Topic: Equipment (3 posts)


While occasionally the blog discusses the tools we use to make our pictures the emphasis is more often on the pictures themselves, mine and others.

But an email last week from Mark Thayer, a long-time-ago student, friend and colleague asked me about the connection between the cameras we use and the pictures we make. And, are there cameras that have helped us make better pictures, and that are in tune with our sensibilities and proclivities? In short, have there been cameras that we've used that have enabled us to be able to work synergistically.

For me, yes, a few. Let me cite them: Early in my career the Rollei SL66. A beast of a medium format camera that was really a "systems" camera in that many parts could be swapped out. Came with great Zeiss glass. My first foray into very high-quality picture making. Later the Hasselblad SWC, perhaps the most seductive, simple, and elegant solution ever for making very high-quality pictures easily and without drawing attention to itself. The Toyo Field 810 camera: my main picture maker for 25 years. And, more recently, the Nikon D810 and then just a couple of years ago moving up to the Nikon D850, too big by far, but easy, smooth, dead reliable and responsible for some of my best pictures recently.

The analogy of a race car driver comes to mind in this context. He/she works closely with the builders, mechanics, and engineers to refine the car to make it faster; driving, testing, making changes and adjustments to eke out all it can give in performance.  Through this, the driver becomes at one with the car. And so, though totally dependent on this complex machine for his/her win, it is the driver that is the artist, working in sympathy with the machine to deliver the win.

Cameras I have fought with or did not get along with? The Nikon D800e, a camera brought to market prematurely with a mirror and shutter that caused vibrations that ruined your pictures. And right now, a love-hate relationship with the Sony A series of full-frame cameras, currently for me the A7r mk IV. I love what it can do and its size too but the menu is byzantine and with 61 mp in your hand, it is a very demanding camera in use as it demands great steadiness.

I've written about some of my good ones in past blogs: RolleiHasselblad SWCToyo FieldNikon D850.

In photography, it seems most of us are dependent on these complicated intricate machines to make our work. We are technology dependent. Choosing camera equipment that forms a synergistic relationship between you and the gear can make all the difference. Add the extent of your time spent with it so that it fades away to almost nothing in use helps to make your pictures fluent, refined and elegant. Choose well, my friends. And, if the camera is fighting you, get rid of it.

Topics: Equipment

Permalink | Posted December 18, 2020

The Vello

What the hell is a Vello? It is an adapter that mates Sony E mount mirrorless cameras like the A7R mk ll with Nikon lenses.

Why go there? Because Sony is arguably one of the hottest things in high quality capture these days with its 42 mp A7R mk ll. Plus it offers this in a much smaller and lighter package than the DSLR's Canon and Nikon make. 

Let's play this out in a scenario: long time pro photographer Louise invested in Nikon cameras and lenses over many years, upgraded her cameras to stay current with new generations of digital capture and has both fixed focal length Nikon lenses and zooms in her kit. She just recently bought a Think Tank rolling case for all this gear as she can hardly lift it. She dreads traveling on assignment. Watching her negotiate stairs or rough terrain with the Nikon gear is not pretty and she's sore at the end of a work day.

When the new mirrorless Sony came out she read all about it and finally bought one, thinking the camera might serve down the line as a traveling camera capable of high quality results. Now started the struggle to buy Sony/Zeiss glass for the new camera. In the early days there weren't many lenses for the new camera. One of the key advantages to the Sony was that it permitted the use of adapters to allow other  lenses to work with the Sony. Except for Nikon. Evidently this was harder. And there were rumors that some adapters claiming to work with Nikon lenses were actually breaking the Sony cameras when attached. Not good. So, she waited and, to be truthful, she still preferred the Nikon D810 when its weight wasn't an issue. This was partly due to the really excellent quality she got with the Nikon lenses she had. She couldn't dispute the high quality imagery she was getting from the Sony but it was an off putting little thing, eating batteries, and with a menu made by the devil. The Sony was like trying to learn a different language. But, through forcing herself to shoot with it, she found she was slowly coming around to liking it more and trusting what it did.

Time marched on and the buzz online was that a company called Vello made an adapter that worked, called the LAE-SE-NF with firmware Version 4.0, for $400. The photographer Brian Smith was publishing data about a whole bunch of adapters Louise found very helpful. By now she had some good lenses (slower, lighter and less $) for the Sony but the new really excellent lenses now made for the camera, called G Master lenses, were fast, expensive and as heavy as the Nikon lenses she already had. She thought this through carefully and ordered the Vello adapter.

Sony A7R mk ll, Vello adapter, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8

The results? It worked, mostly. Louise found in testing that apertures and shutter speeds were displayed on the screen accurately, metadata transferred fine and autofocus almost always worked. She tried the Vello out with all her lenses and found that one older 50mm Nikkor lens wouldn't focus automatically but that otherwise it worked fine. And all her newer Nikkor lenses worked perfectly, although sometimes the camera hunted more trying to find something to focus on.

Sony A7R mk ll, Vello adapter, Nikon 70-200mm f 2.8, 3rd gen

Sony A7R mk ll, Vello adapter, Nikon 80-400mm f 4/5-5.6, 2nd gen

This $400 experiment had just saved Louise thousands of $ and had succeeded in lightening her bag when she was traveling on assignment. For her next trip she was going to take the Sony with her three lighter (and slower) Sony/Zeiss lenses and two Nikon lenses along with the Vello adapter.

All this would go in the Thank Tank case that she could now lift. Problem solved.

After spending the day testing this new stuff,  Louise treated herself to dinner at her favorite restaurant around the corner and ordered a half bottle of champagne for she was definitely celebrating. 

Note: The Vello is a quality piece, nicely made and finished. 

I do not receive any support for my equipment reviews and buy gear just like you do.

Topics: Equipment

Permalink | Posted June 5, 2017

Big Changes

Since recovering from my hip surgery back in November I have begun to work with a mirrorless camera: the Sony A7R Mark ll. This is turning into a difficult transition. I believe I've written before that I do not look forward to new equipment and have never adjusted well or quickly to something new in my camera bag. 

This time is no exception.

Neal's new camera advice. Do not buy a new camera just before heading off on a trip to photograph. Do not buy a new camera when starting out on a new project. Do not use a new camera to shoot a project on any kind of deadline. Get the new camera when you've got some weeks, or months, to become familiar with it, to work it into your way of photographing, your methodology.

Actually, I do enjoy new lenses, learning how they see and render, where they are best and not so good. But cameras, particularly current digital cameras with complex menus? Not one bit. There is nothing worse for me than being in front of something really good and not being able to get it because I don't know the tool used to capture it. 

The Sony has me in fits, excited by the prospects but still confused how to use it and work with it. The Nikon I know, have used for years and, although the D810 and the lenses I have are too heavy and cumbersome, these are tools that get me the results I want: excellent files with great resolution allowing big prints. 

The Sony is still an unknown not because of it but because I am not good enough with it yet.

I am persevering, reading tutorials and user experiences on line and reading Gary Friedman's Guide, which by the way is 630 pages!  For instance: there are 16 pages just to explain his setup. Argh!

I read and study, set the camera and go out and make pictures with it. Come back home, work the files and start again. Each time, learning the system a little better, understanding some new setting.

But the camera is major. The files are killer at 42 mp. The lenses so far are really good (with the possible exception of the Sony 24-70mm f4, which seems a little soft to me) and the camera is allowing me to do things I've never been able to do before. It is smaller and lighter by far and, although the setup and use can be confusing, it allows many presets and options. 

Photography is changing  in big ways (again!) and the advent of really superb  mirrorless cameras may predict the demise of the conventional DSLR. 

What's my plan? To become good enough and confident in my abilities in this new format (for me) that I don't need both systems, Nikon and Sony. To start to sell off the DSLR equipment and turn those dollars into more lenses for the Sony.  The only aspect that could change is if Nikon wakes up and offers a mirrorless camera of exceptionally high quality that allows use of their existing lenses as well as builds over time lighter lenses for the new format.  Not holding my breath on that one.

Both Canon and Nikon are completely asleep at the switch so far. BTW: I am writing (in January 2016) this after Nikon made a big deal of announcing the new D5 and the D500 at this year's CES show in Las Vegas. This is a yawn of major proportions as there is no new technology in either of these cameras. "Much ado about nothing" does not impress this career photographer one bit and probably shouldn't impress you either.

One caution: if you are somewhat new to photography, are unsure about your results or your work in relation to others, be careful of the "if I just had a new camera" syndrome. Chances are, you should work on your picture making skills and ideas more than investing in a new camera. Yes, newer cameras have all the bells and whistles and yes there are genuine technological advances taking place but for most these matter not so much in the reality of the actual photographs they make. For instance, there's little point in joining the pixel race of more megapixels unless you need to print large. 3K for the fancy new camera that you've been lusting after or 3K on that trip to shoot those stone walls that you saw that time outside of Bath, England in late afternoon sun in early June? Or driving to rural Pennsylvania to shoot abandoned steel mills, flying to Belgrade to shoot the weekly farmer's market on Saturday mornings, or to the tip of Baja to... you get my point.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Equipment,Camera,commetary

Permalink | Posted January 20, 2016