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Using tilt-shift lenses on Sony A7R2 cameras in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Sony mirrorless cameras have a fairly unique feature : through the use of adapters, they can work with pretty much any type of lens from Canon, Nikon, Leica etc.

This includes the use of the speciality lens for serious architecture work : tilt -shift lenses made by Canon or Nikon (Sony doesn't make these kind of lens).

These type of lens allow users to capture a tall building while keeping its line straight. Look it up if you want to know how these works, it's well documented.

I have been using a Canon 17mm TS-E tilt shift lens for the last 3 years on a Sony A7R, through a Metabones Adapter (Version IV). On a recent trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands, I had the opportunity to test the 17mm TS-E on a Sony A7R2.

As the lens is manual, there are no AF compatibility issue. It's possible to use the standard metering options of the camera but I usually shoot manual. The version IV of the adapter from Metabones is recommended as the version 3 had some internal reflection issue.

The "tilt" feature of the lens, which allowsa greater control of the focus plane also work great on a Sony Camera - but I don't use it in my work, I have yet to master how to use it correctly.

To make the camera setup even more "impressive", it is also possible to use a Extender between the lens and the adapter to have an equivalent 24mm field of view. I'm using successfully a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III and the image quality is great - there is just a very slight loss of sharpness but nothing that Lightroom can't save later. I have also tried the 2x extender to have a 35mm FOV but the loss of quality was more pronounced.

Canon 17mm TS-E mounted on Sony A7R2 with Metabones Adapter (version 4)

Canon 17mm TS-E mounted on Sony A7R2 with Metabones Adapter (version 4)

Reflecting houses in the canals of Amsterdam. Sony A7R2 and the Canon 17mm TS-E, used with Metabones Adapter (version 4). All the movements work perfectly. In this example, lens was shifted up to keep the vertical lines straight.

Reflecting houses in the canals of Amsterdam. Sony A7R2 and the Canon 17mm TS-E, used with Metabones Adapter (version 4). All the movements work perfectly. In this example, lens was shifted up to keep the vertical lines straight.

Colorful sunset in Amsterdam, in front of The Oude church. A shift up was applied to keep the lines the building straight. It's quite visible in the house on the left - this gives a more natural look to the image. Shot with the Sony A7R2 with Canon 17mm TS-E.

Colorful sunset in Amsterdam, in front of The Oude church. A shift up was applied to keep the lines the building straight. It's quite visible in the house on the left - this gives a more natural look to the image. Shot with the Sony A7R2 with Canon 17mm TS-E.

Using the shift feature for pano work

A tilt shift lens can also be used to do pano work. By rotating the lens and shifting left, taking a photo, then shifting right and taking another shot, one can make a panorama with a very wide field of view. The benefit of this technique is that if you attach the lens to the tripod by using a collar, the lens will stay fixed and the camera and (sensor) will do the shift. This allows for a perfect stitch with no parallax issue ! It you move the camera and not the lens, the stitch will not be perfect so it's important that the lens stay fixed during the process.

To be fair, the picture quality tends to degrade a little bit on both extremities of the image as it's the border of the lens image circle. For serious work that will be printed or enlarged, one should crop the image a bit on both sides. As you can see below, for online use, it's fine.

"Shift pano" in the Amsterdam canals, shot with Sony A7R2 and Canon 17mm TS-E. Two photos stitched perfectly for a super wide field of view !

"Shift pano" in the Amsterdam canals, shot with Sony A7R2 and Canon 17mm TS-E. Two photos stitched perfectly for a super wide field of view !

Some limitations

Having worked for the last three years using this combo, I have observed two limitations that I wish could be fixed.

First, and not related to the tilt shift lens, the virtual horizon feature of the Sony A7R and A7R2 cameras is not precise enough. In many occasions, the vertical and horizontal guide are showing "green" when it's actually not perfectly straight. I wish the sensitivity could be set to be "very sensitive" so that it becomes green when it's really perfectly leveled. Maybe having absolute numbers in degrees could help as well. Most of the time I adjust the camera to "green" and then do micro adjustment using my geared ball head by looking at lines in the pictures to make sure it's perfectly straight. For serious architecture work when lines have to be perfectly straight, this is critical.

Second,  I have noticed some flare in the corners using this combo. This is especially visible when you have very strong light such as lamp post in a corner and the camera is shifted. Putting my hand as a natural lens hood sometimes help !

With the Sony Alpha series and the ability to use exotic lenses such as Tilt shift lens with adapter, we are very close to have a "universal camera".  In the context of architecture photography, I have found that it brings the best of both worlds : the quality and technical ability of Canon Tilt shift lens and the versatility and image quality of Sony cameras. Such a great combo !

Tilt shift lenses can be used vertically as well. In this case, a slight shift up was applied. The tree on the left was naturally skewed so nothing I could do about it :-)

Tilt shift lenses can be used vertically as well. In this case, a slight shift up was applied. The tree on the left was naturally skewed so nothing I could do about it :-)

Switching to mirrorless : Landscape photography in the Dolomites, Italy with the Sony A7R2

My first photography trip to the Dolomites mountains was last year and I mostly shot with a DSLR (Nikon D800E). I came back with great memories of this beautiful area of Italy with a desire to come back for more. For this second trip, at around the same time of the year (May), my main setup was a Sony A7R2 that I used with a set of Sony lenses (16-35mm F4, 24-70mm F2.8, 70-200mm F4).

As many enthusiasts are evaluating a switch from DSLR to mirrorless, I will share in this article my experience and the benefits this new system brings. This is not a technical review of the camera - there are plenty already out there - but a collection of observations based on real world field use in context of landscape photography (no brick walls shots ahead).

Electronic viewfinder

Much has been said about EVF and there is still a debate around it : some love it, some hate it.  Based on my experience in landscape photography, it brings many benefits :

  • Live exposure : I mostly use Manual exposure when shooting and with live exposure displayed live on the screen, get it right is a breeze : set at F11 most of the time, I reduce the speed until blinkies start to appear (most of the time in the clouds of a scene) - CLICK - next. The live histogram shows if you're clipping or not. It's very hard to miss an exposure this way and it's ideal if your shoot ETTR.
  • Checking sharpness : once photo is taken, while keeping the eye on the viewfinder, I would review the image by zooming in to check the sharpness : the viewfinder effectively acts a loupe. So practical.
  • Shooting against the sun : have you ever shot a sunrise with a 70-200 on a DSLR, pointing at the sun ? If you have, your eyes must not have been very happy. So many times did it burn my gentle blue eyes retina. Not anymore with a digital viewfinder since you're looking at a digital screen, not the actual scene. You could argue that you could use the back screen of a DSLR with live view but in my opinion a bit slower and less practical.
  • Reviewing images : in the sun, it's sometimes hard to review images on the back screen due to glare. You can use the viewfinder to do that and see the images in all their glory. People around you might wonder why you're pointing at your shoes looking at the viewfinder but that's ok.
When the light changes quickly, in this case when there is a rainbow showing up and clouds moving, it's critical to be able to shoot and quickly review the image for sharpness and exposure. The mirrorless features of the Sony A7R2 made it easy to do all that quickly and capture the right moment with the perfect sharpness and exposure. Shot with Sony A7R2 and 70-200mm F4, 1/320sec at F/8, ISO 100.

When the light changes quickly, in this case when there is a rainbow showing up and clouds moving, it's critical to be able to shoot and quickly review the image for sharpness and exposure. The mirrorless features of the Sony A7R2 made it easy to do all that quickly and capture the right moment with the perfect sharpness and exposure.
Shot with Sony A7R2 and 70-200mm F4, 1/320sec at F/8, ISO 100.

Having said that, there are still some downsides in this current generation of a digital viewfinder.

  • Night shooting : let's be blunt : you can't see a thing at night with the Sony A7R2 viewfinder. The image looks like a noisy mess. When the subject is so faint that the autofocus can't pick it up, you have to focus manually : if what you're looking at is a messy blob, very hard to tell if it's focused. In the night shooting session I did on this trip, it took me multiple trial and error to get mountains sharp enough. I knew it was still not perfectly sharp but good enough - in that field, I can't spend 20 minutes getting it perfectly there.
  • "Digital look" : There is still a digital "look" to the image you see on the viewfinder. It's just not as nice as looking at the real thing. I'm sure resolution will increase even more in the future to make it look like the real deal. It's very close right now but not yet as sharp.
It is very difficult to focus at night with this camera. In this case, I was trying to focus on the mountain top. Using live view , zooming in and playing with the manual focus, it was very difficult to see if the mountain was in focus or not. I played wiith the focus until it was "good enough" and took the shot. Reviewing the image on my computer, it's sadly not super sharp. Good enough for online viewing but not for big prints. Shot with Sony A7R2 and 24-70mm F2.8, 10sec at F/4, ISO 3200.

It is very difficult to focus at night with this camera. In this case, I was trying to focus on the mountain top. Using live view , zooming in and playing with the manual focus, it was very difficult to see if the mountain was in focus or not. I played wiith the focus until it was "good enough" and took the shot. Reviewing the image on my computer, it's sadly not super sharp. Good enough for online viewing but not for big prints.
Shot with Sony A7R2 and 24-70mm F2.8, 10sec at F/4, ISO 3200.

Tilt screen

While not exclusive to mirrorless, this was my first time using a tilt screen on a landscape shoot and it’s a joy to use in the field.
During this trip, it allowed me to take shots that were impossible to take before, especially at ground level. To get the best reflection of a subject in the water, you need to be as close as possible to the lake or pond.  With my tripod setup at ground level and by tilting the screen up, it was easy to adjust the framing and take the shot. Even with a DSLR and live view you can’t see properly the back screen as its too low so it usually takes trial and error.  In the Dolomites, we are taking about shooting from inside a pond or in the snow. Not the best place to lie down to frame !

To get the most reflection of a subject in the water, you need to be very close to the water. In this scene, I was actually *in* the water. Deploying the tilt screen makes composing very easy.

To get the most reflection of a subject in the water, you need to be very close to the water. In this scene, I was actually *in* the water. Deploying the tilt screen makes composing very easy.

And here is the result. Shot with Sony A7R2 and 16-35mm F4, 1/4sec at F/13, ISO 100

And here is the result. Shot with Sony A7R2 and 16-35mm F4, 1/4sec at F/13, ISO 100

AF coverage

The AF coverage of my previous camera (Nikon D800E) was limited to a central zone, it could not focus on the sides and top / bottom.  In so many occasions in the past, if I wanted to focus on a element of the foreground which was not center, i had to grab the focus from that element in the foreground and recompose. Not anymore with the A7R2, since it has a very wide AF coverage. I can frame the scene as I wish and select any area of focus in the entire frame.

Dynamic range

Back in the good old days of my trusty NIKON D700, I used a lot of grad ND filters to save highlights in the skies. Not so much anymore. The dynamic range of the recent generation of cameras, D800E / A7R and A7R2, is so wide that i just don't use them anymore. There are still some situations where the scene has too much range and this case i would bracket three exposures and later blend in post. I did it in a few occasions on this trip just for peace of mind and I will later use the best exposure. I'm sure the number of blending that I will do will be very minimal and I should be able to recover highlights and shadows from one single frame.

The dynamic range of the camera is so wide that no filter or digital blending was needed to capture that sunrise scene. In the past I would have needed a grad filter to capture details of the pink sky. Shot with Sony A7R2 and 24-70mm F2.8, 1/3sec at f/11, ISO 100.

The dynamic range of the camera is so wide that no filter or digital blending was needed to capture that sunrise scene. In the past I would have needed a grad filter to capture details of the pink sky.
Shot with Sony A7R2 and 24-70mm F2.8, 1/3sec at f/11, ISO 100.

Battery life

Batteries of the A7R2 are physically smaller that DSLR and the EVF consumes energy, hence the lower capacity. But practically for this trip it hasn't been an issue at all. I usually did two shooting sessions per day : sunrise and sunset - 3 hour session each on average. In only two days I had to swap the batteries. I carried two spares in the bag just in case and would recharge every night at the hotel. Since you can charge the camera over USB, I charged it on a few occasions in the car with a cigarette lighter adapter or even a power bank.

Weight

No issue shooting in the rain with the Sony A7R2, the body is weather sealed enough.

No issue shooting in the rain with the Sony A7R2, the body is weather sealed enough.

The A7R2 did get a few noticeable extra grams (from 465 grams to 640 grams), but there is still quite a good weight advantage : comparing a similar kit with a 16-35mm F4 and a L plate, the Nikon kit is at 1.77KG and the Sony kit is at 1.24KG. Half a KG of saving is great in the context of landscape photography, where hiking is involved and every gram counts.

Getting sharp shots

Using recently the first Sony A7R with the 70-200 F4, I encountered quite a few blurry shots that I suspect were due to shutter vibration. The A7R2 version brings electronic first curtain which helps avoid the issue and my sharp shot success rate improved greatly. I did encounter a situation where I was bracketing 3 shots with the 70-200 F4 and only the first one was tack sharp. I will need to do more tests to understood root cause.

The exposure range was so large on this scene (especially the sun part) that I had to bracket two shots and then blend in post. Shot with Sony A7R2 and 16-35mm F4, 1/125sec at F/11.

The exposure range was so large on this scene (especially the sun part) that I had to bracket two shots and then blend in post.
Shot with Sony A7R2 and 16-35mm F4, 1/125sec at F/11.

A few notes on the lenses I used on the trip

  • 24-70mm F2.8 GM : In absence of a 24-105mm or 24-120mm which Canon or Nikon have, I went with the 24-70 2.8 G Master and boy am I happy with the purchase. The sharpness is incredible and it’s very solid with its metal construction. Since I mostly shoot landscape I didn't really care about the 2.8 wide aperture but it proved useful when shooting nightscapes.
  • 70-200mm F4 : I chose this lens over the 2.8 version to save weight and because I don't need the 2.8 for landscape photography. I usually shoot between f8 and f13 with this lens and it's very sharp. I rarely used VR as I'm shooting mostly with a tripod but it proved useful a few times when shooint handheld.
  • 16-35mm F4 : Light, compact and overall sharp lens, great for landscape.

In summary

Having shot landscape photography around the world for the last 10 years with a DSLR, I feel very optimistic about switching to mirrorless. It brings many direct benefits for landscape shooter : it’s easier and faster to get an exposure right and sharp, the image quality is stellar and the weight saving is appreciated. To me, it means that I can focus more on getting the right composition, going to the right location and on capturing the right moment. I know the gear will deliver. We’re still at the beginning of this new generation of tools and I can’t wait to see what’s next !

Shot with Sony A7R2 and 16-35mm F4, 1sec at F/13, ISO 100.

Shot with Sony A7R2 and 16-35mm F4, 1sec at F/13, ISO 100.

Inspecting the final prints, especially the sharpness. The 42MP resolution of the Sony A7R2 is plenty enough for A3 prints like these.

Inspecting the final prints, especially the sharpness. The 42MP resolution of the Sony A7R2 is plenty enough for A3 prints like these.

 

 

 

"Sakura" and "Koyo" in Japan

Series is available here.

It was made from two different trips in different seasons : spring and fall.

In 2013, first trip objective was to discover the country and capture the cherry blossoms (« Sakura »), which happens end of march / early April in Kyoto and Tokyo. I went to both cities and got pretty lucky as you will see in the photos. Too early and they aren’t fully bloomed - too late and they are on the pavement. Timing is everything. Much to my surprise, the flowers are actually very white and not too pink as you usually see in photos. It can be quite overwhelming to shoot and finding composition that works require a lot of focus, not to mention the huge amount of tourists to avoid, mostly japanese. A lot of the photos you will see were taken before or right after sunrise to avoid them.

In 2015, second trip mission was too shoot the fall colors (« koyo »), which happens end of november, early december. Same two cities, Tokyo and Kyoto but in a different setting. The cherry blossom spots, temples or gardens, are completely different at that time of the year - quite a lot of research was necessary to build a plan. Thank you internet for making it a bit easier. Again, timing was everything : too early and the leaves are still green - too late and they are gone. I went multiple times to the same location and could see the change day after day. In a few cases I was too late so didn’t have much to shoot - I will definitely go back.

While both seasons have their own charm, I do prefer the fall from a photographic standpoint. There are many more colors to play with, yellows, oranges, reds and even purples. Don’t get me wrong - cherry blossom is a magical experience and being surrounded by these trees is a fantastic feeling. But I feel there are less variety of photos to take - it’s all just very white!
Many other types of photos were taken during these trips, including cityscape, temples, traditional stone gardens, portraits of geisha, a trip to Mt Fuji and the futuristic architecture of Tokyo. I chose the flower / leaves theme for this series but may do some other galleries in the future. There is some good stuff in there to share.

From a tech point of view, I shot with a Nikon D800E and 16-35 f4, 24-120 f4 and 70-200 f4 lenses. Polarizers was used occasionally, especially in the fall photo shoot, to avoid glare on the leaves. Tripod couldn’t be used all the time, especially in gardens and temples where it’s not allowed.

 
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