The Speedmaster

So I have this new toy, the Sony A7s, regarded in a number of circles as the one camera to rule them all (in terms of shooting in the dark). I got the brightest native E-mount lens which is the sharpest autofocus lens Dxomark has ever tested in the FE 55mm f/1.8 but I still wasn’t satisfied.

One thing I had conceded with the A99 was the possibility of having something brighter than f/1.4. Talk about a first world problem. My shooting style lends itself to very shallow depths of field and I wanted to go shallower. The E-mount brought a wealth of possibility with all of the adapters as well as the third-party support. Doing some research, I had found a number of lenses brighter than f/1.0. Many of these were adapted in someone’s workshop and had a fixed aperture, or worse, a fixed focus. Using an adapter, I could get a couple of the legends out there. A couple copies of the Canon Dreamlens (50mm f/0.95) are out there in the $2500-$3000 range. And Leica has an option for ten times as much. There were already a few sub-f/1.0 lenses for the APS-C E-mount bodies, but only one available for the A7-series. The Mitakon Speedmaster. The biggest problem with the Speedmaster: availability. Both B&H and Adorama had them for pre-order for around $900. Or I could roll the dice with an international seller on eBay. I chose the latter. Five short days later, a box arrived from Hong Kong. I found the first surprise, a very well-made leather-bound box.

 

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 1250, 1/60s

I opened the box and found a very heavy manual aperture, manual focus lens. I put it on my A7s and found it had a very nice, snug fit on the mount. With any bright prime, I started testing it wide open. Here is the first shot taken, followed by a crop of the center.

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 100, 1/800s
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Not too bad, I could tell I needed to get used to the microscopic depth of field. I stopped down to f/1.4 (hearing myself type: stopped down to f/1.4) and produced this result:

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/500s

Without a doubt, I realized this lens had passed the color test. The next evening I took the kids to the NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I found the possibilities to be endless.

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 250, 1/250s

Again, I am impressed with the colors. The person in the background behind my son with a hat and headphones on was about two feet behind my son. Sure, there is a little CA wide-open. But for $900, I frankly don’t care. And Lightroom could fix it enough.

I have a really nice problem to have right now. I have a new A7s and I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. I want to shoot all four of the lenses I have, but I can only bring one or two with me at any given time. My biggest problem is figuring out which two. Grace is not amused by my problem.

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 100, 1/200s

Multiply by ten

A week and change later, I find myself on an airplane again. Hello from 34,000 feet!

Last time I typed, it was about moving away from the A-mount and making an investment in the E-mount. I decided to trade a whole bunch of A-mount stuff for a smaller amount of E-mount stuff on the A7s body.

I arrived at my house last Friday night, late, after flying home from Minneapolis and then picking up my equipment at a friend’s house. I had it shipped to his office as my typical delivery people are less than vigilant about requiring signatures. I drove back to my house quickly and unboxed everything.  My first surprise: The A7s package came with two batteries.      : )

And I could not get the batteries to charge fast enough. I got one battery to about 25%, dialed in my typical settings, and took my first shot. Here is the first jpeg from the RAW+JPEG combo.

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ILCE-A7S, FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA  @ f/1.8, ISO 102400, 1/60s

The room was not nearly that bright. Here is a crop of my first swing at it in LR and the NIK Suite.

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I put the RAW file through NIK DFine, with default settings, and dropped the exposure a stop and a half, and the shot is still brighter than the room. So I need to figure that stuff out, clearly. But ISO 102400!! The ISO speed in the default Windows 8.1 properties maxes out at 65535.

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This tells me no one thought it could go higher. It also tells me there is another EXIF attribute ISO is stored in as Lightroom sees 102400. I think it is “Recommended Exposure Index” If you’re curious, this is what the unedited RAW looks like.

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Also keep in mind, the 55mm f/1.8 Zeiss is wide open here.

I only shot two shots the first night. I let the batteries charge and fired a few more the next day. I set Auto ISO to 100-102400 and just let it ride. Here is one of the more impressive shots.

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ILCE-A7S, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS @ 177mm f/5, ISO 5000, 1/200s

You read it correctly. ISO 5000. Five thousand. Here is a closer look, unedited.

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I’d say there’s a lot of detail in the ISO 5000 shot. All I did here is remove a little bit of white and brightness.

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Again. Five Thousand. Here is a full-size unedited crop of a shot from my A99 at ISO 500.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f.4, ISO 500, 1/200s

So it appears ISO 5000 on the A7s has less noise than ISO 500 on the A99. I have more testing and shooting to do. But the preliminary results are promising. And I am not used to the balance yet and have yet to explore all of the new features.

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ILCE-A7s, FE 70-200 f/4 OSS G @ 200mm f/5, ISO 1000, 1/250s

So far, I like the manual focus zoom feature the most. When you go to manual focus or use DMF, and spin the focus ring, your specified focus point is magnified 10x in the EVF. I still need to get a feel for it. There are a couple things I miss. I don’t think I am getting a geo tag anymore. And the LCD doesn’t oscillate like the A99. It is always exposed. I need to buy a cover for it. Finally, I am having a hard time getting used to using zoom lenses. I may have to force myself to use the zooms.

I’m being asked to put my tray table up. I guess this is a good stopping point. Have a good weekend!

Moving Forward

Hello from 32000 feet! I am on an Airbus 321 flying from Charlotte to Minneapolis.

What a year 2014 has turned out to be so far! I have had a major life change and I really haven’t taken photographs as much as I would like.

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SLT-A99V Sony 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/2.5, ISO 250, 1/160s, EV-0.7

I foresee more photographs in my future, however….

Late last year, my manager at work took a stretch responsibility which left our team without a manager for a good part of half a year. In March the business unit I was a part of reorganized and some of the priorities shifted leaving me in an uncomfortable position. And a new manager was assigned to my team.

My spidey sense was telling me to find something else to do. I called in a couple of favors, leveraged my network and found a new role with the same company (I’ll be starting my fourteenth year on Wednesday). The new role is slightly different than my previous role, and as luck would have it, I am travelling a lot more, but to a single destination(Mostly Minneapolis to start). As much as I enjoy being the new guy again, I sure have to work much harder than the last time.  : ) I am finding myself wearing my polo shirts and slacks a lot less and my suits a lot more. Plus my hours are much longer. A good set of problems to have, I assure you.

I made the job transition in June. Every single week I was carrying my A99 with me and a couple of lenses. Usually my 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA or my 85mm f/1.4. I found the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 really cheap and I brought it along a couple of times, but I was so busy I didn’t shoot as much as I wanted. I did manage to take my A99 and Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G to a Seattle Sounders game and catch Landon Donovan after he scored a goal.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G@f/4, ISO 500, 1/250s

Once I got assigned to a full-time customer through February, I was assigned a second computer to carry around so I felt the need to downsize. I tried out the Sony CyberShot RX100M3 and so far I have found it good enough to get me by. The RX100M3 has a 1” sensor and a 24-70mm-equivalent lens, but it is fast for a point and shoot and has an EVF on par with my A77 and as far as I can tell, better ISO 800 and higher than the A77. I’ve carried the RX100M3 for exactly a week and I haven’t been able to get a good enough sample. Below is one of the first shots I took with the RX100M3 to see how it looked, completely unedited.

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DSC-RX100M3 8.8mm (24mm equivalent) @ f/1.8, ISO 125, 1/30s

Last week, I got an email from KEH, one of the best used shops on the internet, and according to the email they were going to be at Cardinal Camera in Charlotte last Saturday paying top dollar for used equipment. A thought popped into my head… I have two bodies I am not really using in the A77 and A900m as well as the A99 I parked because of needing to carry less. I have a ton of very nice glass sitting in a cabinet or in a pelican case. Why not get a quote for the equipment and see what I could trade it for?

Nothing groundbreaking was being released for the A-mount. I passed on the A77m2. I was cautiously waiting for the A99m2 to release. A few third party lenses from Sigma and Tamron hit the shelves. In terms of first party glass, absolutely nothing was in the pipeline I didn’t already have, mostly second revisions of lenses already available I had passed on the first round. Either it wasn’t my style or it wasn’t in my price range. As a prime shooter with most of the best primes the A-mount had to offer, I was looking in the resale market on eBay, KEH, Adorama, or B&H Photo and Video at the Minolta 300mm f/2.8 or 400mm f/4.5. The new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 looked promising. But nothing really told me to jump. I actually went 9 months in 2014 only spending $250 on the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and I only took like 8 shots with it, including the photo below.

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SLT-A99V, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/400s

The KEH representative was a kid. Maybe 22-23 years old on the low end. Couldn’t be older than 30 if he ages well. I brought a pelican case and two boxes of lenses, with all of the manuals and original boxes. The breakdown of what I had given the KEH rep, with original prices and what I estimated the condition is below.

A99 (SLT-A99V); 100,000+ actuations, purchased new for $2800 October 2012, EX-/EX

A900 (DSLR-A900); ~15,000 actuations, purchased used for $1300 October 2012; EX/EX+

A77 (SLT-A77V); ~50,000 actuations, purchased new for $1300 November 2011; EX/EX+

Sony 85mm f/1.4 ZA, purchased new for $1500 November 2011;  EX-/EX

Sony 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA, purchased open box for $1300 December 2013; EX+/LN

Sony 24mm f/2 SSM ZA, purchased new for $1200 September 2012; EX+

Sony 135 f/2.8 [T4.5] STF, purchased open box for $1000 July 2013; EX+/LN

Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro, purchased used for $150 June 2013; EX

Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G, purchased used for $1100 December 2012; EX-/EX

Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G, purchased used for $1100 August 2013; EX/EX+

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, purchased new for $250 June 2014; LN

Sigma 600mm f/8 Mirror, purchased used for $300 sometime in 2011 or 2012; VG/EX-

Minolta 3600 HS flash, purchased used for $50 in October 2012; EX+/LN

TOTAL: 3 Bodies purchased for $5400; 9 lenses @ 7900; One flash @ $50.

Combined unmaintained value $13350

Thirteen grand. (I still drive a truck I paid $6500 cash for in 2006.) This doesn’t include maintenance costs like sensor swabs and fluid, the arctic butterfly, AA batteries for the flash, or the rubber eyepiece cushion I had to replace on the A99. If I played my eBay card right, I probably could have gotten a little more than half of my investment. But I knew half was probably ambitious. I had a number in mind for trade. It was $5000.

Why would I settle for less than half? Convenience, first and foremost. They were in Charlotte. I could get the money and turn it around and get something new. No boxes to pack, no shipping labels. I bill my customers at over $300 an hour. $5 a minute. Of course, I don’t make $300 an hour, just a small fraction. My rate covers the cost of the people selling my time, my management, my salary and insurance, and a wealth of other costs. We’re lucky to break even sometimes. Fortunately I am a cog in a bigger machine where profits are found elsewhere. But despite my role in the rate, I am very aware of how much my time is worth and my customers do not let me forget. Posting on eBay takes time. Packing boxes and printing shipping labels takes time. I am travelling four and five days a week lately. KEH wins with convenience. Every minute is another burning Lincoln.

I had a lot on my side. I take good care of my equipment. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA had been on three continents, nine countries, and more than half the US states. The hood was unsellable. There was dust inside the front element. The paint on the outside was chipped in a couple of places. But the IQ was as good as the first day I bought it. The A99 had nearly 100,000 actuations on it. I presume with video taken into account, the shutter had over 100,000 clicks. I didn’t check. The outside was still very clean. Only a little wear on the grip and a couple small scratches on the bottom corners. The LCD had a protector on it from day 1. And I cleaned that thing (and everything else) with a Q-tip before I brought it in. The photo below shows the work the KEH rep had ahead of him.

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DSC-RX100M3 8.8mm (24mm equivalent) @f/1.8, ISO 250, 1/30s

The KEH rep carefully inspected everything. It took nearly an hour. He knew the 85mm f/1.4 was my baby and he looked at it last. Admittedly I was sad. After he was done, tagging each item, he gave me the verdict. Over $6400. Done. Gone. 48+% return with almost two solid years on the A99, almost three on the A77, and I had catalogued those almost three years in 6000×4000 resolution for myself and my family, and had a lot of fun along the way. I even made a little money with the shots I took.

What to spend the $6400 on? Well, the tough part was over. I am a very loyal person. I was married to the A-mount. I couldn’t move forward. I still liked Sony. Although with $6000+ (and a good amount of cash I was willing to spend out of pocket), I was tempted to look at Medium Format with the Pentax 645Z (it has a Sony sensor), but I would have been stuck with a small selection of glass. And giant files. So I really had three choices. A7, A7R, A7S; plenty of options for glass, plus endless options for adaptation.

With the three bodies I had just sold, I was previously sitting at 6000×4000 (the A900 was slightly more at 6048×4032) resolution. The A7 would be about the same. The lower price point was attractive. I could get more glass. The A7R would be a hike in resolution 36+ MP versus the 24 MP I was used to. But then again, I am losing the stabilization. I would need to be faster and I was losing two f/1.4 lenses with the widest released lens being the 55mm f/1.8 Z FE. The A7S was the most expensive by about $200, and I would cut my resolution in half at 12MP, but for the undisputed low-light champion on DXOMark. It was between the A7R and A7S. Cardinal Camera didn’t have either in stock, nor did they have any of the lenses. They would have to order all of it. So my instant gratification buzz was not going to happen. I was going to have to wait. I got to thinking. I could have a super-resolution 36mp camera and have to depend on a sure hand. Or I could get the 12MP low-light champ and the apertures on the lenses I could purchase could be much smaller. The quality E-mount zooms mostly have f/4 apertures.

It was clear to me. I went with the A7s, the 24-70mm f/4 SSM OSS Z FE, the 70-200mm f/4 SSM OSS G FE, and the 55mm f/1.8 SSM Z FE. The 55mm would be the prime I am used to, and I could use two quality Zeiss zoom lenses to wipe out an entire range. The kicker being I had just purchased the RX100M3 with the 24-70 range and I was enjoying having a zoom after all that time with primes. Plus if I wanted to get really nasty in the future, I could mount one of the Mikaton Superprime lenses (50mm f/0.95 !!) on the A7s and with expansion to ISO 409,600 I would have night vision. I would reduce the amount of space taken in my office, and I would simplify my life. After they added it all up, I walked out with a gift card with more than $160 on it… And the A7s and lenses are being shipped and should arrive later this week. I feel almost naked until I remember I have the RX100M3 to lean on until I get back home (and this photo I took of the A7s at the Sony demo table).

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DSC-RX100M3 23.14mm (63mm equivalent) @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/80s

I am being asked to put my seat back up and return my tray table to the upright and locked position. I am excited about starting anew with the A7s. Friday really could get here much sooner. My old job was replaced by the new one. And the A-mount is gone in my world and the E-mount will be my immediate future.

I’m not good at posting regularly

The title says it all. I’m terrible at it. I am at a crossroads in my internal motivation, trying to dedicate more energy to what I enjoy doing and it is a constant struggle to find a balance. That being said, I was able to get this post started, and it should lead to a finish.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G@ f/4.5, ISO 500, 1/320s

My last post was a good part of three months ago. I posted about the anniversary of my first dive into serious photography. It was right before a trip to Colorado in January 2011. My first return with equipment I want to have with me is going to be later this week.

Playing with an A7

Where to get started? I was in the Pacific Northwest for a few days earlier this month and I was fortunate enough to meet with Ron Martinsen and he let me borrow an A7 for a few days and I allowed him to borrow my 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA lens to test out the LA-EA4 adapter for his blog. I was flabbergasted at the opportunity. Here is the guest post I made on his blog.  The weather was dumpy and my schedule was dumpier, I even resorted to some testing on random objects, like a marker on the hotel bed spread in low light.

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ILCE-7, 35mm f/2.8 ZE @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/50s

The A7 is definitely a cool little camera. I’m still trying to figure out where the future of the A-mount is going and where I will fit into that equation. If I were to go to the E-mount, I’d have to go all-in and I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

Spring is Here!

It is well-documented, I am a Spring junkie. I have peach, pear, and apple trees, daffodils, tulips, azaleas, holly bushes, and a bunch of random other junk growing in my yard. I have a couple families of cardinals, a new family of blue jays, as well as a nest of owls and hawks close by. I planted some roses, primrose, and a few other things which should make for some good subjects. The first sign of Spring this year was these Columbine flowers which grow in a random spot in my front yard.

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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] @ T4.5, ISO 400, 1/160s

The daffodils came out in full force a week later.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/6.3, ISO 800, 1/60s

And I spent the bulk of a later weekend putting in roses. I can’t wait to see how those turn out.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4.5, ISO 125, 1/250s

Random Final Thought

I have plenty more to talk about, yet more work and reality to deal with, so I hope to find some more time. I will leave you with this thought. I’m usually the person taking the photographs and rarely am I in them. I revisited my collection of photos from Austria which included Christian’s photos and found a few taken of me, by Christian, which I particularly like. At time I was a bit weirded out by the thought of my photo being taken, but now I truly appreciate it, especially those I didn’t know he was taking.

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SLT-A57, Minolta 24mm f/2.8 @ f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/800s – Photo by Christian of optiphot.com

I still haven’t figured out how to express the Austria trip in words. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do so.

Three Years

Sometime around today marks three years since I bought my first “serious” camera, the Sony A390.

This photo was taken three years ago today. I look at it now and I wish I would have framed the branches out of the shot and probably opened up the lens more.

DSLR-A390, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM @55mm & f/13, ISO 100, 1/160s

I have tons I want to post later, but I realized what the day was, and it has been a good three years since. Before I depart, however, I want to share the view I have today at the place I am working.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (~23/25mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/353s

I’m in the building casting a shadow over the stadium. I have a photo taken in the opposite direction. I wish I had a better quality shot, but the point is where I am and not what I am shooting.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (~23/25mm f/2.2) , ISO 320, 1/60s

Farewell 2013.

So yeah, it is December 31. Tomorrow is 2014. Thinking back initially, I didn’t think much about 2013. But when I went into Lightroom and looked at the photos I took (around 45000), I realized I was fooling myself. 2013 was a pretty awesome year. For this post, however, I will rewind all the way to last week (yes, last week). My wife and I took our kids on a train from Charlotte to New York.  Three kids in the big apple for two days. Complete chaos. The aperture ring on my A99 fell off its track on the second day. Fortunately I got some good shots on the first day. This one is my favorite.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/320s, EV+0.7

This was my attempt at being clever, about half of the people who see the shot get it, so I probably fell a bit short. The shot is the Freedom Tower, which is erected on the site of the former World Trade Center twin towers.

Another one of my favorites is this shot.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5, ISO 100, 1/250s

This is straight off the body, I know it could use some straightening and cropping. The main point is Big Bird is sitting in front of the gate of the closed Central Park Zoo with his luggage.

Thirty seconds later, I shot this. I gave the guy a dollar.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/250s

I returned from New York and in the giant box of mail I got the next day was a brand new 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA lens! I had hoped to get the lens before I went to New York so I could just bring a single lens. I am glad I didn’t because I wouldn’t have gotten a lot of the shots I got with my 24mm, but I got a good deal and it just didn’t find its way into the mail quick enough. This was the first shot.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/160s

I am still in the honeymoon phase, but so far, so great. This lens is so quiet. So fast. It does not disappoint. I needed a good shot of my kids for a frame I built for my in-laws, and the 50mm produced this shot on the first try.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s, Flash fired.

I had to go to a drug store and get an instant print for the 8×10 frame and the colors absolutely popped. I haven’t taken this lens off of the body since I got the aperture wheel back on track. Absolutely great things to come from this lens in 2014.

One Saturday in December…

My daughter, Georgia has been in ballet since she was in diapers. For the past couple of years, she has had various parts in the Charlotte Youth Ballet presentation of the Nutcracker. This year, Georgia was a soldier.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 1600, 1/200s, –0.7EV

Being a soldier means you’re in all six shows. Three on Friday, two on Saturday, and one on Sunday. So we were busy that particular weekend. My wife spent her first years in college at Florida State University back in 1993 when they won the National Championship in football and Charlie Ward won the Heisman trophy. Though her collegiate endeavors moved her away from FSU, she remained a fan. And as circumstance would have it, FSU is the number one ranked team in the land and would be playing in the ACC Championship in Charlotte on Saturday evening, the same Saturday Georgia had two Nutcracker shows. And FSU had the eventual Heisman trophy winner, Jameis Winston.

But before Georgia had her two Nutcracker shows, she had to perform in a concert with her afterschool singing group and my wife gave me a green light to try to get tickets for the game in a subtle hint during the concert. Fortunately, the game wasn’t sold out yet. Unfortunately, the only tickets left were nosebleed seats.

I snuck my A99 in with a Lensbaby Composer Pro, put my 200mm f/2.8 in the diaper bag, and once I got to my seat I tried my hand at some tilt-shift.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Composer Pro Edge 80 Optic (80mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8), ISO 1600, –0.3 EV

It looks like the electric football game many of us had growing up. I was too far away to get anything really good, unfortunately. I can say I saw the eventual Heisman Trophy winner  Jameis and the number one team in the land (at the time).

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 1000, 1/250s