Saturday, December 29, 2012

More dance

I shot another modern dance performance in the same place as before when I had no cameras (waiting for my 580 to be fixed and A99 to be delivered) and used a Canon Rebel T2i instead.
The experience was of course much different. I did have a second photographer using a Canon EOS Kiss X3, shooting at the other edge of the stage as we were not allowed to cross the stage.
We both shot mostly in ISO 3200. I used the 50mm 1.4 lens, and Alon used a 50mm 1.8 lens. If you've ever been to a low budget performance in Israel, you'd know that they light the stage very little. They say it gives more character and drama to the shows.
Personally I think they should always have proper back lighting so we would not be forced to use these high ISO settings. Of course the lower-end Canon camera produced more grainy photos.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hanukkah in high ISO

Generally speaking, I don't like to take pictures in family or friends' parties of any kind. I like to participate in them like other people do, have fun, talk to people, dance, etc... I take photography seriously so it takes time out of my being a regular Joe.
However, from time to time I find myself in a situation where I have to take photos due to various reasons. For example, my mom pressured me into taking pictures at a family gathering for Hanukkah. She now has a few granddaughters and she really likes to have photos of them.
My family at 1600 ISO
It was a nighttime event and I knew the lighting won't be very good so I decided it was a good opportunity to test the high ISO capabilities of the A99. I shot at 1600, 3200, 4000 and 5000 ISOs, previously unheard of. Surprisingly enough , the results were not that bad, certainly better than the A580s. That said, the rules for good high ISO photography seem to be sort of the same as "regular" ISO. You still need to have contrast in order to have a nice image. You can have much less light to work with, but it stills needs to be pretty.
My brother and father at ISO 3200

My niece at 5000 ISO

 On a very different subject I now have an Indiegogo campaign for my upcoming feature film, so if you want to support a most revolutionary film, you can donate here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A little bit of Video

Finally got to use the A99 in a video job. I will probably not post the result video as it is not very pretty due to various reasons beyond my control.
 We shot a hand held scene where I switched focus manually between a newspaper showing some picture and a cellphone animating that picture using Augmented Reality technology. I used my 50mm 1.4 lens exclusively for this.
 I want to thank Sony for the really awesome  LCD on the A99 that lets me do these scenes where I can focus really well using just using the camera's screen. I did practice this quite a lot with the A580, and it works sort of the same and possibly slightly better with the A99.
The director of the video didn't like the crop factor of the video when using stabilization, so I had that switched off at some point.
I also discovered that, at least using the A99, some cellphones, including my Samsung Galaxy S3's display looked very flickery. I tried to change settings on both the A99 and the S3, including shutter speed, but nothing seemed to solve the problem.
 That said, the iPhone 3G and Samsung Galaxy S2 worked well for these shots. The iPad 2 was also a little bit flickerish, but slightly less than the Galaxy S3. I guess this is due to some new super AMOLED spec, with lower refresh rates that the screen traded for sharpness.

We also shot a few test scenes for my upcoming feature, "Spiral" but I will not post these either at this point. I did get a chance to use the flip to the front position of the LCD screen to both setup the shot without the need for a stand-in and to show the actresses how they looked in the shot.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wedding, that Dweem within a dweem

So, finally something serious to test my A99 with, a most joyous occasion.

The place where the wedding was shot was seriously darkish, so we had to rely once more on flash photography.

The A99 is simply fantastic in terms of color reproduction, much better than the competition in my mind, bust serious event photographers might still prefer the likes of Canon 5D MkIII due to the better high ISO performance.
We shot with both my new A99 and my now ancient A580, and of course the A99 produced much more stunning images.  That said, my Sony 20mm 1.8 lens doesn't seem to match well Full Frame, though it's supposed to. There is too much curving distortion at the edges, making people's heads look strange, and made me work furiously with Photoshop to try and compensate, and also make a lot of crops to negate this issue. It works better with the APS-C sized A580.
I also found out that 32GB cards are just not enough for the A99, even when you have two slots.  I should get a 64GB card, but the prices are a little bit steep right now. It is worth to invest in a speedy 90MB/s card as there is never a delay in writing RAW files, even when you shoot a bunch of them. Switching to a slower card, I found some delays when shooting multiple photos that I was used to with the A580.
Why not just buy multiple cards? SD cards sort of scare me. I wish cameras would just come with an internal 256GB or 512GB hard drive and Wifi capability for over-the-air backup.
What happened was that sooner rather than later, my first 32GB was full. I thought that the camera would switch to the next slot, or at least offer to, but it didn't. Instead, you have to go once again through the menus to switch to the other slot. Bare in mind that the playback and recording slots are not necessarily the same. This should definitely be addressed. When in a hurry, you don't want to go through menu options. It's bad enough that switching between focus modes is also a menu option. There should be a button to go through them. Maybe, when video recording is disabled when not in video mode, the record button should switch between focus modes.
So, verdict is - great camera, not that great a work when it comes to to human interface design. Please, Sony, next time you have a new camera, please send it to me so I can check it out and let you know how it performs in real life :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Naming and Dance

I name all my cameras.
My first SLR, being a Minolta was called Mina. Since then I had Sonja (A350), Sonja 2.0 (a580) and now, I'm going to call my new A99, Fefe, since it's a Full Frame camera. I briefly considered calling it "Slut" since it's my first SLT, but I seem to have more respect for it.
So this is what Windows explorer tells me about RAW files from the A99 are like from a technical perspective:

42 Bit depth? Seriously? How can this be? Something somewhere is off.
Spent an hour today shooting dance practice in Studio Naim on Salame st, where I practice Yoga, Pilates and Dance. Yes, I like doing all kinds of things.

The shot above was of course made with my brand new 20mm 2.8 Sony Lens. Can't stress how the new auto focus capabilities help when shooting dance, leaving me with a lot of focused shots to choose from.

Fun with mirrors

I am still working on my feature film, hoping to use crowd funding soon to fund, and will post link to it when that happens.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday, war still raging

As I mentioned in my last post my country is at war, so from time to time rockets fall from the sky, especially in south of Israel, while Gaza is being heavily bombarded.
I started this day thinking that I would take some nice shots in the morning, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. They were not very good, something was off and it wasn't the fault of my new A99 camera.
I did release one photo in the morning but I actually took this one with my cellphone while throwing away my biological waste. It's actually composed of three shots I stitched in Photoshop. Could have probably done a better job at that, but heck, it's a cellphone shot.
The day picked up when I was at my friend Sivan's place and took photos of her cats. Cats are easy to shoot, almost too easy, but the lighting was extra good and the carpet really nice.
Sivan's cat and some of me
Then I want to lunch at my parents' place and took some photos of my new twin nieces.

So, basically, animals and babies, the easiest subject on Earth. At least I was shooting RAW and the photos looked extra good. Beware of continuous shooting though! It is really fast and doesn't slow whether you're using RAW or JPEG (at least with my 94MB/s Extreme Pro 32GB SanDisk card).
IMHO, unless you're shooting someone running or dancing, you should really choose the continuous Lo mode or be stuck with a lot of near identical photos of the same subject.
I am using Irfanview to filter through the RAW footage and delete the photos I'm not going to use. Sure, eventually all footage goes through Lightroom, but for the initial selection, this freeware is much faster saves me a bunch of time.The best way to do this is NOT to delete photos of the card, as sometimes you might regret hastily deleting a photo. You should copy the card's contents to your hard drive, then use ifranview for deletion, and then Add the photos using Lightroom. Don't forget to empty your Windows trashcan when you're through. You can also retrieve a photo deleted by mistake from the card.
I finished the day by going to yet another anti-war demonstration.
Video interviewer at the demonstration

Stop the occupation, siege and racism
This time I was using the 50mm 1.4 lens. Viewfinder was a little dark. As the manual says, you can brighten the viewfinder manually from the menu.
So, no video testing from now, but I seriously want to do a music video and some lengthy shooting with the A99 when shooting a play on Friday.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anti War Demonstration

So, as I mentioned, country is at war, so I decided to take my camera and shoot some anti-war demonstrations, one in Jaffa and one in Central Tel-Aviv. The one in Jaffa was kind of small and ended when we heard sirens and a missile landing, probably at sea.
Took photos, still in JPEG mode. RAW testing still ahead. I used my wireless flash for the shots, helped by my AP, Alon Sherf . You can see or feel him just at the edge of some of the shots. As I explained in previous posts I put my camera in M mode for the shots, fast shutter, 800 ISO, Iris at 2.8 and use the flash in a low brightness setting. Lighting was really awful in almost all of the shots, almost brown in color, so the flash was quite necessary.
I started out with my 50mm 1.4 lens but as the people got into tight lines facing the road I was forced to switch to 20 2.8 and stayed with it until the end of the shoot.
Discovered a few things. The default settings of the camera do not allow for manual focusing with my lenses and the MF/AF front sliding button is gone. The back AF/MF button does NOT switch from auto focus to manual focus, unless you press FN and switch it to MF or DMF modes. Kind of weird, but I will adapt.
I was also looking furiously for the delete photo button just to discover that the trash can is painted blue and not visible at night (though you can still see the AF Range on the button, in bright white.
Really like how I can use the LCD and the A99 detects my eye going for the OVF and automatically switches. Thank you Sony, for making this that easy for me. Also, camera responsiveness and clarity of photos much better than my now ancient A580, most probably due to it being a full frame camera, and partially due to the improved new image processor.
My wireless system is really clunky so if anyone can recommend a radio wireless system that works well with Sony's cameras, I am willing to shell a few more Shekels for this.

My AP Alon at work, visibly holding the flash in the middle of the shot
Almost forgot, it seems that Lightroom 4 doesn't have a profile for the Sony 20mm 2.8 lens :( it is a pity since there is some noticeable edge issues. Any workarounds other than set it to auto?

It's here!

Historic day, got my camera and my country is at war again. So, I guess you've got to take the good with the bad.

My first A99 shot, with the jpeg engine:
Salesman working in the Fotofilm store where I got my A99

It actually looks kind of good, considering the fluorescent lighting in the store, better than other cameras I've tested in the store, including my previous A580.
My brand new A99 (shot with my olden A580, 50mm 1.4 lens)
Going to test RAW soon. The camera itself is very nice. I don't particularly like the Finder/LCD button, which is really small (I like the A580 slider button) but maybe it will grow on me. Interesting to find out that the default display when switching to LCD mode is not to show any picture at all. Kind of confusing, then you press the "Disp" button and you get to see the picture.
The camera is full of bells and whistles some of which are seriously useful like being able to see if you are shooting straight. I have to confess that though I've been shooting pictures for a long time and people really like my stuff (which you can see at I sometimes tend to tilt to the right, especially when I try all kinds of angles which only a pro Sony camera with a tilting LCD screen can do.
I also got a Sony 20 2.8 lens because I really need an automatic wide lens for nice top and low angle shots which are greatly helped by auto focusing (I guess the 100+ focus points will help)
Got a customer coming in so I have little time for further test, but I will report later on how the camera works in real life projects.

Tested wireless flash connectivity. Since the A99 doesn't have a built-in flash, you cannot control external flashes wirelessly without having one attached.  With the A580 you could use the built in pop-flash flash to control other flashes. Sure, it wasn't a quality flash, but still was useful when shooting from afar, and since being less brighter then the side and back flashes I used, it produced some nice photos (some of which you can see here.)

I did test my "Shoot" radio wireless controller which uses the old Minolta hotshoe, using the the ISO-to-Minolta connector supplied with the camera and it works without a hitch.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Waiting is hard and a tip regarding flash photography

So, I'm still waiting for my Sony A99 and my A580 still has a stabilizer malfunction, so I am basically camera-less. As mentioned before, I did borrow a few Canon Rebel DSLRs which have proven to be somewhat inferior in terms of color reproduction and focusing.
So while you and I wait, I think it's the right time to talk a little bit about flash photography. Since I was using cameras that were not my own, I couldn't use any of my wireless flash setup. Initially, I hated flash photography and did everything I could to avoid it. The camera flash was awful, and even more then that, everywhere I looked, photographers with larger than life flashes made pictures look awful. Coming from the film/video world, I was accustomed to elaborate constant studio lighting setups, so a single light pointed directly at someone's face look quite horrible to me. Sure, video shooters also did that when doing interviews, with the on camera light, but again, this didn't look good to me. People's faces looked too bright and flat with a light pointed directly at them.
Some of the more sophisticated photographers that I met simply turned their more expensive flashes sideways, towards the wall, where their light bounced and also had a generally more pleasing color. However, working a lot in events taking place in the open air (demonstrations, weddings, parties) it is more often than not that you do not have a wall. Sure, you could bound a flash off some unsuspecting guest, but here or she might no appreciate that much and the results are of uncertain nature.
Once I discovered my A580 worked wirelessly with my flashes, I started working with assistant photographers and some occasional flash holders to light people from the side front, and sometimes, with two flashes, also give them a nice back light. I placed flashes in discreet places and also got a cheap radio transmitter setup for my flashes for use in more complicate scenarios.
That said, I kept thinking how I could improve on my flash photography photos, especially in event photography in low-light situations (which are frequent). What I decided to do was not to dismiss the available light. Sure, I could always dial ISO to 100 and crank up the flashes. However, that kills the flash batteries real quick and sometimes produces a photo which it too high contrast "dramatic" in its feel, which some customers are not into. Instead, I decided on using ISO 800 as standard in low-light scenarios, dialing it down to 400 or below if light improves. Though I still prefer the flash to light front right or front left, I could also use a mounted flash in some situations.
 The trick is to use your camera in M mode. set the shutter to 1/50 if people are just standing around or faster if they are moving or gesticulating a lot. The iris should be set to whatever you think would provide the right depth of field for your shot. The flash should be set to the lowest intensity that produces a visible result. Set flash area to a 75mm or less wide, even if you're using a different lens. This would light the object in the middle of your shot just enough for the shot to look nice without casting light everywhere.
Here is an example I shot in a CityTree party on saturday, using my assistant's Canon DSLR, standard Zoom lens dialed to 18mm and a mounted flash:

Acro-Yoga in the people's house CityTree party

As you can see, the end result is that I use as much as possible the light that occurs naturally in the location and merely boost it a little, so the sunset behind the buildings, still looks quite well. There's some grain and a little bit of color noise on the left right wall, but that wouldn't happen with a better lens or camera which I will have in less than two weeks time (fingers crossed).
I just hope that my current radio wireless flash setup will work with the new A99 ISO mount. More on that, when I get new camera and be able to test it.

Got my A580 back, and will be taking pictures of my sister after giving birth to two babies, any time now.
Also, spoke to my camera repair guy, and we both agreed that it would be nice to have a highlight photography setting for flash control in the camera. It works as follows: you set the camera manually using M mode and the camera sets the flashes to provide as little light as possible to have a stable and noise free photo. It should, of course, also set the ISO speed.
Optionally, we could have manual control using Wifi for our flashes, but that is some far fetched futuristic technology only aliens have at the moment.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few updates:

My Sony A580 is still being serviced so I've been using a fee Canon Rebel cameras I borrowed from friends. I really miss the tilting LCD :( Hoping to get it back today or early next week.

And.... I can finally order the Sony A99 and I am going to do just that sometimes in the next few days. I just need to tie up the financing and go to the camera store on Alenbi st. They say it gets here within two weeks. Naturally, I'm a little skeptical, but also happy that I can finally get it and write some more interesting things in  this blog.

Also, started working on my first feature, "Spiral". Some of the shots in the movie will be done using the A99, but I'm seriously considering shooting most of the movie using a phone camera, maybe the Nokia Lumia 920, if I can get it. I will explain why probably in some future post :)

Update -
Just ordered my brand new Sony Alpha A99. Should probably get some other stuff with it, but it is kind of a hefty expenditure, so I guess I can just tell you what my wish list contains:

New Sony unit that fits the A99 ISO mount
20mm 1.8 FF lens
Video accessory
Separate sound recorder, just in case.
Some sort of brace mount for video work, but which one?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

So why are we here?

I've started out as a photographer with a Minolta film SLR that I bought on vacation in Eilat. I didn't know a whole lot about photography back than and it was quite a different world back than. Having purchased a few cameras since than, I sort of stuck to Sony. Every time I was going to buy a camera, whether it was stills or video, Sony had the right innovation and pricing for me. Also, I had a good experience with Sony equipment,  in rain, sand and snow and had very few malfunctions. Not long ago I had a problem with my Sony A580 picture stabilizer, but even though it was dead, the camera actually continued working and earning me revenue rather than showing one of those infuriating service-your-camera error numbers that you get with Canon equipment.
The Sony Alpha 580 is a good, surprisingly small DSLR which I got because I really needed to shoot some video along with the stills I was already shooting.  However, as I became more serious as a photographer and a videographer I sort of outgrew it. The short length of videos that you can take, overheating, and slow weak processor made it difficult to use on a lot of occasions. It's automatic focus is really not that good and if you shoot with a long shutter you have to wait a few seconds for it to recover. If you shoot a few shots, one after the other, the camera will take its sweet time processing them and writing to the card, even if it's a fast SD card.
I thought of getting the Sony A77 or even switching to Canon or Nikon. I have a few friends with Canon, so I could borrow lenses and other accessories from them if needed. However, if there was one thing that I really liked about the 580 was the tiling LCD screen which I constantly use in various photography and videography scenarios. It allowed me to be more creative in my work and in my art.
Canon and Nikon, however, do not like to put these "video-like" LCDs into their high-end models. I briefly considered the Canon EOS 60D, but it was sort of comparable in features to what I already had, only with some manual video control. Also, all the projects which I shot with both Canons and my own Sony cameras showed the Sonys to have superior color reproduction.
So, Sony A77? It seemed like a solid APS-C camera, but some reviews were a little negative with regards to the OVF technology, which is fancy for digital viewfinder. I also discovered that some the photos I took could not really be printed in large format as they weren't sharp enough or had enough pixels. I was working on a photography project which was much suited to large printing, so this was a little annoying. I thought of getting a medium format film camera for completing this project but instead decided on buying a full-frame camera, the Sony A99, as full-frame cameras produce sharper images and the 24MP image is not to big yet large enough to fit the sensor and lenses.
Time went by and Sony sort of delayed the A99 announcement, which brought me back to considering the A77, but one very small thing convinced me to wait. The A77 doesn't have a ear plug phones socket, which I sometimes seriously need to ensure that sound is good when recording occasional interviews.
So, I got funding for the A99 (not cheap) and was glad to see that Sony invested a lot of thought into making that model a very good stills/video hybrid with almost all features that I could need and then some more.
So right now that only thing keeping me from having one is that fact that it is not sold yet in Israel, where I live.
I've asked two of my Sony vendors to figure out how much it costs to get it here. I guess it will take about two month at least for me to hold the A99 in my hands but I am seriously excited and will definitely write some more when I get to actually order it.
For now, you can look at what can be accomplished, even with the limited video capabilities of the A580, as shown here in the music video I did for Adi Ulmansky when I first got the camera and the Sigur Ros video I made recently.