Sunday, February 17, 2013


As Sony fanboys go, I am definitely one of them. Started out as a Minolta user but also got the first Sony HDV camera that landed in Israel, and I've always enjoyed the superb image quality that Sony had to offer over the competition.
That said, the video on the Sony A99 is still in some ways, half baked. It's a great stills camera but some of the video features are lacking. I don't understand why the Modes for video are in a menu separate from the modes dial for video. How come continuous auto focus that was supposed to be a great selling point for Sony SLTs is only available in P mode. There is nothing more bumming out than having the camera switch erratically it's exposure during shoot, sometimes veering to radical shutter settings that are unusable. Even in P mode, I found out during an interview shoot that focus will just not stick, the camera searching frantically for the focus on the wall. I would expect some focus "Search" on a fast moving target, say a person walking towards the camera, but not a rather static interview. This seems to happen if the person being interviewed leans right a little bit, since it seems that the focus relies on a center point in video.
Sony should rewrite or seriously upgrade their video code for the A99, if possible at all, or simply mention that video on a DSLR is still a limited feature. Sure, I could use manual focus, and I do, but in some situations, I would rather have a reliable auto focus on my camera, especially when using a lens such as the 50 1.4.
Now for some positive feedback: Shooting with the EX1,a "real" video camera on the same shoot, it seems that the A99 is much better in some ways. The color is much more accurate, skin tones are betters and highlights do not get overblown.
So I guess we're simply in some sort technological limbo at this point. All the technology exists for creating a great everything-is-included camera, but nobody seem to have the Steve Jobs qualities that you would need to bring out a product that does it all with little compromise.
Last thing about continuous focus. I tried it out on a stills shoot and it looked good at first, but then it  sort of broke apart. I had a person walk down the street, dance a little, turn around. During the turn, focus was definitely lost. Doesn't really matter in terms of a stills shoot, I just told the model to do it again, but in a video documentary situation, sometimes there is no re-doing and you're stuck with an out of focus shot.
So, my recommendation is - don't use the continuous focus feature if you can avoid it, and definitely don't rely on it. Use a monitor and reliable focus pulling and budget for it, you can. I'm still hoping Sony would provide Wi-fi tethering and image viewing on a remote laptop, but that will probably not happen for the A99.

Update: Had another video shoot outside with a young woman hanging from a rope. It was a seriously bright day, but I didn't have to use a ND filter to get a shallow depth of field with my 90mm 2.8 lens, I simply adjusted to M mode and set the shutter to a very fast one. In daylight, unlike my tests with indoor office lighting , the shots looked spectacular.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Elections are over and more about focusing

Finally, the Israeli Elections are over. The party that I was covering, Meretz, doubled it's power which I hope will double my salary on the next elections.
Most photos that I took were okay, some prettier than average, but I did get the chance to sneak in some artistic ones.
Zehava Galon, Party Leader (Zehava means Golden in Hebrew)
I also got some better than expected results when shooting a behind the scenes green screen shoot.

The latitude and the superb color of the A99 are showing here in the way the green looks really good and both the LCD display and the stage are presented nicely in the same shot even though the lighting situation on them on them is totally different.

As for the focusing issues, I am still mostly using manual focus, sometimes pressing the focus button to auto focus. I've also programmed the front button to choose between focus modes, just in case I do want a continuous focus mode which is way better than switching through the menu system which is a seriously silly design. Nobody wants to fumble through myriad menu option on a critical feature such as focus.
The Sony menu system should be re-worked. There are things that photographers do more often such as formatting a card should be in a quick menu or easier to find on a page titled something like "operation".

Waiting for the A99 firmware update, but not holding my breath for anything other than better lens support.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Flash photography at high shutter speeds

I first encountered this when I was shooting this wedding. I set the shutter to faster than 1/200 and suddenly I  get black bars on the frame. Setting the camera temporarily to P mode solve the issue, but of course, I'd rather work in manual mode.
Shutter speed: 1/320 

My good Facebook pal Jon Levi helped me figure that out. It seems that the Sony HVL-F58AM explicitly says that shorter exposure times than 1/200 will create this effect, since the shutter on DSLRs is NOT digital but still works with "curtains" as shown in this explanation:

As you can see in the photo above the "black bar" is actually the frame without the flash hitting anything and the rest in this case is a bit overexposed bit where the flash hit. You can use that for artistic purposes, but probably not a lot of uses for that.

To work around this issue, my flash has an HSS mode. However, though this mode was on when I was shooting, it didn't work for two reasons. One, it doesn't work in flash manual mode, only in TTL which I don't use. Two, I was using my radio flash controller, and HSS requires that the flash be on the camera itself. This strengthens my case for a new and improved flash setup for Sony. Sony wants to be this innovator to win some high end camera market share against Canon and Nikon? This is definitely one ares that could do with a complete overhaul. Sony should totally rethink how people use flash photography and make cheaper ones that are a generation ahead of the competition, perhaps borrow a page out of the Steve Jobs Apple playbook.

Sony, if you are listening I have tons of ideas that could put you well ahead of the competition. Also, I wouldn't mind living in Japan for a while (hint hint).

Update: It seems that some of the issues might be specifically with that A99 model as seen here:

Thankfully I don't need a lot of higher than 1/200 flash photos and I can use low ISO settings to keep the iris open instead of fast shutter.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Political Photographer

I've been contracted by the Meretz Party to cover their pre-election activities. So I will be posting a lot of green photos in the near future.
The first event I covered for them was the new year's party. I took my bicycle to this event, unpacked my gear only to find out that I forgot the Minolta-to-ISO flash adapter. This was my first job for them and already without showing a single photo I was looking really unprofessional. The reason I took it of was that I was using the LCD in reverse mode to shoot some video for another project in the studio. I needed 40 cm more to get the right frame so I placed the camera next to the wall and flipped the LCD. Unfortunately you have to take the adapter off for this to work, and of course I forgot to put it back on.
Luckily, my artsy photographer friend Merav was there and we figured out a plan to use the cellphone flashlight as key light. This worked well with 1600 to 3200 ISO.

Shani looking good with my Samsung Galaxy S3 lighting her from below
and room florescent doing the rest of the work. 

At a certain point, the Meretz art director came in and asked me to take funkier photos like he has seen some other photographer do where the object is in focus and the rest is blurred across the shot. This actually worked well with me not having wireless or any control over the flash. I had Merav hold the flash, opened the shutter for a second or two during which I shouted "Now!" for Merav to activate the flash manually. Low ISO and medium Iris was used so that the camera registered mostly the image lighted by the flash. Once the flash went off I swiped the camera towards building lights in the background and other lights to create the requested effect.

In camera trick photography effects at work

Note to self - should probably get a backup adapter and put in my bag, just in case.