Sony

NEX-VG10 Mamiya 80mm f2.8

One large draw of buying into the Sony NEX system is the ability to adapt many different lenses to the camera bodies. I picked up a VG10 to shoot video, and to use all my medium format, Contax G, and Minolta lenses on a video camera. One of my favorite lenses to shoot with is the Mamiya M645 80mm f/2.8 N, and here are my initial experiences…

Mamiya Background


The 80mm is the standard lens for the Mamiya M645 medium format camera bodies. The Mamiya 645 system has been used extensively by pro shooters for decades, and the equipment was all built to pro standards, making it a quality purchase if found in good condition. The system started out as all manual, but has since evolved into autoexposure, autofocus, and digital with the introduction of the Mamiya 645AF and 645AFD. Since the introduction of the autofocus Mamiya  cameras, the manual focus lenses have lost most of their value to digital shooters, and till recently, really only made sense to use on the older film bodies. However, a few manufacturers make adapters to mount Mamiya and Hasselblad lenses on DSLR bodies. For this reason I picked up a Cirrius adapter on eBay and some cheap used copies of the Mamiya 80mm and 150mm lenses to mount on my Sony A900. However, manual focusing sort of sucks on the A900, in particular if you shoot with old glasses like I do because you spend all your money on camera/video gear, computers, mountaineering trips, and retirement savings. If I had contacts it would be better, but at the moment I can’t accurately manual focus my A900. However, since all NEX cameras have live-view (like the A950 hopefully will have), the system makes an ideal candidate for use with my Hassy and Mamiya lenses.

Mamiya Lenses on the VG10


When used in conjunction with the LA-EA 1 adapter (Sony Alpha to NEX) I’m able to mount the Cirrius Mamiya to Alpha adapter onto my VG10 body, and thereby the Mamiya glass can be adapted to the NEX. The Mamiya lenses are nice candidates for the VG10 because they are compact and have smooth focusing action. When searching out a manual focus lens you want one with a dampened focusing ring. This means the focusing ring moves in a smooth motion, allowing to comfortable attain the correct focus. This is a big selling point of high-end glass like the Zeiss CP.2 compact primes. It should be easy to access the aperture dial as well. The focusing ring on the M645 80mm is prominent and easy to manipulate with the fingers, or for mounting a focus-follow device if desired (haven’t tried this yet on the VG10). The lens has a switch to allow full manual or automatic control modes on an M645 camera. If you put the lens in A-mode the aperture will stay open at f/2.8 no matter what. If you put it in M-mode you can then change the aperture as desired. On the VG10, you have to go into the menu system and turn on the option to allow the camera to shoot without lens attached (this only has to be once). You can now shoot in P or S mode. In P mode the VG10 can adjust ISO (if set to AutoISO) and shutter speed to attain the desired exposure. In S mode you can set the shutter speed and then allow the camera to set the exposure by automatically changing the ISO setting.

80mm Performance


The M645 80mm is a very nice lens, especially for the price you pay on the used market. The colors are great, it’s sharp, has nice bokeh, is compact, is easy to focus, everything you want in a manual focus lens. It could have more aperture stops, but that’s the only fault I see. On the VG10 it acts like a 120mm lens on a 35mm body but it only extends a couple inches from the body, much more compact than mounting my Minolta 85mm f/1.4 beast.


I’ve been shooting video and stills with the 80mm and am very happy with it so far. One video project at the moment is The Formers, a local band from Zurich that I’ve been working with. I took the VG10-80mm combo to their studio to shoot them in rehearsal (video coming soon). This entailed chilling in the room as they played with combined green and orange fluorescent lighting. I was manual focusing on the fly and shooting some stills here and there to sort of give the feeling of the ambiance of the place. I’ve also used the 80mm as a street lens, shooting grafitti, stickers, and flowers on the streets of Darmstadt. The main drawback so far is in the VG10, not the Mamiya.


The main problem with manual focus lenses on the VG10 is focus confirmation. You can focus with the live-view feed off of the LCD screen, but you can’t zoom in like on other cameras to check critical focus before shooting. This makes it difficult to hit the focus point correctly, and really needs to be addressed in a firmware update. Ideally there should be a little area on the LCD which shows a 5-8x zoom of the scene so you can fine-tune your focus. One way to compensate for this is to use your knowledge of hyperfocal distances and shoot at f/5.6 or f/8, and you can then create properly focused images. The Cirrius adapter is also a weak component of the system. The adapter is ok, it mates the Mamiya mount to the Sony Alpha, but there’s some play in the rotation of the lens when mounted, and images are soft when focused to infinity.

Summary


Overall the 80mm Mamiya 645 works very well on the VG10. The adapter from Cirrius isn’t really up to my standards, but it’s the only Mamiya to Alpha adapter I could find. Another option is to buy a Mamiya to Canon/Nikon and then a Canon/Nikon to NEX adapter, but that’s sort of expensive. I’m hoping that Fotodiox will release a Mamiya to NEX adapter in the future, as their Hasselblad to Alpha adapter is awesome and priced at a nice point. Better yet, if Fotodiox releases a tilt-shift Mamiya-NEX adapter I’d be super stoked. I’ve been lusting after a tilt-shift setup from Mirex to use my Mamiya lenses in that fashion, but that’s like almost 400 Euros. The tilt-shift thing would open up some interesting possibilities however, as I could then modify the focal plane as I want in relation to the people or things I’m shooting. Anyways, when you start lusting after more gear you know it’s time to use the stuff you have.

Sony A900 Replacement – A950 Deal Breakers

Rumors are starting to abound of an A900 replacement coming in 2011 (I think) – named the mystic A950 with a new 30 megapixel+ sensor and either a SLT or traditional optical viewfinder design. I heard this from a guy who has a brother who has a friend who works at Sony R&D and he read this rumor on SonyAlphaRumors. Having shot the past year or so with my A900, I have an idea of what the A950 does and doesn’t need. I’ve used the A900 for various needs including weddings, studio portraits, documenting the painting process, grafitti shooting, Bratz dolls, Lego animation, etc. The A900 basically rocks, and only needs a few tweaks to be awesome. What are the deal breakers on the A900 replacement?

Live View


First off, live view is a deal-breaker on the A950. Deal Breaker is a word combination that I hate to write or read (I just felt some bile erupt in my innards at the sound in my head). People throw it around on forums everyday and when you look at the crap these people shoot it’s obvious that they only care about writing useless crap on the internet. But, live view is a deal-breaker on the A900 replacement. Why? Simply because live view dramatically increases the usefulness of a digital still camera.


As a stills device the A900 is awesome, but for shooting macro images or with manual focus lenses, the A900 sucks. Yes, it has a nice large viewfinder (for a DSLR), but the cheaper cameras like the NEX5 and every other DSLR now on the market have this very basic feature of previewing the image before it’s made in real time. Getting accurate focus and framing is just more precise on a large LCD than on a large DSLR focusing screen. It’s also nice for framing an image when you have the camera above your head or down low or at a weird angle. Live view is just a great feature if implemented correctly, and it’s a critical feature to have. Live view means precise macro focusing. It means precise focusing with manual lenses. It means the ability to enable remote camera operation from things like iPads, iPhones and computers (although I think Sony also needs to release a decent SDK for this to happen). Live view helps to frame images when your eye can’t be level with the viewfinder. Live view is needed on the A950 - period.


Take note however, Live View and Intelligent Preview should both be there. Intelligent preview is used to make a temporary image which is displayed on the LCD but not saved to the memory card. I love intelligent preview for quickly checking lighting and histograms in the studio. It’s needed because live view is useless for studio photography when external strobes are used. I use intelligent preview all the time in the studio to quickly preview the scene without taking a full image. And yes, it does make a difference, I don’t want to shoot a full-sized real image and have it saved to my memory card just to visualize lighting and to check the exposure histogram. Intelligent Preview is better for images made using strobes. Live view is needed for everything else.

HD Video


Look, yes, I know and appreciate the difference between stills and video. I bought a VG10 because it’s a proper video camera, not a stills camera that needs to be upgraded to a video device. Video is needed, but not in the same sense as live view, and no, putting the 24p 1080HD video option in an A950 will not kill the new CineAlta F3 or NXCAM cameras. The Canon 5D-II and other popular video DSLRs are being used to make movies because no other device is there to fill that niche, which is why Sony released the CineAlta F3 and the new NEX NXCAM. The F3 is for high-end Indy films and professional digital cinema. The NXCAM model is for Pro video, and there’s the VG10 for consumer video. People are not going to be buying the A950 instead of the new high-end video cameras to shoot movies with. People want to shoot video with video cameras, not giant DSLR rigs that look like baby transformers and have horrible moire performance. That’s why Panasonic is selling the AF100, why RED developed the Scarlet and Epic concepts, and why Sony released the VG10 (and will be releasing the Pro-NEX NXCAM). A video capable A900 would be an awesome compliment the my VG10. Video isn’t a deal-breaker in the A950, but it needs to be there.

Non-Crippled Exposure Mode


The A950 needs the ability to autoexpose in aperture or shutter speed priority modes when manual lenses are attached to the camera. With a manual focus lens you only have the option to shoot in full manual exposure mode with the A900. This sucks and is purely a firmware issue that should’ve been fixed years ago (and could be fixed by a new A900 firmware). I should be able to put a lens on the camera, adjust the aperture on the lens, and have the camera choose the shutter speed and ISO for a correct exposure, just like I can on my NEX-VG10. Without this basic function, your ability to use the camera is limited because you have to adjust the shutter to match the aperture you use. Even my old Minolta 7D chooses the correct shutter speed for an ideal exposure with a manual focus lens attached. It’s a very basic feature and should be a function on any camera body. One reason the NEX line is so popular is that people can use whatever lenses they want on their body (with adapters). This adds to the value of the camera, and it should be the same on the A900 replacement. Focus confirmation on manual focus lenses should also exist. Sure you might need to add an electrical interface to the lens, but this is possible with Canon and Nikon and their built-in rangefinder designs. It just makes the camera better. It’s useful when manual focusing with Sony/Zeiss autofocus lenses and as well old manual focus devices, it’s not a must, but would be awesome.

Optical vs. STL Viewfinder


If the STL viewfinder works as well as an optical one does and improves the user experience, then it should be there. Currently, the A33 and A55 do not do this. With the SLT cameras (and with the NEX-VG10) it’s very difficult to use the cameras in the studio with off-camera flashes. The reason is that the electronic viewfinders try to depict the scene according to the manual exposure the photographer sets on the camera, but this of course doesn’t account for the power output of the flashes that will go off when the shutter button is pushed. The resulting live view image is a black screen when I shoot in my studio with the VG10. This makes framing the shot very difficult and is also a rather huge deal-breaker because it severely limits the use of the camera on shoots. I like having an optical viewfinder because I can easily frame the shot (even if the camera isn’t turned on). What I’m hoping is that Sony will develop a dual-system hybrid view-finder, similar to the Fuji compact camera shown at Photokina 2010. Rumors suggest this will be available on the coming NEX7, and would actually make for a very nice addition to the A950 design.

In Summary


So, basically the A900 replacement needs: Live View, HD video and non-crippled manual exposure mode. If there’s a better viewfinder design than the current one that would be great, but it needs to be better than the A33/A55 design. A rangefinder should also be integrated to help manual focusing, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

A900 Firmware Update


Sony has released a firmware update for the A850/A900 which addresses the exposure issue with manual lenses. The update includes the following:


Faster autofocus, extended the range of exposure value (EV) compensation to increased to ±5EV, exposure bracketing range has been increased to a maximum of 6.0EV (-3EV, 0EV, +3EV). The A900 and A850 firmware updates are available on various Sony support websites, including http://support.sony-europe.com/dime/DSLR/dslr.aspx.

Sony NXCAM: NEX-VG10 Pro Visions


The pro version of the VG10 has been announced and is set for a 2011 release. Sony is taking the large sensor video technology concept of the NEX, and packaging it into a camcorder form with Pro features similar to the new F3. The NXCAM will be the competitor to the Panasonic AF100, and fits in between the VG10 and the F3. I was a little under-whelmed when I read about the F3. Not because it isn’t a significant development, it looks like a kickass camera, but is way outside my price range. There will be multiple frame rate options with the F3, XLR audio inputs, 35 Mb/s 1080p video, and the recording bit rate is much better. With an add-on module you’ll be able to capture 50 Mb/s if needed (and it is needed as per the BBC broadcast standard). However, the F3 is a Pro cinema tool with a PL lens mount and a large price tag. You could shoot it yourself, but is the type of camera that works best with a small crew to handle properly. The NXCAM seems designed for a single user to exploit if needed, and is based on the NEX autofocus lens mount. The NXCAM seems to address the majority of the limitations of the VG10, like the need for multiple frame rates, XLR inputs, etc. This is all nice, but is the NXCAM an alternative to the VG10, an evolution of the design, or just some added features?

NEX Advantage


If Sony were just releasing cameras with fixed lenses or the PL mount, it wouldn’t be so exciting. However, one big advantage of the NEX system is that I can use all my Minolta-Sony lenses as well Mamiya, Hasselblad, etc. The fact that the NEX system can take basically every lens ever made is awesome and a valuable feature for film makers. It’s so awesome that I don’t mind over-looking a lot of the design faults on the VG10 body and camera design. This is also why people shoot with DSLR cameras. They’re not ideal video tools, but the ability to experiment with shallow depth of field and different lenses is just to much fun to ignore. Using the correct adapters you can shoot with Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, Contax, Leica, etc. My personal favorite at the moment is shooting with my Mamiya M645 80mm f/2.8 on the VG10. The manual focus Mamiya lenses are cheap, compact, robust, and have wonderful colors and sharpness. If you only want to shoot in manual focus mode, you have a huge range of lenses to choose from at very attractive prices. I’m adding a Contax G adapter for my awesome Zeiss lenses, and probably one for my Contax C/Y 35mm as well. Where the NEX system has an advantage over DSLRs is in autofocus. The VG10 focuses fast enough that you can shoot with it like a normal consumer handycam, but the large sensor makes even mundane flower video look badass semi-artistic. However, is this needed/wanted in a pro device? Carl-Zeiss has the position that manual focus lenses will always trump autofocus in quality, because you know exactly where your focus point is, and the lens isn’t always trying to find and correct that focus point. On the other hand, the almost-ready-to-be-released RED Epic will allow autofocus with Canon and Nikon lenses (with an add-on module). The idea though, will be to autofocus and shoot, but not to continuously autofocus all the time during shooting like the NEX has.


I’ve been shooting with the VG10 for over a month now, and basically love it. But how will the NXCAM compare to the competition? Unlike the Canon 5D-II, the Pro Sony cameras feature a 2K Super 35mm sized sensor that is designed only for video (as I understand it). The Canon cameras have image sensors designed for stills but also do video as an after-thought. The Sony chip output is supposed to output a 1080-sized image, this means great low light capabilities because the sensor is putting out 1080 video, not down-sampling from a 21 megapixel chip (like the Canon does). This means better control of moire, and a large sensor designed (and optimized) for video. If it’s possible to pull a clean frame from the progressive feed off of the video stream, then it’ll make for nice stills as well – but I think this is where the VG10 has an advantage. One reason I like the VG10 is that it’s a true convergence stills-video hybrid device. I can switch between shooting 1080 HD video and 14 megapixel stills in a fraction of a second. I can also shoot with TTL flash or off-camera strobes. Will I be able to do this with the NXCAM (does Sony think I would want to)? The NXCAM will be a Pro video camera with the NEX mount, but probably won’t be ideal as a stills capture device for someone like myself.


I really love switching between stills and video with the VG10, but maybe that’s only because I’m still so new to video. I like the ability to shoot stills because it means I can setup lights and shoot with my remote radio triggers to create lighting scenarios, which are just not realistic without a lot of extra external LED lighting equipment. I think that the release of these cameras will also push lighting technology advancements. It’s clear that a need exists in the Indy-film economy for lower cost and lower power lighting. When you have a sensor with excellent low-light sensitivity, you don’t need to setup a bunch of tungsten lights or large LED panels. I think that companies like iKan and manufacturers from China will start to fill this growing niche.

NEX Evolution


Now that the NEX line is almost fully defined, this means that new lenses are coming in 2011. At the low photo end you have the NEX3/5, with the NEX7 coming in 2011 (the NEX 3/5 were there to assess market desire). At the video end there’s the VG10 and NXCAM. You can’t release kickass bodies without adding some fast prime lenses and high-quality zooms to go with them. 2011 is the start of the real video cinema year. 2011 is the year that the tools become available to more people to tell interesting stories with moving images. For a range of price points you have access to high-quality video, many lens choices, post-processing workflows, and distribution mediums. Don’t get blind-sided by the technology. It’s all still just a collection of tools to tell interesting stories. The Last Air Bender is a great example of a high-level production with horrible storytelling. A 1080p video feed at 50 Mb/s of a brick wall is just as boring as a 640 VGA phone video clip of the same subject.

Sony CineAlta PMW-F3K Pro Camera Announced

Sony has announced the PMW-F3K and F3L pro level camcorders to the CineAlta line of awesomeness. They feature PL-lens mounts and Super35mm sensor sizes, along with 35 Mbs recording. The camera targets the pro-on-a-budget line of buyers, but is not priced to compete with the Panasonic AF100.  Everyone knew this was coming, as Sony was showing a 35mm full-frame camera at NAB 2010, the only question was when (and for how much).


The F3K offers a nice mix of frame rate features, much like the AF100. It records in 23.98P as a native format, which can be over-cranked to get slow motion effects with fast moving objects. Frame rates are selectable from 1 – 60 fps in 720P and from 1-30 fps in 1080P modes. The wonderful selection of frame rates I wish my VG10 had. Other high points are the recording format, which is in Sony XDCAM, very nice for dropping into a non-linear file editor. There’s also the possiblity of , 10bit 4:2:2 HD-SDI output for hybrid recording possibilities, allowing with content to be recorded the internal memory and on an external device (uncompressed form).


A big question now is, where will a pro model of the NEX-VG10 fall? Phillip Bloom reported on his blog, Tentative pricing from Sony Europe is €20,700 (US$28,850) for F3K (with lenses) or €14,500 (US$20,195) for the F3L (without lenses) model – no where near as cheap as the AF100. Estimated shipping date is January 2011. So not cheap am afraid!


This high price-point places the camera well outside the NEX line. It gives room to offer a NEX Semi-Pro camera at about 3000-6000 USD (which would be in line with the AF100). Of course, the NEX is supposed to be aimed at consumers, not Indy film makers who probably don’t care about auto-focus and adapting Sony Alpha lenses to their video camera, hence the PL lens mount. However, everyone who can create a rumor is suggesting a Pro version of the VG10 will come out in 2011.  I think the desire for such a camera exists. The Canon 5D-II DSLR video craze started things, but Sony is the company heading in the right direction with the NEX camcorder concept. It’s the most versatile design, allowing use of all camera lenses in the form of a camcorder, which also works well as a stills capture device.

Sony NEX-VG10 User Review

Editor’s Note: This is a user review of the Sony NEX-VG10 camcorder. It has been written mainly in a window seat on the TGV express train between Basel and Paris L’est. It is a User Review in the sense that I’m just a guy who likes to use camera and writing technologies as storytelling tools. These are my experiences with the VG10 so far. This user report details why I got the camera, what I use it for, and what I think of it.

Background


So, of all the video camera options out there, why did I get a VG10 in the first place? Well, I’m basically a stills photographer with movies in my heads, and the time was right for me to start experimenting with video – and the VG10 fit the bill, offering the critical features I was after. I started shooting stills with a Minolta 7, and then moved on to a 7D, eventually to a Sony A900. Presently, I have a nice collection of Sony Alpha-Minolta mount lenses. I love bokeh, and wanted to start taking moving pictures. Those goals would be easiest to attain if I just could shoot video in a similar manner to the way I do photography. The VG10 allows just such a bridge, while integrating quite well with my current photography tools. Using the LA-EA 1 adapter I can shoot video with all of my Minolta lenses with aperture control (but with manual focus) and as well I can use my Sony F58 flash or Elinchrom Skyports for shooting still images with on-board or external flash. A firmware update is coming to also enable autofocusing with Sony SSM/SAM lenses (with the LA-EA 1 adapter). Plus, via third-party adapters I am also able to shoot with nearly every lens I own. This includes my Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 medium format beast and Contax G glass. Oh, and I’m an admitted Gear Whore, so why wouldn’t I want to buy this cool new toy?

Why Not Just Buy a HDSLR?


I asked myself this a lot. There are many options for video DSLR (HDSLR) cameras or mirrorless designs like the Sony NEX 5 or a Panasonic GH-1 or GH-2 to shoot video with. However, these are all built around the concept of using a photo tool to shoot video. Since I already have an awesome collection of photo tools (Sony A900, Contax G, Fuji GA645, etc.) I figured it was better to do the opposite, and buy a video tool, which can also be used to shoot still images. No other camera I’m aware of at this time includes autofocusing and audio (with a good microphone) recording in one video package. All the current video DSLR or mirrorless options require an external mic for decent audio, and generally extra rigs are required to make them useful for shooting. I’ve played with many of them in the store, and always came away with one main thought, “these would suck to shoot video with.” Afterall, that’s why a whole industry is exploding along side the SLR video revolution, providing things like focus-follow devices, camera cages, external monitors, microphones, shoulder supports, etc. – because the current devices are inadequate for shooting video and recording audio out of the box.

Design Overview


The VG10 is designed as a consumer grade video camera with interchangeable lenses, this makes it totally unique in the world (at the time of publication). It’s designed well, with a nice sort of futuristic body including a handle on top where the microphone is integrated. The handle can be used to hold the camera at waist-level and to pan in different ways. You can do this with a video DSLR as well, you just need to make or buy a cage and handle first. On the left side the viewing screen will flip out and then on the side of body are the various controls. Here you can pick shooting mode, review images, manual exposure settings, etc. You can use the screen or the integrated electronic viewfinder for framing during shooting. This is nice because you can shoot from a number of different positions and comfortably frame the shot. You can buy the camera with the NEX 18-200mm lens, which is optically stabilized. You can also shoot with basically every lens ever made via the appropriate adapter. This makes the camera attractive to owners of any camera system, even Leica users can put their lenses on easily. With its APS sensor, the camera delivers a high quality still or video file. Additionally, due to the sensor size you can have wonderful bokeh (defocused element of the image) in your images or video. The VG10 is often criticized for being rather expensive for what it offers feature wise, but if you price out the body, lens, body design, TTL hotshoe and microphone separately, it offers an acceptable value. What follows are my user views of shooting stills and video with this new funky video-camera.

Shooting Stills


Like I said before, one reason I bought the camera was to be able to shoot with my current lenses. To shoot a still image, you press the still/video toggle button on the back of the camera to access stills mode. Then you press the button on top-rear of the handgrip to shoot an image. All exposure controls are accessed on the control pad behind the video screen. I started by shooting still images to get comfortable with the camera and its user interface and interaction design before getting into video. Since it has a hotshoe, I pulled out my Elinchrom Skyports and started taking images with my external flashes and studio strobes. I had a planned shoot in my studio to produce some send card photos for some models, and I shot with the VG10 along side my A900. The VG10 doesn’t support the RAW file format (but the NEX 3/5 do) but in the studio the exposure is well controlled, and these images would probably not look dramatically different if shot in RAW. Note to Sony: please add RAW file support, it’s easy to do with the firmware update and enough people want it. I like having the RAW option because it allows more freedom in editing. This is one advantage the video DSLR products like the Canon 5D-II have over the VG10, top quality still image quality alongside video capability.

Still Images


Despite the sort of weird feeling of shooting stills with the VG10 (due to its ergonomics as a video device), the file quality is top notch.  Plus, I’m starting to like shooting from the hip or a little low while using the angled viewfinder. I processed the still images from our model session with Adobe Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS3. The lighting was provided from two Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobes in softboxes left and right, with fill reflection coming from LastoLite TriLite reflectors setup in front. My Skyport radio trigger slides into the Sony hotshoe via an adapter and I just fire away as normal. The only problem shooting in the studio is that the brightness of the LCD screen is tied to the exposure of the scene, and as such it goes totally black in the studio because the modeling lights on my strobes aren’t providing enough light when I input the manual settings. You get to see the person for a second when you hit the focus and take a picture, but it’s difficult to frame the person correctly. Maybe there’s a way to turn off the LCD exposure matching feature (another firmware fix?), but I haven’t found it yet. This issue is also a problem when using the new electronic viewfinder on the Sony A33/A55 SLT cameras with studio strobes as well. If it’s like that with the coming A77, I won’t be buying one. It really kills the functionality of the camera for off-camera lighting. One thing I would really love is if you could shoot video and then just press the photo button and shoot an image. Then I could just use the modeling light on my studio strobes to light for video and also take a high quality still image when the strobes fire, but this isn’t possible. All in all, the VG10 takes good quality still images. The main limitations are no RAW, no stills while shooting video, and framing difficulty when using manual exposure and off-camera lighting.

Shooting Video


I’m currently using the VG10 for a couple of different video projects. These include, live band footage, Lego stop-motion animation, and screwing around in my apartment.


The VG10 is a Handycam, and as such it is made to shoot video easily and quickly. There’s a large video button on the back of the camera, you press it, and video recording starts. However, it’s only nice when the camera up at shoulder level when your thumb can easily press it. The camera is also designed to be held at waist level and as well by the top handle. So why is there only one big button in the most inconvenient place at the back of the body? And why can’t we use the still photo button to shoot video with? You can force autofocus using the still image button to focus during video recording, but it should allow video start/stopping as well. Even better, there should be a button at the front of the body to allow more natural use. Even better still, I would like some buttons on the handgrip to allow easy manual control of speed and aperture, but that’s probably not happening in a Handycam.

The Formers


My first video experience with the VG10 was at the Formers gig at Zak in Rapperswil-Jona. Zak is a nice small venue, perfect for live music and a little head banging. I shot stills with my A900 and had the VG10 hanging off my shoulder to shoot with as well. The 18-200 isn’t a very fast lens, the maximum aperture is 3.5 at 18mm and the stage lighting alternated between darkness, green smoke, red, etc. It was a good place to see how the camera does in low, unpredictable light. As it is a Handycam, I just pointed and shot, without paying attention to anything like audio levels, exposure, etc. I missed focus a few times because I was accidentally pressing the photo button, which held the focus in the wrong point. If I had just pointed and let the camera do the thinking it would have worked out better.


Adapting Lenses


In my apartment I’ve started playing around with different lenses. One of my favorites is the Sigma 20mm f/1.8 from my film days. It needs to be rechipped and currently the autofocus doesn’t work on any of my digital bodies. However, the main reason to use this lens is at maximum aperture, and that’s what I did while filming my small toy collection. A 20mm lens is a very nice focal length on with the APS-sized sensor of the VG10. It’s moderate wide, and high-point of the Sigma lens is that it has macro-level close-focusing capabilities. You can focus down to a few centimeters with this 20mm lens, very unique in the imaging world. However, filming by hand with such a setup is not easy, and it’s wetting my gear acquisition appetite for a dolly to accurately frame, focus, and have smooth camera movement during the shoot.


I bought a Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 about a year ago, along with a Fotodiox Hassy-Sony adapter to mount it on my A900. Since I wear glasses and the A900 has no live view, the lens doesn’t work so well with that setup. There’s no split-screen to manual focus with the A900 so when I use and focus in through the viewfinder I always focus in front of whatever I’m shooting. However, using the Fotodiox adapter along with the LA-EA 1 I’m able to put the Hassy glass on the VG10. Now I can focus using liveview for stills or video with the Hassy. This creates a sort of badass combination with very nice bokeh and 1080 video, perfect for video documenatry videography and looking cool. I haven’t used it much, but plan to as soon as the proper project gets started.

Audio Quality


My only other experience with gathering audio is with my Zoom H4. I know what good audio sounds like, just like I know what good wine tastes like, but I’m no expert in the area when it comes to highlighting nuances like the difference between MP3 and uncompressed audio. I just know what sounds and tastes good. The microphone has four omnidirectional elements, which allows the system to filter out unwanted background noise and such. As far as I’m concerned the audio quality rocks. I pointed and shot the Formers, didn’t give a thought to the audio levels and the audio came out sounding awesome. No mess, no fuss, no needing to audio sync the sound and video feeds in post-production (like with a HDSLR), I’m very happy with the audio quality on the VG10.

Video Codec and Frame Rates


As a newby with video production, I am totally new to the video formats, codecs, frame rate issues, and other topics concerning indy film making. The VG10 shoots AVCHD in a 1080 50i/60i wrapper, but the actual frame rate is 25 or 30 fps (depends on where you buy it). Unless someone (maybe someone like me) hacks the firmware (like was done with the GH-1 by someone else), it’s super unlikely Sony will release an updated firmware that allows  variable frame rates. This is due to the design philosophy of the Handycam.


A user should be able to pick up and shoot a Handycam without ever thinking about the details. You can’t even pick an ISO setting for shooting video (but you can when shooting stills). That’s the way consumer Sony video products are, and it will probably stay that way. I would like the ability to change frame rate, but at this point it would just be for experimentation, due to the fact that I’ve read on many internet forums that 24p is what people use to shoot movies because aesthetically it looks better. I’ve also read that AVCHD is a horrible format and it isn’t as good as other options like H.264 or something else. However, since I still don’t really know what I’m doing it doesn’t really matter too much, but eventually I will have a clue, and then I’ll think about going to Panasonic with the GH-2 or AF100 if I really get into video production and Sony isn’t offering what I want (I have no brand loyalty).


So dear Sony, give me variable frame rate and different video codecs or I’ll look to another system or try to hack the firmware (but first I would need to learn how to hack).

In Summary


All in all, I like the VG10. I’m not a technology apologist or a Sony fanboy. I point out when technology sucks and praise the successes I see. I’ve shot stills in the studio and video in a dark venue and the camera performed well. The VG10 fits the bill for what I want right now in my video life. It’s a camera I don’t have to think much with, uses my current lenses, gives me high quality video and audio, and is portable and adaptable for stills as well – and it fun to use. This “bill of features” will change for sure as I learn more about video production and accordingly demand more from my video camera.


Although I bought the VG10 to be an all-in-one device, I’m looking at designing a cage for the VG10 and also adding a focus follow at some point to improve manual focus capabilities. One glaring design flaw is the tripod mount. The mount on the VG10 is one of worst I’ve ever seen – on any camera – ever. It’s basically a small piece of metal, that doesn’t really connect too well to the inner body of the camera. Some people on the Vimeo VG10 group are already talking about modifying the mount to make it usable (yes, it really is horrible). The tripod mount on the LA-EA 1 adapter is much more robust, and I like to use that with tripods. One other design suck is that the tripod mounts on the LA-EA 1 and the VG10 are not level with one another, making it difficult to adapt heavy lenses to the front and improve the rigidity of the system. But it is a consumer body (now I’m starting to apologize).


The VG10 is basically a “feeler” product from Sony, it’s a test to see what consumers want. It’s made for the consumer market, but it’s prosumers who are really going to be using this camera. The future track of the VG10 can be directed along the right path if Sony gets the proper feedback. It’s in their interest to create products people want to buy. After all, Sony changed the NEX 3/5 firmware when consumers became vocal enough and demanded more, so there is hope.

Future Projects


Thanks in part to my  VG10 acquisition, the video bug is really starting to bite. I have ideas on deck for shooting promo videos of my paintings from 1 Day of Art Copenhagen and as well integrating video shootings into the normal portrait shoots I do. This will be sort of an experiment in using viral web movies to connect the intent of the artist with the viewers, and create dynamic as well as static content during shooting sessions. With the paintings, it’s also a way to explain to myself what my subconsious was doing while I was painting. Elevating the Web Portraits Zurich project is also burning in the back of my mind. I’d like to do some short interviews with the next people I shoot for that project to to present more about the person behind the technology. I like it when technology not only inspires me to buy more shit, but also fills my head with bundles of energy to head out and do new projects (or reimagine old ones), and to engage in ideas and storytelling methods I hadn’t considered before and, as a result – make life jus a little bit more interesting.



Sony A900 – First Impressions Sony A900

Ethan_IMy photography-digital-imaging-hobby-obsession has started peaking in the past few months. After putting up some profiles on Model Mayhem and Stylished I started getting requests for Time For CD (TFCD) shoots. So I figured: Hell, why not try out a Sony A900? Why the Sony A900? Well, I have a Minolta 7D, and all my lenses will work with the Sony DSLR line. Plus GraphicArt in Zurich rents the A900 as well as the A700 and all the Zeiss and G lenses. I started out renting the A900 and 24-70mm Zeiss zoom, and since picked up a body, a flash, and a Sigma 70-200 HSM zoom. What follows is a first impressions user review of the Sony A900, used in my apartment studio and around Winterthur and Zurich for location shooting.

Why the Sony A900?

Here’s my DSLR history. I started with a Canon D2000 from eBay, decided I like the DSLR concept, moved on to a Minolta 7D (I own the Minolta 7 film camera) and basically did nothing but shoot with the 7D and expand my lighting kit. Why? Because for basic shooting a 6 megapixel camera is all you need. If you have one then keep shooting with it, only camera freaks feel a constant need to upgrade. I saw little need to buy a new DSLR, in particular I saw no point unless the new camera was significantly better than my current one. I’ve been unimpressed with the results of the Nikon D300 files as compared with those from my 7D, so why consider the A700 (which sports a similar sensor). But after shooting with the Sony A900 for a weekend and seeing how much resolution and shadow texture (dynamic range) I could get with the thing, it was a natural reaction to look at my bank account and pick up a body of my own. So to get it straight, I bought the A900 because I love the colors and shadow detail.


Alexandra_I.jpgThe A900 in the Studio


My first experience with the A900 was shooting Alexandra in my studio. She found me through Model Mayhem and we worked out a few concepts. Here I used the A900, the 24-70mm F/2.8 ZA SSM (SAL2470Z), two Elinchrom BxRi studio strobes as well as a Kacey Beauty Reflector with a Sunpak 383 flash and sometimes the Lastolite Trilite reflector kit. The Zeiss-A900 combination really leaves little to be desired. The resolution and color produced with this combination are simply fantastic, and almost exceeded my expectations (on can never be satisfied with camera gear). One major problem with the Minolta 7D is focusing. I have a number of image with a model against a wall where the camera focused on the wall instead of the model. The resulting image would of course be slightly out of focus. This doesn’t matter much for web stuff, but affects the image quality and provides less image information for post-processing work. Compared to the 7D the Sony A900 has very accurate focusing, in particular when used with a SSM (Sony Super Sonic) lens. The focus point can be controlled using a joystick on the camera, and is very useful when composing. There’s no need to “focus and recompose” as you can just move the focus point where you want. The Sony A900 is the only camera to sport a function called Intelligent Preview. Basically with Intelligent Preview you take a preview image, you can view it on the camera LCD for a few seconds, and make any adjustments necessary. On other cameras you just take an image, so at first I thought “who cares?” The face is, for light checking and shooting with the popular Strobist techniques, Intelligent Preview is a very useful feature. It allows you to fire the strobes and check exposure very quickly without filling up your memory card with test images. And when the full RAW images are 35 Megabytes in size, the Intelligent Preview feature actually saves you a lot of time and storage space.


No camera can produce an image without light. For the lighting, the Elinchrom BxRi flashes were triggered via the Skyport radio system and worked flawlessly. I hooked the Skyport camera trigger up to the A900 using a hotshoe adapter from Gadget Infinity, which enables connection of a standard 1-pin flash to the Sony/Minolta flash mount. The power of the BxRi flashes can then be adjusted directly from the camera. This is ideal when you don’t have an assistant and have a number of lights set up. There’s nothing more annoying than standing around while the photographer fiddles around with lighting equipment.


Alexandra_I-2.jpg


And what is the result? Perfection mon ami, perfection. The tones and colors from the A900 are fantastic. I shot Alexandra in a few different sets against green, red, and grey backgrounds. This included everything from a yellow dress to posing with a Katana and a severed Barbie head necklace. During the pre-shoot brainstorming stage I remember I was thinking something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if she was hunting Barbie dolls in the jungle and then cut off their heads and made a necklace?”


Margarita_I.jpgThe A900 on Location


I was contacted by Margarita via Stylished (she’s also on Model Mayhem). I wanted to do some photography in an urban environment, so we headed to the old industrial area of Winterthur and moved around the old Sulzer industrial-area-turned-hip-living-area. For this shoot I used the Sigma 70-200 HSM and a Sunpak 120J with a Kacey Beauty Reflector. I always use the TR-II battery pack with the 120J, as I can shoot almost all I like without worrying about battery life. I also had a Sunpak 383 with my Orbis ringflash adapter for added fill when needed. Margarita and I did a few different sets in the Sulzer parking garage and then outside. The A900 and Sigma combination was very nice. The Sigma includes an in-body ultra sonic motor, giving fast and accurate focusing. The 120J and Kacey dish is my favorite location lighting kit. Margarita posed against concrete walls, walked around the old industrial space, and contrasted quite well with the steel framework of the place.


Many people say you don’t need the 24 megapixels of the Sony A900, and this is probably true for me as well. However, more important then sensor count is the full-frame 35mm sized sensor. This means you’re able to use the bokeh qualities of your lenses the way they were designed to be used. In the Sulzer garage you have sunlight filtering through the roof and wall windows, I balanced this with my strobe and opened up the aperture of the Sigma lens to get fantastic background blur – an ideal portrait setup. I grabbed the super bokeh frames and then posed Margarita against the steel columns. I placed the Kacey dish just out of the frame to light Margarita’s upper torso and the steel column. Light fall-off from the Kacey dish was as fantastic as ever. Every time I use it I’m happy I bought it.


Margarita_I-2.jpg


The Amazing A900 Files


I’ll be honest, I gag every time someone says something like, “I take real photos, I get it right IN-CAMERA and never use Photoshop.” The images I see in my head can rarely be captured in-camera. Many times they are, but like my paintings, the final image only starts with what I capture in-camera. The ability to manipulate your images in the post-processing stage depends heavily on how much information you’ve captured in-camera. So if you have a 24 megapixel image which isn’t focused properly, the shadows of the image will have poor definition and you’re limited in how well you’ll be able to manipulate those shadows, limiting your vision with Photoshop. The RAW .ARW image from the A900 are beautiful. You can shoot in normal or cRaw, the compressed .ARW format. The uncompressed RAW files are like 35 Mb, and the cRAW are like 24 Mb. Good money says you won’t see much difference between the two formats, and I’m shooting everything in cRAW at the moment. Now, I bought the A900 to get significantly better shadows texture and dynamic range than I was achieving with the 7D. Am I happy? Yes – fuck yes, I am ecstatically over-joyed with the shadow texture and post-processing ability of the A900 RAW files.


But beautiful files eat up a lot of CF card space when you’re like me and only have 1 and 2 gigabyte cards. But given how cheap these things are, I plan to be shooting with 4 or 8 gig cards with the A900. During shooting I copy the A900 files to my HyperDrive Space, then hook that up to my Mac Quicksilver 2002 G4 and copy the files using Adobe Lightroom. Basic adjustments are done in Lightroom, then choice images are exported to Adobe Photoshop to achieve the vision then fine-tuned again in Lightroom before final export to Flickr or for printing. I’ve been told you can just shoot JPEG with the A900, but I can’t figure out why. If you’re shooting JPEG with the A900 you probably don’t need the camera and should sell it to me at a good price so I can have a backup body.


So…


Is the Sony A900 a sweet camera? Yes. Should you buy one? Yes, if you want a fine camera which produces fantastic files, has a speedy focus, handles really well. I kept my Minolta 7D for a long time, and I plan to keep on shooting with it, but I also plan on shooting with the A900. The 24 megapixels are over-kill for many applications, but when you want the fine shadow textures and ability to mainuplate the light of an image, the Sony ARW files are heaven to work with in Photoshop and Lightroom.

Sony Canikon Feel the RED SCARLET Fire

Image of RED SCARLET copyright RED.comThere are things that are known, those which are unknown, and inbetween are the doors of digital perception, when these are opened the world will appear to the viewer as it truely is…infinite.


Words are power and when arranged in the right way they form phrases, which can become insiprational bits of revolution. The Red Scarlet has been called a DSLR Killer in various online forums, and this naturally makes the mind think twice. DSLR Killer? How does one kill the embodiment of the whole digital photography industry, the marker by which all other digital imaging products are measured? Of course, there area calls of impossibility. What! How can one company challenge the Old Guard of Canikon and repell attacks by the 800 pound Sony DSLR Gorilla?


Red has released the specs of the SCARLET and EPIC Digital Still & Motion Camera (DSMC) systems.  The images and specs were released on the reduser.net and included the DSLR-like configuration shown above. What, you want to shoot full-frame 35mm, oh…, no, you want to shoot in full-frame 645, ahhh, ok, you’d prefer to shoot in the  digital 617 format today?  NO PROBLEM.  The new SCARLET and EPIC cameras are completely, 100% modular, upgradable, and fully custimizable to whatever shooting setup you want.  The base SCARLET Brain (imaging sensor body) will go for only 2500 USD.  Of course you need to add on a lens,  viewfinder, etc.  But the SCARLET now fullfills the desire of many serious photogrpahers, because you can build the camera you want to use.  Detractors have said to compete with Canikon RED is at a disadvantge, since they need lenses to compete.  Well, RED offers a full range from f/2.8 zooms to f/1.5 primes including some with image stabilization – simply awesome. Or, you can just get a Canon or Nikon lens mount and use any of the millions of compatible lenses already on the market. YES! The SCARLET allows three lens mounts, including Canikon and RED. At the heart of the new SCARLET and EPIC systems is the ability to choose the sensor size you need.  Sizes include 2/3”, 35mm full frame, and then go on up to 186×56 mm. In megapixels this means a range from 4.9 up to 261 MegaPixels. The Mysterium-X, Monstro, and Mysterium sensors offer A/D conversions from 12-16 bit, and 11-13 stops of dynamic range. The maximum frames per second are 25-120fps. And since the system is fully modular, you can even do things like putting two Brains together and shooting directly for 3D with a stereo camera setup.  And of course, since the system is modular, as sensor technology improves, you just buy a new one, a concept which should have been implemented 4 or 5 years ago by Nikon or Canon.


RED of course, has an advantage against the old skool camera makers.  They are a very forward looking company, which has designed their cameras exactly how new technology should be developed – without the lethargy of an old skool company which simply increments old designs.  Why do we fly in airplanes with static wings while birds have aeroelastically adaptable wing structures?  Why do we produce energy from coal when there are abundent sources of clean power?  Because too often companies introduce technology in small increments instead of challenging the concept of their product line. As a technology fanatic and one who thinks in moving pictures instead of still images, it’s obvious that the SCARLET is, in fact be the first step in killing off the DSLR. The truth is, the DSLR has been heading towards the meat packing district for sometime now. The resolution limit of DSLRs, has for all practical reasons been reached. The funtionality and draw of the DSLR has been that if offers higher picture quality than small compacts, but is more affordable and functional than medium format digital back systems. But things change.


The Sony A900 now offers near medium format back quality in a small and relatively affordable package, while the next generation of pro high resolution handheld cameras are coming in the form of the Leica S2 and Nikon D4 (or whatever Nikon calls it), the former already released, and the latter rumored to be ready for 2009, and both having a larger than full-frame 35mm sensor. With advancements in the pocket camera market, such as the Panasonic LX3, Ricoh GX200, Canon G10 and a host of followers, why do people need the DSLR construct? The Canon 5D-II is only a relevant design because of it’s video capabilies.  Most people will be buying it to mix photo and video in one package, or as a high quality HD camera. I would rather have a high tech cinema camera that shoots stills than a high quality DSLR which does video. So why do DSLRs exist at all? A long time ago in a world very close to the Earth, the ability to develop chemicals on paper to reveal an image was far easier to realize than painting a portrait. The large format film camera was replaced with medium and now the small 35mm format film cameras, and now that digital imaging has enabled the packaging of high-quality video in a hand-held package, I wonder, what is the point of shooting with a DSLR, an instrument which is simply the latest design iteration to solve the problem of communicating with visual imagery?

Photokina Nikon-Canon-Sony A900 Deathmatch

Sony A900 DSLRThe Sony A900 is a camera of purpose and symbolism. Probably the most important and influential DSLR release in the past 5 years. For some, it’s the realization of a Minolta dream that a robust full-featured behemoth in the spirit of the Maxxum 9 film camera would be realized. A professional tool for those of true grit. For others it’s a symbol of the megapixel race, and is decried as a waste of sensor area. I see it as the near final orgasm of a tantric seduction which Sony initiated nearly 2 years ago with the showing of two concept models at Photokina 2006. Now, just a digital blink a – few years after release the A100, Sony boasts a robust line of DSLRs, for soccer mom’s, guys with cameras, (GWCs) hobby fanatics, and now studio, landscape, and fashion photographers.


The reason to buy into the Sony system is similar to why people pick Macs over PCs. There are differences in this analogy, the Alpha system isn’t inspired by LSD flash backs and Sony is as large as Microsoft. But the point is, if Sony (like Apple) wants any market share from Canon and Nikon (versus Dell, Microsoft, etc.), they have to produce excellent products. They have to innovate, they have to do it right the first time, and they have to listen to consumer needs. These are things which arguably, neither Nikon nor Canon have any need to, and don’t do. With its dominate market share in the DSLR world Canon has become complacent, releasing camera models which are impressive but lack any market pressure innovations. Nikon is starting to ramp up it’s game with the D3, D700, and D90, the first DSLR to offer video recording. There’s little doubt that the Canon 5D replacement will as well, because the wolves are now out of the woods and looking to satisfy their appetites for Canon blood and camera sales.


With the A900 Sony has released a real tool for studio and fine art photographers. Enough resolution to beat the freakishly expensive Canon flagship 1Ds Mark III, in-body lens stabilization, weather sealing, and micro tuning of lens focus are nice features to have, but considering the market price of $3000, the A900 offers the greatest price-performance combinations in any DSLR ever released so far. The A900 can accommodate fine tuning focus profiles for 30 lenses, so critical focus adjustments can be made on the spot by the user. Of course, Sony might prefer to get paid for tuning lenses like Canon does (instead of allowing users do it), but at the moment the infrastructure and pro service centers don’t exist like they do for Canon. Ahhh, and the lenses…the Carl Zeiss line of autofocus glass now includes a 16-35 and 24-70 f/2.8 lenses, the ideal objectives for a 35mm full-frame body. Then there’s the 85mm and 135mm lenses, fabulous for portraits and razor sharp. Then there’s the ability of using full-frame lenses or cropping to 11 megapixels for APS-sized lenses on the A900, which means one doesn’t have to debate about lens type, they’ll all work with the new Sony.


Of course, as an 800 pound Gorilla, everyone knew Sony was coming to the DSLR jungle, they could feel the ground shake as it approached and heard the monster when it began to roar with the A350 and A700 cameras. The recent news of the Nikon D90 is nice, but we all know that’s not the end of Nikon for this year. The Nikon D3, while a revolution for Nikon users, was only a stop-gap camera so they wouldn’t jump ship to Canon, it was meant to pacify Nikon pros for a little while before the real prophet was ready to be released. The Nikon D4, a capable 24 Megapixel DSLR will for sure be released at Photokina 2008, there’s just no reason for it not to be. The Nikon D300 has essentially the same chip as the Sony A700, and the D4 will probably have a chip very similar to the A900. The last question is what Sony will release in early 2009? The A900 is nice, but will all know the A700 is starting to age against the competition, and an A800/A850 with a full-frame sensor to fill the price gap between the A700 and A900 seems painfully logical.


It took some time to go from the A100 to the A900, and the Sony marketing tactic has been to tell everyone the end of the story first. “We want to take serious market share of the DSLR market, and this will be our flagship, the A900.” This was a bold and unheard of attempt in the digital camera world. Pentax tried this and then failed to deliver a digital version of their medium format camera system, and have since stayed in the shadows producing a niche DSLR for committed followers.


The tactic is designed to prevent users from purchasing from competitors and is very simple. You tell people about the awesome camera 18 months early because it’s a way to drum up enthusiasm for a new camera without immediately releasing a product. The point is to encourage people who are thinking of not buying a Sony A700 versus a Nikon D200 to go ahead and invest in Sony, because Sony is committed to being a contender and producing a full DSLR system. Such a system can’t be supported if people think that Sony is interested in only selling glorified point and shoot DSLRs. An 800 pound gorilla can do this.


The beast tells you what it will do and then laughs as the bush men try to kill it before the Kong destroys the village. But this is the DSLR world, far more dangerous than any jungle, and Sony is indeed a vulnerable beast. While Sony has been enticing consumers with dreams of the A900 for two years, Nikon and Canon have been gearing up for the death match. In particular Canon, the DSLR company which doesn’t need to innovate, has had more than enough heads-up on what would be coming, and are going to release a 5D-II for Photokina, which is rumored to have 24 megapixels, live-view, and movie capabilities. They have to, because at the moment the Canon line is aged and stiff compared to Nikon and Sony. 2009 will be the year of the full-frame DSLR death match between Nikon, Canon, and Sony, for all of them will have monster cameras to sell and all will have to be below the $3000 price point.


Competition is good for the consumer and forces innovation, so what other forces are at play? What comes next you wonder? Look to the planet Mars…children of the night, for the Red One uber innovative digital movie camera maker is rumored to be developing its own DSLR, which will be more of a hand-held high definition video production system than a camera.


No one knows when this DSLR war will end, or exactly when the difference between DSLRs and camcorders will be a matter of marketing strategy, but it’s certain that the jungle will get bloody this year. The air is filled with the scent of DSLR blood, and it’s a great time to be a consumer of digital camera technology.


Further Reading:


A Sony Alpha A900 Gorilla Eyes the DSLR Jungle

A Sony Alpha A900 Gorilla Eyes the DSLR Jungle

The end is near, and hack camera writers across the web are digging in for the mad-capped pseudo blood-bath set to be unleashed on the digital camera world. The release of the Sony A900, the full-framed 24 Megapixel beast will be launched before the end of 2008. There’s little doubt that Sony will unveil a DSLR marketing spectacle like the world has never seen at Photokina 2008 in Cologne (September 23rd-28th), and it might even be worth attending this year.



For give-or-take a decade now the DSLR market has been dominated by small sensor APS-sensor sized offerings, and Full Frame 35mm sized image sensors have been integrated into only a few cameras models, such as in the release of high-end Canon cameras such as the EOS-1Ds and more affordable 5D models, plus a few washout releases by Kodak. Full-frame 35mm image sensors have many advantages, in particular that the majority of DSLR lenses are designed for that sensor size. All the benefits of selective focus and shallow depth of field can be fully exploited when paired with 35mm sensors, which are less pronounced when one uses a 35mm-designed lens on an APS-sized camera body. So far the benefits of larger imaging sensors have stayed in the plus of $2500-$3000 (at the low end). Even the recent release of the affordable ($3000 MSRP) 35mm full-frame camera by Nikon; the D700 is really only there for professionals and gear heads thirsty to drop money on a new trophy camera. The D700 competes directly with the Canon 5D, which originally brought full-frame capabilities to pros and advanced amateurs the world over for the lowly MSRP price of $3299. The release of the Canon 5D and Nikon D700 were significant, but for true innovation the market need competition.


Competition benefits the consumer, and Canon has been the Microsoft of the digital camera market, nearly fully dominating the 35mm full-frame digital segment since it started. There’s good reason for it; Canon does cameras, lenses, sensors, and software/firmware, all of which are key components needed to produce a successful digital camera. Canon has the means of developing all of these essential components in-house using one design strategy.


By comparison, every other DSLR company has been able to do maybe two of the above (at most), but without the last piece of the development puzzle it’s been difficult to match Canon, which generally means the ability to develop and manufacture the imaging sensor. Many companies, such as Nikon have relied on partner companies to design and manufacture the imaging sensors. So while Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Leica and Olympus could design great cameras and lenses, they couldn’t build DSLRs without sensors from companies like Sony. Sony produces many of the imaging sensors used in current point-and-shoot as wells as DSLR cameras. But it wasn’t until Sony bought the camera technology from Minolta that they could start developing the Alpha DSLR System. The true strength of Canon has been its ability to develop, manufacture, and release DSLR models faster and with more precision than the competition. Even Nikon hasn’t kept up with the Canon camera release cycle and only released its first full-frame model a year ago in the form of the D3. Nikon is improving in this respect, but there is now another beast in the DSLR Jungle.


 

Enter an 800 Pound Gorilla…


Unlike every other camera company, Sony can actually match and beat Canon in the camera development game. Sony bought the camera and lens technology from Minolta, who got out of the camera business because it couldn’t develop and release cameras at the rate of competitors. Sony has partnered with Carl Zeiss, who now designs and oversees production of high-end lenses and markets the Zeiss ZA line for the Sony Alpha mount. And as a final piece in the puzzle, Sony can design and produce their own imaging sensors, which is something only Canon does at the moment (although Nikon has recently started down this road with the D3 and D700). Add to that the fact that Sony is huge, with distribution centers and marketing people in every corner of the globe, and it’s a sure bet that with an aggressive business strategy they’ll change the DSLR playing field. Why? Because Sony doesn’t enter markets just to release products, they’re a contender. Sony over turned the high-end video and camcorder markets, and they’re poised to do the same with DSLRs – with the new A900.


The soon to be released A900 from Sony could change the status quo of the DSLR world. The release of the A900 will mean that together with Canon and Nikon, there will be three major development and manufacturing entities producing and marketing DSLRs with full-framed 35mm image sensors to the general consumer market. The potential technology infusion and price reductions could be the first real signs of an end (or at a least plateau) to the DSLR evolution game. The 2007/08 DSLR offerings from Sony have been significant. The A700 was released in late 2007.  Essentially the upgrade to the Minolta 7D, which fans of the camera had been waiting for, which showed the world that Sony can design and manufacture a serious DSLR.  Sony has implemented excellent Live-View capabilities as well as vibration reduction technology into their camera bodies (like the Sony A350), at prices which make the Alpha system extremely attractive for camera buyers transitioning from point-and-shoot models to DSLRs.


Once one transitions from a Sony W300 point-and-shoot to an A200, A300, A350, or A700 DSLR; the energized customer will be thirsty for something…more. The A900 will be the ultimate fulfillment of that thirst (at least until the next model), and has the potential to establish Sony as a serious camera Brand – not a rebagged Minolta camera maker, not a me-too-jump-on-the-bandwagen DSLR distributer, but a full-time serious contender in the DSLR Jungle. The most important notion here is that a full-frame DSLR from Sony will have to have a price lower than that of Nikon and Canon to be competitive.  The A900 will have Sony Super SteadyShot (SSS) built into the body as well as a 24.6 Megapixel CMOS imaging sensor. According to Mark Weir (Sony Digital Imaging and Audio Division), the senior technology and marketing manager of the Alpha camera line, the 24.6 Megapixel sensor will achieve very low noise due to an intelligent A/D converter technique (as reported at PMA 2008 in a Calumet Photo interveiw).  This could be significant, since it is generally felt that sensor noise has to dramatically increase with high pixel density.  If the A900 retains it’s high resolution with low noise levels and is offered at a price point below that of the competitors, the A900 could be an excellent options for photographers needing medium format resolution in a 35mm sized body.  The next camera with such features is the Canon 1Ds-Mark III, which boasts 21 Megapixels and retails for nearly $8,000. 


The true profits for digital camera makers is not in the cameras but in the system. Sony lenses, memory cards, flashes, and other random add-ons is where the long-term profit strategy exists. The point is to get people into the Alpha System, because once you have a sweet 24 megapixel beast in your hand, you want to fully exploit its potential with a Carl Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8, Sony 80-200 f/2.8, or any of the variety of other lenses which are currently available – as well as those that will be released into the marketplace. Not to mention a vertical grip to make the camera look cool, as well as the flagship Sony FL-58 flash, which actually has one of the most innovative head designs of any other maker, and boasts excellent wireless control for additional flashes.


I’m looking forward to the Sony A900, and might actually buy one. The successful Canon 5D is now essentailly discontinued and can be had for less than $2000, but only until the successor is released (probably called the Canon 6D). Aside from the new Canon 5D replacement and the new offerings from Nikon (the just released D700 and soon to be here D3x), the Sony A900 should have the biggest impact on the DSLR market in 2009. It will affect camera prices, encourage (more like force) innovation, and no matter your favorite brand, the release of the A900 will have a positive impact on the DSLR Jungle.


 


 

Big Three Camera Blood Bath

Rejoice all the digital junkies of the world, for the Gods have again bestowed upon mortals trinkets and tools to again usher in a new era of digital photographic expression.


These quick and dim-witted camera update articles are some of the more difficult and revolting for photography fanatics to write. But THEY’RE NECESSARY. If I don’t post a fast word-for-word copy of the Nikon D700 press release, I’ll loose all credibility as a respectable hack internet camera writer. It’s the tools you see, not the photography technique which makes great images, and if I don’t tell people to go out and buy a D700, the quality of images world-wide will plummet like a man with wax wings flying towards the sun.



New from Ricoh, the GX200 was announced as a logical update to the fantastic GX100, one of the best compact digital cameras available. The GX200 sports a 12 megapixel sensor, and keeps the fantastic 24-72 mm zoom lens and electronic viewfinder – still in a class all it’s own without any competitors. the RAW write time will be a little bit better and the engineer-Gods at Ricoh promise an improvement in the signal-to-noise ratio. As a good priest to the Gods I can tell, nay, interpret this for you mortals…


The GX200 is better than the GX100, but basically the update is needed for Ricoh to remain competitive in a field of cameras where after 1 year on the shelf nearly every camera becomes obsolete as compared with the competition.


Ahhhh, and Nikon has finally done what Canon did two years ago with the 5D, and with the release of the D700 Nikon now offers a camera with a full 35 mm sized sensor and a price mark of $3000. In addition there’s an updated SB-900, with more power and added benefits for the Nikon flash fetishist (reference strobist).


Photo by Nikon


But what comes next? Gods have the power to bestow life as well as death…what happens when the Digital Gods become angry? No chance, digital junkies across the world are waiting for the fire storm of camera goodness sure to come at Photokina 2008, when Sony will for sure be unveiling and launching the A900 flagship camera, full-framed 35mm and 24 megapixels, the A900 will be competing against the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D-II (or whatever they call it) for market share in the bloodiest digital camera free-for-all since Canon battled Nikon in the pro-journalist and sport-shooter markets in the 1980’s and 90’s.


The end is near, make sure you buy the best glass and camera to capture it…


Sony flagship from PMA2008


PMA 2008 – Sony Digital Junky Live View Nuclear Madness

Now we have come of Age
Descended from the Hills and Caves


This humble year of our Lord called 2008 is set to explode in the mind of this camera-politico-junky dream.  Forces are in motion and old battle scores are set to be replayed on the global stage.  We in the pro-amature photo industry news business take these things very seriously – more intently and at a higher adrenalin level than any fool CNN political commentator War junky journalist on the Net today.

The Photo Marketing Association held it’s yearly show, and among camera announcments from Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Pentax and others, Sony is set to transform the digital camera market.

The stakes are higher than those wars overseas and every online junky comes out of the digital net to blast competitor companies and raise their favorite brand to Buddha like reverence with the crafty spirit of a Sun Tzu trained assassin.

First, let’s set the stage:

For those in the know, the competition between digital single lense reflex (DSLR) camera manufacturers is nothing less than a precision guerrilla war on the global chess board.  In any competition there are those on the top and there are underdogs.  The Goliath of the camera industry is Canon.  Dominant in the pro sports market their lenses and bodies penetrate the consiousness of anyone who has seen a main stream camera in the past 20 years.  Canon was really the first camera maker to develop its own imaging sensors and use full frame (35mm film sized) sensors.  Their pro cameras are always at the top of the performance charts and have dominantly defined the direction of digital camera technology since Kodak dropped the ball in developing DSLR technology.

Canon is the Golaith to knock off, and Nikon started the real assault late in 2007 with the release of the D3, a full frame high ISO DSLR beast which is creating a movement of dollars back to the Nikon brand.  Aside from Nikon, the small companies like Pentax, Olympus, and the now defunct Konica-Minolta released cool technologies like in camera images stabilization, anti-dust, and Live View innovations, which were either capatilized upon, improved, or ignored by Canikon.

Unlike War, the photography battles occur at prearranged places, generally the yearly PMA and biannual Photokina.  This year they’re both going down and the bloody push for market share is fierce.

The stage is set to explode because one last vestiage of the samurai inspired Nihon-Camera tradition has begun to growl and show its silver back.

An 800 lbs Gorilla is in the room – Sony started is mobilizing in the DSLR business about 2 years ago with all the vigor and quiet calm of a Tsunami – after aquiring the camera technology from Minolta.  Now the hurgry beast has declared a desire to capture 10% of the DSLR market in 2008.  At this time in 2007 Sony had one DSLR and a hand full of lenses on sale.  Now the line boasts the A100, A200, A300, A350, and A700.  Partnered with Carl Zeiss, the mystic German lens house to design and oversee high-end lens production – the pieces are coming into place for Sony to make some serious market penetration.  And then, just a few days before PMA opened and other manufacturers finished their announcements, a quiet press release was made:

Sony announces the development of 24.81 Megapixel Full Frame Sensor




The general camera geek consumer has been waiting for a hammer to drop… that full frame DSLRs would be produced is such numbers that they would actually become affordable and Canon would be knocked on its head – and this is one large step closer to reality.

Sony is more or less leap-frogging over Olympus and Pentax, which Minolta was incapatble of doing.  With in-house sensor manufacturing abilities and global marketing reach, Sony has the power to do what Nikon has had trouble with – entering a head-to-head Ram style war for the high resolution Pro-oriented DSLR market.

Let’s Focus…

The combination of Minolta camera technology, Zeiss lenses and a 24.81 megapixel CMOS imaging sensor is the camera industry equivalent of a country aquiring full-blown nuclear capabilities with ICBM cluster delivery systems overnight.  No matter your moral affiliations it means something, and the world will never seem the same again.  Of course, we’re dealing with cameras here, not atomic demons, but the analogy will stick for now.

The hammer is coming children…and it’s set to slam against the ground with the full force of an 800 lbs Japanese Gorilla behind it – and all the camera junkies are laying money down on Sony in announcing their Alpha 9/A900 full frame DSLR at Photokina in September 2008.