Playing around with the Sony Alpha a77, working on DIY projects...
As you might have noticed, I haven’t been around in the past couple of weeks. Mainly because of work, also because of procrastinating everything. I started planning photographic “strolls” but the weather messed my plans up, and as of Sunday, my laptop won’t boot. I guess it won’t help.
I am focussing on a lot of things and photography is being mistreated. I will remedy that at least by taking the camera out of its bag again. As for my laptop, with all my softwares and files, I will find a way. Soon, hopefully.
I have just bought the Pentacon 135mm f/2.8 Preset on ebay and received it a couple of days ago. I was thoroughly impressed by its reputation and had to have one. I was also looking at the Tair 11A but I didn’t want to explode the budget I had in mind.
I managed to get the Preset version, not the auto one, the difference being that the first one has 15 aperture blades while the latter only 6. When reading through reviews about this lens, I realized the preset one seemed to have a better IQ and a more pleasing bokeh. After all, why buy a “Bokeh Monster” and not go for the lens with the best one between the two.
Granted the Tair 11A is a little sharper wide open from what I see, but still, the Pentacon 135mm f/2.8 Preset isn’t loosing by a lot.
I haven’t had the time to really extensively test the lens yet, I did on the other hand played around with it just to make sure the merchandise was in proper condition. And it is.
I will definitely have a go at it this weekend, especially if it gets sunnier, I’m not comfortable walking around with an M42 lens attached to a body (no matter how weather sealed it is) only with a lens adapter.
One thing I have instantly noticed is the rather low contrast this lens procures. On the two example shots I posted above, I shot both at ISO 50, and only boosted the contrast a little. Not a lot, but still. Maybe the same thing that applied to the Minolta 500mm f/8 will work here as well, change the original lens hood with a longer one. It worked on the Minolta.
Stay tuned for more shots with the Pentacon 135mm f/2.8 Preset, it will eventually come
Last part of this tiny but interesting DIY project. After going to the hardware store I came back with a pipe holder, that I cut in half. I slightly widened it to make sure the Minolta 500mm f/8 would perfectly fit. This one is my largest lens so the 70-300 for instance would be smaller but it would still work.
As you can see, I used a wood nut as an adapter for a smaller screw type. The whole thing should be solidly anchored on the rubber/metallic plate, otherwise it’s pretty much useless. That’s why I used a bolt.
Once this is assembled, you just need your tripod plate.
Here’s what it looks like on the tripod.
And now with the 500mm and a77 mounted.
Note that rubber on plastic isn’t really a perfect match, mainly because when the focus ring rotates during focusing, like with the 500mm, well… the rubber won’t allow the ring to rotate at all. The whole thing will just jump around. Fortunately I use my fleece cover whenever I mount the 500mm so it won’t have a problem rotating then, the 70-300 G doesn’t rotate so I am thinking about adding a small fleece padding on the lens support. This might help.
Also, as you can see, the camera + lens combination isn’t parallel to the plate given how wide the 500mm is, same issue with the G for that matter. So I’m thinking that when I will add the grip, the camera will be perfectly stable on its end, and I will just need a couple of bolts and a longer screw for the support to be at the same level.
Meanwhile, I’ll test drive the support asap and post whatever I get here!
I have finally found the missing piece for the long sought after DIY project of mine. I found the best second-hand camera store ever, right under my nose. For those of you living in the “tri-state” are of Benelux, this one is in Luxembourg. It is called Photo Puce and belongs to Foto Trade, you will find all the contact informations you need on Foto Trade’s website. Be aware that this store is open only on Wednesdays from 11am to 4pm (16h). I am not affiliated to them whatsoever, I just discovered a gold mine. This guy has everything in his store. It’s more of a walk-around store, just like a small indoor flea market, you look around and search for whatever you need. He’s here to help out in case you get lost.
Which brings us to my DIY project, the telephoto lens support. I’ve been looking for an “official” one for quite some time now, but I’ve always find the prices on these things are way too high. You basically just need to stabilize the telephoto lens (the bigger it is, the more you need to) on its extremity. So why not use some sort of rigid plate that could easily welcome a camera, a tripod, and of course, a support for your lens.
This first part of my project will only deal with the rigid plate, mainly because I haven’t had the time to go to the hardware store and buy the support I am eyeing. Worry not, I’ll get to it by Saturday and update the blog with the finished project.
So here goes. I had quite a few different ideas when it came to the plate. A tiny wood board, shelves support, lots of different window angles and what not, so yes, I kept my mind busy for some time trying to figure out the best way to do this for less than 10EUr. And while I was walking around that store, I just figured, why not ask the owner if he has scrap tripod parts. I was initially looking for a tripod wheel since tripod/camera screws are quite particular. He pointed to a shelve covered in stuff. Flash supports, handles, wheels of all sorts, and plates, metallic plates. Tiny rigid, rubber covered, metallic plates. Bingo.
I bought this baby for 3EUR. The hardware store support I want costs around 4EUR, so there you have it, a telephoto lens support for only 7 bucks. The owner couldn’t tell me what it originally was for, some kind of lens or flash support, probably. It didn’t matter, I found the plate and three wheels especially dedicated to what I need!
The first step is to take the metal and rubber parts apart, gently. It wasn’t too hard given how old this thing was.
You then need to clean these up otherwise you will never be able to glue them back together. I used an old knife. Don’t by shy or gentle, you really need to take everything down.
If you’re worried about scratched, don’t be, you’ll end up sanding everything down anyway.
I also sanded the back of the rubber plate down, just to be sure no old glue would mess things up and to also ensure the new glue would correctly penetrate. Otherwise it’s just time wasted.
Once it’s all shiny, you need to clean everything up. I used 90 degrees alcohol to eliminate glue residues and to basically kill whatever germs were thriving since the 80′s on that plate.
Finally, I used the most famous glue in the world to glue both plates back together. And voila!
I’m sorry you need to wait until Saturday for the complete DIY project, stores close just too damn early in this country.
Let me know what you think so far
I finally found a reason (and actually just thought about it) to use my Manfrotto 804RC2 head coupled with the Giottos MT9251 tripod upside down! It was actually fun to see my camera hanging between a tripod’s legs, and I have to say that the a77′s articulated screen is a treat, especially in this kind of situations. As I was working on the previous post, I spotted this flower outside the window. I dropped what I was doing, fetched the tripod, and started playing around. I could have used a reflector to eliminate the noise present in the darker areas (even at ISO50) but I wasn’t trying that hard. So there:
I took the a77 for a spin today on my usual walkabout around the forest next to my place, alongside the 70-300 G, the 50mm and the 28mm. I had in mind to test some settings, taking some river shots, try the continuous shooting (supposed to be pretty amazing), and pretty much just get the feeling on how I have to adapt to the a77, how to adapt it to me, what I like, what I don’t. Granted a 2 hours walk isn’t enough for a thorough “examination” but a good start on building a first impression. No interesting shots in today’s post mainly because I took a lot of test ones and nothing “beautiful”. I guess some of you would be interested in test shots but mine are far less appealing than some more professional reviews you can find on major websites. I’ll just post an ISO50 shot because I was really impressed by the results.
The first thing I have been able to form sort of a conclusion on is the SD card/buffer equation. Last week, I had a class 4 SD card, today, I used a class 10. And what a pleasant surprise! Shots were readily available for preview if needed, after a 15 shots burst the buffer was ready in just a few seconds (I’ll time it but just keeping an eye on it for the sake of it confirmed the amelioration), no pause whatsoever during continuous shooting.. So, thumbs up here!
On other thing I wanted to see was how well the EVF and the top screen would react to different lighting conditions. I have read comments on how impossible it was to read anything on the top screen in sunlight, and to be frank, I tilted the camera in every single possible angle and the only time I wasn’t able to read the display was… well, when I wasn’t looking at it. So no complaints here, at all. On the other hand, the EVF needs some getting used to. I think that having the EVF effects turned on is at the same time a good and a bad thing. A good thing because it basically gives you a pretty accurate preview of what you’re about to shoot, a bad thing because it can be darker at times, too contrasty depending on the sun, so on so forth. I admit I tweaked the EVF display through the “creative style” menu (even when shooting RAW, you get a preview of any style setting you choose but it doesn’t affect your final result, because you shoot RAW) to have it less saturated and contrasty, but still. I should try it with the EVF effects off.
Something I found myself missing is a rather silly thing. With my old OVF, camera off, I used to take a look at what was in front of me through the OVF just to see if what I was looking at was still interesting through the camera. I kept doing this with the a77 but when the camera is off, the EVF is off. So yeah. Too bad.
I also tested the AF accuracy through some simple tests, shooting a very thin branch at 300mm, using the continuous AF to see how well it reacts when shooting moving subjects, etc. Nothing to extensive but basic things I usually need to perfectly work. Nothing to complain about, the AF is usually spot on, at 300mm it’s still hard to stay still but the a77 managed to do a fine job of focusing where and when needed.
I also took a more in depth look at the focus peaking feature. As long as the contrast on your subject is high enough, it too is spot on, pretty much the same way the AF works. Focus peaking is apparently incompatible with the focus magnifier feature, I would have loved being able to use both at the same time.
Something that still amazes me now that I think about it is the ISO 50. Damn, it’s flawless. With studio lighting it should be such a treat. More to come on studio lighting in a coming post by the way. Here’s a shot I took this morning, my two favorite sins.
One more thing. I really feel the lack of a vertical grip. I have one on my a450 and I naturally tilt the camera sideways and shoot away. Today, when shooting portrait, it was sometimes complicated to shoot straight. I am planning on buying a grip sometime soon but this can wait as I have more “urgent” plans in mind. But it would theoretically help the battery life out. 340-ish shots and 40% down from a full charge is not that good in my opinion. I’ve read the EVF uses more battery than the LCD screen, counter-intuitively, so I guess it also derives from my personal way of using the a77.
Something important every SLT user should bare in mind is that whatever you see in the EVF usually looks better once imported in, say, Lightroom. I was pretty impressed at firts by the EVF accuracy but now that I have been PP a77 files more and more, I definitely see a difference. So don’t rush on discarding a shot that looks too noisy (for instance) until you actually get to take a look on a real screen. I think I might have lost quite a few shots today because of that now that I have LR open in front of me.
And finally, just for the kicks, here is a second version of the same ISO50 shot from this morning. I wanted a color version as well as a b&w one because this is actually my first shot ever that came out of Lightroom with NO noise reduction treatment whatsoever. Flawless…
My new a77 finally got here on Saturday! For different (stupid) reasons, I wasn’t able to jump on it first thing but I was all over it on Sunday. It actually gave me time to go through all the options I was interested in, to understand where everything is, and to read through the manual. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned during my photography classes, always thoroughly read the manual. As usual, I find Sony manuals rather confusing at times, but in a predictable way. So I jumped to the sections most interesting to me and didn’t really bother with “camera modes”.
The first thing that surprised me was the fact that I got comfortable with all the dials really fast. If you’re used to Sony bodies, you won’t have a hard time finding your way around the a77. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. The AF/MF dial is my personal epiphany. Right under your right thumb is the key to a lot of good shots. Add that to focus peaking and the EVF magnifier and you’ll be just fine
Something I’m still pondering is my use of the EVF. I almost didn’t use the (great) articulated screen at all, since everything can be done straight through the EVF. It gives you the impression of being in your bubble, focused on what you’re doing. I still don’t if I will keep using it that way as I came back home with a humongous migraine. Granted it could have been generated by the hours of driving with the sun straight in my eyes. Anyway. Time will tell. At least regarding this matter.
If I’d have to come up with something that pleased me more that I would have thought, I would say low light performances. I’ve read a lot of reviews, blogs, opinions, and what not about low light performances. Well, try it before you bash it. I mostly used the Sony 50mm f/1.4 on Sunday and I was very impressed with the outcome. We had lunch in a very nice tavern, a very dark place, literally. The AF worked extremely well, no hunting whatsoever, I still have to work my way around this new body but things went smoothly pretty fast.
With normal light, at a low ISO, I haven’t noticed any noise. It started showing at about 800 and up, but nothing impossible to correct through PP. I spent some time wondering if what I was actually seeing in the EVF would be the end product (with EVF effects turned on, of course), at it’s pretty close. Which also tells me that I don’t quite master the a77 yet, mainly because I knew some of the shots taken could have been way better than what I was actually shooting.
The EVF is comfortable, it takes little time to adapt to it, mainly because all the technological bonuses it brings are way too impressive not to like it. The 50mm coupled with what I was talking about earlier (magnifier and focus peaking) is just so easy to use..
The first official shot that came out of my a77 came from a corporate photoshoot I had on Sunday. I was really curious and eager. While setting up lights and bouncers, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the a77 will let me do this. The beauty dish was set, my Pixel King TTL wireless flash triggers were all set, it was between me, the person in front of me, and the camera. The a77 was easy to handle despite the lack of a grip (for now), the results were impressive from the start, the nice screen allowed me to interact with me model well, “showcasing” the shots easily, it was a blast.
I have to admit, Sunday’s light was a pain. Foggy in the morning, extremely cloudy in the afternoon. The only moment of full sun were while I was driving, hence the headache I presume, but still. Putting aside the fog shots in the morning, I haven’t noticed any painful noise issue. The 8mm fisheye shots were sharp and nice, low light shots with the 50mm were great and right on focus, the 70-300 G behaved extremely well too. To be frank, it wasn’t the best of days to shoot but the a77 just begs to differ.
I am overall really pleased and impressed with the a77. Half of my lenses haven’t been tried on yet and I can’t wait for that moment to happen. The EVF is beautiful and comfortable, so is the body in my hands, all the dials are easily accessible and extremely well thought. Of course, there are way more of those than on my a450 so I still have to get used to them, but I kept saying to myself that I couldn’t understand why I was building my reflexes so fast around a camera body I’ve never tested before.
We’ll be very happy together