The Speedmaster

So I have this new toy, the Sony A7s, regarded in a number of circles as the one camera to rule them all (in terms of shooting in the dark). I got the brightest native E-mount lens which is the sharpest autofocus lens Dxomark has ever tested in the FE 55mm f/1.8 but I still wasn’t satisfied.

One thing I had conceded with the A99 was the possibility of having something brighter than f/1.4. Talk about a first world problem. My shooting style lends itself to very shallow depths of field and I wanted to go shallower. The E-mount brought a wealth of possibility with all of the adapters as well as the third-party support. Doing some research, I had found a number of lenses brighter than f/1.0. Many of these were adapted in someone’s workshop and had a fixed aperture, or worse, a fixed focus. Using an adapter, I could get a couple of the legends out there. A couple copies of the Canon Dreamlens (50mm f/0.95) are out there in the $2500-$3000 range. And Leica has an option for ten times as much. There were already a few sub-f/1.0 lenses for the APS-C E-mount bodies, but only one available for the A7-series. The Mitakon Speedmaster. The biggest problem with the Speedmaster: availability. Both B&H and Adorama had them for pre-order for around $900. Or I could roll the dice with an international seller on eBay. I chose the latter. Five short days later, a box arrived from Hong Kong. I found the first surprise, a very well-made leather-bound box.

 

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 1250, 1/60s

I opened the box and found a very heavy manual aperture, manual focus lens. I put it on my A7s and found it had a very nice, snug fit on the mount. With any bright prime, I started testing it wide open. Here is the first shot taken, followed by a crop of the center.

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 100, 1/800s
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Not too bad, I could tell I needed to get used to the microscopic depth of field. I stopped down to f/1.4 (hearing myself type: stopped down to f/1.4) and produced this result:

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/500s

Without a doubt, I realized this lens had passed the color test. The next evening I took the kids to the NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I found the possibilities to be endless.

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 250, 1/250s

Again, I am impressed with the colors. The person in the background behind my son with a hat and headphones on was about two feet behind my son. Sure, there is a little CA wide-open. But for $900, I frankly don’t care. And Lightroom could fix it enough.

I have a really nice problem to have right now. I have a new A7s and I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. I want to shoot all four of the lenses I have, but I can only bring one or two with me at any given time. My biggest problem is figuring out which two. Grace is not amused by my problem.

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ILCE-A7s, Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95, ISO 100, 1/200s
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Catch Up Post #3: Spring!

I’ve said it in so many posts, I didn’t bother to backlink it… I love the Spring in North Carolina. Daffodils, Tulips, Azaleas, Dogwoods! And I have them all in my yard! This is the front of my house.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ F/4, ISO 400, 1/500s

This Spring came a lot later than last year. Last year we transitioned from Fall directly into Spring. We had Azaleas in February. This year they waited until April.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f.4, ISO 400, 1/250s

You can’t really tell from the small house photo, but the new addition this year is the tulips and boy were they welcome!

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.5, ISO 100, 1/800s

We had red, yellow and orange.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f.4, ISO 400, 1/250s

And I added a few extra daffodils this year, which came in different colors and sizes than the yellow ones we already had.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f.4, ISO 200, 1/250s, +1/3 EV

I also have peach trees which blossom pink and white.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f.4, ISO 400, 1/250s, EV+1

The last ones to the party this year (so far) are the dogwoods.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f.4, ISO 400, 1/250s

And there’s always my go-to subject, the Japanese Maples.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f.4, ISO 100, 1/250s

Still yet to come are my Apple and Pear trees, and a bunch of other randomness I have yet to shoot!

Subject searching… in my yard.

I do a bit of travelling as a part of my work responsibilities. Photographing while travelling is trivial. When I am not travelling I work from home 95% of the time. I do not have an office to drive to, I do my work over teleconferencing, video conferencing and other forms of internet communication.

I used to smoke cigarettes. A pack a day sometimes. I quit on Halloween 2006, almost 6 years ago. I quit cold turkey after trying the patch, the gum, the lozenge, and everything else I could try. If you were to ask me to identify one thing which made me successful in quitting, I would tell you it was the simple concept of going on a smokeless break. When I did work in an office, myself and a couple of smoking co-workers would send a group instant message and we’d meet in the parking garage. We all tried to quit many times and you knew who was trying to quit by who didn’t show up. So when I quit, I didn’t stop taking the breaks. I wouldn’t go stand near the smokers, though. I would do other things for 5-10 minutes every couple of hours.

Fast forward to now. When I am working at home, my new break is to take my camera outside. I live in North Carolina in the Southeastern United States, one of the best regions to live in if you like diversified nature. Specific to my property, January is OK, but about the worst month, or maybe tied with December for the worst month nature-wise. A lot of yellows and browns. The holly bushes still deliver and we always have green ivies, but in general the subjects are slim. In February, I have two Columbines which pop up and a couple of early Daffodils.

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I dropped seeds for these two columbines a few years ago and they usually are the first two flowers to show up
(A77, Sony DT 30mm f/2.8 Macro @f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/400s)
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This is one of two daffodils which pops up a couple of weeks before the others
(A77, Sony DT 30mm f/2.8 Macro @f/9, ISO 400, 1/160s)

In March, we have a Daffodil explosion, blossoms start showing up on my Peach trees, little purple flowers start showing up, the Azaleas start to bloom, and the Dogwoods flower. This explosion of color moves through April when my Pear and Apple trees join the party. We even have violets and wood sorrel popping out of the lawn out back. We had clover in the front yard until I killed it, but we have plenty in back still. My Japanese maples start to sprout leaves a hot-pinkish-red.

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A second wave daffodil.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/3200s)
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Not sure what this flower is called. It grows on a bush in my front yard and flowers in March.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/3.5, ISO 400, 1/320s)

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One of my many azalea bushes in the early morning.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/2.5, ISO 400, 1/100s)

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The first peach blossom last year.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/1.4, ISO 50, 1/200s)

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I could not stop photographing the dogwoods last spring.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/3200s)

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These violets grow freely in my back yard… until I decide to mow.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/1.4, ISO 50, 1/160s)

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This wood sorrel also grows freely in my back yard until it is mowed. The leaves look like shamrocks.
(A77, Minolta Beercan 70-210 f/4 @ 75mm, f/4, ISO 100, 1/640s)

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A close-up view of an azalea flower.
(A77, Quantaray/Sigma 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/50s)

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A side-angle of one of my Japanese maples.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/4.5, ISO 100, 1/160s)

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Three four-leaf clovers in this “lucky” shot.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/4.5, ISO 100, 1/200s)

The Azaleas peak at the beginning of May, when my favorite Azalea bush, a purple one starts to explode. The reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, whites and greens really put my eyes and camera to the test. The Azaleas lose their blooms. Orange, Pink, White and Purple. In their place we have the Magnolias, Irises and Lillies.

 

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This Iris popped up unexpectedly.
(A77, Minolta Beercan 70-210 f/4 @ 210mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/50s)

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It is hard to get azalea flowers in focus with a shallow depth of field.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/1.4, ISO 50, 1/125s)

 

In June the flowers mostly leave with few exceptions. My maples start to get an orange tinge to them and we have one white Azalea which blooms about a month after her sisters have finished dropping petals. The hydrangeas shine in June into July and the dragonflies are abundant near the creek which runs through my back yard. July brings peaches if the wildlife don’t beat me to them. In July my Japanese maples start to show some green in their leaves.

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This Hydrangea is blue, purple, or pink depending on soil PH.
(A77, Sigma 10mm f/2.8 HSM Fisheye @ f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/160s)

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This and other dragonflies hang out around the creek in my back yard.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/1000s)

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One of my maples in July. It can’t decide between green and red.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/190s)

And I forgot to mention, we have Red Cardinals in the area all the time, which are nearly impossible for me to quietly capture. August is a bit dull, really except the Dogwoods start to sprout bright red and green berries in clusters. In September the Dogwood leaves slowly start to change and the berries are mostly all red. One of my Japanese Maples is mostly green by September, with red veins and outlines, and the other is close behind.

 

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My dogwood trees are a gift which keeps on giving, year round.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 @f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/500s)

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A great first test for one of my lenses. Reds, yellows, blues and greens.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 24mm f/2 @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/640s)

We have one Encore Azalea which flowers, one flower at a time in September into October. In October the Hollies start to produce berries and the berries turn from a dull green to a bright red. And a new discovery I made this year are the porcelain berries. They are a welcome intruder. It will be hard for me to get rid of them. Of course October brings the yellows, browns, oranges and reds from the regular maples and the giant oaks we have in back. The dogwoods are the first to change.

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The first red holly berries this year.
(A77, Sony Zeiss 24mm f/2 @ f/2, ISO 200, 1/80s)

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The dogwoods changing. I just noticed the droplet on the branch near the left third at the top of the frame.
(A77, Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM @ 120mm, f/5, ISO 200, 1/80s)

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The encore Azalea in October.
(A900, Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM @ 2000mm, f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/60s)

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Porcelain berries!
(A77, Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM @ 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/250s)

I worry about having the same subjects, especially when I am shooting the same things in my yard. I can’t tell you how many shots I have of Azaleas, Dogwood flowers, leaves and berries, dragonflies, and so on, but I will say, it is better than me smoking and I can learn a lot by shooting the same things.

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These oak leaves don’t have long until they are in a pile my kids will be jumping in.
(A900, Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM @ 230mm, f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/30s)

A900: Second impressions from an A77 owner

In my first post regarding my use of the A900, I was a little confused and a little excited at the same time. I was excited to have the A900 in my hands. The legendary 100% coverage of the big beautiful Optical Viewfinder. I had been spoiled by the A77 Electronic Viewfinder, which is my own personal HD monitor for framing photographs. I knew I wasn’t going to get the full “what you see is what you get” experience anymore with the A900. I also knew I wasn’t going to have the translucent mirror in the way of my light, so the high-ISO shots of the A900 were almost guaranteed to be better. And I was truly excited to see the edges of my 85mm f/1.4 Z lens.

The day I got the A900 I broke my A77. I lost a handle on it while I was changing lenses and put my thumbnail through the translucent mirror. Now my A77 is being delivered to the Sony service center. Luckily I had the A900.

As much as I may miss the features the A77 has to offer over the A900, I don’t use them as much. If anything, the features are nice to have, but not mandatory. The A77 has great IQ in good light, and it is blazing fast.

The A900 is no slouch either. My A77 has the luxury of a 32GB card, whereas I only have an 8GB card in the A900 and the A900 RAW files are about 50% larger. So until I buy another card, I am constrained to about 210 RAW shots. I may have to pick and choose my battles if I don’t pick up another card. The A900 in continuous burst mode is really fast. It is super loud and the mirror does slap a bit, but it is fast enough. I went through the exercise of taking the same types of shots with the A900 as I would with the A77 and the card filled up quicker than I knew it.

Here is a shot taken of some porcelain berries with my A77:

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This was shot at 150mm, f/5.6, and ISO 200 on my 70-300 G lens.

Now a similar type of shot with the A900:

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This shot was 300mm on the 70-300 G at f/5.6 and ISO 400. One thing I have noticed is I have had to get used to the distance I am shooting at for the shot I am framing. Especially on my 85mm lens. The 85mm lens has a minimum distance of about 3 feet. Since the A77 has 50% of the frame size, I want to get closer with the A900 and I can’t because the lens doesn’t discriminate. As a result, more gets in to the shot. This can be a good thing or a great thing as you can see above, as I have to be a little more conscious of what I am framing.

Here is the same shot, cropped 66.67% of the size to reflect what would happen if I took the same shot with the A77 standing in the same place.

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One of my favorite subjects in my front yard is my Japanese maple trees. They are completely different than the other trees I have as they are bright beautiful red or orange in the spring and a bold green in the fall. This contrast makes them a great candidate for shooting. One of my favorite shots of all time is this shot taken with my A77.

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This was taken with my 85mm lens at f/4.5 and ISO 100 in the middle of May with my A77.

I took this shot yesterday in the middle of October with the same lens mounted on the A900.

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This was shot at f/2.5 at ISO 200. Other than the leaves being partially eaten by insects, the subject is the same. But I probably stood a little closer with the A900 as I took this shot and reduced it to 66.67% of it’s original size to show what the A77 would have gotten frame-wise from the same shot.

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This is more or less the same shot the A77 would have produced had I been standing in the same place. Chances are, I would have taken a half step back so the leaves would be in the frame.

Another sample is this shot taken with the 70-300G with my A77:

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This was at f/5.6, 120mm and ISO 200. I took a different shot with the A900 with the same lens of another part of the same subject.

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This was also taken at f/5.6 and ISO 200, but at 210mm. Had I used the A77, I would have needed to shoot at 140mm.

So far I am enjoying the A900. The quick-navi feature is slick and I hope to find something similar in the A77 when I get it back. It just seems like something I didn’t know the A77 had. Basically you hit the Fn button and then you can joystick to change any of the settings. I do not miss the position of the Movie record button. I kind of miss the flexible LCD screen. The real test will be when I break it out to shoot something moving. I hope to put the high-ISO settings to the test this weekend. Until then, have a good Friday.