I do the unthinkable and actually buy a photo back pack.

When I was younger everything in the universe seemed so much more black and white. Real photographers didn't carry around backpacks. We carried camera bags. We shot primes, wanted quick access from a bag that would hang off our shoulder, looked down on wonky-tographers who sported big, chunky, foamy backpacks carrying everything they could imagine, just in case like grocery shopper picking up all three kinds of whipped creme, just in case. We cut some slack to the nature photographers since they actually had some righteous hiking to do.  Now my universe is upside down because I've started leaving the big cameras at home and just leaving the house with small cameras.  A few months ago it was an EP3 and now it's a Sony Nex 7.

Now my walks are more wide ranging and I spend more time wandering from urban place to urban place. When I take a break it's at a coffee shop or the big Whole Foods. I might want to bring my iPad. I'll probably want my phone in case young Tuck calls. And lately I've been breaking in the  Nex system so I like the idea of carrying a few lenses and an extra battery.  And all of a sudden I'm back in bag land.  But the reality is that I do a lot of walking before I change a lens or crack open the iPad (or buy a bottle of Bourdeaux that needs somehow to be transported home).  

In the novel I'm writing the protagonist loves and hates his camera bag. It's been a constant companion and it holds his treasures. It's part of his memories. There's even a bullet hole in one side. But he hates the bag because all the weight on his left shoulder is wearing him down after decades of hauling around old style shooting iron. I'm sure it reflects my changing perspective, though I can't speak for the book's main character.

I've looked at photo back packs from time to time but most of them are too big, too heavy, too pricey and too BLACK. Remember? I live in Texas and I walk in Texas 365 days a year.  I don't want a black backpack because it will cook that bottle of wine I just picked up on my way back home. I don't want a black backpack because it sticks out like a sore thumb against a white or khaki Ex Officio shirt. And a black interior is like black magic for losing little stuff that you'll scramble to find later.

But then I stumbled upon the Tenba Discovery (etc. etc.) and I decided in a split second that I liked everything about it so I bought one, with the proviso that I could return it if I came back to my senses and realized that the backpack made me look like a class "A" nerd.  You may not care about how you look because of your extremely evolved state but I still would like even just the fumes of coolness lingering over me if I can keep them around...

And now my trips out of the house and into the wild include the Tenba. Be aware though that it comes in two color schemes. One is called "black/grey" and the one I like is called "sage/khaki."  The Sage/Khaki just sits there looking like it's reflecting 100% of the infrared the sun is throwing at it.  The unit has a good padded pocket for my iPad. The top compartment carries my Nex-7 with shooting lens attached while I'm traveling or shucking the thing off my back and into the cargo area of the high performance Honda Element Studio Vehicle (HESV). The bottom half carries as many Pen and Nex lenses as I want to carry.  The elastic side pockets are great for water bottles, wine purchases and sunscreen.

The final feature of the backpack is the included rain cover. I don't worry about that here in Austin....it never rains.

Cute backpack with iPad sticking out.

Nice, wide straps, no waistband that 
I would find aesthetically challenging and 
would one day cut off with my Swiss Army knife. 

Field test:  I gave it my first field test last Sunday. I walked from my house to Barton Springs Pool (about two miles and change) in the afternoon. The temperature with a good dose of humidity hovered around 102ºf. The pack felt light and cool. Unpacked it weighs 2.1 pounds. Fully Nex 7 configured, with iPad, it tipped  the scales at a little over 8 pounds. Not too padded, not too lightly padded. Just right.

From Barton Springs Pool I headed towards downtown, stopping at the bridge over Barton Spring to photograph the teenagers jumping (illegally) from the bridge into the water forty feet below.  I changed lenses there and it seemed easy enough. I eventually crossed the lake and made it to Luke's Locker (a running and triathlete supply store) where I bought Ben a new pair of sunglasses that won't slip down his nose when he runs. They went into the top section of the backpack.

From Luke's I continued on through downtown to the legendary, Caffe Medici, where I had a small Pellegrino water and a decaf cappuccino. While there I wrote a quick blog on the iPad (electronic keyboards are not optimal) and met a new, potential portrait subject. Before leaving the coffee shop I switched lenses to my 25mm Pen 2.8 manual focus lens and then headed out to test that optic, with adapter, on the Nex7. Not bad.

I looped through downtown, pulling a small terrycloth towel out of a side pocket of the test unit to wipe sweaty hand residue off the camera. I ended up at Whole Foods where I drank more water, tasted three wines and two beers, bought a nice Argentinian Tempranillo (wrapped in several layers of paper to insulate it from the heat), stuffed it into a side pocket, just under a compression strap for stabilization, and then walked back through Zilker Park and up the big hill on Bulian to my house. My rambling walk covered about eight miles but it was spread out over four hours. Not an Olympic pace.

The backpack was a success. My shoulder didn't hurt, my balance was good and my access to the guts of the unit was fine. It worked well enough that I think I'll eventually become a convert to this method for my own personal work. Finally, a relatively inexpensive carrying device that does pretty much exactly what I wanted it to. It's still more elegant to go out with just a camera and a lens...

The Sony 50mm 1.8 is the icing on the cake.

I came for the EVF's.  I stayed for the lenses. Like this one, the 50mm 1.8.
(©2012 Kirk Tuck, do not appropriate)

This will not come as a surprise to anyone who is already shooting the Sony Nex system but...the 50mm 1.8 lens is a jewel. A really wonderful lens. I picked one up when I bought the basic camera kit and I'm absolutely pleased. You can go to one of the test sites to read what they found out when they aimed it at a two dimensional chart a meter away or try one for yourself and see what you think.

Here's why I like it: 1. It has a very long and very efficient lens hood that should do a really nice job of shielding the front lens element from any sort of non-image forming tangential light that may degrade contrast by causing veiling flare (that was a mouthful of words).
2. On the APS-C sensor cameras it is nicely longer than normal.  Not too long to be almost universally useful to selective shooters but not too short as to be too all inclusive.  3. Stop it down one or two stops and you've got a lens that goes toe to toe, performance wise with just about any normal or long normal lens I've owned. 4. It's beautifully and minimally designed. 5. It has an efficient, in lens, image stabilization feature and that means you can see the effect in the finder. I miss that on my bigger Sony cameras.

I wish they made this lens in black but it's so good I can't even hold the lack of color choice against it. My recommendation, if you shoot with a Sony Nex 5n or a Sony Nex 7, is to buy this lens and enjoy the heck out of it.  On my first journey out with the lens I dropped by Whole Foods bakery in the store at 6th St. and Lamar Blvd. and took some casual shots of their decorated cakes.  The light was low and mixed but the camera did a fine job sorting that out. I did the "stinky baby diaper hold" on the camera which means I wasn't doing the stabilization control any favors, and this is what I got, nearly wide open.

These shots do what food photographs are supposed to do; they make me want to go back to the store and buy a cake so I can reach out with my index finger and slide off a hunk of frosting and lick it right off my finger.  

Silly but fun.  Anyway, it's a great little lens and I'm pretty sure it will become a classic for the system.  If it's not already.

Note about old, nasty, cheap lenses:  I was at Precision Camera and I glanced through the used Sony equipment last weekend. I found an old, old, Minolta Zoom lens that looked and felt kind of cool.  It was a 24-85mm 3.5 to 4.5.  I bought it.  Some reviews say it's sharp and some reviews say it isn't. The only way I was ever going to know for sure was to bayonet that pup onto the front of my a77, put it on a tripod and aim it at something. I shot the image of the 50mm lens at the top of the blog with the lens.  My evaluation? Sharp enough for me.  In fact, sharper than the 16-80mm Zeiss lens (by a good margin) that I bought and returned last week.  The price? Around $100.

I may have gotten a bad copy of the Zeiss, it was used. I may have gotten a good copy of the Minolta...luck happens.  One thing I do know is that they made lenses out of much heavier materials back then.  It may not always translate into performance but the heft is reassuring.

A strange confluence of sensor resolutions. Bizarre fun with high resolution.

I was sitting at my desk this morning finishing up the final touches a self-promotional folded card with images of food on it and I was browsing through a recent collection of food images I'd taken. As I looked through some of my most recent favorites I checked the exif info and was mildly surprised to find that I had candidates from three different cameras taken within the same month. The thing that struck me as funny and strange is that all three of the cameras, the Sony Nex7, the Sony SLT a77 and the Nikon D3200 use the same size and same resolution sensor.  All three are 24 megapixel sensors with at least two of them being absolutely identical. So, within the last six months I've gone from a bountiful selection of  cameras with sensors that range from 12 megapixels to 21 megapixels straight to situation wherein my highest resolution camera sensors and my lowest resolution camera sensors are....identical.

I love using the two Sonys. I think EVF's are the way the entire camera industry will go for the mid to high end prosumer and professional cameras and I think the changes will happen faster than anyone imagines. I like the Nikon because it's silly good and silly cheap and that makes it the perfect knock around camera to keep on the floor of the car for all those times when you want to shoot spontaneously, in fast breaking muck,  but don't want to risk a more expensive unit. The D3200 would be perfect if Nikon had replaced the small optical finder with an EVF but at $699 for the kit I won't argue.  The camera makes great files, works without a hitch and can sometimes be....amazing.

So here I am. All of the micro four thirds inventory is gone. All the sub 24 megapixel cameras are gone. The 16 megapixel a57 is in Ben's hands now. When I go out to shoot it's all big file stuff now.  Not big like a Nikon D800 but twice the resolution of the nifty Nikon D700 I was carrying around only four years ago.  And all of them at half the price of a D700, or less....

The big question is: Do I see any real difference in the files versus the stuff I was shooting with last year?  And the wishy-washy answer is "yes and no."  If I'm out walking around and handholding my cameras pretty much every camera from 12 megapixels up looks pretty much the same in terms of overall quality. I think my ability to handhold a camera steadily is really the deciding difference in perceptions of quality we have between cameras.  That and the quality of the lenses that we use.  Of course there are more dots in the files with a higher resolution sensor but are the dots anything particularly useful or are they just there to take up space when we shoot handheld, or in low light?  

Where I do see a difference in sensor resolution and it's impact on quality are situations were I am using the camera on a tripod and practicing good technique. On a recent product shoot I tried to pull out all the stops and do everything by the "high quality results" book.  I used a heavy tripod, focused carefully with the focus peaking in the a77.  I used a known to be good lens and I used it at what I knew to be its sharpest aperture range (5.6-11) and I even used a wired, electronic remote release.  The ISO 100 raw frame, ministered to in Lightroom 4.1 was stunning for the sheer amount of detail presented in the product image.  Was it necessary detail?  Hardly, the images will be used on packaging and will run half the size of the original files (or less).  Was it observable detail with real information?  Yes.  You bet.  Was this a make-it-or-break-it parameter for the product shot or the client? Gosh no.  We could have done files with an older Kodak 6 megapixel camera that would have satisfied the final use but it sure was fun, given where we've been in the digital spectrum, to see just how much resolution the "normal" camera of the day delivers.

In my mind the benefit of all those megapixels comes into play when you're looking for tonal smoothness combined with a high impression of sharpness, delivered by endless layers of detail. For me it's in the studio portrait. Shooting at 24 megapixels gives me files that have so much detail and so little "grain" that the skin tones take on the smoothness that we used to associate with medium format color negative film and that makes it a whole different look.  And the funny thing is that all three of these cameras can deliver that.

Another benefit of the newer sensor technology is the increased dynamic range in the files. If I shoot everything at ISO 100 (or even ISO 50 in the a77's) I see a definite difference in the range from light to dark vis-a-vis my EP3 or GH2 files.  The newer cameras also do a better job on the light to dark tonal transitions than did my Canon 5Dmk2.

I thought I'd have more use for the Nikon D3200 camera than I've gotten so far. Its files are no better (and probably not quite as good) as the stuff I'm getting out of the Sonys but I am very comfortable about tossing it into a bike pack or the aforementioned car floor, or even in the swim bag and expecting it to work without a grumble when I get to wherever it is I'm going.

While I think the 24 megapixel sensors work well for a guy like me who doesn't give a rat's ass about shooting at 6400 ISO I don't think it's a magic metric or indispensable. In fact, the 16 megapixel performance of the Sony a57 is largely indistinguishable under all but the most controlled circumstances.  The same is true, I am sure, of the Olympus OMD.  Oh, but wait.  That's a Sony sensor as well.  Has Sony become the digital equivalent of Kodak from the film days?  

So, why my ongoing fascination with the Sony cameras? Especially when I can get the same practical level of performance out of a $600+ Nikon?  It all boils down to the finders.  Once you've done EVF (Sony style) you'll never want to go back. Even if someone comes along with a lot more megapixels.  It's nice to be ahead of the curve once in a while.