The lesson of the day: If you see a photographic opportunity, take it. Don't worry that the light isn't just right, or that you don't have the right lens, or whatever. Just take it. Do whatever it takes. Otherwise, the image above is what you'll end up with. Here's the story.
This morning on my way to work, I saw something that I wanted to make a picture of. Beautiful rolling fields with rolls of baled hay, arranged perfectly. I had my new Fujifilm X10 with me. There was great color and contrast. And, I thought, "that will be perfect in afternoon light. I'll stop and grab the shot on the way home!"
I didn't stop and take the shot that was in front of me at the moment.
On the way home, I came to the spot and slowed down. As anticipated, the light was gorgeous! But, during the day, while I was busy working, the farmer had loaded all the hay bales up onto a truck and taken them, and my photographs, away.
Sony has announced the replacement to the ground-breaking SLT-A55, the first of their translucent-mirror digital cameras. The A55 was rated camera-of-the-year by one of the major photo magazines when it was released, and Sony's had a string of hits ever since. The new model, the SLT-A57, maintains or improves all the best bits of the original A55, adds a few features, and addresses a few consumer concerns.
The new camera has been built-in a larger body almost identical to the new SLT-A65, which removes the objection that many had to the older camera's grip. That also made space for the bigger battery used in the A65 and A77. That means about 550 exposures per charge. The price has also been kept down at a price similar to the A55, about $700 for the body alone and about $800 with the 18-55mm kit lens.
So, other than the size and the model number what's new?
The first thing to mention is that the A57 loses the built-in GPS. Is that a big deal? I still don't think so. As I mentioned in previous commentary, I've never had an SLR with a GPS, so I wouldn't miss it. I have a workflow for dealing with location marking when I need it. As mentioned before, the A57 gets the larger battery used in the A65 and A77, so the battery life is improved.
The viewfinder optics have been redesigned to effectively increase the usable area and make for a larger viewfinder. There's also a mode that increases the eyepoint relief, making for easier use by people with glasses. So, while not the expensive OLED viewfinder used in the A65 and A77, it's still reported to be much improved over the previous model.
The sensor is the 16MP sensor used in the NEX-5N, coupled with Sony's newest BIONZ processor, which delivers phenomenal image quality at a very wide ISO range -- up to ISO 12,800 before "expansion." Of course, as ISO increases, so does noise. However, the new processor does a superb job of cleaning things up. Yes, there's still noise, but it's possible to get a very usable image at 12,800. The new processor also allows for true 1080p60p video, as well as shooting at 1080p24p, if that sort of thing is important to you.
What I find more interesting is the new 1.4X and 2.0X digital zoom, which Sony calls Clear View Zoom. It's real-time, in-camera smart interpolation that still yields a 16MP image when using either 1.4X or 2.0X modes. In the sample images, the result is quite amazing. These two images from dpreview.com show how impressive the 2.0X can be: image at native resolution, image with 2.0X zoom. The A57 also has a smart portrait mode, which is kind of interesting. When enabled, it first determines that you've taken a portrait, and then makes a second image that is a "corrected" composition (based on all the "classic" rules of portrait composition). Nifty, but something I would probably never use. The point, though, is that the image quality is still stunning, and the mode will allow beginners to get really nice portrait.
For those who need high-speed-shooting, the A57 will manage 10fps at 16MP, or, in a special lower-resolution mode, 12fps. This is similar to a trick Nikon used several years ago in one of their high-end pro models.
It also appears that most, if not all, of the features (auto-panorama, dynamic range optimization, etc.) from earlier SLT-series cameras are included, making this one hot little mid-level DLSR, especially given it's entry-level price tag.
Much in the news of photography today, much of which is not good. First up, our favorite camera store, Penn Camera, has filed for bankruptcy. They'll be closing stores almost immediately. That leaves only a very few, scattered independent shops in our area, most of which suffer from small product lines.
Second, Kodak is also filing for bankruptcy. In my opinion, this has been a long time coming, and taking our Kodachrome away was the nail in the coffin. Not that I ever liked Kodachrome. I always thought Fujichrome was a much better film.
Meanwhile, Trey Ratcliff has posted an interesting article on his blog announcing the death of the DSLR. Instead, Trey imagines a future of 3rd generation digital cameras, most without mirrors, and many without even any kind of viewfinder except for the big screen on the back. Indeed, new mirrorless cameras like Sony's new NEX-7 offer all of the image quality of today's APS-CDSLRs in an amazingly compact package. With adapters available allowing a wide ranges of lenses to fit on the NEX cameras, they're sure to be a hit. The NEX-7 is poised to be a very capable, professional quality camera once some serious lenses are available.
Years ago, professionals relied heavily on superb-quality 35mm rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses from Lieca, Nikon, Canon, and others. They loved them for their small size and weight and excellent image quality. A glance at the pages of any new photography magazine shows some of those same players are back at it today, introducing high-end "digital rangefinders" aimed squarely at professional or semi-pro markets.
I'm finally able to share some first shots with the new Sony SLT-A35 -- and my first impressions as well!
SLT-A35 and 18-55mm f:3.5-5.6 SAM lens:
I mentioned in my post, Quickie with the A35, that the camera and kit lens just plain feel good. With my own, I spent some time customizing the operation. A few things I did right off the bat:
Enable the automatic LCD/Viewfinder switching
Enable the "Eye-start Autofocus"
Enable the focus assist magnifier
Enable the "rule of thirds" finder grid
Disable auto image review
Set the LCD to an info display by default
Enable info displays in the electronic viewfinder
I also made my "standard" changes to imaging settings:
Punch up the sharpness in all modes except for "portrait"
Punch up the contrast in B&W modes
Punch up the saturation in most modes
This morning, I headed off across the countryside to take some pictures on a gorgeous fall day.
This image is straight from the camera. I'm letting the camera make all the decisions here, and selected the "Toy Camera" scene mode. The camera has done pretty much exactly what I would have done in post -- slightly darkened the corners and punched up and warmed the colors. While you can't tell a lot from even the enlarged image here, the overall sharpness is excellent, and there's little evidence of the dreaded "purple fringing" in the edges and corners. Very nice.
DT55-200mm f:4-5.6 SAM v2:
Here, I've selected the 55-200mm lens, and chosen the auto HDR mode with a range of 6EV. In this mode, the camera makes three exposures -- one at the "correct" exposure, and then one under and one over. The images are then combined in-camera for a true HDR effect. The camera then saves the correct single exposure as well as the HDR version. As expected, the HDR image requires a little "help" in post, and I've done the basics -- correct the black point, the highlight limit and at the mid-point levels. The result is a nice, crisp, detailed image with good color and detail.
Like the 18-55mm lens I purchased, the 55-200 is also a "kit" lens. While the 18-55 was made in Thailand, the 55-200 was made in China, and you can definitely feel a difference in the lens. Where the zoom control on the 18-55 is very smooth, the 55-200 doesn't feel quite as "luscious." The zoom is tight and catches here and there. If I were to try to use this lens for video, and tried to zoom with it while recording, the zoom would not be smooth. But, the lens is sharp and lightweight, with only a little more evidence of chromatic aberration. For the money, not a bad lens to start with.
Sigma EF-610 DG SUPER Flash:
I don't really have any images yet to show with the flash. I did shoot a few today, but I was working in really extreme conditions and talking too much about them wouldn't be completely fair. However ... I'm not as thrilled with the flash as I'd hoped to be. For now, I'm going to put it down to not being used to the new gear. I'll post some images and a little review on that once I get better acquainted with the flash.
Here are a few selected images I made today:
I hope that I'll have an opportunity to shoot some more tomorrow, and I'll of course share my results.
In my postings about the Sony cameras, I have been referring back to our old Minolta DiMage A1 and A2 cameras. I thought it might be nice to include a "best of" gallery of images I made with these two cameras. Photographically, this was a period where I was probably more prolific than ever.
For this gallery, I went back to the original files, be they RAW or JPEG, and gave them some of the processing treatments I use today. I did, however, purposely limit myself to iPhoto for the image work. I was pleasantly surprised by how well many of my old image held up.
Could tripods and image stabilized lenses become a thing of the past? Many photographers have already ditched their tripods in favor of image stabilization, and now Adobe have given sneak preview of a new automatic "un-blur" technology that is nothing short of amazing.
I personally believe that it's always best to get it right in camera, but for those times when things just didn't work out as well as one would hope, this could be the tool that saves the day!