Initial Impressions – a Sony A7R and some old Olympus OM lenses.

This detailed post is the result of a bad back, a feeling of dissatisfaction with a camera and remembering something from years ago – just so you know….

Forgetting I’m not 18 years old any more I badly strained my lower back helping someone move out of a shop over Christmas. Since then, carrying a Canon 5d MK2, a Sigma 50mm f1.4, a 70-300mm and a 24-105 ‘L’ on long photo trips has become painful.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Taken with the A7R and Zuiko 50mm f1.4 at ISO 100 with the shadows pulled up slightly – remarkable!

Secondly, apart from the weight, a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the 5dMk2 has been brewing lately – it’s not that much better than my 60D so it’s turning into a paperweight. It’s also irritatingly bad at attracting dust onto the sensor. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 though is possibly the best lens I’ve ever used, but again it’s very heavy and is turning into a ‘stay at home’ lens.

Zuiko 28mm f2  Sony A7R

The Zuiko 28mm f2 @ ISO 1600.

Thirdly I remembered what I always wanted from digital photography when it started to become viable, and that was a full frame digital back for my OM1N. 10Mp would have been fine, but for probably obvious reasons it was never done…..

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A size comparison clockwise from top left – the A7R, (full frame 36Mp), the Oly EPL5 (micro 4/3 16Mp), the Oly OM2N (er film!) and the Canon 5d Mk2 (full frame 20 Mp). The Sony is taller than the OM2N but narrower and with the adaptor weighs almost exactly the same.

So – what to do?

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R Novoflex adaptor

The Sony with the E-mount (or NEX) adaptor to Olympus OM. Its fits tightly with no lens ‘wobble’ and feels precisely engineered.

Something radical is called for. Trade the 5D and the Sigma 50 1.4 for a Sony A7R body and a Novoflex adaptor and go completely ‘manual focus’ using my old OM lenses. In size the Sony is around the same size and weight as an OM2/1 though the mount adaptor adds some extra length to lenses and it’s slightly taller. Some tinkering with the kitchen scales showed I’d been routinely carrying around 13 lb (6 kg) of kit (including a tripod) which could be more or less halved, This will be very welcome on long hikes. It will also yield up easily cropped 36 MP images, and more resolution is always welcome, though I wasn’t sure if the old OM primes were up to it.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Pixel peeping a 50mm f1.4 shot taken at f8 ISO 100.

 

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Detail from the centre – I hadn’t even seen the gent in the window but he was recorded in some detail! The edges are inevitability slightly softer but better than expected. The centre is amazingly sharp.

 

Initial impressions of the body are very good. It didn’t take long to set up (i.e. switching to RAW, airplane mode on, configuring the function buttons) the build quality seems excellent and it feels light and solid with well damped and placed controls. Reassuringly it ‘glued’ itself to my smaller hands immediately – almost tailor-made. The camera bag fully loaded with 17mm to 135mm lenses can now be carried effortlessly and has lots of room left over.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Sony A7R

The 17mm f3.5 – I really thought this lens would be very soft but at f8-f16 it’s not bad at all even at 36 MP.

 

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Sony A7R

It’s possible to just make out the writing on the bench plaque.

The viewfinder is electronic (an EVF) and delivers a view roughly comparable to Oly’s VF-4 – i.e. very good. The information displayed in the viewfinder of the Sony is better organised around the image rather than over it and seems a little crisper, but there’s not much in it. Occasionally the Sony seems to need time to think over things, when moving around menus or if switched on soon after switching off, but it’s nothing I’d really complain about.

Manual focus using ‘peaking’ isn’t as precise as using the ‘focus magnify’ feature which nails focus every time (as per the EPL5). What’s slightly disturbing is that the OM lenses which I’ve used for thirty years have much less depth of field than I’d thought – the A7R shows the focus point moving very rapidly as the focus is racked and focussing for critical sharpness is tight. I can only guess at how approximate the split image/microprism method of focussing is on the OM1/2. On a 60D or a 5d focussing using the optical viewfinder is vague to say the least – hence some past sub-par results.

Zuiko 85mm f2 Sony A7R

The 85mm f2 though trickier to focus is good too.

Post processing takes a little longer due to the size of the RAW files. The 7360 x 4912 RAW files are around 35Mb, and DXO Optics 9 produces huge JPEG files of the same size or larger! Photoshop compresses the JPEGS more efficiently to around 8-15Mb. Opening and saving files takes a few seconds longer than 20Mb images too and DXO Prime noise removal takes around 4 minutes (vs 2 minutes for 20Mb files).

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 wide open producing some showy bokeh. Shots wide open with this lens always need some chromatic aberration correction in PP.

The lack of an anti alias filter seems to make the resolution of the OM lenses shine through. When you can really nail the focus, shoot at a high enough shutter speed and stop down to f8 to f11 these old lenses produce some remarkably good results. They’re still prone to flare and some internal reflections, but results when compared to the results from the 60D/5D Mk2 are in a different league. To various degrees they suffer from some softer edges but subsequent posts will go into this in more detail.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Sony reds are still rather oversaturated for my taste but they’re better than the RX100’s purply reds.

 

The most extraordinary thing about the RAW results though is how far shadow detail can be pulled up without producing noise.

Zuiko 28mm f2 Sony A7R

Some PP pulling up the shadows just a little produces excellent dynamic range. The 28mm again.

As for the infamous ‘shutter shock’ problem – I haven’t noticed it so far. As there’s no image stabilisation you need to be extra careful about shutter speeds and shooting technique and – so far – I’ve had no camera shake. The ‘double shutter’ noise doesn’t really bother me either really – by comparison with an EPL5 my 5d Mk2 sounds like someone hitting a shovel on a car bonnet (something of an exaggeration but you get the point!). Keep the shutter speed reasonably above the focal length of the lens and use good technique and all will be fine. You can push the ISO to 3200 without any real noise problems.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Sony A7R

There’s no automatic distortion correction software as there’s no EXIF lens data saved with the files – not even aperture. The 17mm if tilted upwards can produce some distorted verticals so keep it horizontal!

Infrared – look elsewhere I’m afraid. I’d hoped the A7R would be as good as the RX100 but no – the A7R is very insensitive to IR frequencies (see below).

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30 seconds at ISO 100 f8 with an R72 filter and underexposed – so useless for infrared. Hand held IR would have been great but I’m expecting too much!

Ultra high ISO is – as usual – not that useful. ISO 25600 (I thought ISO 3200 extreme!) is OK for a small print but otherwise not that good, even with DXO’s Prime noise reduction. ISO 100 -400 is essentially grain-less and up to 3200 ISO nicely controlled – this is a 36Mp image so for any given print size noise is less of a problem.

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High ISO 25600 is pretty ugly as you’d expect even with a run through DXO’s PRIME noise removal tool – which took 5 minutes! Stick to ISO 3200 or less!

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A fascinating close up of my well organised bookshelf…. For 25600 ISO this isn’t bad but then it isn’t that good either.

 

For a full days shooting I’ll need a second battery. Sony thinks in camera charging is a good idea unfortunately. Not providing a charger as an alternative is irritatingly cheap of them when selling a camera in this price range.

Overall after one week I’m very impressed. If you’re a photographer who takes their time and doesn’t mind manual focus and a few delays here and there, the A7R will extract the maximum detail from those old MF lenses with a ‘focus magnify’ feature which is very efficient (like the EPL5). To really like this camera you’ll also be the sort who doesn’t mind a bit of post processing to extract the best from RAW files. If you put in the effort the files produced are sharp, detailed and exceed by a country mile what I wanted 15 years ago with a digital back for my old OM1N.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 @1.4 doing what it does best.

As a setup with MF lenses it would be comically inadequate for any sort of action photography or for telephoto lens use past 135mm but as I don’t shoot that sort of stuff I don’t care! I’m sure anyone with a collection of old quality prime lenses would find this camera just as good. The lack of an anti alias filter over the sensor seems to make a huge difference to sharpness using these lenses.

It’s not perfect, but it’s 95% there for my purposes (not necessarily yours!). I’ve now got so much room in the camera bag I can even take along an OM2N as well!

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

p.s. If you’re interested in the internals of this camera have a look as Lensrental’s disassembly of an A7R here.

 

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Spring is here…

Which must mean it’s time for messing around with some infrareds on a warm sunny day….

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

Everything still works as it should! Black skies and water, white vegetation and clouds.

It’s good to see the IR effect again after a long wet winter. Fresh foliage seems to reflect more IR wavelength light than older grass and leaves so the ‘Wood Effect‘ is especially pronounced.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

Here’s the setup – an RX100 with R72 filter held on a Lensmate filter attachment. A much better arrangement than just holding the filter over the lens, this little gadget is very useful. The AG-R1 grip is also attached and transforms the RX100’s handling (get one!).

All shot at the ’28mm’ focal length (really 10.4mm) at f2, ISO 800 with a +1 stop exposure compensation to allow hand held speeds of between 1/30th of a second and 1/8th of a second. These were processed in DXO Optics Pro 9 using the ‘Dense’ black and white conversion – straight from the camera they have a very intense magenta hue. A slight ‘diffuse glow’ was added in Photoshop to give it that old Kodak IR film look.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

A bit more abstract here – fresh growth in a pond with some clouds reflected.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

Same bridge – but from the other side.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

More of a traditional landscape really – the vegetation at the lower right seems to be ‘reaching into’ the frame.

Not a bad result for some gentle messing about – more a practice for later in the year.

Hope you like them, thanks for looking!

 

Unlikely Combinations

Experimenting with Lensbabys, old MF lenses , layers/PP, infrared etc is one of the best aspects of photography – straightforward clean, sharp images can be a bit dull sometimes. However this experiment plumbs new depths of oddity – infrared with a lensbaby…. I’d discussed this with friends some time ago as a possibility but they just shook their heads!

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The best image of the set – focusing the Lensbaby with an R72 attached is difficult but possible in bright sunlight.

Anyway, here are the initial results – and they’re not too bad, i.e. pleasingly weird. The “Lensbaby effect” is more immediately obvious that the “infrared look” as in order to take these the maximum aperture of the Sweet 35 was required giving the strongest edge blur.

_MG_0453_DxO_DxOFPsAll shots taken on a Canon 60D, Sweet 35 wide open (F2 I think?), Hoya R72 infrared filter, ISO 5000. post processed in DXO Optics 8 (my new favourite new PP program). There were hand held at slow shutter speeds but any camera shake is lost in the general blur anyway. Aggressive noise reduction can be used to get rid of the high ISO noise as – again – there is no real detail to lose!

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Finally the most extreme of the lot. Your eye has to search the image before it realises what’s going on – so I’m pleased with it!

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So not something for everyday use, but an intriguing technique which could produce strong images. If you’ve a Lensbaby and an IR filter give it a go. Next step is trying the plastic lens – wonder how it will handle infra red?

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

A Roll of Efke 820 IR Film (found in the film box in the fridge!)

I was sorting through the tupperware box of film in the fridge last weekend and found a bit of a treasure – a roll of Efke 820 IR film ordered last year and completely forgotten about!

efke3sAll fired up with enthusiasm I waited for a sunny day, and for a bit of fun, loaded up the OM2N and shot off the roll inbetween some other photo business . Exposures were bracketed at  at 2/4/8 seconds at f8 and gently developed in ID11 stock for 8.5  minutes (rolling the liquid in the developing tank rather than inverting it) – these are the results. Much grainier than I’d remembered – almost reticulated, but the temperatures of dev, stop, fix and wash were all 20 degrees centigrade. Maybe it was a dodgy last batch of film, these not being made any more, but in an odd sort of way I like it.

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What’s better is that there’s another roll left! As it’s the last one I’m not sure whether to treat it reverently and take immense care, or just have some fun with it. Rollei IR film – at least judging by these results – produces better images so not many regrets at it’s demise.

Hope you like them – thanks for looking!

p.s. apologies for the repetition of subject – I’m spending a lot of time at Knowlton lately!

Yet More RX100 Infrareds!

Dorset is experiencing something weird this year – summer! The skies are clear, the temperatures are hitting 30 degrees C and for people used to cloudy wet summers with just a glimpse of sunshine now and then it’s all most disturbing…..

So using this hot weather as an excuse to shoot yet more infrared handheld on the unmodified RX100 (with an R72 filter) , here we go.

First, a few of the pedestrian bridges over the River Stour near Tarrant Crawford – the leaves and grasses radiating IR like mad. All taken at 28mm setting at f1.8 using RAW, the ‘Black and White’ creative setting (for composition) and +1 exposure compensation.

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This is the next bridge along – the field boundary is heavily overgrown on either side which help isolate the dark path.

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And the same view but in landscape orientation with a lower contrast – can’t make my mind up which of the two is best. _DSC0948_DxOFP

Finally a small avenue of trees taken on the same day, the shadows on the road being an integral part of the composition.

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As usual, all taken for the book cover market – hope you like them!

Abandoned Military Installation

Here’s a few more from a day on Portland (Dorset UK). These abandoned buildings are part of a Victorian artillery battery built on the island and abandoned decades ago. The subject was perfect for a drop more IR on the Sony RX100 (what a surprise) – so here we go. All shot at the 28mm setting at f1.8 handheld – the camera is unmodified.

This is a view down one of what I suppose was the tracks which brought ammunition from the stores to the gun positions – the concrete walkway over the rails is unexpected…

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Portland is great for this sort of shot – the island was heavily used by the military then handed over to prison services and much of that dark architecture remains. Can’t resist barbed wire!

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Back to the main fortification and some overgrown steps leading out of the depression in the ground which houses the gun position. _DSC0763_DxOFP

Finally a view of some of what I suppose were store houses, the sparse grassy vegetation slowly growing over the banks and stone. _DSC0754_DxOFP

Altogether a wonderful spot – and good weather for IR photography. The R72 filter has got to be left at home for a while now. That and the plastic Lensbaby are taking up too much time!

Thanks for looking – hope you like them.

Infrared on Portland (Dorset)

A few infrareds from a great day in Weymouth and Portland in superb sunny weather. All taken on using the Sony RX100 and R72 filter, post processed in DXO to tweak the contrast.

This cemetery has some of the best monuments in the area – and a great subject for IR against a clear blue sky with some high cloud to give some texture. These are two of the most impressive.

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This is the first statue complete with broken wing from the rear – the bright dot in the sky is flare from the lens. The RX100 produces some very complex flare (see later article).

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Finally a closer view of another monument. This camera produces very high IR quality images. better than my old IR digital camera, a Fuji F810.

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Thanks for looking – hope you like them!