Sony at Focus on Imaging (report)

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SONY’s stand was a real brightener for Focus. Gone were the black and orange colours I criticised at photokina, which for two successive years created a black hole compared to Canon’s oasis of light. Instead, huge white silks extended to the roof with bright spots and floods creating an inviting zone of pure light. White and orange rules!

Backing this up was probably the best line-up of personnel you could expect to find. Paul Genge, running the live demonstrations, is beginning to reveal himself as a bit of a spiritual successor to a man he never knew – Minolta’s legendary Dick Bryant. He is discovering photographers for Sony, and nurturing them. In conversation on the stage, he made the business of presenting work easy even for those like Gustav Kiburg (kingfisher) with English as a second language. As Duncan McEwan said, Paul put his interview and demo partners totally at ease, and the result was a four-day programme of shows which worked perfectly.

This shot gives a very wrong impression of the audience! Most of the time it was impossible to get to a place to take a shot, so I had to wait until my second day of the show and at the very end of the day. Michael Wayne Plant was demonstrating tungsten lit beauty portraiture with the Alpha 900, and the aid of a large Bravia screen tethered shooting arrangement:

This is what an HDMI connection can do! Paul is pointing to the screen and asking Michael whether he always sets RAW+JPEG; Michael is about to reply with praise of Capture One v4 software, which he actually uses to give his raw processed shots a unique look (something very easily done by saving presets in C1).
Other guest speakers included Duncan McEwan and Gustav Kiburg, featured in the last edition of Photoworld. Here we have Gustav showing me his superb stack of A3 mounted prints, made by a Netherland photo lab using Fuji Pearl base paper (a kind of opal-metallic base, which looks amazing with those feather colours):

On the last day of the show, Gustav learned he had won the Photo of the Year from, the Dynax-Maxxum AF system enthusiast website –
Like all my shots here in the Stand, the portrait was taken using the HVL-F58AM flipped up for bounce with the little reflector card pulled out – an effect quite different from direct flash. On the stand, there was also an exhibition of prints:

And, of course, there were the 16-35mm and 70-400mm – the most sought-after new lenses – to be handled and viewed through on Alpha 900 bodies, plus many staff including Bernard Petticrew (ex Minolta) manning desks with more examples of the gear.
It was also on sale at the show, primarily through two dealers – Cameraworld and Jacobs. At the Cameraworld stand, I encountered this visitor carefully noting down the prices of stuff against his selected list of items. After he went, one of the sales staff said if he’d handed the list over, they would have knocked even more off the total!

This is a shot taken on my £90, 25-year-old Sigma focus confirm M-AF mount 16mm fisheye (like the uncorrected shots above) put through Pantools transform to cylindrical perspective. That’s a 70-400mm in the top right for £999 and a 16-35mm for £1099 next to it. Did I buy? No! I will admit these lenses are too big and serious for a roaming snapshooter like me (in my zoom lens guise). For serious stuff in the studio, primes do even better, and I have those.
But I did find in Cameraworld’s cabinet a 1.4X Teleplus 300 DG converter, secondhand, labelled “Mount?” and £60. It was clearly an Alpha mount, so I asked to look at it, and sure enough it even said M-AF on the side. £60 was handed over, and on returning home, I found that this high-end converter fits my 70-300mm SSM lens and permits AF without technical problems. The f/8 working aperture at the longer end requires reasonable light to focus, and for the focus limiter switch to be on.
Jacobs’ stand was even more packed with bargains:

I know you will be frustrated by this – all those boxes and no prices you can read! Try clicking the pic…
But here’s a late edit to console you – you might have been looking at the Calumet stand, with its desultory handful of beaten up old Alpha 100 boxed kits selling for prices no-one would contemplate today:

(about 50% higher than prices for similar new, pristine boxed A200 kits!)
As ever, I didn’t have enough time at the show – but not because two days is not enough. With the number of stands, and the people I know, it would be easy to spend two weeks doing what really is needed to learn about everything new.
Duncan McEwan said he had been on the Sony stand nearly all the time – hardly any chance to see the show. On the third day, they printed up a sign and opened a counter area for the featured photographers to talk to visitors. While the big draw on the Sony stand could have been equipment, it ended being photography, and photographers.

Here’s a goodbye shot of Duncan and Gustav – and those figures you can see in the background are other photographers from the lecture programme, talking to people over the counter.
Focus on Imaging ends at 6pm Wedneday February 25th, one day remaining after I post this. Though the show offers are only available at the show, I can not imagine that any dealer like Jacobs if telephoned would refuse an offer based on reading a report of the show and seeing their stock.
I also bought a £300 Alpha 350 body from Cameraworld (£299 at Jacobs, my error!) and an FA-HS1AM flash adaptor for some tests I need to run. I failed to buy a £99 vertical grip for the Alpha 350 from Jacobs, I just was not looking hard enough – and I had to resist buying one for the A900, and adding a second HVL-F58AM flash to my kit. Judging from the bags leaving the show, others had more money to budget than I did!
– David Kilpatrick, February 24th 2009, back in Scotland after a four and a half hour drive.


  • It’s already known that further Zeiss lenses are planned for Sony, mainly a 24mm f/1.4 (or similarly fast) and possibly a much shorter fast lens. No-one can guess, in the present economic climate, exactly when prototypes will be shown.
    The Zeiss lenses for Nikon are mostly Cosina lenses produced with Zeiss co-operation, based on revisions of classic designs which Cosina’s own design team undertook without being asked by Zeiss. They issued these lenses using the Voigtlander name, which they had acquired the rights to use, along with a rangefinder camera system. Zeiss were sufficiently impressed by the results to commission their own rangefinder system from Cosina,and to set up a joint operation producing Zeiss branded lenses with CZ engineers and quality control installed in Japan. Cosina also still makes the Voigtlander ‘designs’ (all of them are really Cosina designs at heart) and you can get them for half the price of the closest Zeiss versions.
    Initially, these were all made in M42 screw thread only, but to differentiate the Zeiss ranges dedicated manual mount versions appeared, and the M42 versions were either dropped or simply became unavailable. There is some suggestion that they also ceased making M42 fit because of the Sony deal with Zeiss.
    Whatever the case, the two licensing arrangements are entirely separate. CZ’s venture with Sony is in a different factory, uses a different design team, and has completely different type of mechanical construction. The designs are all new, not ‘new glass revisions’ of classic Zeiss glass like Distagons and Biogons, even though they are described as Vario-Sonnars etc. Some lens types can no longer be made because of restrictions on the use of lead and other additives to the glass (this is also why various Minolta prime lens designs can not be re-issued).
    Recently, Zeiss in Germany started making some of the lenses sold in the new (Cosina) range. Exchange rates and production costs have shifted around enough to make £1000 lenses worth building in Germany again. There is no suggestion that we will see Sony Zeiss lenses made in Germany. The 21mm and 18mm Distagons are examples – and the 20mm Minolta design currently issued as Sony is not, in fact, all that inferior to the Zeiss glass. It was considered far superior to the Leica 19mm f2.8 when first made. Sony probably considers it to fill that gap with no need for Zeiss alternatives.

  • david:
    1. what is your best guess as to whether or not Carl Zeiss is going to come out with any more full frame lens, specifically prime lens?
    2. related to the above question–> why is it that Carl Zeiss has come out with a fair number of prime lens for the Nikon / Canon and even Pentax mount, including the 21mm distagon, but only two for the Sony?
    thanks for any information. harry

  • Thanks for your report David, I went on Monday and can endorse your comment about how popular the Sony stand was throughout the day. However, it was well worth queuing for the opportunity to select body and lens combinations to try out, using my CF card to examine the results later. That culminated in the A900 with vertical grip plus the 300mm f2.8 G SSM – wow, what a combination -and what a weight!! Also, really enjoyed the lovely 70-200mm G SSM and CZ 85mm f1.4, all beyond my budget unfortunately, but hey, you can dream can’t you? I was impressed by the welcoming and friendly staff on the stand, and highlights for me were meeting both Duncan and Gustav and hearing them talk about their fabulous work. Somehow, I managed to resist the multiple temptations of that massive orange wall on the Jacobs stand, for this year anyway, but I’ll be back next March (7th-10th) as there’s so much of interest to see and learn from at the show. Highly recommended! (I guess I’d have heard by now if I’d won the A900/CZ 24-70 in the prize draw…) Glenn

  • You can’t suppress the truth! Actually, the first photo I took there features a slightly pot-bellied shambolic visitor looking in the showcase – I actually waited until someone ‘serious’ came along not looking like the usual cariacature Focus visitor – and with your pen and list of items, you were exactly what I was waiting for – a picture which tells a story, not just someone gawking at a showcase. So I’m afraid you ended up as a target for an intended magazine report illo.
    Here’s a picture which I prefer in the creative aspect, but the pen/paper is not recognisable and the Sony products are sidelined to Sigma items in the bottom of the case. I spoke to Sigma about getting a 15mm fisheye after finding the old focus-confirm one so useful, but all the shots I took with the £90 lens are just fine, and it shoved into the bit in my old Tenba bag where I normally put batteries and stuff – it’s half the size of a new one.
    Thanks for re-subscribing!

  • I tried out the s/h Tamron and it seemed to work fine but was missing the lens hood and was not all that much less than a new one from them. Interesting to see the 70-400 G in the flesh, I have the 70-300 G and the increased size probably accounts for the extra cost! I was impressed Jacobs were doing the A900 for £1499, but I’m still happy with the A700 – your article on ‘Do you really need an A900’ is a good antidote to upgrade-itus.
    I had a subscription to Photoworld when I purchased my KM5D – in order to keep your other photo under wraps I’ve just re-subscribed 😉

  • I nearly handed you a leaflet for photoclubalpha! That was partly why I was there, giving some leaflets to Cameraworld. Was it their s/h Tamron you bought? I’ve just been testing the unknown-mount Teleplus Pro 300 converter and it turns out to be a vintage Mx-AF (the eight contacts were put in to allow the power zoom). For whatever reason, it permits SSM to work, which most new converters even with 8 contacts do not (Sigma’s 1.4X for example). Quality is modest on the 70-300mm SSM at 300mm though, and it reports the wrong aperture and focal length as the converter is not correctly chipped. Maybe this is what allows SSM to function. I’m keeping it until my ordered Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 HSM arrives, in case it works with it, unlike Sigma’s own converters.
    Now I’ve just got to find the REALLY unflattering angle and post another shot 🙂

  • Did you get a model release form for that guy staring at the lenses 😉 I’m glad to have provided some scale for you, I’d have said hello if I had known. Only came back with a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8.

  • Thanks for the report David. You did well to restrain yourself from purchasing all the bargains.

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