Building on the Sony NEX System

Building on the Sony NEX System

Sony’s NEX cameras have been taking the mirror less camera market by storm of late, coming out with models that repeatedly and substantially improve on their predecessors. And, as these models have evolved, the number – and quality – of add-ons for them have increased as well. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few ways of building on the NEX series of cameras – which now include some fantastic video-specific offerings from Sony as well. First, let’s clear one thing up. Sony’s NEX series of cameras, which include the NEX–5, NEX–6, and NEX–7, as well as the VG-series of video cameras, use a lens mount called the “E-Mount”. Sony also has a line of popular DSLRs, which use the older “A-Mount” system they inherited when they bought Minolta. Sony has made a number of fantastic lenses for the E-Mount, including the 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS and the 10–18 f/4 OSS lens, both of which offer built-in Optical SteadyShot, Sony’s name for their image stabilization technology. The stable of E-Mount lenses isn’t filled out just yet. There are a few missing holes, mainly in the area of constant-aperture zooms and longer lenses. However, this isn’t as noticeable an issue as you might think, as Sony – and a few third-party vendors – have come up with a first-rate way to compensate for the lack of a full selection of lenses. They have done so with a number of adapters that allow you to use Canon, Nikon, and Sony A-Mount adapters with the NEX system, and in this article, we’ll take a look at some of them. From Sony...
Understanding Softboxes

Understanding Softboxes

Off-camera strobes and other forms of lighting have become remarkably approachable over the past few years. The knowledge and information that were once the sole province of pros working with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment in studios or on location is now all over the internet for the taking. We carry a fair amount of lighting gear, and given that we cater to the novice as well as the pros, we also answer a number of questions about one particular piece of lighting gear: the softbox. Over the phone, via email, and through our social networking outlets, we respond to queries ranging from the number of stops a box’s diffusion fabric will eat, to “What’s a speedring?” This article is designed to help you understand the various pieces of a softbox and how it is used with a studio light like the Einstein E640 or the Profoto D4 heads we rent. Let’s start with what a softbox is. Basically, it’s a light modifier. Its purpose is to diffuse the lighting coming out of a studio head (or a small flash, but we’ll cover that in a later article) so that you can achieve the soft shadows and gentler light quality you see in so many professionally-taken photographs. Now let’s break down a complete light setup, with softbox. In the image above, you can see the three basic components of a studio light with a softbox. We have the softbox itself, a speedring (which is only barely visible right now), and a studio light. You’ll probably have noticed that the softbox is made by Profoto, while the studio...
Tilt/Shift: Working With Perspective-Control Lenses, Part 2

Tilt/Shift: Working With Perspective-Control Lenses, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a series on using Tilt-Shift or Perspective-Control lenses. In this part, we look at the “Tilt” functionality of these unique lenses. Part 1, which covered “shift” functionality, can be found here. At some point in time, we’ve all seen photos where the subjects – usually views from high-up of cars, buildings, people, etc. – appear to be miniaturized versions of reality. This is perhaps the most the most often-seen result from using tilt-capable lenses like the Nikon 85mm PC-E. In this part of our series, we’ll explain how this effect is achieved with tilt-shift lenses. The image below was shot by Jim Goldstein, our Marketing VP. Taken in Geneva with a tilt-shift lens, the camera was pointing downwards at the railroad tracks, with the tilt element swung upwards. The reason these tracks look like miniatures is because the plane of focus is so narrow, that both the foreground AND the background are out of focus.  That’s not something the human eye is used to seeing, and we interpret images like this differently. Wikipedia adds to that  explanation as follows: Diorama effect or “diorama illusion” is a process in which a photograph of a life-size location or object is made to look like a photograph of a miniature scale model. Blurring parts of the photo simulates the shallow depth of field normally encountered in close-up photography, making the scene seem much smaller than it actually is… Now, in order to achieve that effect, you have to swing the front part of your tilt-shift lens in so that it is either as perpendicular as possible to...
Sony Delivers Big-time with the Nex-6

Sony Delivers Big-time with the Nex-6

When rumors of the Sony NEX-6 hit the internet, it was a welcome bit of information for fans who wanted something between the high-end NEX-7 and the more consumer-friendly NEX-5N. There was a real need for a camera that added a few more physical controls for advanced amateurs, for example, who are used to dials and switches to quickly change camera settings, or for a camera with tweaks to the user interface, or – a pretty important feature for me – a viewfinder. Well, Sony has provided all of those features, and then some with the NEX-6. So, naturally, when we received this shiny new toy, I had to take it for a spin. Now, the really cool lenses – the 16-50mm and the 10-18mm are very much in demand, and all of our copies were checked out when I wanted to take them for a spin, so I settled on the massive 18-200mm lens and the Zeiss-badged 24mm f/1.8 lens. I shot them in a variety of different conditions, and – spoiler alert – I had an absolute blast. Operation First, let’s look at the top of the NEX-6. As you can see, there are two dials up-top, a Mode dial and a silver one, directly underneath it. Depending on the mode you put the camera in, the silver dial can change aperture or shutter speed. The Fn button’s use changed depending on your settings or the mode the camera is in. Sony aficionados will notice that the hotshoe looks very different from the ones on the NEX-7. After years, Sony has finally gotten rid of the old...
Op-Ed: Thoughts on Switching

Op-Ed: Thoughts on Switching

Last week, I posted Part V of my “Switch” series, which you can find here: Previously, in the Switch series: Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. Part 1.5: which was mislabeled Part 0.5, in which I gawk at a violin. Part II: The Nikon gets abusive. Part III: CLS starts to look pretty good. Part IV: In which I return to Canon for a spell. Part V: The conclusion, in which you learn what I ended up with. I’ve pretty-much laid out my reasons for switching, but I felt compelled to add some kind of postscript to that series. So, here it is. Switching from one platform to another isn’t easy. It kind of forces you to take a hard look at the platform you have and, if it isn’t working for you, you have to be willing to say, “Yeah, what I have now doesn’t work for me.” That takes a bit of humility to admit. It also takes a bit of firmness to say that a certain camera/computer/whatever isn’t working for you. It might work just fine for someone else. But it’s not working for you. On Facebook and Twitter and G+, the reaction to this series was largely positive. There was the usual plethora of “Gear doesn’t matter” posts, of course (to which I say, “No it doesn’t – except when it does.“), but for the most part, folks liked the series and they were generally supportive. I did, however, receive a verbal shellacking from some folks who know me personally and laid into me about this switch. The...
Get the Missing Manual for Light

Get the Missing Manual for Light

 With autumn upon us, daylight hours are fewer and further between. I don’t stop shooting (later sunrises mean I can actually drag myself out of bed at a better hour), but I do take more time to catch up on my reading. Accordingly, I spend some time to put together a list of the best photography books that I want to go through each year and will bring you reviews of the ones I liked the most. My (virtual) bookshelf is full of titles I’ve read or plan to read for reviewing or for personal edification. Some, like Brian Smith’s book on portraiture, which I reviewed earlier this week, are for personal edification and review. Some, like Light, Science, and Magic, are on there because the subject matter is of interest. And some are on there because I’ll read even an obituary by one of these authors. Authors like Joe McNally, for example, whose books like Sketching Light and The Moment it Clicks make for fantastic and entertaining reading. Others write books so chock full of information that they become indispensable reference material that I find myself going to pretty often. My friend Syl Arena is an author and teacher who falls into the latter category, and his latest book, Lighting for Digital Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots is something that I think should be more appropriately titled “Light: The Missing Manual”. This is Syl’s second book; the first, The Speedliter’s Handbook, is now considered to be a sort of bible for Canon Speedlites. It is easily THE definitive book on Canon’s small flashes, and Syl has carved out...
The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part V

The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part V

This is the conclusion of a 5-part series on an experimental switch from Canon to Nikon. Previously, in the Switch series: Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. Part 1.5: which was mislabeled Part 0.5, in which I gawk at a violin. Part II: The Nikon gets abusive. Part III: CLS starts to look pretty good. Part IV: In which I return to Canon for a spell I guess the big question on everyone’s mind is, “Did you switch or not?” Well, read on, gentle reader. I’ve been a Canon user for the majority of my life. Starting at age 8 with a tiny Canon film point-and-shoot, then to an AE-1 Program, then an A2 film body, followed by a G3 P&S, a Rebel XTi, a 7D and then a 5D Mark II, I’ve owned Canon gear all my life. The Glass I love Canon gear. The glass is varied and plentiful, from a crazy 1:5 Macro  (the MP-E 65mm) to a swift, fast, yet affordable 400mm f/5.6 lens for wildlife, to a fantastic 135mm f/2 portrait lens, Canon has glass for practically every occasion. Nikon, on the other hand, kind of falls behind in terms of having glass that I really do need/use from time to time. The lack of a solid 400mm-range lightweight telephoto is a real bummer, as is the lack of an ultra-wide-angle (17mm) tilt-shift lens. Speaking of the tilt-shift lenses, Nikon really does need to update their PC-E lenses to match Canon’s 17mm and 24mm lenses. The current 24mm PC-E lens from Nikon doesn’t do independent rotation...
Powerful Inspiration for Powerful Portraits

Powerful Inspiration for Powerful Portraits

Portrait photography isn’t easy. Anyone can point a camera at a person and make a quick image. If you’re technically accomplished, you can even get your lighting spot-on and make a great-looking photograph. But the best portraits have an intangible quality to them that sets them apart. They have soul, that most overused yet accurate of words when it comes to describing photography. They speak to an innate part of the subject’s character, allowing the viewer to see not just what that subject looks like, but also what he or she is feeling and thinking. Brian Smith is one of those photographers who can pull this off, and do so with applomb. He is perhaps one of the most accomplished portrait artists working today, and his portfolio, which drips with celebrities ranging from Anne Hathaway to Richard Branson and then some, attests to that accomplishment. So it’s always with a lot of eagerness that I look forward to any kind of information – a book, video tutorial, whatever – from an artist like Brian. Fortunately for us, he has delivered a book on the subject of portrait photography, and what a whopper of a book it is. I’m going to start by telling you what this book is not. This is not a technical manual for your Canon or Nikon flashes. It’s not a thorough explanation of lighting or posing techniques. And it is certainly not an explanation of gear and how to use it. What it is, is something that David Hobby put it perfectly in his review of Brian’s book. “… you can pretty much think of SGPP as...
Lock it down

Lock it down

This is how the life of a photographer goes sometimes. You’re driving home on Highway 13, right around dusk. You glance off to your left and note that the moon, at an 8% crescent is going to set shortly, and it’s probably going to do so right behind the San Francisco skyline. So what do you do? Well, if you’re me, you step on it and race for Grizzly Peak Road, a scenic, meandering two-lane stretch of tarmac that winds through the hills above Oakland and Berkeley while offering some spectacular views of the Bay Area, including the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, Oakland, Berkeley, and sometimes, the Golden Gate Bridge, too. You get there, and you hastily pop your trunk, yanking out your lightweight carbon-fiber tripod and the 5D Mark III you’re shooting with. It’s cold, windy, and the moon is taking a nosedive, taking on a blood-orange color. The tripod’s legs fly open, and the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II you’re using (the city is some distance away and using a telephoto lens to compress the distance will make the moon look nice and big, too) already has an Arca-Swiss-compatible plate on it that locks into your ballhead with a couple of twists. You flip on live view and adjust zoom and focus. Fortunately, the 5D Mark III has a top-notch focusing system and you lock focus on the Bay Bridge instantly. You set the camera’s timer to a 2-second delay, make sure everything is locked down, manual focus, and you press the shutter button, then step away. The mirror is already up because live view is...
The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part IV

The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part IV

This is Part IV of a series on moving from an all-Canon setup to an all-Nikon setup for four weeks. Will I go back to Canon at the end of four weeks? I have no idea… On this edition of “The Switch”, I took a brief sojourn back to Canonland with the 5D Mark III and a gaggle of Canon lenses. Previously, in the Switch series: Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. Part 1.5: which was mislabeled Part 0.5, in which I gawk at a violin. Part II: The Nikon gets abusive. Part III: CLS starts to look pretty good. Among the gear I picked up were the venerable 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II and the 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lenses, two of Canon’s finest bits of glass. So: what was the experience like? I’d been using Nikon gear for weeks now, longer than the original 4 weeks slated for this experiment. I’d gotten used to the Nikon, and was expecting the process of going back to Canon to be a bit jarring. Back in Part 1 of this series, I’d said: It’s true. The D800 has more buttons than I expected. There is a physical switch for so many functions, from drive mode to metering mode to custom functions for the two front-facing buttons. On the Canon, I’m used to using the menu system and the LCD’s on the top and back of the body; so much of that is relegated to the buttons on the D800 body. So, going back to the Canon, I expected to fumble with the...