Sony Albinar

These pictures were taken with the Sony a6000 and the FD-mount Super Albinar 28mm f2.8 lens.

Antlers
Sideways Ice
Monochrome Sunrise
Surface Ice
Snowscape

The camera is for sale, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with it and it is a good camera, only I have difficulties using it with my large hands and poor eyesight. I will include the Super Albinar & adaptor as well as the M42 adaptor and one of the not-so-good ‘classic’ lenses recently tested: Opticam f2.8 135mmm, Cunor f4.5 200mm, Sun f2.8 28-80mm, or Prakticar f4.5 70-210mm. Or not if you’d prefer. Frankly that Sun lens is pretty bad and the others only a step above it. Asking price is $600 not including shipping which is pretty outrageous to anywhere even within Canada.

All these pictures were taken in colour and converted to black & white. Sometimes post-processing is your friend. For example here’s what ‘Antlers’ started out as:

Original version of ‘Antlers’

If you think these photos are all no good, well I’m not surprised: I can’t actually see what I’m doing anymore so every step from the initial composition to the finish product is largely guesswork.

The digital zooming thing

Or more accurately the “post-shoot digital zooming thing”. Or the “making use of 24MP” thing.

The premise is that with a high resolution sensor you can crop quite a small portion out of the full frame and still have a reasonably sharp image to present. This is the opposite of demonstrating why high MP sensors aren’t any advantage once the picture is reduced to ‘normal’ size. Let’s see how it works.

The camera: Sony a6000 with 24 MP sensor. The lens: Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 (the sharpest lens I own). The subject: a dollar store decoration cardinal standing in for a real bird because it won’t fly away while I’m photographing it. The distance: approximately 50 feet.

This is one picture cropped four ways and ending up at 1500 x 1000 each time.

Full frame, shrunk down to size. Bird is a red spot.

 

One quarter frame: 3000 x 2000 crop, centered on the bird. Still a red spot.

 

Approximately one eighth crop. You can almost tell it’s a bird.

 

One sixteenth. This is a 1500 x 1000 segment of the full frame.

As you can see, 1/16 of the full frame is about the maximum limit. It is already “soft” and it still doesn’t reveal the bird very well. Of course 50mm isn’t much focal length (about 75mm equivalent) so for actual birding a longer lens would do better. What we’re studying here is the cropping effect on resolution. This size is slightly larger than my ‘normal’ image presentation, and it is noticeably soft even to my eyesight. Applying the “unsharp mask” doesn’t help.

So what do we learn? We learn there is no substitute for being close to the subject in the first place, whether in actual distance or by use of telephoto lens (which adds its own problems due to looking through increased atmosphere). You can make use of some digital zooming this way, but don’t expect it to be a substitute for multiples of focal length.

By the way, this is the third experiment I did like this. I’m using the examples from this one because they present the best demonstration with the best lens. I have also done it with the 135mm Vivitar, with similar results. If anything the longer focal length adds to the drop-off in sharpness because longer lenses tend not to be as sharp. In other words the digital cropping will not only magnify the image, but any flaws in it as well.

The third experiment utilized the Soligor 85-205mm zoom and a Pentax 2X extender as I was trying variations to see how having an actual long lens would affect the field of view. Or to put it simply, to see if buying the 50-210mm Sony zoom would give enough focal length to make birding pictures possible. The result was “no”. Disregarding the softness of the lens, the field of view was not magnified sufficiently to make for good identification of the bird.

From 60 feet, taken with the Soligor at 205mm (307mm equivalent).
Same spot, but this taken with the Nikon at 1440mm equivalent.

As you can see, for birding a long focal length is desirable because you probably won’t be able to get close to them physically. In fact having the wide zoom range is valuable because you never know how far away you will be when you spot something. This is why I like the Nikon P610, although it needs a faster zoom control and better viewfinder. Hence my recent reference to the desirability of an actual DSLR with a tiny 1/2.3 sensor. But that’s not going to happen. Nor will any manufacturer come up with a digital “sport finder”: a wider frame of view with a centered square indicating the actual image area so small objects can be spotted more easily and brought in close. Perhaps some camera has this, but I haven’t seen it.

I’m still at sixes and sevens about the Sony a6000. It is a very good camera and does produce excellent results. For the most part it’s easy to use and has great lens adaptability. There are only a few flaws, and I can’t quite decide if they are too much to put up with. I think I need to use it more before determining whether it’s worth sinking additional money into or selling it off for whatever I can get.

New camera, old lenses

The camera is the Sony a6000, great for adapting vintage glass to. The lenses are noted with the pictures.

Super Albinar 28mm f2.8 (Canon FD mount), hand-held to the camera.
Super Takumar 28mm f3.5 (Pentax M42 mount), using Neewar adapter.
Super Takumar 35mm f2 (Pentax M42 mount), hand-held to the body. Desaturated to eliminate the thorium yellowing. Also it looks better this way.
Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 (Pentax M42 mount), using Neewer adapter.
Segment of the above photo cropped from full frame at 100%. You can blow it up to 200%, that’s how good that lens is.
Vivitar 135mm f2.8 (Pentax M42 mount), using Neewer adapter.
Soligor 85-205mm f3.8 macro zoom at 85mm (Pentax M42 mount), using Neewer adapter.
Segment of a full-frame image taken with the Soligor in macro mode at 85mm (it is sharpest at that focal length and falls off noticebly towards 205mm).

The camera itself does not add much to the classic lens experience, except being able to handle the FD mount properly if I were to get an adapter. Buying a $35 adapter for one $5 lens doesn’t make much sense. Also the Sony’s “back button problem” mention in a previous post is a real pain with longer, heavier lenses. However I did want to see how the combination of the truly excellent 50mm f1.4 lens and the 24MP sensor is. I’d say it’s “astounding”.

A note about the Neewer adapter: I read several complaints about this which come under the heading of “try reading the instructions”; the basic problem being people not recognizing the need to loosen the set screws after putting the lens on and then turning it to get the information line on top. If you do this (and tighten the screws afterwards) the lenses screw in properly. None of mine were off any noticeable amount after the initial adjustment. Also someone whined that the inner ring pushes in the aperture pin “and affects the focus”. Well no, it has nothing to do with the focus and it is supposed to push the pin in: that essentially turns any ‘automatic only’ lens (such as the Soligor I have) into a manual lens as well as making any auto/manual switchable lenses manual only. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do; you need to learn how to use manual lenses.

I admit I have a very difficult time with manual focus, especially close up. I just do not see well enough anymore, so my best results are with ‘fixed focus’ settings or out of pure luck. That is the fault of my eyesight, not any of the equipment used.

I’m setting this to publish the day I’ll be under anaesthesia. If there’s a next post it means I survived because even though I have further pictures taken in my mad dash to try everything I could think of I haven’t put the posts together.

So no posthumous posting.

 

Second look at the Sony

Okay so I’ve used the a6000 a bit more in varying conditions and not always the best weather. Sunshine is occasional around here and when it is clear it gets cold. That’s as may be.

I’ve found a couple of things I don’t like. The first is that the SD card is right up against the hinge side of the access door, which makes it very difficult to remove/replace. Oh sure you’re supposed to use the wifi connection or a USB cable to download your pictures. No thanks. I like being able to change cards. It’s one thing to grasp the simple economics of putting it with the battery under one bottom door (unlike certain other cameras that give memory a separate, side-access compartment as it should be). It’s quite another to grasp that tiny card with big fingers and wiggle it in/out when it’s so close to the door. Something is going to break there. Beyond my patience.

Another problem is the camera’s tiny size. The pad of my thumb keeps hitting the controls on the back and suddenly it thinks I want to change the ISO or it brings up one of the other functions connected with the various buttons which on this camera are quite close to the edge. Along that same line, the knurled adjustment knob on top which is easily moved with the thumb when in shooting position is right next to the ‘PASM’ knob which is also easily moved with the thumb – when you’re trying to adjust the other. Like so many things these days it is not designed for operation by people with large hands.

I’ve had some trouble with the EVF too, in that it needs a proper eye cup to block light when the sun is low and coming from the side. Likewise the fold-up LCD isn’t much good as a waist-level finder because the automatic eye-detection is too close to your body then, blocking the light that triggers it. I’m sure there’s a menu option somewhere to turn that off.

So let’s see how the lens evaluation went. I’d rate it as “good”, but not “very good” and certainly not “excellent”. That power zoom switch is a nuisance, and I kept forgetting to use the zoom ring. Two ways to do one thing is redundant, and redundancy is only needed as a safety against failure (which this isn’t). Let’s look at the pictures:

It can be artistic in B&W. But then so can the Lumix ZS60.
“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!”
Wild rose. Medium sharpness.
Segment of the previous shot at 100%.
There’s a bird.
Again a segment of the previous shot at 100%.

Let’s discuss the last two images. My intention for this camera was to use it for ‘birding’, hoping the 24MP sensor would allow enough digital zooming to make up for the limited lens range. Now if you know birds you can see from the segment that is a bald eagle. But you wouldn’t want to hang that picture on your wall. The kit lens only goes to 50mm (75mm equivalent). The full size frame of the picture looks sharp enough, but that sharpness vanishes when cropped this much. How much could we get away with? Good question. At any rate this lens is clearly inadequate for the task. Lenses are available up to 200-ish mm (300mm equivalent) and I have an experiment planned to see how that works before plonking down the outrageous price for one.

One more picture with this lens to see how it does on close-up:

Rose thorns again.

Unremarkable.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: there is already dirt on the sensor (a more frequent problem with mirror-less than with DSLR cameras).

(Note: this post and the next one are pre-planned as I’m going in hospital for a procedure and probably won’t be up to doing much for a while.)

Surprise! Sony a6000: first impressions.

Apologies to anyone who had a sudden heart attack or stroke or even just a coughing fit upon reading that title. Yes, I managed to get my hands on a Sony a6000 with 16-50mm kit lens. How? Well it came about as a confluence of three things:

1).  Eric L. Woods repeatedly pointing out how good Sony cameras are. I trust his judgement.

2). The camera being available in a local store, which happened to put it on sale (see below).

3). I was bored, and since ego-Bay has declared me Public Enemy #1 I can not relieve that boredom with inexpensive used photography equipment so I am forced to buy new if anything.

Now the a6000 is a camera I have considered and dismissed before. It has advantages such as higher resolution, the ability to adapt almost any lens to it, and supposedly faster focusing. You can see where I was going with it: the combination of 24MP and a 300mm lens on an APS-C format coupled with fast autofocus should make for a good ‘birding’ camera. I take a lot of pictures of birds. Or at least I do if I can. Lately things have been conspiring against me there. The problem, as always, was the price. Sony cameras are not cheap, at least not in Canada. I was actually toying with the idea of buying one, along the lines of “yeah maybe if they put it on sale I will”. Well they did, so I did. This was not the usual “$20 off” sale either. It was a clearance sale of more than 1/3 off! Funny thing is, they didn’t advertise it as such. Not even as a sale. The price just happened to go down. I fully expected to go into the store and be told “that was a typo”, which would have stopped me from buying it. It wasn’t, and I did.

The next big problem was the weather, which has been most uncooperative for every activity of late, except for getting soaked and freezing. Pretty good at that. Also being plastered with mud. So the first picture was by no means a fair test, but it does tell us some things:

Low light, low quality.

The exposure and colour are accurate to the scene. But when you zoom in you see that as is typical of today’s cameras the claimed high ISO rating is nothing but a number from the PR department: the noise level on any setting above 800 (for APS-C) is unacceptable even with both noise reduction settings on. Close up you see ‘palette knife’ quality, not ‘film grain’ quality:

Blotchy at high speeds.

It would be unfair to compare this to my Canon 1Ds because that has a larger sensor, fewer pixels (allowing more light per), and cost $8,000 when new. I will be comparing it to the Canon T100 when I can.

Let’s talk about ergonomics. This cameras is well thought-out, with only a couple of “mystery buttons” and a few illogical placements. On the whole nothing that would upset you much. Let’s face it I have ten different digital cameras now and even the three from the same manufacturer don’t have the same buttons in the same places. This and an inability to remember how I have each one programmed is why I prefer dedicated controls. The menu system, that bane of digital photographers everywhere, is the best I’ve seen yet. It’s not organized the way I would do it, but it is straightforward and intuitive.

My greatest praise is for the EVF. It is large, bright, and clear. You could almost think you were looking at an optical finder, it is that good. It has a diopter, but with my eyesight there no sense bothering trying to adjust it. Likewise the LCD display is good, but there’s no such thing as one of these that can be seen in bright daylight. The ability to tilt it into a pseudo waist-level finder is intriguing, but I suspect self-defeating. I shall have to try that out one day. If it ever stops raining here.

Picture Number Thirty-five.

There we have it: almost an entire ‘long roll of film’ into use and it produces its first artistic image. This is mainly due to me messing about trying to take images in lousy conditions. The fact is the camera passes the #1 test: it produces perfectly good pictures right out of the box on ‘Program’. In fact it has four program modes, including ‘intelligent’, ‘intelligent scene’, and ‘scene’ as well as the basic ‘P’ setting. I tried them in sequence and I could see some difference, but not so much so as to say “this one is better” nor do they produce any difference you couldn’t get with a 10% tweak in GIMP. Why manufacturers insist on cluttering up cameras with useless and redundant technology I don’t know. Save that stuff for the poor sods who think they can take great photos with their smart phones.

“If I hide behind this bush you can’t see me.”

Colour rendition in ‘standard’ mode is nice and subtle with a good tonal gradient. In fact it is highly reminiscent of a CCD sensor. Turning it up to ‘vivid’ gives a bit more saturation and contrast, but doesn’t go overboard and still retains that film-like quality. At this point I hadn’t even turned off the auto white balance.

Some more praise: the autofocus is as fast as everyone says. It’s especially good once you turn off the ridiculous multi-point system (really, kids; there’s one subject in your photo and you can’t have the camera trying to make 149 different spots ‘it’). It has continuous focus too, which I like but know is a battery-eater.

Of course with any camera the lens is the thing, and here … well I will withhold praise. At this point I’d say it’s a ‘good’ lens, but not very good and certainly not on par with the Super Takumars or the Nikon P610 (really camera makers should be embarrassed that they don’t equip their products with lenses as good as a 6-year-old, $400 ‘bridge’ camera). One thing about the lens that drives me crazy is the ‘power zoom’. Leave that for the point-and-shoot models, Sony. There are two reasons I don’t like this method in general, and one more specifically to this edition: zoom motors are much slower than twisting a ring, they are less accurate for fine adjustment, and in this case the control is in an annoying location. Using this almost-a-zoom-ring button is really irritating. I also don’t think the lens needs to ‘power expand/collapse’; that’s just more complexity to go wrong at some point.

Heart of stone.

Give me some good light and I’ll try this camera out fully, including putting it head-to-head with the like-sized-sensor Canon T100. It will be interesting to see if 1/3 more pixels has any realistic value (the Sony has two digital zoom settings built in: I’ve tried both and they are not impressive).

Now let’s talk money. The big stumbling block I’ve come up against is that a decent long-range telephoto zoom for this camera is $1,000+! That’s the same thing that stopped me using the Olympus E410 for ‘birding’; the longest zoom cost three times what the camera and two other zooms cost! Adapting other lenses isn’t the answer either, as without the excellent and fast autofocus you lose one of the main advantages. Adapting other AF lenses tends to be expensive and problematic; you may as well pay for the Sony lens to begin with and be assured of it working. Just some advice from the old man: if you go adapting lenses, be prepared to go manual everything. Do not expect any sort of automatic connection to work, no matter what the claim from the maker.

On to the big question: was this a sensible purchase? I’m invoking the Eric L. Woods defense here; I like it, leave me alone. Would I have bought it at full price? Absolutely not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, though. It is a very good camera and not at all disappointing.

Now here’s the kicker: you want one? I’ll sell you this one quite reasonably. I have nothing against the camera, and I haven’t even tried it out fully yet, but I know it’s not going to fit with my shooting style. That’s a bit of a bummer, to say the least.

Unless someone would like to pony up $1,000 for a tele lens? I can’t afford it. Oh well, we’ll see what happens next what with my upcoming surgery and all.

What I need is good weather.