Upper: unprofiled (Standard) raw conversion. Lower: using a tunsgten-light generated custom camera profile, combined with a polarising filter, gives a more vivid impression.
Most Alpha system users know that some – not all – cameras have a special JPEG mode for Autumn Colours. They’ll also know that if you shoot raw, with no JPEG in camera, only Sony software replicates this. The choice of picture looks or camera profiles in Lightroom and other programs ranges from none (one default) to good (a full basic range similar to Canon settings). However, you can go way beyond the default look your camera will produce from the Autumn colours we are seeing right now (UK) if you profile your camera using the X-Rite Color Checker Passport and the free downloadable software which goes with it. You can also use this software with any standard MacBeth Color Checker card.
You still need to create a .dng file from your original raw, as you also do for Adobe’s free camera profile generator. The X-Rite software creates much smaller profile files but they are no less effective.
Here’s my tip – normally, you calibrate by daylight and the Adobe Camera Profile (.dcp) includes automatic adjustment for tungsten. You can also take two test shots, one under each lighting condition. Experimenting with the X-Rite software, I found that if you only use tungsten to create your profile, all the daylight ‘landscape’ colours (especially green foliage and the sky) really pop out. The greatest change is in the sky blue, which can be very disappointing if you use Adobe Standard as your camera profile for raw conversion.
The zip file you can download from above contains some .dcp profiles for the A7R II which I’ve produced (the names are more or less self-explanatory). They should be unzipped and placed in the CameraProfiles folder of Camera Raw in Application Support>Adobe. You can find the software, instructions for PC and Mac, at:
Using the stock Lightroom/ACR A7RII camera profiles you’ll find that the Landscape flavour tends, if anything, to make sky blue lighter. My tungsten-generated profile has most of the overall ‘snap’ of Landscape plus very much richer sky tones.
The second tip with Autumn/Fall colours is, of course, to use a polariser. I’d say this makes the single greatest difference to all Autumn colours even if you can’t see it clearly when composing. The individual leaves reflect light, and the polariser cuts through this to reveal the full colour. Because it also darkens the sky, the often fairly dark colours of Autumn trees come to life better. You don’t need to study the trees, just set the polariser for the best results with the sky. The leaves are at such random angles all positions tend to work equally well. It can however be worth trying a few different rotated positions of the polariser especially if there is also water in the shot. What deepens the sky may also reduce the strength of reflections in water. Experiment!
– David Kilpatrick
If you are considering buying a Color Checker, Color Checker Passport on Amazon can benefit this site.
Sony’s A7R II has a unique position in the mirrorless ILC world, creating the largest image files at over 42 megapixels from an in-body five axis stabilised sensor with exceptional performance given by backside illuminated CMOS.
My reviews in print of the Sony A7R II have now appeared, in the British Journal of Photography, f2 Cameracraft and Master Photography magazines. All three make slightly different points, and reflect growing experience of the camera which I bought from WEX as one of the first despatched on July 28th. The UK best body-only price then fell from their £2,695 to just over £2,000 from one main Sony dealer (at an event promotion) in under three months.
Despite finding bargain deals or importing directly, since the introduction of the A99 only three years ago I have lost about £3,500 keeping up with Sony full frame camera bodies. I’ve also spent around £2,000 buying other Sony models like the NEX-6, RX100, RX100 MkIII, RX10, and A6000 to cover the shortcomings of every different full frame model – and £2,000 or more updating my lenses.
So why invest in the A7R II when experience tells me the Sony system loses value faster than any other, yet so often falls short of performing as required?
One body for all lenses
The A7R II almost matches medium format digital, and gives great results with rangefinder (Leica) fit wide-angles. It has enabled me to add a 12mm f/5.6 Voigtländer Ultra Wide-Heliar to my kit for sharp, tint and vignette free 120° architectural and creative work. I write about lenses, and with current and future adaptors, this body lets me focus and make test shots with all lenses from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Leica and many others. Click the Heliar image below for a link to a full size (slightly cropped and straightened from 42 megapixels) file. It’s actually shot at f/11 though the pBase data says f/5.6, that how the camera’s Lens Correction app works.
There’s no lens made which disagrees with the 42 megapixel sensor as far as I can tell. My kit includes the 12mm mentioned above, the 16-35mm f/4 Carl Zeiss OSS, the 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 Sony OSS, the 28mm f/2 Sony OSS FE (look out for individual reviews shortly); a 40mm Canon f/2.8 STM pancake, a 24mm Samyang tilt-shift, 85mm Sony SAM f/2.8, Sigma 70-300mm OS and a whole bunch of interesting older stuff used on adaptors.
With the Lens Correction App configured for SS with each manual lens, the very high resolution of the A7R II sensor allows a stable view for precision magnified focus well beyond the ability of any AF method or reliance on focus peaking alone. Doing this at working aperture ensures no focus shift on stop down. The results show me quickly which lenses are excellent performers without needing an optical bench or test charts (give me a single LED light and a darkened room, and I can find out what I need to know about any lens very quickly).
Most Sony and Sony Carl Zeiss zooms do yield good sharp images on 42 megapixels but it’s easy to exceed their best by fitting something like my 1970-ish SMC Takumar 50mm macro (used for the shot above), or even my Russian 50mm f/2 tilt-adapted Zenitar. I found the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS which was fine on A7 II inadequate for critical quality on the A7R II and after tests concluded the 24-240mm was the best option to replace it. To learn why FE/E mount zooms and OSS lenses are never likely to blow away fixed focal length unstabilised types like the Zeiss Loxia or adapted classic RF and SLR optics, wait for my 24-240mm review.
Having said size matters, I downsize many of my final images to as small as 9 megapixels. I don’t need 42 megapixels (7952 x 5304) for every image and for some it’s ridiculous. I’m still selling thousands of stock images* taken with DSLRs from six megapixels up. So for general ‘field’ use, most lenses are more than OK, as I can reduce the file size right down 3600 x 2400 pixels when noise needs cutting, depth of field is a problem, or general sharpness is poor.
One sensor for all image shapes and sizes
With the A7R II, unlike the A7R, all the APS-C E-mount lenses work properly (they never have their OSS forcibly disabled). The auto cropped image is 5168 x 3448, 17.8 megapixels, and that’s a perfectly useful size for all personal and most professional work. The 0.78X EVF is, of course, completely filled to exactly the same visual quality as when a full frame lens is used – the user experience with an APS-C lens is identical to that with full frame.
As with downsizing or lens based cropping, I can crop full frame captures right down to less than a quarter of the A7R II image and have a file acceptable to Alamy for stock library use, or to a client directly for almost any reasonable editorial use. That same crop can go full page in a wedding album, or make a fine A3/16×12 print. It’s like using 120 rollfilm again, you can find pictures within pictures.
A 240mm shot clearly not close enough…
This is a 3600 x 2400 crop. That is, an image large enough for full page publication or a 12 x 18″ photo/inkjet print (click to view full size)
With many lenses which don’t cover full frame, a 24 x 24mm crop is perfect. The Sigma prime lens ART trio (19mm, 30mm and 60mm f/2.8 AF without stabilisation) all do well on this basis. I had a 16 megapixel square format digital back on Hasselblad V and the square format is a favourite. Unlike Olympus, who offer a 1:1 ratio capture, Sony only includes 3:2 (35mm shape) and 16:9 (HD widescreen) – I’d love them to add a proper 1:1 square image seen in the EVF and on screen, a perfect 28 megapixel crop.
The high resolution FF image also means there’s less need to stitch panoramas or use shift lenses. Canon’s 17mm f/4 TS-E tilt shift lens was introduced in 2009 when their full frame 12 megapixel 5D has just been upgraded to the 21 megapixel 5D MkII. On the A7R II, using its maximum 12mm shift reveals serious loss of outer field sharpness even at apertures like f/10, f/11 and f/13 which are optimum on other ways. It’s not a sensor cover glass problem as the Canon 5DS R revealed exactly the same weakness. Downsize the image to 12 megapixels, which the lens was probably first designed for, at everything looks sharp. But here’s where 42 megapixels can pay off – I just need to use a 12mm Voigtlander or a Sigma 12-24mm, crop a 14 x 21mm area from any part of the 24 x 36mm frame, and I have a 14 megapixel image allowing even more effective ‘shift’ than the Canon. And I can, of course, use the Canon via an adaptor if needed.
The same kind of strong cropping works for telephoto wildlife shots (300mm lens, better than 500mm on 14 megapixels) and for macro work (1:1 on full frame, 2.2:1 at 14 megapixels). You need to remember all the time that traditional depth of field calculations just don’t work well with sensors of 36 megapixels and over. When you view a full size A7R II image at 100% on a non-Retina iMac or HP 27″ monitor, you are looking at part of a six foot wide ‘print’. Depth of field tables, still used today, were based on viewing a 10 x 8″ print from a similar distance! This problem is reduced by higher resolution screens but sometimes, you simply need a smaller image size.
Canon 5DS/R (in proportion with earlier models) have useful M-RAW and S-RAW formats, allowing the cameras to become full frame 28 or 12 megapixels with a single menu change. This function is missing from Sony raw files and would be a great firmware enhancement, if it was possible.
Reasons to buy the A7R II
Having used two other A7 series bodies, and started the transition to the FE lens series with some mix of adapted glass on the way, why didn’t I stick with the far more realistic and practical A7 II, or the A7R which was paid for and at 36 megapixels just as useful a large file size?
- Internally or externally recorded 4K video though not a commercial offering from my side might well be a request from a future client. I don’t make videos though many years ago I did made 16mm films and many 35mm slide based dual and multi projector AV programs. However, I know many still photographers who have found sufficiently high-end clients for video to invest the time. I wouldn’t touch any video production, even a brief 20-second ad clip, for under four figures. It’s fun to experiment with until any serious use emerges. Also, excellent Super-35 crop format video.
- Completely silent operation when needed – though not compatible with any kind of flash, the fully electronic shutter is an option for wedding ceremonies and I’ve used that function already. It is also useful for shooting stills when someone is making a video, or during quiet concerts, in meetings, or when you simply don’t want the sound of a shutter to be heard. When silent is not needed, electronic first curtain (not provided on the A7R) improves shutter lag time and cuts vibration
- It’s also got a 500,000 actuation life shutter built to more than pro specification and a superior 0.78X electronic viewfinder, a slightly improved body flange for the lens mount (now common to all the II models, tighter and more precise than the original machining), no light leaks. And the mode dial is improved with a locking button, the Multi Function Accessory shoe is further improved in contact reliability, the ocular is T* coated and gives better eye relief.
- It will perform well with all kinds of lenses and the 399-point wide area phase detection AF array built in to the sensor functions partly, or completely, with more native Sony and converted Canon lenses than ever before. It betters the A7R and A7 II in this respect, though I sold the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM above as it didn’t work with the II having worked well on the A7R. Metabones have now fixed this, but my adaptor is a cheaper non-programmable type… you get what you pay for!
This is what you get from the Canon 5DS at ISO 6400, default, for shadow detail and noise (click to enlarge a 100% view of this section from a much larger file)
Compare the separation of the black ribbon, and the shadow detail in general, from a similar shot ISO 6400 A7R II file, using the same lens and settings (click to view enlarged).
- The back-illuminated CMOS sensor has a dynamic range – and a contrast curve or gamma function through controlled A to D conversion – which provides an ideal raw file for subsequent adjustment at lower ISO settings. Here, the difference seen above between the Canon 51MP sensor and the Sony 42MP is striking. The Sony images may often look softer and lack punch, but they reveal two stops more detail in the tones close to deep shadow. It’s probably been designed this way to allow s-Log gamma settings for professional video, producing flat neutral results ideal for grading to match from take to take. This happens to be very flattering to skin tones and it’s no surprise the A7R II is rivalling Fuji’s X-Trans sensor amongst fans of the flesh.
- The same sensor has awesome practical performance in low light without sacrificing resolution, and noise levels which allow surprisingly high ISO settings for critical subjects like wildlife where fur and feather textures are easily damaged by noise (or noise reduction). Properly processed from raw, or shot as JPEG in camera, ISO 800 can be used as an everyday setting and 1600 will not even harm landscape detail. Up to 6400 an effectively noise-free full size image can be extracted, and at 12,800 to 25,600 some downscaling is all that’s needed to clean up. Admittedly, it’s never going to match the 12 megapixel A7S or A7S II at 51,200 and has a limit at 102,400 rather than marching on to an insane 409,600 EI as that body does.
- Compared to buying an A7 II, remember that with the A7R II you get two Sony batteries and an external charger (about £150 in official value) as well as the ability to operate the camera from any 5v 1.5A USB source (not just to charge the battery internally, but to shoot using USB power)
You also get a neat tether-trap locking cage which screws into the camera side and can secure your USB and HDMI cables against accidental disconnection or strain on the connectors.
- Final reason – going beyond the A7R II specification does not seem to offer further compelling advantages. It doesn’t have any major flaws or shortcomings except perhaps the single card slot and some doubts about the durability of the body, weatherproofing, and the quality of the lens mount (see below). I’m not in need of more than 5fps and 22 continuous raws before slowing down, and if I am the smaller Sony models like the A6000 and my RX10 do some pretty neat extra high speed sequences. So, for the first time since the sale of my A900 to get the A99, I feel I have a long-term camera no matter what Sony does in six months to make it hopelessly out of date.
What’s could be wrong?
First up, the poorly specified and designed lens mount and low precision body/lens relationship. Where Minolta A, Fuji X, Pentax, Leica and nearly all good makes secure the body and lens bayonet mounts using six screws, the E-mount uses only four even for the top end bodies which may have to support lenses approaching 1 kilo in weight. The four-screw fitting creates two axes of potential tilt restrained only by diametrically opposed screws, six-screw design is better but actually a five screw design beats both as you can’t draw a diameter across any two screws and create a tilt axis.
The E/FE lens-body system is built round a concept of achieving final accuracy in alignment and focus without needing precision in every component. The nominal 18mm mount to sensor register doesn’t have to be perfect (and seems to vary by at least ±0.1mm). All Sony E and FE mount lenses compensate for variations and use free-floating magnetic focus often combined with floating OSS – they don’t have fixed infinity stops. Just as the bodies don’t have to be all that precise, the lenses themselves don’t need to be. As long as both work with the sensor to AF perfectly, the overall system is self-correcting.
You soon find out the limits of E-mount precision when buying adaptors for older manual lenses or modern Canon EF lenses. I’m sure Zeiss makes due allowance in the design of manual focus Loxia lenses, and Voigtlander has specifically allowed the new E-mount range planned for 2016 (10mm, 12mm and 15mm) to focus past infinity because they are aware of the variable register of the system. I have measured many adaptors and the only safe decision for the engineer is to fall short of the target register. Some very expensive adaptors turn out to be 0.3mm thicker than others for the same mount (I’ve found this in Leica M, Canon FD and Canon EF adaptors). The lenses being adapted often have a fixed infinity stop and are designed to hit this precisely. Combine a 0.1mm ‘plus thickness’ Sony body with a 0.2mm plus adaptor, and your manual wide angle lens won’t focus on infinity.
So, one overall issue is that despite the high cost, the Sony FE/A7 series range of bodies and lenses lacks the precision engineering of past systems and it’s designed that way. When you find one side of your pictures always seems soft with wide-angle, wide zoom or very fast lenses you have encountered the limitations of Sony precision and quality control.
Secondly, the A7R II has such large files and a slow overworked processor relative to those files and the massive task of running a high resolution, high frequency EVF and many clever software functions. Any kind of systematic ‘chimping’ to check each shot after taking may leave you frustrated. Depending on your choice of card and some unknown spin of the CPU’s internal dice, you will sometimes encounter long file writing times and a brief lockout from playback.
Install the 14-bit (in 16-bit container) raw uncompressed format introduced in October 2015 through a firmware update, and the situation may improve. With Firmware V2.0 I’ve seen typical write to card times halved but identical shots could take varying times and the worst case remains close to 10 seconds for the light to go off on a single shot. Most of time it’s clearing about 1 second after 2 second auto review, and disabling auto review has no apparent effect on this, or the time the camera takes to respond to a fresh shutter actuation.
Since you’ve been patient, and listened to why the A7 system in general has a few failings, here’s how to get the best optical performance and general response from it.
First of all, for the best optical performance use lenses where OSS can be disabled but in-body SS allowed to operate. The internal 5-axis sensor based stabilisation of the A7II/RII/SII is awesome. In-lens OSS is impressive but by its design will always lose you some resolution, often more towards one side or corner of the image than centrally. Amended paragraph, see comments: To see how good your stabilised lens really is, turn off stabilisation and shoot something using flash or at a high shutter speed.
But… if you turn off Steady Shot or OSS on the A7R II, you disable it in the body and the lens. You can not turn it off for the lens, but keep it working in the body. Only the 90mm f/2.8 Sony G OSS Macro, the 70-200mm f/4 Sony G OSS (above) and the 28-135mm f/4 Sony G PZ OSS offer the on-lens switch. So if you want stabilisation, you can’t choose to have it provided by the body with these lenses. You can do so with Canon, Sigma and Tamron lenses used on a Canon EF adaptor – their IS, OS or VC will operate normally when the SS in the body is disabled. In fact you must never use these lenses with both methods turned on together, or the result will be unsharp. This is a problem we first noticed with the Olympus system, where their lens and body stabilisation do not communicate and it’s possible to us none, just body, just lens or ruin shots by turning on both together. The Sony body used with third party lenses does allow this; used with Sony lenses, it prevents it.
The A7R II will switch between internal SS, lens OSS and a combination depending on settings. But it won’t tell you what it is doing, which makes this intelligent function something of a handicap. As a rule, if you can lock the camera down (tripod) or use a very fast exposure (studio flash, shutter speed 4X the focal length of the lens) shooting with no stabilisation at all will offer the best results.
Secondly, don’t use ‘AF With Shutter’ all the time. It’s convenient sometimes, but every time you take first pressure on the shutter, your E-mount AF lens will initialise a short routine involving focus position recalibration followed by AF. It costs you a variable extra lag before the shutter fires, maybe 1/15th to as long as 1/4 second. Instead, turn this off and AF will default to the centre button of the rear controller (you can change this assignment). You then use this to AF for each change of subject, composition or distance but if nothing’s changed you do not touch it and you do not re-AF. You save battery life, and you eliminate the whole shutter-button-AF delay cycle. You can now capture pictures, using electronic first curtain shutter or silent mode, within 1/20s of pressing the shutter.
Thirdly, for action shots prefer stops close to full aperture on E-mount lenses for the same reason – the aperture closing action involves a delay you can clearly identify and it’s longer with apertures like f/16. But for maximum reaction speed, use a purely manual lens. The camera knows there’s no aperture to be closed so it misses out that stage. It knows there’s no AF. You can get down to a mere 1/50s shutter lag, faster than most photographers can think. If you are used to older DSLRs which typically fire the shutter between 1/15s and 1/8s after you have pressed the button, you’ll anticipate and fire too early for action shots. Beware the LA-EA adaptors for A-mount lenses as you can’t turn off the aperture lever actuation. These adaptors will always add a delay even if you fit a manual lens.
I’m not going to delve into how you use focus peaking, magnification, setting the slowest shutter speed to be used by the Auto ISO function and so on. You can find out about this from countless videos and blogs, not all of which feature grandmothers, sucking and eggs. Nor will I recommend JPEG noise reduction and image settings in camera, since I don’t use JPEGs. Remember that your picture style and adjustments, like extra sharpening or contrast, will be reflected in the view you see through the EVF and on-screen. They will affect focus peaking, the histogram and what the image looks like when you use magnified manual focus, too. My tip is ‘stay neutral’ for the best EVF experience and ability to judge and control your results, especially if shooting raw. Camera Standard – boring but it won’t fool you into making adjustments which are not needed.
A 16mm landscape with careful focus checking, and only just enough depth of field even at f/16 if the end result is going to be a 1m wide print
Read the manual, think about all the functions of the camera, assign your custom buttons, set your parameters. My set-up includes (routinely) Auto ISO 200-1600 because within that range the A7R II files have low noise and good textural sharpness and there’s no great benefit in dropping to 100; AWB; 1/250th slowest shutter speed because the world moves and I’m very happy with 1/250th at ISO 800 rather than 1/125 at ISO 400 for nearly all my walkabout shots; AdobeRGB because I need that but actually sRGB is better matched to the EVF and rear screen, and will give you a more accurate histogram; no JPEGs because I don’t need them; Airplane Mode on; compressed raw unless there’s a really good reason; AF-S and Centre point focus; no face recognition, no smile shutter, no tracking, nothing clever with AF; single shot; generally Aperture Priority but sometimes P, M or very rarely S; Date Format file folders; SS on; electronic first curtain; setting effect on; finder and screen at default brightness and colour; grid lines 3 x 3; focus peaking low, yellow; lens correction enabled; 2 secs review, or none.
– David Kilpatrick, all images except front and rear views of A7R II body and 70-200mm lens are ©David Kilpatrick/Icon Publications Ltd; please do not link directly to images or copy
* You need thousands on offer to sell dozens…
Hasselblad HV from B&H
I feel slightly sick… I’ve spent so much on buying and replacing successive Sony A7 series cameras and their lenses that I can’t just buy this outright, which I would love to do. I sold my A99 to get the A7R (subsequently replaced by A7II, and now by A7R II) and have regretted it in so many ways, the whole optical concept of the mirrorless system being built down to a price by using innovative construction… unlike the A99 lenses which are designed even to be usable on film, let alone on a DSLR body. And then there’s GPS. I really miss GPS-in-camera and it can take me many extra hours without its benefit, to caption a 500 to 1000 final edit from one or two weeks of travel shooting to the degree of detail my work requires. And dual memory card slots… and just the whole feel of the camera.
B&H have this today for only $3,495 with the 24-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens, two batteries, and case.
And this is actually cheaper than an A99 and pretty much hand rebuilt by Hasselblad into a new body, with a hand-picked lens (you can be sure) all fitted in a Pelican-style hard case. It’s not vacant bling on a camera which does not deserve it – it’s a thorough upgrade to one of the best system cameras ever made, to make it even better.
They ship to the UK and rest of the world very reliably and honestly, if I had the spare cash, there would one on the way to me now. If you do buy from this link (anything from B&H, even if you navigate away from this offer) we do make some small commission to help support the site. Buy a hundred of ’em and I can maybe get mine!
– David Kilpatrick
It’s been a while since my last review of Sony products here, and not because I have been inactive. The truth is that I’ve spent so much on Sony kit 24/7 working has been necessary, including a good few reviews and tests of the A7RII and lenses appearing elsewhere. It’s a real issue, I now lose so much value with the lightning-fast depreciation of Sony’s products within a few months of launch that my old tactic of buying, reviewing and selling no longer works. For one thing, no media in the world will readily pay a fee which even matches the amount you might lose on a camera body in the A7 series over its first two months of retail life. Sony have been good enough to lend me a few items for brief periods but you really can’t form any useful opinions on such radical and new hardware on that basis.
However, my A7R II report is shortly on the way, and the extra time spent using the camera and suffering the damage to my credit card does not harm the process. It helps put the gear in context. I’ve resisted the anti-social pricing policies of the UK camera retail environment for some time, even buying one grey import from Panamoz. So it’s appropriate that my first article for a fair while should be intended to help you save money and get great results from any A7 full frame FE mount camera, while also supporting a company whose UK pricing policies are entirely reasonable – Sigma.
The Sigma 60mm f/2.8 ART DN lens
The butterfly above is one example of what this lens can do on uncropped full frame, in this case adding a single 16mm extension tube, which we’ll come to later as the exact type of tube you buy matters a great deal!
The neat, low-cost 60mm f/2.8 is the portrait lens in Sigma’s Art DN lens trio for APS-C and MicroFourThirds mirrorless systems. I’ve used the 19mm f/2.8 and 30mm f/2.8 as well, but the 60mm is my favourite. Originally, I tested it on Olympus MFT and the 50cm close focus with their 2X factor made it almost feel like a macro. It’s actually just 1:7.2X scale, but 1:3.6X relative to full frame on that smaller sensor. That’s a really good working distance and subject scale.
I was curious to see how much of the full frame the 60mm would cover. All these Sigma lenses are just £129.99-£139.99 retail at most UK dealers right now. They are beautifully designed and made, very light, use 46mm filters and have advanced optical design giving high contrast and first-class full aperture sharpness. Well, the answer is easy enough; you’ll get more than APS-C, with a 24 x 24mm square format crop working well, but not anything like full frame at any aperture from the 60mm.
This is the closest focus of the Sigma ART DN 60mm on the A7R II, uncropped.
Sigma call it a telephoto, with its rear nodal point much closer than 60mm to the focal plane. But its design signalled it would probably perform well as a macro lens too.
Meike extension tubes
So, we add extension tubes between the A7-series body and the lens. There’s one prominent make, Meike, and a couple of years ago I bought their very low-cost fully electronically coupled plastic 10 and 16mm twin tube set. 26mm of extension is not much. It won’t even make the E-mount 35mm f/1.8 focus to 1:1, and does even less with a 60mm. However, what it does is worthwhile combined with the lens’s own focusing range.
I found my plastic Meike tubes have a narrow circular throat and cut the image off all round. But, you say, the image was cut off all round already, so what could be done?
When you mount an APS-C lens on tubes, it covers more than APS-C. Put it on tubes adding about 1.4X to its focal length – like using 26mm of tubes on a 60mm lens – and it will cover full frame. You are moving the lens further from the focused plane, and as you do so, its fixed angle field of sharp coverage grows (it more or less follows the inverse square law, as does the effective working aperture of the lens when you use tubes). So a lens made for the NEX sensors, c.16 x 24mm, can cover 24 x 36mm when used on tubes for close-ups. The 60mm on 26mm of tubes would cover 24 x 36mm even with no leeway. Since the lens already has a good image circle, it turns out that it covers 24 x 36mm when used on the 16mm tube alone, and shows just a hint of corner cutoff with the 10mm tube alone. With both, it covers the full frame easily.
This is the result of using a 10mm metal extension tube – not the plastic set. The plastic design cuts off even more than the lens used on its own.
Meike understand this. They have a newer, metal-mount extension tube set costing about twice as much as the original plastic one. To get it, you must search for Meike metal extension tubes – and they are not easy to identify for certain. There’s very little explanation on-line. These tubes have a full width throat with baffles top and bottom, more or less matching the 24 x 36mm frame shape. Some black flock paper is glued in to prevent light reflection at the sides, but none is fitted top and bottom, and this is the main weakness of the design (you can obtain flock paper and fix this yourself).
Twin set, no pearls
Used alone, the metal Meike tubes turn the Sigma 60mm into a very good close-range long standard lens for the A7 series. I found that you can add the plastic tubes next to the lens, not next to the camera, and suffer no cut-off. This combination of four tubes adds 52mm and makes the Sigma 60mm able to do 1:1 with the addition of its own AF range.
You need to understand sensor-based stabilisation before using any manual lens on tubes (which these are equally suitable for, with adaptors). The A7 II series bodies use the focal length and focus distance of the lens as transmitted to the camera to control the Steady Shot Inside function. As far as I can tell from practical tests, the Meike tubes do not transmit any change to the information reaching the CPU, but SS seems to be OK with such relatively minimal extra focus extension.
This shot was taken at 1/15th hand-held with the 16mm tube on the A7R II, ISO 800, 14-bit uncompressed raw, f/8 on the Sigma 60mm lens. There’s no significant corner vignetting with 16mm of extra extension to the lens.
This is a 100% clip from the shot.
When I mount my 50mm Macro SMC Takumar on the A7R II I use either the SSI menu control, or the Lens Compensation App, to tell the SSI system I’m using a lens with an extension in place. It focuses to 1:2 size, and for this I tell the camera I’m using a 75mm lens not a 50mm. If I add 26mm of tubes, it will focus to 1:1 and I need to tell the camera I’m using a 100mm lens. That’s because a 50mm lens extended to 1:1 focus has the same camera shake characteristics as a 100mm lens used on a distant scene. Be careful, as this relationship only holds good for simple lenses (Tessar, Sonnar etc) and not for any zoom lenses, or any macro lens which uses internal focusing. If you mount a Tamron 60mm f/2 macro on your Sony body using a dumb adaptor, just tell the camera it’s got a 60mm attached. The Tamron changes focal length to focus, but the effect for anti-shake purposes is that it remains a 60mm. Its angle of view remains unchanged as you focus, while my 60mm Sigma when used at 1:1 repro covers half the angle of view it does at infinity.
I am not entirely sure whether the Meike tubes work properly with SS Inside, or if the system simply has enough latitude to function with my degree of unsteady hand-holding. Those contacts just seem to make a connection, with no chip to add information. The EXIF data does show the focal length correctly, and the set aperture (which will be a reduced effective aperture at closer range, 26mm of tubes turns 60mm f/2.8 into a working f/4-ish). But the focus distance is shown as whatever the lens focus function chip confirms – a range of 50cm to infinity. That’s obviously incorrect when tubes are added, in contrast to using a dedicated lens like the Sony 90mm f/2.8 FE G OSS Macro, which will show the true focused distance in the viewfinder and also pass correct data to the CPU.
So, a warning – the 60mm plus tubes is not technically perfect but seems to work well enough.
When you use a tripod or flash, or a fast shutter speed, and turn off Steady Shot none of this applies. In practice with shutter speeds fast enough to stop subject action or wind vibration, it all goes well. The Sigma is very sharp even though not designed for macro range work, but that’s typical of this type of lens – even if 8 elements in 6 groups with several low-dispersion elements is not basic.
Here’s an example with 26mm of tubes plus some lens focus range. The ISO 800 14-bit uncompressed file has allowed some work on the bee’s back which lacked contrast. Click to open a 2048 pixel wide version.
Here’s an example which clicks through to a full size A7R II AdobeRGB JPEG (no doubt much crunched by WordPress image storage) taken at f/9 on the 16mm tube. If any of my image files have 20mm in the filename it was the 16mm tube – I’m so used to the lengths used by regular SLR mounts! The 60mm has a seven-blade aperture and gives pleasantly neutral defocused quality behind the subject. You can call it bokeh if you want to. Thank you, Scottish weather, for keeping a few flowers in this condition and giving me some sunshine just after the 14-bit uncompressed raw upgrade for the A7R II arrived.
The Metal Meike extension tubes have the same essential benefit over the plastic version with all FE and E mount, and legacy, lenses used of the A7 series full frame bodies. You can use them on the 28-70mm, 24-70mm, 55mm f/1.8, 28mm f/2 and most lenses though they have little use with the 70-200mm and I would not recommend hanging a 24-240mm off a tube.
– David Kilpatrick
If you have found this article useful, you can support Photoclubalpha by using affiliate buying links (we are not sponsored or paid in any other way, except by selling subscriptions to f2 Cameracraft).
Sigma 60mm at B&H
Vello metal mount extension tubes at B&H (similar to Meike)
Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN for Sony E – Silver from Amazon UK, no idea why they have none in black
Visit Wex Photographic and search for any items (UK)
Here’s this morning’s news:
United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, 7 September 2015 – Canon Europe, a leader in imaging solutions, today announces that its parent company, Canon Inc., is developing an APS-H-size (approx. 29.2 x 20.2 mm) CMOS sensor incorporating approximately 250 million pixels (19,580 x 12,600 pixels), the world’s highest number of pixels for a CMOS sensor smaller than the size of a 35 mm full-frame sensor.
When installed in a camera, the newly developed sensor was able to capture images enabling the distinguishing of lettering on the side of an airplane flying at a distance of approximately 18 km from the shooting location
Well, this is great for the Guinness Book of Records, but you need to put it in context. Sony’s little HX60 – like many other 1/2.3 inch sensor compacts offering 20 megapixel resolution – records 705,000 pixels per square millimetre, 840 pixels per linear millimetre. And where Canon shows a 35mm f/1.4 lens on their prototype camera, the wee Sony goes to 129mm…
The new Canon sensor records about 450,000 pixels per square millimetre, or 670 pixels per linear millimetre. It’s actually just a little bit higher in resolution than the Sony one-inch sensor used in the Cyber-Shot DSC RX10 and RX100 series (414,000 pixels per square millimetre).
In theory, given the same lens and the ability to aim the camera, a pocket Sony Cyber-shot with backside illuminated CMOS 20.2 megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor can distinguish the lettering on that airplane (or if you’re in Britain, aircraft or aeroplane…) from 22.5 kilometres – and if the Sony G zoom on that HX60 is sharp enough, make that 82km. Unless of course Canon was actually testing with a 600mm f/4 attached. Saying what focal length of lens is used gets rather important when chucking around statistic-examples like this.
It is very easy to use facts and figures without reference or benchmarks for comparison.
This is no reason to rain on Canon’s parade, as the video achievement is a major one. Here’s the rest of their tech info, and the important bit is in the last paragraph – Big Brother is droning you… and across that city square, he’ll be able to recognise your eyes and put a bullet in your head with surgical precision.
With CMOS sensors, increases in pixel counts result in increased signal volume, which can cause such problems as signal delays and slight discrepancies in timing. The new Canon-developed CMOS sensor, however, despite its exceptionally high pixel count, achieves an ultra-high signal readout speed of 1.25 billion pixels per second, made possible through such advancements as circuit miniaturisation and enhanced signal-processing technology. Accordingly, the sensor enables the capture of ultra-high-pixel-count video at a speed of five frames per second. Additionally, despite the exceptionally high pixel count, Canon applied its sensor technologies cultivated over many years to realise an architecture adapted for miniaturised pixels that delivers high-sensitivity, low-noise imaging performance.
Video footage captured by the camera outfitted with the approximately 250-megapixel CMOS sensor achieved a level of resolution that was approximately 125 times that of Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) video and approximately 30 times that of 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) video. The exceptionally high definition made possible by the sensor lets users crop and magnify video images without sacrificing image resolution and clarity.
Canon is considering the application of this technology in specialised surveillance and crime prevention tools, ultra-high-resolution measuring instruments and other industrial equipment, and the field of visual expression.
Actually, I see a better use. With the camera set up to cover an entire playing field, licenced from Sony the latest ‘Ball-AF’ ball recognition technology will keep focus on the ball and Minolta’s auto zoom framing patent will compose the crop. TV crews will no longer be needed and Rupert Murdoch will be able to install a full system in every stadium!
– David Kilpatrick
At a workshop given by John Denton for The Flash Centre, with Elinchrom lighting and Pentax 645Z demonstration. model Laura posed for a comparison pair of shots using the Pentax with 90mm macro lens and the A7RII equipped I regret to say with a much inferior lens, the basic 28-70mm.
To compare the quality bear in mind that the Pentax was ISO 200 at f/5.6 and the Sony was ISO 400 at f/8 as I felt it necessary to stop down – I should not have, as I had forgotten than the 28-70mm is sharper at f/5.6 than f/8, which introduces local unsharpness to the left hand end of the image (landscape) and did with all three samples I have used. This means the model’s face is smeared on the Sony shot, because this lens can’t produce a sharp image under these conditions in that part of the frame. Yes, I’ve had some OK results, but this was the first time I used the 28-70mm on the A7RII. It is OK on the A7II and A7S, as the blur is not so visible at those magnifications. It’s really not good on the A7R or A7RII.
So, please examine everything except the face…
This is the Pentax shot. Despite the matched for theoretical exposure, it is much darker and the ISO 200 is only equal to ISO 100 in Sony terms. Daylight balance set for the flash, Adobe Camera Standard profile since no other is available.
Here is the full resolution link to 146MB (if opened or downloaded) original:
This is the Sony shot. The Camera Portrait profile in ACR gave much improved skin tones, so I’ve used this. The pBase link appears to have scaled the images proprotionally, so the 42Mp image is correctly smaller than the 50Mp.
Here is the link to the 120MB original:
Enjoy – John teaches retouching and has set up deliberately harsh lighting to create over-sharp skin and too much detail, which he then expertly ‘fixes’. My shots are un-fixed. His workshops are worth every penny as he delivers an entire set of notes and his Photoshop actions to all delegates.
– David Kilpatrick
I’m under pressure to take endless pictures with the A7R II which arrived from WEX (Warehouse Express) on Thursday superbly packed. I am also finishing off f2 Freelance Photographer magazine to go to print over the weekend and have many hours of work to do – and despite having the camera, I won’t be removing some other article to rush a scoop into print.
It’s actually pointless to attempt to review any camera until you have used it for a few days at the minimum, with deliberate testing in mind, or several weeks with normal unplanned uses to confront it. Nothing tests a camera (and photographer) quite like real world pictures which are not hunted down as test subjects.
But of course I have gone out and taken a few shots during a brief period of sunshine which has returned after days of rain, and replicated a set-up I shot few weeks ago on the A7R, also to test a new type of combined LED and flash lighting head (Bowens IC12).
First of all, the £2695 UK price has to be compared against the A7S, A7II, or A7R with due accounting for its useful bonus – this camera body comes with the usual USB charger block and a battery, and then a further Sony external battery charger (remember them?) and a second battery. At Sony RRP this is £76 (battery) and unavailable (charger) but surprisingly expensive when it was. It’s definitely £100-worth of extras. There is also a screw in, not clip in, screw clamp grip twin USB/HDMI tethering lock device which could also securely grip mic and headphone leads.
Unboxing should hold no surprises now, but firing up the A7R II was a familiar experience as so many of setting customisations turned out to be factory preset to my own preferences. It still needed the image size and filetype setting up, AdobeRGB, Date Form folders and a few other things I used. And then, at last, the entry of copyright and byline information to be embedded into every image!
The A7R II takes the same GGS screen protector as the A7II and the RX100 series, not the same as the A7. First job was to stick a temporary protector on, and order one of these. All my cameras have GGS glass on them from day 1.
I used the CZ 16-35mm f/4 lens for a few outdoor shots and also for a test or two I will not release (too many tripods, cat trays and empty boxes in shot!) indoors at up to ISO 6400. Basically… you can use Auto 100 to 6400 and as long as you set Luminance NR to 25 from 400 up and increase it gradually to 50 at 6400 (LR/ACR) the images will be smooth and noise free as well as sharp. I also enter NR 10 even at 100, because it helps keep sky blues smooth.
You can view or download and examine, as you wish, a full size 120 megapixel from this from my pBase library – http://www.pbase.com/davidkilpatrick/image/160888201
You can view at ‘large’ which is really small… select ‘Original’ to see the original, of course. Or a tiny corner of it! If you think the 16-35mm is at the edge of its performance at f/9 in this shot, you are right. Anything wider and the corners and ends of the shot become visibly soft at 16mm. This test shows me that where f/9 was fine for 24 megapixels, I’m probably going to go for f/11 or even f/13 as a standard setting with the A7R II.
This is not a fair test even yet, but it says a few things. It’s taken on a late 1960s Asahi Pentax SMC Macro Takumar 50mm lens (I enter 75mm in the App data on the camera to ensure correct SSS) set to f/11, which is actually around f/14 at this working distance/extension. The camera is hand-held, with a Sony mini flashgun on top bounced to trigger two Bowens IC12 heads set to flash mode, after first doing the lighting and subject adjustments in LED Video mode. With these unique heads, the flash and the video modes are 100% identical in terms of how they cast shadows. The flash was set to 1/1 power at 1/1000th for a bare fresnel spot on the left, and 1/2 power at 1/1000th in a small Apollo softbox above and to the right. Focusing was done using the magnify function by moving the camera (or head and hands, in effect) over the subject.
Again, you can view a 100% 120 megapixel version of this: http://www.pbase.com/davidkilpatrick/image/160888192
Because this is very low power LED burst flash I need to set the ISO to 800, which would never be chosen for detail. NR is at Luminance 25 in Adobe Camera Raw (adjusting only that top slider). There is a full dynamic range with deep shadows and brightly caught surfaces. No adjustments have been made to the raw file in conversion for contrast, colour or exposure. I think it represents a very highly quality for ISO 800 and to see the level of microcontrast and detail, you need to examine the lowest contrast surfaces – the rounded bodies of the poppy heads. Throughout the image you will find areas of sharp focus and softer focus and it’s easy to tell the maximum sharpness zones. I also made an exposure at f/16 and this is significant softened by diffraction as you would expect. At f/8 this macro lens is likely to be sharper but with a file size like this, depth of field rules go out of the window. You need to use the same technique as would be employed when planning to make a 20 x 30″ print from a 35mm negative!
I will have more images soon enough. My initial impression is that the A7II really fixed the ergonomics of this camera type, the A7R II is identical; its functions cover all the functions found on every different A7 series body sufficiently well to make it one camera for all purposes.
– David Kilpatrick
The link to Warehouse Express is an affiliate link and purchases made through this link benefit the publisher
Of interest to UK full frame owners – Amazon EU (and also at least one other vendor) has the 16-35mm f/4 FE on sale with a 37% discount at £799.99, on top of which Sony has a £100 cashback on this lens – and I can confirm that these cashbacks work 100% reliably. This makes the lens £699.99 including VAT which in my case is recoverable, which may also apply to others outside the EU or in specific zones.
Update 12 noon July 21st: all were sold within 12 hours of the this story going live. Sorry, they are now at least £190 more from authorised sources eligible for the cashback, still a substantial reduction but not this exceptional deal.
Sony Vario T* FE 16 – 35 mm F4 ZA OSS Lens
I’ve been using a loaner review sample of this lens for three weeks and conclude from tests that (performance being equal) it will be up to the A7R II – and Sony would not sell me the lens directly even with a press/trade discount for any less than this. Even secondhand ones fetch £695.
It may seem odd when I’ve got various other ways to cover this range, but it’s simply a lens I have grown to like a lot in use. The 72mm filter thread and its overall size and weight seem just right. Some other lenses may be sold to cover the cost and all, in their own ways, are better in some aspect – my 20mm VSL II is very versatile on a tilt-shift adaptor, my Samyang 24mm TS is equally so, and I’ve been making good use of a trio of Canon fit lenses adapted including the Sigma 12-24mm. It’s always difficult to decide which to use, how big a kit to assemble for a job, and the 16-35mm kind of solves this for me. OK, no 12mm, no TS but 42 megapixels will give me the ability to crop a 16mm shot instead of shooting a shifted 20mm or 24mm.
Today I visited the press preview of Photography: A Victorian Sensation at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It’s a major exhibition which actually goes beyond the wonderful huge collection of mint condition Daguerreotypes and other early examples, ending with a Nikon D5500 as an example of today’s tech.
You can visit this entirely free if you are member of National Museums of Scotland. For non-members, it’s £10 (adults) £8 (concession), or £6.50 (children 12-15) and free for under 12s, until November 22nd. The museum itself is free entry, and if only one person in your family wants to see this (Exhibition Gallery 1, Level 3) there’s plenty for others to see and do.
I wanted to see the Nikon – I had helped the curator with this, putting her directly in touch with the right individual at Nikon, after a mutual friend in Edinburgh asked for assistance. Why not Sony? Well, the museum acquires representative technology for the permanent collection, and specifically wanted a DSLR not a DSLT or mirrorless – and the Nikon fitted well with a 1990 first generation digital camera displayed close to it, another Nikon. No doubt at some future date, mirrorless will be so much the flavour of the era that they acquire a Sony.
It’s a superb show, with wall-high prints blown up from unexpectedly early originals. Although it is not a huge exhibition area, I would recommend sparing half an hour for the casually disinterested family member, an hour to two hours for this who actually look at the exhibits, and half a day for anyone who wants to access the touch screens, study the work and really learn something. The good thing about the museum is that if you DO have family members who want to do something else, there’s plenty to see and much of it is rather fun, whether Dolly the Sheep or the kids’ painting and crafts corner. It also has a café which is not overpriced and Edinburgh’s Old Town tourist attractions are a five minute walk from the door. Parking cost me £2.60 for one hour on a nearby meter, paid by mobile phone, and there are cheaper options.
One of the best bits must be the use of touch screens (above) which replicate a cabinet (as below) of small original works. Tap the corresponding thumbnail, and it fills the screen. Do an ‘expand’ gesture with two fingers (or hands) and the super-high-res copy of the Victorian work – often only a few centimetres wide – expands to show microscopic resolution. Daguerreotypes, in particular, are almost grain-free and reveal as much detail as Sony A7R II… who needs 42 megapixels when you have countless megamolecules?
The exhibition includes National Museums Scotland’s extensive early photographic collections, including Hill and Adamson’s images of Victorian Edinburgh, and the Howarth-Loomes collection, much of which has never been publicly displayed. The cartes-de-visite and cabinet photographs below emphasise the huge volume of these portraits produced 150 years ago.
Highlights include an early daguerreotype camera once owned by William Henry Fox Talbot; an 1869 photograph of Alfred, Lord Tennyson by Julia Margaret Cameron; a carte-de-visite depicting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a middle-class couple and an early daguerreotype of the Niagara Falls. There’s a special niche for Eastman and his Kodak.
You are also be able to visit a ‘stylised recreation of a Victorian photographer’s studio’ – er, not exactly a re-creation, as stylised is certainly the word! Victorian props and costume details can be used, and you can take a photograph, which will be displayed in a photomontage at the end of the exhibition. The lighting, however, appears to be Godox Witstro or a similar battery flash mounted into a big Elinchrom Octa.
At the press day, model Bronwyn Mackay was dressed in Victorian costume. My photo of her (top), not in the studio setting but holding a stereoscope with part of the display behind her, was taken using my Sony A6000 with 16-50mm OSS lens. Bronwyn is lit by the new ICE Light 2, which I’m holding in my left hand. The camera is at ISO 3200 and the lens at f/5.6, but it’s still a marginal 1/13th exposure, as the lights are low in the room and the ICE light is at minimum power to balance the shot and prevent distress to the model.
I am told there is a book and a smaller catalogue (neither available when I visited) and we’ll be looking at the book, for certain, in Cameracraft magazine.
For further information on the exhibition please visit www.nms.ac.ukphotography
– David Kilpatrick
We’ve had news of the new Sigma Art HSM high speed wide angle full frame zoom – 24-35mm f/2.
It will be available in Nikon, Canon and Sigma mounts only (release date not yet confirmed) according to Sigma in the UK.
Note that this will be a bit of monster with its 82mm filter thread, 117mm long barrel and substantial petal lens hood.
Sigma does not make a full frame DSLR. Sony is now a major market for high end full frame lenses. What’s going on here? We’ll just have to wait and see. Maybe Sigma just reckon every FF Sony mirrorless owner will have a Canon AF adaptor and maybe their HSM – which works pretty well on the A7II – will even allow fast AF on the new A7R II.