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

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.

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.

Stars do align…

When I was in elementary school in Colorado Springs, Colorado I was a decent student. Above average. I was a little full of myself, but I was very competitive in class. I wasn’t the most popular kid in class, but for my part I was generally well-liked other than maybe a couple (or few) times I tried a little too hard to get people to like me. But who didn’t back then? There was a girl who was consistently my main competition for the highest scores in class ever since she arrived at our school in second grade. At least I saw it that way. She probably didn’t, nor did she care. She was also perceived as one of the prettiest girls in our class. Her name is Kaylah.

Kaylah and I were in elementary school back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Back then I was among many with the infamous Mullet hair cut. When we finally trimmed our mullets, we left a little bit long in the center called a Rat Tail. A lot of the boys in our class would jockey to sit in front of Kaylah because she would do a highly intricate braid of our rat tails. You were the coolest if Kaylah did her famous braid on your rat tail. Here is a photo of of photos of the 5th grade mullet which eventually became the rat tail (left) and a photo of the 2nd grade mullet I had when Kaylah joined the elementary school.

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I have no clue how to give photo credit here. These were taken in 1989 and 1986 respectively.

Kaylah and I went to different junior high schools, but we went to and graduated from the same high school. Here is a photo of Kaylah from our yearbook when we were freshmen.

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Palmer High School Retrospect 1994 – Volume 65, Page 113

Social networking makes it possible for people to keep in touch without leaving their city. Kaylah and I had been MySpace and later, Facebook friends. I was able to meet her in Washington DC for a beer or two during a business trip because of social networking in 2007 or 2008. I had so many trips to Washington DC at the time, I really don’t remember when it was, I just remember it being after the ten year high school reunion we both didn’t attend. We kept in touch loosely, I’d see her posts with her kids, including daughters who look exactly like I remember Kaylah looking in elementary school. Every once in a while, we’d “like” something the other had posted. And I was definitely happy to see her get married to a guy who looks like Clark Kent for her second marriage.

Fast forward to 2013. For my photography business, I put in a couple of bids for weddings and I hadn’t gotten traction on any of them. The feedback was consistent, I didn’t have any wedding experience. How do you get experience if someone doesn’t give you a shot? I had a cousin getting married, I offered to shoot his wedding and I didn’t get a response. What was I to do?

I did something absolutely crazy over Facebook. I offered to do a wedding for free, throw in a hundred or more dollars of prints in for free, and I paid $30 to boost the post. It reached 7000 people. Then the stars aligned…

Kaylah asked if I was free on November 2nd. Her little sister, Hannah was getting married outside of Durham, North Carolina. Being a couple hours’ drive away, it wasn’t a hassle at all. So I got on the phone with Hannah, and we agreed to have me photograph their wedding. It would be a “win-win” situation as I would get some valuable experience and add to my portfolio, and Hannah and her fiancé Josh would get a break on a photographer at the risk of my inexperience.

I remember Hannah as Kaylah’s little sister. She was two grades behind us, and I remember her having brown hair where Kaylah had light-brown to blonde hair. They were both very pretty girls, you could tell they were sisters but they also looked distinctly different. Here is Hannah’s yearbook photo from her sophomore year (Kaylah and my senior year).

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Palmer High School, Retrospect 1997 – Volume 68, Page 136

So my first wedding shoot was the little sister of a girl I went to elementary school with from second to sixth grade, and graduated high school with… in Colorado Springs. And we’d be outside of Durham, North Carolina. According to Bing Maps, it would be a 1623 mile drive taking approximately 23 hours and 33 minutes from Colorado Springs to the venue. And to add to the stars aligning, we’ve had a late fall in the Carolinas and the fall colors were near peak. Last year at this time, the leaves had all fallen. The venue was Het Landhuis in Pittsboro, NC.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/4.5, ISO 100, 1/800s

Nothing really prepares you for your first wedding shoot. I looked all over the internet, looked at magazines, I even looked through wedding albums. In preparation, I bought a Minolta Maxxum 5 35mm camera, new in box for very cheap and some rolls of film. I bought ten 35mm disposable box cameras to randomly pass around for wedding guests to shoot with. I upgraded my tripod and head. I bought filters for my lenses. I bought umbrellas and lights. I brought almost every piece of equipment I own. I didn’t bring my Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror or my cheap 2x teleconverter. That’s it. Everything else came with me.

I arrived about four hours early to scout the location. Here is a shot I took where my little girl was playing the part of the bride. I didn’t use this camera/lens combination the rest of the day.

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DSLR-A900, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @f/4, 1/500s, ISO 200

My first lesson was almost immediate. I brought too much equipment. I had to decide what to park and what to take with me. I parked my two biggest lenses, the Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G and 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G. No white lenses for this shoot. My daughter carried an A900 with a Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro as my backup shooter. I had my A99 and A77, a Maxxum 5, my 85mm f/1.4, 135 STF, 24mm f/2, a Minolta baby beercan (35-75 f/4), and a Lensbaby Composer with Edge 80 optic (80mm f/2.8); I also had my Minolta 3600 HS Flash, all of my backup batteries and a few rolls of film. I hid my new Vanguard carbon fiber tripod and BBH-200 ballhead under a bed in the preparation cabin or in a storage barn. The rest went to my truck. At the end of the day, around 60% of my shots were with my go-to combination, my A99 and 85mm. The combination with the next closest percentage was my A77 and 135 STF at around 20%. A vast majority of the shots were between f/2.8 and f/4.5. I think I would have benefitted from a 70-200 f/2.8.

I sent my daughter to roam around the estate and told her to take as many random photos as possible and I would park her in a certain spot during the ceremony. My first real shooting started out in the cabin where the bride was preparing. Of course, while Hannah is preparing, I would expect a visit from her big sister, Kaylah. What I didn’t expect was a visit by their older sister Susannah, who is a few years older than Kaylah and I, but you’d never know by seeing her. She doesn’t look a day older than her mid 20’s. I had never met Susannah. I got this shot of the three. (Left to right: Susannah, Hannah, Kaylah)

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/3.5, ISO 1600, 1/50s

Being an outside wedding on an estate with cabins and farm houses, I had some backlit situations, and I had to deal with some shadows as well. I couldn’t exactly interfere with the ceremony to say “Excuse me, can you guys move to under the shade?” so I had to work with what I worked with. I tried to get shots atypical of some wedding shots I have seen, some which tell a story.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/200s.

This was a second wedding for both Hannah and her fiancé, Josh. The role of the bridesmaids and groomsmen would be fulfilled by Hannah’s son and daughter, and Josh’s daughter. Hannah was walked down the “aisle” or path by her son, Caedon.

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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8 [T/4.5] STF @ f/2.8/T4.5, ISO 100, 1/400s, +1EV

The actual ceremony was performed in some woods about 200 yards away from the cabin, nestled down below ground level. The ceremony area was completely surrounded by woods and their fallen leaves. Walking on the leaves was LOUD. When I realized how loud it was, I decided on two lenses, on two bodies and parked the rest of the equipment behind a tree. I had my A99 and A77 and my 85mm f/1.4 and my 135 STF.

In order to shoot one side of the ceremony and then move behind it, I had to go up a hill and around the edge of the trees, which was probably a 20 foot rise and 100-150 yards of a sprint while missing potential shots. While behind the ceremony I got this shot.

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SLT-A77V, 135mm f/2.8 [T/4.5] STF @ f/2.8/T4.5, ISO 400, 1/320s, +1EV

It was a very unique ceremony, done with some Native American tradition. It was very spiritual. The entrance and exit were done with a chanting drummer performing. The vows were done for the bride and groom to the rest of their family, not just to themselves. There were some symbolic gestures performed ritually in the ceremony. Most of the ceremony the bride and groom were covered by a woven blanket. I certainly wasn’t prepared for that!

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SLT-A77V, 135mm f/2.8 [T/4.5] STF @ f/2.8/T4.5, ISO 100, 1/250s, +1EV

The sun was in the girls’ faces, which was apparent in many of the shots I got. She covered her face with flowers in 90% of the shots I took. Fortunately, they didn’t look at the sun for this shot.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 160, 1/100s, +1EV

Once the ceremony was performed, it was reception time. The sun gave way to rain clouds. I was fairly happy about it before it started raining. This shot was the out of body jpeg.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/320s

I got a couple from this position, rotated a few degrees to my left and shot some more, a little closer.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/160s, +0.7EV

And then we moved around toward a small pond. Beforehand, we stopped at this tree.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/3.5, ISO 1250, 1/100s

And we took a few with Hannah and Josh on the bridge over the pond.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 1600, 1/80s

I thought the rain would miss us. I even said “I think the rain is going to miss us.” Boy, I messed that forecast up. Rain hit us hard and fast. We quickly moved to a barn. I was going to have to face my biggest weakness. The flash.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/3.2, ISO 400, 1/250s

Despite the darkness in the barn, I got a few of the “must-have” shots including the cutting of the cake, the first dance, and some family shots. Once the rain stopped we decided to take advantage of the lights outside. Josh told me he wanted this shot and it was just a matter of me not messing it up, and Josh staying still.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 2s

And if you thought one person staying still was hard. We attempted two.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 2.5s

Between my A99, A77, and A900 I had taken more than 1000 photos. I still haven’t gone through them all. These are the heavy hitters. I still have a few I would like to post-process more. My daughter took almost 300 shots. I took 2 rolls of 35mm film and received 9 of the 10 disposable cameras back. I’ll be interested in seeing how those turn out.

I’ve been pretty long-winded already. I could fill another post with wedding photos. I learned a few lessons. I need to bring less equipment. I need to probably invest in a good 24-70 or 70-200 lens and use one body, rather than moving around with a few primes. I need to not try to get cute with 35mm film. I need to use film to augment digital (I feel a 35mm film-centric post coming soon). I also learned I need to not only make a playbook, but to follow it. I made a playbook and since the ceremony wasn’t traditional, I had to improvise a bit. I totally should have gone back to it once the ceremony was over. I missed a few shots I should have gotten. Fortunately for Hannah and Josh, many of the wedding guests filled in some of those gaps with their phones and I imagine the disposable camera photos will help fill their album with the playbook shots. I spent a lot of time chasing down cell phone photos posted to Facebook for their album. Finally, I need to spend more time shooting with a flash. I had a hard time getting the flash photos right with the weird ceilings of the barn. The few that came out right were beautiful.

Hannah and Josh seem like people who live their life with little to no regrets. Hopefully the risk of having me learn on the job won’t be one of them.

The Cup Champion’s Beer Glass

Anyone who has read my posts knows I live just outside Charlotte, North Carolina. Home of NASCAR. Sure, the official headquarters is in Daytona. But the NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte, adjacent to a large building with NASCAR’s logo on it. Almost all of the teams’ race shops are within 20 miles of Charlotte, and if you extend 90 miles, I believe all but one race shop is within radius. More on this introduction later…

If you have read some of my other posts, you have probably figured out I have an equipment addiction in terms of bodies and lenses. I have a couple of the baddest a-mount prime lenses on the planet. The 85mm f/1.4 Zeiss Alpha. The Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G. The 135mm Smooth Transmission Focus. I figure there are about 4-5 lenses I would want more than the ones I have and most of them are way out of my price range. I’d love the Minolta 600mm f/4 High Speed APO G. I can’t spend that kind of dough without spousal approval. They typically go for $5000-6000. The 300mm f/2.8 SSM G-II looks pretty awesome. $7000 is more than I paid for my truck, a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500 with 14,000 miles on it in 2006. The Sony 500mm f/4 runs about $12 grand. So I have to shop around. A Minolta 300mm f/2.8 APO G is about $4000 less than the current Sony model. I’m intrigued by the Minolta 400mm f/4.5.

I was doing some value shopping and I came across a Minolta 300mm f/4 High Speed APO G for less than what I paid for the 200mm f/2.8. I wasn’t sure about spending that kind of dough on a dark f/4 lens. I figured I’d buy it and if I don’t like it, I’ll sell it to raise money for a 300mm f/2.8.

One of my favorite things about being on the A-mount is the cool nicknames old Minolta lenses have. I used to own the Minolta Beercan, the 70-210 f/4 lens which is the about the same size of a Coors tallboy. There’s the “Big Beercan” (75-300 f/4.5-5.6), the “Baby Beercan” (35-70 f/4), and the “Secret Handshake” (28-135 f/4-4.5). Anyway, I was surprised about how small the 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G was. The lens arrived yesterday and I pulled it out of the box…

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I am completely overwhelmed by how big this thing is.

Yeah, that is the fully extended 85mm f/1.4 ZA on the bottom with a filter and a lens cap, with the fully hooded 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G on top on the right. The 300mm f/4 HS APO G is on the left.

I think the 300mm f/4 High Speed APO G lens should be named the Champion’s Beer Glass. Why? Last year, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski created a buzz on social media about the giant beer glass he was drinking out of when he won the championship. I can’t post a photo, but go to Bing and look it up. Or click here…

Long story short, that beer glass was insane! And so is this thing. I guess I should have read the specification. The 200mm is 134mm long according to spec measured lens bayonet to front element. My quick “I think I remember a ruler having 30 centimeters” math tells me it is about 5-6 inches long depending on if the hood is extended or not. The 300mm lens spec says 220mm or 8 inches long. The front element sinks in a bit and the hood is about 4 inches long. With the rear cap, and hooded this bad boy is a foot long.

How does it shoot? Well I have shot maybe 20 frames with this and I already can tell this lens is not likely to leave my collection any time soon. Wide open, this thing is razor sharp. And the famous Minolta color. Straight off the body, zero editing.

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

Here is the same shot, on the left side of the frame.

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A little bit of CA there, but not much. The biggest thing (other than physical length and weight) I need to get used to is the big minimum focus distance. 250cm. A little over eight feet.

Dogwood berries are my standard of red. This thing knocks it out of the park.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 300mm f/4 High Speed APO G@f/4, ISO 640, 1/320s

And full resolution. Keep in mind, these are ISO 640. The leaf was peaking in manual focus and I am handheld.

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A little bit of green under one of the berries. Fixable.

So there you have it. And I think I just figured out my PG-13 nickname for this thing. The Big Ass Beer Glass.

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 3): The 135 STF

Yeah, I am catching up at about the same rate I should be posting. I am busy. Work has me going all over the place and I am working on multiple projects. Meanwhile my kids are starting school again. Excuses are lame, I know.

A few months back I posted about wanting either the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 or the Sony or Minolta 135mm f/2.8 [T4.5] STF lens. I opted for the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G lens with no regrets.

A couple weeks before I went to Austria, I found an open-box copy of the Sony 135 STF at a price I couldn’t pass up. Should I have spent the money I didn’t have? Frankly, I don’t care. This lens is amazing.

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SLT-A77V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] STF, ISO100, 1/250s
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SLT-A77V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] STF, ISO200, 1/500s
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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] STF, ISO400, 1/160s
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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] STF, ISO100, 1/200s EV+1
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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] STF, ISO320, 1/200s EV+0.7

The results speak for themselves, don’t they?

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 1): The Nokia Lumia 1020

As promised in my previous post, I have some catching up to do. I am going to do the catching up in a different order than I would have implied, but I will catch up nonetheless.

So there’s a lot of hype around the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 41 Megapixel camera. I’m here to say the Lumia 1020 lives up to the hype for the most part. It is a Windows Phone, so it has a very similar application experience to the tiles in Windows 8 and it integrates seamlessly with any setups you already have through Windows on other devices. I use a Surface Pro as my travel computer and I am able to immediately see a 5 MP sample of the photos I take on the Lumia 1020 on my computer as soon as I take it as long as I haven’t disabled synchronization (more on this later).

My wife has a Lumia 920 and it is a good phone and has an above-average cell phone camera on its own, the 1020 is almost the exact same size except for one thing, there is a giant bulge where the camera lens and flash live. It does not lie down flat on the table.

Enough about the unimportant stuff, right? What about the photos? A regular reader of my blog (which there are maybe 3 or 4 total now since I have been slacking off) knows I carry 24MP Sony Alpha bodies with an array of prime lenses, two of which are Sony Zeiss lenses. This phone has a 28mm equivalent f/2.2 fixed aperture Zeiss lens with six elements and claims a 41 MP sensor. The resultant shots are 38MP, and the shots posted to Facebook, Twitter, Text Message, or automatically to the cloud are 5 MP copies or crops of the original 38 MP shot. I suspect the other 3 MP is dedicated to stabilization. In order to get the 38MP shot I have had to attach my phone to my computer using a USB cable. I imagine I could use Bluetooth as well but haven’t tried.

Here is the first shot I took with the phone as soon as the battery had enough charge.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/230s

Not bad. Here is a full resolution crop of the same shot.

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Definitely not bad for a cell phone. And think, this crop above is only 636 pixels wide. The original is 7712×4352!!

The camera claims a digital zoom, which is actually not a zoom, it is a crop. So if you don’t zoom, a 5MP copy of the 38MP shot posts. If you do zoom, a 5MP copy of a smaller portion of the 38 MP shot posts. The cool part is, the original pre-zoom 38MP shot stays on the body, and only the cropped shot is viewable in the default UI. You can adjust the shot if you zoom/crop too much or align incorrectly in the Nokia Pro Camera application.

Here is an example of the 2.5x “Zoom” 5mp shot seen on the camera.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 320, 1/60s

And the 38 MP shot saved on the phone:

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I received the phone the day before release as I was lucky enough to live close to the shipping origin and the package arrived the day before it was supposed to. This is a good thing because I was able to bring the phone on my trip to Germany and Austria and I had plenty of time on airplanes and trains to figure the camera out and plenty of subjects to shoot.

The phone comes with a handful of applications to shoot with. There is the native Windows application, which gives you one or two settings to toggle and the rest is automatic. But the default is the Nokia Pro application, which gives you an array of settings to toggle. You can adjust the flash/focus light settings (on, off, focus light only, no focus light, auto), white balance (auto, cloudy, sunny, florescent, incandescent), focus (auto or about 6-7 inches to infinity), ISO (100-4000), shutter speed (auto or 4s-1/16000s!), and exposure compensation (-3EV to 3 EV in 1/3 increments). Here is a shot I used Exposure Compensation on.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/1600s EV-0.3

There are other applications installed by default on the 1020; Nokia Smart Cam, Panorama, Nokia Cinemagraph, and Creative Studio. And you can download many others free in the Windows Store. I haven’t had much time to play with any of these. I mainly used the default Nokia Pro Cam application.

So I can say without a doubt this is the best camera I have used on a cell phone. I will even go as far to say it is better than any point and shoot I have ever owned. It isn’t a replacement for my Sony Alphas. Anyone who says it has DSLR quality is probably only talking about ideal shooting situations. One little bit of oddness I noticed from the Lumia on the trains in Europe or riding in cars is a slant in the subject. I am not sure if it is an effect of the shutter or an effect of their stabilization compensating for the movement.

This shot was fixed at 1/2000s

This photo was taken with a cell phone while sitting on a moving train.
Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 125, 1/2000s

Initially I didn’t think anything of the shot, I was pleased with the color saturation straight off the phone. I was on a train moving approximately 50-60 km/h at the time pulling away from a station. The next day I attempted the same shot with my A99 and my 24mm Zeiss lens.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA@ f/4, ISO 200, 1/2000s

Whoa. Now I notice the difference. If you aren’t quite sure, here is a closer look. Here is the Lumia:

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And the Sony Alpha:

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A little bit of a slant is apparent, even at 1/2000s. The Sony gives straight lines. This was the same train on two different days. I wonder why this occurs. The color saturation is a tad higher on the Nokia than the Sony, though I didn’t pay attention to the white balance or my color profile on the Sony, I am sure I could oversaturate the colors a bit to get the same effect.

So a minor flaw. It is what it is. A cell phone camera. A damn good one nonetheless.

How does the camera do with low light? This shot was taken without flash with only a little bit of light in the sewers of Vienna. Notice the shutter speed.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 2500, 1/4s

I can’t complain about that. I think it may have added a bit of light compared to available with raising ISO but it added a neat visual effect. I would only attempt to use my 24mm Zeiss at 1/4s handheld. My other lenses I’d need something rigid to set my camera or elbows against to shoot.

The color rendition is very good, maybe a bit oversaturated which I have expected with cell phones. You can use an array of applications to reduce the saturation. Here is a good test of the colors.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/50s

Nice colors, nothing to complain about.

I am sure there is more to come with the Lumia 1020. Does it replace my Sony bodies? No. Does it keep my Sony bodies at home when I am going on a short trip to the store? Absolutely. There are a few situations I would bring my camera “just in case” and now I am OK with the Lumia 1020 in its place.