Monday 28 February 2022

2022 Goals


Olympus E-M5II, m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 PRO

I've not yet published a review of my 2021 Goals or a new set of goals for 2022.

First, 2021 in review.

1. Goal 1 - 10,000 frames on one camera. Miserable failure, I did 3300+ on 2 different bodies and broke 10,000 total frames, but there were too many bodies and while I shot half the year with a single body for the most part, the E-M5II, I didn't get close to it.

2. Goal 2 - Get out at least once a week with the camera. Mostly successful. I did pretty well at this until October, but I really hermited up in Nov/Dec and wasn't leaving the house much at all. When I did, the camera usually came with me.

3. Goal 3 - Post an IG post for every deliberate photography outing. This I succeeded at and I'm pretty happy with that.

For 2022 My goals will be similar. In fact I'm going to try goals 1 & 2 all over again.

1. Goal 1 - 10,000 frames on one camera. The A7RIV puts me in a much better place to achieve this. For the first time in a long time I can realistically see myself shooting the same camera in December that I did in February.

2. Goal 2 - Get out at least once a week with the camera. This is quite achievable if I don't hermit up for an extended period this year.

3. Goal 3 - Raise my posts to likes ratio to 70% or higher on Fred Miranda. I've been active there for years, but because I mostly am active in gear threads historically, until recently my post to like ratio was under 50% until recently. I'd like to get that up to 70% in 2022. That's a stretch goal (I'm at ~12400 posts and ~6400 likes right now)

Friday 18 February 2022

Lenses and Rumours

A7RIV, SLR Magic 18mm f2.8 Cine

Picked up a couple cheap but good manual lenses this week. 

First one is the one used above, the SLR Magic 18mm f2.8 Cine. It's a compact and medium speed UWA with a low price and reasonable performance. And it takes 62mm filters, so it can use the filters I'd bought for my now-departed 12-40 Pro.

It won't win any awards, but it's also not going to generate much in the way of complaints. A thoroughly competent lens as far as I've seen so far. As such, it will be the core UWA for hiking for now.

Handling is the one thing I'll have to get used to, as a cine lens it has a declicked aperture and geared focus and aperture rings, instead of a rubber focus ring and ribbed aperture ring. That does give a more positive grip when gloved, but it's a tad rough on the fingers otherwise. I'm good with the physical handling, but I've never been a fan of declicked aperture rings even though I understand the benefits for video.

The other lens I picked up is something of a re-acqiusition. I've owned at least 3 variants of the Tamron 90mm macro before, in Adaptall-2, Nikon AF and Pentax AF forms. I bought a Nikon AF one, but the older version rather than the late screwdriver version I had last time. This will be a macro/compact telephoto for me. I know it works well for me on both FF and APS-C and expect I'll use it a lot in the coming months.

That gives me both a good hiking kit of the 18, 28-60 and 70-300 and a compact 3 prime kit of the 18, 45 and 90. With the latter I can use APS-C mode to make it an 18/28, 45/68 and 90/135 setup.

Oh, and SonyAlphaRumors just noted an interesting rumour for a refreshed A7C, with the A7RIII's 42MP sensor instead of the 24MP it currently has or the 33MP in the A7IV. That makes a lot of sense to me, the 42MP sensor is excellent and a lot of folks like it, but the only body options are both aging. Going with this sensor in the A7C refresh would both give the A7C more differentiation from the regular A7 line and give a modern option for those who like the mid-40MP sensors. It would become even better at being the hiker's landscape camera, especially if the A7RV grows in size & weight again, which I expect. This would be the perfect pairing with Sony's compact G primes, especially if they extend the line (I'd like to see an 85/2.8 or 135/2.8 and a 16-18mm option from Sony).


Wednesday 16 February 2022

A Few Thoughts on the A7RIV


A7RIV, FE 28-60mm f4-5.6, sunset in Western Ontario

After two weeks with the A7RIV, there's a lot I like about it, and a few things I don't like.

I'll start off with what I don't like.

1. Dust. The bloody sensor is an absolute dust magnet and I'm doing a lot of spotting in post. This is a huge change from the Oly stuff which was almost immune to sensor dust, and the Nikon and Panasonic stuff did pretty well too. Endemic Sony issue they need to fix.

2. Poor handling of manual lens data. The workflow is pretty much a. Set Steadyshot focal length. b. Set minimum shutter for Auto ISO (if you use it). c. Wonder which lens you used when doing post. The gold standard here is the newest Oly bodies which not only let you set a menu of manual lenses which you can select from and which both IBIS and Auto ISO respect, but a custom text name for the lens as well, useful when you have multiple lenses at one focal length, such as my 2 135mm options. This has been a complaint since the A7II and Sony really should address it. Nikon should as well, as while they do a lot better than Sony, in fact they do everything right except the fact that if you aren't using an electronic adapter, Nikon Z bodies don't write EXIF data from non-CPU lens data.

3. LCD Articulation. My usual complaint for any body with no articulation or only single-axis articulation. A7RIV is single-axis and should be 2 axis like the X-T2 or Z9. 

4. Invalid Operation Button - really annoying pop-up messages when you accidentally hit a function that's disabled in the current setup (AF when using an MF lens is the most common for me).

Now on to what I do like:

1. Battery life. I shot 512 shots last weekend over about 14 hours. Came back with 76% battery. That's DSLR-level life. Impressed. Plus I can charge on the go easily thanks to USB-C and USB Micro B ports that are charge capable (yes, the current Sony bodies have both a Type C and a Micro-B port, the latter is also the remote release port). I'll buy an extra battery, but I don't see it being critical in the field unless I'm doing long-exposure work.

2. IQ. Yeah, it's immense. More per-pixel noise than some other high-MP bodies, but with so many pixels it's not an issue. DR is great, the colours are nice and wow, 3shot/1 stop brackets to mild HDR delivers so much IQ it's crazy. I prefer shooting bracket sets when shooting winter scenes due to the huge DR of these scenes.

3. Handling. I actually really like the ergonomics of this body. Not perfect, the body would benefit from an extra 5-10mm between the mount and grip, but very good and I'm not missing the G9 or Z5 when I hold the A7RIV. Button layout is excellent, I can always find anything. Biggest complaint is that like the G9, I can't re-assign the Record button.

4. EVF. Marginally better than the Z5 in practice. I still think Nikon has the best EVF display profiles, but the better display on the A7RIV offsets the better profile on the Z5.

5. AF. I've never worked with AF so good. The tracking is so excellent that I just use AF-C in Flexible spot mode, lock on and recompose and let the camera sort out focusing. Works brilliantly. I'm actually surprised about how quickly this became part of my workflow. I treated the Z5 like a DSLR for AF, it worked, worked well but I mostly stuck with AF-C and ignored the tracking modes aside from using face detect a few times. I didn't even bother with tracking or AF-C on the m43 bodies. Sony has been a breath of fresh air, although I suspect an Z6II or Z7II would be pretty similar for tracking today.

Things I'm ambivalent on:

1. Card usage. No lossless compressed and 61MP 14 bit files means the A7RIV absolutely chews through card space. I shot an entire 64GB card last weekend for 512 shots. I'll need to acquire more cards, my current set was doing fine with the low-MP bodies I've been shooting since I sold the D800 a couple years ago.

2. Write speed. Those big files take time to write to my UHS-I cards. Time to move from cheap UHS-I to more expensive UHS-II cards. A couple 128GB cards will do for my uses though and I only need 1 in the short term. That's good because these aren't cheap. I'll pass my now obsolete 32GB cards to my partner for her A7II. Note that a lot of camera functions lock out when the buffer is writing, so fast cards benefit all users, not just those who hammer the buffer.

So far I'm really liking the A7RIV if you can't tell. It's well suited to the way I work, and the few issues I've encountered I can work around pretty well.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

OM-Wow - The OM-1 is Launched


E-M5II, m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro

So the new OMDS 'Wow' camera has been announced. It's called the OM-1 and it's a real nice set of upgrades.

But very few of the changes would have benefited my work and the price increased over 20% as well vs the E-M1.3 that this replaces as the flagship camera (I expect the E-M1X to just fade away like the Pen-F did)

It's faster, better sealed and upgraded all around, but only performance changes to the computational features that interest me (LiveND and High-Res). LiveND now can do 6 stops and High-Res post-processing is twice as fast. Oh and a claimed 1 stop better DR from the new sensor.

That's nice, but frankly I'm getting a bigger boost for my work from the A7RIV, so I have no desire to reverse course on my switch to Sony. 

That said, this is clearly the best crop camera on the market by a fairly large margin. While some have claimed the D500 still held that crown, IMHO the E-M1.3 was already in that position in most regards.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Oot and Aboot

 Sony A7RIV, Tamron 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 Di III RXD FE

Got out for a long drive Saturday for the first time since mid-fall and did some shooting with the A7RIV as I went. I mostly was wandering around back roads south-west of Barrie and I did see some delightful sights as I went. Came back with a bit of landscape and even one good wildlife shot, of a wild turkey alongside the road.

All shooting was with the Tamron 70-300 or the 28-60. I left the focus in AF-C Tracking: Expand Flexible Spot which I'm really liking as a default mode. I can pick a focus point, hold down AF-ON then recompose as I need and it just sticks. Only fail to stick I had was shooting the wild turkey heads, they just had nothing for the AF system to grab onto due to lighting (AF needs contrast to lock on).

Shooting was as usual mostly in A, with some landscape in M where I wanted more control over the chosen shutter/aperture. I also did bracketing sets, which I had to figure out on the fly (forgot how Sony selects between bracketing configs). I will note that I do have a huge preference for continuous bracketing (where the set is shot as a burst). Sony is the one system that lets me flip between single-shot and continuous for bracketing without menu diving, not that I'd ever actually do that. 

Overall, I'm quickly getting comfortable with the camera. I've set no records in terms of usage (274 shots in the first week), but that's more a case of lack of opportunity than anything else, I've only had a couple hours of serious photography time and it's been rather dreary for walking in the city.

I do need a new UWA (shouldn't have sold the 16-35 last fall) and some new cards (61MP = Card Hog, my 64GB card can hold just over 500 images)

Sunday 6 February 2022

A Little Surprise

A7RIV, Samyang 45mm f1.8, cold and clear morning in Toronto.

Two of them actually. The first is 4:3 crop mode on the A7RIV. It's a mere 53MP, which is pretty wildly useful to me. One thing I've always missed when I inevitably go back to FF or APS-C from m43 was the more-square aspect ratio of m43. It's closer to how I see the scene and I prefer it. The A7RIV lets me keep doing that, have a more than respectable resolution and as it's just a metadata tag, I can flip back to 3:2 in post if I have to (or just flip the camera back and forth between the two in the field, it's rather quick)

The second is this lens. It's small. It's cheap. It's quite good. Unlike Sony's overpriced and underwhelming FE 50/1.8, which would be acceptable if it was priced the same as Nikon's 50/1.8D or Canon's EF mount 50/1.8 STM, the Samyang 45 is actually good enough for its price and makes a pretty good inexpensive walkaround lens. I'm also kind of digging the wider 45mm focal length vs the usual 50mm. 

Saturday 5 February 2022

Do I Really need 61MP?

A7RIV, FE 28-60 f4-5.6, Approximately APS-C crop for 90mm-e

The short answer? No, I do not need 61MP in any way, shape or form. It's massive overkill for me, but it brings capabilities with it that I do want or need.

What do I need?

1. ~32MP in FF

This is the margin for visibly better resolution than the various 20-24MP bodies deliver. I was looking for a step up in resolution from what I had, in terms of landscape shooting. In short, I missed the D800's IQ for landscape work. High-Res mode on the m43 stuff addressed this, but was more situational than I was really comfortable with. 

2. 20MP or better in APS-C crop. Yes, I want to use crop mode, for 3 things: 

    i. Cheap and fun manual APS-C lenses. I missed this from my Fuji days. They're cheap to buy and lots of fun to shoot with, plus they're small.

    ii. Action. I prefer composing with the full viewfinder rather than cropping in post when shooting any sort of action. Crop mode lets me do that on mirrorless as the display is full-sized unlike on DSLR's.  

    iii. Turning 1 prime into 2. Since I can get away with 20+MP APS-C IQ for my around-town shooting unless it's really dark, I can use crop mode to lighten my kit. For example a 24mm lens can double as a 35mm equivalent by flipping to crop mode. Same way a 55mm can double as a 85mm equivalent, and a 135mm can double as a 200mm. So 3 lenses in the bag cover 6 focal lengths. Alternatively I could go 15/24, 35/50 and 90/135 for a wider 3 lens, 6 fl set. This also works to turn my wee 28-60 into a 28-90 equivalent, a much more flexible range for walkabout shooting.

The Crop requirement is one big reason I was looking at the Z7 and A7RIV (the A7RIII doesn't quite meet my 20MP or better requirement for crop, Z7 hits just over 19MP and is on the cusp) . Unfortunately Nikon has badly crippled the Z7 in terms of crop modes vs the D8x0 bodies, especially in the case of forcing DX Crop when using a DX lens. The A7RIV lacks the nice 1.2x crop mode, but can defeat auto-APS-C crop which is a big win (a lot of APS-C lenses cover more than APS-C, sometime even being quite usable on FF as is (both the Nikon 35DX and the Sony DT35 SAM are somewhat usable on FF).

My experience with 24MP and lower bodies is that for my uses, APS-C crop mode wasn't really workable for anything other than street work. The A7IV and A7RIII would be mostly usable, but not quite where I wanted to be, much like the E-M5II was in terms of resolution (in fact they'd basically straddle the 16MP E-M5II with 15 or 18 megapixels)

 The good news is that I'm going to be very hard-pressed to consider any camera within my price range as a real-world upgrade over the A7RIV for the foreseeable future. It's by far the most capable camera I've owned, and even at 3 years old it's still one of the most capable bodies on the market. Yeah, there will be a A7RV later this year most likely, and I expect a Z7III in the fall as well, but it will be years before those hit my price range. Note my outlay on the A7RIV was the same as I paid for the Z5 this time last year, after trade-ins.

Thursday 3 February 2022

Switched Again


Sony A7RIV, FE 28-60mm f4-5.6

So both the G9 and the E-M5II are gone, along with all the m43 stuff including the MMF-3 and the 12-40 Pro that was much of the reason I got rid of the Z5 and bought back into m43

There was nothing wrong with this kit. It generally worked well for me unless the light got low. So why did I sell it?

There were a couple reasons. 

1. Yeah, I still like shooting in the dark around the city. Especially in the winter and when I'm stuck close to home. m43 stuff just wasn't great for that unless you bought the f1.2 lenses, which are spendy and largish, defeating what is for me the biggest advantages of m43

2. If I was going to stay shooting m43 seriously, I needed to invest in a quality telezoom and UWA. That was going to cost me FF money

3. The rumours on the next-gen bodies which I would be looking at for long-term usage are all around a $2K USD price point. That's a hard sell when you are seeing A7RIV's coming in lightly used around $2300

Note I already own a pretty good but slowish telezoom in Sony mount, the Tamron 70-300 I acquired last fall. Should have kept the 16-35 ;-)

And yes, I got the A7RIV. Because the deal was insanely in my favour after the trade-in. Also picked up the tiny but excellent 28-60 for a good deal. It will be a bag lens and cover most of the gap between the 70-300 and the 16-35 I will inevitably be re-buying shortly. Cheap plastic, but sharp.

Why the A7RIV? 

I looked seriously at a few options. Most notably the Z7, the A7IV and the A7RIV. The Z7II was too much money and I wanted a body with more than 24MP for reasons I'll get into.

The Z7 was the best deal on paper. A used Z7 with the excellent 24-70/4 S cost less than the bare A7RIV did. But the Z7 came with at least $300 in additional cost due to the card setup (CFE-B card is $180 minimum, plus at least one USB reader, maybe 2 as I need both a USB-A 3.1 reader for my desktop and a USB-C for my iPad Pro in the field) and delivers less performance in a number of areas over the A7RIV. Not so much in terms of IQ (the Z7 is more than adequate there) as AF, multi-shot and several other areas. The end result is that the Z7 would have cost me almost the same as the A7RIV did for less camera, but more lens.

The A7IV is a newer camera and in most regards somewhat more refined than either the A7RIV or the Z7. It also has a flip/twist display, which I prefer to the single-tilt display on both the Z7 and A7RIV, but the EVF is trash compared to the Z5, let alone the Z7 or A7RIV. But it's the most expensive of the lot as it would have been a new body. I could have swung the deal, but it just didn't make as much sense to me as a low-mileage A7RIV given the latter offers better build, better EVF and a higher-resolution sensor. I give up the faster responding UI (the A7RIV is already pretty good there), the CFE-A slot and the better AF tracking. Oh, and the A7IV is a little bit more money than the A7RIV I was looking at (I could have got an even lower mileage A7RIV for the same price as the A7IV)

Why not the A7RIII? They are a little cheaper than the Z7 used, but the UI and EVF updates to the A7RIV are enough to swing the difference for me, especially if I manage to keep this body long-term.

One reason why the A7RIV appealed was the possibility of keeping it for a long time. It's well known as one of the best landscape cameras on the market today, it's also for the most part Sony's best APS-C camera, I can run it in crop mode and get class-leading IQ, speed and the ergonomics that are lacking on all their actual APS-C cameras. Plus the body is reasonably sized (slightly smaller than my G9 was in fact), the ergonomic niggles on the Mark II bodies are mostly solved as well. Big buttons, better button layout, a joystick and a better grip with more finger clearance. Ditto for the battery life, the A7RIV is on the Z batter that's twice the capacity of the W battery in the Mark II's. Responsiveness is also improved, it's faster all around (AF, FPS, UI), the menu's are improved, even if they are still Olympus-level disorganized.

So for now I have the A7RIV, the 28-60 and 70-300 as well as all my manual lenses from 24-300mm. I'll add a replacement UWA shortly and my hiking kit should be covered then.