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.

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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.

A99 vs. A900 vs. A77 (part II-a): Something I found after today’s post

I was looking for a field in EXIF data which could distinguish whether or not a pop-up flash was used as opposed to an attached flash. I didn’t see a field in Lightroom or Windows Explorer that indisputably gave me the answer I was looking for. Ideally I would get a guide number or something distinguishable. In my troubleshooting, I opened the Image Data Converter application provided by Sony and I found a couple of EXIF fields I didn’t know were there, and maybe an explanation as to why the A900 files are larger. I also found a minor difference in the camera setups and I need to investigate whether or not I need to retest.

Here is a merger of screenshots from the Image Data Converter tool.

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Take a look at the “File type” field. The A99 and A77 say “ARW 2.3 (compressed) format” and the A900 says “ARW 2.1 (non-compressed) format”. Seems pretty conclusive to me. The A99 and A77 RAW files were nearly identical in size, where the A900 files were 50% larger. I also noticed the DRO was set to Auto on the A99 and A77 and to Advanced Auto on the A900. If I retest, I probably need to turn this off to be fair. I also had CA and shading compensation set to Auto on the A99 and A77 and to be completely fair I probably need to turn those off as well.

Halloween yesterday, A99 today.

Halloween is always an adventure for our family. With three kids to dress up, things can get a little tense. This year we completely slacked off, though. I didn’t even dress up, except I wore a superman shirt under my jacket. Last year I dressed up for a Halloween party, but it was the Saturday before. I was in a hospital watching my father pass away last Halloween. He ended up making it to November 1. I really wanted to wear my costume again, but I couldn’t get my crap together.

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Leilani took this photo of me last year.

Although Leilani and I didn’t dress up, we actually had more fun and more of a relaxing time.

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My wife dressed up as a hot mom.

I was able to get 3-4 decent shots with my A77. Unfortunately the A99 is supposed to arrive today, so I didn’t have it. But I tried a few things, specifically with throwing the flash. I have an old Minolta 3600 HS flash I use. Here is the best of those.

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My little girl dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood.

I missed more than I usually do, but I learned a lot about the flash. I went without a flash for more than a year, especially when I got the 85mm f/1.4 lens. I then only used it indoors because my kids like to blink and if they don’t, they had Sith eyes if I didn’t throw it at the ceiling. I got decent results last night throwing the flash upward. I had to fix red-eye when I threw the flash outward.

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I had to fix my little boy’s eyes post-processing here. 

My oldest son had a rubber mask which he had a hard time with as it was hot and made his glasses foggy. I did manage to get one decent shot of him with the mask on.

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I think this may be his last year Trick-or-Treating.

Today is finally the day. Federal Express will deliver my A99. I really don’t know what to do. I have set up a very complex diorama to photograph for my A77-A99-A900 comparison, with crayons, a paintbrush, vivid chess pieces, white balance cards and I may even break out a metronome. I am interested to see if what people are saying is true and if ISO 3200 is as good on the A99 as they say. I am excited about the prospect of it. ISO 3200 is not bad at all on the A900. I get to use it to shoot a charity event tomorrow as well as my son’s soccer game.