Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hands-On With the Sony a6000

I recently took the opportunity to put the new Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera through its paces. It’s a remarkably small, light, fast-acting camera potentially capable of producing really good images.

Small and light is what I was looking for. I’m a hiker, and I also like to do some street photography. I want something with me that won’t add weight when I’m climbing a long, steep trail and that can be inconspicuous when walking city streets. I also want a camera that’s always ready and responds quickly.

Montane Botanic Garden. ISO 100. 
I worked with the a6000 for a full week, taking it on a hike in the San Bernardino Mountains, on a ramble through downtown Los Angeles, to the Huntington Gardens and the Getty Center, and on another hike around Lake Hollywood.

Sony’s strength lies in its sensors. The broadcast industry has relied on them for many years. The a6000 is equipped with a 24 megapixel crop-frame APS-C sensor that delivers a 6000 x 4000 pixel image in RAW. That’s an image you can enlarge easily to at least 30” x 45”. What I believe hurts the image is the kit lens that came with my camera, an inexpensive 16-50mm zoom (equivalent to 24-75mm full-frame). It exhibited a lot of barrel distortion (correctable in Lightroom) and noticeable softness, especially at the edges.

Los Angeles Union Station, ISO 6400
Low-light performance was impressive. Although noise was evident even at lower ISO settings, it was easily controlled up to ISO 6400. The camera certainly was responsive, with a minuscule 0.02 second shutter lag. Its 11 frame-per-second continuous capture speed was amazing. Battery life had to be watched; on one long hike where I clicked off over 200 frames, it was getting worrisome as I got back to the trailhead.

Controls can be confusing. One main, marked control wheel on top sets the program mode, while most other settings are changed through menus. I often found myself switching between continuous shooting, single frame and bracket modes, which required a couple of thumb-presses each. It was easy to miss the correct setting, especially in bright light while trying to read the LCD screen. A second top-deck unmarked control dial can be set to different functions; I had mine set to aperture. However, your thumb can easily change the setting as you handle the camera and operate the shutter; it’s something I had to learn to keep checking.

Some of those issues, I suppose, are associated with the small size of the camera and therefore unavoidable. I’d like to go back and test the Sony a6000 with a better lens, preferably one of the Zeiss Touit prime lenses (they offer 12mm, 32mm and 50mm, equivalent to 18, 48 and 75 respectively). We’ll follow up when we have a chance to do that.

The Sony a6000 is a great little camera with the ability to produce large images and capture the moment. Its promise may be fulfilled with higher-quality lenses.

NOTE: The camera used for this review was paid for by the reviewer and obtained through No compensation was received for this review.

Wounded deer, grazing on the brush near Lake Hollywood. ISO 400. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Starting A New Journey

Sometimes, a new journey begins in unexpected ways.

Last year, a dear friend that I’d known since childhood died of melanoma. We’d met in 7th grade and grown up together. Our parents became friends. We learned to drive and got our first cars on the same timetable. We explored the world outside our neighborhood together. And although we lost track of each other for a time as we both entered our career years, we came back together and enjoyed several years of talking, visiting and sharing memories before he passed away. He was a long-term executive at a blue-chip technology company and looked forward eagerly to his retirement. He never got there.

As I carried his casket to the grave site, something in me changed. I realized that I was spending my life in meetings and airports, creating useless spreadsheets and trying to meet my employer’s unrealistic opposing demands to cut service and increase revenues.

Just a few weeks later, I found myself standing on the mud flats along Cook Inlet, an hour’s bush-plane flight south of Anchorage, surrounded by Alaskan brown bears. In the distance shone the snow-capped mountains of the Katmai Peninsula. Mother bears with their cubs were feeding. My camera was clicking away.

This year, I left my job to concentrate full-time on photography. This was no spur-of-the-moment decision, but a choice to get my life back on center. I have always been driven by a need to create. I wrote my first short story at the age of five and got my first 35mm camera at 13. Professionally, I was a working journalist covering the automotive industry and saw my byline in major daily newspapers and magazines. I had a long career in marketing, advertising and public relations, heading two prestigious car accounts and one major motorcycle account. I also co-founded and ran a video production company with an amazing partner, during which time we garnered more than 50 awards for our work.

In 2007, I decided to get serious about photography. I have studied and continue to study with masters such as the renowned Art Wolfe, Canon Explorers of Light Lewis Kemper and Jennifer Wu, and creative geniuses such as Jim Zuckerman, Tony Sweet and Brenda Tharp.

This year, my work has appeared in the “Portraits of the Garden” show at the Sturt Haaga Gallery, and a new show opening next week in Europe (details to come). I’ve also been recognized with several awards, and my work is for sale both on my own site and at Saatchi Art. I have a book coming out next month and several exciting projects in the works.

This is a journey I’ve been preparing for all my life. The death of my friend and the transcendent experience of closely photographing wild grizzly bears were simply the push I needed. We too often spend our lives waiting for the day when we can do something instead of just doing it.  

So please come along to follow my adventure. I’ll also be sharing camera and gear reviews, photo tips and lessons from my own art journey. Thanks!