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 5, Part 2: My trip to Austria: Lessons)

OK, as promised a while back, almost two months ago, more Austria. Probably my biggest weakness as a human being (other than being months late with my posts) is my ability to accept help and criticism, and seek advice. In going to Austria, I faced this weakness in learning from Christian and every time I resisted I was taken to school. I learned a lot more than the lessons I will list below, these are probably the no-brainers.

I had two bodies (A77/A99) and one to four lenses (24/2, 50/2.8, 85/1.4, 135/2.8 STF) with me at most times and my Lumia 1020. One day I got sick of carrying all of the weight and against Christian’s advice I brought only the A99 and 135 STF one day and regretted the decision all day.

Lesson #1: Bring something wide. Just do it. Wide angle shots aren’t always about fitting everything in.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/160s

This is a 100% off the body jpg from a lake at a magical place called Styria. I was using manual focus wide open and peaking on the tree growing on the stump.

Christian shoots with an A57 and an array of various lenses. I’d venture to say 50% of his shots were between 14mm and 28mm regardless of lens. He has a couple of wide angle techniques I hadn’t tried before. I have a feeling I’ll be including the techniques in my bag of tricks from now on. I’d also say he shoots ISO 200 about half the time or more. I normally use Auto ISO on my A99 at 100-800 or 100-1600 but I found 200 to a good place for consistent quality in following Christian’s advice one day.

Lesson #2: ISO 200 is a good place to be.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 200, 1/5000s

This was shot in Vienna on my last full day. I felt like I needed a “redo” of some of the spots after not bringing the right equipment.

I have attempted Macro shots before but I typically tried to ensure the sunlight was present to raise my shutter speed. Christian would rush to give me some shade, which made no sense to me at the time. Now it makes perfect sense. He also showed me a technique for handheld macro in manual. Put the body in rapid fire mode and move outward.

Lessons #3 & 4: Sunlight doesn’t always make sense for Macro. Use a Continuous Shooting mode to shoot Macro handheld.

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SLT-A77V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/6.3, ISO 100, 1/250s

This is a flower in Christian’s front yard. He shaded the shot for me using a car windshield shade.

I’ve never used Macro tubes. Christian had a neat little set of tubes. Amazing results with my existing lenses. It was amazing to see how those worked. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens was really good to work with in that situation. The Minolta 200mm f/2.8 APO G was OK.

Lesson #5: Macro tubes are effective and not expensive.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/6.3 (with Kenko Macro tubes), ISO 500, 1/100s

Another flower in Christian’s front yard. I almost fell backward after this shot, the bee was huge in the viewfinder.

These are 5 of many lessons I learned in Austria. I will have one more Austria post to wrap these up but I have some other catching up to do…

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 4): Pretty girls on horses

Hello from 32000 feet! Yeah I am on an airplane from Charlotte headed to Phoenix. Short layover in Phoenix and then I go to Northern California. Busy busy.

Bear with me as I am going to try something new. I don’t have these photos with me anymore, so I am trying to link photos from my website. I am hoping the post looks as good on the web as it does in my editor.

A few weeks ago… Actually more than a month ago now, I had the opportunity to return to the same farm I shot Stephen and Deanna to shoot Deanna and her friend Laura on Galileo and Sylvester. Here is Deanna with Galileo.

SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.7, ISO 100, 1/1250s

I learned a valuable lesson much after this shoot. I posted all of the photos, whether I liked them or not but picked a handful for selective editing. Horses usually attract flies. The photos I initially liked  and chose to edit were also the some of the same photos Deanna and Laura liked, except there were a handful Deanna liked where I wouldn’t have given them the time of day. She liked a few straight off the body with no editing. Maybe I need to shoot more shots which need no editing! This shot, however, I did a ton of editing on with no regrets. This is Laura and Sylvester.

SLT-A77V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/5, ISO 100, 1/640s

The girls both wore two pretty dresses and I was able to push my equipment to the edge. Vivid colors, fast action, and I had to be quick on the trigger to ensure I got faces when they weren’t concentrating.

SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8 [T4.5] STF @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/200s

Some action shots I went with a slower shutter speed to get a bit of blur on purpose.

SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/320s

Other shots, I tried to burst at the fastest speed the body would allow.

SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/640s

At the end, however, it was a matter of getting the color right.

SLT-A99v, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.7, ISO 100, 1/500s

And those I may have not gotten right, I can always improvise.

SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8 [T4.5] STF @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/320s

A little patience? Yeah, yeah…

I wrote a couple weeks ago about my hidden talent. I am proud to say I reached the pinnacle of my clover-finding career on Thursday.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro  @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/60s

Yes, that is your standard SIX leaf clover. And more importantly, I was patient enough get the camera before I picked it.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro  @ f/8, ISO 1000, 1/60s

I think it will be difficult to justify picking four leaf clovers at this point.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro  @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/60s

I could always quit while I am ahead.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro  @ f/5, ISO 160, 1/60s

Busy Busy Busy!!!

May is always the busiest month. The first real weekend, we had Mother’s Day which is a 2-weekend deal for my family as one year we were at the beach and didn’t send out cards and I got a crazy idea to draw “Happy Mother’s Day” out in the sand, and make it different for all of the applicable mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in our families and take a photo with my infants as they were back then. We have done something similar ever since. I did the same type of thing last year with posterboard and got this gem for my virtual blooper reel.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/6.3, ISO 200, 1/250s

This year I decided to print cards and I tried to set all three of my kids up for success by not forcing them to look at the camera. Here is one of the shots used.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA  @ f/4, ISO 500, 1/160s

The cards turned out too dark for my tastes. But at least I was able to test on people who wouldn’t nitpick and now I know.

For Mother’s Day we went for a drive and had a picnic and visited two different waterfalls in North Carolina. I got some waterfall photos but my goal was to get one shot of my wife with each of the kids. Here is the easiest one, with zero post-processing needed. Straight off the body. I could have done some touch up, but I figured I would leave it alone.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/200s

May is especially busy in the Charlotte area. Kids are wrapping up school and associated activities and NASCAR is in town for two full weeks bringing in about a hundred thousand extra people to visit or support all of the hoopla. Last weekend was the NASCAR All Star Race, and the night before they had the Truck Race and the All Star Qualifying, which was different this year as they did not have a Pit Entrance speed limit and some drivers didn’t accurately account for the difference between entering the pits at 150 mph and the usual 55 mph and you had some driver error…

 

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G + Sakar 2x Teleconverter @ f/8 (400mm f/8), ISO 320, 1/500s

I was able to attend as I got free access to the Speedway club. I would have taken more shots had I not been behind glass. I actually wanted to practice a little more with a generic Sakar teleconverter I picked up very cheap with some panning, however the windows of the club didn’t allow for much in terms of shots without a bit of reflection evident. I have no clue what apparition haunted the back of the 29 truck on this shot but I was pretty happy with my practice since it was only 1/60s…

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G + Sakar 2x Teleconverter @ f/7.1 (400mm f/7.1), ISO 1600, 1/60s

I usually attempt to make the All Star Race but I had something a little more important on my calendar, my daughter’s ballet recital. And let me tell you. The light in the auditorium absolutely sucked. It was horrible, and there was a giant overhead projector with a powerpoint-driven background set which made things worse as the dancers were given whatever color cast the projector gave. I did manage to capture a couple shots I liked.

DSC00245-Edit SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/3.5, ISO 1600, 1/200s

I got a shot or two of my little girl, here is one of my favorites.

DSC00615 SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250s

I was quite pleased by how the A99 and the Minolta 200mm lens performed at ISO 1600, which is where I pegged the ISO for the most part, save for some shots I took at ISO 3200 which weren’t too bad.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250s

After all was said and done, and after a costume change, I took some portraits of my little girl. Here is one of them.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/2.2, ISO 1600, 1/50s

This week I am going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction voting, which is a good opportunity to talk to the voters, like Richard Petty. I’m also going to the Coca Cola 600. My attendance at the 600 will be my greatest triumph or my greatest failure. I’m taking my 3 year old to his first outdoor major series race. My seats are covered, and I’m bringing plenty of ear protection and activities for him to stay busy if the race doesn’t pull him in. I’ll also have his big brother to help, so I may get a shot or two.

While all of this is happening I also went through another round of equipment binge. I do this about every six months. I buy a couple of lenses, try them out, sell what I don’t use. It is a really bad habit. This round I got manual focus lenses with T-mounts or M42 mounts and adapters. I picked up a 55/1.4 and a 135/2.8, which should both arrive any day. I also got a very inexpensive, yet very well taken care of Sakar 2x teleconverter, which I tested out and the jury is still out, though it vignettes at any aperture on the A99. I can’t complain for the price I paid. If I sell it, I’ll profit from it.

But before all of this, I picked up what may now be my sharpest lens. The Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro, first edition. It is very sharp from what I have seen if the depth of focus allows. I’ve tried hard to use the lens in manual at the 1-1 setting and the subject almost touches the filter. Here is an attempt at 1-1 reproduction. Zero post-processing.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro  @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 1/200s

I haven’t come close to a verdict on this lens other than it reproduces color beautifully and it is razor sharp.

As busy as May usually is, it is a great time to have a nice camera. I really enjoy putting my equipment to good use, especially in challenging situations. We’ll see how the 600 goes if I can free up from attending to my kids to fire a few shots. Until then… Have a great Memorial Day weekend!!

P.S. I looked at this site’s statistics and my viewership in Austria is three times more than it was in the United States over the last 30 days. Either I am popular in Austria, or I’m triggering a lot of search engines with the keywords. Either way I am looking forward to visiting at the end of July!

Hidden Talents and Forgotten Secrets

I have what I like to call a “hidden” talent. It is not a particularly useful talent, though it is amusing to anyone who witnesses it or is the beneficiary.

What is my hidden talent? I can easily spot four and sometimes five leaf clovers among their three leaved counterparts. I’ve stopped my riding lawnmower to not mow a four-leaf clover I saw 10 feet in front of me. There are (at least) five in this photo.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4.5, ISO 100, 1/200s.

This talent is not something I am proud of when I think long and hard about it. It took me a year to rid my front yard of clover. My back yard, however, is a clover haven. Clover is evil. And I really am not sure it is a talent more than the odds are in my favor and statistically I am average. Who knows. I do entertain my wife and kids and family friends though.

Clover, in itself really isn’t interesting to photograph, to me. It is really cluttered, especially in patches and is too close to the dirt to really get any good shots taking advantage of shallow depths of field unless I’m actually planting my camera on the ground to shoot level. The mathematician in me sometimes likes to play the “one of these things is not like the other” game, other than that, photographing clover to me is basically like trying to prove I found yet another four leaf clover. I once investigated means for preserving and selling them on eBay. I find them constantly.

Of course, the reaction I have from finding a five-leaf clover is premature and I wind up doing the impatient thing and picking it. I have yet to photograph a 5 leaf clover while still attached to the ground.

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I was doing something in my workshop room the other day when I went into a cabinet I hadn’t opened in a while and I had forgotten the contents. Well over a year ago I was on the road and bored and I was perusing random stores and I came across a pawn shop and it had a Lensbaby Control Freak for the Sony Mount and they were asking next to nothing for it. I bought it and tried it out. I really didn’t “get” it, other than it could move around in odd directions. I figured I would reconcile the package by purchasing replacement aperture discs and I could sell it at a nice profit if I couldn’t figure it out. Then I came across the pinhole optic on sale a couple weeks later and I figured I would try it out. All I know is I had more sensor and mirror dust than I could possibly imagine as it is something ridiculous like f/117. None of it visible, but at f/117 the dust was there. Not good for someone who can be obsessive about sensor or mirror dust. So I put the thing in the cabinet.

Fast forward to about 3 days ago, I come across this little contraption and I figure I would give it another shot. I know more about photography, I can try it out.

Spring came late this year, and we got pounded by rain, which stripped all of my flowers’ petals, so I really didn’t get the photographic Spring I had in the past. My subjects were gone. I tried it out on the Japanese maples.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/800s

Nothing bad, nothing out of the ordinary either. I stopped the thing down, played around with angles and focus distances.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1/13s

Again, nothing spectacular, other than the colors. I start walking around looking for subjects and I come across a clover patch and I instantly see two 4 leaf clovers next to each other.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/25s

The one on the left was about a half inch lower than the one on the right but I played around with the angles to make them appear around the same height. I walked a couple yards and came across another.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/20s

OK, a little better, but I still see some fluff I don’t like, and I am a little off-center. I tried a couple of other things with the next one I found A little less steep in angle, but closer.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/25s

In all I got at least 10 unique clovers in about 15 minutes. This one ended up being my favorite of the bunch.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/20s

And I did some creative post-processing to produce this result. I also had much more aggressive of a lens tilt.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2.8, ISO 50, 1/25s

I have a feeling I may not get rid of this thing after all.