Low-cost lens calvacade #2

A little preamble: many of the lenses I’m trying out here are “pre-set” types where there is one ring to set the minimum aperture stop and a second ring to change between wide open and closed down to the selected number. Using them with ‘Aperture Priority’ mode on the Sony is easy and works well; I often just set the ‘stop’ ring to its limit (f16 or f22 for these lenses) and then just dial it in to where I get the depth of field or shutter speed I want. However with each lens I have tried to take at least one shot wide open so I can see how sharp it is at maximum aperture. This doesn’t always work in bright sunlight even with ISO set at 100 as the Sony’s top shutter speed is 4000. In some cases I’ve shot under lower light conditions just to have a look, but I don’t always include those shots.

The next lens in the line-up is the Cunor 200mm f4.5:

Cunor 200mm

Once again we have a lens without any significant information about its manufacture. No worries, because results are what matter! Ah, shame about that. I wanted to like this lens because a 200mm prime could be useful. Not this one.  I took pictures and then I took them over again. I checked the glass three times. Nothing helped. Particularly not the f4.5 maximum aperture. It takes a lot of glass and brass to make a ‘fast’ lens and this one hasn’t got it and isn’t. Herein I’ve tried to find the best shots it did in the equivalent of a whole roll of film.

Lilac in winter. Full frame shrunk down.

Doesn’t look too bad, right? Now look at a 640×427 segment from the full size image:

Lilac in winter segment.

It’s like that in every shot at any distance or aperture; soft to the point of blurriness. Combined with the ‘slow’ maximum aperture, slightly low contrast, and a somewhat stiff focusing ring and you have a lens I must rate as only ‘fair’. I am not surprised by this however, as I wasn’t expecting great results from a “no-name” brand lens. Colour rendition is okay if a bit muted and no sign of significant chromatic aberration.

With some effort you can get ‘artistic’ results:

Dreamy images are possible.

Okay for full-frame, just don’t look close at the details.

When all else fails, take a picture of the dog.

(The last three shots were post-processed in many ways; the lens does not perform on its own.)

Oh well. Another ‘fair’ lens. We’re 0 for 2 so far.

Case(s) in point

Well the sun is shining today and I’m trying to get some test pictures done. This is being hindered by the fact it’s -12C and that the Sony eats battery like candy. I’m averaging less than 175 pictures per charge with it, and that is far worse than any other digital camera I’ve got. Plus the mirrorless design loves to pick up dirt on the sensor. Frankly the camera is rather a pain to use.

That’s as maybe. I also have some inside work to do, including working on the old brown leather case I got in the deal:

The deal.

Kind of dried out and dirty with signs of damp damage, but not unusable. I have treated it with a couple of applications of Neatsfoot oil and it’s looking better already:

Darker, softer leather.

This picture shows the difference between treated and aged leather:

The inside pockets. Left is treated, right is as-was.

And now a word about Neatsfoot oil. This product was our “go to” treatment for ‘raw’ leather for many years when I was young. We used to call it “banana oil” because it smelled rather like bananas. Used it for all kinds of things from shoes to belts to camera cases. A lot of camera cases! I haven’t had to treat any leather for a long time now for some reason (possibly because it is no longer politically correct to make things out of leather, or possibly because it’s too expensive to). When I bought a new bottle of the stuff … well it doesn’t smell the same at all. That’s kind of a good thing because the ‘old’ smell could best be described as stinking. The question now is: will it work as well? We’ll see. It needs a couple more applications at least; you just keep rubbing it in until the leather won’t absorb any more. I wait a day between each application to give it time to absorb.

The case is already better and usable. Exactly what I will use it for I haven’t decided. I’ve removed the ‘tripod straps’ which were buckle straps on the bottom of the front. Not safe to carry a tripod with them so they’re just in the way. It also needs a better shoulder strap, which will cost more money even if I don’t get a leather one. Always something costing money.

There was a bonus inside the case hidden behind a snap flap at the back: the instruction manual for the Praktica LLC (which I don’t need; either the book or the camera), some notes on how to take pictures, an equipment price listing (which doesn’t match the equipment), and a Kodak Master Photoguide from 1954! I used to have a lot of those old Kodak guides from various years and for various purposes (they had Darkroom Guides as well).

Bonus!

As for the other three cases … the badly damaged black leather one is already in the trash, the blue Hewlett-Packard hard shell I haven’t decided what to do with …

It has no padding inside. Just a big, empty case. Aside from the lens cases I’ve stored in it temporarily.

… and the Canon camcorder case is a puzzler because its insides are the opposite: pre-moulded to fit the equipment it was meant to hold. Modification may be possible, but how and what for I haven’t even thought about.

The Canon ‘fitted’ camcorder case.

In the mean time, back to lens testing!

Low-cost lens cavalcade #1

And so we begin with the series testing the recently acquired M42 mount lenses. The criteria is simple enough; look for sharpness, contrast, chroma, and the very vague “ease of use”. I will post examples showing the characteristics of each lens, but not all of the pictures that contributed to the evaluation. The order of testing is based on my initial thoughts of expected outcome, starting with the likely lowest-quality lens and working up. There will be an “over-all” rating of each along the lines of “poor, fair, good, very good, and excellent”. I’m only expecting one lens to land in that ultimate category.

The camera is the Sony a6000. It could just as easily be the Canon T100 as either is capable of using the M42 mount lenses. For that matter so is the Pentax K100D, although the low resolution of that camera’s sensor as well as other factors make it a poor choice for this experiment. I am trying to do all the pictures alike, using fixed ISO 400 and aperture preferred metering (setting the f stop on the lens and letting the camera pick the shutter speed) to keep things ‘even’ across all attempts. I have cleaned the lenses, in some cases more than once, looked up such info as I could find about each, and did some preliminary shots to explore any potential operational problems.

The process is to take some “general scene” pictures near and far, as well as specific close-ups to check sharpness especially wide open. As mentioned above, not all images will be used in the reports. Also I must repeat that my eyesight is not the best and I have difficulty focusing, especially close where there is limited depth of field to compensate for inaccuracies.

So here we go with the first lens, the Opticam 135mm f2.8:

Opticam 135mm

What can I say? I couldn’t find any solid information on this lens and I wasn’t expecting much from it. That’s exactly what it delivered, although over-all it turned out to be not the worst of the bunch.

At infinity, stopped down, and still “soft”.

As close as it will go, at first glance it looks okay.

Cropped section of the full-size image above. Even the in-focus points are soft.

Contrast and colour rendition are good, no sign of excessive chroma or flare. It just isn’t as sharp as it could be.

Artistic potential. Might even make a good portrait lens.

I truly expected this lens to be a lot worse than it is. Although I don’t think I’ll be using it much and wouldn’t mind passing it on to someone who would, it still earns a rating of “fair to good”. I’m setting it aside for further testing, including trying it on the Canon and Pentax and, most importantly, comparing it to my other two 135mm M42 lenses.

 

We came to an agreement

It’s a bad idea for me to get bored. You know that camera stuff I was boasting about not buying? Well …

The deal.

Anyway it worked out okay. With a Praktica LLC SLR (not a great camera) I figured I’d have some mediocre M42 lenses to play with, right? And yes as I looked at them they were mediocre: a Sun f2.8 28-80mm, an Opticon f2.8 135mmm, a Cunor f4.5 200mm, a Tokina f4.5 80-200mm (which appears to be Canon FD mount but is damaged on both ends), and of course the ‘standard’ Pentacon f1.8 50mm “electric” for the Praktica. Beyond that there are some miscellaneous items like three old flashes, some cheap M42 extension tubes and extenders, plus cases and caps not necessarily matching or fitting anything. In terms of cases the big, blue fibreglass and aluminium Hewlett-Packard one he gave me as a bonus is quite the nicest of them. The black leather one is trash but the brown one can be used with some fixing up.

As it was I didn’t look at everything before I bought it. I figured I was ahead anyway. The seller kept going on about the Canon VHS-C camcorder, which is frankly junk and headed for recycling. But once I had it home and pawed through everything I found the solid gold at the bottom of the brown case: a Pentax Super Takumar f3.5 135mm! Oh some people may say the gold was the Helios 44-2 f2 58mm that was hiding in the same case. The Vivitar f5.6 300mm is probably a pretty nice lens too. Likewise the Vivitar f2.8 24mm. Maybe even the Prakticar f4.5 70-210mm zoom, although likely not as it feels like the cheapest lens ever made. I’m sure the best is not the Meyer Domiplan f2.8 50mm because I’ve had one with my Exacta equipment and they aren’t impressive.

There’s also an old Sekonic meter, but that appears to not be working. Likewise the flashes probably aren’t worth bothering about, not even the Braun 340 SCA.

The likely best lenses.

Anyway that’s ten new-to-me M42 lenses to play with, which should keep me from being bored for a while. If we ever get any sunshine around here again.

Feel free to try and guess the price. You wouldn’t believe it.

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.

Canon T100 versus Sony a6000

In a previous post I demonstrated how the Canon’s 18MP sensor produced identical resolution to the Pentax K100D’s 6MP sensor when shrunk down to “Internet size”.  That is a difference of 3X the pixels producing the same quality image in the end. Really the only advantage to higher resolution is the ability to crop further: ‘post-shooting digital zooming’. With the acquisition of the Sony a6000 it was only fair to see how 1/3 more pixels held up to this axiom.

There are a few other considerations in my comparing the cameras as well, mostly in respect to my personal usage of them. The Sony can adapt almost any old lens by virtue of being mirrorless which gives a great deal more space between the sensor and the lens to accommodate adaptors. Case in point: in order for a Canon FD lens to work on the Canon T100 you need a fairly expensive adaptor with a ‘refocusing’ lens in it, whereas with the Sony it’s just a big metal ring. $40 vs. $20, and that extra piece of added glass will have some effect on the resolution.

Two other operational differences are that the Sony is physically smaller and has an electronic viewfinder. Otherwise they are both APS-C ‘crop sensor’ cameras, albeit with a tiny difference in the crop factor: 1.6 for the Canon, 1.5 for the Sony. Hardly significant, yet it does show up in the pictures.

Dealing with dodgy weather, I first did some pictures using each camera’s standard kit lens: Canon 18-55mm and Sony 16-50mm. Fairly similar, but the Canon is slightly more telephoto at both the wide and narrow ends.

Canon T100

Sony a6000

Another similarity between the two lenses is that neither will win any awards for sharpness. They’re “good enough” for average shots, but not up to my standards. I can see this even with my failed eyesight, so it must be painfully evident to anyone with sharp vision.

Canon T100

Sony a6000

For the record, both cameras were set to “automatic everything” and “standard” colour  to see if they would handle the same scenes differently. On the whole there was only a slight tendency towards less exposure for the Canon. Enough so that it made me go back and check to see if I had set compensation at -1/3 or something. I hadn’t. Colour on both cameras is fine ‘right out of the box’ and I couldn’t see any significant difference in the end results. (I did shoot more pictures than are presented here; these are selected for example purposes.)

Of course to pit camera against camera you have to use the same lens on both, so out came the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar:

Duncan Dog.

Duncan Dog again.

If it weren’t for the obvious clues in labels and field of view you could not tell which was which. Obviously the cameras are comparable quality.

(Note: at retail the Canon cost half what the Sony did, and I wouldn’t have bought the latter had it not been offered at a significant price reduction.)

Now from my personal experience the Sony has four shortcomings:

1). It is smaller, which makes it harder for me to handle. This can possibly be overcome with the addition of an accessory hand grip, but that would be even more money spent.

2). It is mirrorless, and there’s already spots on the sensor again after being cleaned the first time. A bit of a drawback for a camera you would like to change lenses on fairly often in order to use vintage glass.

3). The EVF is noticeably dimmer than the optical finder of the Canon. It has settings for brightness, but this revelation is very significant for me personally.

4). Although the exposure metering in Manual is superior in operational ease to the Canon, the focus is terrible because wide open results in the EVF being a glare of overexposure and you can’t see to focus anything. It is necessary to either switch modes for focusing and then back for exposure or ‘guess focus’ or ‘pre-focus’ – all of which is a pain to do. The Canon does not have this focusing issue due to the optical finder, but checking exposure requires looking at the back screen. (Note that the display symbols in the Sony’s finder are difficult for me to see, but I can manage them and others would have no trouble I suspect.)

What else? Well there is something of a paradox in using the camera with the best, fastest autofocus I have ever seen (better than the Canon or any other camera I have) with manual focus lenses, but there we are. As for obtaining further Sony or third party automatic lenses … egad, the prices! A cheap tele zoom is almost as much as the whole camera cost, and quality primes or long focal length zooms (I tend to shoot telephoto mostly) are twice what I paid for the thing. To be fair, other manufacturers’ glass isn’t much cheaper. Cheap lens tends to equal low quality imaging, hence my fondness for the antique Super Takumars (which are now also insanely priced on the used market when you can find one).

Where do I go from here? To be honest, around in circles. I have debated buying the hand grip ($70) or an FD adapter ($20 – I have one FD lens and it’s not a Canon) or the ‘inexpensive’ tele zoom ($300+) or selling the camera on, and can’t see any way clear.

What I have discovered is my eyesight is terrible and the EVF cameras I have are all now difficult to use because of that. This puts me up against the wall for many things, not the least of which is using my favourite (and ailing) Nikon P610 superzoom for birding. You can not get an optical finder camera with a 65X zoom factor. Not that it would be impossible to make one (imagine a DSLR with a 1/2.3 sensor), they just don’t. The Olympus E410 has a 2X crop factor, but again the lenses available are few and expensive and don’t begin to reach into the Nikon’s 1440mm equivalent range. This is physics spoiling my fun again.

Right now I’m trying to feel proud of myself for not buying a lot of lenses and whatever locally for cheap, and mainly I didn’t do it because the seller couldn’t be bothered to make an itemized list even when I asked for some specifics. Well then I can’t be bothered to drive for over an hour to look and see if any of it is something I can use.

It’s typical that since I have recovered from the operation that the weather has turned bad thwarting any adventures in photography for me. I’m bored, and that’s a dangerous thing.

Oh well at least I don’t live in any of the disaster-struck areas of BC. The effect will no doubt be higher prices on everything, as that’s always what happens, but I haven’t actually lost anything due to the flooding – unlike so many others.

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.