AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Greetings from beautiful Cologne, Germany! In case you missed the recent talk on Twitter, I’m attending Photokina for the first time, and so far I’m really loving the show. If you want to stay up to date, keep an eye on Analog Senses, Candid, and Tools & Toys during the week to make sure you get all Photokina-related coverage. It’s going to be a blast!

Today I was invited to a private Sony press event where the company briefed us on the newly announced a99 Mark II camera. Long story short, it’s an extremely compelling camera, and I was very impressed with many of the features Sony built into this new flagship.

This is where the private Sony press conferences are held. Mum’s the word!

The a99 II includes a new 42MP back-illuminated sensor, which is similar to the one found in the a7R II. However, Sony has created a new front-LSI image processor which takes some of the workload from the BIONZ X image processor, and the company said they expect the new camera to outperform the a7R II in low light situations, although they didn’t say by how much.

The Sony a99 Mark II, the new flagship in the A-mount system. Photo credit: Sony.

The sensor in the a99 II has similar specs to the one in the a7R II, but Sony says low light performance should be improved thanks to the new front-LSI image processor.

On the speed front, the a99 II is capable of shooting up to 12fps at the full 42MP resolution and with full AF capabilities, which is very, very impressive. And for the first time, they’re displaying the state of the memory buffer on screen, so you know how many frames you can shoot before your camera slows down. For what is worth, it never froze on me during the hands-on time I spent shooting with it. These buffers are deep.

Sony has also included the Live View mode they introduced with the a6300, which allows you to see the action in real-time through the viewfinder as you shoot, making it easier to track moving subjects while shooting in burst mode. This mode is limited to 8fps, though, as in the a6300. There’s a big difference between shooting in Live View mode and shooting in the regular EVF mode, and I very much prefer to use Live View when shooting bursts.

The a99 II also includes many of the nice features found in the a7-series cameras, including a superb EVF and 5-axis in-body image stabilization. Sony says the IBIS system in the a99 II can compensate for up to 4.5 stops, which is pretty good, and probably a bit better than the E-mount cameras can do in real-world shooting.

The a99 II includes a newly designed 5-axis image stabilization system that is capable of providing up to 4.5 stops of compensation according to Sony.

But perhaps the most remarkable feature in the a99 II is, of course, the new AF system. Sony has improved the dedicated AF sensor — which is the trademark of the A-mount — with 79 AF points, 15 of which are cross-type. However, for the first time, they’ve combined those with the 399 on-sensor phase-detection AF points to convert all 79 AF points into hybrid cross-type AF points.

What does that mean? Well, the normal AF points inside the dedicated AF system are tweaked to detect horizontal lines, while the 399 on-sensor AF points are configured to detect vertical lines. By combining both systems, the 79 horizontal AF points overlap with some of the 399 vertical AF points, resulting in 79 hybrid cross-type AF points which, according to Sony, provide much more responsive and accurate AF performance.

The a99 II features a hybrid AF system: a translucent mirror deflects a small fraction of incoming light to a dedicated AF sensor with 79 phase detection points, but the camera also has 399 on-sensor phase detection points.

Finally, to round-up the impressive AF system, face detection and Eye AF are also included, both of which make taking pictures of people a lot easier. I’m used to having these features on my a7 II, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

All in all, the a99 II is a worthy addition to the A-mount system, and clearly the new flagship camera from Sony. It either matches or exceeds the performance and feature set of the a7R II, and it does so while retaining the identity of the A-mount. I’m all for mirrorless cameras, but if you prefer a more classic DSLR style, this one should definitely be near the top of your list.

Hands-on: lightning fast, but heavy

During my hands-on time with it, I got to shoot several couples of dancers with a variety of styles, ranging from classic ballet to capoeira, all in a well-lit studio. The camera performed admirably, especially considering the difficulty of the situation. AF was snappy and accurate with the 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens, and it managed to track the dancers very well. I did get the occasional out of focus shot when one dancer would cross in front of the other, which brings me to another new feature found in this camera.

For the first time in a Sony camera, you can configure the AF system to keep focus on the subject that’s being tracked and ignore interruptions, or to switch focus to the closer subject. I didn’t have time to go that deep in the menu system during the event (all we had was like 10-15 minutes with it), but I expect the minor issues I saw to be solved by using the proper AF configuration.

Face detection also worked brilliantly, and it considerably improved the accuracy of the autofocus systems when shooting these dancers. Without face detection, the camera would sometimes focus on a dancer’s torso or limbs, whereas with face detection on, it would almost always find their faces. Of course, no camera is going to be able to get 100% of your shots in focus, but the a99 II certainly got close.

On the minus column, there’s no question this is a heavy camera. Between the a99 II and the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, the combination was heavy enough that my arms were starting to get tired after just a few short minutes of shooting. If size and weight are a primary concern for you, I’d probably advise you to take a look at Sony’s E-mount offerings instead.

I got to test the camera with the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM II lens, and the combination performed brilliantly, although it was pretty heavy. Photo credit: Sony.

Unfortunately, the units we tested are still pre-production models, so we couldn’t take the images home with us. That’s why I couldn’t include any pictures of the session in this post. I could, however, take pictures of the camera with my own, so here’s a nice shot of the actual new a99 II for your viewing pleasure.

The a99 II is the only new product Sony has announced at Photokina, but the company has a massive stand in the main area and I do hope to get some hands-on time with some of the more recent E-mount products, so stay tuned for more!

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Candid, Episode #26: “I Can’t Stop Touching It” →

September 12, 2016 |

Everyone’s back just in time to welcome yet another 50mm lens to the Sony lineup. Marius also shares some first impressions about a new camera before the discussion turns to photo books and printing.

This episode is sponsored by Hedge for Mac, the best way to quickly and securely offload photos and video footage to your computer.

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My review of the Sony Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 lens was published earlier this week on Tools & Toys. This was my first review after the summer break, and it was a tricky one to write.

First of all, I’m not very experienced when it comes to ultra-wide angle lenses. I’ve always been much more drawn to the standard and short telephoto ranges, and the wider end always felt a bit alien to me.

However, trying new things is how we learn, so when the opportunity came up to take a week-long trip to Lisbon, I knew I wanted to try a wide lens to capture the beautiful natural landscapes that Lisbon, and especially the neighboring region of Sintra, are known for.

So I took a look at my options and eventually decided to rent this lens and take it with me for the trip. I had it for a total of ten days before sending it back, which is admittedly less time than I usually spend with a lens before reviewing it. All things considered though, I think I managed to come away from the experience with a fair assessment of how the lens performs, and a better understanding of what the ultra-wide angle range is all about.

If you want to read more about the whole thing, head on over to Tools & Toys for the full review.

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Join the Candid.fm team for a live conversation during today’s Apple event!

September 07, 2016

Apple’s yearly September event is already upon us, and this year the company is strongly hinting at significant camera improvements as one of the main features in the soon-to-be-announced new iPhones. As equal parts Apple enthusiasts and photography nerds, the Candid.fm team, including yours truly, will be covering the event live using a really cool app called Talkshow.

If you want to join in on the fun — and seriously, why wouldn’t you? — here’s a bunch of ways you can do that:

  • If you want to participate by sending us questions, comments, or telling us all about your favorite beer, you can download the Talkshow app and search for Candid.fm.

  • If you just want to read along, you can go to the show’s page, or just watch below.

Whatever method you choose, don’t forget to bring your beverage of choice; it’s going to be epic. See you later!

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John Gruber on Tim Cook’s open letter →

September 02, 2016 |

John Gruber:

I’m with Cook on this one. It’s about what the Commission (and many observers) think the tax law should have been, not what it actually was. It’s telling that Ireland is objecting just as strenuously as Apple.

Of course Ireland is objecting just as strenuously, it was actually Ireland that the Commission found guilty of wrongdoing here, not Apple. And if Ireland was to take all that money from Apple now, they would be risking future investments in their economy not just from Apple, but every other foreign company as well. Despite the unexpected €13bn windfall, they have a lot more to lose here than Apple.

And then there’s this gem, from Tim Cook’s original open letter:

The Commission’s move is unprecedented and it has serious, wide-reaching implications. It is effectively proposing to replace Irish tax laws with a view of what the Commission thinks the law should have been. This would strike a devastating blow to the sovereignty of EU member states over their own tax matters, and to the principle of certainty of law in Europe.

What Cook argues sounds compelling, but it is in no way what happened here. As for how “the law should have been”, European state aid laws have been in place for a long time, and it is based on those laws that the Commission ruled.

I find it cute — read: hypocritical — that Tim Cook now appears to place such a high importance on the sovereignty of EU member states, when it is precisely some lack of sovereignty that made Apple’s loophole possible in the first place: by diverting profits from other member states to Ireland, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the EU’s common market, Apple is effectively making it impossible for those member states to collect taxes on sales and profits that were generated within their own borders and paid for by their own citizens. How exactly is that respectful of the sovereignty of all the other member states?

In other words, it is only because EU member states willingly gave up some of their taxation privileges in order to be a part of the common European market that Apple and other big companies could get away with doing something like this. What’s outrageous to the Commission and many European citizens — including yours truly — is that, had they stopped there, things would have been perfectly legal and Apple and Ireland would have both been in the clear. But that wasn’t enough for Apple. On top of that, they had to negotiate a ridiculous tax rate on those profits, something the Irish government was all too happy to grant them because, seriously, which government wouldn’t want Apple to set up shop in their country?

I like Tim Cook, and I like Apple. I want to believe Tim knows Apple is at least morally in the wrong here, and he’s just playing the cards he’s been dealt and fulfilling his obligations as CEO. But, in case he hasn’t noticed, Europe is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, and sovereignty isn’t what it used to be. Ask Greece, or Spain, to name just two member states that have seen their sovereignty significantly limited by the Commission’s economic oversight in recent years.

Europe is bleeding money and taxes are now more necessary than ever. To add some perspective, Ireland’s national debt is currently greater than its GDP, so it’s not like they don’t need the money. Many states have had to make huge sacrifices to preserve the idea that the Union was built upon, and now it is Ireland’s turn. If Apple wants to legally fight the Commission’s ruling they have every right to do so, but let’s not kid ourselves about who holds the moral high ground here.

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Candid, Episode #25: The Rise of Unsplash →

August 30, 2016 |

I missed this week’s episode of Candid, but friend of the show Drew Coffman was kind enough to join Marius and Josh for an in-depth discussion on one of the most interesting platforms for photographers of all kinds: Unsplash. This was easily one of the best Candid episodes to date. Absolutely recommended.

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This is what it’s like to work as an Uber bike messenger in New York City →

August 29, 2016 |

Really great piece over at The Billfold:

The most appealing aspect of working as a bike courier — on top of its power to burn calories — is the glimpse it offers you into the private worlds and habits of New Yorkers. I frequently took on the role of an armchair anthropologist, privileged with brief glimpses into the modern dwellings and workplaces of New Yorkers of all stripes.

It’s definitely not all rosy, but if there’s one city in the whole world where I wouldn’t mind trying something like this, it’s gotta be New York.

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Candid, Episode #24: Travel (Instagram) Stories →

August 18, 2016 |

With Josh unable to join us this week, Marius and I catch up on the news, and then I share some of the many things I learned during my recent trip to Lisbon, including my impressions on the Sony Zeiss FE 16-35mm F4 lens. Along the way, we also answer a listener question, chastise Zenfolio for terrible behavior, discuss photo backups for travel, and I get to make my first-ever baseball reference on the show.

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Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps: Twin Titans of the Modern Olympics →

August 13, 2016 |

Great piece by Christopher Clarey over at The New York Times:

Michael Phelps and Bolt have been an Olympic one-two punch since 2008 in Beijing, where Bolt emerged to tear up the track while Phelps was already an absolute ruler in the pool.

On Saturday they will overlap briefly once more, with Phelps, now 31, finishing up one of the most remarkable meets of his career, and with Bolt, fast approaching 30, launching his meet with the first round of the 100 meters.

What a generation of athletes. In case it wasn’t obvious, you’ll find me glued to my television both tonight and tomorrow night. If you’re coming over, please bring some cold beverages.

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Candid, Episode #23: Expose to Whatever →

August 13, 2016 |

This week we’ve got a couple of excellent listener questions to answer before delving into exposure. We go over ETTR and other techniques and compare exposure rules in digital versus analog photography. I had a lot of fun recording this one.

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