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.

DSC03051
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.

DSC02719
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.

DSC00006
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.

DSC02791
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.

DSC00043
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).

DSC00044
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.

Advertisements

I’m not good at posting regularly

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

DSC06464 (2)
SLT-A99V, Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G@ f/4.5, ISO 500, 1/320s

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

Playing with an A7

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

DSC07866 1

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

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

Spring is Here!

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

DSC07838-2
SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] @ T4.5, ISO 400, 1/160s

The daffodils came out in full force a week later.

DSC08693
SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/6.3, ISO 800, 1/60s

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

DSC08650
SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4.5, ISO 125, 1/250s

Random Final Thought

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

_DSC7794

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

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

One Saturday in December…

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

DSC09126
SLT-A99V, Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 1600, 1/200s, –0.7EV

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

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

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

DSC09199
SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Composer Pro Edge 80 Optic (80mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8), ISO 1600, –0.3 EV

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

DSC09164
SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 1000, 1/250s

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.

WP_20131107_002
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.

WP_20131107_006
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).

WP_20131107_004
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.

DSC07410
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.

SONY DSC
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)

DSC07629
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.

DSC07542
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.

DSC07660-2

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.

DSC05539

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!

DSC05567
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.

DSC07775

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.

DSC07887

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.

DSC07870-4
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.

DSC07919
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.

DSC07949
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.

DSC08158

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.

DSC08216
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.

DSC08220-2
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…

DSC06138

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.

DSC06129
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.

DSC06129-2

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.

DSC06119

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.

DSC06119-2

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.

Is May over yet? Almost?

May is always the busiest month for me. The races in Charlotte, the fiscal year ending at work, the kids’ activities all coming to an end as well as their school years, and other factors contribute to the turbulence in May. Last Saturday I got up early to go shoot a newly-engaged couple at a farm in Rock Hill, SC.

DSC01362
SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/1250s

Stephen and Deanna chose a beautiful setting and it was easy for me to shoot. I had to drop ISO down to be able to get the apertures I like. Afterward, Deanna wanted some shots with her horse, Galileo, but she went a step further and rode him bareback in a beautiful purple dress and barefoot!

DSC01645
SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/800s

Afterward, I had to blitz back to pick up my youngest boy and take him to the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Taking a three year old to the track is no easy task but I was able to fire off a few shots with my A77.

DSC02316
SLT-A77V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/800s

The next day I took both of my sons to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca Cola 600. I got a lot more shots. Here is one of the flyovers…

DSC02443
SLT-A77V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/5, ISO 100, 1/1250s

During the race I didn’t get as many shots as I would have liked but I did get an odd shot, I was trying to shoot the orange moon over the world’s largest HDTV and this accident was occurring exactly when I was shooting.

DSC01842

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

I also shot a variation of this shot several times, with this one being one of the best.

DSC01840
SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 1600, 1/160s

For some reason I like to shoot the cars lined up for a restart with the pace car peeling off to the pit area. This shot also shows a very populated part of the stands and helps show how tall the 24 degree banking in turn 4 is  compared to the flat area where the Dollar General sign is.

June starts this weekend and I hope to get a chance to test out a couple of old lenses I picked up a week or two ago. I picked up a T-mount 135mm f/2.8 lens and a M42 Mount 55mm f/1.4 lens and other than a couple of test shots, I haven’t gotten a chance to shoot them yet. My first impression is how small the lenses are without electronics. The 135mm f/2.8 lens would fit inside my 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens with room to spare. The 55mm f/1.4 lens would easily fit inside my Minolta 50mm /2.8 Macro fully compacted.

I am also looking at a fairly epic travel schedule coming soon. I am definitely going to Austria via Germany in late July, but another international trip or two may be in my future for work. All I need is for some ink to dry.

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.

md

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.

dsc09084

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.

md2

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…

 

DSC00089
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…

DSC00112

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.

DSC00393-Edit

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.

DSC00953
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.

DSC00057

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!