let me give an example from last day's shoot. I was shooting a nice young woman, Dana Iungelson. During sunrise, I had the perfect lighting with my reflector well positioned and my external wireless flash in the back. She also managed a perfect smile, somewhat mischievous, but also full of warmth. So I took this photo:

While looking good, I wanted more out of the image, so I flipped the LCD and perfectly composed a higher angle shot.

This produced a more dynamic shot, with the eyes looking more slanted and the upper torso and long hair looking nice in the framing. I would not have been able to make this adjustment with any other professional grade top dog SLR on the market. Instead, I would have to guess the composition or go looking for something high to stand on while my subject is wasting away her perfect smile. Sure, I could also step back and re-compose, but that would have been, artistically, a very different framing.

This is one of the reasons why, as long as Sony continue to innovate and incorporate features from consumer and prosumer models into their high end ones, I will continue to buy their SLRs. As I mentioned before, I would like MORE of these features, to be incorporated. If you don't like them and are a straightforward look-through-the-view-finder kind of a photographer, that is great, just don't use any of it, or better yet, buy some nice A900s, the are seriously cheap and produce great results. For other photographers, many of these features are something they can use to have more creative options in their work as a photographer.

For the rest of the session with Dana Iungelson

BTW: I am trying to get to 1000 likes on my Facebook page, so if you got the time, I would appreciate some nice liking'n sharing here.