Seeing “E” To “E” With The Sony A7s

Can a newly minted full-frame video and still shooter find happiness using a bunch of 80’s -era compact cheap lenses? Could the old Nikon Series E lenses be the Sony E-mount lenses of choice for the new A7s in full frame mode?

Well, the jury is still out but all early indications are definitely YES! The old Nikon Series E lenses, the compact, cheap-but-sharp, E-for-economy lens line Nikon made back in the 80’s, are in many ways the perfect complement of manual focus lenses for the Old Man in Motion, who, as you know, is interested in gear that does the job admirably, but is smaller, lighter, (and cheaper).

When the Sony A7s burst onto the scene, it presented a bit of a dilemma for me. Sure, I had to have this low-light video shooting monster…12 megapixels of moire -free, artifact-free video goodness that can shoot in the dark. Up to this time, I had been using my Sony RX10, with its one inch chip and built-in 24-200mm f/2.8 Zeiss, as my “shot-getter,”  and switching to the APS C sized A6000 for my ultra-wide work, and my work with faster primes for that delicious bokeh.

It was a nice combo and I was happy. But when a game-changing camera like the A7s comes along, one that allows you to shoot great looking video in dark conditions (remember, still shooters…1/50th of a second is our bottom shutter speed in the video game, which is why videographers are always drooling for f/.95 lenses and other optical arcania), I had to go.

Now you can use the A7s in APSC mode with all the Sony lenses (and their nice OSS Optical Image Stabilization and fast autofocus) in video mode with virtually no loss of quality (in fact, the effects of rolling shutter are even lessened a bit). But when it came to really low light, or if you really wanted very soft bokeh, you needed to go full frame.

Likewise for shooting stills…in APSC mode, you’re only using maybe 7 of the 12 megapixels, and that’s a tad low, even for me, someone who’s never been overly concerned with the megapixel race.

So did that mean that I’d have to buy a whole second set of full frame Sony E lenses (not that there’s that many of them yet…c’mon already with the lenses Sony:-). Or would I have to break out my aging collection of vintage Nikkor f/2.8 and faster zooms and primes (which I can and will do, if I have an assistant and am working out of the car). Wouldn’t carrying these bigger lenses  on the road kind of negate one of the whole reasons for going mirrorless? What happened to “smaller and lighter?”

The old Nikon Series E line (they didn’t even give them the coveted “Nikkor” designation) were appreciated by those of us who needed to travel light, even back in the manual focus film days. I used to use the 50 and 75-150mm a lot but I was kind of embarrassed to admit it until the late, great Galen Rowell began singing their praises in Outdoor Photographer. Then, it was easier for the rest of us to come out of that Series E closet:-).

To adapt them to my Sony, I usually use a Metabones adapter…very well made and it includes a built-in Arca Swiss QR plated tripod mount, which is great and provides good balance on longer, heavier Nikkors as well as the 70-150mm above.

But I am also experimenting with the Fotodiox Vizelex ND Throttle adapter, because, hallellujah, it has a variable ND filter, 2-10 stops, built right into the adapter! So outside in bright light, you don’t have to be screwing ND filters onto the front of each lens to get your desired aperture, because it’s in the adapter (in low light, of course, you use an adapter like the Metabones that has no ND at all). It’s a pretty ingenious system and so far, I don’t see any bad issues with sharpness, but I’m still testing.

Are the Series E lenses as rugged and well made as the Nikkors? No.

Are they pretty damn sharp, half the size and weight of equivalent Nikkors, and can you usually pick them up for under a C-note? Yes! (And I don’t know about you, but my mountain climbing days are long over, and while I don’t baby my gear, these were made back in the 80’s, when everything was built like a tank, so they do fine by me). I’ll probably still shoot the majority of my A7s video work in APS C mode with the Sony E glass, but I’ll throw the Series E stuff in the suitcase for those occasions when I absolutely, positively need to shoot full frame. They’re light enough, rugged enough and cheap enough to travel nicely wrapped up in the checked bag.

As for sharpness and the lowlight performance of this combo, I point you to the video below I did last year about the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca. I went back this year with the A7s/Series E combo and swapped out some of the lowlight footage. So if you’ve seen this video before, you don’t have to watch the whole thing (unless, of course, you feel so compelled:-). Just watch from 3:48 through 4:03 to catch a nice sample of “seeing E to E!”

Lightweight, Low-Cost, XLR Adapter Solution

If your knees get a little weak when you check out the price ($500-1000) and the size (relatively humungous) of the XLR pre-amp adapters available for your Sony A7 series, RX10, Nikon and Canon DSLRS,  or your Panny GH4, you’ll like this post.

I first learned of this solution from my friend, the NY-fashion photographer Mike Kobal, and I’m going to link you to his post and please, if you buy any of this stuff, buy it through Mike’s links, because he’s the man who invented this (and check out his pictures and videos of beautiful models too…that’s the kind of stuff I’ve never shot in 40 years in the business!).

This hack will work for any camera, Nikon, Canon, Panny, Sony, etc. with a headphone AND a mic jack.

Basically, this is a two part hack: One is the the iRig Pre, a pre-amp XLR adapter that is designed to adapt an XLR mic into your iPhone. It’s about $30 and you can get it through Mike’s links at B&H, Amazon, etc. It’s tiny, runs off a 9V battery, has Phantom power if needed,  and has a headphone jack–where you’ll be plugging in your  phones because your camera’s headphone (and mic) jack will be filled with adapter plugs to transfer the sound.

And the adapter cord is designed to adapt a headphone to a PC. Mike got his on EBay, but complained about their flimsiness. I found that the six inch cords from worked a charm  ( part no: 23-106-001 Headset to PC Adapter – 6IN ).

So, is this solution flimsier than the expensive modules from Panny and Sony and Juiced Link and all the other makers of adapters?  Bien sur, of course, but is it rugged enough for my use? Yes indeed! (and can I afford to carry, ummmmn, let’s see, at least 17 backup sets for the price of one of my Sony adapters…but right now, I only carry one backup set).

I used this sub-$30 iRig Pre and a $4 splitter cord from ShowMeCables along with my Sony Wireless Mic setup on a recent shoot for a friend of mine, fine art photographer Wendy Paton, as she walked through her provocative exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA talking about her work.

John Campbell, an editor with whom I often work,  said it was the cleanest audio he’d ever received from me, which (given that I’m a still guy who just a few years ago, knew bupkus about audio) could be damning me with faint praise. But I’d rather think of it as a nice compliment from a demanding and experienced video guy.

I used some Velcro to connect the iRig to that other element in the picture, the mounting bracket,which is just a $9 flash bracket from EBay (again, please see Mike Kobal’s post and please click through his links) that I’m using until I find the video cage of my dreams for my Sony A7s and Sony RX10….and when I find it, it will be of course, be the subject of another post.

Residential London Conference Photography

Syon Park was the venue for this two day conference, which consisted of keynotes speakers and multiple breakout sessions, as well as an evening event in the stunning Syon House.

I love photographing large corporate events like this one, as I have the freedom to roam around, capturing the different parts of the conference as well as the overall atmosphere.

The conference attendees stayed the night in the Hilton hotel on site, as did I, which was great as it allowed me to start feeling super fresh and relaxed on the second morning.

Here are some of my favourite images from the two day conference in London.

Reframing Dementia

Dementia affects a huge number of people across the UK (and of course the world). My late grandma suffered for the last year or two before she left us, and my family felt like we had already lost her before she died, because she wasn’t really with it, making little sense and not recognising people she had known for most of her 90 years. So I was happy when I was invited along by the great charity, Alzheimers Research UK, to the launch event and private viewing of their exhibition on the Southbank in London, ‘Reframing Dementia’.

There were plenty of interesting parts of the exhibition, but the one that really grabbed the attention of many attendees was the virtual reality exhibit. You could put on the headset and begin to get a taste of what it’s like to suffer from dementia. Such a clever use of virtual reality, it was great to see.

Here are some of my favourite images from the event.

A Red Roundtable

South Place Hotel in the city of London is a chic venue for any corporate event, with a number of different rooms with super cool decor.

The Kuryakin room is a favourite of mine, with a striking red theme. It has a stunning, circular red table in its centre which makes it perfect for roundtable discussions and dinners.

I was there for Legal Business on this occasion for one of their regular roundtable events. Rooms like this one allow me to create images that stand out from most corporate event photography.

Creative Work Spaces…

…don’t come much better than this place. Mindspace has a couple of London locations. I was asked to take some photos for the brand new Aldgate location for PR purposes and I was blown away by how cool this place is. If I was looking for somewhere in the city to work from, this would be high up on my list. I always enjoy photographing London interiors, and this was quite different from the retail photography I often do.

Mindspace has hot-desking facilities as well as fixed offices for small businesses and startups. The decor is ultra cool, with funky artwork all over the place, awesome furnishings and a friendly atmosphere to boot.

Here are some of my favourite shots from the shoot. The first one is a composite photo of several different frames, with my camera on a tripod and each individual being lit in a separate exposure. I love using creative techniques like this to bring a space to life with people.