Friday, March 24, 2017

Sony Week - Part Five - The Repair Department Secret

Be prepared to be frustrated - I am going to tease you unmercifully in this column.

Normally I don't do this - the idea, after all, is to entertain you and win your loyalty to Camera Electronic. To entice you to come on down and leave your money on the counter. So I don't berate you and I don't make false promises - and I don't dance around telling you that I know something that you don't. Until now.

Oh, it's not just me. It's the staff in the Camera Electronic Repair Department too. They know something that you don't.

Okay - the Sony connection first. Great cameras that they are, Sony mirror-less digital camera bodies have the same basic problem that all other cameras with removable lenses - dust and particles will eventually get into them and onto the sensor. Be you ever so careful or ever so obsessed, the dust will eventually beat you. And as all digital camera owners will discover, you need a sensor clean.

Up till now, there have been any number of sensor cleaning tips, kits, bits of equipment, and rituals devised for cleaning sensors - some of them have worked, most of them have not. Some have ruined sensors. This is particularly noticeable for people who have tried to do it as a home-job.

Sony mirror-less sensors have been a particular problem. I was alerted to this by one of the scientists in the CE Repair Department who was able to show me any number of anguished posts on the internet forums about it - and equally anguished emails passing back and forth amongst professional repair firms in other parts of the world. Many professional people seem to have spent a lot of time trying to clean Sony sensors and ended up with them just as dirty as before.

Well the two scientists in the CE Repair Department conducted a series of practical experiments to solve this and have devised a procedure that DOES clean the Sony mirror-less sensor completely - and can do it easily in the future. I was not initiated fully in the arcane ritual of it...being frightened of the bubbling vats and whirring flywheels - but that does not stop me from reporting their success. They are not going to release the secret - they are going to keep it as a working procedure for the Repair Department at the normal commercial price. It will be known as The Secret. It is a multi-stage process.

Note: The Secret does not involve those little rubber pads on the end of sticks that some people think are marvellous. They look like an invitation to disaster. About like poking your sensor with a wet Gummy Bear...

I can also confidently rule out steel wool pads or a wood chisel.

SO....take a look at the images that your Sony mirror-less camera has been pumping out recently. If there are little grey balloons in the sky, you need The Secret. Bring the camera in to Camera Electronic Repair Department next week and they will make those balloons go away. If the grey balloons have replaced the faces of your brides, grooms, newborns, or family members, bring it in NOW!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sony Week - Part Four - The Local Tourist

It is no fun being a local tourist - particularly if you have lived in the place for 53 years. The exciting mustn't-miss glamour spots of the 1960's have not worn well. Some of them peaked when the America's Cup races were held and some of them have yet to do so...So finding iconic world-beating landscape award-winners on a cloudy Tuesday at 2:30 is somewhat problematical - particularly if you want to get off Leach Highway before the rest of the world gets on it at 3:30...

In most Australian cities you can at least find a dramatic view around the war memorials - they are grassed and lit and maintained. Thus I used the naval memorials up on the hill as my base to view. If the council had not been cutting the grass and if the wind had not been blowing a gale it might have been idyllic.

As it was, it provided a good workout for the 28mm f:2 full frame lens and the 18mm f:1.8 APS-C lens. In this case, as with the studio shots from yesterday, I eschewed using RAW for either camera  -it was easier to set a fair comparison in train by putting them both to JPEG. I also used a programmed or auto setting for both and selected 650 ISO. AF was in operation for both, and as there was a good amount of light under the clouds, the speed of focusing was no problem for either camera.

Against the light shots are tough - the camera sees what we refuse to see and renders it as flat or overblown in highlights. It's no good hoping for good light if the geography of the place puts you looking into it anyway, but you can tantalise yourself by moving round the other way when the sun breaks through the clouds - as seen in the torpedo shot.

Technical note: This is an ex-US Navy torpedo that was not fired at Japanese ships and did not explode. As opposed to the ones that were fired at Japanese ships and did not explode. I recommend RUN SILENT RUN DEEP as a reference for this question.

But back to the cameras. They both shot fast and accurately. They both turned in files that benefited from the "automatic haze removal " feature of the Photoshop Elements 14 program. But look at the difference between the full frame and the APS-C in the image of the HMAS ADELAIDE ( L01) tied up at Victoria Quay. Here's the force of the newer sensor, greater resolution, and larger surface area of the sensor all combined. Plus a bit of the in-body 5-axis stabilisation throwing in goodness.

As loyal as I am to the APS-C system for my studio shots - and for good reason - I must say that if I was taking landscape shots that I wanted to blow up to large images, I would have to acknowledge the superior result of the full frame. I daresay there is more that could be wrung out of an RAF RAW file but then there is more that could be extracted from a Sony RAW file as well.

There may well be similar improvements in portraiture or large group images - I must see if I can get another chance at the larger sensor in the studio with a human subject.

And as a final note - Street photography has been touted as a fine division of the art. It may well be, but there are streets and there are streets. I drove a number of the crowded ones around Fremantle and concluded that in the rich ones the locals didn't want me to stop - and in the poor ones I looked at the locals and had no desire to stop. I think I will do my touring up to Coles and leave it at that.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sony Week - Part Three - The Model A Test

I regret that title. I suddenly realised that Sony - as well as Henry Ford  - used to make A model cameras too. Hopefully readers will be able to separate them in their minds*. The Sony products do not have wire-spoke wheels or rumble seats. A pity in some respects...

Well, the contest between a full-frame camera and an APS-C camera in the studio will always range around two things; the out of focus appearance behind the plane of sharpness, and how wide that plane can be spread in the picture.

You can quantify it easily - just go to the DOFmaster website and specify the focal length you will be using. The figures on the calculator are minutely accurate, and infinitely depressing if you are trying to get a deep depth of field. Nothing you can do at close range will increase it markedly. But you grasp for every millimetre you can get.

An APS-C camera with a 35mm lens will have the same angular field of view as a full-frame camera sporting a 50mm lens - the pictures will have the same look and perspective. But the 35mm will have more depth of field for every equivalent f stop.

If this is important to you - it can be a big factor in what you choose.

On the other hand, if you need a shallower depth of field for portraiture or atmospheric images, the 50mm on the full-frame camera is the way to go. You will also benefit from more resolution and the ability to blow the image up to a bigger print. You'll pay for it in more memory being used and a consequent longer time for processing, but the details will be there.

In my case, I rarely blow my work up enough to justify the increased quality, and I DO need every millimetre of DOF I can get.

Some words of practical praise for the Sony FE 50mm f:2.8 macro lens:

a. It is superbly sharp.

b. It has a very positive focus feel to it. No lag, no slip.

c. It goes a true 1:1 macro.

d. It has a focus-hold button - that little round one in the middle of the control panel - that freezes the action of the AF so that you can shift the lens slightly away from the original position. This allows you to follow a slightly moving subject without having the lens hunt back and forth and become uncontrollable.

This isn't all that useful for toy cars but it saves many a " Yike Yike " moment for the bee photographers...

* Mind you - the cameras only come in Model T's...Hmmmm...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sony Week - Part Two - How Do I Know It Is A Full Frame?

So as not to keep you in suspense...they announce it on the front of the box and you can look inside the mount to see.

Otherwise, you can hardly tell from appearances. The external size of a Sony Alpha 7 MkII is about the same as other makers' APS-C cameras. It's just a bigger sensor inside. And a lot of electronics. The electrons are the same size but what the computer makes them do is quite a bit bigger...but that is anticipating later in the week...Here is the device:

A classic 3/4 view. Some people feel it is better to use a lens to take pictures...

The result of turning the other cheek. Watch those little plastic doors under the strap-holder. Nice orange lens mount ring - lets you see the blessed thing in dim light.

The port quarter with the screen let half-way down. A vast unused tract of camera body on the top there...

The office. Note that there is a button referred to as " Fn " or function, but there are 4 others that bear the designation " C  " Custom buttons that you may configure to your own desires. Well-wrapped covering. The replay button is at the bottom but the zoom in and out feature has been slapped onto two buttons on top that occupy entirely separate positions and cionfigurations. You can bet on the new user spending time trying to figure this one out!

The video start/stop button is certainly separate from the others - no hitting it inadvertently. Some may have trouble hitting it in any case.

Still, the finger grip is well-proportioned and there are front/back control wheels

Note that the menu is rather well laid out. You are certainly presented with a series of divisions to deal with, but that is the case with most modern cameras. The language usage seems straightforward. Do remember to set your clock, time zome, and sharing commands, though, as the camera will suspend proceedings every time you turn it on and prompt you if you do not.

 Note the separate card door - a necessary feature for a modern camera.

Here's that bare external patch we mentioned before. Sony have placed the Menu button odd choice...and the internal microphone openings. Plus the focal plane mark ( and who ever uses it these days? ) and the assurance that there is an image stabilisation function inside the body. This is useful, but putting a sign on the outside to tell us smacks of an afterthought when the designers saw a bare patch of cover...

The Sony Alpha 7MkII is certainly a capable video camera - the front door of the access sections deals with an external microphone and headphones. It is colour-coded so that you get the similar-looking plugs in the right sockets. Not all that water-sealed.

The final note for configuration is the battery. It is small enough to fit in a slim hand-hold section and as a result contains less electricity than some. This is definitely a camera that needs a second and third battery - especially for video work.

The lenses were chosen for focal length but it was a nice discovery here at the studio that the 50mm f:2.8 is a macro lens - and a true macro as well - it screws out when you are doing manual focusing to a 1:1 ratio. It proved fast enough under AF control in the field as well. As with many modern lenses the aperture control is electronic from one of the control wheels under the forefinger or thumb. Lowest aperture of the 50mm proved to be f:16.

I cannot comment on the Sony vs Zeiss controversy with this camera brand. Presumably the higher-priced Zeiss glass has an advantage for some users but the smart arse in me thinks that most of the fuss that people make about one brand over another is a case of justifying their own choice or the power of their wallet. Most practical needs are served by either type. Again please refer to the geek forums to fight about MTF scores and distortion percentages.

If that seems cynical, at least it is consistent. I feel the same way about motor cars and shoes. I do make an exception for really well-made custom flintlocks...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sony Week - Part One - Lifting the Lid

Opening the box on a new camera is like lifting the lid on either a treasure chest or a can of worms. Don't let that image put you off - it depends if you are fishing for compliments or bass.

This week's exploration is of a Sony mirrorless camera and two lenses. These were chosen from the Camera Electronic stocks to find out what the brand is like to handle and to see whether there is a real usable difference between the full-frame system and an APS-C system. To this end, lenses that would give a similar field of view were selected:

Sony Alpha 7 II and Fujifilm X-Pro1

Sony 50mm and Fujifilm 35mm

Sony 28mm and Fujifilm 18mm

The true believers of each brand are free to jump up and down, wave spec sheets, and berate each other as much as they like - the committee of the camera club needs to fill a hole in the year's entertainment roster and a fist fight will do nicely. I am jut going to play cameras in the studio and out in the field.

First comment, though, is one that Mr. Sony, Mr. Panasonic, and Mr Fujifilm may well like to heed. It is a biased comment, and a finicky one, but here goes; knock it off with the in-camera battery charging, guys.

It might look like a good idea, but it turns around and bites the photographer in the end. If the only way that the shooter can get electricity into a battery is to relinquish the use of the camera for the charging period, there is gong to come a time when the best shot of their life is happening and the camera is connected to a wall socket or a computer...

Oh, I know you can buy accessory charger blocks, and I know you can buy extra batteries - and I strongly suggest that anyone who gets a camera with no charger goes out and does exactly that - but think about the people who have not got this same amoiunt of foresight. Give them a charger block that they can leave back at the hotel charging their extra battery when they take the camera out. You can bank on the fact that they will eventually forget to pack it when they check out and have to buy another one. You'll score extra profit eventually. But give them that charger block to start with.

Note also to ALL makers: Memory cards are cheap as chips these days ( ...see what I did there...? ) and if you are a multi-billion Yen camera maker you can probably get a discount down at the local Bic Camera store in Tokyo - so you can afford to include a little 8 GB or 16 GB card in the basic camera box. It will save the thoughtless buyer from opening the thing on the Boeing and having no way to take pictures. If you brand out the cards as well, you'll encourage them to always buy your version in the future.

Now a word of praise to Sony. Their packaging designers have finally come up with a sales box that is neither too complex to be understood nor too sealed to be opened for inspection. Plus the external graphics now include a clear flag that the product is suitable for both the E - mount and the full frame format. Complex codes and numbers never help - clear labelling is a winner.

Interesting to see how many instruction books they put into the packaging. I counted 6 in the 50mm lens coping with Chinese, Japanese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Swedish, Portuguese, Greek, and what may possibly be Korean. Three of them seem to be addressed to the photographers and three to the photographers' lawyers. I suppose it is the way of the world...

That there is no leather case in there is a given these days. You have to step pretty far up in the market fto find someone who is prepared to include one - though there are plenty of bag manufacturers who have wonderful camera containers. You should pop this Sony into an Ona if you are stylish or a Think Tank if you are practical. I'm cheap - I used a hessian bag...

Note that as this camera is one of the wonderful WiFi ones, you may wish to consider a bag that has a compartment for your tablet or mobile phone - you are going to be using that WiFi facility to store and share on a regular basis.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Smart Enough To Be Dumb

Way back in the 1960's I bought a book in a secondhand bookstore in Spokane, Washington, that was made up of Kodak pamphlets. These were loose-leaf style instructional treatises that explained how to use the Kodak materials of the day to do professional work. I thought they were the official word from on high. They were actually the official word from Rochester, New York. They made a million of them dealing with any and all aspects of photography. Some were arcane and dry and some were very entertaining.

Later in the 1980's and 1990's I rejected all the principles that they taught - sure that I knew better. Besides, they spoke of films and processes that had been superceded - so how could they have any relevence? I foolishly gave the looseleaf binder full of pamphlets away...

Well, here we are in 2017, and I am still doing light set-ups for some shots that are straight from those  1960's trade pamphlets...because the Kodak people knew what they were doing. They had years of experience dealing with different face shapes and skin tones and as these have not changed, neither has the technique for lighting them. We now do it with pixels and RAW files but we do it on the same basic anatomy as before....

Formulaic? Stilted? Outdated? Well ask your portrait sitters if they would like to look good to themselves, to their relatives, to indifferent viewers, to you, or to the camera club committee. If you are brave, ask it before you set up the lights. If you are foolish, ask it when you present the bill...Ask it of yourself when you do the studio accounts...

Okay. You know the answer... Now go out there. Go to the secondhand bookstores...if not in Spokane, Washington, then in Melbourne, or Perth, or Sydney. Go to Camera Electronic and ask Saul if you can buy the old Linhof Grossbild and Leica LFI books. Haunt the internet. Haunt the Workshop Camera Club Photographic Markets ( they have enough ghosts there to satisfy any taste...).

 Find those old pamphlets and books. Buy them and smuggle them home and never admit to your hipster friends that you have read them...but learn what light does and what people want and how to do it. Your studio bookings list will thank you. So will your accountant.

PS: If you fancy your knowledge newer and with more theatre go to some of the SHOOT Photography workshops.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Nano-State

Not the nanny state - that's a different ketle of fish. We're talking about minor equipmant and accessories that we can use for major photography.

Light stands, like porridge,  come in three sizes; too big, too small, and Goldilocks. Errr...I mean just right.

The too big ones look great in the catalogs and in cavernous studios but you are in real trouble when you try to shift them...and as for trying to get them from one job to another in the hatchback - forget it.

The too little ones look cute and portable but the only thing they ever light up is your knee.Plus they fall over at the touch of a feather.

The just right ones are somewhere in between and, like this Manfrotto Nano Tripod, they get used in all sorts of situations. While the term nano suggests smallness and lightness, this stand can take standard-sized studio heads with ease. It has positive screw locks for the sections and can easily rise up far enough to do standing portraits.

It also has two special features; it has a sliding rider on one of the tripod legs to allow you to adjust it for uneven floors, and it hs a detachable centre column.The legs can be induced to fold back against  the column to reduce the packed length for transport.

I should think that three of them could fit into a medium-sized suitcase for air transport.They would be the ideal support structure for speedlights and strobist lighting setups. And as they are Manfrotto, they carry a good warranty and a great deal of red and black Italian style.

The detached centre column also suggests using it as a hand-held light pole.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Who In Their Right Mind Would...

a. Give their credit card details to an unknown person on the other side of the world for a small camera accessory that they could just as easily buy in Perth?

b. Air-freight a small camera accessory half-way around the world to Perth?

c. Think that they support the conservation of the ecology of the planet while compelling someone to fly a jet aircraft halfway around the world to deliver a small camera accessory?

d. Need a small camera accessory - since the cameras we use have every conceivable function built-in?

e. Stock a small camera accessory that yields about $ 2.00 profit if it sells immediately and $ 20.00 loss if it sits on the shelf for six months?

f. Take pictures that are never again looked at - sitting as they do on hard drives or in computer bodies - with expensive small accessories that have come half-way around the world?

g. Enter pictures taken with small accessories into photo contests that are destined to be seen only by other people who are willing their competitors not to win?

h. Put up photo contests that revert to a fight between users of two different camera systems...and their small accessories from America?

i. Agree to act as a judge at such a contest for the price of a glass of cask wine and some cheese on a stick?

j. Read lists like this?

The answer to these questions is " pretty much everybody I know..." in one way or another.

I have just completed the exercise of pricing up items from international firms for one of my hobbies - building miniature scenes - and then calculating the shipping, postage, handling, and enchilada fees for them. Then I went round to the lady in Myaree who runs Miniature World and bought the little furniture over the counter for less than it would have cost imported. I call that a win - and I suspect that clients of Camera Electronics might be fooling themselves if they indulge in late-night forays with their credit card onto overseas sites. They would do far better to come down to the shop and get the goods in hand right now.

As far as taking pictures and never having them seen, Instagram and Flicker solves that problem, though sometimes the feedback is not quite what we would desire. I'm still debating whether offering images to locally-produced publications is productive or not - so far the only thing it has produced is silence from the editors. This would not bother me so much if it were not for the fact that every time I call round the editorial office they turn off the lights and hide behind the couch. I am starting to get a feeling...

PS: Don't feel bad about reading internet lists. We all do it, and it is forced on us. It is a social media trick they teach in the lectures. At least we are not giving you pictures with dead whales on freight cars...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Can Of Air - Falcon To The Rescue

For years we have sold the Dust-Off brand of canned air made by Falcon. These are the familiar blue and white aerosol cans with the black tops and the red extension tubes that are racked up in the ink,  paper, and chemistry section at the back of the shop.

I guess they aren't actually aerosols - they are compressed air in there. The cans have traditionally cost $ 25 and last for ages in most applications. Good steady seller.

Originally the only use for them I conceived was in printing negatives in an enlarger. The Dust Off can was used to spray over the top surface and under surface of the negative in the holder to blow away dust.

The enlarger has been gone for years but the Dust Off remains - because I have found a raft of new photographic uses for it:

a. Spray the dust off the platen of the Epson V700 scanner. It's a large glass surface and attracts gunk via static electricity. I wipe it with an anti-stat cloth and then the Dust Off and it is pristine.
 The negs and slide also get the spray treatment.

b. It is ideal for blasting dust and grit from the OUTSIDE of cameras prior to changing lenses. Don't use it on the interior mirror or sensor area.

c. Clean the swarf out of the battery compartments on the flash units.

d. Likewise fire the dirt out of the recesses of the Epson R3000 printer. One good trick as well is to keep the R3000 swaddled in the plastic cover it came with in the delivery box. Looks naff but keeps the thing cleaner.

e. When the computer gets dusty inside and runs hot you can blow a blast of air through to to give the cooling fins and fans some help. The Dust Off bottle becomes cold by the expansion of the gas and then you can hold it against the hot section of the outer case of the computer for quick thermal relief.

f. Dust that lens off.

g. Make frothy coffee at the computer desk.

Plus it looks like something out of Game Of Thrones...

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tune-Up Time With Manfrotto

How many of us get a tool kit with our new digital cameras these days? In the old film days it was common for the box containing the SLR or rangefinder camera to have a complete tool pouch including a stilson wrench, set of spanners, lens brace, film jack, and a bottle of optical antiseptic. In the case of some Kodak cameras you got a 8-round clip of .30-06 ball ammunition and a toothbrush.

I think we are being done - nowadays you're lucky to get a battery charger and a squidgy little lens cloth with some. Even the instruction manuals are on a CD...or are a web address.

Well, all that having been said, it is refreshing to see that Manfrotto, the famous Italian tripod and lighting accessory manufacturer, has realised that users of their equipment still like to be able to maintain the goods. Their recent carbon-fibre monopod model is a...well... a model of a good product. It works and will keep on working.

The monopod idea is brilliant for anyone who is toting heavy cameras or lenses and needs some relief from the weight. I spend 4 hours shooting dancers on WA Day with a long zoom and a heavy little camera. The Manfrotto monopod I use - an early cousin of this one - takes all the weight out of my arms and puts it down, while not occupying a big triangular patch of floor. Makes the difference between an easy job and a arm breaker.

Well, like some older Manfrotto CF tripods, this one has three lever claps to adjust the sections. Far faster than screwing the sections together like some cheaper monopods. As they are acting on springs, there will come a time when they grow weaker, and need to be adjusted. This is where Manfrotto have been smart - they moulded a plastic box spanner onto a grip and clipped it to the shaft of the monopod.

If the weather changes or the equipment ages, you just tighten up as you go.

Brilliant. Combine it with the Manfrotto 234 or 234RC tilt top and you've got the smartest quick support in town.