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

Farewell 2013.

So yeah, it is December 31. Tomorrow is 2014. Thinking back initially, I didn’t think much about 2013. But when I went into Lightroom and looked at the photos I took (around 45000), I realized I was fooling myself. 2013 was a pretty awesome year. For this post, however, I will rewind all the way to last week (yes, last week). My wife and I took our kids on a train from Charlotte to New York.  Three kids in the big apple for two days. Complete chaos. The aperture ring on my A99 fell off its track on the second day. Fortunately I got some good shots on the first day. This one is my favorite.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/320s, EV+0.7

This was my attempt at being clever, about half of the people who see the shot get it, so I probably fell a bit short. The shot is the Freedom Tower, which is erected on the site of the former World Trade Center twin towers.

Another one of my favorites is this shot.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5, ISO 100, 1/250s

This is straight off the body, I know it could use some straightening and cropping. The main point is Big Bird is sitting in front of the gate of the closed Central Park Zoo with his luggage.

Thirty seconds later, I shot this. I gave the guy a dollar.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/250s

I returned from New York and in the giant box of mail I got the next day was a brand new 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA lens! I had hoped to get the lens before I went to New York so I could just bring a single lens. I am glad I didn’t because I wouldn’t have gotten a lot of the shots I got with my 24mm, but I got a good deal and it just didn’t find its way into the mail quick enough. This was the first shot.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/160s

I am still in the honeymoon phase, but so far, so great. This lens is so quiet. So fast. It does not disappoint. I needed a good shot of my kids for a frame I built for my in-laws, and the 50mm produced this shot on the first try.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s, Flash fired.

I had to go to a drug store and get an instant print for the 8×10 frame and the colors absolutely popped. I haven’t taken this lens off of the body since I got the aperture wheel back on track. Absolutely great things to come from this lens in 2014.

Out of the comfort zone

I’ve had a couple of things which have had me step very far out of my photographic comfort zone lately. First is starting a new business and looking for clients. The more I look for work, the more I find I really don’t have much to show for the work I have done so far worth showing where my wife or kids aren’t involved. I find myself searching for photos without my wife or kids and trying to post-process them to post as examples and I am more of a candid shooter than anything else, so it makes it difficult to sell portraits. I’ve also been guilty of shooting wide-open or close to wide-open at near minimum lengths so I have a ton of faces, not many bodies and not much depth of field. So I have a ton of these:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 250, 1/800s

Another thing I am realizing is I haven’t touched the surface of what I can do with post-processing and the NIK Suite is making it much harder to realize when something is good enough. I’ll like what I see after running something through HDR Efex or Color Efex but then I want to see what Silver Efex would do to the original or the post-processed copy. I have made 4-5 copies of a photo to figure out which one I liked most. Here is an example, first with the original:

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

And then I ran it through Silver Efex:

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And then ran it through HDR Efex, and didn’t like the results:

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So I ran it through HDR Efex first and then Silver Efex:

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And finally I cut my losses and went back to the original with some slight modifications in Silver Efex:

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Which doesn’t look much different than the first iteration through Silver Efex.

The third thing making things more difficult is I am evaluating Portrait Professional 11. Let me tell you something, this thing can be really cool. It basically uses a face mapping and will do all the smoothing and sharpening and everything for you, but you have to be careful or you’ll end up with an alien. Here is a crop from an original, the subject (my wife) is about 20 meters away:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 125, 1/250s

Here is an attempt of editing done with Lightroom/Color Efex, I needed to do a little more work, but I figured I would stop at 15 minutes:

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This is an example of the interface of Portrait Professional 11. The first “suggestion” really isn’t too far from better than what I came up with in Lightroom/Color Efex.

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I played with the sliders a bit and this is what I came up with:

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Not too bad. A combination of the post-processors may be out of control. I need to figure out which one does what best.

One thing I need to be careful about with Portrait Professional 11 is going too far. Here is an example:

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Yeah, it is a powerful tool but it can be used to create aliens if you don’t watch out. I’ll spare my wife the embarrassment.

The final factor causing me to be out of my comfort zone is an impending deadline. I was published in an annual coffee table book my employer puts out for charity and the perfectionist I sometimes strive to be didn’t want to submit anything less than perfect. I tried a few different things, got out and shot some different stuff. And the only thing I submitted was the horse above and a couple of shots I get every other day. Here are some of the shots I got before I came to the conclusion I did.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/8, ISO 50, 1.3s, +4 ND Filter + Polarizer
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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1/5s, +4 ND Filter

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1s, +4 ND Filter

Not bad, not great, none of them I liked enough to submit. If I get accepted we’ll find out which one made the cut.

Catch Up Post #6: Other Random Stuff

Finally, we come to the Bit Bucket. And at the end of this I will have posted seven different things in one day.

Post #1 Update

First of all, an update on Post #1. I dropped my completed Articles of Organization and the filing fee in the mail today. It will likely be in Raleigh tomorrow and I’m not sure how long it will take to process. I also got a Federal Employer Identification Number today, which was refreshingly painless. Once I get the paperwork back from Raleigh, I will be able to get a Sales Tax license and I will be ready for business!

Filters

I’ve been a busy person, but I have also gotten out and taken a few photos along the way. Lately I have been shooting with a Zeiss Circular Polarizer or a B+W 486 UV/IR Cut Filter on the front of my lenses and I am pretty happy with the results. I need to do a comparison to truly understand the differences and what I am achieving these filters. That is a post for another day (or months from now, hopefully I’ll get that far).

Tricksy Birdses

I posted a while back about the elusive Cardinals in my back yard. I can say now, they aren’t nearly as elusive as I thought. In fact, they’re frequent visitors. It is just a matter of patience.

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

I have at least three males and three females who visit. Hopefully they will stick around, maybe bring more little visitors.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 160, 1/250s

I also have a woodpecker or two in the area which is a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing as they are beautiful birds. It is a bad thing as my trees are offering them plenty to eat so they stick around.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 160, 1/500s, +2/3 EV

We have a nest of hawks and a nest of owls in the neighborhood and they have eluded me for the most part. One of these days I’ll have my camera out when one of them visits and get a clean shot. This hawk is about 30-35 yards away and I took this shot from my upstairs bedroom window.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/3.2, ISO 100, 1/500s

I wish she had turned around.

Kids’ Activities

My oldest son is still playing Soccer, or Football as they say everywhere other than the United States. Last year he played his games at night which posed a few challenges I’ve mentioned before. The lights were poor and it was difficult to get the white balance right as different parts of the field were lit differently. I will say the A99 was a huge improvement over the A77 in the night sports arena. I was able to comfortably shoot in the ISO 3200-6400 range. This year, they play in the early evening, which allows their games to occur mostly in the daylight, which makes most of my setup negligible. I have been using Auto ISO from 100-400 and pegging Shutter Priority between 1/500s and 1/1000s. Here is a shot from earlier this year before the Bermuda grass started turning green.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 250, 1/800s

Even in the waning daylight hours, I was able to use available light to get a good shutter speed. A few weeks later, and with the nights coming later I was able to get higher quality, faster speeds.

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

I have missed the raw speed and the reach of the A77. I will probably shoot with the A77 for the next sunny game.

My daughter has been singing in her school’s choir and I got a couple of shots under poor stage lighting. This one I cropped out of the bigger picture.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.8, IS0 400, 1/100s, -1EV

My youngest of the three doesn’t have any formal activities. He likes to play with rocks and sticks and run around. He does those things quite well.

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

My oldest son finished the Cub Scouts this year and may transition to the Boy Scouts next year. His favorite activity in his five years of Cub Scouts was the Pinewood Derby. His final race is this weekend. This was after his final Pack race.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/400s

And we had what has become an annual event at our house, the Easter Egg Hunt.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.7, ISO 800, 1/50s

We’ve been doing the Hunt for as long as we’ve owned the house, so all of the kids we have invited have gotten much older and more kids get invited every year. Because of this we’ve increased our egg count from a few dozen to nearly a thousand eggs and now we do the hunt at night.

Here is the best from the shots I took.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 6400, 1/80s, –2EV

All caught up, I guess.

That’s all I have today. Seven posts to catch up for not posting but once or twice in the past couple of months. Although it is still less than I would post if I weren’t preoccupied with work and other stuff, I feel like I’ve caught up enough. Hopefully I won’t be a slacker and not post tomorrow or at least later this week.      😉

Catch Up Post #2: Kayden

A few weeks back I talked about “Jennifer”, the world’s number one offender of the “kissy face” or “duck face” pose on Facebook. She had asked the Facebook audience what their recommendations on a camera was. I told her I would bring a couple of mine over, shoot a couple of shots of her baby, Kayden, and we’d discuss. My secret agenda was to get her to put one of my shots up as her Facebook Profile photo. I almost accomplished the agenda, as she used this one as her cover photo instead.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.5, ISO 50, 1/1250s

It was a sunny day but windy. And it was a cool wind, which is not a great thing for a three month old. So we got as many shots as we could. I learned more about shooting the little one outside than I had bargained for.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s, +1EV

I also realized I may be post-processing these shots with a little too much Cyan. I am generally happy with them, though. I also had some issues with the shadows in the park, so I had to improvise on a couple, including this one which I could not get rid of the sun. Next time I’ll bring an umbrella or a sheet of cardboard.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s, +1EV

And the A77 made it out of the bag for a few shots as well. It was good to have this old friend back.

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SLT-A77V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 50, 1/1250s

Which will lead me nicely into my post regarding the NIK suite, which I cannot wait to attempt to post-process some of Kayden’s shots with. I just haven’t gotten that far yet!

Kids! Kids! and More Kids!

I was able to have a couple of sunny days to work with this weekend. I took my kids outside yesterday, the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G lens still mounted on my A99. I actually experimented with two settings. Direct Manual Focus and Auto ISO. I shot with Auto ISO at 100-400 for most of the afternoon and then ratcheted it up to 100-800 when the shadows got a bit longer and I used Shutter Priority at 1/500s during the fully sunlit parts of the day and toggled between 1/250s or 1/200s when shadows were present. I hope to nail down precisely how the Auto ISO works in terms of selecting an aperture versus selecting a shutter speed. For the most part, the lens stayed at f/4, and a vast majority of the shots were between f/2.8 and f/4.

This shot may end up being one of my all-time favorites.

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

Direct Manual Focus is a different beast altogether and one I may resort to more often. In Direct Manual Focus, when you press the shutter button halfway, the lens is engaged and autofocus gets the first focus point to light up and then disengages the lens. At that point, focus peaking kicks in and you can make minor adjustments. If you are confident in the autofocus, you can press the shutter down immediately. If I need to adjust, you can adjust.

The kids are at the top of the driveway and there is about a 6 foot drop to the bottom. I had to stop the race before it started but I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to frame all three of them.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/500s

Overall, I can now say I don’t regret my purchase of the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G lens at all. I feel like there is much to learn about the lens. I mean, there is a screw on the left side next to the distance meter and I don’t know why, but with what I do know I am thrilled with the IQ and color reproduction. Here is a throw away, but it is a beautiful throw away. I am probably 40 feet away from my son, about to run after him to get him to not go in the street.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 125, 1/200s

Same shot, cropped to show full resolution.

 

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You can see the Tonka Dump Truck has seen better days. It has been decorated by my oldest son, and has been passed down to my youngest son. At 1/200s, I could have been a tad faster as I had some ISO to give, and the subject was moving.  For a throw-away, I can still learn from the shot.

This shot intrigued me as it was 200’s across the board except for aperture. My son could have had a better expression on his face after I asked him why he had one of my bungee cords in his hand and wasn’t wearing a bicycle helmet, but as a math guy, I like situations where things are simple.

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

I’ll leave you with this final shot, as the oldest of two growing up I have a bit of appreciation for it. Though I will say I may not have been the best big brother on the planet I certainly can, and will take credit for some of my little brother’s toughness.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/500s

Halloween yesterday, A99 today.

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

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Leilani took this photo of me last year.

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

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My wife dressed up as a hot mom.

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

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My little girl dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood.

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

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

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

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

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