A few useful A7 discoveries… (my personal tips for success)

ClaireDec13-01Yup, that’s me, and smiling, too. Self capturing my face with the just tamed A7

 AH AH !? Does it mean I finally wrapped my brains around the camera and brought it to perform like I wanted it to ?? Well, a bit of that. And adapting my expectations and use arount its own personality and behavior, too. One major hurdle I had to get over was getting the IQ right, and for a strict jpeg shooter it means getting the White Balance and Creative Styles down pat. Laborious and unexciting as hell, but *mandatory* to get up and shooting. I’ll tell you a secret : I may be apprear as a gearhead, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Truth is, technical stuff bores me to tears, past a certain point. Sure, technical proficiency is a must. But as my one of my portrait heroes, Peter Hurley, says “technique is in your back pocket”. It’s taken for granted, it’s there. “The axe is sharpened”. Then the fun may start. What drove me so mental for the past days (and I apologize to me readers if I sounded a bit fazed ever since I got the new camera) was having my creative juices thickened and slowed down by technical stuff on my plate. Hopefully, that’s out of the way.

MarlaDec13-105A quick look at the various internet photo boards I regularly visit gives me the impression that I was not alone on that boat. I suspect there are a *bunch* of puzzled, or worse, frustrated, A7/R owners scracthing their heads and wondering why on Earth the cameras hasn’t turn them into Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Ansel Adams, or… (insert name of photography hero) yet. So in hope of helping those fazed Sony users, here are my observations, and tips for a peaceful and rewarding Sony A7 experience.

CannelleDec13-23 First and foremost, Creative Styles settings. It took me a while to assess the native performance and output of the sensor in jpeg. What I found out, in no particular order : WB is strongly (more or less, depending on sample variation) biased towards amber/green. Good for landscape shooters,  a nightmare for portraitists. Thank God you get not one, but three custom WB settings that you can save, so it might be a good idea to make a custom reading for the places you most usually shoot in. I have two for my living room (with and without the TV on, which tremendously impacts the blue tint), and one for my kitchen. And I cheat by having my Kelvin temperature set and tweaked to accomodate yet another lighting scenario in my ever morphing living room.

I also found that the A7 had a rather flat tone curves, so images will naturally tend to look dim and dull, unless you expose to the right like crazy. But the LCD representation of exposure is somewhat different from my NEX7’s, so I was having trouble nailing it. Since the A7 offers a “zebra” option, more familiar to videographers on well specified video cameras, I decided to put that feature to the test and see how it could help me figure out proper final exposure.  I tinkered with levels at 70 and 95, but I couldn’t interpret exposure from it properly. So I switched to 100, and it’s useful enough to know where highlights blow. Ideally exposure is optimum when there is *some* zebra stripes in the lighter parts of the frame. Takes some time getting use to, but I think overall helpful (even if with Focus Peaking also enables, that means a helluva lot of visual information in the frame that your brains have to compute !).

ClaireDec13-02Playing with selfies in the BR mirror, why not ?

Other useful observation, find what the true useful, clean, higher ISO value you can use. In my eye, and in my very, very dim living room, that’s ISO2000. Sure, I can push it to 3200 or even 4000 in better light, but in my dark cave of a home, 2000 is a safe value for fast enough shutter speeds *and* clean enough output. And last, this sensor is crazy demanding for lenses. I bet there’ll be a million other opinions on the web contradicting mine, that’s fine. Actually that’s great I love everybody to be entitled to their own point of view. But in MY experience, I’d say output on the A7 is more optics dependant that it is, say, on the N7 (and yes, I’m aware of how stupid and illogic it sounds).

MarlaDec13-103And the news is, I *just* got my beloved Asahi Pentax 55/1.8 in PK mount back from an extended loan to my buddy Christophe (a fellow gear addict living nearby, we have “camera parties” in lieu of “pyjama parties” !). And from my early tests the lens’ performance is outstanding on the A7 ! So Im outta here, off to edit a bunch of shots I just took with this lens, and will be posting again shortly, hopefully, a true image oriented entry this time 😉


About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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8 Responses to A few useful A7 discoveries… (my personal tips for success)

  1. King T says:

    Thanks for the tips – if I ever get myself one of these, I’ll apply them.
    As for the selfies, just a thought – I think you look far better than those that you’ve taken – they’re not very flattering with the low point of view and shadows in strange places.
    Perhaps you can try to put the cam on a tripod[or even cupboard/shelf/whatever] at about eye-level and then play around with focussing by walking closer or further away from the camera whilst using your android or iPhone mobile phone and wifi app to do the actual live-view and clicking of the shutter.
    That should allow you to test that particular functionality as well – never know when you might need it.
    Have fun!

  2. Sebastien says:

    Nice. About the ISO. There is a feature quite unique in this camera that is called ISO Multi Frame NR, I’d suggest you give it a shot. It’s the first ISO setting to the left — it looks just like the AUTO ISO icon, but shows multiple frames instead. What it does is allow the camera to take a very quick burst of 4 or 5 photos, which are then averaged to reduce the overall noise. If you have a steady hand this works great, a picture that would have required a very noisy ISO 12800 can end up looking like an ISO 4000 or so. I’ve used the a7 for a week now, and I would say that the noise looks the “best” in RAW, where I can denoise it in LR very successfully. The next best setting is that ISO Multi Frame, then AUTO ISO.

    • marla2008 says:

      Thanks Sebastien, I was aware of this feature, but shooting living beings means my subjects are never totally still, which pretty much rules it out, due to potential motion blur…

      • Sebastien says:

        A few pictures I took recently in very low light made me want to revisit this comment. The AUTO ISO mode is rather smart at performing the average I mentioned above. It analyzes which parts are moving and only averages areas that remain still (or below a certain motion threshold). I was able to confirm that while shooting at a concert, where the singer was moving. The noise level at his location was definitely looking ISO6400, while the rest was much better. You could see the transition from one ISO level to the other.

  3. Peter Sedlak says:

    Thank you very much, a very interesting and practical info.

  4. Scotty says:

    Good stuff, yes, there are places were my Nex 6 seems to do better — they are different cameras 🙂

    • marla2008 says:

      The A7 is not without quirks, but on my third unit, and after a break in time, I adapted to it and it’s truly great imaging machine. I still like native exposure much better on the NEX series, but if you expose the newer cams to the right like there’s no tomorrow, a world of opportunities open 😉

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