People have started to comment that I overused shallow depth of field in my photos, and suggested that I should be shooting more with narrower aperture to reveal more of what is happening in the surrounding environment. That is the exact thing I will do in this blog entry, since I will be utilizing the the kit lens that came together with the Sony A57 purchase: 18-55mm F3.5-5.6. Initially I wanted to look for only Sony A57 body option, but it was not available in the market at the moment, hence I purchased the set together with the kit lens. Nevertheless, the price difference was not too much and I did not mind having a kit lens, though most people would think otherwise.
Early this morning, joining the Sony Alpha users group, we attacked the Orchid Garden, KL. What I thought was initially a flower shooting session suddenly mutated into an insect macro shooting session. Oh no, I did not have a macro lens!! Fear not, that kit lens 18-55mm I have just mentioned had very good image magnification ratio (about 1:3x) and does considerably better in close up shooting in comparison with my other two Sony lenses, the 35mm F1.8 and 50mm F1.8. Therefore it was only logical for me to attach this lens on my Sony A57 at all times. Halfway throughout the shooting, beautiful friend Joseph Cheung arrived and he brought along a very, very important device which turned my macro shooting experience around in this morning! I borrowed an extension tube (third party, but with electronic contacts that enable full electronic control over the aperture and focusing) and by miracle, I suddenly have a pseudo macro set up, ready to attack whatever insects that crossed my lens' line of sight.
1/80sec, F/10, ISO200, Extension Tube 20mm
100% crop from previous image. Quite amazing for a kit lens, don't you think?
1/60sec, F/16, ISO200
1/80sec, F/10, ISO200
1/80sec, F/5.6, ISO800, no extension tube, no flash
My Macro Setup for this morning:
1) Sony A57 body
2) Sony 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens
3) Extension Tube, 20mm extension (with full electronic controls)
4) Olympus FL-50R flash, set to manual slave mode (can be triggered by camera's pop up flash, wirelessly off camera)
5) Built in flash (pop-up camera) toned down to minimum, -2.0EV compensation value
My General settings:
For extreme close-up (smaller insects, close to 1:1x magnification)
1) Aperture: F14-18, ISO200, Shutter Speed: 1/125-1/160sec
2) FL-50R Flash set to manual 1/4 or 1/8 power
3) Manual focus, setting the magnification (either to maximum or desired ratio)
4) Extension Tube used
For normal shooting (butterflies, or larger insects)
1) No extension tube used, just the bare 18-55mm kit lens
2) Aperture: F5.6-8, ISO100-800, depending on lighting condition
3) Flash used as necessary, and toned down power to 1/32 or 1/64
The trick to my macro technique was to blend in the ambient light and the main macro subject, which was no easy task and require some fine tuning on the spot.
Now who said kit lens cannot do decent macro shooting? Combined with that godsent extension tube loaned from Joseph, I got to say it opened up a whole new world of flexibilities, and I can actually get away with very decent magnification, and still retained amazing amount of details. Obviously the image quality will not surpass what a true macro lens can do (you can also stack up the extension tube on macro lens for those magnification hungry people) but hey, I am glad to work with a lower grade gear, and make do with whatever cheaper options, than getting another macro lens. I still have that amazing Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 for my Olympus, which I won't give up, thus it would be redundant to get a macro lens for this Sony system. However, I am very, very keen in the idea of extension tubes.
Now the one thing that Sony did right (as well as Olympus in their micro 4/3 department) was the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). For usual optical viewfinders on DSLR, as you added the extension tubes on the camera, you lose plenty of light, and the viewfinder became very dark to a point it is unusable, and require a lot of guess and estimation work for focus checking while shooting. That can be really frustrating. The EVF completely solved this problem. As I popped up the camera built-in flash (to trigger the external flash wirelessly) the EVF setting disabled the "live preview of settings" and automatically brightens the viewfinder, as if there was no light loss in the first place!! The view was clear and bright, and this surely has improved shooting experience. The main reason I never considered extension tubes for my Olympus was due to the dark optical viewfinder issue.
Now, about focus peaking. In rare occasions where the insects (or spiders) are under good lighting (lit by sun, directly), the focus peaking worked well, and made manual focusing life much easier. The truth is, the insects rarely pose under the sun for you. Often they hide in most unlikely places, under the leaf, inside the flower, behind the branch, etc, where they were covered by heavy shade or shadow. In such situations, honestly, the focus peaking was useless. I made this claim before, and now I have verified it in my practical shooting with an actual Sony gear. I admit for most general shooting focus peaking can save a lot of lives, but for serious insect macro, it is not that useful at all.
1/125sec, F/16, ISO200, Extension Tube 20mm
1/160sec, F/18, ISO200, Extension Tube 20mm
1/80sec, F/11, ISO200, Extension Tube 20mm
1/80sec, F/18, ISO200, Extension Tube 20mm
I don't even know what that black insect was (top left).
Alright we have bright, sharp and full of color images from the macro shooting session, which proved that the kit lens was no slouch at all. It can deliver, if you need it to, and I am quite satisfied with the output, through the Sony A57. That 16MP sensor is something to be admired, and all the positive reviews about Nikon D7000, Pentax K-5 and Sony's own A57 are evidently seen in the macro images. Do doubt Sony surely knows their stuff when it comes to producing good image sensors, and even the latest Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-PL5 use a sensor made by Sony, and suddenly there is a huge jump in image quality in comparison to the previous generation of sensors (made by Panasonic).
I somehow was not satisfied with the images I got from the macro shooting session. I headed toward the city area, and continued with a very short street shooting session before sunset. I was shooting in Petaling Street for about an hour before going to KLCC for some night shooting.
Enough with the technically perfect and controlled images (with proper lighting setup, sharp focus, etc), now I wanted to use the kit lens and camera to do what I like to do: street shooting. I have mentioned a few times in my blog before that kit lens is actually a very good lens for street shooting, and should not be overlooked. It was as if having THREE focal lengths in one lens: 28mm, 50mm and 85mm (approximate equivalent focal lengths, from 18-55mm). That is versatility that can provide very good coverage, from wide to mid-tele range. I have always treasured the importance of using wide angle lenses on the street, how the wide angle can capture more of the surrounding to make a more compelling story telling method.
1/10sec, F/7.1, ISO100, 26mm
1/10sec, F/18sec, ISO200, 50mm
1/6sec, F/22, ISO100, 18mm
1/100sec, F/8, ISO200, 22mm
Heroes are Idiots
1/80sec, F/8, ISO400, 55mm
1/100sec, F/8, ISO200, 22mm
100% crop from previous image.
Something was wrong in this image
I am not entirely sure which was the case: either 1) The 18-55mm kit lens is very poor at the widest end, with low resolution output, and the image appearing soft, and low in contrast, or 2) there is focusing accuracy issue (focus shifting). I have yet to verify this problem, because I cannot believe my eyes on how soft the widest end was (which was shot in AutoFocus), when the lens performed rather excellent when zoomed in all the way to 55mm end, for the above macro shots.
After Petaling Street, I took a train to KLCC where the Twin Towers were at, and did some hand-held night shooting. This was the time to bump up the ISO setting and see how well the Sony A57 handles low light shooting.
Generally the image sensor in the Sony A57 is doing very well, and surpassed what the Olympus E-5 can do when it comes to high ISO department. Nonetheless, I was expecting it to outperform what I remembered the Olympus OM-D E-M5 could do, but based on my memory (I could be wrong here, unless I have a unit to compare side by side), even if the Sony A57 did better, it was not by a far margin. E-M5 can hold its own against Sony A57, which was quite an impressive feat, considering how every reviewer has praised Sony A57 (and the other two cameras that share the same image Sensor, Nikon D7000 and Pentax K-5) for the image sensor capabilities.
I particularly enjoyed using the sweep panorama function!! I was telling myself it would have been very troublesome if I were to take some shots to be stitcted in my usual panorama software, and decided not to do so. Then suddenly it hit me, Sony has always been known to have the best in-camera panorama function!! Just a twist of a dial, and there I was, sweeping the camera away, and getting instant panorama shots.
For the night shooting, the better way was to shoot with a tripod setup, and engaged long exposure with slow shutter speed, minimizing the ISO setting. I guess I have gone lazy, and hey, this was a chance to push the camera and see what it can do. Stop being to "perfect" and just shoot!!
1/30sec, F/3.5, ISO3200, 18mm
1/60sec, F3.5, ISO3200, 18mm
Sweep Panorama. My first time using it, and I AM LOVING IT
1/40sec, F/5, ISO1600, 18mm
So there you go, my second adventure with Sony Alpha A57, and this time, all with the 18-55mm kit lens only. The only gripe I have was how soft the images are at wider end of the focal range. Perhaps I really should look into the possibility of focus shifting issues. Other than that, I do think this kit lens is quite a good one. Certainly an improvement over the older, under-performing 18-70mm kit lens.
Again, special thanks to friend Joseph Cheung for the extension tube. You rock!