Day to Day News. A Celebration. More thoughts about the Sony a6300. And stuff.

Growing old writing this blog...
Image from the Battle Collection of Sculpture
at the Blanton Museum at the University of Texas
at Austin.

I'll forgo all the cutesy writer crap and cut to the chase. This is my 3,000th blog post. Here. Now. Today. I have been writing the blog since 2009. I've worn out a keyboard or two. We've gone from bleak economic depression to a financial recovery. We've ushered in an age of mirrorless cameras. We've transitioned from flash to LED to fluorescent and back to flash (more than once).  I've bought cameras seemingly by the 55 gallon barrel and sold them in almost the same quantity. I only tried to escape from blogging once!

But what does it all really amount to anyway? Well, according to Blogger, we are just about to crest 21 million direct page views. By that I mean (we mean?) people who have come here to this site directly to read what I've written (and what you've commented upon). But in a bigger picture, counting the people who read via RSS feeds, and other methods, Google tells me we have had 
76,342,794 total views.  That seems amazingly cool to me. And this doesn't even count the people who have read the work on (unauthorized) aggregating sites. 

The celebration: I think I'll crack open a bottle of Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Au Paradis to have with my pizza tonight. And maybe buy another lens....

I am happy to have had a number of brilliant and witty readers and collaborators along for the ride. It's made a tremendous difference to me. 

And now, on to some more blog writing....

After many years the snack bar at Barton Springs Pool is closed.
I have no idea what will replace it. 

Adventures with the new Sony a6300 camera: The day I bought the a6300 I used it on an assignment to shoot a theatrical rehearsal of actor, Holland Taylor as Gov. Ann Richards, for Zach theatre. During the course of the evening I shot nearly 2,000 (silent) images of Ms. Taylor using the Sony 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. Talk about breaking in a camera quickly...  On Tues. I posted a blog showing the use, in video, of the S-Log2 picture profile (paying attention mostly to the canoes because they represented such a big contrast range....) but now I am on my more typical, leisurely schedule of getting to know the camera. Not familiar with the a6300? You can go to the granddaddy of all review sites and learn as much as you want, or far more than you'll ever need, here: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-a6300  

You can also read comments from readers frothing at the mouth because....."the camera is too big." "Too small.""Too thick" "Too thin" "has the audacity to include unwanted video features" "is worthless because the video isn't 8K" "should have an optical finder" "needs a fully articulating screen" "should come in colors" and much, much more. According to the Sony forum anyone who doesn't rush right out and buy one is an idiot. According the Nikon full frame forum anyone who buys one is a delusional idiot. And so on. 

I'm kind of ignoring all of that because I'm cozying up to the idea that this camera reminds me very clearly of a camera I made good photos with many years ago; the Leica CL, with its little, 40mm f2.0 Summicron lens. They are about the same size and the viewfinder is in pretty much the same spot. That camera was a gem and made sharp photos. It was small and discreet. Not silent but closer to silent than most of the stuff on the market at the time. I am happily using the a6300 (and its predecessor, the a6000) in much the same way. While I've been shooting with the good, 18-105mm lens since I got the camera I looked through the amply stocked Olympus Pen-F (original) drawer and found a nice lens to cobble on to the front of the camera this morning. It's the 38mm f1.8 Pen lens, an all metal, manual focus only, lens from the 1970's. It's pretty much wonderful. 

Postcards from Austin.

I'm happy with the camera for a number of reasons. The 24 megapixel sensor is the current generation of copper tech which means faster processing, less heat and less energy use. It looks just like the results I've seen from the Nikon D7200. The sensor is competitive with the very best of all the APS-C imagers. As we've seen, the video can be very good as well. The camera is very small and its small size will hamper its use as a fully professional camera for some. Not enough space to put all the controls that we'd like to use directly on the outside of the camera, the size dictates the battery capacity, it feels very unbalanced with bigger and heavier lenses, etc. But what the camera does it does very well. 

While I'll be happy to use the camera's 4K video for personal projects I'm not thrilled with the idea of using the camera for most live, in the moment, client work. Why? Because I am certain (living in Texas) that it will overheat pretty quickly on exterior locations from April to mid-December.  There's no headphone jack and the cable ports are teeny-tiny. I'd rather use the RX10ii for video since I'm pretty well convinced that, other than narrow depth of field issues, they are, for all intents and purposes, equal in overall image quality for video (remember, video isn't about which camera has the most overall resolution...). If I get much more serious about video (and yesterday's out of town meeting points in that direction) I'll probably end up getting a dedicated video camera or renting to suit. Seems like every video project I get involved with is heavily oriented toward people speaking on camera and it seems like life would just be easier if I got a camera with XLR jacks for the microphones rather than routing things through a Rube Goldberg collection of boxes and connectors.

But none of this is to say that I won't use it often for video. I'm  working on a series of short, in the street, art pieces that are each two minutes or less. I love the idea of the little cameras but want them with my choice of lenses. And if I'm hot to get great audio I'll pull it into a Tascam or Zoom audio recorder and sync everything together in post. This, and the RX10s, are becoming my personal, snapshot video cameras. 

But, I know 80% of you probably don't give a rat's ass about video so I'll keep working on it but save up my hard won experiences for a different blog post. There are some things about the video features that also effect the camera's use and flexibility as a still camera. One set of features are the Picture Profiles and I'm playing with them right now.

A badly executed dive into Barton Springs. Yesterday. 

Playing around with the video profiles in still photography...
In the menu of the a6300 you'll find both Creative Styles and Picture Profiles. The Creative Styles are the typical settings you find on most digital cameras. Stuff like: Vivid, Standard, Neutral, Portrait, B&W, etc. But the Picture Profiles are a range of settings that adjust the  tone curve and color response of the camera, along with options to tweak every setting from black point to gamma, etc. These are controls that come from the video world.

In all there are nine preset profiles but every single one of them represents a starting point and can be modified. Most of these seem intended to be used in video. Some will generate good video that can be used straight out of camera but two three of the settings are intended for people who want to shoot very, very flat files and then spend time, effort and expertise to "color grade" them after the shoot. Kind of like shooting raw in terms of having files that want fine tuning but without the actual non-destructive nature of a true raw file. The dangerous three profiles are S-Log2, and two variants of the ultra flat S-Log3. I fear S-Log3 and haven't drummed up the courage to even give it a try...

But as a curious photographer I wanted to see how a couple of the less intensive profile settings might work in still imaging. After all, most are just flattening out the gamma curve a bit and placing the blacks at 16 or so, instead of zero.  All of the images below were shot in PP2 which is listed as the still gamma setting. After shooting the files in this PP, which also works in raw, I opened the files in Lightroom and adjusted the overall contrast using the tone curve tool. I also bumped up the mid-scale contrast with the clarity slider.

I am planning to try shooting some landscape work in S-Log2 to see if I can massage the files back into a pleasing tonal curve and preserve the advantage of working in S-Log2 but in stills. The benefits might be a much longer tonal range, akin to HDR but perhaps more subtle. Another benefit might be getting a longer tonal range but not needing to do the kinds of multiple exposures necessitated by a typical HDR workflow. Interesting, right?

After my first foray with video and the a6300 I did spend time earlier this morning trying PP1 in still photography (see all files from the museum). It's a much more subtle approach to subduing high contrast range than a Log files. It's akin to the Flat profile in the latest Nikon cameras. Some of these profiles seem like a perfect match for portrait work but, as I said above, more experimenting and experience will tell the tale....

Blanton Museum Windows.

Do you need to run out immediately and get one of these cameras?
In the grand scheme of things there's really no reason to own an a6300 over an Olympus OM-5ii or a Panasonic GX8 unless you really think the difference in the size of the sensor will buy you that much more depth of field control. Several people have written asking me to compare the overall subjective differences between the a6300 and the Olympus EM5ii and I am happy to do so now that I've spent some time with both cameras (much more extensive time with the Olympus...). 

The first difference between the two cameras is in handling. I have always used the Olympus EM5 cameras with battery grips attached and that's the configuration I will compare to the bare-naked Sony. 

The Olympus feels like a much better made camera and one really intuitively designed to feel nice in one's hands and to have a logical flow to physical operation. While the views through the EVFs are largely the same the Olympus EVF, is positioned to be much more comfortable. I find myself pressing the offset viewfinder of the Sony tightly against my eye socket to make it work well for me. Not so with the Olympus. Also, the knobs and switches on the Olympus feel better made and more robust. So much more attention seems to have been paid to tactile cues. 

For video shooters the rear screens are a wash but for the still shooter the different configuration of the screens is an advantage in Olympus's favor. There is more real estate for 4:3 ratio images and even 3:2 images. 

When it comes to image quality it's pretty much a given that the Sony will out resolve the Olympus but in this day and age of 16+ megapixel sensors it would only matter if you were in a hypothetical pissing match and each camera was fitted with the "ultimate" lens for its family. Both are well behaved where noise is concerned and, even though the science would indicate the bigger sensor should be the clear winner in the noise race, at least in Jpeg I find them to be close together for different reasons. While the Olympus has slightly more noise overall the noise is monochromatic and not intrusive. The Sony engineers, on the other hand, have made the choice to slam in excessive noise reduction in their standard Jpeg mix. At ISOs where the Olympus is still showing real detail the Sony is busy plasticizing large swaths of low contrast area. In my tests most of the Sony blurring is being done on thing like skin tone, which makes this heavy handed image butchering more obvious. 

Of course, in one quick spin through the Sony menu you can neutralize the Olympus advantage by setting Hi ISO NR to low; or even better, OFF, and then dealing with noise is Nik or Adobe or, even better, DXO. Once you neutralize the difference made by camera settings you might see a tiny advantage to the Sony but certainly not enough to be a deal breaker for the Olympus. It really mostly depends on how much heavy lifting you want to do in your post production. I just want stuff to be consistent, frame to frame, so I can batch my corrections.

When it comes to image stabilization the Olympus kicks Sony's butt all over the place. Nothing on the market currently beats the latest Olympus cameras with five axis stabilization. It's like having an invisible tripod at your constant beck and call. With most of my lenses (largely adapted MF versions) there's no I.S. at all on the Sony but I can dial it in for any ancient lens on the Olympus. If you are a savagely addicted coffee drinker, or just have trembly hands, run --- don't walk--- to get yourself an Olympus EM5ii. Your hit rate will climb. 

The Sony advantage comes in the video section. While the Olympus people made strides in the EM5ii video it's not in the same class as the Sony a6300. But take that with a grain of salt. Yes, the Sony wins in a head to head test at 1080p but ONLY if you shoot the Sony in 4K and downsample the files to 1080p. In a direct competition, shooting both cameras natively in 1080p I just don't see much of a difference. From my brief few hours of playing around with the Sony video I've decided that this is a camera I'll always shoot in 4K (UHD) and pretty much always downsample as I ingest it and convert is to ProRes in FCPX. It looks sharp and detailed there. 

Another chink in the armor for Sony versus Olympus is that the Sony has horrendous rolling shutter. Stuff just looks wobbly as hell if you move the camera too quickly. Much worse than the Olympus. (Every camera that doesn't feature a global shutter will have some rolling shutter, also in-affectionately known as "jello-cam."

It's a miracle! I can handhold a camera and lens with no I.S. and still 
get a recognizable image. Hurray. Same on all below.

To sum up the Oly/Sony comparison: The Sony is a faster focusing camera and will be a better selection for fast moving sports and stuff like that. The files from both are beautiful and, if you disagree with one maker's aesthetic perspective there is enough malleability in the controls to effectively match the cameras to one another. If your decision comes down to handling you'll have to decide for yourself because everyone's experiences over the years vary so much. The one thing I must say is that each camera has menus designed for different types of brains. I've shot with Olympus micro four thirds cameras since 2009 --- every generation --- and the menus, when accessed under work pressure, still piss me off and mystify me. Grrrrr. 

While the Sony menus offer an amazing array of choices they are laid out in a logical progression. Linear by big subjects from left to right; linear with choices from top to bottom. No menu items fall under the edge of the screen which might require you to first, know that there's more there, and second, require you to keep scrolling down. For the artist brain you might look at the Sony menus (such a big improvement from the days of the Nex-7...) and if you are an engineer, mathematician or accountant, then give the Olympus menus a gander. 

My suggestion? Pretend that camera buying is a buffet and get one of each. 

Since we took the time to compare this $1,000 Sony to the Olympus let's change tactics and compare it to my other popular camera, the Nikon D750. Unless you are a dainty child or weakened by disease or accident let's put aside all the nonsense about weight. It's the one argument I just don't care about. Slap a 70-200mm f2.8 on the a6300 and it's just as huge as the Nikon D750+similar lens. Lots of people buy smaller cameras thinking that they'll love em for the light weight only to buy big lenses in an attempt to get fast apertures, etc. and then realize that small and large are not that big of a deal. A bigger deal is the way the cameras operate. 

I'll tell you right off the top that I'm much more comfortable with an EVF even though I've shot with OVF cameras continuously since I started wielding cameras back in 1978. Live view through an eye level finder, with full setting effects on, is a much smarter, more effective and efficient way to shoot almost everything. So the first big nod goes to Sony's a6000. 

The sensors are from the same family but the one in the Nikon is twice as big. That means the pixels are bigger which might mean more dynamic range and less noise. Certainly the bigger sensor AND Nikon's software/firmware means that the D750 is a much better low light/high ISO camera. It's probably the second best in the consumer world right now, right after the Sony A7Sii. Points to the Nikon. 

But even at lower ISOs the Nikon has more dynamic range so they get a point for that too. 

Now we move to video and here you might be in for a surprise. If you go head to head between the Nikon D750 and the Sony a6300 using each camera's native 1080p settings (no magic downsampling) I like the lower bit rate ACVHD video files of the D750 better than the files from the Sony. What????? Sorry, but the D750 is very detailed, has nice colors and doesn't have much in the way of awkward moire or artifacting. But just as important, the D750's size and bulk make it much easier to handle in production. We get to use a much larger HDMI connector for our monitor or a digital recorder and the camera comes complete with .......  a headphone jack. The range of dedicated video features is not as extensive but that also makes the camera less complex and faster to use. 

And here's the added advantage: If you use a digital recorder, like a AtoMos Ninja 2, you can get the camera to output, uncompressed 8 bit 4:2:2 color files instead of the 4:2:0 files both cameras write to internal cards. That make the Nikon files beefier and easier to color correct without messing them up too badly. If Nikon had possessed the brains to include focus peaking in their camera I would never have investigated or bought anything else but would have just been happy to buy more D750s. Even though it lacks an EVF. It's head to head with a Panasonic GH4. I like the detail of the GH4 files but the handling (exclusive of focus) of the Nikon just a bit better. 

They each focus faster and better than my eyes and brain can follow. No real advantage to the D750 even though it is a current generation DSLR. 

The Nikon is a much better event camera if you must use flash. I can't even think, with a straight face, about using a big ole flash on the that dinky little Sony camera. I can't not think about how easy the Nikon is to use with flash, and how well a flash rides on the D750 hotshoe. 

These two cameras are from different tool boxes. The a6300 is like my Leica CL. It's a camera to wear over your shoulder all day and all night long as you walk down the streets of a visually alluring city and pause, from time to time, to make beautiful photographs --- just off the cuff. It's a decisive moment, part of your attire artist's camera. The Nikon is the camera you toss into the rolling case along with a big assortment of heavy lenses, sync cords and lights. When you get to your location you set up your shot, light it, shoot it, fine tune the whole scene a bit more and then shoot it again and again. It's the "work all day on the top of your tripod camera." It's the, "this interview may a while do you think the batteries will last?" camera. You'll get nearly three hours of intensive video shooting if you are using a digital recorder along with a Nikon battery grip. The same amount of time with some stops every 29 minutes without the recorder. 

And here's the kicker for 1080p video.....even without an external recorder.....I've never had the D750 overheat on a video shoot. Not once. Not even in August. In Texas. So, a different kind of use. Different as a pick-up truck and a Porsche Boxer. They both go the same speed at rush hour. One is more fun to drive out in the rural open spaces but the other can haul along function. 

My usual "test dummy" over at the Blanton Museum. Nice window light.

Well, that's all I have to say about the Sony a6300 right now. I've got it over my shoulder during the day and I take it with me in the car. It's fun to shoot, like a small rangefinder camera is fun to shoot. It's a powerful photographic tool and a fun, snapshooting video tool as well. It can be pressed into service for just about everything and, if you have the skill you can make files that are as good as any out there, but it's not a the end all, be all of cameras. 

Why did I buy one? I can rationalize it in any direction but the truth of it is that I wanted to see how my collection of older, manual Pen F lenses looked on a state of the art APS-C sensor camera. The result? They look pretty keen. I'm not selling Sony cameras so if you want to buy one you'll need to go somewhere else. I'm also not paid to be your personal camera shopper so you'll have to make up your own mind about whether you want one or not. If you already have a camera you like you might just count your blessings and put some more cash into that 401K. God knows you're probably going to need it down the line. But I'm not returning my a6300. It's pretty cool. With the right lens? Leica CL-esque. 

 Help me celebrate our 3,000th post. Write something in the comments. 


Some online classes that may be of interest to you:

One of the original Craftsy Photo Classes and 
still one of the best! 

I met Lance a couple of weeks ago in Denver
and found him to be really fun and knowledgeable 
this class reflects what he teaches in hands-on
workshops in Ireland and Iceland, as well as 
cool places around the U.S.

How to make what we shoot into a cohesive
train of visual thought.