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Gear Reviews

Transcend Drivepro 200 Dashcam Review – Overrated?

Transcend’s Drivepro 200 is one of the most popular dashcams out there. Is it popular because it’s fantastic? No… But we’ll get into that.

What’s in the Box

For AU$160, you get the car video recording unit, a suction cup, 16GB MLC micro SD card, car charger with integrated 4-meter long cable terminating in a right-angled (yay) mini USB 2.0 port and a video out cable adaptor. An adhesive mount is AU$40 extra.
If you want to permanently leave the camera in the one car, I’d recommend the adhesive mount. Compared to the adhesive mount, the standard car suction cup mount vibrates, reducing image quality. Additionally, it makes the unit significantly larger and has a tendency to fall off.

 Suction Cup and Adhesive Mounting Options
Suction Cup and Adhesive Mounting Options
 Video Output and Car Charging Cables
Video Output and Car Charging Cables

The camera makes use of a capacitor instead of a battery, which holds an electrical charge, rather than permanently storing it. A capacitor can hold far less power than a battery when sizes are equal, but capacitors are far more resistant towards heat, making it ideal for dashcams. In use, the only difference you’ll notice is the camera will turn off almost immediately after the power is cut when you turn the ignition off.

Due to the capacitor design, the camera boasts a two-year warranty. Something I took advantage off within a week when one of two of my Drivepro200 dashcams constantly started writing corrupted files to the SD card. The microphone also started picked up nothing but static once every few seconds, even when the car was parked in a deserted car park. Of my two units, my other unit is still going strong, but it was a shame that my second unit went wrong so quickly. Bad luck.

One disadvantage of capacitors in dashcams is that if you leave this particular camera without power for 3 days, you’ll need to set the clock again.

Honestly up until this point, I was really quite impressed. However, the video quality really left a lot to be desired.

Video Quality

Sharpness and dynamic range leave much to be desired. At night, the camera looses focus at times. The lens distortion is almost fish-eye, which makes poles look ridiculous. The microphone is terrible. Analogous to the camera being underwater. The volume is low, and can’t pick up the sound of my indicators, despite other dashcams being able to. Don’t buy this camera expecting it to exonerate you if you are alleged to be at fault for not indicating.

Due to the 160 degree field of view, the camera tends to expose to the sky, leaving the road completely dark. In future, I hope Transcend implements a 2560×1080 option (21×9), allowing for the camera to meter exposure off the road. Another fix would be to allow the user to set a zone where the camera should meter from, so the exposure is set off the lower half of the frame (presumably the road) only.

I’s say the wide-angle is a bit excessive. 160 degrees can be good in certain cases, but the edges are even softer than the centre of the image, making license plates unreadable. Even cars that I tailgate in the right lane of the motorway look like they are on the horizon. This further exacerbates the issue of reading registration plates.

Emergency Recording

The G sensor even on its lowest sensitivity constantly triggers when I drive through bumpy Australian cross-sections. Hence, my SD card is filled with unremarkable videos of after the G sensor is triggered. Happily, these clips are eventually overwritten when more emergency files are added. It’s just annoying for the camera’s screen to flash with an emergency recording warning. I suppose if you live in a country that has roads that aren’t in a dire state of emergency, you may be fine.

User Interface Features

The user interface is great. Best in class. The Wi-Fi, although unusually slow adds functionality like changing the Wi-Fi network SSID and passphrase. You can also browse the SD card on your mobile device. On my Android phone, it downscaled to the resolution of a potato, making this feature completely useless. Download to your computer at home instead.

Conclusion

For the price, I can’t recommend this camera unless the capacitor is a must-have for you. The video quality is as bad as you can really find and the Wi-Fi isn’t implemented as well as it could be. The G sensor is perhaps too reliable, and the suction cup isn’t the mounting solution I’d recommend for most. On the upside, the camera has a great user interface, good hot weather performance comes with a decent sized SD card and comes from a reputable manufacturer.

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Gear Reviews

Logitech MX Master Review – Cut the Cord

“Behind Every Great Man, There is a Great Mouse”

Logitech’s new top tier mouse, the aptly named MX Master, is now available. As is now the trend, Logitech says it is their best mouse ever. Does it live up to the hype? Or is it ridiculous to suggest a productivity peripheral can be hyped at all?

Design & Ergonomics

The MX Master features a right-handed design. It looks cool, comfortable and modern. However, it definitely took a while to get used to. In the beginning, I found the mouse foreign and at times even uncomfortable. I wondered, should I have gotten the Anywhere MX 2 (M905 successor) instead, and stuck with a conventional symmetrical ambidextrous design? After a couple of weeks though, the design really started to grow on me, and there is no going back!

Fun fact, apparently, there is no left-handed version of the MX Master, as last time Logitech sold a left-handed version, it was a colossal flop.

It isn’t all roses though. The back/forward buttons are located a little far back for my liking. In the beginning, I barely used them. Over time though, I got used to it and it has become a feature I couldn’t live without.

The vertical scroll wheel does not tilt left or right like the Anywhere MX 2. This is because sideways scrolling is controlled from the dedicated horizontal scrolling wheel. This is yet again another feature I didn’t really use at all in the beginning. However, in multi-window and multi-display workflows where screen real estate is limited, it really comes in handy! Even if you don’t use it though, it doesn’t get in the way of operation.

Battery Life

Logitech like many have moved away from AA batteries, opting instead for a sealed-in battery. Logitech assures us the battery should last for years, enough time for Logitech to create an MX Master successor! The mouse charges through an included Micro-USB cable to a port on the front of the mouse. This is a truly great design, as you can use the same cable as your Android phone most likely, and you can keep using the mouse while it’s charging. Simply plug it into the computer and use it as a wired mouse. The mouse doesn’t take long to charge either, especially when plugged into the wall. Apple, take notes!

Compared to the original Performance MX, the MX Master has 10 days extra to the Performance MX’s 30-day battery life. These numbers seem more or less realistic based on my experiences.

Features

Logitech’s Options software really opens up new avenues to explore and is a must download if you get this mouse. The mouse has 6 custom buttons as shown below.

 Gesure Pad Customisation within Logitech Options Software - Click to expand Gesture Pad Customisation within Logitech Options Software

The Gesture button is customisable as shown on the right. On Mac OS X, you can swipe left and right between windows, or swipe up whilst holding the button to invoke mission control, or down for app expose. Windows 10 can also take advantage of similar features regarding window/desktop management.

The software operates independently from Mac OS X’s cursor settings, which is great as I have my mouse and touch-pad scrolling set to opposite directions. In previous generations of Logitech’s top tier mice, you had to press the scroll wheel down to invoke “HyperFast Scrolling.” This was a mechanical switch that allowed users to switch between scrolling modes.
With the latest generation of Logitech’s mice, by default, you click a button on top of the mouse, inline with the scroll wheel. This electronic solution dubbed “SmartShift” means Logitech has been able to program user-selectable speeds at which the scroll wheel automatically engages Hyper Fast Scrolling. This user-selectable speed is denoted as SmartShift sensitivity in Logitech’s Options software.
If you spin the wheel slowly, it works as normal, the same ratchet clicking scroll wheel we are all used to. If you spin faster, the ratchet clicking disengages and is replaced with frictionless, super smooth and super fast scrolling that continues until the user stops the wheel from scrolling further, or manually invokes ratchet scrolling again with the aforementioned reprogrammable button. It is a novel feature, one that I have disabled… Instead, I manually press a button to invoke Hyper Fast Scrolling. Nevertheless, a great feature that you don’t realise how much you need it until you are forced to live without it. Logitech also has “Smooth Scrolling,” which honestly just increases the frame rate of scrolling and makes the scroll wheel response feel different. This took a while to get used to, but I do prefer it. However, many on the internet switch this off.
Users can also create custom settings for specific applications. This was similar to previous versions of Logitech’s mouse software: “SetPoint”, that allowed users to enter a mouse gaming mode for certain applications.

 Logitech Unifying Receiver Logitech Unifying Receiver

I remember getting my first Unifying receiver a few years ago. It was tiny. And years later, it’s even slightly smaller. The mouse now supports dual connectivity via Bluetooth or the 2.4Ghz Unifying receiver. So if your device supports Bluetooth, you won’t be needing it… However, I still found myself using the receiver as Bluetooth seemed a bit less consistent and a bit choppy during use. Additionally, the mouse supports device switching. By pressing a button on the bottom of the mouse, the user can switch the mouse between three different wireless connections between laptops, phones, tablets and desktop computers. This really comes into its own when you are using one mouse between 3 devices.

 Left to Right: On/Off, Bluetooth connect botton, Darkfield Laser Sensor, Device Signal Switch Button

Left to Right: On/Off, Bluetooth connect button, Darkfield Laser Sensor, Device Signal Switch Button

The mouse also features Logitech’s Darkfield Laser sensor, allowing the mouse to work on glass with a minimum thickness of 4mm. This adds to the versatility of the mouse especially for travel (despite its large size).

As the mouse is wide and flat on the bottom, it is vital you use the mouse on a flat surface for consistent (or usable) results. The mouse’s relatively heavy weight makes me recommend a mousepad. You’ll have a far smoother experience with one than without one.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this is all you will ever likely want in a mouse. As a general productivity tool, the mouse really accelerates my workflow and is well worth the ~$100 price tag. It is ludicrous to think Apple’s positively awful magic mouse costs more than the MX Master.

The mouse definitely takes time to get used to, with all the new features and right-handed design. So if you buy it, try to get accustomed to the features and give it a few days before you think about exchanging it for a more conventional Anywhere MX 2. I would definitely recommend the MX Master.

 Left to Right: Battery indicator (three circular lights), horizontal scroll wheel, forward and back buttons,

Left to Right: Battery indicator (three circular lights), horizontal scroll wheel, forward and back buttons, “gesture pad”

Update: I now exclusively use the Unifying Receiver, rather than the Bluetooth connection due to lag and connection issues. At times, it will simply not recognise that the gesture button is a button at all.

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Gear Reviews

Sony Xperia Z5 Real World Review

I can recall when I first tried a Sony Xperia Z3. It felt like what I wish my iPhone 4S was like back in the day. It was ergonomically a masterpiece. After trying a Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One M8, I thought I’ve finally given the Sony Xperia Z Series a try.

Finger Print Scanner

Before I bought the phone, there were already reviewers expressing their angst against the phone’s fingerprint unlock function. I can summarise the fingerprint scanner in three words: Don’t sweat it! No… That is not a figure of speech. The fingerprint scanner will not work when you have any form of precipitation on your finger. To make matters worse, since the scanner is longer than it is wide (see picture below), it absolutely struggles when you don’t line up your finger with the phone. It is nowhere near as reliable and probably not as quick as the iPhone 6S, but I’ll still give Sony credit. Most people around me have no idea the scanner is even there, as it just looks like a generic power button!

Ergonomics

 Left to Right: Camera (Two Levels of Press, Similar to Point & Shoot), Volume Rocker and Power Button/Finger Print Scanner

Left to Right: Camera (Two Levels of Press, Similar to Point & Shoot), Volume Rocker and Power Button/Finger Print Scanner

Speaking of buttons, the Xperia Z5 is thinner than the Xperia Z3, with a more angular design. Sadly, I find it very uncomfortable to hold. This can be fixed with a case, but that makes the phone even larger and unyielding. I’d encourage you to try the phone for yourself, but I far prefer the HTC One M8 ergonomically, even considering its top-mounted sleep/wake button! Comparing to an iPhone 6, I prefer the 6’s more rounded corners, although I dislike how slippery and difficult to grip both the Xperia Z5 and 6S are. Since the power button is placed a little too low to my liking, and the volume button is absurdly mounted even lower on the same side of the phone, I am constantly moving the phone up and down during one-handed operation. This has resulted in some very near falls, so I ended up with a Tech21 case. In future, I hope Sony implements the volume button on the other side of the phone.

Call Quality

This is reason enough to not buy this phone alone. I realise not everyone uses their phone to make phone calls… I always carry headphones around, as I literally cannot understand the person on the other end of the line without them! The speakers are almost invisible front-mounted stereo slits on the top and bottom. HTC’s Boomsound is leaps and bounds better, and the iPhone 6S also puts it to shame, even with its bottom-mounted single speaker.

The phone app itself is very inconsistent in performance as well. For some reason, my unit can’t put people on hold, stating “unable to switch calls.” This was pretty embarrassing as when I first said to a client I’d put them on hold, I couldn’t, and I had to listen to them speaking in a foreign language trying to get my phone to work.

Downgraded Waterproofing from The Z3

 Water Resistant Door Housing Nano Sim Card & Micro SD Card Expansion

Water Resistant Door Housing Nano Sim Card & Micro SD Card Expansion

I have several friends with Xperia Z’s and Z3’s. All of them have found the waterproofing to be unreliable. One friend of mine even had his Xperia Z snap in half. Hence, Sony has now revoked warranty for water damage in the Z5 and downgraded the waterproofing spec. The message then is clear. Do not rely on the waterproof gaskets on the phone.

User Notes

The phone itself gets very warm. If I were to compare, it is similar in temperature to an iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S4. Ironically, I’ve found the phones hot temperature makes my skin precipitate, hence disabling the usefulness of the fingerprint scanner. The software experience is also unreliable. Sometimes it will just freeze, or just outright reboot. This has become a real issue when I need information on demand. No wonder why the iPhone has become so ubiquitous. The Camera app is another place where the phone stutters. The phone gets very warm, especially when recording 4K or using the virtual reality apps which admit-ably, are a lot of fun.

Another quirk. Out of the box, I updated the Android version. The phone didn’t require me to charge the phone to a particular level, so when it downloaded the update and tried installing, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. The phone doesn’t charge when booting or updating, and the boot sequence takes a very long time compared to other phones. So when Android was upgrading, the phone died. Another issue, the phone continually restarted the moment it detected it was charging. So whenever it would auto restart, the phone would die before the update was finished. Additionally, if the update was interrupted by the phone dying, the progress made in the updating process would reset back to 0%. So basically, my phone was rebooting continuously, constantly failing to complete the update due to the phones inability to charge when booting or updating, and how the phone kept rebooting every time I’d plug in a power cable. I ended up solving the issue by charging the phone and deliberately forcing the phone to turn off (and hence charge) every time it would boot until there was sufficient charge to complete the update. After 30 minutes of constantly turning the phone off, it finally completed the update without running out of juice. Asinine!

Conclusion

Sadly, I can’t recommend the phone to most people. It is just too slow, unreliable and ergonomically difficult to use. The phone doesn’t really have any unique features (namely waterproofing), and although the design is a selling point, it is also in my experience its downfall. For the price, there are far better options out there on the market, and honestly, I would go so far as to say buy the Xperia Z3 over this phone and save the extra money. The fingerprint scanner is so unreliable I find myself just pinning in my code anyway.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

 Bottom of Phone: Xperia Logo Bottom of Phone: Xperia Logo

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Gear Reviews

Macbook Pro 13″ Retina Review – AppleCare Worth it? My Experiences with 3 Dead Apple Products

Six years ago, I had my second PC fail me. From then on, I decided to try a Mac. Since then, I’ve owned two Mac’s, both of which have died within two years.

This review will share my real-world experiences with Apple support, genius bar, the laptops, software stability, and of course my thoughts on the laptop itself.

My Macbook Pro 13″ Retina had a 2.4GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.9Ghz) Dual Core i5 Processor, 8GB of memory and a 256 GB SDD. I used it primarily for photo editing and my high school and now university studies. The latter really wasn’t at all demanding. Mostly Microsoft Office work. The former… Well, not so much.

Photo/Video Editing Performance

For photo editing, the computer absolutely struggled. Admittedly, I have pushed the machine beyond what it was ever intended to. I often edit Photoshop files around 8GB, which obviously resulted in the computer stuttering when zooming and panning and even when using the brush tool. Median blending for my astrophotography took hours and sometimes even days. Lightroom was also painfully slow. I’ll cut Apple some slack here. Lightroom is inherently a slow program, especially in converting to DNG, creating previews and exporting. Any exposure or RAW adjustment would take several seconds to implement the change. It would take 5 seconds or more to update the noise reduction to the amount I specified. After the a7ii released uncompressed RAW files that surpassed 50 MB, the computer really started to struggle. Zooming in was a drag, and panning around would usually have a 3-second delay. This results in you scrolling past what you wanted to retouch, infuriating. Using Nik collection was also painfully slow. Processing the filters would take you out of productive editing for almost 30 seconds per picture depending on file size and amount of filters. Video editing on the machine in iMovie was absolutely unusable. Warp stabiliser and roller shutter correction left the machine unusable almost an hour. Even when exporting a one minute video.

I should mention, my Macbook Pro Retina had always plenty of storage space to spare. In LR, I’d give the computer plenty of room on my SSD to cache. Also, I kept my Macbook in great condition. “Cosmetic Condition: Machine is in very good condition, no signs of markings of scratches, no dents or damage.” – Apple Store. So if any of my experiences seem abnormal, I wanted to extol any doubt that I abused the machine.

Apple Support – My Experience

After two years with the Macbook, it died whilst I was on holiday. Around 15% battery, the computer suddenly died completely. I tried charging, and the green/orange light wouldn’t turn on at all. I tried to boot into recovery, tried a different charger, hard SMC & SMC resets and basically everything Apple tried when I brought it into the Apple store a couple of days later. Their solution was to replace the entire logic board. They covered the cost of $800 and took care of it. Although my experiences were mostly good, there were some things that really bothered me.

“File Recovery”

First of all, they couldn’t take the files of the SSD using an SSD reader, something that the Apple engineer admitted he was aware existed. His response: “Apple does not specialise in data recovery.” To put this in perspective, years earlier, I “recovered” my files off my old Macbook Pro 2011 model by just taking the storage disk out and plugging it into another computer. In terms of execution, its as simple as plugging a USB drive into another computer and copying the files over. So if Apple can’t even do this, you’ll have to buy your own reader and custom screwdriver to take data off when your computer fails. The custom screwdriver is a requirement because Apple uses proprietary non-standard screws. The engineer then made me sign an agreement that said it is my fault for not backing up my data if they lose it. Now I can live with this, but not if it is so easy for Apple or even me to take the files of the disk. Additionally, I backup all the time using time machine and external RAID network drives. However, I was on holiday for a couple of weeks, so I didn’t have access to my backup disks. I didn’t even use the computer intensively for the holiday at all. At the time, the computer was using Google Chrome and Photoshop editing a 1 MB file. I ended up recovering my files off my D750’s formatted SD card using some command prompt software.

Turnaround Time

After 6 days, the laptop was ready. Happily, the Apple engineers had left the old SSD in the Macbook, so it booted like it always had. So in the end, their inability to take files off a storage drive didn’t end in calamity. However, if you need to depend on your computer for professional use, keep this in mind. In my experience of two Macbook Pro’s and an iPhone all dying within 2 years, just be prepared whether it is to recover your files manually or through a backup.

Upgrade During Repair?

I asked if I could upgrade the laptop’s logic board and take the expense on my end. This would allow me to pick a logic board from the original late 2013 model Macbook Pro 13″, yet pick more RAM and a faster processor. This would mean the unfolding calamity wouldn’t all be for nothing. Sadly, they said nothing could be upgraded during the repair process, as everything in the database is serialised. Having created and worked with databases in the past, I see this as Apple being inflexible and not being able to deliver to customers desires. There is no reason why they couldn’t do it. Make it happen Apple.

Apple Store Vs Other Stores?

I have two lessons I learnt from this. First of all, buy from an Apple Retail Store and not somewhere else; in my case, JB-HI-FI. The Apple engineer told me I could have returned the laptop if I would have bought it from an Apple Store. However, that wasn’t possible since I bought it from next doors JB-HI-FI. The reason I bought it from JB-HI-FI is it wasn’t in stock at the time from Apple themselves. Next, Apple Care. I don’t usually condone extended warranties, but Apple care in my experience (two broken Macbook’s and a broken iPhone) is worthwhile. If I would have had it, I could have returned the broken laptop, despite it being purchased through JB-HI-FI. Now that I need to upgrade to a more powerful computer as my workflow demands it, I have purchased a top of the line Macbook Pro 15.”

Conclusion

At the end of it all, I was somewhat satisfied, perfectly deserving of the average of 3/5 stars that most Apple Stores in my area have been rated on Google Plus. I didn’t think the Apple engineer was particularly respectful and I could not believe how inflexible Apple was in a variety of ways. But, for the normal consumer, I think most would be satisfied. I say this because the normal person usually has no idea what is and is not possible, and hence likely wouldn’t have many of my complaints and accepted Apple for not being able to do anything but get the laptop working again. For the working professional though, there is lots of room for improvement. I hope my constructive criticism is informative for all consumers, professionals and hopefully Apple.

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Gear Reviews

Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED Real World Review – The Most Strange Lens I Have Ever Tested – Nikon D750

The Nikon 18-35mm is one of the most unusual lenses I have ever tested. Let’s explain. First of all, I want to preface this review by disclosing I am coming from a Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS, which is over double the cost. According to DxOMark, this strange lens is sharper than both the Sony and Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR lenses at the sharpest aperture (see my sharpest aperture for this lens in my independent testing later). Given the price difference, smaller size and weight and seemingly better optical performance in terms of chromatic aberration, vignetting, sharpness transmission and distortion, what’s the catch?
Turns out it’s the sharpness at varying apertures. As shown in DxOMark’s data bellow, the sharpness at varying apertures varies hugely in all the lenses. However, the Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR performs best, being sharpest at most apertures comparative to the other lenses.

 Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED

Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED

 Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS

Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS

 Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR

Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR

Sharpness at Varying Apertures (Center of Frame)

I have also tested the Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 at varying apertures on my copy of the lens. The results are as follows. Quality of focus can be thought of as optical resolution (higher numbers are better).

 18mm - click to expand 18mm

 35mm - click to expand 35mm

As the results illustrate, the lens doesn’t follow the typical lens sharpness curve. Typically, it is expected a lens becomes sharper as stopped down, plateau around 2-3 stops down from wide open and then drop in sharpness past around F14 due to diffraction. Although the latter point is true, the lens at 35mm is sharpest at F5, only half a stop down from wide open. At 18mm, the lens follows a more traditional sharpness curve, sharpest at the centre of the frame at F5.6, 1.5 stops down from wide open. Past this, the sharpness drops consistently all the way to F22 (18mm). At 35mm, the sharpness continuously drops from F8 to F29.

Build Quality, Ergonomics, Features and Design

The build quality is as you’d expect for a lens less than half the price of comparable lenses. It lacks weather resistance, it has no weather and dust sealing gasket at the mount, and the lens hood is a crappy piece of plastic with no foam or texture. These light absorbent foam materials or padding embedded in the lens hood prevent light from reflecting from the lens hood into the lens, causing ghosting, flaring and reduction in contrast. This is found on both the Sony and Nikon 16-35mm lenses, but not on the 18-35.

Another thing the lens omits is any form of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). I don’t really mind, as I generally use my ultra-wide angles on a tripod, where you’ll want to disable OIS anyway.

Ergonomically, the AF/MF switch is tiny and hard to change. This also doesn’t affect me, as I use back button focus, meaning pressing the shutter button on my D750 doesn’t engage autofocus.

The obvious drawback to the 18-35 is the fact it is 18mm at its widest. The other two lenses are 16mm at their widest. If 18mm is not wide enough, don’t buy this lens. Personally, this limits me in my use of this lens for real estate photography, as I often find myself needing to go wider than 18mm.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this is the most unusual lens I have ever tested. If you don’t care about the omission of OIS, weather sealing, and sharpness either doesn’t matter to you or your happy to shoot at a very limited range of apertures, the lens is a great value. If you want more flexibility and don’t mind the price, size and weight penalty, go for the Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR. It’s simply a better lens and doesn’t have any of the aforementioned drawbacks.

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Gear Reviews

Tamron SP 70-200 F2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens Review – Nikon D750

Here’s my real-world review of the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 Di VC USD. After I sold my Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens to upgrade to this lens, I have compiled some user notes aggregated from my real-world experiences.

Let’s start by breaking down the full name of the lens:

SP – Super Performance (Sounds ambitious, though, I suppose it’s true)

Di – Digitally Integrated (??????)

VC – Vibration Compensation

USD – Ultra Silent Drive

Ultra Silent, or Ultra Loud?

The lens is not silent at all. The lens is very audible when focusing, one of the loudest focusing lenses I have ever used. Does this affect image quality? Is the focusing slow per se? Definitely not. But the USD designation is ironic, to say the least.

Infuriating Tripod Collar

 Screw on Tripod Collar Screw-on Tripod Collar

On my previous Sony F4 version of this lens, the tripod collar required maybe one rotation of the knob to fix the collar to the lens. The same is true of the Nikon and Sigma versions of the 70-200 F2.8. However, the Tamron version is a simple screw-on tripod collar, which takes maybe 5 rotations of the knob. If you want to take off or put on the tripod collar quickly, this lens will slow you down. It also feels flimsy in comparison to the Sony mirrorless version as well. Additionally, it’s more difficult to attach as well, as the collar isn’t “funnelled” into the groove as it is on other lenses. Overall, although not a big deal to many, the tripod collar seems like an afterthought.

The Nikon 70-200 splits the tripod collar into two parts. The ring wrapping around the lens, and the part where your tripod plate attaches to. This has been found to be a more durable design, absorbing impact if your camera happened to fall off a tripod. I hope Tamron incorporates these improvements into this lenses successor.

Build Quality

In terms of build quality, the lens is probably what I was expecting for the price. Many lay into the name brand lens manufactures for being overpriced. Though, the name brand lenses are generally in my experience far better built. Similar to the Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD, the zoom ring feels like it gives way slightly when you press on it. The exception in my experience are the Sigma Art lenses, which are one of the best-built lenses I have seen. Happily, the lens has a weather sealing gasket around the mount.

 Weather Seal in the Mount Weather Seal in the Mount

Ergonomics

Ergonomically, I dislike how the focus ring is further towards the back of the lens, and the zoom ring is towards the front. I constantly find myself accidentally adjusting focus while zooming. The Sony, Nikon and Canon 70-200 lenses arrange the focus ring at the front, with the zoom ring towards the back. My suspicion is the lawyers had their way on this one…

Optical Performance & Focusing

The lens has similar if not better optical performance to the name brand Nikon and Canon lenses. However, the Canon is the only one that doesn’t exhibit severe focus breathing at close distances. This can come into play when taking tight headshots, as the Nikon and Tamron have a similar field of view at 200mm as the Canon at around 150mm. This can be remedied by extension tubes, as the expense of being able to focus beyond close range. The vibration compensation is great to have on a telephoto lens, and it works great.

Sharpness at Varying Apertures (Center of Frame)

 Lens sharpness at 70mm - click to expand Lens sharpness at 70mm

 Sharpness at 200mm - click to expand Sharpness at 200mm

The graphs illustrate that the Tamron 70-200 is sharpest at F4 at 70mm and F5.6 at 200mm when examining the centre of the frame. Additionally, there is a rapid gain in sharpness when initially stopping down from F2.8 and F4. Past F14, the lens shows the usual reduction in sharpness due to diffraction.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the lens is a great upgrade from any 70-200 F4 lens. The shallower depth of field and roughly 2/3 stop increase in light is well worth it, especially considering most first-party 70-200mm F4 lenses are less sharp and more expensive. My only hesitation is the loud focusing, somewhat poor ergonomics, comparatively worse feel in the hand and hateful tripod mount. If any of these are of particular importance to you, spring for the first party 70-200mm F2.8 lenses. If these can’t justify the significant gulf in price though, this is a great option. Either way, I don’t think you can really go wrong.

Further reading: Mirrorless vs. DSLR. Sony a7ii vs Nikon D750 – Comparison Between Brands & Why I Switched to Nikon

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Gear Reviews

Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art Real World Review – Is it worth it?

 Large 77mm Front Filter Thread. AF/MF Focus Switch

Large 77mm Front Filter Thread. AF/MF Focus Switch

The Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art has become probably more popular than the less expensive, smaller, first-party versions of the 50mm F1.4. Why? It’s a T1.8, meaning it zaps one stop of light before it reaches the camera sensor. It’s almost 100% longer than the first-party options, 3 times heavier and costs 2-3 times more!

To answer the question, it’s because it generally isn’t compared to the Nikon or Canon 50mm F1.4 lenses, more often to the ~$4000 Zeiss Otus 55mm, one of the sharpest DSLR lenses available.

When we look at the Canon, Nikon and Sigma 50mm F/1.4’s, the Sigma’s primary advantage is sharpness when shot wide open. Any lens, especially a prime can be sharp at 2-3 stops down from wide open. However, excellent wide open optical performance is a hallmark of a quality piece of glass. After all, what’s the point of an F1.4 lens if you’re going to stop it down to F2.8?

 DxOMark's comparison of the Sigma, Nikon & Canon 50mm F1.4 lenses when shot wide open.

DxOMark’s comparison of the Sigma, Nikon & Canon 50mm F1.4 lenses when shot wide open.

Additionally, the Sigma has significantly less barrel distortion, vignetting and slightly less chromatic aberration.

For many, this simply won’t matter. Shot wide open at F1.4, so little will be in sharp focus that the Sigma’s wide-open sharpness advantage will barely be noticeable. Additionally, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration are also easily fixed in Lightroom or Capture One Pro.

I came to this lens having used the Sony Zeiss 55mm F1.8 ZA lens, which had a very similar optical performance. Most importantly, it was also T1.8, but significantly smaller and around the same price.

Topic of Debate: Aesthetic of F1.4 vs. T1.8

F Stop refers to the aperture or the theoretical amount of light than will enter the lens. It also indicates the amount of background blur you will get out of the lens. T Stop is a more practical measure of the amount of light that actually makes it through the glass elements to the sensor.

The amount of light the lens lets-in may be important, but the aesthetic of F1.4 is still mesmerising. But this brings me back to the original question, why aren’t more people seen with the smaller, cheaper versions of the 50mm F1.4 from Canon and Nikon. After the above discussion, I don’t really know. The lenses are even similar stopped down to F2.8. Can a 25% sharpness increase at F8 really justify 2-3 times the price amongst other sacrifices? Don’t get me wrong, I like the lens, but I believe for the aforementioned reasons, that it is not the right 50mm for most people. It’s not like the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, which has a T stop rating of T1.6, half a stop more than the Sigma 50.

Pros

The build quality far exceeds any 50mm F1.4 from Nikon or Canon. It’s on par with the Sony 55mm F1.8 ZA, which is also a very well built lens. Build quality amongst lenses doesn’t get much better than this. The lens may be heavy, but for many, the large and heavy construction screams premium quality and professionalism. The lens is an amazing value, especially considering the lens delivers F1.4, autofocus (unlike the Zeiss Otus) and is cheaper than the first party and optically inferior first-party options.

The lens also has great focusing when attached to my D750. Congratulations to the engineers at Sigma, as large-aperture lenses generally require a larger distance for elements to move to acquire focus.

 Lack of Weather Sealing Gasket on Mount

Lack of Weather Sealing Gasket on Mount

Future Improvements

The lens does exhibit quite a bit of focus breathing. It’s definitely not the worst I’ve seen, but it does limit its possible uses in video or close range portraiture.

The lens isn’t exactly what you’d call feature-packed. It has no optical image stabilisation or weather sealing. I have to cut Sigma some slack here. As of the date of the publication of this article, there is no stabilised and weather-sealed 50mm F1.4 on the market. However, it is a possible future improvement. The closest thing to what I’ve been describing on the market is the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, which offers image stabilisation and weather sealing, but is F1.8.

This isn’t really a gripe, but the lens hood is absolutely huge. In itself, this can also be considered a pro as it is very well built, far higher in quality compared to my Tamron F2.8 zooms.

Sharpness at Varying Aperture Settings (Centre of Frame)

 Click to expand

The above graph illustrates the sharpest aperture when examining the centre of the frame is F4. Additionally, there is a huge difference in sharpness when stopping down from F1.4 to F1.6. The usual reduction in sharpness (due to diffraction) when stopping down towards F16 is also evident, however not as much compared to other lenses. This can become handy for Macro photography. Keep in mind, you’ll be needing extension tubes to allow the lens to focus close enough for Macro purposes.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I’ll be keeping the lens. I am a sharpness geek, although I know in reality this doesn’t really make that big a difference in real-world use. I’ve wanted to give the lens all the praise it deserves, whilst being practical in my comparisons, and laying out why one might pick this lens over the Canon and Nikon versions. If you crave sharpness, want fantastic build quality and don’t mind the T stop rating of T1.8, this lens is definitely for you. Studio, portrait and wedding photographers will absolutely love this lens. If on the other hand you are happy with still good but not world-class wide-open sharpness, the same F1.4 aesthetic, lighter weight and smaller size and appreciate the money savings, don’t be afraid to try out the Canon or Nikon 50mm F1.4 lenses. Their smaller size and weight are great when travelling or when used in street photography settings. The money you save can then be reinvested elsewhere. I don’t think most people will be disappointed with either of the Sigma, Canon or Nikon 50mm F1.4 lenses, just get out there and start shooting!

Any thoughts? That’s what the comments section is for.

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Gear Reviews

Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 VC Real World Review Review – Nikon D750

 Lens at 24mm Lens at 24mm

 Lens at 70mm Lens at 70mm

The Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD herein dubbed the Tamron 24-70, is one of two 24-70mm F2.8 full-frame stabilised zoom lenses available on the market. The other being the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, which retails for almost three times the price! Canon has yet to introduce a stabilised version of its 24-70mm F2.8 II USM. So how does the lens perform in the real world? Read on…

Focus Performance

The lens has the fastest AF of any lens I have ever used. That includes the following:

  • Tamron SP 70-200mm F2.8 Di VC USD
  • Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM ART
  • Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5ED
  • Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS
  • Sony Zeiss FE 55mm F1.8 ZA
  • Sony Zeiss FE 16-35mm F4 OSS
  • Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS
  • Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS
  • Sony E 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS
  • Samyang 14mm F2.8 Manual Focus Lens (duh!)

etc.

Note that the Sony FE-mount lenses were mounted on a Sony A7ii, the E-mount lenses on a Sony a6000 and the Nikon, Sigma and Tamron lenses on a Nikon D750.

No complaints here. And unlike the Tamron 70-200mm F2.8 Di VC USD (review), it’s silent, hence the designation: USD – Ultra Silent Drive.

Focus Breathing

My one gripe in the focusing department is the immense amount of focus breathing prevalent in the lens. Focus breathing is a phenomenon that reduces the magnification of the subject when focusing on close subjects. For example, the lens at 70mm focused on a faraway landscape will have a more telephoto angle of view than the lens at 70mm, focusing at close headshot ranges. I noticed the breathing within the first few seconds off mounting it on my D750. Does this affect real-world performance or versatility, not really… It’s more a problem on proper portrait lenses like the 70-200mm F2.8 lenses, which all exhibit the same problem with the exception of the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS II USM and some of the older, significantly less sharp versions of the 70-200mm F2.8 lenses from most manufacturers. Although it isn’t a practical fix to the problem, focus breathing can be remedied by the use of extension tubes.

Ergonomics & Design

Size

The lens is unusually wide, especially compared to the Nikon 24-70. It’s comparable even to the Tamron 70-200, its huge, especially when extended to 70mm.

Build Quality& Feel in the Hand

It does pail in build quality compared to the Sigma ART series lenses or most first-party F2.8 lenses. The lens is I’m sad to say rather cheaply made in terms of feel in the hand. The first thing I noticed grabbing the zoom ring is it isn’t exactly flush and hence moves backward and forward. It even slightly depresses when you turn it. Maybe I’m exaggerating, and this doesn’t at all demean the lenses great optical performance. If you want better build quality, you’ll have to step up to the Nikon version. Given the price though, it’s hard to complain.

Huge 82mm Front Filter

Similar to the Nikon, it has an 82mm front filter thread, larger than the 77mm standard front filter size of most professional lenses like the Sigma 50mm Art F1.4, most 24-70mm F2.8 non-stabilised lenses and stabilised 70-200mm F2.8 lenses. To remedy this, I got a step-up ring, which adapts my 82mm filters to my 77mm filter threaded lenses. You can get one on eBay for spare change.

The lens is also advertised to be weather resistant, a nice addition. The lens also features a zoom lock, which you can activate when in the retracted 24mm position (when the lens is at its smallest). This prevents zoom creep. Zoom lock is often found on larger wildlife telephoto lenses. I seldom use the feature, but its there for those who want it.

 Huge Front Element and 82mm Front Filter Thread Huge Front Element and 82mm Front Filter Thread

 Weather Sealing Gasket in the Mount Weather Sealing Gasket in the Mount

Idiotically Arranged Focus and Zoom Rings

The biggest design flaw in the lens is how the zoom and focus rings are arranged. The zoom ring is further away from you than the focus ring. In practice, this means you’ll always find yourself accidentally manually focusing every time you zoom.

Another annoyance is if something gets in-between the lens barrels when zoomed (lens extends in length when zoomed), the lens becomes very difficult to zoom. This has happened to me and has become a major annoyance. I ended up zooming it in and out until the piece of fabric fell out. Since then, I haven’t had the issue. Keep lint ridden clothes away from the lens when storing in bags! I have to cut Tamron some slack, as all 24-70mm F2.8 lenses extend and retract, so this isn’t a problem specifically with this lens.

Sharpness at Varying Aperture Settings (Centre of Frame

 Sharpness of at center of frame at 24mm - click to expand Sharpness of at the centre of the frame at 24mm

 Sharpness at center of frame at 70mm - click to expand

Sharpness at the centre of the frame at 70mm

The results show the lens (at the centre) is sharpest at F4.5 when zoomed to 70mm, and F3.2 at 24mm. It is also observed there is a huge difference in sharpness between F2.8, F3.2 and F3.5 at 70mm. This huge disparity in sharpness around F2.8-F3.5 is not present at 24mm. The usual decrease in sharpness due to diffraction is seen when stopping down past F14.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Tamron has a habit of labelling their lenses with SP, standing for Super Performance. Although I believe they have been slapping the term meaninglessly onto pretty much all of their lenses, for this lens, I can defiantly agree. The lens has great image stabilisation, optical performance and is fantastic value for the money.

 82mm Front Filter Thread 82mm Front Filter Thread

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Gear Reviews

Mirrorless vs. DSLR. Sony a7ii vs Nikon D750 – Comparison Between Brands & Why I Switched to Nikon (Review)

When one gets serious about their photography, they must answer the question: Mirrorless or DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)?

In the beginning, I started with a Sony HX30V Point and Shoot. After a couple of years, I switched to a Sony a6000. Having been satisfied with these two cameras, it was only logical I’d adopt Sony’s Full Frame Mirrorless, the a7 Mark 2 for my wedding photography. I adopted four Sony items as follows.

• Sony a7 Mark 2

• Sony FE 70-200 F/4 G OSS Lens

• Sony FE 55mm F/1.8 Lens

• Sony FE 16-35mm F/4 OSS Lens

After two years with the a7ii and a6000, I have consolidated my thoughts regarding the Sony Full Frame Mirrorless system into this review, and will be comparing it to the Nikon DSLR system, and why I have now fully switched over. This review is biased towards Nikon, simply because it is my preference for my wedding, landscape and sports photography. In deciding what system you pick, it is important to read articles biased towards Sony as well, to get a holistic picture. From this article, you can pick what is important to you, and pick a system to invest into. Finally, I want to say, gear isn’t everything. Get out there and shoot. Don’t dither around choosing your cameras and lenses. The time should be spent on lighting, business, networking and practice.

My time with the Sony Mirrorless System and the Nikon System can be compared under the metrics of Lenses and Camera Bodies

Lenses

The following table illustrates the price of somewhat comparable Sony and Nikon lenses regarding weight, area (length multiplied by width), price as of the 22nd of December 2015 ($AUD) and sharpness as sourced by DxoMark measurements based on a 36-megapixel sensor without an anti-aliasing filter.

I’d like to note that all Nikon lenses are one stop faster than there Sony counterparts in the table below. This is simply down to the fact that Sony has yet to release any F2.8 zoom lenses or F1.4 prime lenses with the exception of within the 35mm focal range.

   

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Green indicates that the lens is superior in that category. Orange indicates the lens is inferior to its equivalent lens in its focal length category. Grey indicates the lenses are equally matched. NOTE: I have used all the above lenses for an extended period with the exception of the 35mm lenses.
As shown, Nikon has the advantage when it comes to pricing. This is mainly down to the fact Tamron, Sigma and other third party manufacturers make lenses for Nikon, but not yet for the Sony Full Frame E-Mount. Additionally, there are simply far more lenses to choose from!
In terms of sharpness, Nikon gets the crown again. Not a single Sony lens from this selection was superior in sharpness to the Nikon “equivalent.”
Where Sony wins is in the weight and size department. It seems the increase in price and decrease in lens optical quality is traded for size and weight on the Sony Mirrorless system, compared to the Nikon DSLR system.
This is where you have to make a judgment and choose what is important to you. Based on the above discussion and opinions of other Sony mirrorless and DSLR users, the system’s strong points can be summarised:

   

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*size and weight reduction are at the expense of a one stop aperture reduction between F4 and F2.8 (zoom lenses) or F1.8 and F1.4 (prime lenses).

The lack of F2.8 zoom lenses for me has proven to be a deal-breaker. Often, I’d be forced to shoot between 12800 and 25600 ISO, whereas the photographers around me were shooting at 6400-12600 ISO on their 2.8 zoom lenses.

Camera Bodies

Ergonomics

Ergonomically, these cameras could not be more different. With the original a7 series, the camera was significantly smaller than their DSLR counterparts. Sadly, the ergonomics of the first generation a7 cameras left much to be desired. With the mark 2 versions of the a7 series, the grip has been increased in size. Although I agree with the change ergonomically, it regresses the size and weight benefits of a mirrorless camera. Despite the improvement in ergonomics, it still pains me to say they have a ways to go. On long days of shooting, my hand would start to cramp, as my pinky finger couldn’t physically fit on the a7ii’s still seemingly too small grip. It isn’t the depth of the grip, as that has been improved since the last generation, but the height. This can be fixed with the Sony vertical battery grip. However, this again defeats the purpose of the small size and weight of a mirrorless camera and costs a whopping $396!

Notable Features

The Nikon D750 also offers a handful of notable features that the Sony Mirrorless system is yet to incorporate.

  • Highlight weighted metering – attempts to preserve highlight detail.
  • Face Detection Playback – In playback view, you can also rotate a dial to cycle between all faces detected when zoomed into 100% to check critical focus.
  • Warm biased Auto White Balance (AWB) – biases AWB towards the warmer side of the Kelvin scale.
  • Minimum shutter speed setting when using Auto ISO and Aperture Priority – There have been times when the shutter speed on my Sony has dropped to 1/10sec when it originally was around 1/100sec (Aperture Priority and Auto ISO). For moving subjects, this is a costly error. I set a custom button on the D750 to adjust this setting on the fly. Now, I don’t have to be so cognizant of my shutter speed decreasing, as I know it will always be sufficiently quick.
  • Once you half-press the shutter, the D750 shows you the number of photos left until the buffer fills.
  • Two SD cards. For important events, I write to both cards. For most applications though, I set the second card to be used once the first one is filled. This is handy as you won’t be caught with your pants down shooting a family when your SD Card suddenly fills.

NOTE: Mirrorless cameras have features that aren’t available on DSLR’s. Consider these features in making your decision.

User Notes

On my a7ii, I set my right rotating dial to adjust ISO. This works fine, although everyone else I have ever given the camera to has bumped this button. For a group photo, I gave the camera to another photographer, who bumped the ISO dial. This resulted in the ISO jumping from AUTO (metered at ISO 6400) to ISO 50. The image was completely obliterated:

Not even the a7ii’s great dynamic range could save this one!

A few months into my use, I realised my a6000’s E-Mount was allowing the lenses attached to it to slightly rotate within the mount. Put simply, the lens mount wasn’t fully secure. I read up on this when I realised it was also happening on my a7ii. Turns out, it is a decently common occurrence. You can buy third party mounts to replace the stock mount. This apparently remedies the problem. It also voids the warranty. Thumbs down!

Back Button Focus

When I began photography, I experimented with back button focus. However, it just didn’t feel right on my mirrorless cameras, so I gave up on it altogether. On the d750, I have tried it again, and interestingly, I actually love to use it now. Ergonomically and functionally, back button focus just seems to make sense on a DSLR.

Charging

I wanted to mention a bit of a niggle I have with the D750. Why oh why can’t I charge the camera through a cable. Why do I need to physically take the battery out, and charge using a dedicated charging accessory that gives me no indication to the amount of change on the battery unless it is full? Sony allows you to plug a micro USB cable into the side of the camera to charge. Micro USB is the same port used by most android phones and Bluetooth accessories, making it great for travel. Very convenient.

Mobile Apps

Another thing that Nikon has yet to catch up on is the mobile app. The Sony Playmemories app allows you to change settings, focus etc your camera from your mobile phone. The Nikon version is absolutely terrible by comparison, averaging 1.5 stars right now on Google Play. Additionally, live view focusing (used by mobile app) on the D750 is sad.

RAW File Output

The Nikon D750 incorporates lossless compressed RAW files. The Sony a7ii with the recent software update 2.00 now allows for lossy compressed RAW, and a new uncompressed RAW format. Sadly, there is no lossless compressed RAW format like there is on the Nikon. For those unfamiliar with lossless vs. lossy file compression, lossy means some information is lost, similar to a JPEG file. Lossless means no information is lost during compression. In terms of practical difference, the Nikon lossless compressed RAW files are around 25 MB, whereas the Sony lossy compressed RAW files are also 25 MB. Sony’s uncompressed RAW files jump to around 50 MB. This fills the buffer of the camera quicker than I can sneeze.

Bit Depth refers to the amount of colours stored within an image file. The higher the bit depth, the more colour information stored within the file. The Nikon offers 12-Bit and 14-Bit RAW files. Conversely, the Sony offers only 14-Bit RAW. This increase in flexibility allows the Nikon camera to shoot longer before the buffer is filled if long bursts are needed, (useful for sports and wildlife). With 12-bit RAW files, the Nikon files drop to around 20 MB. Regarding image quality, the lossy compression can make highlight areas appear grainy as shown below:

   

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Shot on a6000, PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS Kit lens at f36

I know all this file format fluff may seem a bit picky, but when I started my photography and discovered that shutting down the aperture on my lens yields the “starburst” effect as pictured above, I noticed the grain immediately, and it has long frustrated me. Happily, for Sony mirrorless users, the issue is now fixed with uncompressed 14-Bit RAW.

Battery Life & Battery Grips

For a single wedding, I require 6-8 batteries on my a7ii to get through a day of shooting. For my D750, that number has been reduced to 1-2. This is due to the electronic viewfinder of the mirrorless a7. Viewfinder preference is subjective. For me, I like them both. I miss the live view histograms on the a7 but prefer the absence of viewfinder lag in the D750 DSLR. Additionally, Nikon EN-El 15 batteries are almost double the size in terms of capacity to the Sony NP-FW50 mirrorless camera batteries, yet for some reason, they are around the same price. Of course, you could extend the battery life by adding the aforementioned Sony a7ii battery grip. However, I have a problem with the engineering of the Sony battery grip. With the Nikon battery grip, the battery stays in the camera, and the battery grip locks onto the camera, where another battery is located. In the Sony battery grip, you have to take out the battery out of the camera and place it and another battery into the battery grip. Not only is this a waste of space, but with the grips installed, both systems have two batteries, yet the Sony batteries are half as large. That means a Sony a7ii with a vertical battery grip that has similar battery life to a D750 without a battery grip, is heavier, larger, more expensive and slower focusing (see focusing section later). The Nikon D750 is 750 grams, the a7ii is 556 grams (body only). Honestly, I don’t see this as a big deal. I don’t use battery grips for the aforementioned reasons. However, it is an important point of comparison for many professionals and addresses many who have suggested it. Battery grips are also great if you do a lot of vertically oriented shots. Nevertheless, the absurd amount of batteries you chew through in a day should not be underestimated. Especially, if you can only charge one at a time overnight on a holiday.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic Range is a measure of how much information is kept within a RAW file in the highlights and shadows. The Sony a7ii has 0.9 stops less dynamic range compared to the Nikon D750 at the base ISO of 100. The graph below illustrates the dynamic range of the two cameras as ISO is increased. As ISO increases, dynamic range decreases as less light is captured by the sensor. Hence, less highlight and shadow detail.

I also decided to compare the best Nikon, Canon and Sony have to offer regarding dynamic range in the graph below, comparing the Nikon D810, Canon 5DSR and the Sony a7Rii.

Here, we can see the Nikon at ISO 100-400 has more dynamic range than the Sony a7Rii. This is unexpected, as the Sony RAW files are physically larger than the Nikon’s, despite the Sony’s lossy RAW compression. However, due to the Sony’s new Back-Side Illuminated (BSI) sensor, it has more dynamic range than the Nikon and Canon at all other ISOs.

Once again, this is where you have to pick what’s important to you. If you’re for example a landscape shooter, likely you’ll be shooting at the base ISOs. Hence, the Nikon would be the better choice. This would also yield sharper images due to Nikon’s aforementioned lens variety. If your shooting high ISO’s and need the extra dynamic range, the Sony is the best camera on the market. It is also important to note that there is more to a good landscape camera than dynamic range. Size and weight may also become a factor.

Video

Here, the Sony wins all day long with one exception: focus by wire lenses. Focus by wire is a technology that replaces the direct mechanical connection between the focus ring and the focus motors with an electronic connection. The focus by wire used in Sony lenses changes focus logarithmically. That is, at differing speeds depending on the speed in which the focus ring is rotated. This leads to apocalyptically inconsistent focus pulls using native Sony lenses. It is for this reason why the professional cinematographers who use the Sony a7S/A7Sii/a7Rii use adapted Canon or sometimes Nikon lenses.

Do keep in mind adapted lenses on Sony mirrorless bodies are also completely inadequate for professional photography applications due to the outright terrible or even complete absence of autofocus. A very possible exception to this is on the arRii or a6300 and a specific adapter (Metabones with Canon Lenses). This will disable Eye AF amongst other AF features though. The a7Sii and a7Rii both now incorporate internally recorded 4k video. This is reason enough to switch to mirrorless if you’re a videographer. Quite simply, the video coming out of these cameras is outstanding.

Focusing

This was the main reason I switched. Mirrorless cameras may have more focus points, but DSLR’s have better focus points. DSLR’s also allow you to easily manually select the focus point.

The Nikon D750 adapts the focusing system from the Nikon D810 and Nikon’s flagship, the D4s. Even on overcast sunny days, the Sony a7ii misses focus, even with face detect on for a full body portrait with native lenses. There have been times the camera focused on my knee, leaving my face out of focus. It’s almost a good thing Sony has decided to only manufacture F4 zoom lenses, for the extra depth of field! Using prime lenses helps, but it’s still completely unreliable and unusable for professional photography. The camera just hunts back and forth using Contrast Based AF, then gives up. I cannot tell you the amount of missed moments due to failed focusing I have experienced with the a7ii. The a6000 really wasn’t that bad, further adding to my disappointment. That is not to say, for less strenuous photographic conditions, the a7ii won’t be sufficient. Just for professional wedding photography, sports and wildlife, it is just too inconsistent and unreliable.

Many just tell me to use focus peaking. But just refer back to my statement on focus by wire lenses, and the fact that focus peaking isn’t accurate bellow F2.8, especially at high ISO, where it somewhat detects noise as being stuff in focus.

Do not under ANY circumstance use a Sony a7ii, a7R, A7S, a7Sii or a7 for indoor sports photography. Happily, the A7Rii has improved on-sensor phase-detect AF, although I have been informed it is more on the level of a crop sensor Nikon or Canon DSLR. Still, it’s a huge improvement over only a couple of years. Sadly, the a7Rii is a whopping 4000 AUD.

Price ($AUD December 2015)

Sony a7Rii – $3998

Sony a7ii – $1918

Nikon D750 – $2273

Nikon D810 – $3349

Conclusion

When I first started switching to Nikon, I got a few general reactions. Professional wedding photographers around me fully encouraged it, as they mostly shared my sentiments. Camera store employees seemed shocked, as the employees pointed out usually people are switching from Nikon to Sony and not the other way around. This got me thinking. The Sony mirrorless system may be worse for my professional use, but it is still ideal for many people. If your livelihood doesn’t depend on it, the Sony is still an overall brilliant camera. The lenses will hopefully develop, and third party manufacturers Sigma and Tamron will hopefully soon hop on board, yielding sharper and cheaper options. The ergonomics and focusing will hopefully improve as well.

I am not about brand loyalty. I just want to pick the camera that works best for me. Just because I ended up choosing Nikon over Sony doesn’t mean you should. After all, we aren’t all event photographers. Sony has offered huge incentives to switch over, such as 4k video, in-body image stabilisation, Zeiss AF optics, Electronic Viewfinders, Focus Peeking, Highlight Alert and more than Nikon and Canon have yet to offer. I am excited to see what Sony and other mirrorless manufacturers bring to the table, and I hope Nikon and Canon catch up on the plethora of features mirrorless has been introduced in recent years.

Update: As of the 3rd of February 2016, Sony has announced a 24-70mm, 70-200mm F2.8 and 85mm F1.4 lenses. Unfortunately, the pricing of these lenses aligns with the a7Rii. That is so to say, they are the most expensive lenses of their type on the market. However, it is certainly an exciting announcement.

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Gear Reviews

Sony Alpha a6000 Review – Why I Upgraded to Full Frame.

 Sony a6000 with Sony FE 70-200 F4 G OSS Lens and Nissin i40 Flash Sony a6000 with Sony FE 70-200 F4 G OSS Lens and Nissin i40 Flash

The a6000 is Sony’s best selling mirrorless camera and for good reason. My first decent camera, I primarily used the camera for sports, wildlife, landscapes, astrophotography and events. I have stretched the camera to its limits. Over the course of a years time with the camera, I have finally compiled my thoughts into this review.

For a while, I had always wanted to upgrade to full-frame. This is most evident in the above photograph, depicting a full-frame lens attached to the camera. However, I hung onto this camera as long as I could and pushed it to its limits.

Starting with the build quality, it’s what you’d expect for the price. The camera’s grip creeks when held and the EVF’s resolution is 1.4 million dots, compared to 2.3 million of the full-frame Sony cameras and the previous NEX-7. The shutter button also feels quite unresponsive. If you are happy to live in an ignorant bliss, don’t try an a7 or full-frame camera, as going back will leave you a little disappointed.

Indoor Sports

Perhaps the biggest reason I upgraded to full-frame, the low light performance of this crop sensor camera although good for the price, is just not usable for indoor sports. This isn’t specific to this camera, however. The camera focuses well, although not as good as DSLRs. The 11FPS continuous shooting mode can be a lot of fun and partly compensates for the AF. Predictably though, this leads to the buffer being completely filled faster than I can sneeze, not to mention your hard drives and SD cards. Perhaps most annoyingly, if I wanted to review the photos, I’d always have to wait for the buffer to empty.

If you want to shoot indoor sports, I’d probably have to recommend another camera, as the Sony E-mount zoom lenses are slow and unsharp. I regularly used a fast prime lens instead, but I had to crop the photos so much that they became unbelievably noisy anyway. I have had to push the camera to almost 25600 ISO in indoor sporting environments, which yielded completely awful results. When I upgraded to the Sony 70-200 F4 G OSS lens, the focusing was a bit worse than it was on the full-frame a7ii. This is partly due to the 1.5x crop factor for APS-c, which means 1.5 must be multiplied to the aperture of the APS-c camera to predict the full-frame equivalent aperture. So, F4 multiplied by 1.5 is F6, which is pretty unusable for indoor sports or low light events. The lens was also far sharper on the a7ii, which can be expected when using any full-frame lens on a crop sensor camera.

Events

Shooting low light events with this camera turned me into an ISO bandit. The camera does fine when used in conjunction with a flash (I used the Nissin i40 flash and Nissin Di700a flash) and fast prime. However, the photos start looking bad above ISO 1600. Having printed ISO 800 photos, it almost looks like your subjects have skin problems when compared to photos printed at ISO 100.

Landscapes

This was certainly one of the most stellar things about this camera. The camera has a comparable dynamic range to many full-frame dSLR’s. As long as you shoot at ISO 100 and are using a sharp prime lens, you can get some great results. The kit 16-50 f3.5-5.6 lens is very unsharp, yielding at best, 6 megapixels of detail (usually less). A pretty depressing number, considering the camera has a 24-megapixel sensor. Additionally, the lens has horrid distortion, lacks a lens hood, and has a different filter size to all other Sony lenses (40.5mm).

The camera’s lightweight is great for travel photography. I have taken the camera to Japan, where it survived the snow despite the omission of weather sealing. I will caution about using the camera for astrophotography. The low light ISO performance requires a good amount of median blended images to remove noise, which can be hugely computer-intensive. I got far better results when I upgraded to a full-frame Sony a7ii and Nikon D750.

The Good

  • One of the best autofocus systems available in a compact mirrorless camera.
  • Great ergonomics especially considering the compact design.
  • Customisable and reprogrammable buttons personalise the camera to you and your shooting style.
  • Tilt Screen and Electronic Viewfinder (EVF).
  • In-EVF histograms.
  • Focus peaking, zebras, focusing magnification.
  • 11 Frames per second burst shooting with continuous autofocus tracking.
  • Eye AF.
  • Downloadable Apps.
  • Remote control functionality using the Sony Play Memories phone app.

The Bad

  • Mediocre battery life when the screen is at high brightness.
  • Mediocre resolution EVF.
  • Lack of sharp or >F2.8 aperture professional zoom lenses native to E mount.
  • Build quality could be improved.
  • No microphone jack.
  • Low light performance generally not printable above ISO 1600 (with Noise Reduction in Adobe Lightroom).
  • Some basic apps such as Intervalometer that other cameras include are an additional $10 in the Sony Entertainment Store.
  • Mount is not robust and started becoming loose. You can buy a third party mount, but that voids the warranty. This also occurred on my a7ii.

The Bottom Line

The a6000 is a good camera. It’s great for those just getting into photography, and when it’s weaknesses start to show, you can always step up to the full-frame a7. Just don’t go overboard on the E-mount lenses specific to the APS-C sensor size if you believe you’ll be upgrading.

Good image quality, customizability, ergonomics, focusing, EVF and more make the Sony a6000 a great travel and outdoor camera. The low light performance is average amongst APS-C sensor cameras. I have to give Sony credit, for rolling out software updates that include the addition of the XAVC-S video codec and unlike the a7 cameras, you hopefully won’t have to worry about the next model coming out 6 months down the road.

Update: As of February 2, the a6300, the a6000’s successor has been announced. With 4K, it’s a compelling upgrade for videographers.