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Thursday, 25 October 2007


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I got a chance to shoot one of these with a Zeiss 135/2.8 lens at a camera show some time ago. It's an incredible combo, but the body/lens quality difference is quite apparent with the Zeiss lenses (not quality really, but a different concept, metal vs synthetic, deeply grooved focusing ring versus lots of buttons, I can't quite explain it).

(Mike, should I leave [the rather unrelated] questions here?)
First up, I read your resume. Wow, impressive. My hat off to you.

I am quite a novice in photography by comparison and am still using my second 35mm film camera, the great Minolta Dynax 7. Last yeat I toyed with the a100 in the shop and was not impressed by its sort of soulless and weightless feelings, in fact the same to other DSLRs. I was glad to learn from a college student here in Hong Kong that his photography instructor insisted they started from using a film camera. But now I am also considering a digital sortie: the a700/ a100.

With my lack of experience in digital photography, I hope to learn from you (or Mike):

1) I have heard that the aperture values of 35mm DSLRs work differently as compared with their film counterparts (say, a user here said he found himself less capable of blowing out the background as expected with the same large f/ numbers). Is that true? Is the difference big?

2) A more philosophical question: What are your brief comments about the changes that the more advanced functions in, say, a700 (take for example the Dynamic Range Optimization) will do to photography? (Given further development in the DRO function, I can foresee that photographers can cheat in whatever light situations and gradually forget about how to do exposure -- in the end, photography). Do photography students really need to take lessons in film photography -- or photography per se --then?

Sorry if I make you give a lecture or two for my questions. Thank you for your space, Mike (that is, if your highness keep'em here :)).

T.O.P. reader,

Dear Nevin,

If I may step in in David's absence...

1) In terms of exposure there is no difference in the effect of aperture. f/8 on a DSLR and f/8 on a 35mm camera (or an 8" x 10" view camera for that matter) all work the same way.

In terms of depth of field (what I think you mean when talking about blowing out the background) apertures work differently in different formats. VERY crudely, the larger the format of the film (or sensor), the more you must stop down to get the same depth of field, and it's proportional. In other words, if you have a camera with a sensor that's 1/5th the size of a 35mm frame, it provides the same depth of field of the 35mm photo at only 1/5th the f-number. E.g., the depth of field you'd get at f/16 with the 35mm sensor would be roughly equal to that you'd get at f/3.2 with a 1/5th scale sensor. There are many different-sized sensors out there, just as there are different film formats.

If you like shallow depth of field a small sensor camera's a pain, because even wide open the lens may have considerable depth of field. If you like lots of depth of field, smaller formats are beneficial. It's not a function of digital vs film, though. A 35mm-sized sensor camera will have the same depth of field characteristics as a 35mm film camera.

2) This is only my opinion, but unless you have an interest in obtaining a broad education in photography, both present and historical, I see no value in learning with a film camera if your intent is to use a digital one for your work. Some of the ways film photography behaves are the same with digital photography. Some of the ways are very, very different. And each has characteristics that simply have no counterpart in the other medium.

As a novice, you are incapable of knowing which lessons you should carry over to digital and which you must ignore, or even unlearn. Frankly, only a minuscule percentage of photographers DO understand this stuff. I see you gaining nothing from working with film first, except the potential for immense confusion.

BTW, there is no "cheating." Divest yourself of that notion right now or you will hobble yourself.

pax / Ctein

-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://www.ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Congratulations for your new camera :-)
I'm shooting with a Minolta 7D and will upgrade to the a700 soon. I checked out some a700-RAW-files and found out, that a lot of RAW-converters (including my favourite SilkyPix) can handle them, if they are converted to DNG, using the free DNG-converter by Adobe. This little program is capable of batch-processing, so it should be easy to include it as an extra step in your workflow.

As with film cameras, the proper understanding of the relationship of aperture to shutter speed, as well as how each individually affects the photograph, is also important with digital cameras. Of course with either film or digital, one could just put the camera in program mode and take what it gives, but that wouldn't help one "learn" photography in either case. So a beginner could learn photography just as well with digital as with film, if really understanding the process of photography is what he is after.

As for the idea of being able to "cheat" with digital, well, once one starts using digital, that notion quickly crumbles and blows away. First of all, "cheating" pre-supposes that there are rules, laws, or regulations that simply can't be broken. That may be the case in endeavors like banking or basketball, but not in photography. Secondly, the things that make for a good photograph (such as a strong subject, composition, use of color, interplay of light and shadow, tonal contrast, etc.) don't magically come together with a selection from a digital camera menu or with a filter in Photoshop. One still has to learn how to make a good photograph, no matter which format is used to capture the image.

Max—That's 135/1.8 ! I tried out the 85 & 135 both last week. The 135 was gorgeous, but quite a big lens—didn't take long to decide I wouldn't want to own it (well, if it was given to me, I'm sure I'd find *some* use for it :) ...but the 85/1.4 is a lens I'd love to own (even though it isn't as impressive as the 135—the longer lens uses internal focus). I just picked up an old Minolta 85/1.4 ... the clacky AF of the original Minolta lenses isn't as nice as the AF on the [RS] (or G in the case of the 85) versions, but it only cost me $499. So Zeiss will wait for my money.


Have you had a chance to try out an A700 ? I agree with you on the A100 - much like the digital Rebel, it offers great image quality for your dollar, but if you're used to midrange cameras (like the 7) it's no fun; VF is pentamirror and based on APS-C sensor size - big step down from the 7, but also not as nice as the pentaprism VFs in 7D/A700. Size is kind of nice; the 7 actually seems compact compared to the 7D and I wouldn't mind a less obtrusive camera. I shot the 7 with VC-7, but sold the VC-7D because it made the 7D too bulky. Then there's the loud, toyish shutter sound - the A700 beats the A100 & 7D both hands down. And the A100 is lacking my favorite button - the DMF (AF/MF toggle is how I have it set) by your right thumb.

The A700 is much better than the 7D at metering and much better twice over when it comes to AF performance.

Finally, as to DRO, it's not the technical advance that's going to make people forget how to do exposure; that advance happened 15 years ago (matrix metering). DRO sort of lets you do in-camera what you'd normally only be able to do in post-processing; reducing contrast to capture scenes that have more dynamic range than you'd normally be able to capture ... but apparently the newest DRO+ does it in a way that's not easily emulated by software. Anyway, it's another flavor of HDR (high dynamic range) photography which seems to be all the range lately - shooting slide film, you looked for subject matter with small dynamic range; by 8:00am you put the camera away and went "scouting". DRO and similar techniques are trying to eliminate that restriction. Personally, I think the results are impressive and it's a nice tool to have, but I find the results more suitable to vacation photography, documentary photography, "pictures to share" photogaphy and not so much "fine art" photography which I still like better when the dynamic range is presented a little more truthfully - that is, if your displayed image contains 'n' stops from pure black to pure white, present 'n' stops (give or take) and don't compress 2n stops down. (Sometimes better to have blown highlights and/or black shadows).

I'm sure other will weigh in more expertly, but here are some quick answers to your questions:
1) it's not so much that aperture values work differently on digital SLRs it's that on reduced frame cameras (anything other than the Canon 1D series and the new Nikon D3) the effect of a given aperture on depth of field is more like that on a lens of approximately 2/3 the focal length. So even though you're shooting at the focal length equivalent of say 50mm, in reality it's a 35mm lens which, as you know has greater DoF.
2) I would expect features like DRO to get better and better and thus to remove constraints from photographers. This has long been the case. In the old SLR days it was hard to focus when you stopped down because the viewfinder was too dim. Then they started leaving the aperture open till the moment of exposure and voila, focusing became easier. Then they introduced autofocus and it became easier still (but good photographers often continued to manually focus to ensure better focus or where autofocus was fooled). Now autofocus is even better and more often can be trusted - but you still need to know how to frame and compose - you still need to know which autofocus mode is appropriate and when to use manual focus.

It's the same with DRO. In the old days there was little you could do with blown highlights, with Photoshop there's a little more you can do and with DRO there's even more avoidance of the problem - but you still have to frame and compose, you still have to know when you're in a situation that needs DRO, or that you definitely want if off, and you have to know how to use it effectively when you do use it.

No matter how good the tools get, creating compelling images will always be done by those with some vision, personal style and intimate technical knowledge of their medium and tools.


I've had the A700 with the CZ16-80 for a few weeks now, although I haven't had as much time with it as I'd like. I had a Konica-Minolta 7D for about two and a half years before this, and eBay'd the 7D and a few lenses to help pay for the A700 and the CZ lens. Here are a few of the first pictures I've taken with this combination:


Those pictures are available in that gallery at full camera resolution if you pull up the "original" size. Most are cropped but they're not downsampled. They are minimally processed.

I've been processing my raws with Lightroom, and I will say that there is a lot of controversy raging on some online forums over whether Adobe's raw conversion is handling the Sony raws correctly.

I think that the the most dramatic improvements in the A700 over the 7D (other than resolution) are:

* Increased dynamic range, especially in the highlights. With the 7D I would expose to the right only with great trepidation, as the highlights were easily blown. The A700 raws are far more forgiving at that end.

* The display on the back is just stunning, and much easier to read, especially in bright light.

* Improved metering and AF.

The interface change is much more of a mixed bag the joystick navigation works well, but I do have to say that I miss having the EV compensation on a dedicated dial. At least you can use the thumbwheel to change it once you've pushed the button on the top. I also appreciate being able to map the custom button to DOF preview, because I always had trouble finding that button on the front of the 7D.

I have not done much to explore the "creative styles", "DRO" and some other in-camera processing features, because I only work with raw images, and a rarely think in those terms when I'm shooting.

I felt the same way when I received my Minolta 5D. Incredible stuff going digital after working with film for so long. Your a700 is several steps up the ladder from my 6 something mps 5D but I love this camera. One of the great things about a Sony/KM is you can now use some of the best lenses you can imagine and they can be found in pawn shops and garage sales anywhere. The KM A Mount has a long and distinguished history. Do get a ‘beercan’, (70-210) as soon as you can find one.

You're right Dennis, it's a 135/1.8, lovely lens. The moving focusing ring is a little weird though. It moves at very high speed while it autofocuses, and when you're new to it it really makes holding the lens an awkward experience because the ring is quite wide.

Thank you all of you great photographers for shedding light on me being in the dark about serious/digital photography. If I keep asking questions, I do not have to learn photography anymore in school.

The 7 has given me a lot of fun. Hmmm, the a700 will take from me a lot of money before giving the same to me.

May the light keep and bless you all in making good photos always.

At His Highness's Service (Thanks, Mike),
With best compositions,

Adam: Cteins comment on 1) is actually right on the money.

A 50mm lens has a hyperfocal distance of 65.8m at f/2 on APS-C format.

An 80mm lens has a hyperfocal distance of 67.3m at f/3.2 on full frame.

A 50mm lens has a hyperfocal distance of 41.7m at f/2 on full frame.

In other words, for a given field of view, independently of sensor/film size, it's the absolute size of the aperture (measured in mm, not in stops) that determines depth of field (to a first approximation).


For Pete's sake, there is no need to keep referring to me as "your Highness." Don't I run a casual, collegial blog here? Have I ever shown the least hint of royal pretensions? All right then--the proper honorific is "Your Excellency," and see that you don't slip up again or off goes your head.

Democratically yours,

Mike J.

P.S. That's pronounced "EGG-cellency," a la Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons."

P.P.S. This is a joke. I know my humor is sometimes very dry, and although I don't think this is an example, I don't want to confuse anyone.

Nobody thinks the shutter sound sucks on the a700? It's a high-pitch, motor-drive-like sound, wich I found anoying, and can attract too much attention in quiet places.

I must say that I've had a KonicaMinolta A2 for three years now and very easily find the buttons I want on the back and top without looking.

On the other hand, I bought a Canon 40D a few weeks ago and although I love the results, all the buttons are much the same size and feel! I suppose I should give it some time to get used to where they are, but it's annoying me at the moment. Not sure I made the right choice.

But I sure never want to sell my A2. I just like Minolta's style and what a tragedy they closed down. I hope Sony has employed all their designers.

Peter Croft, Perth, Western Australia

As someone still struggling with digital B&W, despite help from Mike and his column in the UK Black & White Photography magazine, I have not only kept my film Dynax 7, but will continue to do so! I have found to my cost that it is not the camera that produces the prints but the printer. I have both a 7D and an A100, and so I obviously need to spend megabucks on an upmarket printer now - !

In respect of Nevin's second question, concerning learning on a film camera, however, I would recommend it too - not because of print quality (which could be sorted out by having my pictures printed commercially), but because I have found that I tend to shoot away indiscriminately, using the "scattergun" approach in the hope that at least one of the scores of photographs I take will be the right one! The limitations of film - cost and the number exposure available on a roll - make me much more careful, with just a few good 'uns instead of lots of mediocre ones. I should imagine that Nevin's instructor thinks likewise, from Nevin's comments!

I would not mention this if I were not the only one to be too indiscriminate when using a digital camera and large memory card. My neighbour's daughter was in tears with her recent wedding photographs because the official, commercial, photographer had taken over a thousand pictures, but then left her to decide which she wanted printing up. You can choose between "spoilt for choice" and "information overload", but it was far, far too many for her.


Following my comment about the 40D buttons, I was out walking with the camera this afternoon and noticed that the AF was stuck on the far left sensor area. OK, let's get it back to Auto. The button marked like the AF pattern with the blue magnifier symbol below? Press that and use the joystick to move around? Nope. Menu? Nope. Five minutes of frustration before I found it's the Set button in the middle of the big wheel. Why?

Then I found there was a +1 EV exposure bias set. Where did that come from? OK, I'll get rid of it, but how? The +/- button and the wheel, right? Nope. Another 5 mins of frustration, and I can't even remember now what I did to fix it, but I did. At one stage I had to dial in -1 EV of exposure comp just to balance this +1 setting that I couldn't get rid of!

But I did, eventually. Then 15 mins later, I had -1EV showing again! Where did that come from?

My point is that you shouldn't have to carry the instruction manual with you! It should be intuitive. I never had this trouble with the A2. Hardly had to read the manual for that camera - that's Minolta (and Sony, I hope) for you. They're good at design. Canon? Am I the only one?


Nevin: "Do photography students really need to take lessons in film photography -- or photography per se --then?"

Interesting question Nevin, and one that I have been pondering for 10 years now. It is also the reason I left the art department here.

Curiously enough, the reason I was in DC last weekend was to consult with a large high school on the development of thier art program in some of these ways. The school has recently retooled the entire facility and set aside space for a digital video editing facility as well as a darkroom. My first question is "Why build a darkroom?". The answer from the art chair was "All the college programs told us to do it, so they could then teach digital imaging". I found that very puzzling. While I certainly respect the wet darkroom, it seems to me that the role of a high school would be to teach "image making" and the development of visual acuity and expression using an image capturing device and not necessarily darkroom skills. To me wet photography has become a specialized art form like lithography. Not to mention the fact that even the materials for doing darkroom work are dwindling.

Ctein is quite correct in his point that digital photography is a completely different ballgame and the skills in one field do not translate well to the other. An analogy I often draw is why teach design students how to do paste up using an architectural table and wax machine when they will be using InDesign in the real world. The skills in layout and composition can be developed either way.

I would love to see Mike open up a broader discussion on this issue.




Two coworkers recently told me that younger relatives of theirs (one in high school, one in college) were taking photography classes for which they needed to buy film cameras. I suspect a reluctance to change in institutions that don't specialize in arts ... high schools & small colleges ... where tenured professors want to teach what they've been teaching for the past 25 years. I can see film processing in a 4-year fine arts program. But for a high school kid spending a semester learning the basics of photography, it seems like a waste of time, money & effort.

Well, there you go Dennis, a prime example. There are a ton of faculty out there that are just resting on their 20 year laurels and unwilling to "develop" their skills in a "new" approach to the medium. It is not an easy transition and old dogs hate having to learn new tricks when life is easy.

I will catch hell from my colleagues for what I am about to say, but the tenure system in higher education is medieval. Our society is changing way too fast and old school educators need a little more incentive to keep up with it all. Granted there are educators that do and not every lecture needs a podcast; that is not my point. Technology will never triumph over knowledge, but knowledge needs to be continually developed.



Hi all,

had a chance to handle an a700 today. Let me say that this is not deliberate Sony bashing, just what I thought after using it for a while. For the record, I started out with a 7000i, went through a Dynax 5 and now have a 7D.

I found the handling of the a700 to be very poor. To me it does not have any "quality" feel at all, just another lightweight camera, nothing special. There is no heft to it at all. This could be a good thing or bad, it depends on your point of view, especially if you are going to carry it around all day, personally I find these lightweight cameras to be a bit "girly".

The gap between the finger grip and the raised section of the body with the lens mount is too small. I found my fingers to be uncomfortable holding the camera. I normally spend all day walking around with my 7D held in one hand (with a wriststrap as well) ready to use at a moments notice. The 7D fits in my hand, the a700 does not.

I was not going to buy the a700, but there would always have been that little doubt in my mind "maybe I should get one..." Now I know for sure, its not the camera for me.

Good points, the viewfinder was nice and clear, it looked good.

Using the kit lens focussing was much faster than my 7D and the shutter was much quieter. A real improvement there.

The dispay screen is wonderful. Clear and readable.

I am sure that the a700 will produce wonderful quality pictures. Certainly technically better than my 7D, I take that for granted, but for me there was nothing about it that made me want to pick it up and use it.

The a700 may be a better camera, but the 7D has style and is a joy to use. The a700 is just another camera.


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