Saturday 9 November 2019

A7II - One Week on the Second Go

One Tree 
Sony A7 II, Nikkor 50mm f1.8D

So I'm a week and around 450 images into the second time through with the A7II.

Things are going a little better this time. A lot of that is simply in the fact that I actually own an AF lens this time around, the FE 28-70 OSS is getting a lot of use. Most of the rest is simply in the fact that I've managed to keep my shooting interest up for most of  the year. I'm at a little less than 1/3 of the images I took with the A7II last year, in only a week.

I'd had 3 main complaints with the A7II the first time.

1. Battery life. After a year shooting with the X-T1 and E-M1/E-M5II pair I have a different take on it. The battery life on the A7II is just enough better than the Fuji or Oly bodies that it's noticeable. Putting the on/off back where it belongs does help manage battery life, as does the relatively fast start time. Much different experience than coming from the long-lived D800.

2. The over-sensitive EVF/LCD switch sensor. Yep, still annoying. It triggers at around twice the distance it should and doesn't disable when the screen is flipped out.

3. The buried format menu option. Still mildly annoying but no worse than Oly or Fuji. Nowhere near as nice as Nikon though. Not really annoying after a year with equally bad menus on other systems.

I do have a new item to add though, Sony's horrid Imaging Edge Mobile app. Whoever wrote this needs to be condemned to actually using it as their only interaction with a camera for a year.

The workflow for image transfer is actually really nice, you hit Fn while viewing an image, pick the images you want to transfer, trigger the transfer, then select the wifi network on your mobile, start the app, watch everything flow over and go from there. This is much nicer than the Fuji and Oly apps.

The downside? 50% or more of the time, the images disappear after the transfer is concluded, meaning you have to repeat the process 1-2 times before you can actually do anything with the transferred images.

Now for camera remote control, it's just a mess. No real control over camera settings, lousy framerates, poor UI and poor focus control. And with the mkIII's and later you lose tap to focus. I guess there's a reason why there's a half-dozen alternative apps for this (one of which I will most certainly buy)

The app, which replaced the already lousy Playmemories app, is just a complete gong show. At a moment where the competition is very rapidly getting better Sony not only got worse, but managed to make the one thing the app did well almost completely unreliable.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

A Pleasant Discovery

Hidden Spider
Panasonic G3, Nikon Series E 100mm f2.8

Not the spider in the picture above, but finding out that manual focus lens prices have come back down to reality after a long bubble driven by the video crowd.

I was very happy to find out that I can again get 100/2.8 Series E's for $100, and 24/2.8 AI-S's for under $200. There's a number of F mount and M42 mount lenses that I regret selling and now I can slowly re-buy them for more than reasonable amounts.

Monday 4 November 2019

Oops, I Did It Again

Knocked On 
Sony A7 II, Nikkor 50mm f1.8D

Well, I succumbed to the lure of Full Frame again, for a few reasons. Traded in my Oly kit and came home with a new Sony A7II and FE 28-70 OSS and a little leftover store credit.

Why did I do this? A couple reasons.

For starters, we're going into the winter darks, and that means that all my after-work shooting will be after sunset. The Oly bodies are at their weakest here, especially when you get above ISO 1600. The reality is that is the real-world limit for getting really usable results from them, something I'd been hesitant to accept. The A7 is better at ISO 6400 than the E-M5II was at 1600. I needed something that was comfortable shooting in those conditions to get through the winter.

Second, I'd already been looking at what body I should plan for to get around the set of challenges I'd identified with the 16MP m43 bodies, mostly around short telephoto work in lowish light in the forest. What shocked me was the realization that the cheapest usable option was Sony FF, not APS-C or a newer m43 body. The A7II kit is actually cheaper than the E-M5III body only, and comparable in price to getting a Fuji X-T20 kit or Nikon Z50 kit. That's just insane. Combine the cheaper body with the fact that there's a surprising selection of modern, native and inexpensive glass for the Sony, with that selection being wider and cheaper than what's available in the crop systems and that just flips the whole FF cost/benefit ratio on its head. Most of these lenses have shown up in the last 18 months or so, with some being not even on the market quite yet (Tamron's upcoming f2.8 compact 20, 24 and 35mm lenses aren't yet out for example and the 20 at least is a must-buy for me). But Tamron and Samyang have been killing it here, and Sony's set of base FE lenses may be limited, but they're well targeted.

I'd not been looking at FF originally because I thought the economics didn't work. That remains true by and large for FF if DSLR's are off the table. The Nikon Z and PanaSigmaLeica L mount systems don't have any cheap entry level options and due to the poor lens line the EOS RP (a great handling little body for a great price) has no viable lenses without relying on the EF adapter for all your glass except the 35/1.8 Macro. But Sony's choice to keep their older A7 bodies in production and get aggressive on pricing has resulted in a value inversion compared to crop frame options. If you don't shoot fast action, and I don't, an A7II is just a lot more camera than an A6x00, Z50, X-T20/X-T30, or any EOS M or m43 body, and it's cheaper out the door. That's resulted in a boom in inexpensive but good enough glass for FE mount that has not followed to Z, R or L mounts as of yet.

Third, the Sony files let me get in a single shot the same sort of DR I needed to use HDR multishot to get with Oly. I generally didn't mind that, but I can definitely work more efficiently now. I liked the results I was getting, but I was mildly frustrated by the shots I was missing that I probably wouldn't have missed with APS-C or FF. Now I recently described the A7II files as kinda crappy, but before I made the decision I did take a close look at them. The out of camera colour is definitely a big miss, but the dynamic range and detail most certainly is excellent and the colour is fairly easily tweaked in CaptureOne, the files are actually noticeably easier to work on than the Olympus files because of the better data quality. They really look worse at first glance than they actually are. The D600 and D800 files are still better but the A7II to D600 gap is pretty much down to just the default colour rendering.

What am I giving up? Really good sealing, some ergonomics (the E-M1 is just better sorted ergonomically than the A7II), lens size (FF is just bigger in most cases), the touchscreen UI and that brilliant little 9-18 zoom.

What am I getting? Around 3 stops more working room in ISO (2 at the high end, 1 at the low end due to the lower base ISO), 1.5 to 2 stops of DR, my old lens collection becomes much more usable as the wide-ish lenses are now viable for adaptation (28/2.5, 35/3.5) plus my 50-135/3.5 is a more useful range. Oh, and a pretty solid system future. I don't need to worry about whether my investment will still be viable in the future, Sony is the dominant player in FF mirrorless and will remain a viable player for years, while m43 is really on the cusp of becoming a stagnant system with very little development going on since 2017.

So yes, the A7II has become the first FF digital body that I've owned 2 copies of. I even actually bought new this time, they're so inexpensive that going used made no economic sense. Lets see if I manage to take 7500+ images with it, like I did over the last 4 months with the Oly kit. And this time I got an AF lens, so I think I'll take a miss on my biggest frustration with the A7II last year. I like shooting manual lenses, but I don't like being stuck shooting manual lenses.

And on another note, 200 shots into the A7II's career and I've now exceeded my stretch goal of 10233 images for the year. I'm very happy with that.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Cheap FX for Nikon Shooters

D600, Nikkor 24-50mm f3.3-4.5 AF

Sidewalk Flower 
D700, Series E 100mm f2.8

Today, the D600 and D700 have gotten decidedly cheap on the used market. So if you are looking at them, what are the pro's & cons  of each?


Image Quality. The 24MP Sony sensor is simply better in all regards than the older 12MP sensor. It's also semi-usable in DX mode at 11.5MP
Live View. While neither of these two bodies has a great live view experience, the D600's is more useful
Battery. The D600 uses the newer and larger capacity EN-EL15, if nothing else this battery is future-proof for now as pretty much all the enthusiast bodies from Nikon use it, including the Z6 and Z7.
UI. Most people prefer the model dial to the mode buttons, and The U banks are a lot easier to work with than the dual banks of the pro bodies
Lens compatibility. It can use the 70-300E AF-P, the D700 can't.
SD card slot. Yeah, you can use modern cards in it, not obsolete CF

Ergonomics. The grip is poor and the handling inferior to the 'Pro' style D700. Also there's no AF-On/AE-Lock split, they're a single shared button
Robustness. The D600 is built like a D7100, it's good but not great
AF. None of the bodies with the 39 point unit is known for great AF performance.


Build. It's built almost as well as a D3, being essentially a full frame D300
Speed. With the grip and an EN-EL4 or AA battery set it's an 8fps body, only the D850 can match it for speed in the selection of gripped FX bodies
Accessories. It uses the 10 pin interface that all the higher-end Nikons since the F4 and F90 have used.
Ergonomics. They're simply excellent.
AF. The 51 point AF unit is well known for its excellent performance. Even today it's a great performer.

IQ. The 12MP is simply limited in DR and resolution compared to modern sensors. Even a DX camera today delivers better IQ in most situations.
Live View. The LV experience sucks. It's basically useless except for manual focus on a tripod. The D600 isn't great, but it is better
Lens compatibility. You get E lenses, you don't get any AF-P. That writes off the excellent 70-300E AF-P, Nikon's best value in a telephoto zoom.
Battery & Cards. Uses the long obsolete EN-EL3e and CF cards. Not great unless you're sitting on stock (which admittedly I am, I have 5-6 perfectly good EN-EL3e's and a bunch of decent CF cards)

As to the D610? Well it comes close enough to street price on the D800 that I'd just suggest getting a D800 instead. It's really just a D600 with the shutter fix guaranteed to be included, but any D600 with the shutter oil issue should have had the free fix from Nikon by now.

Friday 1 November 2019

Looking Back at Full Frame

Snow On King 
D800, Series E 50mm f1.8

I took a look back at the four Full Frame bodies I've owned over the last few days. I've owned three of the Nikon FX bodies, the D600, D700 and D800, in that (slightly ironic) order, additionally I've had Sony's A7II.

The D600 was my first attempt at full frame. I owned only for a couple months. The files I got from it were excellent, great IQ, lovely colour and the D600+Sigma 105/2.8 pairing in particular was just gangbusters. The downsides were the ergonomics, which were marginal, and I had a weather sealing issue with it.

The D700 was a great beast of a body, everything I disliked about the D600 wasn't an issue with the D700. However the files are merely good. The old 12MP sensor is old enough that the IQ just doesn't stand out. It's pretty good, but I couldn't justify getting a D700 over say a D7200 or D7500 today.

The D800 files are outstanding, just absolutely the best files I've ever had. I have good memories of the body as well. The downside was weight, as I'd been using it as a carry camera which it simply doesn't do well at, and manual focusing, it was marginal with my 28/3.5 AI'd and my Zeiss 85 Planar. I sold the body instead of the lenses, when I should have done the opposite. As great as the Zeiss was, the D800 + Nikkor 85/1.8G would have been better than the Zeiss 85+ A7II.

The A7II doesn't really stand up. The files are simply meh, resolution is good, noise is good, results simply do not excite me. The colour is what stands out, but not in a good way. The handling was OK, nothing to crow about, but not particularly awesome either.

In hindsight, I should have kept the D800 last year, and sold the 85/1.4 Planar instead. Combine that with a decent light carry option (which the NEX-7 almost achieved) and I would have been in a good place overall.

I need to put some serious thought into this, as a D800 + E-M5II could readily achieve that pairing for me. I'd need a couple lenses for this, but the 18-35G, 50/1.8G and a 105 macro would cover most of that (add a 70-300E and everything I need on FF would really be covered)