Sigma 16-28mm f2.8 E and L mount

The companion for Sigma’s highly regarded 28-70mm f/2.8 compact zoom adds an unbroken range down to 16mm while retaining a small c. 77x100mm size, 72mm filter fit, and 450g weight. It is announced today and will be available to buy from June 17th for £749.99 (UK SRP) or $899 (US retail before tax).

The new 16-28mm seen fitted to Sony’s compact A7C, with the companion 28-70mm left. The two lenses together weigh only 920g.

The full-frame Sigma 16-28mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary offers a promise of exceptional optical quality with a faster constant maximum aperture in barrel size similar to existing f/4 16-35mm designs. Special attention has been given to field curvature correction for edge-to-edge sharpness, important in wide-angle views – this is enabled through the use of a built-in lens profile, correcting distortion and vignetting in-camera or during raw image processing. 

It uses five FLD (fluorite-like glass) elements and four aspherics to minimise chromatic and off-axis aberrations. The lens has an inner zoom mechanism that keeps overall length and the centre of balance constant, improving performance when zooming during a gimbal take. The 72mm filter thread is larger than the 67mm of the similarly light and small 28-70mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary.. At just 100.6mm long (L-mount version) and 450g it’s appealing for outdoor, social, street and travel photographers who want a lightweight outfit for day-long use.

The lens is constructed using aluminium and thermally stable polycarbonate, performing well in temperatures from the arctic to the equator, and has a dust and splash resistant mount. AF uses a proven stepper motor compatible with high-speed AF, DMF and AF or MF modes with an MF switch on the side. It focuses down to 25cm with a maximum image scale of 1:5.6, 0.17X and has a nine-blade rounded aperture. On the L-mount version only, linear and non-linear focus ring behaviour can be set using the USB Dock UD-11.

The lens is supplied with front and rear caps and a bayonet mounted petal lens hood. Sigma WR or WR Ceramic,WR UV and WR Circular Polarising 72mm filters are optional extras.

Sigma UK – https://sigma-imaging-uk.com

Product information – https://sigma-global.com/jp/lenses/c022_16_28_28

Sony E 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3 G OSS

The neatest solution for sharp long tele shots on Sony A6000 series APS-C

  • Excellent full aperture performance from 70 to 350mm
  • OSS stabilisation works with every Sony Alpha E-mount APS-C body
  • Perfect for movies with A6000, A6300, A6400 without sensor stabilisation
  • Compatible with all NEX and Alpha E-mount models from 2010 on
  • Enhanced OSS with A6500, A6600
  • Compact and light weight
  • G series optical quality, Custom Button on lens, AF/MF and OSS switches on lens
  • Lens lock at 70mm to prevent zoom creep
  • Single extending zoom barrel
  • 67mm non-rotating filter thread
  • Bayonet lens hood included
  • Moisture and dirt resistant multicoating
  • Coverage allows use on full frame bodies with larger than APS-C crop

This lens was purchased in October 2019 and the review is based on nine months of use on Sony A6500 (ILCE-6500), A6300 (ILCE-6300), A6000 (ILCE-6000) and A7R MkIII (ILCE-7M3). Review by David Kilpatrick.

A solution for practical photography out and about – worldwide

I had been using the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS full frame tele zoom on my A7RIII for over a year. This lens is very sharp wide open and benefits from the best close focusing in its class at 90cm meaning a scale of 0.31X at 300mm. It weighs 854g and has a double tube zoom extension. As you can see above this lens (left) is only a few mm longer physically than the APS-C 70-350mm (right) but the extra barrel heft, 72mm filters and much larger lens hood meant it needed a bigger kit bag, and proved harder to change quickly when swapping lenses.

The 70-350mm for the smaller image sensor proved if anything even sharper, right to 350mm. Lenses like this often prove soft at maximum focal length and maximum aperture. The 70-300mm at f/5.6 is a third of a stop faster, but to get it as crisp as its newer little brother, it needs to be set f/6.3 – a match in speed. You can see above how much bigger the full frame lens becomes at 300mm. The 70-350mm only weighs 625g but its very fast and silent XD Linear Motor AF can only get as close as 1.5m at 350mm, 1.1m at 70mm. The maximum subject scale is 0.25X.

I knew the 70-350mm would be my choice for travel and daily use with my A6500, but I was going to miss that closer focus. The full frame lens has an AF range limiter, full range or 3m to infinity but oddly no 0.9m to 3m choice. The APS-C lens has no limiter but I have never missed it and rarely used it on the 70-300mm.

My big question was – can I do without the 70-300mm and use the 70-350mm on my full frame bodies?

Cropping power, sensor resolution and coverage

Tests quickly proved that distortion and vignetting kick in fast beyond the crop format field of view, but sharpness remains good and depending on focal and aperture you get much more than APS-C. You can almost get a full frame at close range.

This mushroom (about hand sized) is at 350mm and f/11 on the A7RIII, and you can see the mechanical vignetting cut-off left and right. It’s caused by the lens rear baffle not the optical design – the lens could be modified to remove this, but it’s not advised.

At 70mm on a very demanding subject the distortion without lens profile, on full frame, is extreme (left) but with Lens Profile correction applied at 200% plus -8 Manual, and similar vignetting adjustment, Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom can almost handle it. On a neutral subject like a portrait with a foliage background the coverage would be fine. More to the point, manual crops much larger than the 16 x 24mm you could expect from an APS-C lens are fully usable.

But why use a full frame body? Unless you own a Sony A7RIV (61 megapixels) you won’t actually get a more detailed distant animal or bird. The modest 24 megapixels of all the current APS-C bodies beats the 18 megapixel crop format of the A7RII/III. Canon users have much the same position, their smaller APS-C (1.6X not 1.5X) and 28 megapixel resolution matches 60 megapixels on 24 x 36mm. The advantage of full frame is that you may catch more of your subject, your framing and tracking active subjects enjoy more leeway. If your subject stays in position the smaller sensor can capture finer detail – and this is where the 70-350mm excels.

This is a good example. At 198mm on the 70-350mm on A6500, it’s the same composition I would have had with the A7RIII and 70-300mm at 300mm and that would have produced a larger more detailed image. There’s only a real benefit to the 70-350mm on APS-C when you’re near the 350mm end. Did I keep both? No – I already knew I wanted a much faster but still compact zoom for the full frame kit, and the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 was coming in six months’ time. So I sold the 70-300mm and decided to use the A6500 with 70-350mm for all longer tele shooting.

From the start it proved a very capable combination.

Fast lenses are not as important now

Mirrorless cameras with phase detection autofocus, good high iSO performance and better resolution electronic viewfinders have made wide aperture lenses less essential for low light. The linear motor focus of the 70-350mm rarely misses a shot regardless of conditions. One of my first shoots was a music festival, where this lens allowed me to work from the very back of the hall and never get in the way of the audience.

Processed from a raw file at ISO 6400, this shot of Steve Byrne performing was taken at 350mm wide open at f/6.3. The same on full frame would need a 525mm lens at f/8 and ISO 8000 (a direction Canon is taking with their new 800mm f/11 IS STM for the R mount – the working aperture no longer matters much if the viewfinder stays bright, AF is accurate and there’s not much noise at high ISO settings).

The long reach in a concert hall is one side of using a 350mm on APS-C. Here’s another – the lens may only achieve a quarter life size and need you to be 1.5m away at 350mm, but 0.25X on a 1.5X factor sensor is 0.375X in ‘old macro’ terms. Not only that, the ISO 2500 used here is about the same in grain or noise terms as an ISO 400 film and the stabilisation of this lens on the A6500 is as good as you get. A 1/125s shutter speed did not prevent tiny hairs on the caterpillar’s head being sharply resolved.

This lens is far better than the 18-200, 18-300, 18-400 or 16-300mm I’ve used on a variety of DSLRs for long APS-C reach. It’s free from the residual aberration which demands you ‘stop down one’ to clean up the long end image. Combined with Sony’s PDAF it handles a concert or low indoor light as well as an ƒ2.8-4 on a conventional DSLR.

Compare this with a 100-400mm for the same format

For the sake of 50mm at the long end – a difference of only 12.5% in image scale – the excellent Fujifilm Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM also gives a half to a third of a stop more light transmission in its longer range. But look at the cost! It is twice the price and weight, and you can see the size. Gains – a near-apochromatic performance, matched 1.4X and 2X converters available (not an option for the Sony and never likely to be). Losses – only 0.19X close-up scale. It’s remarkable how much difference there is in the physical aspect of these two lenses. I have used both and in practice they are equally sharp on 24 megapixels.

The Sony 100-400mm and Sigma 100-400mm are both full frame lenses and much larger. The 70-350mm is unique as far I can tell, no-one else has a lens like it. It also answers one of the major criticisms of the original E-mount APS-C system, the lack of any lens longer than 210mm and that only in a 55-210mm design best described as consumer grade. I’ve actually found it pretty good for the money – but it’s not much money!

Sony 70-350mm G OSS image gallery

Rather than write much more, I’ll leave you with this gallery. I have reduced the file size but where you see an enlarged section clip along with the full frame – well, you can judge for yourself.

Sony 70-350mm G OSS verdict

If you own any of the APS-C Sony bodies, from the NEX-3 and 5 of 2010 onwards, this lens will not disappoint you. The effective OSS image stabilisation means that even if you prefer to compose and shot using the rear screen and hold the camera away from your body you’ll get sharp stills and steady movies. It’s a big step up from the 55-210mm and much more affordable than, say, a 70-200mm f/4 G with 1.4X or 2X converter.

You may have to control colour fringes in some strong backlight situations with blur when working from raw files, as it’s not an apochromat just a regular very good tele zoom. However the resolution reflects advances in design over the last decade. It’s also a very handsome looking black lens with its silver G logo and designation contrasting with white markings. It feels robust and the zoom and manual focus (when needed) are smooth. The metal bayonet is a tight precise fit on my A6500 and A7RIII, a little less so on my A6000 with its older four-screw type body mount.

I can carry this lens all day without even realising it’s there, round neck or shoulder – and there are not many lenses covering this range you would want to hang on a strap round your neck.

You can support my reviews if you check these links for availability and price:
Amazon UK – didn’t have any stock at all at the time of writing – https://amzn.to/30ZC4Ck
Park Cameras UK – https://tidd.ly/3jLHbP7
WEX UK – https://tidd.ly/3hKRhhA
B&H USA and Worldwide – https://tinyurl.com/y6cguvpo

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.

Continue reading »

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 – 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

WEX Pre-Order (Affiliate link) UK £3199

MPB (Affiliate link) – buy and sell used Sony equipment UK

B&H (Affiliate link) – order US/World from $3198

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

WEX add 10% off all Sony E-mount lenses

With large UK cashback offers running at the moment – example, if you buy separate A6500 and 16-70mm lenses you get £150 off the body, £80 off the lens – UK retailer WEX, one of our affiliate partners for Photoclubalpha, has added 10% off all E-mount lenses up to August 10th.

We know the UK cashbacks work as we had our cashback paid into our account just three days after buying the A6500 and 16-70mm this month. The cashbacks are selective and for example you won’t find one on the new 12-24mm f/4 FE or 16-35mm f/2.8 FE, but they still cover many choices of lenses and bodies. The 10% offer covers all Sony E-mount lenses.

For the WEX 10% discount, which they claim is exclusive to them, enter the code EMOUNT10 on any lens purchases from this Photoclubalpha affiliate URL – http://tidd.ly/7ab0de0d

Alpha A9 promises professional performance

You can order the A9 here – any of these links to order will help photoclubalpha pay our way.

B&H have it listed 

WEX in the UK (also Calumet)

Amazon (co.uk)

The front view below of the Sony Alpha A9 body, introduced today, gives a subtle clue about changes under the hood. For some time we’ve been nagging Sony about the weak, potentially tilting, 4-screw mount on the mirrorless bodies. Now they have at least added two more screws, to match Fujifilm X or the A-mount, even if the distribution is a bit odd with all the extra strength concentrated at the sides not the top and bottom where heavy lenses normally cause most stress.

It’s a clue to a different internal construction, probably stronger all round, to make it possible to support the new 100-400mm G Master  lens, a native E-mount new design which should come as a relief to those struggling with the A-mount 70-400mm varieties on adaptors:

But the lenses still have four-screw mount fitting (as do most A-mount lenses), and fairly weak sacrificial assemblies to prevent damage to the camera if knocked. See this video (it’s a bit long but makes a point): //www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGvlX9BtiTQ

The EVF of the A9 is around twice as bright as the A7RII and also runs at twice the refresh rate, while offering 50% more pixels. Part of this is down to the new stacked-CMOS 24.2 megapixel full frame sensor, which has a readout some twenty times faster than the A7II and previous generation 24 megapixel models. That, of course, is linked to the 6K native live feed from the full frame (used to create very high quality 4K video as well as an excellent live view) which in turn enables a distortion-free purely electronic silent shutter running to 1/32,000s plus 20 frames per second sequence shooting.

AF is claimed to be 25% faster than the A7RII and when the shutter speed is faster than 1/125s there is no visible blackout in the finder when shooting. Personally, a single frame (1/120s or 1/60s) blip would never be unwelcome as it helps tell you when you’ve shot. As for the low-light capability, not too much is being said; it’s in the usual up to 56,200 range with extension of two more stops. (Edit: April 20, we have noticed that at least one ‘reviewer’ – Sony Artisan paid to promote – completely wrongly claims 2,048,000 ISO not the actual 204,800, when comparing the A9 with the Nikon D5’s listed 3,276,800). The high speed sequences, movie frame rate and EVF refresh all tend to limit ultimate low-light clean imaging and we would guess that the A7SII and A7RII will not be made redundant.

That can not be said for the old weeny weedy weaky batteries of the E-mount range. The stripling NP-FW50 used in all the NEX to A7 series models gets kicked aside by a slightly larger variant with 2.2X the capacity. Frankly, it’s overdue but it creates a split system. I’m happy to travel with my A6000, RX10, and A7RII all sharing a pool of batteries even if those do run down alarmingly fast.

If it means carrying a new dual charger too, to get the necessary 2.5 hour recharge time instead of a leisurely overnight in-camera top up, I can only hope the charger (cum mains adaptor with clumsy dummy battery connection) also accepts the older batteries. It’s carrying multiple chargers that increases my travel bag weight not carrying extra batteries.

But… I see that the charger ‘cradle’ can mount four of the new cells, and charge the lot in 480 minutes. This cradle has a dummy battery on a lead, and 1/4″ tripod thread mounting points to add it to a video rig (which this camera is not specially made for, indicating an A9S is on the way with S-Log and direct 4K top quality encoding). The dummy battery then powers the camera for roughly 10X the life of the current A7 series batteries. So what if you have an A7 model? Easy – the outer shell of the battery simply slides off, revealing a SMALLER dummy inside, which fits the entire NEX/A7 mirrorless range or indeed the RX10 series. So your existing Sony mirrorless kit can be powered using this ‘battery bank’.

The top plate reveals that some input has been listen to. As a regular M1-M2-M3 user on my A99, the drop to only two memory registers on the A7RII is unwelcome but survivable. A return to three, plus a a custom button memory recall function, will make the a9 better. Having the drive modes on a physical control is good too. But I’ll leave any verdict on all this until the actual operation is better known – whether, for example, the memory registers now cover more than just the primary camera settings and thus enable one-step tripod setup.

I’ll have to say that after using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII, which offers many of the advantages being claimed by the A9 as major selling points, the non-reversible simple tilt rear screen remains a negative compared to a fully articulated reversible screen. Sony does now offer a real glass protector, but I like the A55 to A99 style screen which can be turned to face the wall permanently if you want (and has never arrived on the E-mount models).

The new joystick controller takes something from the A99/II controls and adds it to the wheel of the A7 series, while the upper thumb button becomes a native back-button AF. In addition to being able to move the focus points faster (it’s a pain with the A7RII design) there is a memory for AF point selection and a horizontal-vertical switch function. Combined with a larger number of AF points covering 93% of the sensor, the action/sports performance of the A9 should be a long way ahead of any earlier mirrorless (though the A6500 is pretty good).

Though not visible here, there are two SDXC (one UHS-II) card slots with the usual recording options similar to the A99/II, and also an Ethernet port which is almost a requirement for some major sports events. You will notice that the Drive control has a Focus control below it, giving direct access to the kind of AF/MF/DMF choices found on the dedicated controller of A-mount bodies – no more need for menu or Function/Custom button operations.

The eyepiece, shown here, may perhaps be a little less prone to detachment and we are promised the least squiffy finder view with new optics.

There is one minor fly in the ointment, a price-tag of £4,500 (UK) body only; the 100-400mm will be £2,500. While the team of assembled ambassadors made much of praising the silent shutter mode and small size of the camera at Sony’s vidcast press conference, none of this is new and pretty much anything the A9 can do is also within the reach of the A7RII and A7SII even if it does it faster and perhaps better. There was some praise for the durability of the system – what? I don’t know about others, but I find the Sony/Zeiss lenses are the worst I’ve ever owned for showing almost immediate signs of wear from the lightest contact with clothing and bags. Silver appears through the molecule-thin black coating instantly and neither the regular lenses nor the bodies have ever struck me as being suitable to knock around in a busy press kit or travel bag. Where old Leicas survived years of abuse elegantly, gradually brassing at the edges, my Sony kit generally just looks a bit scruffy and used despite minimal handling. The A9 looks about the same in this respect as the mark II lesser models.

Full official press information and specifications can be seen here:

//presscentre.sony.co.uk/pressreleases/sonys-new-a9-camera-revolutionises-the-professional-imaging-market-1923969

And for the lens:

//presscentre.sony.co.uk/pressreleases/sony-expands-flagship-g-master-lens-series-with-new-100-400mm-super-telephoto-e-mount-zoom-1923976

  • David Kilpatrick

 

 

Never say ‘zoom with your feet’…

There’s a dismissive and rather superior position some camera club buffs take – ‘why not zoom with your feet?’. It is well worth ignoring. The focal length of your lens, whether your use a zoom or a range of fixed focal length lenses, decides the exact relationship of elements in the picture including one component you just can’t ‘zoom with your feet’, the sky. The depth of blue above the horizon, the scale of clouds, can only be changed by using a different focal length.

Here is the cover of the May/June 2017 Cameracraft magazine, and in a very rare lapse of judgment I used one of my own photographs. I had never photographed this church before despite driving past it on the A7 Scotland to England road through the ‘debateable lands’ for the last 28 years. A quick left turn down a farm estate road led to St Andrews church of Kirkandrews, an 18th-century gem with the unusual feature of being built on a north-south alignment instead of east-west. This put the late March afternoon sun on to the south door and sundial.

Now this is a typical deliberately uncorrected 24mm steep angle shot, and I also have very straight versions taken from further away on the 24-70mm CZ f/4 lens and A7RII. but they are all at between 24 and 32mm with the church smaller and composition using the churchyard and walls. That’s because the sky simply looks best with a wide angle.

Despite some bad press, I’ve found the 24-70mm to be an excellent lens. You can get good deals and Amazon UK is showing discounts up to 19% – check our affiliate link which helps photoclubalpha cover its costs if you buy.

When we pulled up here, there was a car on the other side of the church spoiling the view I had seen from the road, spotting a dramatic old dead tree. We chatted to a lady who was looking after the churchyard and gardens, a lifelong commitment. She said it was a pity the church was locked as the interior was worth seeing – and left taking her car which had been prominently in my planned shot. So, we parked the car in the field further away, and I returned to the area of the tree.

I knew what I was looking for, and at first walked to a spot and composed this at 30mm. But by moving round and just looking at the possible camera positions (and heights above ground) I could see the relative scale of the church and tree could be changed by finding the best angle of view and perspective. This is what using your feet AND a zoom helps you do, and ‘zooming with your feet’ most certainly does not if all you have is a fixed lens. A 35mm or 28mm would have been fine here, but I knew how much clearance I wanted between the church bell tower and the branch, how large or not I wanted the fallen branches to be (and I do not ‘garden’ subjects like this which are someone else’s property).

This shot at 26mm was able to give me more sky. It’s also one which I could straighten for converging verticals (it has space to do that) using Photoshop/Camera Raw‘s excellent tools for this. To the right, there was an ugly wooden barrier to keep livestock off a sapling. Below, you can see why this was not a good addition to any composition. Earlier on there was that white car between it and the church, which had departed.

From this position, I was generally happy with the scale of the tree and church and their relative weights in a vertical composition, but felt it needed to be a little tighter.

This framing at 35mm kept all parts of the tree clear of the church, placed them neatly and avoided any strong foreground of fallen wood.

This example moved me closer to the tree, at 24mm again, giving the most attractive sky and clouds. But I felt the broken main trunk of the tree was slightly too strong and the ratio between the tree and church just missed the mark. Such small differences do count. Normally I don’t show anyone the ‘ringaround’ compositions, only the final shot. In what is essentially a landscape scene, it’s not always that important. In commercial work, including portraits, wedding or fashion you need to realise that a centimetre or two difference in where you place your lens can distinguish good photography from ordinary. This, and the timing of your shot, also marks out the best press photography.

Precision viewpoint is where both your feet and zooming come in. By moving much closer to the tree, and using it as a solid closure to the left hand side of the image, the small forked branch could be positioned to frame the church and no slightly more ugly broken branch ends would be shown. The closer viewpoint was controlled to within an inch or two side to side and vertically, by crouching slightly to get the lens in exactly the position I wanted.

This also kept the church centred and therefore without converging verticals. I was already seeing this as a black and white conversion, and possibly a cover image, with the space necessary for typical cover lines and logo. This was the picture I did use for the cover.

However, from the same viewpoint zooming to 41mm allowed a different crop with a larger scale to the church.

You can see how I have moved to my left just a small amount, and also stepped back a couple of paces to change the relationship between the forked branch and the church. This is the control you gain from a lens like the 24-70mm – and why you should zoom PLUS your feet, not zoom WITH your feet. Above all, you should walk round and look, even without the camera, studying the interplay between foreground, background, middle distance and the sky.

For my first three years of using the Sony full-frame mirrorless system I have been without a 24-70mm, using a range of primes and the 28-70mm instead. Although I had used excellent work from the 24-70mm f/4 in our magazines, from other photographers, there were so many bad reports about it. But 24mm has always been a critical focal length for me, so I had to buy it when a good deal came up (a refurb from Sony, which allows me to recover the 20% VAT which I can’t claim on regular secondhand items). Well, it’s not perfect because at 24mm the focus field is very curved (cap-shaped) to the extent that detail at the edge of the frame is focused on around 45cm when the centre is set to 45m. This can lead to the idea it’s soft. In fact, this curvature improves the sharpness of the tree trunk and the distant church at f/11 – 42 megapixels can be demanding. But if this was a portrait, with a distant scene beyond, it would have the reverse effect and make the outer field seem less sharp.

  • David Kilpatrick

Affiliate links to help photoclubalpha if you order the 24-70mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar f/4 FE – B&H Photographic, Amazon, and WEX.

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