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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.


Prime Time! Why I carry the equipment I carry.

In my last post, How did I get in this dilemma?, I mentioned my trip to Europe with my wife. I brought a Sony Nex-5 with a 16mm f/2.8 lens and that was it. Eight days in Europe; Lisbon, Barcelona, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Palma with one wide prime lens. I learned and became very comfortable with a very valuable concept.

I don’t need a zoom lens.

Shortly after the Europe trip, I got rid of my zoom lenses. I had the kit lens which came with my A390, the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, an old Minolta Beercan lens 70-210mm f/4, and a lens I picked up at a garage sale a Quantaray (Sigma) 75-300mm f/4.5-6.3. All of them sold. I was down to three inexpensive primes on my A390, the 30mm f/2.8 Macro, the 35mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.8. And on my Nex-5 I had the 16mm f/2.8.


This photo was taken in Andratx in Mallorca. (Sony Nex-5, 16mm f/2.8 lens)

I learned if I wanted to get closer, I could crop or walk closer. If I needed something wider, I could stitch or walk further away. When the A77 came out I sold the Nex-5 and the 16mm lens, the A390 and the three primes. The money I raised covered the A77 and an 85mm f/1.4 lens. I had been juggling used and cheap lenses for ten months when I A77 + 85mm combo. For the next ten months, 90% of my shots have been with this combination. Since then I acquired a 600mm mirror lens really cheap which I use to shoot the moon, and I have experimented with other lenses, the latest being a 24mm f/2 lens. The good thing about camera lenses is they don’t depreciate much if you take care of them. I took an accumulative $28 loss on the 30mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.8, and 50mm f/1.8. I made money on the Minolta Beercan and the Quantaray Zoom at the end of the day. Camera equipment in general depreciates well. I sold the A390 body and kit lens at a $75 loss and the Nex-5 and 16mm lens at a $50 loss.


Another shot of the moon. (Sony A77, Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror lens)

I travel a lot. In a one year span from mid-January 2011 to mid-January 2012 I visited 20 of the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Thailand, and Malaysia. I really have to carefully choose the equipment in my bag. If I acquire a new lens, if I want to keep it in my bag I need to sell or shelf another to make room.

This monkey really liked coconut. I took this in Malaysia. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

Right now, in my bag I have the Sony Alpha A77 Digital SLT with an 85mm f/1.4 lens, a B+W XSPro UV filter, a 24mm f/2 lens, a Minolta 3600 HS flash, a SanDisk 32GB ExtremePro SDHC, battery charger, extra battery, and a Giotto’s rocket blower. I also carry various other little supplies including LCD wipes, sensor swabs, cotton swabs, white balance cards, and an extra 16GB SanDisk 16GB ExtremePro SDHC in a small tin. This is to supply my habit. I also have to carry a laptop, power supply, cell phone charger, cell phone, and anything else I am bringing with me. So minimizing the load I am carrying is crucial.


(Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

Why do I carry the equipment I carry? I wanted the Sony Alpha A77 for the sheer speed. It is capable of shooting 12 frames per second in a single burst of 24.3 Megapixel RAW+JPEG files at 30-35 MB per shot. It does continuous bursts of 6-8 shots without a dedicated mode. The A77 had the lens versatility I had in the A390 and some of the key features which attracted me to the Nex-5. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Once you get to the 12th or 13th shot in the large burst, the buffer fills up and requires a second or two to clear. This is why it is essential to have the fastest SDHC on the market with the SanDisk ExtremePro at 95 mb/s. There is one other camera on the non-Sony DSLR market capable of the speed the A77 has and it costs 4-5 times more. The A77 also does full HD 1080 60p video with autofocus. The only non-Sony DSLR better at video costs nearly ten times as much.


I was in the third deck when I took this game-winning overtime goal. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

I can shoot my kids in bursts and chances are, one or two will turn out how I want.



Hopefully there aren’t bills in there. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

I decided on the 85mm lens as it was better quality-wise than the cheaper 50mm f/1.8 I had, and the 50mm f/1.4 on the market. I was a bit uneasy about 85mm on an APS-C body as it was much longer than I was used to in the 50mm lens. My goals in acquiring the 85mm lens were simple; it needed to be bright, it needed to fit on a full-frame body if I ever upgraded, and it needed to review well.


My favorite thing to do is shoot random flowers and plants, especially exotic locations, like this in Fajardo, Puerto Rico (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

The 85mm lens I acquired is the best lens I have ever shot with. It does precisely what I wanted, without me really knowing yet what I wanted. It looks good wide open. It is sharp enough to crop details out from shots where I would have thought I needed something longer. The 24.3 MP APS-C sensor on the A77 has to have a good lens to account for the pixel density. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA the bill. It’s not without fault. It uses a screw-driven autofocus, which is louder and a tad slower than the Smooth Automatic Motor or Super Sonic Wave Motor lenses. Wide open at f/1.4 in backlit situations it allows some Chromatic Aberration to creep in to the shot. The sharpness of the lens makes up for the shortfall.


My little girl is my most cooperative subject. She dresses up for me. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

With the A77 + 85mm combo, I have shot tens of thousands of frames. I have captured all three of my kids looking and smiling. I have gotten hockey pucks hitting posts and crossing goal lines at the exact moment they hit or crossed more than once each at different games in different countries. I shot a monkey 5 feet away and the shot has made its way into a coffee table book being sold for charity. And I finally got shots of my wife. 


My beautiful wife at El Morro. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

My latest lens excursion is the 24mm f/2. It works out to be a 36mm equivalent on the APS-C sensor, so it is close to the classic 35mm focal length. The jury is still out. I am still getting a feel for it. It seems like a good lens, but I always find myself getting back to the 85mm lens. Definitely a habit I need to break.


The colors captured by the new 24mm f/2 lens are good, that’s for sure. (Sony A77, 24mm f/2 lens)

So what about software? That is a story for my next post.