Thursday, August 26, 2010


traces, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

Another experiment in 'dragging the shutter' as I understand the term. Basically I've deliberately slow the exposure right down and then panned across a stationary object. In this case an old train station in Seattle.

What I was after was a sense of movement backwards, with the station leaving today behind and returning to a time when railways stations were gateways to the world, not de facto homeless shelters and places for drug buys. I dont think it entirely worked, but I still like the image.

Anyway, I recommend you try this as well as a technique. There is a lot more to photos than technical perfection, more important is the idea. I may not have nailed it, but I tried.

How little the NEX still system needs

There has been a lot of discussion on the internet about the place of the NEX series, particularly in light of how small the latest A33 and A55 from Sony are. In particular there has been some discussion that the NEX adventure is largely unnessary and will further dilute Sony's resources to develop the A-mount. I disagee.

When thinking about the A and E mounts I am reminded, very strongly, of Contax which ran a 'full' SLR line-up (albeit only the C/Y manual mount was what we would call 'full' these days) and a 'full' and mature rangefinder range. If we consider the NEX 3 and NEX 5 as spiritual successors to the Contax G series (which I do) it is really instructive to remember just how small the Contax G RF lens line-ups were. The entire Contax G mount range was:

Hologon 16/8
Biogon 21/2.8
Biogon 28/2.8
Planar 35/2
Planar 45/2
Sonnar 90/2.8
Vario-Sonnar 35–70/3.5–5.6

Thats it - 7 lenses.

Even looking at the much more mature and well supported Leica M mount there are only 11 basic focal lengths (albeit in some lengths there are a variety of speeds) although to be really fair we should also note that the Leicas are all manual focus and with the addition of a very cheap adapter can be used on the NEX series.

So, using the Contax G as a 'model' range what would an E mount lens line-up require (I'm assuming a 1.5 crop factor but not worrying about DOF issues of an APS sensor) the rough 35mm FF equivalent is shown in parenthesis also.

10 (15/16)
14 (20)
16 (24)
20 (28/30)
24 (35)
30 (45/50)
60 (90)

Now given that the 35-80ish zooms are now longer very fashionable I'd suggest something like:

16-50 (24-75)

Also, considering the need for video, we also need a superzoom, say:

18-250 (28-380)

So if we got all that we would have replicated the entire Contax G range and be only a few lenses short of everything Leica has deemed necessary after almost 70 years. Thats not a lot and only a small investment for a company like Sony to produce. So instead of thinking of the E mount as a competitor to the A mount we should see it as a compliment and instead of worrying about how it diverts resources from the A-mount we should be pleased that a system that requires so little can bring so much to the Alpha community.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Its all in the timings isnt it

Yesterday I unleashed a bit of a broadside at Sony and its abject failure recently to listen to outsiders produce the sorts of products that a giant like Sony just had to be capable of. Well just one day later Sony responded with perhaps the single most interesting DSLR since the original Canon Rebel.

No more discussion from me today, you'd really be better off visiting DPreview for a quick rundown.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Arrogance, foolishness or just business

First, let me say that I think a lot of the angst over the NEX5 interface is overblown. No, the interface is not perfect, I would like one more button, I want some small alternations to the way the menus are structured and probably more than anything I want the ability to create some user customizable modes like the Memory Recall functions on the A700. But, I will admit that I am a pretty flexible camera user (in fact I'm pretty flexible in my use of most UIs) so I just dont get flustered by these things as much as most people. Similarly, I really do believe that for all practical purposes the IQ of the NEX at isos 200-1600 is so consistent that I've actually given up selecting iso and just keep the camera on auto-iso for everything except tri-pod work where I am deliberately seeking long exposures. I'm now convinced that both these traits dont make me a very good guide to what is (and is not) a good UI - I'm simply not demanding enough.

So, putting aside my own ambivalence its is clear that much of the interweb is anything but sanguine over the direction Sony has taken, not only with UI, but also with feature sets. Michael Reichman over at Luminous Landscape is perhaps the most vocal and direct critic of the recent Sony approach of both the NEX 5 stills camera and more recently with the NEX-VG10 combi-cam. And while I dont share his passion, even I am able to see that he has a point. These criticisms (taken from Michael Reichman but pretty common out there in the web) are certainly justified:

a) why the rapid descent into menus for obvious functions like changing an ISO setting?

b) why are the video options so limited?

c) why doesnt the NEX-VG10 shoot raw stills?

d) why cant Sony get simple things like histograms, manual focus support, exposure warnings sorted?

Its frustrating that these are issues at all. Why?

Because Sony has designed some of the great camera interfaces of our time in the A700/A900 and their various handi-cams why do they get this wrong now. Also,its not like the interface and functions of DSLRs, camcorders and new combi-cams arent well established. Sony could have spent a few thousand dollars, bought themselves a D3s and 7D and learnt exactly what photographers want from their cameras. Finally, with every camera since the A900, Sony has been bombarded with criticism of its relentless dumbing down and crippling of their cameras. Every site, every review, every blog, every test has said the same thing - that Sony camera lack the simple functions expected of cameras in that category and that the intefaces have been so simplified to actually be ore difficult to use rather than easier.

And yet Sony will not change direction.

Is this sheer arrogance. Does Sony hear but just think it knows better? Is this foolishness, does Sony just not understand? Or is Sony right and everyone else wrong?

Time will tell, but frankly whether arrogance or foolishness, I believe Sony is wrong and must stop this mindless stupifying of its own product.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where the magic happens

PMac Imagery flickr-08516, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

I love watching and photographing musicians hands. Watching the simple, mechanical action of a hand just like mine but to see it producing a magic that is totally beyond me always draws me in.

Combine that with the wonderful shapes, colours and contours of the instruments themselves and I always end up taking a bunch of photos.

These were all taken at the 2010 Seattle Folk life festival.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Macro isnt just flowers and bees

music takes me back home, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

I am really not a huge fan of pictures of flowers and bees that seem to be the staple of 99% of macro photographers. As a result, I've never really considered macro photography as something I would be interested in. However, with Sony's production of a really cheap little 30mm macro I figured 'what the hell' I'll give it a go.

So the lens came (and is brilliant, I really should do some equipment reviews some day) and then sat in bag for a few weeks while I had no idea what to do with it. Then, it made a work trip with me and was locked in the hotel room with me for a weekend where the weather was just appalling and I discovered that the world I live in that doesnt have flowers and insects everywhere but does have sprinkler heads, power outlets, phones and walkmen is equally deserving of (and really rewards) macro treatment.

So now I've discovered a use for macro, looking at the world around us (really around us) in our homes, offices, etc up close and personal. This is going to become one of my little, ongoing projects, so you'll be seeing more of this as we go along.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Simple scene, special colour

PMac Imagery flickr-1189, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

My photography is a constant stream of experiments with not fixed style or genre, that I can discern anyway. After a long time shunning the sunsets and sunrises I've seen so many of I've started hunting them myself. So much so that I can no longer claim the defence that this isnt something I normally do.

But still, I am wary of the clichés and I am equally wary that not being a strong student of photography I might be falling into a cliché not even knowing that I am. Ah well, at some point you have to stop worrying and simply make art.

So that is what I'm trying to do here, to make art, not just pretty pictures. I'm trying to capture a beautiful Newcastle sunset with the blistering sky of fire the thin line of man's industry and the brilliant blue of the oceans.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Catching up - a favourite photo

PMac Imagery flickr-0944, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

A week or so ago I did the o dark hundred thing, crawled out of bed far to early and tried to catch some sunrise photos. In a way the morning was a complete disaster. It was cold, wet, cloudy and basically a disaster.

But a little experimentation yielded some great results and in the end it was all worth it.

First, I acknowledge this long exposure thing is a little of a photo fashion thing and I'm hardly being original but still, standing on the shoulders of giants is a well established artistic traditions and who am I to ignore that? Anyway, while a bleak, grey morning was a disaster for the shots I had planned its ideal for this sort of work.

That said, to get this right you need looooong exposures and with the sun rapidly rising I was running out of options. I had a pretty weak ND filter (3 stops) but I found combining that with a circular polariser (another 2 stops of light gone), going to f 22 I was able to really stretch the frame out for 15 seconds. Not the minutes required to give the really solid milky sea some can produce but on the other hand this middling long exposure and CP also gave me the ability to play around and after a couple of goes I was able to generate this.

While I have certainly boosted the blue, the base colour is pretty much as I caught it. But even more interesting was the slight 'see through the water' effect that the polariser gave me adding some real interest in the water.

Its not going to win any prizes but you know what, I'm really proud of this one and I hope you like it.

Sony actually losing more lenses?

Sonyalpharumours is reporting that the Sony 500mm reflex lens is out of production. While this is an enormous shame I must admit I am not surprised. I dont have this lens, in fact I've never shot with it so I cant comment directly on its pros and cons but its clear that:

a) it is a lens with pretty limited application (limited to F8)

b) the IQ of the lens was never considered an unalloyed success (great CA characteristics, very dodgy bokeh)

But on the flip side

c) its an autofocus 500mm lens that can be handheld and costs only about $US700.

A fuller review is given over here at Alphamountworld.

So already we have a lens of mixed blessings but I would also remember that Sony has a new mount to worry about and has been quietly shuffling old Minolta glass out of the inventory. Combine all this, and if its true that the only AF mirror lens is getting retired, I am saddened but not shocked.

If you want one, get in quick. I'm not sponsored by BHPhoto in any way (though I would love to be - shameless plug) and I get nothing from this but they have always been great to me so here's a link.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Allure of the NEX5 - Part 1

I am loving the NEX5 I bought a few weeks ago and since the 16mm 2.8 pancake arrived I'm loving it even more. Sooner or later I will start doing more formal reviews (never tests, I dont have the discipline) but for the time being I'm just going to post a few little vignettes on why this is a wonderful little camera and something that changes the way I think about photography.

I was never really into photography until digital and then I bought a little Canon S1 3.something superzoom and fell in love. Within a year or two I was feeling the limitations of the small sensor and went to a DSLR, a Sony A100. Since then I'm hooked on big sensor goodness and cant tolerate anything less. Yes, yes, I know that the A100 (and the A700 that supplanted it) are 'just' APS sensors and that there is still full frame sensors above me but nothing I've seen indicated that the jump from APS to FF is anything like the vast leap from compact sensor to APS so bear with me.

But being addicted to big sensor goodness has a draw back, the cameras are huge. Ok, I know I could make this smaller, I could go for a little lens or remove the grip but thats not how I use the A700. But the NEX changes all that. Its IQ is, I think, better than the A700 and just look at the size difference. Will the NEX5 with a pancake lens fit in a jeans pocket? Not on your life. But if you are in cargoes, or wearing a jacket it slides straight in. The A700 on the otehr hand, well I doubt I need to say anything.

The NEX now goes everywhere with me, in the month I've had it I doubt the camera has ever been more than 20 feet from me and I've taken 8 times more photos in July with the NEX than any other month for over a year. I love this little guy precisely because he's little.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Forums and why I'm leaving all of them

There are any number of forums out there for internet using photographers to indulge in and I've decided to drop out of all of them. Why?

Because I'm an argument addict. I cant help myself, I have to put my 2 cents into every argument and this stops me thinking clearly, forming whole thoughts and articulating my ideas even remotely sensibly. I have tried to step way from the gear oriented talk and focus on the images but good intentions are often swamped by realities and before I know it I'm feeding the gear talk addiction. So thats it, I'm getting out. I say 'getting' because right now I'm trying going cold turkey and making sure I can survive before actually cancelling my membership.

So what am I hoping to achieve by getting away from compulsive forum sponsored gear talk? Really I'm hoping for three things, one immediate, one medium term, one longer lasting acting:

The first, immediate, effect I'm hoping for is that by passing on participating on every petty little speculative debate on the past, present and future I'll spend less time, thinking more about far reaching issues and actually keep my blogs running.

The medium term effect I'm hoping for is that by staying away from the froth and bubble of camera talk I will focus more on images. I suspect this is the modern photographers lament, or perhaps the modern enthusiastic amateurs lament, and that I am just another voice in the chorus but so be it, I'll add my voice.

Finally, in the longer term I simply hope to recapture the wonderful, positive feelings I had when I started this journey into photography. I'm no Sony fanboy, I shoot Sony, I hope for the best but I am also painfully aware of the limitations of the system and the errors Sony has made along the way. However, I recently posted on one forum that I felt it was becoming a "sinkhole of negativity" and that has rubbed off on me. So thats it, I'm out.
I dont advocate others to follow my lead. I cant know if you share my problem and therefore whether my fix is your fix. But I'll keep you tuned on how my withdrawal goes.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A different style of fireworks

PMac Imagery flickr-1492, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

We've all seen the classic fireworks shot, the beautiful trials of crisp, clean colour against the velvet blackness of the sky. Well I figure that the world had enough of those images already and so strove here to capture something different.

I'm trying to capture the way we see fireworks there, at the actual event. First, there are people in the frame, second I'm aiming for the light and movement and fire and smoke. Finally, I rarely remember individual explosions, rather the night becomes a pastiche of colour and moverment, so I deliberately tried to get the busiest scene I could and frankly didnt worry at all about all those technical issues like focus and exposure. I really like the result and hope you do too.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I must be more careful

PMac Imagery flickr-0943, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

I love this shot. Its not my favourite from the morning (I'll post that tomorrow) but still I love it.

But I must be more care, before going live on the net I must, absolutely must, check for dust.

Do you see them? I didn't (until they were pointed out to me) and now those three little spots are all I can seen. Bugger, bugger and damn.

Latest Sony lenses - especially the Easychoices

There is enormous discussion on the net at the moment about the latest lens releases from Sony. Everyone from Mike over at TOP to just about everyone on Flickr and at Dyxum seems confused. Why is the 35 1.8 a DT lens? Why is the 85 2.8 so slow? Why do they have plastic mounts and SAM drives. Where's the 2.0 apertures? Where is the metal mount and SSM drive. All these photographers saying they would have paid more for just these little upgrades.

Ok, I'm going out on a limb here but I believe almost no one on the net 'gets' what Sony is setting itself to do and hence we dont understand these lenses. That said I reckon Sony needs to be far more ambitious in its selling and really get a message (and message) out there.

I think the mistake we are making is trying to understand the Sony releases in the context of the market as it has been for the past 2 decades. In that world 95% of people only bought a body with a twin set of cheap zooms and never went near a camera store again. Hence we, the geeks that haunt internet forums obsessing about gear have been the market for nearly 20 years and can only rationalise gear in its relationship to us.

I think Sony is trying to change that paradigm and re-introduce the masses to the consumerist dream of buying, collecting and occasionally even using lots of different lenses. We know that joy so Sony doesnt need to peddle its cheap trinkets to us.

Sony's language is clear in the press release. These new lenses are the easy choice range, Buying them is easy, about $us200 each. They give new users choices, right now its 30 1.8, 30 2.8 macro, 50 1.8, 85 2.8. And Sony is making it clear that this will be a growing range, my guess is that before long we will see a 135mm 2.8, a 24 2.8 DT and perhaps even a 16mm 2.8 DT. I can imagine an Easychoice kit with an A290, 24, 35, 50, 85 for under a grand if Sony was really aggressive.

So people are struggling with the logic - in my mind this Sony's criteria for the easychoice range:

1. Target cost - $US200ish
2. Std filter 55mm
3. Very good to excellent performance across the frame (therefore stds and wides will be DT)
4. Target weight under 200-250 grms

If I was running Sony (as opposed to just a customer wanting Sony to be my personal lens factory) this is exactly what I'd be doing in this segment. I'd probably even go further with a range of lenses I might be able to source from tamron as well like the 90mm and 180mm macros.

As for the premium end well there are so many holes where to start? The widest premium prime is the 35, the longest is the old and massively overpriced 300 so the 24 and never-ready 500 make perfect sense. Also while Sony has the 'gold' standard premium covered (16-35 2.8 CZ, 24-70 2.8 CZ, 70-200 2.8 g) the 'silver' std is almost completely empty. I think the 24 was obvious, I think the 500 will come. I suspect that after that we will see that 'silver range of premium glass - say a 16-35 4.0, 24-120 4, etc start to emerge.

of course I still havent squeezed in PC never ends does it? LOL