Sony Camera and Lens In Use: Part One

Sony Camera and Lens In Use: Part One

Working with Sony Mirrorless cameras.

I have been working with Sony’s A7 series of cameras since I got hold of an a7R prior to that I was a A-mount user with a a900 and the a99. I also for a few years used a Leica M, which is why I still have a few lens for Leica in my lens collection. In the name of transparency so that you know upfront, I get given Sony Cameras and Lens to use as part of my Sony Global Imaging Ambassador role. I get to meet a lot of photographers who are interested in using these Sony camera and want to know how they perform. Zeiss also sent me a copy of their Loxia 35mm lens. I have used every camera that Sony makes and have quite extensive experience of using them in the field making images. For the past 6 years, I have also been the Lead Photography Lecturer at Idea Store Learning, in Tower Hamlets and I am also the founder of Photography Workshops London, in these two roles I come into contact with a lot of people who are or want to be photographers. I often get emails asking for advice on lens, cameras and others aspects of photography. I try not to use the blog on this website to answer these questions, as it is aimed at a different audience. I believe, that a photographers website should be focused on her/his type of work and the type of client she/he wants to get for their type of work. This is why I do not often write about my use of cameras on this website, I use the blog of Photography Workshops London to discuss various aspects of photography. I am over the next series of posts going to break this habit, to discuss how I use my Sony Cameras and Lens, from the perspective of how I make my images with these cameras and lens. Each of us will use our cameras differently and that is important to realise, as you have your own picture making style and requirements based on the visual problems you are trying to solve.

In Part One, I am going to discuss my current main camera:

The Sony a7RmkII

I have been using the Sony a7RmkII camera now since mid September and now feel that I have using it enough to comment on how I feel about it. It has become my favourite camera and the one that I take with me everyday. (I might change this when I get the Sony RX1RII, which is due to arrive soon, which is even smaller).

I have over the past few months experimented with a variety of lens to find my ideal combination of lens and camera for the type of image that I am making. I am a social documentary and street photographer, I make images in public places and I need a camera that I can respond to the world quickly with. I also want it to be small and unobtrusive as possible. This is why I tried the Leica prior to Sony releasing the a7 series of cameras. I actually sold my Leica M two weeks after getting an a7S, I did keep the lens however, because of one thing and it is really a simple thing. I found I used the tap on the bottom of them to focus. I will discuss more about this in my upcoming discussion of the Zeiss Loxia 35mm F2 lens.

I have discovered that the Sony a7RmkII is really good for the type of images I make, as long as I pay attention to my camera handling techniques, it punishes me, if I am sloppy. I have realised that this is because it is a 42 megapixel camera, I get a lot of pixels to use and if my technique is off slightly, it then shows up in the quality of the picture. I mean this in a good way it shows errors, if my focus is off or I am movement then I really see this in the image. The advantage of the sensor and the resolution is that I can do a lot with the images, I can recover highlights that I often think are blown and I can reach into shadow areas that I thought would be blocked up.

Here is an example of reaching into the shadows of an image.

Image Unadjusted

Image Adjusted

As you can see, I can really reach into the shadow area of this image, while still protecting the highlights of the digital files made by the Sony a7RmkII. For me, this image is a compositional failure, as I should have moved forward a meter, so that the crane boom (which is black) is not breaking the edge lines of the building.

A little software note here, I have since the beginning of this year been using Capture One Pro as my library and raw conversion program, prior to that I was using Adobe Lightroom. I tend to only shoot Raw images, not even Raw+Jpeg, unless I want Black and White, (more on this later). The reason, is that I can manipulate the images in the software and output as either Tiff, Jpeg or both, really fast and I get the image quality that I want from the images, not the images quality that the Jpeg engine wants to give me. I also use a X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Photo, for when I feel that the colours need to be critically correct, as I this gives me a way of seeing what the colour of the light was at the time of making the image.

For my social documentary and street photography, I predominately use wider angle fixed lens, even though I have a great collection of zooms. As fixed lens give me a smaller form factor when working, I do have to admit that I have a few lens, I am spoiled for 35mm lens choice, which is good, as this turns out to be my favourite focal length, I have 5 lens that cover this focal length. I would struggle though to choose between the Zeiss Loxia and the Sony Zeiss Distagon (f1.4) if I could only have one lens, as they are both great lens, even if I use them differently more on this when I get to the lens.

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I have taken to using the Sony a7RmkII with a Zeiss 35mm viewfinder mounted (when using a 35mm lens) on the hotshoe, so that I can have the benefit of a optical viewfinder for those times when I want to watch the world though this type of viewfinder. How I use the camera with the viewfinder is to do one of two things: if I am using auto focus the camera is set to centre focus single shot so that when I press the shutter half way it locks the focus on what ever is in the centre of the frame I can then recompose and make my image though the optical finder and I can even use the optical finder knowing that what ever I put in the centre of the frame will be in focus. If I am using the 35mm Loxia lens then I prefocus on where I think the action will happen and I then wait for what I want to happen. I do this as it lets me build images on the street, often composing them using the external viewfinder.

I work mostly using Manual exposure and to do this accurately I rely on having the viewfinder showing me the live histogram at all times. This is one of the strengths of using an electronic viewfinders is that it is effectively a live view viewfinder that allows you to see this histogram in the viewfinder while making images. This means that I can work quickly and accurately with only minor changes to my exposures when I am processing my raw files.

I also have taken to sometimes using the camera in Aperture priority with Auto ISO, in the menu I  set a minimum shutter speed of 1/250th or 1/500th (if it is a sunny day) in auto ISO, this means that the camera is mostly controlling the shutter speed the ISO’within a range set by me and the depth of field that I want for the type of image that I am aiming to make. I have found this works because of where Sony put the exposure compensation dial, making it easy to see how this is set and to alter it without taking my eye away from the electronic viewfinder. So that if the exposure is not doing what I want because of the light that I am photographing in I can alter it really quickly between images. I also have the viewfinder set to only use the screen that displays the histogram only, as this is all that I need to know when making images. I want to know if I am clipping my highlights and I want to move my exposure as far to the right as I can so that I am doing what is often referred to as ETTR (Expose To The Right), this technique means that I get the best information to work with when processing my raw files.

I have made a lot of images over the past few months and at the moment I am averaging 2200 image a month at the moment as I am working on my London project. I am anticipating that this will increase as I find my way though my project. I am currently making about 400 gigabytes of data a month, primarily because I am obsessed with getting the best quality of and have the a7RmkII set to uncompressed Raw and this is giving me approximately 80 megabyte files per image. This is a lot of data to save and archive so I am using two Raids (one is a NAS) and I back up to internal hard drives that are docked.

I like the image quality that I am getting, and the a7RmkII is by far the best camera that I have had the pleasure to use, it is able to work quietly if I put it into silent mode, I have discovered that this can be problematic as I can get rolling shutter effects (if things are moving fast) and I have found that if I am in mixed or artificial lighting I can get banding in the images, which is particularly difficult to work with. I have since, I first encountered this problem decided that I would just use the camera in normal mode and this has proved fine as I like the sound of the shutter, it is significantly quieter than the original a7R and I have not had anyone complain or even react to me making images on the street because of the sound of the camera. People are more likely to react because of my attitude and energy that I give off while making images, partly because the noise of urban spaces is load enough that the people I am photographing do not hear the sound of the shutter, it is only when I am in quite places that it becomes a problem but I frequently have to remember that it is more likely my reaction that is likely to create a reaction to my presence as a photographer.

In using the Sony Mirrorless cameras, I have a small camera system that let me work discreetly, the enables me to make the images that I want to. I have noticed that I get a positive reaction from people  as most of my subjects do not instantly assume that I am a professional photographer.

I have worked out methods that work with the cameras for the images that I aim to make. The images that you see next have been made since January 2016 and are the initial stages of a long term project documenting on the streets of the City of London. I am interested in how London is one of the Global centres of capitalism, and how that shows in the life of the city.

I have discovered that I can use face recognition focusing only if the subject is relatively close but beyond about 4 or 5 meters away it is not so good at identifying faces so is not so good at those distances but up close it is really quite good. I like the focus peaking, but find that it works best on shallow depths of field apertures ( i.e. f1.4, f2, f2.8) for most of the images I make I am finding that centre lock AF is best and reframe, or manual focus and it just depends on how I am feeling about a scene as to which I chose to use. The AF is quite good at catching moving things and getting the focus on them accurate.

High ISO is great and I can always down sample if I need to whereas with the a7S I was only ever able to use 12mega pixels. I did a series of images and printed them that showed I could happily make image unto the recommended High ISO of 25,000. I recommend to my students to print ISO test images to see what the image looks like at regular print sizes as the paper of the printing process hides some of the grain that you see in a digital image and pixel peeping at 100% is not accurate especially with a image size that can print A2 without resizing like the a7RmkII can do.

Sony a7MkII images.

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Continue onto part Two of Sony Cameras and Lens

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