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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Milestones and contest submissions.

I know it isn’t much relative to the internet world, but yesterday I reached 10,000 unique page views! And this is without advertising to my friends and family! I am trying to keep this world segregated from my real world and get feedback from strangers. My friends are usually too nice. I have alerted some co-workers of this site but no one I work directly with. My company has tens of thousands of employees, so I still remain relatively anonymous. Our Photographers distribution list has over a thousand members alone.

In other news, I bit the bullet and submitted another photo to i-shot-it.com. A couple months back I wrote about Ryan, a co-worker of mine. Last week our team of geographically distributed misfits met in Seattle as we do twice a year. I make it a point to shoot candid shots of everyone I can except for the women who just don’t like anyone to. I tried to be stealth and shoot this shot of Ryan, which I converted to black and white for submission to i-shot-it.com.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/3.5, ISO 3200, 1/250s

I really liked the shot in color, but I wanted to try black and white out. I learned a lesson a second ago, though. With the white backdrop of my blogging tool, there is a small gray blob in the lower left hand corner. I didn’t notice with the gray backdrop in Lightroom. Oh well! I like the shot nonetheless. Plus it is a great showcase of the A99 ISO 3200 setting. Here is the original color version with zero post-processing after applying the Camera Standard color calibration in Lightroom. (Notice no gray blob!)

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I don’t think Ryan ever shows up in a bad photograph. Nice problem to have.

Tricksy Cardinalses! And other news…

One of my photography goals for 2013 is to get a photograph of a cardinal which fills a sufficient amount of the frame. This is quite a challenge as they bolt as soon as they suspect something and I have a lot of somethings; kids, a dog, cats, squirrels, and my clumsiness. Once the weather gets a little better I will be able to hide a little more, right now I am constrained to the back door window and my kitchen window, which adds another layer of potentially dirty glass in the way. This shot comprises about 1/12 of the total frame.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/80s

As does this shot.

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

And then one of my cats walked up to the door and made a noise and this guy was gone…

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

I’ve had a little bit of luck behind closed doors, but I feel like I can do better and get closer.

I am home briefly from Seattle, Washington and I have to return next week. Last week I had the privilege of visiting Ron Martinsen of ronmartblog.com and shoot his book case with the A77, A900, and A99 – sort of. I didn’t get what I thought from the A900. I put the A900 in Mirror Lock-up and I guess Nikons wait a bit and then take the shot after the shutter button is pressed. Not the A900. It just puts the mirror back if you don’t press the shutter button again. So I got dozens of samples from the A99 and A77 with my 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens and only three from the A900, two of which were test frames. Not all was lost, however as I did get the A77 and A99 shots AND as a bonus I shot a set with the A99 with the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G lens. So I will be able to compare the A99 and A77 short term as well as the 85mm and 200mm lenses. As you can see, I also got some shots of the Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier on the one day the weather cooperated. I also shot with a circular polarizer on my 85mm lens.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/500s

I had one huge issue with trying to get shots from this side of downtown Seattle. There weren’t many places without power lines in the way without trespassing. I had to shoot over a fence in a driveway to get these. Here is one with my A77.

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SLT-A77V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/200s.

I’m back there next week. Hopefully I get the chance to re-shoot the book case with the A900 but if I don’t, at least I got what I got.

A little news and upcoming posts…

My last few days have been very busy. I found out I am back on the road next week. I am going to the Puget Sound area near Seattle, Washington. It will be my first solo trip since getting the A99 and A900 and my first trip with the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G lens. Here is one of my favorite shots from a previous trip to the area:

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SLT-A77V, DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM@ f.8, ISO 100, 30s

When I am on the road I am usually excused from my normal life to a certain extent. I don’t have to do the dishes or take out the garbage. My poor wife and kids have to pick up the slack while I am away. This also affords me the time to shoot and experiment with my camera equipment. This is a shot I took while preparing an A100 to be sent to my grandmother:

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DSLR-A100, DT 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 @f/8, ISO 400, 1/2000s

I plan on doing an all-up review of the Minolta 200mm lens once I can get some shooting time on my A77 with it and I also want to get one final A99-A900-A77 post finished and this trip may afford me the time to shoot to complete one of those two posts. And hopefully I will be able to get some shots of something other than Downtown Seattle.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/6.3, ISO 50, 1/800s

And hopefully the sky will be clear enough to get a shot of Mount Rainier from the city, and not from an airplane like this shot.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/800s