Prime Time! Why I carry the equipment I carry.

In my last post, How did I get in this dilemma?, I mentioned my trip to Europe with my wife. I brought a Sony Nex-5 with a 16mm f/2.8 lens and that was it. Eight days in Europe; Lisbon, Barcelona, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Palma with one wide prime lens. I learned and became very comfortable with a very valuable concept.

I don’t need a zoom lens.

Shortly after the Europe trip, I got rid of my zoom lenses. I had the kit lens which came with my A390, the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, an old Minolta Beercan lens 70-210mm f/4, and a lens I picked up at a garage sale a Quantaray (Sigma) 75-300mm f/4.5-6.3. All of them sold. I was down to three inexpensive primes on my A390, the 30mm f/2.8 Macro, the 35mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.8. And on my Nex-5 I had the 16mm f/2.8.

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This photo was taken in Andratx in Mallorca. (Sony Nex-5, 16mm f/2.8 lens)

I learned if I wanted to get closer, I could crop or walk closer. If I needed something wider, I could stitch or walk further away. When the A77 came out I sold the Nex-5 and the 16mm lens, the A390 and the three primes. The money I raised covered the A77 and an 85mm f/1.4 lens. I had been juggling used and cheap lenses for ten months when I A77 + 85mm combo. For the next ten months, 90% of my shots have been with this combination. Since then I acquired a 600mm mirror lens really cheap which I use to shoot the moon, and I have experimented with other lenses, the latest being a 24mm f/2 lens. The good thing about camera lenses is they don’t depreciate much if you take care of them. I took an accumulative $28 loss on the 30mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.8, and 50mm f/1.8. I made money on the Minolta Beercan and the Quantaray Zoom at the end of the day. Camera equipment in general depreciates well. I sold the A390 body and kit lens at a $75 loss and the Nex-5 and 16mm lens at a $50 loss.

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Another shot of the moon. (Sony A77, Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror lens)

I travel a lot. In a one year span from mid-January 2011 to mid-January 2012 I visited 20 of the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Thailand, and Malaysia. I really have to carefully choose the equipment in my bag. If I acquire a new lens, if I want to keep it in my bag I need to sell or shelf another to make room.

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This monkey really liked coconut. I took this in Malaysia. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

Right now, in my bag I have the Sony Alpha A77 Digital SLT with an 85mm f/1.4 lens, a B+W XSPro UV filter, a 24mm f/2 lens, a Minolta 3600 HS flash, a SanDisk 32GB ExtremePro SDHC, battery charger, extra battery, and a Giotto’s rocket blower. I also carry various other little supplies including LCD wipes, sensor swabs, cotton swabs, white balance cards, and an extra 16GB SanDisk 16GB ExtremePro SDHC in a small tin. This is to supply my habit. I also have to carry a laptop, power supply, cell phone charger, cell phone, and anything else I am bringing with me. So minimizing the load I am carrying is crucial.

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(Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

Why do I carry the equipment I carry? I wanted the Sony Alpha A77 for the sheer speed. It is capable of shooting 12 frames per second in a single burst of 24.3 Megapixel RAW+JPEG files at 30-35 MB per shot. It does continuous bursts of 6-8 shots without a dedicated mode. The A77 had the lens versatility I had in the A390 and some of the key features which attracted me to the Nex-5. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Once you get to the 12th or 13th shot in the large burst, the buffer fills up and requires a second or two to clear. This is why it is essential to have the fastest SDHC on the market with the SanDisk ExtremePro at 95 mb/s. There is one other camera on the non-Sony DSLR market capable of the speed the A77 has and it costs 4-5 times more. The A77 also does full HD 1080 60p video with autofocus. The only non-Sony DSLR better at video costs nearly ten times as much.

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I was in the third deck when I took this game-winning overtime goal. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

I can shoot my kids in bursts and chances are, one or two will turn out how I want.

 

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Hopefully there aren’t bills in there. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

I decided on the 85mm lens as it was better quality-wise than the cheaper 50mm f/1.8 I had, and the 50mm f/1.4 on the market. I was a bit uneasy about 85mm on an APS-C body as it was much longer than I was used to in the 50mm lens. My goals in acquiring the 85mm lens were simple; it needed to be bright, it needed to fit on a full-frame body if I ever upgraded, and it needed to review well.

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My favorite thing to do is shoot random flowers and plants, especially exotic locations, like this in Fajardo, Puerto Rico (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

The 85mm lens I acquired is the best lens I have ever shot with. It does precisely what I wanted, without me really knowing yet what I wanted. It looks good wide open. It is sharp enough to crop details out from shots where I would have thought I needed something longer. The 24.3 MP APS-C sensor on the A77 has to have a good lens to account for the pixel density. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA the bill. It’s not without fault. It uses a screw-driven autofocus, which is louder and a tad slower than the Smooth Automatic Motor or Super Sonic Wave Motor lenses. Wide open at f/1.4 in backlit situations it allows some Chromatic Aberration to creep in to the shot. The sharpness of the lens makes up for the shortfall.

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My little girl is my most cooperative subject. She dresses up for me. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

With the A77 + 85mm combo, I have shot tens of thousands of frames. I have captured all three of my kids looking and smiling. I have gotten hockey pucks hitting posts and crossing goal lines at the exact moment they hit or crossed more than once each at different games in different countries. I shot a monkey 5 feet away and the shot has made its way into a coffee table book being sold for charity. And I finally got shots of my wife. 

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My beautiful wife at El Morro. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

My latest lens excursion is the 24mm f/2. It works out to be a 36mm equivalent on the APS-C sensor, so it is close to the classic 35mm focal length. The jury is still out. I am still getting a feel for it. It seems like a good lens, but I always find myself getting back to the 85mm lens. Definitely a habit I need to break.

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The colors captured by the new 24mm f/2 lens are good, that’s for sure. (Sony A77, 24mm f/2 lens)

So what about software? That is a story for my next post.

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