Mailed to our subscribers on September 1st and also published on Pocketmags, it’s now time to let everyone read the current magazine. You’ll notice that it contained a feature about The Photography Show, which reached subscribers over two weeks before the show. It’s not very often that we have articles which are time-sensitive but this is one reason it pays to subscribe and get Cameracraft hot off the press!CCSeptOct2021
Sony has just announced yet another 50mm, and this time it’s different – a truly affordable 50mm 1:1 macro, only $500 US. We reckon this will become the most popular standard 50mm lens by far, even more so than the budget 50mm f/1.8. Now you can photograph your food properly at last!
It certainly looks neat and the specifications are good.
It features one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass to reduce lateral CA (colour fringes) as the image scale increases. The optical and mechanical construction of the lens is claimed to have less glare and ghosting. The lens is also dust and moisture resistant.
Examples shot with the new lens can be found at www.alphauniverse.com, Sony’s new corporate pseudo-community site. We have to say the bokeh looks funky, not good, and this lens probably lacks the classical drawing of the more traditionally designed (and more expensive) SAL 50mm f/2.8 Macro A-mount.
The 6.25″ (16cm) minimum focusing distance is a clue why. The effect of the 7-blade circular aperture design can be studied in the Sony photo examples. It has a focus-mode switch, focus-range limiter and focus-hold button (the mode switch is valuable as you may not want AF for macro shots most of the time, and the focus limiter is similarly good for controlling frantic hunting and missing – all three switches/controls are important on the mirrorless bodies).
The lens is 7cm long, weighs 235g and during focusing it extends in length by only 26mm, not the 50mm required for a typical Tessar-type lens of this focal length. This, and the minimum focusing distance (should be at least 20cm for a 50mm macro at 1:1) indicate that the design relies heavily on internal/rear focusing groups, much like the 30mm f/2.8 DT SAM macro for A-mount. We would reckon the true focal length of the lens at 1:1, which can not be more than 40mm with a 16cm close focus, may be around 35mm as 1:1 is achieved with 76mm of overall focus extension.
The distance from the subject to this lens front rim at 1:1 is only 3.5cm which many will find a little too close for insects and even for plants, as the shadow of the lens and photographer may interfere. Even the SAL 50mm is not perfect, reaching 1:1 at 20cm from the focal plane with a 48mm dual barrel extension and 53mm front element focus travel (the extra 3mm is down to floating element correction which slightly changes the focal length). This places the lens rim 7cm from the subject, twice the working distance relative to this new SEL FE design.
Look – you don’t read Photoclubalpha to get sales blurb. You come here to find stuff out which you won’t read anywhere else and may not previously have been aware of. It may be difficult. But it will help!
– David Kilpatrick
Sony has released new firmware 3.20 for the A7RII and 2.10 for A7SII to enable XAVCS video recording on SDHC (rather than the larger XC) cards. The European updater is, as usual, not on line when the US/Americas Sony site has got it all ready to go. They are the same software so it’s safe to use either.
Though nothing else is mentioned as improved, we note that lens compatibility is an active link in the list of inherited changes.
and for A7SII:
European support for A7RII is here: http://www.sony.co.uk/support/en/product/ILCE-7RM2
and for the A7SII: http://www.sony.co.uk/support/en/product/ILCE-7SM2
In a move which will not delight many owners of the 2012-released RX1 and RX100 cameras, Sony has chosen to update both of them in fairly subtle ways which improve performance without changing the basic lens specifications at the heart of each camera. The makeover to produce the RX100 II is more thorough, and includes a tilting rear screen, a new back-illuminated version of the 1.0 inch CMOS sensor, and a Multi Function Accessory Shoe which can power an electronic viewfinder or other accessories. It also features WiFi and Near Field Communication for transferring those tiny 20 megapixel files to your smartphone, perfect for direct upload to Facebook (just shoot Small JPEGs instead, keep the big raw files untransferred).
You can view the European press release about the RX100 II here.
The RX1R is less thoroughly upgraded, as it’s basically an RX1 with the low-pass (AA) filter removed. Got to admit that we could have sworn Sony originally said, at photokina, the RX1 did not have an AA filter. Its performance seemed to back that up. Then, in the release version (which was very different from the September 2012 pre-production models, even in control details) this was moderated to say that there was a special low strength AA filter. Now, in the RX1R, the AA filter is definitely removed and some new processing added to combat the resulting increase in moiré and colour artefact production which always goes with the absence of the filter. Nothing else is changed; the two models are very similar to Nikon’s D800 and D800E, and like them will be available side by side. The RX1R does not replace the RX1. Whether owners of RX1 will see it quite that way, who knows?
At this level of camera, there will be plenty of buyers who want to have BOTH bodies. Just as, with the RX100, despite version II not having the imaginary extra lens range dreamed about by those who don’t realise what’s involved, there will be many buyers for the new model who will pass the original on to a family member or keep it as a spare.
See the press release about the RX1R here.
Finally, there is a new HVL-F43M flashgun with the now familiar rotating head design first seen on the HVL-F58AM. This slightly smaller but almost as powerful flash unit has the Multi Function Accessory Shoe (and can now therefore be used with both the above Cyber-Shots as well as NEX-6, A99, A58 and future SLT/NEX/Cyber-Shot models). It has an LED light for video, also useful for modelling when using flash off camera – but get our latest issue of Cameracraft, No 4, to read my detailed article on how the quality of LED light compares to other sources!
A question which remain unanswered is – when will Sony introduce the shoe fitting GPS module which is already provided for in the pinouts of the Multi Function Shoe, on the NEX-6, RX1, Alpha 58 etc? Having this on the market would certainly make the RX100 II even more of a must-have upgrade.
Be warned (perhaps by our review of the Alpha 58) that the promoted Tri-Luminos colour display compatibility – a change in the camera’s RGB sensor filters and processing – may not necessarily make for better colour with other devices, or for printing. It’s a good reason to buy a new Sony television but not an especially good reason to prefer the new models over the old non-Tri-Luminos type.
Finally, having removed the AA filter from the RX1 to create the RX1R, we must await the arrival (or non-arrival…) of the Sony Alpha 99R. That would be logical now that a refresh to new models seems to be called for after only 6 to 12 months on the market. Perhaps that is a bit cynical. What often happens in this industry is that a product will be revised when stocks of all the components for the original batches are used up, and not enough finished product is in the pipeline to satsify predicted demand.
The RX1 and the RX100 have both been runaway successes worldwide and it may be that new production was commissioned and presented a chance for hardware changes. Firmware updates for existing owners? A second priority, but don’t give up hope…
– David Kilpatrick
To discuss this on the Photoclubalpha Forum, go to (but remember it may take a day to be activated if newly registered):
Most Japanese camera companies have divisions, groups, and teams right down to the very last individual product. Even a single lens design may have its own small team, from R&D and design down to final assembly. What we are seeing happen in Sony right now is the result of complex competition and collaboration between several teams.
Take, for example, the new Sony 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II. You might assume this lens was mainly an Alpha division product from the former Minolta heritage, but in fact it’s been redesigned to work better with NEX and also with both consumer and professional HD video cameras from APS-C through Super-35 to full frame 35mm.
SLT/SLR system users gain with improvements like Nano AR coating (similar to new coatings introduced by Sigma, Nikon, Pentax and Canon), better MF control, and a better degree of weathersealing. It’s the complete update of the SSM motor (is it SSM II, or entire lens version II?) which provides compatibility with on-sensor PDAF and enhances CDAF, to offer the prospect of object-tracking AF during video. At £6,700 UK it needs to show major benefits to compete in the still field, but may have a market all to itself when fitted to the new NEX-VG900E full frame video camera.
It’s easy to think – ‘the first ever full frame video cam!’ but that is not the case. The Canon 5D MkII established the DSLR form as an acceptable professional video camera, and in the last three years a vast industry of shooting rigs, grips, follow focus devices, monitor screens and accessories has grown up all based on turning this video-unfriendly camera into something movie and TV crews are comfortable with.
Sony has implemented the sought-after 24 frames per second rate in all the new models just announced, not going for the European excuse of 25fps being close enough. This is to allow a so-called cinematic look, despite the fact that the movie industry has been trying to get away from 24fps just the same way as it threw off the shackles of 16 or 18fps many years before. Users want it, so they have at last provided it.
From the very start of reviewing HD capable cameras, we have emphasised the issues with audio – the *absolute* not optional need for audio fixed or adjustable manual gain control. I’ve done this for years in printed magazines. So has any other writer who ever had to use a camera with auto gain and nothing else. First Nikon (basic) then Canon (full control) and now Sony show they listened, if slowly and relunctantly, to something their own audio engineers would have told them was vital not a luxury.
End result – Sony enters the mainstream for HD video shooting with the Alpha and NEX systems.
The same technologies, in terms of sensor use and implementation of optical advances linked to Phase-Detection On Sensor (which I’ll call PDOS), now apply across the entire range of Sony digital imaging products from Handycam, through Cyber-Shot, through NEX, to Alpha. The Cyber-shot range is only missing an APS-C model.
What is particularly interesting is that this divided path is a parallel path now and not a divergent one. There’s no question of one straight and narrow path leading to heaven, one broad and easy road to hell, and winding ferny way to faery. Instead we get a four-lane highway joining Sony present to Sony future, with every option to change lane if you want to overtake.
Legacy and inheritance planning
Sony acquired a lot of old Minolta tech as a dowry in the 206 marriage to the Alpha system. Now having invested that legacy they have to make sure it still has value for future generations.
And example of what this really means can be found in the PDOS restrictions of the A99. The AF-D mode won’t work with some lenses, yet. For example – the 16mm f/2.8 fisheye, the 20mm f/2.8, the 16-35mm CZ f/2.8 zoom, any Konica Minolta zoom, any old Minolta AF system lens, the 35mm f/1.4, the 85mm f/1.4 CZ and G, the 135mm f/1.8 CZ and f/2.8 STF, the 200mm f/4 Apo G Macro, the 24-105mm D, any macro lens, the 400mm f/4.5, 600mm f/4, 200mm f/2.8 or the 300mm f/2.8 G SSM (pre-II). It is not even flagged as working with the 30mm f/2.8 SAM macro, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.8 or the 24mm f/2 Carl Zeiss SSM ZA. Or the 70-300mm G SSM, let alone the basic 75-300mm SAL.
It will only work with the 24-70mm f/2.8 CZ, the 28-75mm f/2.8 SAM, the 50mm f/1.4 current design, the 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM, the new 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II, 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM and the new 500mm f/4 G SSM. Sony’s firmware requires that the user enter the focusing range involved. This is put forward as an advantage – making the system less likely to focus on a fence instead of the view through it – but in fact it’s an integral part of PDOS. Each of the 102 focus points spread across the sensor* is not a single pixel-pair, it’s a cluster of several pixel pairs tightly grouped. There may be the minimum of three differently pitched PDOS points per location, or perhaps more, to cope with the wide range of exit pupil conditions encountered when using Alpha-mount lenes.
For any one lens, the camera will need to know the broad focus range involved (hopefully the main PDAF array will normally provide this), the aperture at which focusing is taking place, and some further information about how the zoom or lens design influences the exit ray cone. From this, it will select the correct PDOS configuration and I think that for some lenses only a central zone will be active.
Sony states that firmware updates will add further lenses, but this technology only requires some relatively simple information based on the optical design. If they could have added more lenses from the start, they would have. Watch this space, because it may remain more of an empty space than you hope for.
* Sony imply that the PDOS area is large – actually it’s about 13mm square, within the APS-C zone, and does not extend towards the ends of the full frame much further than the cluster of regular PDAF points. These seem to be the same module as the A77, giving the A99 an AF ‘zone’ much smaller relative to its frame.
Zones and maps
The Alpha 99 also introduces something which almost has to happen if any of the above is going to work at all. Anti-aliasing filters do not have an even effect on sensors, especially full frame with wider angle lenses where the rear nodal point of the lens is relatively close. Geometry means that light passes through them at more of an angle towards the edges and corners, and there is therefore more distance between AA filter and sensor surface. With an AA filter having a single value diffraction-created diffusion of the image-forming light (aka blurring), the effect gets stronger as you move away from the centre (axis).
Since most lenses are also sharper in the centre and typical sensor microlenses are not ‘tuned’ from centre to edge, the overall result is to emphasise fall-off from centre to edge. Secondary results include a dramatic tendency for bright sources imaged in the extreme corners to have a strong, directional, surrounding glare. This is boosted by internal multiple reflection between the sensor surface and the inner face of the AA filter, especially if the incident rays are at 40° or less to the focal plane (where on-axis rays are described as being at 90°).
The best solution to this is the classic one – what Olympus called telecentric lens design, where you do your best to project the image on to the sensor from a relatively distant position keeping all rays, centre to edge, as close to 90° as possible. But that calls for new lens designs and also restricts the optical formulae, tending to produce much larger heavier lenses. It’s very practical on one-inch or smaller sensors, OK on MicroFourThirds, feasible for NEX but not much an option for a full-frame coverage.
So, Sony has introduced an AA filter which they describe as ‘multi-segment lo-pass’. It’s not one strength across the entire frame, but divided or graded to optimise performance towards the corners. At the same time, they have introduced a similar zoning to noise reduction, which we assume to mean the NR applies to the raw output before a raw file is saved. Combined with the usual sensor mapping, and lens profile based vignetting compensation, the overall effect of these refinements should be to:
- Even out the apparent resolution and image acutance across the frame
- Reduce the mapped peripheral gain effect, under which images appear to be noisier at the edges unless natural vignetting is allowed to be present
- Remove artefacts such as corner streaking or softening, and fringes or flare from light sources towards the extremes
No doubt this is also combined with the detailed ‘repair’ function used to deal with PDOS. More on this later, as there’s an implication that the PDOS on the A99 is not the same as that on the NEX-5R or NEX-6, and may use a second layer of pixels leaving all 24.3 megapixels of the imaging layer untouched.
The area-specific NR is probably essential to achieve the high ISO range at 14-bit conversion, though it’s not unusual for cameras at this level which claim 14-bit conversion to have a variable true bit depth depending on ISO, image style and exposure conditions. We can assume that 14-bit will only be fully utilised under ideal conditions at ISO 100.
Exactly how Sony has managed to adjust AA values in ‘segments’ without visible transitions, we’ll have to find out. The same goes for NR.
The missing NEX-9
There is one camera absent from the September 12th launch – the 24 megapixel full frame NEX-9. The appearance of the HD video Handycam, NEX-VG900E, indicates that the model name for the full frame 24 megapixel NEX will be NEX-9. Images of the VG900 show it using an Alpha via the standard LA-EA2 adaptor, and we can be sure that this and not a special range of E-mount full frame lenses (almost pointless) will be how the NEX-9 takes A-mount glass.
In the meantime, the NEX-6 appears to be perfectly pitched in price, but see my comment below about GPS.
The missing GPS
While the A99 has GPS, we’re still left with no NEX model yet featuring GPS despite these being the ideal travel and walking companion. Nor is there a current SLT model with 16 megapixels and GPS, as the Alpha 55 replacement doesn’t have it and the ‘baby’ A77, the A65, is a 24 megapixel again. The Cyber-shot RX100 and RX1 models also don’t have GPS. Whether or not the new hot shoe will allow an add-on GPS remains to be seen.
The new 50mm f/1.4 SSM Carl Zeiss T* Planar
Whatever you think of Minolta glass, or new Sony glass, the Carl Zeiss name on a lens is a huge draw. Reactions to the otherwise rather pedestrian DSC-RX1 prove this. People will put up with being back in 1972 – the era of cameras like the Minolta Hi-Matics with fixed 40mm f/1.7 and similar Gauss design lenses of very high quality – if only it means getting rid of poor quality digital images. There was a time when you couldn’t sell a 50mm standard lens with a camera, and there was a time before that when every system was judged initially on the quality of its 50mm choices. We may be returning to that way of thinking.
Edit – at the 2006 launch of the Alpha 100, a 50mm f/1.4 CZ was briefly shown in Paul Genge’s presentation to UK/English language journalists. I did not report on this as none of the literature confirmed what we saw on the Powerpoint screen. I believe this lens has been planned for six years.
The new HVL-F60AM flash with rather weak video light and new hot shoe might seem an annoying departure, but remember, the A99 has no built-in flash and thus can not control wireless remotes without a commander. No HVL-F20AM style mini flash has been previewed, so the F60AM is the only commander. But your old flash will work fine off-camera controlled by your new one.
Parked on the hard shoulder
So, having looked at the four way road map for Sony, I must confess that I’m pulling into a rest area for a while. I did not sell my Alpha 900 or Alpha 77, and I’m glad I didn’t. Nor did I sell my 24mm f/2 even though it has been little used for a few months. It has been waiting for a 36 megapixel full-framer, which makes a 24mm a much better all-round lens because of the croppable image size.
I’m not one of those photographers obsessed by bokeh or the need to throw parts of my picture into extreme defocus. At 24 megapixels, APS-C is already seriously short of depth of field even at optimum apertures like f/9. I’m more likely to spend my money on a Samyang 24mm f/3.5 full frame tilt-shift lens to use with both the A900 and A77 than to invest in an A99. I have no use for a revised 300mm f/2.8, especially on full frame where it seems to me now to be a very conservative focal length, and though I’m sure a 50mm CZ will be wonderful I have no complaints about my Minolta-design Sony 50mm f/1.4. I do shoot video, but rarely in conditions which demand that I use full frame, and if Sony don’t put manual audio control into older models via a firmware fix, I’ll just buy a Canon 600D.
The price of the Alpha 99 is not as bad as people suggest, with UK stories launching it at £2082+VAT, or $3200. But I’ve got a very good quality pure still camera in the Alpha 900, with effectively noise-free imaging from ISO 100 to 320, excellent battery life and exactly the same maximum image size offered by the 99.
I think I’m in the market for the NEX-6 body but I do not care in the slightest about the WiFi aspect, or the downloadable apps. If the new remote control can actually trigger and end video shooting with the A77, NEX-5n (etc) I’ll definitely buy one. The RX1 is not for me either – had it been fitted with a 17mm, 20mm or even a conservative 24mm then it would have followed in the footsteps of the great wide-angle cameras I have worked with over the years from the Brooks Veriwide through the Plaubel 55W to Hasselblad SWC and Fujfilm G645SW. I would not even mind a separate optical finder for that, much; I was used to it!
Things we forget
The industry has put a huge effort into autofocus solutions ideal for interchangeable lenses and zooms, and apparently set aside the idea of external AF modules for good. With a fixed lens like the RX1, an AF module not working through the camera lens itself is a practical idea and could be far faster. We have also forgotten about those twin-lens compacts, with a switch to go from 35mm to 65mm (or whatever). Small sensor sizes, new lens design and ideas could make that concept work again.
The story of development for all types of camera is not over as there are old ideas to be revisited, and new ideas yet to come.
– David Kilpatrick
ACCORDING to specifications revealed on a German site, the new Sony Alpha 500 will have a 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor capable of providing Live View to the rear 3 inch medium resolution screen – with Manual Focusing at 14X magnification. The in-prism based Quick AF Live View is retained, giving a choice between two entirely different systems of Live View, Sony’s innovative and easy solution scanning the focus screen, and a critically accurate alternative for tripod work. The camera may sell for just €50 more than the Alpha 380 – or break the £500 body only barrier in the UK right from the start.
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Sony’s new Alpha 850 will be identical to the Alpha 900 in size, handling and external design – including the omission of onboard flash. The camera, expected to be launched before September, uses the same 24.6 megapixel CMOS sensor as the Alpha 900 but has – it is rumoured – only a single BIONZ processor, and a very slightly modified viewfinder. It is shipped without the Remote Commander (this becomes an optional extra) indicating that minimum retail price is Sony’s aim.
This is a screen grab from Fotobrenner.de in Germany who have the body only offered for €1999.00 and the kit with SAM 28-75mm f/2.8 new lens for €2699.00. As listed that makes the body about 10% more expensive than the current street price of the Alpha 900 – indicating either that the A850 prices are RRP and will rapidly fall, or that the A900 is about to get a price hike. They offer the A900 for €2499.00 and that would – pro rata – make the UK street price for the A850 about £1599. Please note: though the 28-75mm picture is authentic, the body shown has the AF switch set to C – just like the Sony shots of the A900 issued to dealers. Maybe they would do this for all packshots for some reason, maybe it was chance – more likely. It would be unlikely to happen again for the 850 shot so I reckon this is shopped.
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Sony’s September launch for 2009 looks set to include three new models – the Alpha 500, 550 and 850. The model numbers are confirmed by the usual backdoor leak, appearing in the registration database for SonyStyle USA in this case (Canada has been a past culprit, updating databases associated with their site before the product is officially released). However, only a few people know what these cameras will be, and they are limited by non-disclosure contracts.
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The new Alpha 230, 330 and 380 models are radical ergonomic redesigns of the existing 200, 300 and 350 series. There is a 15% reduction in size (volumetric) and weight, an update to the styling, and a completely revised user interface with graphic representation of setting adjustments – with a built-in ‘handbook’ to accompany the modes and options. They also have mini-HDMI image output, compatible with Bravia TVs and with interactive software inside the camera to allow the Bravia’s own remote control to change, orient and zoom into images (Bravia Sync). Twin card storage is MS ProHG Duo/SD and only one card is usable at a time, with a hardware switch to change slots. A smaller battery type (shared with the HX1 Cyber Shot) is used. A new self-timer drive mode grabs a quick burst of 3 or 5 frames, cutting the chances of spoiled portraits and groups shots when someone blinks at the wrong moment.
The new flashgun HVL-F20AM operates as a wireless flash controller for the full-frame α900. “While Sony’s flagship DSLR does not have its own integrated flash, the HVL-F20AM can be used as an inexpensive trigger for wireless remote flash heads” according to Sony UK.
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United Kingdom / Republic of Ireland, 17 September 2008: Canon announces the full frame, 21.1 Megapixel EOS 5D Mark II: the first EOS with full High Definition video capability. They also announced a new 24mm f1.4 lens.