Welcome to my blog, where I post vague rambling on an irregular basis.

Moving to Mirrorless, Part III

May 06, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Wow, it's been a while since my last blog post.  Busy, busy . . .

Might as well continue the theme from my last post: moving to mirrorless.  You can check my old posts to bring you up to speed.  Here's where things stand now.

As of my last post, I was primarily a wildlife photographer - that means (usually) long lenses and tripods, among other gear.  Since that time, I've branched into people photography, too.  Same cameras, different lenses and other gear (usually).

One of the things I loved about mirrorless was smaller cameras and fewer, lighter gear bags.  That's no longer particularly relevant.  For wildlife, I'm using Canon EF-mount lenses with adapters.  Big, heavy lenses.  I can (and do) put a Sony a6300 on a Canon 600mm f/4 with a Metabones adapter, but the small size of the camera is pretty irrelevant at that point.

But I'm also using native E mount lenses when I'm photographing people in and out of the studio.  Usually either a 55mm f/1.8 Sony Zeiss or an 85mm f/1.8 Zeiss Batis, sometimes with natural light, but more frequently with Speedlights or studio strobes.  That means flash and a modifier or a flash trigger is mounted to the camera, again, negating a lot of the small size advantage, right?

So why keep using mirrorless if there's no size advantage?  In no particular order:

The Good

  • The image quality is stunning.  I'm not saying better than DSLRs, I'm just saying, IQ is at least as good
  • Focus is spot on.  Using native E mount lenses, I never have to worry about focus.  Even better, I can specify faces for priority focus.  Group photo , I can specify that my wife's face is going to be in focus, above all others.  Even better, the focus can nail an eye for focus.  I can shoot wide open, and no matter how shallow the DOF, the eye will be in focus.  Bangs hanging over the eyes?  Not a problem; as long as the focus can find an eyeball, the eye will be in focus.  Not the tip of the nose, not the ear - the eyeball.
  • Silent shutter - great for wildlife.  How quiet?  So quiet I think there's something wrong with the camera, and I have to review images in the viewfinder to make sure the shutter fired.
  • I love the EVF.  The folks that complain that an EVF will never be as good as an OVF just aren't familiar with current models.  I see exactly what the sensor sees.  I have friends ask me to look through the view finders on their DSLRs; "Look through that big, bright optical viewfinder and tell me you still like electronic viewfinders," they proudly claim.  Yeah, I'm sticking with my EVF, thanks.  I keep the camera up to my eye, and I see exactly what any settings change does, I see clipped shadows and highlights, I see everything, and I don't have to put the camera down to see the results - I can review the images in the EVF.  No worry about it being in bright sun and conditions too bright to see the rear LCD, I just look through the EVF.  DOF?  There it is, I got the snout to the tips of the ears in focus, with the focus point right in the eye ball.  I'm shooting in the studio with a model, and I never have to take the camera away from my eye to review the image.  I have a live histogram in my EVF.  I have a live  feed on how level my camera is.  I'll keep my EVF, thanks.
  • Focus peaking - I freaking love focus peaking.  I do lots of macro, and the focus peaking allows me to absolutely nail the focus.  I know exactly what's in focus, exactly what's out of focus, no guessing.  I can also get automatic magnified views to make sure my focus is spot on.
  • Adapted lenses.  I can use practically any lens on my bodies.  If there's an adapter, I can use the lens.  And I love the Sigma MC-11 adapter.  Yeah, yeah, you can only use it with certain Sigma lenses.  I don't care, it makes those lenses work just like native E mount glass.  I have access to all my focus options.  I don't need to beg Sony to make long, fast glass, I can just use Sigma S (and A and even C) series lenses function just like native E mount glass.  I like it so much that I'm considering selling my Canon 600mm F/4 IS so I can get the new Sigma 500mm f/4 Sports lens.

The Meh

  • Battery life.  That's the complaint that I hear from DSLR users who don't shoot mirrorless, particularly Sony mirrorless.  It's really a non-issue.  I'm not going to rave about the battery life, but it's never caused any problems while shooting.  It seems to be a combination of time the camera is on plus the number of images, rather than just the number of images.  I'm shooting Momma Fox and 4 fox kits for an hour, and I walk away with 1500 images, and about 30% battery left on a single battery.  For most of my Sony cameras without a vertical grip, I take the battery door off.  And I carry extra batteries.  Switching them out takes all of 5 seconds.  It's really not a problem.  I would like to be able to buy extra battery sleds for the vertical grips, so I could slide out the expired batteries as a unit, and slide in a sled with fresh batteries.
  • SC cards.  I was kinda disappointed that  the new a9 didn't use the XQD card - eveb dual slots with an XQD card and an SD card would have been better.  I'll take a single XQD card slot (my needs are modest).

The Not So Good

  • Buffer size.  When I'm shooting people or macro, I'm in single shot mode, I take an image, I review it, and it's time for another shot.  Buffer size isn't an issue then.  When I'm shooting wildlife at maximum frame-rate, I hit the buffer limit pretty regularly, and when I do, it takes a painfully long time for the buffer to clear.  A. Painfully.  Long.  Time.  It does make me more mindful of waiting for the peak action, hitting the shutter for a few frames, and backing off.  I might miss a few things, but I also don't have a dozen identical frames, either.
  • Adapters with long glass.  If I photographed small birds moving really quickly, I don't think I'd use my current set up.  The AF struggles a little to keep up.  But I don't photograph small, fast birds, I photograph cute, furry mammals.

If you have questions about mirrorless, particularly Sony mirrorless, let me know.  I'm happy to answer questions.

Switching to Mirrorless, Part II

December 14, 2014  •  Leave a Comment
I think I damaged the LA-EA2 adapter; I'm not getting particularly sharp images with the Sony 70-400 or an old 400mm prime.  I'm also noticing the autofocus isn't quite as good as it is with the native "E" mount lenses.  I just sold all my "A" mount gear, and now I'm regretting it.  Don't get me wrong, I still love the a6000 and the FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens with it is a winning combo, if the animals are close enough.  I broke down and ordered a new a77 to use with the 70-400 (it was less than $600 at B&H).
I'm conflicted about doing this, as I really do prefer mirrorless.  I'm just waiting for Sony (or any lens maker) to make a native "E" mount 400mm or above.  Seriously, give me a 400mm f/4 and I'll be the happiest guy in the world!  Are you listening, Sony?

Switching to Mirrorless

July 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment


I'm a photographer, primarily wildlife and nature.  That means I have some fairly specific needs, with gear I tend to use a lot (longer focal length lenses sometimes, tripods, sometimes flashes and flash extenders), and less need for some other gear (reflectors, big soft boxes, laptop for tethered shooting, for instance).  I'm fairly used to carrying some heavy gear long distances to make just a few images sometimes.  There can be a lot of stuff to cart around, and I'm not getting any younger.

My first DSLR (after a series of bridge cameras) was the Sony a100.  I used an old Canon film SLR decades ago and had no modern lenses, so I wasn’t married to any lens system.  And I like to support the underdog, and I've never been a traditionalist, so I did the Sony system.  I’ve never regretted it.  I upgraded from the a100 to the a700 as soon as it was released, and was using that as my primary camera for a while.  I got the a580 as a back up; it’s barely been used and almost new.  I got the a77 as soon as it was released, too.

I still love the a77; it does everything I want it to do (except maybe high ISO).  Before the a77ii was released, there were a lot of rumors about the specs, the most prominent being it would have a 32mp sensor and be mirrorless.  I don’t really need 32mp, but it sounded interesting, and I planned to upgrade.  But then it turns out that the a77ii would still have a 24mp sensor (yeah, a generation or two improved from the a77), and maybe a better AF system, but the new a6000 already had all that, and at a quarter of the size and weight of the a77 (with the vertical grip, which lives on the a77).  I decided to get the a6000 mostly as an experiment until the a77ii came out – I figured I could return it to Amazon after I played with it.

After I played with it, I really enjoyed it.  Light, compact, and image quality at least as good as the a77.  I just used both cameras with the barking Mamma Marmot, and the files might (might) be slightly better from the a6000, but for all practical purposes, the IQ from the a6000 leaves nothing to be desired.

The a77 still has some advantages: The controls are easier to use (I have big hands, and wear gloves most of the time at altitude and in the winter, and the a77 is easier to operate).  Accessing the controls on the a6000 (a smaller body, obviously, with smaller buttons and controls) is more difficult at baseline, and I have to set it and leave it if I have gloves on.  I don’t change settings that much, so not a big problem.  It’s also more difficult to set a specific focus point.  On the a77, I use the toggle on the back and quickly put it where I want it (usually the critter’s eyeball).  Focus is ALWAYS spot on with the a77.  It’s taken me a little while to fiddle with the a6000’s focus system, and I can do most things I want, but it isn’t as easy or precise as with the a77.  The max shutter speed on the a6000 is only 1/4000, compared to 1/8000 on the a77.  Usually not a big deal.  The other disadvantage of the a6000 is a limited buffer size – shooting 11fps burns it up pretty quickly; I can still shoot brief bursts while it’s clearing the buffer, but I have to pace myself.  The a77 can rattle off frames and I usually don’t hit the buffer too often.  One thing I do like, that I initially thought was a disadvantage, was no external battery charger; lots of folks complained about that, but I use the same charger for the a6000 that I use for my phone.  I charge it while driving to locations, I charge it beside me on the desk, and when traveling I just have one tiny cable.  Much more convenient.

The a77 is still a great camera, but the a6000 is light, compact, and a lot of fun.  I'm immediately noticing that rather than carrying two or even three camera bags along with my Think Tank camera harness and modular mount system (frequently crammed into a giant plastic storage bin for convenience and to keep everything together in the car and in the basement), I'm down to one  small Think Tank bag for both a6000's, one with the SE 70-200mm f/4 G, and the other with the the 70-400 with the adapter.  I can keep everything in the front seat of the car and have easy access to it, and only have to make one trip from the car.

The first image is from the a6000 with the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G

The second image is from the a77 with the Sony 70-400mm
Marmot Barking-9132-a6000+70-200-1Mamma Marmot BarkingSony a77 with the 70-400mm
The final image is from the a6000 with the Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f/4

Wide Angle Wildlife

June 29, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Kind of a long post, but I'm on vacation and have the time.

I started and mostly completed a new project today; that's unfortunate, since I like having a project I can throw myself into for a long period of time.  Some of my previous projects included fox kits, coyotes, and pikas.  This new project initially involved pikas, But I haven't found any cooperative pikas so far this summer.

But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

Andrew Kelley and I were out looking for owlets one recent spring morning.  We found the owlets quickly, got some decent images, and decided to look for other subjects.  This was the same park where I'd photographed foxes, who are all now sadly dead or, hopefully, relocated.  As we carried our heavy photography gear from one end of the rather long park to the other end, we mentioned how nice it would be to have one of those gear carts to haul all our stuff instead of  breaking our collective backs for an image, but I'm not about to spend $200 buck on a gear cart when I can pick up a used jogging stroller on Craig's List for $40.

We commented that with the crappy economy, it would be cheaper to just hire some recent college graduates as Sherpas and let them haul our gear around.  Their official title would be "intern" on the resume, but Sherpa sounds classier.  I'm not sure which of us made the next leap of logic (I'm officially  going to say it was Andrew, because I'm trying to stay off my wife's "You Did What Now?" Radar), but we decided that instead of recent college graduates to haul our gear, we'd get a fleet of golf carts driven by Bikini Babes (it's an official title - look it up) acting as caddies for photographers.  They could serve beverages, make recommendations ("I'd go with the 70-200 for this shot - open it up wide"), and drive photographers from point to point (OK, a little bit of a pun intended).  I know I'd pay for that service.

You're probably thinking my new project involves interviewing Bikini Babes and renting a fleet of golf carts . . . you know, that's really not a bad idea.  It''s summer - I could put up some flyers around the local pools, and work out some sort of vendor arrangement at the state and national parks . . . but I digress.  I mentioned afterwards to Andrew my idea of shooting pikas with a macro lens.  I had a cooperate pika 2 years ago that would have been perfect for that, but his replacement last year proved to be completely uncooperative.  That's when we thought of going a slightly different direction - doing some wide angle wildlife photography.  We both read the article in Outdoor Photographer.

Let me add that we are not irresponsible photographers, and do not make a habit of  making animals uncomfortable in our presence.  Fortunately, Colorado has lots of wildlife, and some of that wildlife is fairly acclimated to human presence.  I photograph pikas that run between my legs and perch on my shoe, foxes that root through my camera bag when my back is turned, and mountain goats that casually stroll by me at arms length.  I don't approach them, but they do at times come close to me.  As long as I don't move or make too much noise, they don't seem to mind.
Mountain Goat-6216-
Our original plan involved setting up a tripod along our pika's usual route through the talus, triggered remotely (the camera, not the pika).  If we were lucky, we could get wide angle images of a pika with his mouth full of alpine flowers, with Bierstadt, Grays, Torreys, and maybe even Mount of the Holy Cross in the background.  Unfortunately, my pika models have been notoriously absent from that location.

That's OK, I can adapt.  I'm now carrying a second DSLR with the 16-50mm lens with me at all times when I'm out with the tripod and telephoto lens, and I'm using it more and more.  I'm able to get mountain goats and bighorns pretty easily - the only limiting factor is my gimpy knee that limits my ability to get as low as I want to get to keep the animal at eye level (the last time I got up from a squatting position, the noise I made from the knee pain had mountain goat kids running for cover).  Decent images, but not the greatest backgrounds.
Today my plan was to spend more time with a calm marmot who I've been photographing recently.  He spends a lot of time sunning on a big rock (approximately 13,500ft), which is nice, but even better, Mt Bierstadt, including the Sawtooth ridge, are just behind him.  He was nowhere to be seen when I arrived, so I set up the tripod to include his rock in the foreground and Bierstadt in the background.  Fortunately, the camera has a tilting LCD, so composing the shot without having to kneel was a huge plus.  
Right on cue, the marmot appeared.  Just not on the rock.  He was curious about my gear, and decided to check out the other tripod I had set up with the telephoto lens.  Part of me feared he would push over the tripod, part of me hoped he would stand up and try to look through the viewfinder.  He did neither.  His curiosity satisfied, he got up on the rock and hit his mark.  I managed to take over 150 images over the course of about 30 minutes.  He'd variously pose on the rock, check out my gear, and check me out.
I may have a new favorite wildlife model.
WAW-Marmot-6574- All images included shot with a 16-50mm lens, most well below 50mm in focal length.

Finally - Fox Kits

May 07, 2011  •  Leave a Comment


Until today, finding fox kits this Spring has been frustrating.  There was a den very close to my house, but it was on private property, and Momma Fox was not receptive to photographers.  As foxes do, I suspect she moved that den as I haven't seen them in more than a week.

The den in Summit County was covered in snow, and blasting winds and cold temps made seeing foxes unlikely.

I did have an opportunity to go with John de Bord today to a new den in the Lyons/Ward area.  I got up at 0330 and we arrived on site at about 0630 . . . and waited and waited and waited . . . until 1100, when I decided to call it quits and was packing my gear.

That's when Momma Fox showed up, and when she showed up, the kits came bouncing out to see her.  Neither Momma Fox or the kits seemed to mind having us around.

Red Fox Kit (Vulpes vulpes)
Lyons, CO
Sony a700
Jobu gimbal, Feisol tripod

ISO400, 1/125, f/5.6, 400mm

Shot in RAW, processed in Lightroom 3 and Nik software

You can find more images on my web site
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