Detour In The Night

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Sony A7 & 55mm f1.8 ZA

As mentioned, it’s time for another detour! This isn’t the first for MarsWeekly – about a year ago (Nov 2013) I took a detour to focus on ‘Travel Light Photography‘. I like detours as they allow me to focus a little more fully on a particular topic or area.

This time I’ll be highlighting Night and Low Light Photography. The duration is, as always, to be determined. Rather than set artificial, rigid parameters I’m always more excited to see where the road will take me. I’m in no hurry. A month? A Year??

Night Photography has long been a favourite genre of mine. In fact, it’s probably my MOST favourite. You may-or-may-not have guessed this by looking at my photostream. That’s because over the past few years I’ve consciously forced myself to be fairly varied with what I shoot, from macros to models, pets to people, street photos, nature photos, reportage, landscape, travel, urban exploration, event photos, etc.

It’s not that I feel the need to be diverse in my photography – rather, just the opposite. I think it’s generally best when a person finds their niche.

But how can you say that you enjoy one thing more than another when you’ve only tried one thing? It only makes sense to push yourself to try new things, to be bold in exploring the world around you, and seek out new and different experiences. That’s the prerequisite to finding your niche.

The point is that I feel I’ve done OK at being relatively diverse, and am now ready to leave that highway that so many of us start out on, and follow my ‘road less traveled’. That road isn’t limited to night photography. I always enjoy shooting model portfolios and documentary when the opportunities arises. And I’ll continue to shoot stock (to help finance my equipment purchases). But for the next little while, the blog will be placing a greater emphasis on ‘Night‘.

I hope you’ll accompany me on this night journey. This path may not be your path, but that doesn’t mean we can’t travel together for a while. Perhaps you’ll find your road along the way, if you haven’t already.

Of course, as you may have guessed, I’ll be ‘travelling light‘.

 

The Night Diaries (coming soon)

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Sony A7 & FE 55mm F1.8 ZA

 

What a crazy day it’s been! Things just didn’t go smoothly,with work problems spilling over into the early evening. I certainly didn’t accomplish much (any?) of what I had intended today (including writing a fuller blog post). That’s the way it goes sometimes – I’m sure you know what it’s like. I think we all have days like that.

October in particular is just such a busy month. Still… it’s one of my favourite times of year with fall colour on full display, a crispness in the air, early nightfall and, of course, the approach of Halloween!

Just a quick note to say that the blog ‘Mars Weekly’ will be changing/evolving again (soon I hope) to ‘The Night Diaries’, featuring a greater emphasis on low light and night photography (more on that to follow). I hope you’ll continue to drop by, check it out, and let me know what you think!

That’s it for today. Good night, sleep tight… don’t let the bed-bugs bite!

Mini Nuit Blanche

As someone who enjoys night photography, I was hoping to make it to Toronto last weekend for Nuit Blanche.

For those unfamiliar, Nuit Blanche is an all night, dusk to dawn festival celebrated in many major cities that sees the urban jungle transformed through various (usually lit-up) art installations.

Unfortunately there seems to be quite the nasty cold currently making the rounds, and last weekend saw our household hit hard by it. That, combined with a frigid, wet forecast kept us from venturing too far from the warm confines of our home, and the comfort of soft ‘jammies’.

Perhaps I’ll make it next year, the 10th anniversary of Nuit Blanche in Toronto.

As it was, our small city two hours south-west of Toronto held its first annual Nuit Blanche event mostly consisting of art lectures and indoor gallery events. Only one small, lit, outdoor display brightened the dark, dank, autumn night. Still… there’s something poetic in that. How could I not photograph it?

 

Sony A7, 55mm f2, 1/60th, ISO250, -1ev

Sony A7, 55mm f2, 1/60th, ISO250, -1ev

Sony A5 55mm f1.8 1/60th, ISO640

Sony A5 55mm f1.8 1/60th, ISO640

Hullett Marsh – Beautiful Wildlife Area, Tragic Crime Scene

Sony A7 f5.6 ISO100 1/400th

Sony A7 f5.6 ISO100 1/400th

Sony A7 55mm f3.5 1/1600th, ISO100

Sony A7 55mm f3.5 1/1600th, ISO100

Nikon1 V3 90mm f6.3 1/500th, ISO160

Nikon1 V3 90mm f6.3 1/500th, ISO160

Fall colours make their appearance at the Hullett Provincial Wildlife Area (HPWA) where 70 year old Don Frigo was recently shot and killed while horseback riding after a dog-training competition on the evening of September 13th.

His wife Eva Willer who was accompanying him was also shot, but escaped with minor injuries. She is currently recovering.

Sony A7 55mm f3.5 1/1600 ISO100

Sony A7 55mm f3.5 1/1600 ISO100

Nikon1 V2 7mm, f6.3 ISO160, 1/600th

Nikon1 V2 7mm, f6.3 ISO160, 1/600th

News of the shooting shocked the small nearby rural, low-crime community of Clinton, Ontario (pop. 3200) and made national headlines.

The lack of information being provided to the public during the investigation lead to much speculation and rumour, and played on the imagination of many with Capote-esque elements.

Sony A7 55mm f2.5 1/320 ISO100

Sony A7 55mm f2.5 1/320 ISO100

Nikon1 V2 110mm, f5.6 ISO160, 1/250th

Nikon1 V2 110mm, f5.6 ISO160, 1/250th

On Monday, September 22nd officials announced that Boris Panovski, 70, of Toronto, had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting.

Panovski, a dog breeder and trainer, was known to Frigo; both sharing a passion for hunting dogs and competitions. They had known each other for over 20 years.

Panovski had sold Frigo a pup in 2000, which has since gone on to become an award-winning prized hunting dog.

Sony A7 55mm ISO100 f2.5 1/4000th

Sony A7 55mm ISO100 f2.5 1/4000th

Sony A7 55mm f1.8 1/6400 ISO100

Sony A7 55mm f1.8 1/6400 ISO100

Panovski is currently awaiting trial in Goderich on first degree murder charges. His next court date is October 6th.

Few details of the case have been released by investigators.

Sony A7 55mm f2.5 1/2000 ISO100

Sony A7 55mm f2.5 1/2000 ISO100

Sony A7 55mm f3.5 1/1250 ISO100

Sony A7 55mm f3.5 1/1250 ISO100

Cheers To Mini Mode!

On a recent warm and beautiful late-summer weekend, I had the opportunity to be a passenger (rather than the usual driver) on a road-trip exploring the side-roads of Perth country. The wide-open rural spaces, big sky, and clean, crisp beauty of the land was a wonder to behold. Of course, I also took the opportunity to get some shots from the car (something I’ve been wanting to try for a while).

The first couple test shots I took where, IMHO, almost adequate.

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But they felt, somehow, lacking. Devoid. Un-expressive.

Perhaps what they were capturing was ‘honest’, but it wasn’t what I  was seeing through my ‘personal filter’. They weren’t showing what I was… experiencing. What I was feeling.

Trying to put my finger on what was absent I quickly determined that there were 2 key missing elements: 1) ‘Vividness’ – the ‘pop’ I was seeing brought on by the wonderful mix of colours and textures and patterns on this beautifully lit day (and perhaps also aided in my mind by the fresh, crisp air) and 2)  ‘Focus’. As I looked out the window while travelling down the road at 50KMH I was aware off all within my view – yet there was a very narrow area that drew my focus. Everything outside of that narrow band was just at the edge of my periphery. That’s the way it is when travelling by car through a quickly changing landscape – with a limited amount of time to take in the scene whizzing by I find myself being more selective than normal with my (mental) focus.

Hmmm… how to convey this? I wondered. Certainly post-processing offers a number of options. But I always try to capture the moment / mood as close as possible in camera. Doing so is both a time saver, and provides assurance that I’m getting what I want (especially so with my limited post-processing skills).

How about the in-camera miniature mode? While not necessarily intended for this application, vivid colours and a narrow slice of focus are definitely hallmarks of this ‘digital filter’ / effect.

So I switched into mini-mode, and voila!

While ‘miniature’ (and in-camera effects in general) aren’t necessarily everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, it gave me just what I was looking for in this case. So ‘cheers’ to mini-mode!

The Front Lawn

Exploding Tree

Tools Of The Trade

Cutting The Lawn

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Straw Man (for Fri Sept 19)

straw man

n.

1. A person who is set up as a cover or front for a questionable enterprise.
2. An argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated.
3. A bundle of straw made into the likeness of a man and often used as a scarecrow.
.
.
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Occasionally… just occasionally… after a busy whirlwind week you arrive at the weekend, take pause, and realize “I have no commitments today.  Nothing, nothing, that really, truly, has to be done.”
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“How did this happen?” you wonder. And then a moment of panic: “$&!% – I must be forgetting something!”
.
After re-reviewing your mental checklist (or calendar / smartphone for the more organized) you find that somehow, in some way, possibly the result of some sort of space-time anomaly, you do, in fact, have a ‘free’ weekend.
 .
Relief!  Joy!!
 .
Then a deep “Hmmmm…”
 .
Followed by… silence.
 .
A sigh.
 .
Then “Hm”
 .
And lastly, “WTF am I going to do??”
 .
On one such weekend, we decided to tour the back roads of Perth County, the rural heartland of SW Ontario, in search of a number of straw sculptures on display at various farms and businesses. The creative straw sculptures are part of a first annual event intended to lure city dwellers into the countryside where they are then attacked and held captive by cannibals (OK, I may have made some of that up).
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The sculptures were indeed creative and wonderful, but most of all, the long, winding gravel roads revealed the natural, breath-taking beauty of the region. The journey truly was the reward!
 .
.
Straw Man (looking a little too happy).  Sony A7

Straw Man (looking a little too happy). Sony A7

Straw Tractor (Nikon V2 & 6.7-13mm)

Straw Tractor (Nikon V2 & 6.7-13mm)

Oink (Sony A6000)

Oink (Sony A6000)

Farmers Feed Cities (and other livestock in order to get them ready for market)

Farmers Feed Cities (and other livestock in order to get them ready for market)

I Love Old Barns

I Love Old Barns (Sony A6000)

The Beauty Of Open Space And Queitude

The Beauty Of Open Space And Queitude

Nikon1 V2 & Sony A6000 AF Shootout – Part 2

In the previous post (V2 & A6000 Shootout – Part 1) I spoke a bit about the ‘triad of traits’ that are important to me in a secondary camera: 1) Handling  2) Reach  and  3) Speed

Before continuing though I just want to make note of 2 things that are NOT on the list: Low Light Performance and Subject Isolation / DoF.

How can that be? Those are two of the most discussed and thrown-around cameras specs today – especially the differences in the varying formats (CX, Micro 4/3, APS-C, Full Frame)

Well, as noted, this is a ‘secondary‘ camera for me (my primary being the Sony A7 whose low-light performance and subject isolation I’m happy with).

Zeiss 55mm f1.8 1/60th ISO1000

Zeiss 55mm f1.8 1/60th ISO1000

Like a cowboy with two guns, a samurai with two swords, a boxer with two fists (wait – are there one-fisted boxers??) I often like to carry two cameras.

A great book, BTW

A great book, BTW

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with owning or carrying just one camera. In fact having that one special camera that suits your needs so well that no other is required or even tempts you is an ideal that many of us strive for (though perhaps a Nirvana that only a few of us achieve). One camera or two… three… or five. I’m not judging.

Nirvana_6

I only mention this because it’s a critical piece of information. The priorities that I’m looking for in a secondary camera are very different than what I’d be looking for in a primary camera. Likewise, if I were to own only one camera, the priorities would be different again.

With that point made, time for me to get back on track: Handling…. Reach…. Speed

1) HANDLINGthe V2 won in the handling category, thanks to its great ‘feel’ and clever F-button / push-Command-Dial operation.

The V2's mode dial, F(unction) button, and Command Dial (which you can also push) are very well placed, and highly efficient.

Nikon1 V2

2) REACH – long ‘reach’ from a small kit can be desirable in some circumstances. I use ‘reach’ if I go to a concert. I need reach to shoot sports. I need reach for wildlife photography, and I often use reach for event or candid photos.

In the case of concerts where professional cameras aren’t permitted, the kit needs to be small. A small, discreet from-factor can also be handy for events or shooting on the street too. In the other scenarios weight is the more important consideration – the camera/lens doesn’t need to be tiny but having a lightweight alternative to the full-frame camera and 70-200mm f2.8 is a nice option when the day is long, or there’s a lot of walking or hiking to be done.

For concerts, the V2 and 30-110mm works well. It’s small enough to fit in a waist-pouch and has always been able to ‘get past the door’. For the A6000 I think I’d likely have to go with the 16-50mm (to keep the size small) and rely heavily on digital zoom.

For wildlife, sports and events I’d likely go with the V2 and CX 70-300mm (giving a whopping 800mm of reach!) On the A6000 it would be the 55-210mm (giving 315mm optically, and 630mm using clear-zoom).

nikon-cx-1-nikkor-lens-70-300mm-f4.5-5.6-vr-hero-banner

And here is the concern with the Sony – in order to get beyond 315mm I see myself having to rely on Clear Zoom (as the better ‘travel light’ alternative to adapting a-mount lenses or using a tele converter) Will the IQ when using clear-zoom be sufficient? It could be. ‘Secondary camera’ shots are (for me) more ‘casual’ ones that I’d simply post online or, at most, make an 8X10 print of. The Sony sensor is good. The Bionz X processor is good. I believe the clear-zoom algorithm to be good. I’d need the 55-210mm to properly test it out, and also it would be nice to have the Nikon 70-300mm to compare. I don’t have either yet, but I will take a closer look at clear-zoom in conjunction with the (half-dozen or so) lenses I have on hand.

I see you there in the corner Nikon1, with that big grin while I talk about the Sony’s short-comings. I hate to break it to you but, well, you’re not perfect either. Dare I mention… dynamic range?  A youth soccer game in bright, open, afternoon light – black soccer shoes, black socks and black shorts, bright blond hair reflecting in the sun… dolphins doing back-flips, nicely caught! – if only those white bellies in the bright sun were a little less blown… For all your wonderful attributes, there are times when it would be nice to have just a tiny bit more DR.

ScreenHunter_30 Sep. 08 21.03

These are things I consider when I think of reach. It’s not just the ‘amount of’ but also the ‘quality of’ (where optical zoom, digital zoom, senor and processor all play a role).

The limited dynamic range with the V2… or having to use digital clear-zoom to extend the A6000 reach – it’s a double-edged sword (and a loose loop-back to the Musashi metaphor). It’s not as bad as it sounds though – in both cases the limitations are easy enough to work around and it is, after all, a ‘B camera’ that we’re talking about.

I actually find the V2’s dynamic range suitable for about 90% of the shooting I do. It’s only the really high-contrast (typically bright, mid-day open sun) that it struggles with – as do many cameras (the V2 just struggles a little more than most). And some people obsess about blown highlight and crushed shadows. If I want to capture a scene with a lot of dynamic range, I’ll use a full-frame camera. For more casual shooting I’m OK with some clipping. Expose for the subject and if there’s lost detail in the background so be it – it’s not the end of the world and you can still achieve a good image (some of my favourite photos are high contrast images).

Similarly, there are purists who will settle for nothing less than optical zoom. But I find the A6000’s clear-zoom does a pretty good job. I’m even willing to extend beyond the 2X clear-zoom into regular (4X) digital zoom in a pinch, if it means the difference of getting the shot or not. The clear zoom images remain pretty sharp and contrasty, but even when extending into (regular) digital zoom territory (where they become less sharp and detailed),  as with a lack of dynamic range, a lack of sharpness doesn’t have to spoil an image, isn’t that right Henri?

Henri  Cartier-Bresson: “Yes, Shawn – I agree.  Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

Thanks for being a special guest this week Henri

Henri Cartier-Bresson: “No problem dude.”

bresson

Utilizing clear-zoom really allows me to get a nice long reach using a small, discreet lens and camera. I like that. But of course you really need to decide for yourself whether clear zoom provides sufficient IQ. I’m not saying that clear zoom is as good as optical zoom (of course it isn’t) – but I think it worth asking the question ‘it is good enough?’ (for your intended use) and how does it compare to the alternative? ‘

[edit - initially I found that focus options, such as tracking, didn't work when clear-zoom was active. However, tracking does appear to work when using the LA-EA4 adapter, the Minolta 70-210mm, and Clear Zoom. I'll need to investigation this further with different lenses]

V2 w/70-300mm and A6K with 18-200mm (which is smaller than the 55-210mm)

V2 w/70-300mm and A6K with 18-200mm (which is smaller than the 55-210mm)

Because 300mm is enough for me in most cases… and I appreciate the ability to extend beyond that digitally (to 600mm) in a pinch… and because of the A6K’s nice DR… I’m going to give the win here to the A6000 realizing that many (probably “most”) others who want long reach in a small package would likely be better served by the V2.

Nikon1 Concert, Sports, & Wildlife Photos:

9415621872_fe058ed70d_b9405874505_dbe919caeb_b9477419584_7023c265f8_b

A Big Grizzly (glad to have 300mm reach here) Nikon1 V2Landing Gear Down (Nikon 1 V2)Mom and baby seal in Vancouver harbour (Nikon  1)DSC_0892-2

Sony A6000 Clearview & (Regular) Digital Zoom Photos: will post more photos in future (as I’d like to post something more interesting/practical than photos of my bookshelf):

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With the V2 having won in the ‘HANDLING’ category, and the A6000’s narrow win in ‘REACH’, we now find ourselves with a 1-1 tie. However, the last category, SPEED, is really what it’s all about with these two! This is it… for all the marbles… for the title of ‘Fastest Gun In The West': SPEED.

speed

3) SPEED  – I’d like to divide this important category up into two broad areas: a) Single Shot (the type you might use to grab a quick photo or two on the street, or the kids playing in the yard, etc. and b) Continuous Shooting with AF Tracking – the type of speed you might use when photographing sports,  kids playing, etc. (big generalizations, I know).

3a) SINGLE-SHOT FOCUS ACQUISITION – for single shot focus I used both Centre-Point Focus, and Auto-Area/Wide; in good light, and in low light. I used the kit lenses on each, as well as an assortment of others I have on hand. As might be expected, in good light both cameras focused extremely fast. Too fast for me to really notice any practical difference. In low light, both cameras continued to focus reliably and reasonably fast for the most part, with the V2 perhaps just a tiny bit faster.

Focus speed will of course vary depending on the lens, the amount of light, and what you’re focusing on but for all intensive purposes any difference between the V2 and A6K (in single shot) really feels inconsequential to me.

What about continuous shooting with AF tracking?

3b) CONTINUOUS SHOOTING WITH AF TRACKING

How good is the A6000 in Continuous with AF tracking? I’d have to say “pretty darn good!”  Impressive even!! It locks on well, and tracks nicely both with predictive movement as well as more erratic movement. It does a very good job focusing and tracking objects moving across the frame, as well as toward or away from the camera. I was pretty amazed (I mean, we’re talking a large APS-C sensor here with 24MPs!) There are times where it gets confused and loses the tracking during rapid movement… or occasionally loses sharp focus, but overall I think the A6000 performs very well for a mirrorless camera (though not at the level of a $7K pro-sport-photographer’s DSLR, just to be clear).
 
Can the V2 live-up to Nikon’s claim and beat the stellar performance of the A6000 (and all other cameras) in this area? Well… as it turns out… it can and does. Honestly, the V2 is a FREAK!!! It shoots at 15fps (the V3 does 20!)  Focus locks on like a pit-bull, and never lets go.The buffer holds about 48 images(raw+jpg) compared to the A6000’s 21. Focus for all images was tack sharp (though perhaps easier to accomplish with a small sensor and typically larger DoF). I don’t know how to describe the speed of the V2 other than ‘freakish’. 
 
There’s no question that the Nikon1 is faster than the A6000 in Continuous with AF tracking. Is it the fastest continuous shooting camera with tracking AF in the world? Faster then even pro DSLRs? Nikon claims it is, and although I haven’t shot with a D4S or 1DX, I’m inclined to believe them. 
 
Perhaps the big question is, in practical terms, “does it matter?”  Is the difference of 4fps (or in the case of the V3, 9fps) a real difference? Do the (rare) instances that the A6000 loses focus merit concern (it still provides a very high ‘keeper’ rate)… all things (ie. its great IQ) considered??
I think that really depends on you, and the type of shooting you do. My feeling is that for most people, the AF of the A6000 is more than fast enough.  If you have a specialized need for blazing-fast speed and the highest possible reliability from an AF system, then you need the Nikon1 (or possibly you should be shooting with a Nikon D4S?)
 
Continuous Shooting – Quick Break-down:

AF Tracking – Where the Sony A6000 focus and tracking feels very good, impressive even – the V2 feels reliable, rock solid, ‘absolute’.  FPS – the A6000’s 11 fps is a fantastic feat by any standard, and probably ‘more than enough’ for most things. The V2’s 15 fps has a bit of a ‘Wow!’ factor (and it doesn’t hurt that the V2 just sounds cool when firing at that speed!). Buffer – at my normal setting (raw+jpg) the A6000 holds 21 shots (about 2 seconds), where-as the V2 holds about 48 (just over 3 seconds). Buffer clearing – here the A6000 won-out and (fully) cleared the buffer in about half the time (25 vs. 50 seconds). Again, pretty impressive (especially considering the file size).

Final thoughts on speed: both cameras are really, really fast. Either one is likely to be more than fast enough for 95% of photographers.

There’s no question in my mind however, that when it comes to speed, the Nikon1 is in a class of its own. It is ‘beyond fast’. Further, its small size, light weight, and quick handling, combined with its technical speed, create a sort of… harmony… between eye, hand, and camera that simply allows for a quickness… a nimbleness… a flow… a shooting style that is difficult to describe. The best I can say is that the V2 feels like an extension of your body, rather than a separate piece of equipment. Does that make sense? In any case, I hereby decree that: 

The Nikon1 is… The Fastest Gun In The West.

So… what camera will I keep in my bag as a backup to the A7? Despite the Nikon1 being ‘the fastest’, the A6K is, unquestionably, an outstanding camera – and in the vast majority of cases ‘plenty fast enough’. It compliments my A7 nicely, and there are times when additional IQ, particularly the dynamic range and colour depth (compared to the Nikon1) are appreciated. I think it’s likely that the A6000 will serve as my backup and ‘B camera’ to the A7.

Does this mean I’ll get rid of the V2? Absolutely not! I foresee using it when I do need that extra degree of speed and focus accuracy… those times that I need to “turn it up to 11″.  OK,OK – I know what you’re thinking: how often do I truly ‘need’ that much speed? I’ll use it when I ‘need’ to feel that nimble and stealthy shooting experience. I’ll use it when I ‘need’ to feel that rush. When I ‘need’ that bliss. When I ‘need’ that high. Because when you’re addicted to speed, the line between need and want is just a distant memory, long gone from the rear-view mirror.

DSC07192

Fastest Gun In The West (Sony A6000 & Nikon1 V2 Shootout!) – Part1

200564170-005-cowboys-showdown

As many may know, my ‘usual’ kit consists of the Sony A7 (low-light big gun) and Nikon1 V2 (stealthy speed shooter).

Yes, the hood is on upside-down :)

Yes, the hood is on upside-down :)

I recently picked up the Sony A6000 in order to ‘put it to the test’. Will it supplant the tiny Nikon V2 in my bag?

A7 and A6000 (not a *lot* of size difference)

A7 and A6000 (not a *lot* of size difference)

 There’s certainly an advantage to using the 2 Sony bodies which can share lenses. The 1.5x crop factor of the APS-C A6000 can be used to extend the focal length of my existing full frame lenses (while still producing nicely detailed 24MP images) virtually ‘doubling’ my lens choices (ie. the 35mm also becomes 50mm on the crop camera, the 55mm also becomes an 82mm, the 28-70mm doubles as a 42-105mm, etc, etc.)

The added benefit to me personally is that I also still have a number of APS-C emount lenses remaining from the NEX 5, 6, and 7 bodies (all of which I’ve owned in the past – prior to getting the A7).

DSC00068

So the incentive is there.

But the very small  V2 has very big shoes, and filling those shoes will be no easy taskll!!!

The reason I keep the V2 in my bag is because it offers a unique triad of traits:

1. HANDLING AND ERGONOMICS – in a sense, this is an important factor that relates closely to speed. For me, speed is about more than focus acquisition and tracking, frame rates and buffer size. It’s also about the ‘speed of use’ – how quickly and easily I can make ‘on-the-fly’ changes to the shooting mode, drive mode, AF, ISO, etc. And ohh what a difference there is between the original V1 and the V2! It’s the difference between night and day and I’ve really come to love the V2’s implementation. Nicely done Nikon.

2. REACH – having a ‘long reach’ in a small package is desirable in many circumstances, and here the Nikon1’s smaller sensor and 2.7x crop factor, rather than a detriment, becomes a real attribute.

3. SPEED – Pure, blazing speed in a technical sense – that’s what I’m talking about here. Focus acquisition, focus tracking, frame rates, and buffer. I know there are those who will say that anything more than 5-frames-per-second really isn’t necessary. Perhaps. I think we could debate that. But there is no denying… that it sure is fun!!!

 

So let’s get to it!  Let’s see how the V2 and A6000 compare…

A6000 & V2 Head-To-Head

A6000 & V2 Head-To-Head

V2 vs A6000 – HANDLING AND ERGONOMICS 

In favour of the A6000, the menu system is very similar (almost identical) to that of my ‘main camera’, the A7. The A6K is also very customizable. You might therefore think that this would then be an automatic win the for A6000 – especially from an A7 shooter’s point-of-view.

However… the V2 body is slightly smaller than the A6000 (even more-so with respective lenses attached) and notably lighter. It has a nice feel in the hand, and balance. This is good. But the real genius? The real genius of the V2 is its very  efficient interface (the Fn button and push-wheel Command dial). Together, the tactile body combined with the usability of the interface, really, really gives the V2 an extremely ‘polished, sleek, & nimble’ feeling when in use that I’ve quickly come to love, and that makes other cameras (including the A6000) feel a little ‘clunky’ by comparison. It’s a feeling that I know V2 owners ‘totally get’… and Ricoh users can probably relate to as well… but that may be alien to others (DSLR users, etc.). It is part of the shooting experience.

Despite being an A7 shooter, in the ‘handling’ category, THE WIN GOES TO THE V2.

The V2's mode dial, F(unction) button, and Command Dial (which you can also push) are very well placed, and highly efficient.

The V2’s mode dial, F(unction) button, and Command Dial (which you can also push) are very well placed, and highly efficient.

 

V2 vs A6000 – REACH

( WARNING – CONTROVERSY AHEAD! )

The smaller sensor of the Nikon1 inherently lends itself to being a small system able to provide long reach. Small, sleek, agile, 2.7x crop factor – here you’d think this would be an automatic win for the V2. Surprise again! You see, the A6000 has a trick-up-its-sleeve.  The (very good) 24MP sensor, combined with fast BIONZ X processor does more than offer better IQ than the 14MP V2… it also makes good use of Sony’s ‘clear zoom’ (digital zoom with interpolation) that provides an extra 2X zoom (when shooting jpeg). If you’re willing (daring? crazy enough??) to use regular digital zoom as well, you can extend the optical focal length up to 4X.

I know the old mantra “completely disregard digital zoom” and “never use digital zoom”. I sang it myself, and gave such advice numerous times. I really think it was particularly applicable ‘back in the day’, and especially as relates to compact P&S cameras. But now, another expression comes to mind: “the times – they are a changin” (or the chorus from the Imagine Dragons song ‘Radioactive’ – “welcome to the new age, welcome to the new age”.)

If we set aside the cliches just for a moment, and think objectively about the ‘reality’ of digital and optical zoom (the reality being that all things are usually not equal when comparing two cameras) it really comes down to specifics… details, details, details. In particular, the quality of the lens, the size and quality of the sensor, and the sophistication and ability of the processor.

I’m not de facto saying the that if I mount the very well regarded Zeiss 55mm f1.8 on the A6000 with state-of-the-art 24MP sensor and Sony’s latest BIONZ X processor, and use the clear-zoom algorithm to double that (cropped 82.5mm) focal length to 165mm that the resultant image will be better than that of the 14MP CX sensor and optical zoom set to that same focal length… but I am hypothesizing  that that could very possibly be the case (also, I am writing very long run-on sentences). I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. I intend to test this hypothesis but for now and until further investigation, I’m going to call it ‘a draw’.

In the ‘reach’ category, it’s (currently) a SURPRISE DRAW.

 

The A6K with 16-50mm and V2 with 30-110mm actually feel pretty close in weight. The V2 offers 300mm of 'reach' here. So to does the A6K, but only with extensive (4X) digital zoom!

The A6K with 16-50mm and V2 with 30-110mm actually feel pretty close in weight. The V2 offers 300mm of ‘reach’ here. So too does the A6K, but only with extensive (4X) digital zoom!

 

V2 vs A6000 – SPEED

Well, here we find ourselves at the heart of the matter, don’t we. It’s the autofocus and continuous shooting that is really the ‘claim to fame’ for both these cameras.

Sony states that the A6000 has “… the world’s fastest autofocus system*”  This is sometimes taken out of context by some who are either mislead by the small-print, or simply disregard it. There is, in fact, a tiny little asterisk at the end of that statement that must be taken into consideration, and when done so, the statement would actually read as such: ‘currently the world’s fastest APS-C autofocus ILC camera”. OK, that clarifies things a bit.

What does Nikon claim?  Nikon claims the V3 (the latest top-of-the-line Nikon1) has: “…the world’s fastest* continious shooting rate with AF tracking” again with an asterisk. Here though the asterisk doesn’t really change the perception. You could add ‘currently’ to the statement and ‘among digital interchangeable lens cameras’ but I think that’s clearly a ‘given’.

It is interesting however to note the differences in the claims.

Does Sony claim that the A6000 focuses faster than a Pro Full Frame DSLR? No.  Does Sony claim that that A6000 focuses faster than the Nikon1?  No. Sony simply claims that it’s the fastest focusing APS-C camera (not to take anything away from the statement – it is indeed a fantastic and amazing achievement for a 24MP APS-C camera!!) 

Nikon on the other hand DOES claim that the Nikon1’s continuous shooting with AF IS  faster than all other cameras, Pro DSLRs and A6000  included.

Does this imply that that Nikon1 is the better camera (for me) when it comes to overall ‘speed’?  Not necessarily. Obviously the IQ is going to be generally better from the larger sensored A6000, and it’s also conceivable that focus acquisition could be faster. After-all, not everyone’s idea of ‘speed’ is shooting in continuous mode. Many still photographers may be more concerned simply with focus acquisition, in single shot mode, in varying light conditions.

And of course there’s the question of what does this mean in practical terms. Technical specs aside, it’s that ‘real world use’ that matters most. A marginally faster AF or burst rate may not mean much in practical terms, instead giving way to better IQ, handling, or other factors (including the not-to-be-discounted ‘fun factor’).

And this is what I plan to explore over the next little while, using and comparing these 2 cameras side-by-side, and where I’ll leave off today. If you’re interested in this AF shootout, please come back for Part 2.

Until then… so long, partner.

buono_il_brutto_il_cattivo_clint_eastwood_blondie_cowboy_hat_25_1980x1485

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktvTqknDobU

 

Granville Island

On our trip to Vancouver we stopped at Granville Island.

Granville Island is a peninsula across from downtown Vancouver; once an area of industry its been converted into a hot, urban shopping region (and to be honest, a bit of a ‘tourist-trap’)

The shops are mostly small, independent artisan and craft shops, though there’s also a large, busy and vibrant farmers market (the island also houses the Emily Carr University of Art and Design).

The day was overcast with a light rain, but the fruit stands of the farmer’s market provided some nice colour on an otherwise grey-day.

Granville Island Fruit Market (Sony A7)

Granville Island Fruit Market (Sony A7)

I came across an interesting bicycle, loaded to the hilt (and beyond) with all sorts of shopping bags (fifty? a hundred?  maybe more??) filled with pop cans and bottles.  It was hard to believe it could be ride-able with so much ‘cargo’ strapped to it.  As I raised my camera to take a photo a man ran over – ‘No, please…  Please don’t take a photo’.  ‘It’s an interesting set-up’, I said.  ‘I can’t believe how much you’ve been able to get on there’  ‘Yes’, he said.  I’m doing my bit, helping to recycle. But I’d like to remain anonymous’ ‘I understand’ I said, and lowered the  camera.

After an interesting day exploring the shops and their treasures we took a water taxi back to the city.

Granville Island Water Taxi

Granville Island Water Taxi (Sony A7)

Robson Street, Downtown Vancouver (Sony A7)

Robson Street, Downtown Vancouver (Sony A7)

The Ideal Travel Kit (Part 2)

As a nation subjected to 7 months of cold, grey, wet, ‘character building’ winter, Canadians pine for the Sun’s caress… and to feel the soft, gentle breeze of summer on (for those like me) our luminescent, paste-white skin (fact: post-winter Canadian skin was the inspiration for Onionskin paper)

The final ring of the school dismissal bell (with Alice Cooper blasting in the background) signals the beginning… and soon the quintessential sounds of summer can be heard in households across the nation: Mario Karts roaring from gaming systems; Boy Bands blaring from iPod docks; and repeat episode kid’s TV shows, which sadly you can recite the dialogue to, playing through the surround sound.

It’s a philosophical time where, upon reflection, most parents conclude that it is, in fact, Autumn that is the most beautiful time of year. It’s then that Canadians pine for the cool nights and vibrant colours of Fall…

After the start of summer and before the Autumn however comes… Vacation!

Note: for those unfamiliar with the family vacation ritual I highly recommend the documentary: ‘Vacation’ by National Lampoon.

And that brings us to the point of this post – the ideal Travel / Vacation (photo) Kit… Part 2!

 

RE-CAP

Last time I was going over my selection process for finding the ‘ideal travel kit’, highlighting my requirement for a system with amazing low light capability… that can shoot fast action… offers top-notch IQ, and has a good selection of lenses including a wide angle, fast prime, and 70-200 (or better yet, 300mm) zoom.  Oh, and did I mention – I don’t want to carry this system in a backpack or shoulder bag… or even a large waist pack. Instead, I’ll just carry it all in this tiny little lens pouch please and thank-you.

In trying to make the blog more ‘photocentric’ and less ‘wordy’ I split the post into two-part. The story continues…

 

THE SOLUTION

As it turns out, no one kit was able to ‘check all the boxes’. Quelle surprise! Who woulda thought, right?

So – I took two kits:

1) the (relatively) small/light Sony A7 with 28-70mm, Raynox .66 conversion lens, 35mm f2.8, and 55mm f1.8

2) the diminutive Nikon1 V2 with 18-35mm, 50mm, and 70-300mm (full frame equivalent focal lengths)

Each day/outing I would choose which one of the two kits to take depending on the days’ activities, and the other would remain behind in the hotel room.

The complete Nikon1 kit fit entirely in my small Skin50 pouch (which is actually intended to be a lens pouch!)

The Sony I would carry around my neck (it’s weather sealed) with the lenses fitting comfortably in the pouch.

 

COMMENTS ON THE GEAR

 

THE THINK TANK SKIN50 POUCH

Skin-50-V20--1

The Think Tank Skin 50 is really a lens pouch.  It’ll hold two medium-to-large sized lenses (ie. a wide and standard zoom with hoods)… or in the case of smaller, mirrlorless system – much more! It also has sections to store the lens cap, spare battery, memory cards, etc.  The small zippered compartment on the bottom holds a rain cover (which comes included – nice!)

The pouch is part of Think Tank’s ‘modular system’ and can be used with the Think Tank belt and with other accessories. However, I just use it with a regular belt (usually the wide, soft fabric belt that comes with my cargo shorts).  It has a nice, wide, rigid, Velcro flap that allows it to quickly and easily attach/detach to the belt. It retails for about $40.

The Skin50 holds my Nikon V2… with long 70-300mm (equiv.) lens attached… 50mm… and 18-35mm (and I can even squeeze in the 80mm if I like!) It holds the entire kit. Nothing in my hands. Nothing strung around my neck. Everything in the bag.

It will even hold my 3-lens Sony ‘walk-about’ kit: the A7, 28-70mm, 35mm, and 55mm… though that would be a little crowded.  So I typically sling the Sony camera around my neck and use the pouch for everything else.

It’s a great pouch and I love it!

Did I mention that I love this pouch?

 

THE SONY A7 KIT

A7  with 55mm f1.8

A7 with 55mm f1.8

The A7 is my ‘go-to’ camera for low light and night photography.  The A7S looks pretty sweet – but I can’t afford to purchase it as a 2nd (3rd if you count the D700) full frame body – and I like to have some ‘crop-ability’ so the A7’s 24MPs positions it nicely between the A7S (12MP) and A7R (36MP) for my use.

I’m anxiously awaiting Sony’s release of the wide-angle lens for this camera and will likely add that to my travel kit. I’m happy with the 28-70mm (a very under-rated lens!) so haven’t decided if it’s worth the money to me to upgrade to the Zeiss 24-70mm.

The Sony 70-200mm G series lens is a very nice lens – but too big and heavy for many of my travels.  In fact, on long hikes I’d even be willing to try something like a 24-135mm as the work-horse lens (if it can be made small)

How could I get-by with only 135mm at the long end?  Because I have no fear of using (when needed) Sony’s ‘Clear Zoom’ feature which effectively doubles the focal length (in this example to 270mm).

Shoot jpeg?? Digital zoom?! ‘Sacrilege’ you say!

Really, this ‘isn’t your Grandfather’s digital zoom’ – it’s different. Clear zoom does interpolating, and a surprisingly OK job of it IMHO – give it a try and you might be surprised. If I shot a lot at 300mm I’d use a (300mm) lens but for occasional/vacation use I think I’d be OK sacrificing RAW+optical for JPEG+clear zoom to reduce the size of the kit, leaving the long lens at home.

The Raynox .66x conversion lens was a bust – it fits the 28-70mm with only a little vignetting at the wide end but is far too soft along the edges.

No complaints about the (35mm & 55mm) primes.  There’s really nothing to say about them other then that they are excellent (especially the 55mm).

 

WHERE IT SHINES

When shooting low-light or night (such as at the Vancouver Look-Out tower at night) I noticed a lot of other travel photographers with their large DSLR and large travel zoom lenses attached. They were shooting hand-held.  That’s understandable – I wouldn’t want to bring a tripod on vacation either, and some places simply don’t allow them. But as I heard the click… pause… pause… pause… click of their shutter/mirror slap I could’t help but wonder how those long-ish hand-held exposures would turn out.  My guess is, that unfortunately, those shooters might be disappointed with the results.

By contrast, the A7’s small size, light weight, and tilt LCD allowed me to place it on a small rail, or wedge it between the window and the ledge, essentially creating an ‘improvised tripod’ in places and in ways that others simply couldn’t with their larger and heavier DSLRs. I also used the in-camera multi-frame noise reduction modes when shooting handheld – it does a decent job in low-light in the right conditions.

Vancouver's 'Canada Place' (with the white sails roof) at night

Vancouver’s ‘Canada Place’ (with the white sails roof) at night (Sony A7)

 

 

THE NIKON1 V2 KIT

nikon_1_v2_12

As mentioned, not only can I fit an entire Nikon1 kit in a small lens pouch, but it’s a pretty damn ‘complete’ kit at that. A wide-angle, a fast prime or two, and a long telephoto.  My focal lengths are nicely covered! An entire kit in a lens pouch… it still sounds so weird when I say it out loud.

Yes, I know, I know… ‘1″ sensor’.

It has its drawbacks (low light) but… it also has its advantages. After-all, it’s the 1″ sensor that allows the design of a telephoto zoom that is both physically small, yet optically long.

But size isn’t its only advantage.

It’s also fast. Very Fast! I mean F-A-S-T, all in upper-case, followed by 3 exclamation marks fast!!!

 

WHERE IT SHINES

When shooting action (such as the ‘Raptor’ bird show at Grouse Mountain, BC… or the Dolphin Show at the Vancouver Aquarium) I noticed a lot of photographers using their DSLR with 70-200mm f2.8 who where, at times, struggling a little to get the shot.

It was the focus and the timing that they were having trouble with in those scenarios. I saw several trying to grab focus on the Golden Eagle or Great Horned Owl in flight, or the Dolphins mid-jump – trying (hoping?) to catch that one perfect moment – that frame where these awe-inspiring noble creatures are at the peak of motion demonstrating their natural athletic prowess. The Dolphin Show was especially challenging as their motion and actions were particularly un-predictable. And they swim surprisingly fast! Most of the photographers where using single shot. A couple were shooting continuous… what sounded to be about 5 or 6 frames per second maybe.

Many looked to see what camera I was using, as they saw (heard) me there, tracking the action and shooting with a machine-gun like tat-tat-tat-tat-tat -tat-tat-tat-tat 15 fps. The focus acquisition is fast. The frame rate is fast. Combined, this makes the little Nikon1 a real speed demon!!

I have very little experience shooting action, and I need to be much better in my technique and in choosing the correct shutter speeds. But here I feel confident that with action photography the limitation is me – not the camera (*at least outdoors in good light – the Nikon1 does of course struggle in low light).

Proof that dolphins are smarter than humans - they do backflops instead of bellyflops.

Proof that dolphins are smarter than humans – they do backflops instead of bellyflops (Nikon1 V2)

 

 

THE DUAL SYSTEM IS BEST FOR ME

DSLR - A DSLR (and associated lenses) would of course be too big/heavy for what I’m looking for (plus I’m sold on the benefits of mirrorless).

APS-C, ETC  – Anything smaller than a full-frame sensor (APS-C, m4/3, 1″) and I’d be giving up some much beloved low light capability.

FF + 1″ – So ultimately the 2-kit system (Full Frame A7 + 1″ Nikon1) gave me the ‘best of both worlds’ and worked well for me this time!

 

WHAT IF I HAD TO PICK JUST ONE (FOR TRAVEL)?

My goal is to ultimately travel lighter. Eventually, I plan to settle on one travel system (not one system only, just one system for travel)

In theory, and given time, if Sony were to bring their super-fast AF to the next iteration of the A7 (Sony A8?), release the wide-angle lens which is on their roadmap, and offer a smaller (collapsible?) telephoto zoom it would be an almost perfect travel set-up.

If I had to choose today… some compromises would need to be made.

 

NIKON1 or A7?

Thinking about what the Nikon1 offers (speed, telephoto) and does best – Birds In Flight, Wildlife, and Action photography – these all look fun, and are things I’d like to explore more!

But none of these are really my preferred genre or style. The fact that these are interesting and very popular areas of photography, combined with the Nikon1’s small size, may make the One System the ideal travel companion for many people. It’s just not the ideal one for me.

What the A7 offers is very different – great low-light capability and overall image IQ. Moody land or city-scapes, atmospheric shots, twilight shots, night photography… these are the genres that appeal most to me personally. And that’s why I’d choose the A7 over the Nikon1.

*Update: I forgot to mention that, with its discreet nature, small size, speed, and lens offerings that the Nikon1 also excels at documentary/photojournalist type work (a genre also of interest to me). If I were anticipating doing this type of shooting, I’d choose the Nikon1.

Travel + Low Light = Sony A7

Travel + Documentary = Nikon 1

 

WHAT IF I HAD TO PICK JUST ONE… FOR EVERYTHING!

Luckily, I don’t! I like shooting with the A7 and Nikon1 because both are pretty good at what they do. Want a camera that is small and fast? The Nikon1 in your man! Want a camera that is small and offers the benefits of full frame (with interchangeable lenses) – the Sony A7 it is! The two cameras compliment each other nicely.

But if I had to choose one system… not just one system for travel but one system for everything,  then common sense dictates that a less extreme, and a more well-rounded solution would be the best choice.

I’d likely end-up with an APS-C based camera (I don’t want to give up too much low light performance)… or possibly a m 4/3.  Ideally with both good low light performance (that being the prime consideration) and fast(rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat) AF (being a secondary consideration). A small size and good lens selection is the base ‘price of entry’ for consideration here – with most APS-C system being somewhat mature.

Good low light and fast AF?  That sounds like the ‘love child’ of the A7 and Nikon1 so-to-speak!

The Sony A6000 is likely that camera.

Or… if video isn’t too important, possibly a Fuji X with its great lens line-up.

 

As it is though, I’m happy with the dual kit system (Full Frame + 1″) for now, and with at least a full year before my next vacation I’m excited to see what the future brings!

 

Vancouver Nights

Vancouver Nights (Sony A7)

 

 

 

Mom and baby seal in Vancouver harbour (Nikon  1)

Mom and baby seal in Vancouver harbour (Nikon 1)

A Big Grizzly (glad to have 300mm reach here) Nikon1 V2

A Big Grizzly (glad to have 300mm reach here) Nikon1 V2

NOT Seattle

NOT Seattle

Sony A7

Sony A7

Nikon1 V2

Nikon1 V2

I tend to prefer colour night images (but occasionally do B&W)

I tend to prefer colour night images (but occasionally do B&W)

Landing Gear Down (Nikon 1 V2)

Landing Gear Down (Nikon 1 V2)

Nikon1 V2

Nikon1 V2

Sony A7

Sony A7

Sony A7

Sony A7