Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 G OSS Macro lens review

In the last few weeks I’ve found myself replying to Facebook Sony user group posts where new owners building their systems have asked about the Sony 90mm f/2.8 G OSS Macro FE lens. Over the months before this, I’d seen so many comments saying this was the best ever Sony and perhaps the second best lens ever.

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Larmor 5th Generation glass screen protector with Sunshade

We’ve fitted GGS or similar toughened laminated glass screen protectors to our Sony bodies ever since way back in 2011, we were the first Alpha web resource to publish information about NEX screen delamination and how to repair a deteriorated LCD using one of these great products.

Replacing NEX LCD Cover Glass

Of course it wasn’t a cover glass, just a plastic surface layer. But if you fit a GGS, Larmor or similar ultrathin glass protector the moment you get your new Sony Alpha body (whether mirrorless or SLT, compact or bridge) you don’t need to mess with the original, risk your warranty, or risk anything at all. The new Generation 5 Larmor has a silicon adhesive which clings instantly, bubble-free, yet peels off safely using just a fingernail under a corner. It permits all touch screen operations, all screen folding including A99/77 and RX10 series reverse foldaway, and for around £10/$15 is an essential for your new camera.

Now there’s a new version which comes with a magnetic black surround and accepts a folding screen shade which just pops on to this. We paid £15.95 from ukhighland photographic on eBay, post free, VAT receipt given.

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Lenses For Hire (UK) adds Sony FE range

Sony reaches a Hire level 

Sony full-frame mirrorless system owners keen to find out how good the fast Sony GM lenses are can now hire from Lenses For Hire for as little as £69. The hire service has been evaluating the demand and quality of the Sony offering, and recently decided to add the system alongside their regular Canon and Nikon professional stock.

A three-day shoot with the 24-70mm f/2.8 FE GM OSS, delivered on a Thursday and picked up on the Monday by courier, would cost under £100 including insurance and carriage both ways and only £69 direct from the Maidenhead hire specialists. 

System lenses stocked include the new 12-24mm f/4 G, 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, 24-105mm G OSS, 90mm f/21.8 OSS macro, 70-20mm f/2.8 GM OSS, new GM 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OSS and the versatile travel-friendly 24-240mm. 

Tele converters, the latest Metabones Mark V Canon EF adaptor and accessories are offered. Sony A7II, A7RIII, A7SII and A9 bodies can be hired from £94. 

With GM lenses costing from £2,269 upwards an affordable hire period helps you make the right buying decision, saves you money and gives you the best choice for your work. 

Contact: 

Lenses For Hire Ltd 

www.lensesforhire.co.uk 

[email protected] 

+44(0)1628 639941 – or UK only 0800 61 272 61 

Sony A7RIII review in Cameracraft

Read David Kilpatrick’s review of the Sony A7RIII

Cameracraft January/February started the A7RIII test report, and March/April 2018 continued it. Both are free to read now on ISSUU. In the second issue you’ll also find the review of the 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens. In the first issue, Gary Friedman looks at the RX10 series and one-inch sensor quality as well – and David tests the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.2 Aspherical FE manual focus lens, Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DN DC, and Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF FE.

Part 1

Part 2

Sony A7RIII pixel shift with a vintage lens

We’ve got one from the first Sony ILCE-A7R3 delivery in the UK, and with a first review of two pages appearing in Cameracraft January/February 2018 from tests in early December, I will be following up with a fuller printed review and more on-line articles here as the camera’s potential unfolds.

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Sony is ready to launch a GPS module

Sony can make GPS work. They pioneered it in the A55, refined it in the A77, A65 and A99 – and abandoned it without a word in all later A-mount cameras and the entire E-mount series. But they prepped the Multi Function Accessory Shoe to be used with a GPS module – and I believe it will be on the market soon.

They have put the rest of the architecture into the new cameras to make a GPS hardware module for the accessory shoe possible, practical, easy to implement and maybe even affordable (especially if third party makers come to the party).

This is a simulation using a retouched Elinchrom Skyport trigger – about the smallest size a GPS could be expected to be. For accuracy, something twice this scale mounted on the hotshoe would be a powerful four-aerial 2xAA cell or lith-ion powered GPS receiver.

Sony have added the I/O part of the data flow which puts geo data into the metadata fields of image files to the processor of the A9, A6500, RX10 MkIV (I think) and now the A7RIII – and in all three, they’ve put a 2.4GHz Bluetooth I/O process which can communicate with smartphones running their own GPS tracking app and grab the data every time you press the shutter. It needs no additional app on the camera.

This is significantly different from the Olympus solution (above), which I have also been testing alongside Sony’s. I have not found the A6500 pairing with iPhone all that reliable or persistent between sessions out of range or turned off. I have not enjoyed the Olympus method either – you synchronise the phone GPS app timecode and the camera time setting once using WiFi and after this you can turn WiFi off on the camera, leave the tracking app running on the phone, and shoot. At the end of the shoot, you connect again to the camera and initiate a transfer of the GPS track to the camera, which then parses it and embeds the co-ordinates closest to the timing of each exposure into the image files.

Sorry if this sounds a bit complex but it’s not. Essentially, Sony maintains a live link to the phone while you are shooting and acquires the GPS data to embed every time you make an exposure. Olympus relies on time synchronisation and an ‘end of day’ in-camera, wireless addition of the GPS data not unlike the process you might use with a separate tracker and a program like HoudahGeo or Photolinker.

That shoe has a GPS data channel – so far, unused. Now the processor has everything needed to make it work.

What’s really, really important is that these new Sony models have the firmware, interface connections and data handling to acquire a real-time or most recent position data packet from a stream, and inject this into your .ARW and .JPG files without needing any time synchronisation. Other models, which can not use the phone/Bluetooth solution, presumably do not have this firmware and the built-in protocols for acquiring, writing and validating. They don’t have the ready-made menu options either.

So, in place of your Bluetooth phone GPS, you will hopefully be able to fit a camera-top GPS module similar to those used by Canon and Nikon (who built the GPS data writing ability into their firmware years ago). The connections have been in the MFA shoe since 2010. Now the new camera models complete the jigsaw. All we are waiting for is for Sony to release a GPS module and a minor firmware update (the menu entries are already there). If the GPS module has its own battery, all the better – my tests with iPhone and A6500 ran the batteries on both down so fast the method would be impractical for anything more than day-trips.

I use GPS – at the moment, synchronising a track from an iGotU GT120 tracker carried in my camera kit or in a pocket. The device is not very reliable, has dodgy Windows-legacy management software and basic Mac function via third party programs. But for the travel photography I sell, captions have to be accurate and detailed, so the effort has to be taken. It was all SO much easier with the A55, A77 and A99… not to mention the Nikon D5300, Pentax K-1, or Sony’s non-raw-enabled Cybershot HX400V, HX60V and so on. For a very short time indeed I used the Jobo PhotoGPS, which required connection to a server database to turn its satellite position values into geocoordinates. Someone forgot to renew the licence, the server owners turned off the service, and every single PhotoGPS unit sold became a paperweight.

Nothing really beats having in in-camera or on-camera – and Sony has a good record of providing GPS assistance data files, auto-loaded on to your memory card when needed, which make the few cameras provided with GPS work well.

I had almost decided not to consider the A7RIII, but if my prediction proves right and the GPS module arrives in 2018 I will buy one. I’ve actually sold my A6500 after just three months of use to spend a bit of time using an Olympus E-M1 MkII outfit, including its slightly less battery-intensive GPS kludge. I’ve kept my A7RII as no camera made on the market at present, which is comparable in format, attains an image quality to match it when all other factors are equal.

Disclaimer: this is speculation. But it’s not empty speculation!

  • David Kilpatrick

 

Sony A7RIII – more than a skin deep upgrade

With a body-only price of £3,199/$3,198, the third generation of the A7R came as a surprise to Sony’s own photo studio, who labelled most of the product pictures release on Wednesday as ‘A7RM2’ instead of ‘A7RIII’. We’ve changed the filenames on our system, but countless mediafolk of the future will be confused. They do after all look similar.

In fact the new 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens was released with pictures of it on the A7RIII, above, and also on the A9 below. With the A7RIII having a 10fps 42 megapixel motordrive capability, thanks to an improved LSI and new processing engine reading off much faster from the 42 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, you might have expected economies of scale to have given it the same Dynax 7D-like left hand end drive mode physical dial like the A9, below – especially as the A7RIII has an additional drive-type mode, a four-shot sensor shift to capture 169 megapixels of image data.

This involves shifting by one pixel in four positions, and does not create a 4X size, 2X linear pixel count file. You can only get that by shifting half a pixel as Olympus do. The Pentax sensor shift high-res mode shifts by one pixel, and it does not increase the image dimensions, only the sharpness and colour information for each pixel location (making the image similar to a Sigma dp Quattro file in fine detail resolution). The Sony implementation also appears to need almost half a second between each of the four subframes, requiring a tripod and roughly 2 seconds of capture time. Sony’s proven multishot processing will certainly be able to remove any problems with movement of parts of the subject during this time, but it has to be done in the computer, using the new software suite.

Some commentators have assumed that the 169 megapixel four-shot file means large dimensions, effectively a 169 megapixel resolution full frame, the same way Olympus gets high megapixel files. But the pre-release information clearly indicates it’s a Pentax-type mode – here’s from the wording provided to dealers by Sony:

“You can then stitch the images together to create an image with fewer artifacts and a truer range of colours”.

I tested that on the Pentax K-1 and concluded it was not worth the effort. Regular normal 42 megapixel AA-free shots on a top grade lens are all you need. I’ll repeat that bit about top grade lens.

The A7RIII also has a new shutter mechanism which reduces shock, improving the SteadyShot performance, though still 30s to 1/8,000s as before. The sensor gains a new anti-reflective coating and there will be many ‘under the hood’ improvements because that’s what happens. There may also be teething troubles and newly introduced problems, because that also happens. However I’d say early buyers run less risk with this third generation A7R than they did with the predecessors, or indeed with the A6500.

But we’ll leave you with the 9 for comparison. Most else that matters is the same, like for example the Memory registers – only two on the A7RII, but three on the A7RIII. It will remember more things, like Setting Effect OFF/ON, and that is just as well because the III puts a DSLR-like feature on its left hand end, a threaded coaxial Prontor-Compur (PC) flash synchronisation terminal (below). Let’s just hope that the circuitry inside is well isolated, as one of my vintage flash units destroyed the Godox X1-T which I use both to get Setting Effect OFF and isolation from high trigger voltages on my A7RII.

Study this left end for a bit. It does have phantom power for the 2.5mm mic jack, but the earphone output has been moved so that two doors must now be opened at once to use both together. And there’s something missing.

The A7RII has a screw socket next to the neatly paired mic/headphone jacks, which allows a custom made tether clamp assembly (supplied with the camera, seen above) to hold HDMI and USB cables with clamped protection looping. You’ll need some extra Tether Tools kit to safeguard the connectors on the MkIII. There is now a USB-C/3 Super Speed connector as well as a USB-Micro Multifunction, and Micro HDMI. But no provided security of a tether clamp.

The back of the camera has much the same screen, but with improvements to resolution and daylight visibility – still no twist and turn, or reversing to face the camera back and protect the LCD. The rear button layout is revised, with movie button located near the viewfinder (well, if Canon does it, it can’t be wrong, can it?) and the switching AF/AE Lock/Toggle/Hold button replaced by an AF-ON and separate AEL, with C3 moved to the left end. Where the movie button used to be you’ll notice a catch for the weathersealed door which covers TWO SD card slots, one UHS-II enabled (more broken bits of card contact septum to lose inside your slot!). Changes to the movie mode using the main shutter release make the use of the red button less essential.

You can assign those cards the usual ways, to make copies on card 2 of card 1 as you shoot, just in case one fails (the most important use for wedding photographers) and also to use sequentially (overflow into card 2, liked by action photographers), or split RAW and JPEG, or still and video.

This is the new lens, 24-105mm f/4, and it will probably be very good. It has 77mm filters so I think I’ll stick with the A6500 for travelling, as the little CZ 16-70mm f/4 which is the direct equivalent of this is tiny by comparison and uses neat 55mm filters. Despite some reports to the contrary, I’ve found it to be a good lens, sharp across the frame at 70mm wide open, though prone to flare.

The top shows that the strictly amateur ‘SCENE’ position of the mode dial has been replaced by S&Q. I look forward to finding out what this means – probably much the same*  *Gary Friedman has provided the answer in Comments – it’s a slo-mo/fast-mo video mode which is of no interest to me personally, but might fascinate messers around with short video clips for YouTube, even if their smartphones do it better. Green auto survives, as not all owners will be experienced photographers, some will just be wealthy camera buyers and this setting will be where they leave it.

The published specs were vague about Bluetooth, used for GPS tagging from a smartphone – I’m told US Sony Store specifications clearly state it does have. The A6500 and A9 both do, and can therefore use the Sony mobile phone function for live geotagging of pictures as you take them, using information read at the moment of capture from your nearby smartphone. We’ve also seen reports saying the A7RIII does not use Apps but that seems very unlikely.

There are also improvements claimed for dynamic range, with the figure of 15 stops mentioned. This would actually need a 16-bit A to D conversion internally followed by compression to a virtual 15-bit range (via a tone curve) saved in the 14-bit uncompressed raw .ARW format. A 14-bit raw format is now offered for all shooting modes including high speed continuous, which on the A7RII means automatic stepdown to 12-bit. The ISO range is extended to 32,000 before Hi expansion up to 104,200 and goes down to 100 native with Lo down to 50. One benefit of an effective 15-stop range will be that ISO 50 should have 14 stops, or as much highlight data as ISO 100 on the MkII.

The extra effective bit depth also pays off when using the S-Log3 and Hybrid-Gamma HDR video settings. This brings Sony professional video camera standards into a primarily still camera for the first time (better than the video-targeted A7SII, and the A9).

Sony claim improved skin tones too, though compared to what is a bit of a worry. Many people like Canon skin tones, I think they are like a 1970s USA colour portrait and that Sony’s skin colours have always been more natural. Others disagree and want the pinker, less yellow, face tones.

The A7RIII uses the new larger battery with its 2.7X capacity, introduced in the A9. I rather like the way my current Sony cameras share one rather underpowered battery type, but at least a bagful of batteries covers A56500, A7RII, RX10. There are not many different battery types, as we could find with our Olympus kit (check E-M1, E-M1 MkII, E-M5, E-M5MkII, E-M10, E-M10MkII and E-M10MkIII batteries if you want a nightmare). You can also charge Sony batteries in-camera.

Will I buy it? Probably not. I use the A7RII for relatively static, large image size, low ISO, controlled shooting of landscapes, architecture, products and so on. I have sold my full frame zooms except for the 70-300mm G OSS and now only use primes on the A7RII (10mm, 18mm, 28mm, 50mm macro, 55mm, 85mm). I don’t travel with it. We’ve bought an Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII for its Pro Capture (60fps, 18-20fps with pre-shot buffering) and macro auto focus stacking. I’m sticking with the A6500 kit for travel (10-18mm, 16-70mm, 55-210mm) but it’s got to go head to head with the Olympus including the use of the two different smartphone GPS methods.

  • David Kilpatrick

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LandscapePro – changing your world

If they want to fake a Mars colony story, a video version of British software developer Anthropics’ LandscapePro could be useful. It’s from the same team who created PortraitPro, and it allows you to change almost any landscape beyond recognition. It also allows subtle and careful modifications, or essential commercial fixes like a better sky in place of blank white.

One September weekend, a visit to a local restored mansion and park (The Haining, Selkirk, in the Scottish Borders) was rewarding because the Moving Image Makers’ Collective had video art installations running in the house.

Above is a film with dual projectors using the corner of a room (by Jason Moyes, with power making its way from hydro-electric dams to lonely wires and pylons).

Outside things were not as inspiring.

Of course the components of a closer shot, using the ‘quay’ as a foreground, perhaps in black and white, are there. But from this view as I walked past, not really photogenic.

Here’s where LandscapePro can perform any number of tricks, some familiar from sets of actions or presets like a sepia vignetted contrast-boosted vintage look. But it’s the tools which let you mask off different areas, named in the control menus, that give the program (whether plug-in or stand alone studio edition) its power.

This is a screen shot during progress of auto-painting the masks by dragging the named tags on to various parts of the image. You can then refine them by expanding any part. It’s pretty difficult to mask complex tree horizons as on the right, and some post-process work in Photoshop may be needed. My not-serious rework here is a quick job. You could spend an hour or two setting up the masks for an important image. Even so, the program handles a Sony A7RII 42 megapixel JPEG well enough and most actions are as fast as you can shift the cursor

My idea here was make the scene look like a frosty morning sunrise. The sky is one of my other shots, not a LandscapePro stock sky (the program comes with a good selection but I prefer to keep all parts of an image my own work). The post-pro includes a method for getting rid of a white outline on the woods – you use the Healing Brush tool in Photoshop, set it to Darken, choose a source point in the sky above the horizon, and paint. A similar technique using the Brush tool set to darken with a sampled colour from the lake fixes original tones showing between the reeds. I find the Clone, Brush and Healing Brush tools very useful when combined with Darken or Lighten and controlled flow; I don’t retouch using Layers but have always worked ‘fast and clever’ on the background (single layer), after doing most of the image control and adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw which gives me an .XML sidecar saved non-destructive edit as complex as I need. Mostly, I don’t have to retouch at all in Photoshop. Both PortraitPro and LandscapePro suit me well as they are very fast to use and non-destructive; generally, you can’t see they have been used, especially PortraitPro, because I only use it when needed and then pick specific controls. It is easy to go over the top with these programs as this example shows, but this does not detract from their serious value for careful work.

For this image I also copied the sunset/rise area, flipped it vertically, and used the Clone tool to overpaint from the flipped version down into the lake to give a reflected sun glow. Colour changes have also been made to the trees.

Above you can see, close up, a detailed section with the original top and the processed version bottom. This should demonstrate that the program is not just a gimmick. I used to work with UltiMatte, Mask Pro and other programs which allow painted masking but the multiple different mask zones of LandscapePro take this a step further. Needless to say it’s a godsend for architectural photographers as the clean edges in most architectural shots allow rapid perfect masking and then each face of a building, ground area, sky and landscaping can be adjusted separately. You can work from raw files or from open images in Photoshop (as I did here – it’s not really a JPEG until saved).

You can try LandscapePro at www.landscapepro.pics, and get a 10% discount by using the coupon code F278. If you want to try Anthropics’ PortraitPro visit www.portraitprofessional.com, again we have a discount code – F2910.

UPDATE: August 2020 – until August 17th, use code CC8B on current 50% off deals to get a further 20% off any edition or upgrade of both programs. Visit this link.

– David Kilpatrick

 

Sony A7RII versus Nikon D850 – noise

There’s a lot of noise about the Nikon D850 right now but few direct comparisons. One problem I have with some early reports is that new D850 owners are most likely to be existing D810 or perhaps D750 or D5 owners. Any comparisons are therefore being made with earlier Nikon sensors.

Recently a Nikon ambassador whom I respect greatly placed some .NEF raw files into a Dropbox for fellow professionals to examine. Since this article effectively criticises Nikon, I will not reproduce anything recognisable. I naturally grabbed the files and processed them with my usual care in Adobe Camera Raw. This includes making adjustments to the Sharpness and Noise Reduction settings depending on the ISO used. My standard with Sony, Nikon and most other files is to reduce the radius for sharpening to the minimum (0.5) leaving the basic settings of 25 for sharpness and 25 for detail untouched, with no masking. I also don’t touch the Colour Noise controls at all, and usually only adjust the first Luminance control leaving Luminance Contrast and Luminance Detail at default. This first Luminance control tends to set to zero for ISO 100 (or the minimum for a given camera), 10 to 15 around 400 to 800, 25 at 1000 to 2000, 30 to 35 at 2500 to 4000, 50 at 6400 and never above this level.

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Sony pro service centre opens in London

The first UK walk-in service centre for Sony professional camera users is now officially open at the London, SE11-based Fixation HQ.

Photo: Fixation service experts Jayesh Patel and Pabita Adhikan

Plans for the pioneering Sony PRO Support Service centre were announced in June at a special joint presentation (below) by Yosuke Aoki, Sony Europe Digital Imaging Vice President and David Garratt, CEO at Wex Group (Fixation’s parent company) – with a planned a target opening date of September 1.

Said David Garratt: “We are delighted to announce we have met that deadline pledge. This is a truly groundbreaking partnership with Sony – and a very important development for Fixation. Now the growing numbers of Sony professional camera shooters can simply drop their kit off at Fixation for service and support rather than having to despatch it to the Sony plant in Wales.”

He added: “Our long experience in this business tells us professionals want choice, advice, convenience and continuity. Our new service promises free estimates, free sensor cleaning opportunities and fast turnaround times on service and repairs, and covers all Sony E-Mount bodies and lenses and all RX-range compacts. Enhanced services will be offered as part of the Sony PRO Support Programme.”

Yosuke Aoki said: “This new centre demonstrates our intent to support professional photographers to the fullest extent. The very latest Sony capture products, including the new A9, mean there are now huge opportunities for professional photographers to create many new and original images.”

He added: “But it’s not just about the sale of the camera, it’s also about providing highly professional support and service.”

Barry Edmonds senior workshop manager at Fixation added:  ‘Sony are upping their game for professional photographers and we’re seeing more and more of our customers realising the benefits of their mirrorless cameras. It’s important for us to be able to offer these users the same level of support that we’ve been renowned for over many years.’

www.fixationuk.com

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