Saturday, October 13, 2012

Shutter Therapy with a Sony

In case you have missed my previous entry, I have bought a new camera system, and it is Sony. I am still fairly new to this system, though the camera body itself is more than 4 years old now, the much respected Sony Alpha 350. I am taking my time to get to know the camera better, understand its behaviour and unique characteristics, so that I can make the best out of it. A lot of things about this camera are still unfamiliar to me, and I have a great fun discovering the wonders of this Sony in my shutter therapy session this morning. The location of shoot was Petaling Street, and my companions were Luke Ding and Nick Wade. 

Me and my Sony Alpha. 
Photo Credit: Nick Wade. 
Taken during shutter therapy two nights ago at Bukit Bintang. Cheers Nick. 




WHAT SONY DID RIGHT 4 YEARS AGO

That Battery Life Percentage Indicator

When I was looking for the battery life indicator, immediately it put a smile on my face (not the Joker kind) because the reading of remaining battery capacity was down to +/- 1% accuracy, which I think was simply brilliant. It was just a matter of simple programming and perhaps addition of small piece of cheap hardware, but that percentage battery indicator was surely an added bonus, and SHOULD be included in ALL digital cameras, DSLR, mirrorless system and even point and shoot compact cameras. My older Olympus cameras have somewhat less useful battery indicator that only shows the battery capacity in three separate bars. What does one bar mean anyway? Does it mean I have 30% battery left? Or more like 5% left? Simple, yet very helpful feature like this was what made Sony such an electronic giant, they know how to take care of their consumer's user experience. 

User-Friendliness

In the beginning I was worrying that it would be difficult to adapt to a completely different camera system, with different button layouts and menu system. I was so wrong. This Sony DSLR camera was one of the easiest camera system I have handled, and it only took me a few minutes to go through the entire menu system (which was not much really) and getting used to where the important settings and controls are. The great thing about the buttons: it has a shortcut ISO button, which I can control directly, and the button was placed right at the top of the camera so the reach was easy. There is a shortcut function button that accesses most of the important controls such as metering, autofocus settings, white balance, etc, and I must say everything in the menu system was very well laid out, and easy to use. I have tried both Canon and Nikon DSLRs (lets talk about cameras the same age and class) such as the Canon 400D/450D and Nikon D60/D90, boy, those Canon and Nikon cameras sure are difficult to navigate around. Also, to be entirely honest, Olympus cameras have some of the most complicated menu system, and I admit, they are NOT user friendly at all, especially for beginners. There are so many settings that are hidden and a little hard to access directly. Seriously, of all the available entry level cameras for beginners, if you want fuss free operation and quick understanding on how to gain control of the camera settings, Sony offers the best balance between rich features and user-friendliness. I find the Sony Alpha 350 to be such an ease and joy to use !!

Great Dynamic Range

I have reasons to believe that Sony DSLR entry level cameras at that time have the best dynamic range offerings in class. Added the Dynamic Range Optimizer, even straight out of camera JPEG have very optimized dynamic range output, preserving details in highlight and shadow. Please do not judge the dynamic range of the camera from my photographs because I love to add plenty of contrast in my photographs destroying details, and I know it is one of the "must follow rules" based on the photography forums everywhere to watch the highlight burns and shadow clippings. The heck with that !! To be that is not the most important thing of the photograph and should not be given too much priority, or getting too worked up about. Yes, I acknowledge the importance of having great dynamic range, but over-emphasizing it won't make the photograph any better either. 

All images in this entry were taken with Sony Alpha A350 and Sony DT 50mm F1.8 lens. Minimal post-processing applied. 

The beggar

Loving family

Turban

Apam Balik seller

Newspaper

newspaper headshot

Orchids

Sari

Now that I have shot with A350 in better lighting condition, there are many things I have discovered about the camera's capabilities, image output and overall functionality. Some good things, and of course, some not so good things as well. 

Images are soft, but its ok...

The sky was cloudy all morning, which ended in heavy rain approaching noon, thus providing dull and flat lighting to the subjects. Since it was bright, I shot mostly with the 50mm lens wide open at F1.8, and used lowest ISO setting on the camera at 100 only for most shots. I found images shot at ISO100, with the 50mm lens at F1.8 to be on the soft side, with rather unimpressive resolution captured by the camera's 14MP image sensor. In accurately focused photographs, the image looked good enough and sufficiently pleasing, but upon closer inspection at 100% view (ok I do pixel peep sometimes so sue me) that usual sharpness I get from famous Olympus Zuiko lenses.... is absent. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that the lens is not good, or not sharp. Perhaps most 50mm F1.8 lenses out there from any manufacturer has the same "softness" being used wide open, and it did not bother me that much, really. When I intended to use F1.8, I wanted the shallow depth of field to isolate my main subjects, which worked out very well, and indeed, I am loving the background blur this 50mm F1.8 lens is capable of. Bokeh looks very smooth and creamy, just as I have expected, and subject separation from the background was easily achieved. The main subject remained clear and visible, but not crackling sharp, and I am perfectly fine with this. Shooting on the street has a lot more emphasis on the subject content, rather than technical excellence of the image quality. And to be honest, if I wanted sharper images, I would have stopped down the lens to F2.8, or narrower. 

If you think the images in this blog entry are sharp, well, I have added sharpness in post-processing, very aggressively  I rarely find the need to sharpen my Olympus images much at all. 

Focusing was fast, but....

Focusing was very fast, but..... there is something troubling... there is a noticeable shutter lag. I do not know quite how to describe this, but when you half press the shutter button, the focus worked fantastically fast under bright lighting condition, no doubt and you hear that "teet teet" AF confirmation almost instantly, but as you fully press the shutter button to snap the photograph, there is that very, very slight pause before you hear the mirror and shutter do what they are supposed to do. That very little lag, perhaps a quarter of a second, is significant enough for me to miss some shots. As I use my older Olympus systems, the Olympus E-520, the focusing was obviously slower (that dinosaur focusing system) but when the focus was successfully locked, if you fully press the shutter button, the shutter was released IMMEDIATELY, you won't feel any delay at all. So you may have trouble focusing on a moving subject, with the lens hunting or hesitating, but once you hear that "teet-teet" you immediately press the shutter button, you can nail that shot and you know confidently you got it with the Olympus E-520. This was not the case with the Sony A350. The focusing lock speed was very fast, all the time, but when you want that image captured, there is that very small lag, and as the subject moved, shooting at F1.8, you know the subject was already out of the sweetspot of the focus plane. Annoying, but it takes some getting used to and I am sure it won't be much of an issue after that. 

It feels like something is about to fall off from the camera...

The handling of the camera, as I have mentioned in the previous entry was balanced, comfortable and good enough. However, one thing I do not like about holding the camera was the feeling of "creakiness" as if there are loose connections and something was not fully screwed on or might fall off. When I hold any Olympus cameras, even their cheapest DSLR, it feels like a piece of brick, reassuring and no loose connections. This Sony A350 feels cheap, and the construction was not as robust or solid as competing DSLR models from other manufacturers. 

Doing Something to the Chicken

Doubt the Authenticity of the Notes

Full of bags

Sitting high up. Good example of great dynamic range control from Sony. The sky was white (overcast) there was no detail there so please don't cry foul at me, but look at the man against the strong backlit situation, his skin exposure was spot on. 

Fruits

How to kill a passer-by

Unhealthy

Long hair

Alone

Loving the Sony CCD colors !!

Generally, I really like the color output from this Sony A350. I do think that the color rendition is beautiful, though it was not very close to what I see with my eyes. To be I am not overly particular with absolute color accuracy, as long as they look pleasing and good, I am ok. I think there is just something magical about CCD sensors that trumps CMOS sensors in colors. I am not a fan of what Canon and Nikon did with the color output from their cameras (though I do admit they are not that bad either and still very usable  compared to say.... Panasonic... gosh I HATE Panasonic camera colors) but I much prefer what I see from my Olympus camera and now, even that CCD image sensor on the old Sony A350 is producing some very nice colors.  

Inconsistent White Balance

On the other hand, that white balance engine has some issues. Even under very uniform lighting condition, in the open space, the camera registers white balance response very inconsistently. You can see the difference in color tones in the images I displayed on this blog entry, and I have not color corrected them, or adjusted the white balance. This should not be a big problem, if you are shooting RAW and apply the white balance settings in post-processing to your own preference, but if you shoot JPEG, you will have plenty of trouble having consistent color output. To be fair, even there was slight variation in color shifts in one shot to another, I still find the shots to be very pleasing in overall color balance, and still usable. Slight tweak and fine-tuning will be necessary to have a better overall consistency. 



The full frame monsters

I think Sony A350 is a fun and good camera to use. Though it is an old camera now, I am still loving its capability in terms of overall performance and image quality. I have some minor complains, but those are just small issues that I am willing to work around and live with. I particularly love the CCD sensor's color rendition, and how the camera seems to just work, without much fuss. There really is no perfect camera, a good photographer should be able to learn his tool and use it effectively to realize his photography vision. I am still working on that, and hopefully after a few more shooting sessions with the Sony I will be able to create better images with it. 

Sony shooters, please show some love yo !!

42 comments:

  1. you're right Robin. Panasonic's color are... brrrr... too bad!! too red, too hot... I have a Gh2, great camera with very usable ISO settings, but nothing to do with Olympus quality.

    The only Canon I loved was the 1st Full Frame 1Ds with CCD sensor. Lovely image quality.

    that's why I love Olympus :)

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    1. Hey Ugo,
      There is just something wrong with Panasonic's color. The people who are responsible for the color reproduction of panasonic cameras need to have their eyes checked, really.

      Delete
  2. I can agree with you to a certain degree, colours on the Panasonic GH2's still are pretty terrible, but my compact LX3 is amazing, especially the greens. But, when it comes to video the GH2 and my AF100, the colour reproduction is very nice and contrasty, I don't know what it is... but maybe they may have a whitebalance issue that is not giving the good still image on some of their models...

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hey Tom !! How's things back in Sydney?
      About the Panasonic colors, I was refering to their micro 4/3 system. Something is just not right with the color balance. Perhaps the problem can be solved by shooting RAW and applying your own color profile, but the out of camera colors should at least be quite neutral and balanced.
      Yeah, maybe its their white balance.

      Delete
    2. A very late reply I know, but I only just read this post and I am a fan of your real life capture, honesty and humility. I don't get to shoot much street photography, as I'm too busy trying to earn my living as a corporate, event, interior, portrait etc photog. I have NO brand dedication, I love images. I worked with a Canon 350D, 30D, 40D, and eventually 5D2 for years but through the years, never loved the JPGs, so I've been shooting raw for ages. Years ago, I bought an old Fuji S5Pro and got some lenses, and wow, the magic I did with a single raw file. Then I got a Panasonic GH1, really wanting a nice personal video capable still camera, well, the JPGs suck, but the raw files were/are almost as good as my Canon 40D files. Very fun. I fell for the Fuji X100 too, and those JPGs are very nice, but the raw files again are really amazing, better tha my Canon 5D2 (which got sensor damage from a concert laser, grrrr!!).

      Since my honeymoon in Malaysia where I got 2 more m4/3 lenses, I used the GH1 raw more and more for real work. I've since gotten more hooked to m4/3 and invested in an Olympus EM5 and though the JPGs are superb, the raw files are magical and colours from them too. I've worked once for a week with a Sony A900 for a Sony group and that was fun, versatile and educational. I've since bought a Sony RX100 for my wife and that thing is like a genie's lamp.. whatever they have inside that tiny thing is big.

      Sony knows images and colours and USEFUL features, Fuji knows colour but technology is a bit unstable, Olympus knows colours and lens glass, Panasonic is like Batman's Robin (sorry Robin), good but still learning. But the question is, WHO IS BATMAN!!?? Is it Fuji, Olympus or Sony etc? It's not Canon because I'm tired of missing important static shots and yet getting such momentary moving but unimportant shots, fine. My EM5 is my primary camera and my 40D though old is still a superb backup. Nice to know that others see value in older tech.

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  3. well done Robin

    I think it doesn't matter what camera and lens you use, I think you can do great things with whatever camera you choose, your skill is very high.

    The portraits shots from this session is my fave, especially 3, 11, 16, the people seems very comfortable being around you

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    1. Hello Haraldur,
      Thanks for your kind compliments. It takes time to know and fully understand a camera, and I am still learning the Sony.
      Perhaps the people in Malaysia are very friendly, and approachable. I cannot say the same with other countries though !

      Delete
  4. I must say I am impressed. These are very nice pictures - maybe indeed not that biting sharpness of the Oly glass, but then again I recognize that too in my Nikkor 50mm 1.8. The Sony 50mm is probably, like the Nikkor, a legacy design and needs some stopping down for tack sharp images. And yet, it's good enough after some sharpening in PP. Possibly its also the thick (?) AA filter. My old D100 is soft too but with some minimal PP the results are good as well. Same thing with the color balance, BTW. And my D80 is not always consistent as well, sometimes even from shot to shot. But it all clears up nicely with some minimal effort. For portraits, I can recommend the 70mm 2.8 Sigma macro. An excellent fast prime, and cheap to boot.

    I see those Sony-signature reds pop in these images, which I recognize from the Nikons too (also Sony sensors). And as for the highlights and shadows: I love it that you only care about the lighting of the subject! All too often I hear people droning on about "saving the highlights" and exposing for that, resulting in dull flat pictures. I like the way you meter: the subject and the heck with the rest. The result: nice "pop", bright and well exposed subjects with good color. Who cares if you can't see the last cloud in the sky. Unless one wants to convey a certain overall mood in the composition (landscapes, for example) I couldn't care less for the highlights and shadows.

    I found your portraits impressive as always, and the "all alone" b/w snap superb.

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    1. Thanks Andre for your kind comments !!
      I think after using this Sony I really appreciate the things that I have been taking for granted when I was using Olympus. Like how consistent the white balance is, how reliable the metering always, and even small things like build quality of the camera (that sony feels cheap). And yes, Olympus sharpness... my goodness, is miles ahead.
      However, that Sony camera is no slouch either. I am really loving the different color signature, not better, but different from Olympus, and its refreshing to have different color profile !! And to be honest I like the strong RED, and how everything with red comes out very pleasing.
      Glad to also find another person not being overly obsessed with preserving highlight and shadow details. Even if you can maintain all the details you can in a shot, if your subject is poorly exposed, I still think the shot won't stand out. Always pay more attention to the main subject, that is how I work with my images.
      I can live with the not so sharp 50mm F1.8 at wide open, its perfectly fine. If I was very particular about image sharpness, I would not hesitate to pick up my E-5 and that legendary 50mm F2 macro and whack all the details out of my subject !

      Delete
  5. thats the word that I was looking for, ''approachable''

    Yes, the people in Malaysia seems to very friendly

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    1. We are friendly people, indeed. Nonetheless, of course, not ALL people will be photo-friendly. Some might not allow for their photos to be taken, but its fine with me, they usually would reject very politely, and all I have to do is smile and move on. Other opportunities, perhaps better ones, awaits at the corner. Just have to be positive, and the subjects will be there !!

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  6. Color is much pleasing. :P Sony rocks on you la! HAHA!

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    1. me too. oly are perfect. but Sony is very good. i'm in love with my new monster a77

      Delete
  7. D600?! Man, Nick is really stocking up his gears! Haha. Let's molest it again. Haha.

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  8. I never used Sony camera but you convinced me to try A 37. Thank you for the great pictures - you are truly an artist.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Dragan56,
      Oh dear I have never tried the A37 though, so no comment on that. The A350 is 4 years old !

      Delete
  9. Great review. Its true that you have a talent to make people you photography feel at ease... specially the close up portrait. I've used Canon 50mm 1.8 and its a little soft at 1.8 but sharper when stopped down a little.

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    1. Hey Johan,
      Thanks Johan, but its not really a review, just sharing my thoughts as I use the camera. Indeed most 50mms are soft wide open !

      Delete
  10. Love the look and color of the 'newspaper' shots....

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  11. Yes, I agree with u, my Panasonic color has a terrible color output and always want change my camera but encountered some budget constraint. However, my work around is always using the Lightroom function auto tone n other to correct the color.
    This is the reason I'm thinking my next camera to Olympus and fujifilm XE1...

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  12. Hello Robin,
    Thank you for sharing those great images.
    You really have a great eye for subject matter and it's connected to you. That's awesome! I need to practice more on seeing.
    Camera wise, It's Robin Wong match with a 'It's a Sony', a very good match.
    On that FX monster, just now at Midvalley I have another glance at D600 but the salesman said, "I can sell to you OM-D M5 with kit lens at MYR3,980." Funny I look at D600 but he offer me OM-D M5. Maybe that's a sign.
    May you have a great weekend.
    John Ragai
    Ps: I will be back to Sarawak from 18th to 29th Oct for my annual leave. Most probably I will cover Sibu, Sarikei, Julau, Bintangor, Kanowit, Mukah, Dalat. Hopefully visit some Iban's longhouse. This will be fun.

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    1. Thanks for the kind comments John.
      Indeed OMD is a compelling choice for most shooters nowadays. There are better and more capable cameras no doubt, but what the OMD offers is worth condidering as well.
      I wish I have a long holiday too !! Those are so many places you will be visiting !! Do take more photographs

      Delete
    2. Good morning, Robin.
      These places are all along the way to our parents house. My wife, Agnes Ngieng is from Sarikei. We have to drive (my brother inlaw's car) to Dalat to reach my parent's home at Sg Kut, along the Igan river. It's some sort like 'Jalan Jalan Cari Makan', meeting new people and relax our 'figures crowded minds' and stop anywhere that attracted us.
      As for Julau and Kanowit, we will be visiting her relatives.
      Photography? That's the best opportunity for me. Hopefully I can capture a good storytelling images.
      May you have a great Monday.
      John Ragai

      Delete
    3. Hey John,
      Amazing planning. That is the best thing to do for a holiday, getting back to familiar territories, and MAKAN all the way. I am sure you will find plenty of photography opportunities, Sarawak is one place like no other full of color and AMAZING people. You must agree with me on this.

      Delete
  13. I probably don't know what I'm talking about but I like the color from my Panasonic G3. Yes, the default "standard" color setting is horrible, but if you change it to "natural" it's actually very nice. It looks very close to what my eyes see. Also the RAW output processed with Lightroom is very good, except the blues can sometimes be a little to saturated for my taste. But like I said, I don't have any experience with Olympus so I probably don't know how what I'm talking about.

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    1. Hey Jon O,
      Perhaps if you shoot RAW and did your own conversions and have full control of the color (as you have done with lightroom) then the color reproduction is not controlled by the camera anymore. I was referring mainly to the JPEG engine signature color. From my experience handling diferent cameras, Panasonic was the one I liked least.

      Delete
  14. Bartosz Dawidowski10/15/2012 06:56:00 AM

    Hello Robin!

    I must say these colors are indeed nice! Personally I prefer them to Oly colors (which are very good too). But Fujifilm colors are IMHO even better (especially those coming from the new X-Trans sensor).

    Higlight retention is king when shooting landscapes (or maybe even fashion photography where you don't want false colors in clothes). I don't care if there are a few blown higlights in streetphotograhy :) The main subject is indeed the most important.

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    1. Long time no see Bartosz.
      Love for color is very subjective, I have seen Fuji colors (friends have X-100, X-Pro 1, X-10, etc) and I do think their colors are nice, but not as amazing as many Fuji users have claimed it to be. I believe different manufacturers have different signature colors, and preferences of which works are quite subjective, and varies from one person to another.

      Delete
    2. So far, from personal experience, I've found the Fuji X100 colours to be good but not great, I also could not recreate some of the colour tones in Lightroom from RAW. Has anyone noticed that Lighroom raw colour is crazy? I open a Canon file and I have to work hard to get natural colours. Panasonic GH1 gives the worst highlight role off that I've had to work with, but there is more information in the RAW. Fuji highlights are very good with rich colours!! My Fuji S5Pro raw file retains SO much highlight info, the X100 gives a great highlight role off even in JPG. The king so far for me has to be my Olympus EM5 for crisp blacks, good shadow detail, while still having a smooth highlight role off even in JPG, with recovery in raw if needed. Capture One gives this EM5 amazing results in extreme situations. Olympus JPGs, though the best I've worked with, have too much red in the skin tones, so I STILL work with the raw files rather when people are in the images. Is it just me? I shoot sRGB and when I preview photos in Photo Mechanic with colour management, I find the colours to be good but reds all a bit too much, turn off colour management and colours stay the same, but reds are less intense. I'm using the correct colour profiles and my monitor is calibrated so what gives? I really can't wait to capture accurate colours without extra work in raw.

      Robin, natural colours are important to me, even in HDR work (I don't do the overcooked look, only capturing reality), so am I doing something wrong?

      Delete
  15. A good review of what Sony can do ...Maybe one day when I come back from overseas I would have the opportunity to shoot with you.And maybe then you can review of what Pentax can be .. It's colours are similarly like olympus with a variety of tonality thank to Adobe DNG coding ... I agrree with you . Canon have oversaturated their red and greens, Nikon slightly warmer colours ..

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    1. Joshua,
      It would be a great pleasure to meet with you, and lets do shutter therapy !!

      Delete
  16. Can I check with you about your photos? Did you shoot evertyhign in RAW first and then processed your colours and sharpness ..because the level of details ...i can't just get it with my camera.

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    1. Sometimes I shoot RAW, sometimes JPEG. In this particular blog entry, everything was done in JPEG but I did post-process them, without adjusting color.

      All my Olympus photographs were already sharp even before post-processing. For sony photographs I needed to increase the "sharpness" by quite a bit to get the "pop" that I wanted.

      There could be another factor, if you see my photographs you will notice that I boost up contrast a lot. That may give an impression of "more detailed" look. Default images from cameras are usually flat and dull.

      Delete
  17. Hallo RObin. Tomorrow I'll go to see a great a77 and I'll decide if Sony will be my future, with Olympus. I Use E-3 bodies but I'm a little warried about future of 4/3 system. I do not like m4/3 for warking and I think that Sony is a great way to evolve

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    1. Hey Ugo,
      I am sure you will feel at home with the A77. You may read more at Kirk Tuck's website (maybe you already are following his blog) at http://visualsciencelab.blogspsot.com and search around his archive for Sony A77 which he uses extensively for a lot of his recent photography jobs. He loves the Sony system and think of them very highly.

      Delete
  18. Replies
    1. Great !! But I dont understand your writings on your blog !!!

      Delete
  19. oh, i'll start to translate :)

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