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Monday, 12 September 2011


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Might be it's old, or even Old, but it's still darn impressive.

What happened to the 35/2? Weren't you getting one?

Yup, autumn is king.

Re: the falling man
Some people get freaked out by those Aaron Siskind photographs since 9/11

In John Loengard's portfolio "Celebrating the Negative" , he writes "As the editors of Minicam magazine cautioned when printing a portfolio of Siskind’s work, “Documentary pictures are as often a document to the singular point of view of the photographer as they may be to the scene itself.”

Or as Siskind put it in 1958, “The emphasis of meaning [in a photograph] has shifted—shifted from what the world looks like to what we feel about the world and what we want the world to mean.” '

"In any event, I'd rather just use the cameras and talk about what comes to mind as I go. Kind of like I did recently with the Ricoh GXR."

I'd hesitate to speak for anyone else, but for me this approach is much more useful. Reviews that cover tech-specs, technical performance etc I can find elsewhere (if I really have trouble sleeping...), but the informed opinions of someone who I've been reading for years, and whose tastes and inclinations I am familiar with; we'll that's where TOP is pretty much unique.

And if I learn something about American sports and automobiles along the way, then all the better!

The Sony a900 remains my camera of choice, usually coupled with the Minolta 17-35/3.5 G, a magical lens with wonderful colour rendition. It may not be as sharp as the CZ 16-35 for 100% pixel peepers but it's colours are glorious.

There's an interesting post on LL today which compares the a900 with the three new Sony 24mp offerings, the a65/77 and NEX-7. Guess which wins in the noise stakes?

Personally I think people are overly exercised by noise. After all who regularly shoots above ISO1600 - Gosh, I can still remember being amazed to get ASA400 film - or prints larger than 20x30 inches?

Seems to me there as lot of technical twittering these days. For my prints, which rarely go above 13.5x9 inches on A3 (or 34x22 cm as we Europeans like to say) a 10mp sensor is adequate enough as it will produce a 280dpi print of this size. So 24 mp is probably overkill anyway.

That said I love the a900. Good (but not great) build, wonderful viewfinder and, with Minolta lenses, fabulous colour. What more could I want? And for analog / digital usability I still adore my Dynax 7D! Dials, dials and manual exposure compensation!

So yes, I can see why you've had enough with camera reviews, Mike, they're all pretty good these days.

Mind you, I do fancy the NEX-7.....

I like cameras that you could fight off a small bear with. I wish I could try one of these for a while too. Hard to say what Sony will do with this class, but I'd be surprised if they just gave it up.

I am glad to see you will finally get your A900 jones satisfied. Its an awesome camera and really the only drawbacks are associated with Sony and the size/heft of the thing. That being said, I really don't think it gets much better than the A900.

Aside: I'm on vacation in Antigua and had the misfortune of looking at the weather for where I live - Saint Paul, MN. As wonderful as WI and MN may be, they are not so because of the weather. Fortunately there are a few more evenings like this

"But autumn—fall—fall is Wisconsin's glory season."

Some of my very fondest memories are of Wisconsin autumns. My uncle had a cabin near Camp Douglas and we'd go up in mid-October to catch the Autumn Color Train at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum and to hike at Mill Bluff State Park. I still maintain that Wisconsin has some of the most underrated fall colors around. They're not in the same ballpark as New England, but they're not that far away, either. And there are a lot less people, too.

I should go dig those Kodachromes out tonight...


I assume you're not looking over my shoulder or something like that, because my two dslr's at this point are a Sony 850 (with a Tamron 28-75/2.8, no less) and a Canon Rebel. I like hiking and backpacking in order to photograph landscapes, and so I thought I'd keep the Rebel as a smaller and lighter alternative, but as a couple of years went by I found I wasn't using it much because the Sony was so much nicer to work with -- both for its ergonomics in the field and for the robust and crisp files in post.

Late this last summer I took the Rebel out (with a Tamron 17-50/2.8, another nice-enough lens) on a trip up to some high peaks. The light weight was a nice change of pace. But in post? The files look mushy and plastic by comparison. And I'd forgotten how much the Canon tends to blow out the red channel if you're not careful with it.

I know Sony gets derided as "not really a camera company", but they got it right with the 900/850. This camera makes really nice images. I just hope they keep making ones like this and don't abandon the full-frame segment for mirrorless or the next flavor-of-the-year...

And really, as Old as it is, is there another full-frame camera that's significantly younger?

So, Mike, why didn't you focus on the nice bright moon then reframe?

Hi Mike - I remember Minnesota weather too when I worked in Rochester. I nearly froze in January, baked in July, drowned in March but spent a few wonderful days at my friends house by the lake in September just watching the scenery and having boat parties. Wonderful.

However my overriding impression of that part of the world was of a quiet and sincere hospitality and good naturedness. A very easy place to make friends. I would live there for that reason as much as any other.

...and then contrast the weather in northern Illinois, where I lived for 32 years: we have two seasons: Winter, and Construction. ;~)

With best regards,


Enjoy the 900. I've been using an 850 mated with the CZ f/2.8 24-70mm for over 18 months. It's my favorite camera. The files are great--they are robust and can take a beating in Photoshop. I have a 25 year old 70-200 Minolta beer can that I use once in awhile. It's a pretty good lens, especially being that I paid about $125 for it.

Interestingly your infinity focus reminds me why I did not buy the Sony A850/A900: No liveview. LV has become an essential feature for me because it allows me to get perfect focus in such situations.

Except for the (insignificant) increase in pixel count, isn't your Pentax K5 a better camera in every way?

Anyone who says that Sony "is not really a camera company" should get their head examined. For decades (70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s) Sony made the finest, top-of-the-line video cameras anywhere. Everyone used a Sony. Sony was THE leader in electronic imaging long before Nikon and Canon. Sony understands cameras. Look how far they have come in the last five years... and people forget that Sony makes the sensors for Nikon and Pentax/Samsung and others... so there!

Dear me! that puts my Canon EOS 5D at about 300 years old!
I had not realized that I was already living int the (digital) Middle Age.
(As we all know digital time grows exponentially with REAL age).

I wouldn't want to see TOP become yet another camera review site, but I do enjoy reading your thoughts on the cameras that cross your path every so often. Your "reviews" are more the observations of a real camera user. I find that more helpful and interesting to read than just a re-hash of technical trivia that I find on so many other review sites.

When I used to work as an over-the-road trucker, your state was one I really enjoyed driving through in the fall. People who have never been to Wisconsin don't know what a beautiful state it is.

Richard wrote:
"Anyone who says that Sony 'is not really a camera company' should get their head examined. ... Sony understands cameras."

Well, they know imagine, sensors, optics ... they produce the electronic viewfinders. So they're uniquely equipped to build killer cameras. The problem is that while they understand cameras, they don't understand photographers. The A900 evolved from Minolta's 7 & 9 and it's been downhill since. Sony can do wonderful user interfaces (they failed miserably with NEX) but doesn't understand photographers well enough to know what they want/need to control. There are two other problems: one is that while they have a professional video "division" (for lack of understanding of their corporate structure), the camera lines fall under the consumer products division, and as such are subject to bureaucratic decrees like "common user experience" throughout the product line and "we are 3D" (a couple years ago it was "we are HD"). So you get similar menus from cell phones to NEX, you get important features buried in those menus, but you get a "?" button on the A77 that can't be reprogrammed to do any of those important things (I think there are a couple of insignificant options) and you get Auto, Auto +, and "3D Sweep" on the mode dial. There's no Auto ISO in M mode (or, for purists who insist that "M means Manual" has some mystical significance, any other way of setting both the aperture and shutter speed and letting the camera vary the ISO according to the meter reading) - very handy for sports - on a camera that Sony wants to market to sports photographers with 12fps and improved AF.

They're close, very close. The technology is there and the cameras are most definitely very capable. Just frustrating.

- Dennis

Hah ... funny typo in my last post. I wrote that "Sony knows imagine". I meant imaging. But with a slogan of make.believe they certainly want you to think they know "imagine" too.

"Who regularly shoots above ISO 1600?" Me for one. "3200 is the new 400", we say! I shot 1600 and up to 4000 on film for years. Digital has let me work in darker conditions, or stop motion more.

When I saw your title, I got all excited to share the virtues of the a900. Then I took the link to "Falling Man" and I forgot all about all that. I remember this image from that day, like no other. Just a brief glance in a newspaper and it was installed i my memory banks. The man's clothes resembled a waiter's uniform (though in color, I'm not so sure), which suggested the humble, workaday nature of his life, up to that point. His posture was that of a man walking normally, in a world wrenched upside down and narrowing to a point of impact.

The image disappeared from the media's canon, unfortunately. It may have been the definitive portrait of Modern Man. maybe it says as much about our predicament as the stolid pitchfork-bearer in "American Gothic"?

The other lost image of that day was a huge silhouette of an airliner's belly, photoshopped into the sky, impossibly low above rows of city skyline. It was an ad for Lufthansa, touting more convenient arrivals near downtown, on Page 3 of the Sept. 11, 2001 issue of The New Yorker!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the a900. It's still relevant, and will be increasingly so with time. It's a pinnacle of the purists' still camera, cut from the same cloth as your old friend and mine, the KM 7D. I have some extra Minolta lenses I'd be happy to lend you for a month, just ask...

If the Sony 900 or 850 had the dials of the Minolta 7D or 600si I would have bought one a long time ago.

So for now I enjoy my 7D, and continue to wait for Sony to catch up with the past.

Appropos of nothing perhaps, but I was just looking at the Sony (Canada) site, and while the A900 is still for sale, the others - A850, A700, etc. have all been pulled in favour of the new pellicle mirror cameras. Sign o' the times...


Mike, I used an A900 for almost 2 years and found that Phase One's 'Capture One' (versions 5 and 6) does an excellent job at rendering ARW files and extracts finer detail than Adobe. The interface requires a readjustment of working practice from Adobe but I found it to be more photographically logical and the dual screen mode is very good. HOWEVER, it does require a very good system to run smoothly. If you have half a day, I recommend giving the trial a go. My system isn't quite up to grade (occassional CTD's) but I have persisted with it and go back to unprocessed images: I no longer have the A900, but it was one of the best cameras I have ever used (out of @ 20 for paid work and @ 50 for pleasure in the past 32 years).
Have you ever considered collating selected pieces of your writing into a book ? Lots of commentators publish their newspaper columns in bookform (some as best sellers) and it seems to me that the Photographic printed press is a bit starved of quality comment that has relvance beyond the time it was made.
I'll put it another way, would you please publish a book of your selected writings ?

"I, uh, am not really doing camera reviews any more. Not a very smart thing, given the main subject of this site."

I don't doubt for a a second (for 1/125th even) that I would enjoy more of your thoughts on new cameras, but I can say that's not the main reason I read you. Your writings are far more interesting, varied and illuminating on many topics - or off, even - that I don't miss reviews in the least.

And I'm not saying this because I'm not in the market for a new camera either.

I hope you'll continue to review lenses, if not cameras. In either case, I'll echo some of the above comments: a two-sentence review from The Online Photographer is more useful to me than a 30 page technical review from the mainstream review outfits.

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