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.
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.
Apam Balik seller
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.
How to kill a passer-by
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 !!