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God At Work


It’s been some time since I’ve updated this blog.  It has sat on something of a back-burner for the past year or so.  A lot has happened, as might be expected, but let me give you a highlight.

Late last year I was approached to take on a project to equip and implement a media integrated program for a church.  One of the aspects of the program would be to source, shoot, edit and produce a number of mini-documentaries that tell a story of God working in people’s lives.  This weekend we publicly released the second of these stories.

It has been a curious journey to be given access to some very personal topics in people’s lives.  The first story I was to tell was about a young woman with a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  This time around we’ve been working to tell the story of a young couple who couldn’t have children, and the challenges around it.

Here is Chris and Kitty, and God at Work.

Shot with a combination of Black Magic Cinema camera EF Mount, Sony A77 and Nikon D800 cameras.

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Adventures in Sony Repair Service


If you’ve read any of my blog, you may have noticed that I have had a lot of repair service from Sony.  My A900, My CZ 24-70 2.8 and now infamously, my A77 body has seen the Sony Repair Department here in Toronto.  Now to be Fair, all of these repairs have been handled through the hands of Henry’s camera store here, either in Scarborough, or Pickering.  Items are sent to a central processing in Henry’s to confirm the problem before being sent to Sony for repair.

The bad news with my A77 started the first week of use, when the Sync port popped out of the camera body when removing the sync cord.  It was immediately sent off for repair under warranty.  When it returned, I took it out for some macro shooting and realized in the process of it being repaired, the AF selector dial on the front of the camera was disconnected inside. (Indicated by the repair notice received on return).  I now got to use the camera for a couple of months before the Mic stopped working in Romania.  This time the repair went through quickly, only a couple of weeks, but when it returned it was worse than when I sent it out.  This time, out of the bubble wrap, at the counter, the LCD screen and AF were unresponsive, and did nothing.  It appeared to the staff, and to myself, that the camera was now even worse off than when it had been sent out.

So now I was sitting here with an A77 that had been sent for repair 3 times, and was going out for a 4th repair in 8 months; of which time I had only gotten to use the camera for a couple of months.  It was time to bypass Henry’s and contact Sony.  There’s nothing quite like holding a repair order that says “cleaned and tested” and a camera whose rear LCD screen is broken.  I felt like I had been the subject of a cruel joke.

Sony “quickly” escalated the situation to a service manager, and I received a call 1 week later after calling 3 times.  He offered a new camera body, however here was my predicament. I had purchased the extended warranty for the camera, covering it up to 5 years against defect.  Now with a new camera body, I would only have the camera warrantied for 2 years.  The solution was obvious, just transfer the warranty.  Now Henry’s could have done this, but the store manager in Scarborough was unwilling to do so.  Sony couldn’t be held to the warranty since they didn’t sell me the warranty.  My issue with Sony was their repair department had essentially broken the camera one me, and their service was terrible.  My issue with Henry’s was that the manager was unwilling to fix the situation well within his power.

Enter Henry’s head office.  Contact with a gentleman from Henry’s head office was via a BCC ‘d email to Sony.  The response was within 1 hour I got an email and a call.  The next day I was in the store with a brand new A77 and a transferred warranty.  Once again, Henry’s warranty has been stellar, and I have to applaud them on it.

Sony on the other hand has lost some of its grace from me.  The abismal repair service was not only shameful, but downright ridiculous.  It is with a sincere hope that the A77 I had was just a bad body, and that the new one will hold up well.  I am not thrilled by the idea of sending it in for repair in the future.  I am looking with fascination on the other camera manufacturers out there, and look forward to a split system in the future.

Thanks again Henry’s, you’ve proven to have some excellent staff and Service in Toronto.

Sadly, another Sony Warranty Issue


Sadly, yesterday I tried to shoot some macro with my A77.  To my dismay I could not get it to disengage the auto-focus drive from my Tamron 90mm 2.8.  The front auto-focus mode dial did absolutely nothing.  I tried 4 lenses, and a firmware reboot and the dial continued to be unresponsive.  Fortunately I did figure out a work-around since the AF/MF toggle on the back of the body continued to work. For those of you following my epic string of Sony fail, here’s the tally.

A77 – (~5 months old)

1- Sync port pulled out of body, warranty

2- Unresponsive AF mode dial

3-No audio

4-Damaged by repair dept at Sony – LCD screen, AF, etc…

A900

1- New body when issues with WB and underexposure (~2 weeks old)

2- Sync port and USB port failure, repaired (~2 years old)

3- Mirror/Shutter assembly failed, New body (~3 years old)

CZ 24-70 2.8

1- Lens barrel loosened, repaired (~2 years old)

2- AF toggle switch fell out, still away for repair (~ 3.5 years old)

Now the CZ has had ~ 100,000 shots through it and I work my equipment everyday.  I still think my equipment has performed well, when it’s working.  But seriously reconsidering the A77/A65 with the number of issues I’ve had with it.  Am I unusually blessed with bad luck with this thing? We’ll see.  If someone knows a magical switch I turned to deactivate it, please let me know!

Here’s one of the macros:

UPDATE! 07/17/12

So here I am back from Romania and once again my A77 is being sent in for Warranty issues.  The audio on the A77 went while shooting an interview in a car between Ghioroc and Arad Romania.  Fortunately I had my A65 there as a backup and could finish shooting for the week, but I lost audio for a pretty sweet interview from Stelu.  There is a slight audio signal if you crank the volume in post, but it is accompanied by a hiss and beeping from the camera cranking its autogain to try and pick up a signal.  What a bummer, tried a hardware reset in a few different ways as recommended online but no cigar.  So this is warranty repair #3 since November.  Shame really, I hope this is just a screwy body and not indicative of the rest of the A77’s out there.

Another UPDATE August 2, 2012

So I got a call to pick up my A77 from repair.  Before leaving the store, I always put a battery in and a memory card to test it, to save time in case there’s a problem.  Well what do you know, the LCD screen doesn’t work and the autofocus isn’t working.  So I send in a camera with one problem, and get the camera back with more problems?  What is up Sony?  Do you even test the camera before sending it back “fixed”?  Needless to say, it is on its way back to Sony AGAIN.

Confucian


Playing with the HDR on the A77.  Tweaked a bit in Aperture, and completely forgot to take it off of 12 mp.  Still should get a decent print from it though.

A77 + 16-50 2.8 <possibly my new favorite lens... seriously awesome lens

 

Sony A77/A65 SLT Hands on Review


Just up, as promised, a hands on review on the Sony A77 and A65 SLt cameras. Click the image below or use the menu above to get to the review.

Firmware Updates for A65 and A77 SLT Cameras


Having picked up both the A65 and A77, I have been holding off putting a thorough review together until I could test the cameras in a number of circumstances.  Now there is a firmware update available from the Sony Asia site that claims to address some of the issues I have observed in my few months of use.  While not back to square one, I am hoping that in some continued testing, a review is in the near future.  Here are the links to the updates:

Versions 1.03 – 1.04

A77

A65 

Sony A77 Launches


As a professional photographer, who shoots with Sony Equipment, it is understandable that I should look upon this new camera with a favourable light.  Or is it?  It has been a long time since Sony has addressed a gaping hole in their line of cameras.  Nowhere in the western world is this hole more gaping than in Canada, where the consumer has had the option of only 1 high end body to chose from; the A850.  The A900 was discontinued, the A700 was discontinued 3-4 years ago, and the other bodies have suffered from critical failings.  As such, I have been pretty anxious for a suitable backup body to my A900.  I couldn’t warrant a new A850 to sit on the shelf most of the time, so I picked up an A55 for testing.  So far I both love and hate this camera.  Fingers crossed for the A77.

So having a look at the new specs from Henry’s information page:

α Key Features:

  • Ultra-high resolution 24.3-megapixel* Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor
  • World’s fastest** continuous shooting up to 12 frames-per-second with Full-time Continuous Auto-focus
  • AVCHD Ver. 2.0 (Progressive) Full HD Movie at 60p (50p)***
  • World’s first** XGA OLED Tru-Finder viewfinder
  • World’s first** 3-way tilt LCD monitor
  • 1/8000 second shutter speed and approximately 150,000 shutter release durability
I have to admit, everything I love about my A55 is made oodles better in the specs for the A77.  It’s fast, responsive and accurate.  Just watching the demo real above gets me excited to hold this camera.  However this joy is tainted by the things I hate about my A55.  Everything mentioned in their lists and promos pertains to speed and video potential.  This is fast becoming very important to photographers.  Unmentioned in its praises are anything that really matters to me as a strobist and someone who uses a lot of manufactured lighting.  If I used hot lights all the time it would be no question, but with flashes I am wary.  You see for some bizarre reason, my A55 goes completely dark in the viewfinder when you set it to manual controls, in preparation for the flash introduced light.  I have to ask, will the A77 do the same thing?  I anxiously await the answer, because amidst all the good that this camera brings to the table, that would be a deal breaker.
As for the good, trust me when I say that this camera holds the potential to be a game changer in the photo imaging world.  Its speed, definition and build all exceed anything in its competitor’s current price point, and beyond.  With fall announcements soon to be made by Canon and Nikon, it is sure to be war in the trenches for camera makers for this christmas!  I hope to be singing the praise of this camera early October when it becomes available in Canada.
-Josh-
UPDATE!
According the the dpreview’s tester, the A77 has a correction to the viewfinder issue mentioned above. “Unlike previous SLTs, you get the choice of whether the camera’s display reflects the selected exposure or whether it ignores it and gains-up to still present an image in low light. This is particularly useful when working with strobes in a studio, where you need to be able to preview the scene despite setting the exposure for when the strobes fire.”
I am even more excited to get my hands on this camera now!
You can read their whole preview and see some sample images here.  Curiously, the new 16-50 2.8 DT SSM lens appears to resolve detail better than the Zeiss 16-35 2.8. The new lens is a fraction of the cost, but not a full frame lens to be fair.  Just have a look at these two sample images, and have a look at the original files:

Sony Struggles to Define Itself in the DSLR World


There has been a lot of discussion in forums and amongst people in the “know”, or those who wish they were in the know on the topic of the A700 successor.  In the Konica/Minolta world, the dslr world took them by storm.  The 5D and 7D allowed them to lovingly bring their maxxum (Dynax in England and Alpha in Japan) lenses into the computer age.  Financial difficulties arose to find that their long standing brand could not survive, but offered an opportunity to electronics giant, Sony, to venture into the world of photography on the K/M laurels.

They launched  with plenty of product, and design consideration, that appealed to that legacy, and soon launched a camera body that the loyalists were itching for, but K/M could not produce – the A700.  It was familiar, but Sony had begun to take strides in the interface that moved the camera from the enigmatic tool that only photographers could speak the language of, to something more intuitive and friendly.  The quick nav system was brilliant, and the camera blended the experienced photographers functionality in a cutting edge design, with the familiar landscape of the k/M body layout.

One of the interesting things when you look at the history of slr cameras is how little they’ve actually changed at their core.  Sure with the digital era, the standard shutter speed and f-stop combinations have now been joined by the convenient ability to change iso from shot to shot.  But at its core function, a slr has a mirror, film (sensor) and a body that controls the time and shape of the light that hits that film.  Pick up a Nikon or a Pentax slr and you’ll see that the technology in the body is still harnessed by the same basic structure that all of their cameras follow.  The A700 and the newer A850 and A900 cameras all share the same layout making them complementary bodies that can function in a professional system.  They share the same kind of memory, lens mount, button layout and navigation system.  A photographer can seamlessly hang a couple of these cameras around their neck, and use all of them for their unique strengths without breaking step.

Not 2 years into the camera’s life however, the A700 was inexplicably discontinued.  People bought up the last of the stock in a fervor, to make sure they would have a backup in case something broke.  Now, 2 years later, there is still no replacement on the shelf, but Sony has launched their A77 skeleton body at camera shows in Asia to reassure people that there is one coming.  But is it really a successor?

Here’s a shot and a link to the Sony Japan site: http://www.sony.jp/dslr/info2/20110209.html

You’ll notice it is a stylish presentation, but as far as the body layout very different from the older cameras.  Looking at some of Sony’s competition, mid-range cameras tend to offer the latest technology, often features that are being tested on the public and often supplement the abilities of the flagship cameras.  This looks like it will do the same.  Other companies however package the new technology and features in a familiar package, a direction Sony is definitely not going.  Perhaps their goal is to change the A850 and A900 in the near future as well, to match this new body, however the question I have to ask, is what does this new camera do that the A55 or A33 doesn’t already do?

Granted there is a lot that is unknown about this camera, however there are a few things you can see by looking at different angles of this new body.  For instance, it does not use the same memory format as the A850 or A900.  The button layout is radically different, leading me to believe that the interface is changing just as much.  *(incorrect ft 1.)*There is no PC sync port on the body either making sony’s proprietary hotshoe more of a hassle.  Sure you can buy adapters, but who wants their $12 00+ camera to be dependant on a flimsy adapter on the hotshoe?

So granted there can be all the technological advantages of liveview, panoramic stitching, video modes and … well basically all this camera can do better than the A55 or A33 is exactly what those cameras already do.  Can technology make the professional?  I have said to people that having anything is better than nothing, but it has to be the right thing.  For instance you cannot do some jobs without at least the basic tool.  So you can up the megapixels, include all sorts of fancy software in the camera, but if it doesn’t allow you to see through the viewfinder when using manual lighting (like the A55) you just can’t use it for studio work.  They may correct that problem in the A77, but without a sync port, the camera is physically just as incompatible with the rest of the system as any beginner camera.  I’ve pulled up a DXO comparison to illustrate this point (www.dxomark.com).

You can click on it to see it in detail, and what you’ll see is that Sony has 2 cameras with sensors that perform better than the much more expensive Nikon D300s.  They all have similar features, they all take great pictures, this is not to dis one system or another.  Most people could easily say that the D300s is a superior camera, but what makes it so?  Is it the technology inside?  No.  It is the build quality, layout and function of the camera that makes it worth what it is.  Also very importantly, it’s layout of buttons, features and the language it uses is consistent with the rest of the Nikon System.  This is where Sony has repeatedly demonstrated itself ignorant in the world of still photography – They do not treat their cameras like a single system that should complement one another and strengthen the photographer that uses them.  If I want a back up body to my A900, I want something that expands my scope of work by being lighter, and with new features and technology, but it has to be unacquitably compatible with the rest of my camera system.  Here’s hoping Sony figures this out in this new camera body before it launches, because right now, it just looks like a beefed up A55 that will cost more money without offering anything more.

ft 1. UPDATE Mar 11, 2011,

It is with great relish that I admit an error in the original article and hereby correct it.  At the time of writing, Sony had released no information of a PC sync connector on the camera.  Fortunately, somebody shared an image recently from a trade show seen here, where a sync port connector is concealed under a rubber flap. Yay! Sony!