Multiply by ten

A week and change later, I find myself on an airplane again. Hello from 34,000 feet!

Last time I typed, it was about moving away from the A-mount and making an investment in the E-mount. I decided to trade a whole bunch of A-mount stuff for a smaller amount of E-mount stuff on the A7s body.

I arrived at my house last Friday night, late, after flying home from Minneapolis and then picking up my equipment at a friend’s house. I had it shipped to his office as my typical delivery people are less than vigilant about requiring signatures. I drove back to my house quickly and unboxed everything.  My first surprise: The A7s package came with two batteries.      : )

And I could not get the batteries to charge fast enough. I got one battery to about 25%, dialed in my typical settings, and took my first shot. Here is the first jpeg from the RAW+JPEG combo.

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ILCE-A7S, FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA  @ f/1.8, ISO 102400, 1/60s

The room was not nearly that bright. Here is a crop of my first swing at it in LR and the NIK Suite.

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I put the RAW file through NIK DFine, with default settings, and dropped the exposure a stop and a half, and the shot is still brighter than the room. So I need to figure that stuff out, clearly. But ISO 102400!! The ISO speed in the default Windows 8.1 properties maxes out at 65535.

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This tells me no one thought it could go higher. It also tells me there is another EXIF attribute ISO is stored in as Lightroom sees 102400. I think it is “Recommended Exposure Index” If you’re curious, this is what the unedited RAW looks like.

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Also keep in mind, the 55mm f/1.8 Zeiss is wide open here.

I only shot two shots the first night. I let the batteries charge and fired a few more the next day. I set Auto ISO to 100-102400 and just let it ride. Here is one of the more impressive shots.

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ILCE-A7S, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS @ 177mm f/5, ISO 5000, 1/200s

You read it correctly. ISO 5000. Five thousand. Here is a closer look, unedited.

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I’d say there’s a lot of detail in the ISO 5000 shot. All I did here is remove a little bit of white and brightness.

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Again. Five Thousand. Here is a full-size unedited crop of a shot from my A99 at ISO 500.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f.4, ISO 500, 1/200s

So it appears ISO 5000 on the A7s has less noise than ISO 500 on the A99. I have more testing and shooting to do. But the preliminary results are promising. And I am not used to the balance yet and have yet to explore all of the new features.

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ILCE-A7s, FE 70-200 f/4 OSS G @ 200mm f/5, ISO 1000, 1/250s

So far, I like the manual focus zoom feature the most. When you go to manual focus or use DMF, and spin the focus ring, your specified focus point is magnified 10x in the EVF. I still need to get a feel for it. There are a couple things I miss. I don’t think I am getting a geo tag anymore. And the LCD doesn’t oscillate like the A99. It is always exposed. I need to buy a cover for it. Finally, I am having a hard time getting used to using zoom lenses. I may have to force myself to use the zooms.

I’m being asked to put my tray table up. I guess this is a good stopping point. Have a good weekend!

Mark of Excellence

I know I still owe you all some Austria posts. I’ve been on the road without access to the files to post. I am back now so I should have something this week. I have other news…

I didn’t have a single entry win the I-Shot-It 200 competition. Lesson learned. I need to submit better work. A consolation prize appeared in my inbox today. I received the I-Shot-It Mark of Excellence for the Week 34 free competition.

This is for a composition of five photos I took in Styria, Austria. My mentor, Christian graciously gave me a tour of Austria and took me to this lake and we parked alongside a side road and walked 200 meters (or so Winking smile ) in the rain to this spot.

Styria
SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA

This photo was post-processed using Lightroom 5 and HDR Efex Pro 2. 

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 #4: NIK Suite

When it comes to post-processing I always start with Lightroom 4, and I have my workflow. I import, apply the Camera Standard color profile to everything I import, and then I start tagging the ones I want to work on and export out. I’ve always wanted to see where Lightroom was perceived to fall short and one area where I figure there would be some improvement would be in Black and White post-processing. I had heard great things about NIK Software’s Silver Efex Pro but I wasn’t ready to spend $200 for what would amount to be a Lightroom Plugin for what I use it for. 

And then Google acquired NIK Software. And I knew that was my sign I wouldn’t be purchasing Silver Efex Pro.

Let me tell you right now. I HATE Google. I despise Google. I haven’t used Google in nearly eight years. I use Bing, which is really the same engine in Yahoo, or I use Ask.com, but I would say in the past eight years I used Bing or its predecessor Live.com 99% of the time. It was a learning curve at first, but now I am an expert search engine user. It doesn’t hurt Bing has gotten much better.

Why do I hate Google? I’ll tell you why. All of it goes back to April 2005 which would reassure me it really has been eight years. And really it started the day before April 2005. March 31. I was just accepted for a transition internally within my company to a different and better position. One of my co-workers congratulated me on my acceptance and told me he was interested in seeing my résumé so he could craft his to be advantageous for submission for a similar position. I was walking around with an inflated ego at the time so I gladly gave him a copy. The next day was April 1. April Fools Day. And my co-worker decided to post my résumé to every big job website on the planet. With my real address, my real e-mail address, and my real home phone number. He informed the logic within those sites I was willing to take a massive decrease in salary compared to what I was earning at the time and I was willing to relocate, take contract work… Everything which a desperate person with good qualifications would want. I came home on April 1, not knowing this had happened to a full 20 messages on my home answering machine and 26 unique numbers on my caller ID.

Needless to say, my life was a bit busy those next few days, and that wasn’t because my 3 and 1 year old were both still in diapers. I had to change my phone numbers, my e-mail address, and I had to get all of the job websites to remove the résumés which wasn’t enough as most of the big search engines also have cached information and headhunters utilize this when they’re really desperate to fill a spot. Live.com, Yahoo, Ask.com, they all took my résumés out of their cache as soon as I asked. Google didn’t answer my calls. Google didn’t answer my e-mails. Headhunters still sent me mail, they were persistent enough to call my new unlisted and unpublished number. For weeks I got a call every day on average. Some days I’d get a break. Some days I’d get three calls. It took me hiring a lawyer to get Google to remove the résumés from their cache. A bit before then I had made the decision never to use Google again.

So fast forward seven years and a bunch of months later. Google acquired NIK Software earlier in the year. Then they pull a nasty trick and put the whole NIK Suite on sale. The NIK Suite (HDR Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Silver Efex Pro 2, Viveza 2, Sharpener Pro 3, Dfine 2) was made available at $149.99 base, where there a million coupons online to drive the price down even further.

It took me a couple of days but I figured I was ripping them off at the price I bought the whole suite at compared to the price I almost bought just Silver Efex for, so my justification was made.

…And I have to admit, I like what I see so far.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/250s, +1EV
Post-Processed on the left with Lightroom, exported into Color Efex Pro 4 to produce the result on the right.

The layout of the tools are simple. Most of the tools have suggested filter settings and then you can tweak those how you see fit.

One of these days I’ll post a walkthrough but since I am hoping to post seven times today I want to just show some results. Here is Matt and Ashley redone using Silver Efex 2:

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/80s
Post-Processed on the left with Lightroom, exported into Silver Efex Pro 2 to produce the result on the right.

One program I am having fun playing with is HDR Efex 2. I feel like I haven’t touched the surface of what I can do yet, but it is fun making ordinary landscapes look like Rockwell paintings. Here is my house with the “Structured 1” filter applied. No other changes.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/1000s
Post-Processed on top with Lightroom, exported into HDR Efex Pro 2 to produce the result on bottom.

I haven’t done all of everything I can do quite yet. But prospects are up there. My first instinct was to go into my vast library of photos and redo all of them. And I did redo some… There’s more to talk about here but I also hope to post seven times today.

Catch-Up Post #0: Prologue

OK, I have a ton to catch up on and I need to get it all out. So I figure I will get it out in chunks but I want to outline it first and today seems like a wonderful day to do it.

Topics:

1. Going Pro: If there was a day to start a business, it would be today. The way North Carolina works, if you establish an LLC, you have to file papers on April 15th of every year. So I am on the clock if I want to file that paperwork at this point. I am probably going to today. I also have to figure out advertising, print business cards, all that other stuff and I am hoping to get a handle on it all this week.

2. Kayden: A while back I posted about “Jennifer”. She was public offender #1. Well, I am happy to say I was able to at least change her Facebook cover photo for a week or so as I did a shoot with her little one, Kayden. Unfortunately, “Jennifer” decided it would be a good idea to put another Kissy Face or Duck Face profile shot up WITH Kayden. You can’t win them all, I guess.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 50, 1/320s

3. Spring (Finally!!): It is officially Spring in North Carolina, after waiting a long time. Now, personally I am tempted to cut Claritin into lines at this point as the pollen is out of control, I can handle a little bit of sneezing and coughing to get a million photos. And a million photos I may have gotten at the end of the day.

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

4. NIK Suite: I HATE Google. With a passion. And there is a good story behind it. Before Google acquired Nik Software I was entertaining getting their Silver Efex software if the price was right. It didn’t seem to be quite where I wanted it for $200. Then they offered the entire suite (Silver Efex, Color Efex, Viveza, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, etc.) for less than $150. Sold. Effin’ Google! Now I am addicted. I have literally gone back into my vast library and tried to enhance many photos. Of course, I am pressed for time so I will show an enhanced version of the one I just posted.

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Same as above, post processing with Lightroom 4 and NIK Color Efex 2

5. Austria trip:  I’m going to have a neat little trip to Austria via Germany this summer! I’m pretty excited about it, really. I’m going to meet up with another Sony enthusiast, Christian, who has been a really good mentor without me asking and I truly hope to learn from him while I am there. He has been gracious enough to agree to show me where to go to shoot. Christian has a unique set of lenses and I hope to try some of them as well as see what he can do with anything I have to bring. All I know is I may have to bring an extra memory card or two and maybe a hard drive. I ordered the Rosetta Stone and I hope to learn enough German to be able to ask to go to the bathroom.

6. Other random stuff: I have plenty of stuff to talk about so if anything else comes up I’ll put it in a random post. I have had some luck with the cardinals and other birds in my yard. I’m now trying to get the Hawks and Owls, who have proven to be elusive.

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

As for right now, when I am home my wife and I take turns taking the kids to school. Today is my turn and I need to make sure lunches are made, teeth are brushed, and all of the important stuff in between.