I go a little bit nuts in Miami trying to find what’s awesome and what’s not with Sony’s new a6300 and G-Master lenses. I’ll be adding more photos shortly. I apologize in advance if it’s a lot to take in. My brain hurts.
I have a tendency to break things. Not out of anger or carelessness, but instead because I often ask them to do things they’re not really designed to do.
But I also to tend to learn a lot. Sometimes I even manage NOT to break things.
And -- as you know – I like to share what I learn.
Last week I had the opportunity to go hands on for several days with Sony’s about-to-be-released a6300 [B&H|Amazon] and their incredible new G-Master series lenses, the 85mm f/1.4 [B&H|Amazon] and 24-70 f/2.8 [B&H|Amazon] – along with their less dramatic 70-200mm f/4. Oh – and to reacquaint myself with the a7R II [B&H|Amazon] .
With that context, let me introduce you to philosophical musing #1 -- the concept of kando.
Sony has taken kando as its inspiration in the consumer imaging business. Very roughly translated, it means to inspire and satisfy curiosity. Or, more nuanced: emotional involvement.
I loved this concept as soon as I learned it.
It spoke to me.
In Miami, this led me to keep going until I felt I’d gotten one keeper from every lens I could get my hands on.
But I went further:
· with all the press about how good the autofocus is in Sony’s a7R II – better with Canon lenses than Canon themselves –
· Sony’s claim that the new a6300 has the fastest autofocus in the business (and therefore, as I understand it, better than the a7R II);
· Sony’s claim that the new a6300 has the best 4K recording capability in its hybrid line; and
· the gaping hole in Sony’s lens line-up for big fast telephoto glass…
I was inspired to try pairing Canon’s legendary 300mm f/2.8 L II to the a6300 and see if the combo was extraordinary.
Well, just in conception it already WAS extraordinary: it would be a little bit like trying to mate a mouse with an elephant.
But I did it. And the results can be gorgeous (see the opening footage in the video). Incredibly sharp, even if I did overexpose the boats. I’ll call the image quality stunning. Further along in the video, you can see some of the still images I captured with it. Like these.
But not without provisos and frankly, I can’t yet recommend this particular combo if your professional livelihood depends on getting the shot.
Why? Because of any or all of three reasons:
1) I don’t understand all of the autofocus options on the a6300 well enough yet. I no longer have one in hand at the moment, so I can’t walk you through it (I will in a future post), but the choices are non-obvious, with sometimes cryptically named options for autofocus scattered across several branches of Sony’s menu system. I just don’t know to what extent my lack of knowledge and skill contributed to the same kind of experience I’ve always had when using Canon glass with an adapter on a Sony camera: so much hunting that there’s no point in contemplating autofocus.
2) I don’t understand just how good the 300mm f/2.8’s autofocus speed is when used with a native Canon body for shooting movies (I know how good it is when doing still photography, which is awesome). But I do understand that dual pixel AF works best with STM lenses, even though the STM technology can’t move big glass elements like those in the 300mm f/2.8. So maybe there is no scenario where this lens can take full advantage of any camera’s autofocus in movie mode. I guess I’m going to have to check this out, maybe with the new 80D (or after I sort out my lack of knowledge and skill).
3) I don’t understand the communications across lens, adapter and body. I tried three different adapters: my own Commlite [B&H|Amazon] ; a Fotodiox [B&H|Amazon] supplied by Sony; and a Metabones IV supplied by B&H. I couldn’t see a significant difference among the lot with this particular lens. This is very interesting to me given Sigma’s recent announcement of their MC-11 adapter [B&H|Amazon] , for which they’re making very big claims about auto focus speed and lens/body communication when used with their own glass. I just don’t yet know where the issues truly lie. I WILL get to the bottom of this!
I want to be clear: I am in no way attempting to cast doubt on those folks who have had fantastic experience using Canon glass on the newest Sony alpha series cameras, but I’m betting either 1) they didn’t use a big stonkin’ piece of glass like this, OR 2) they knew what they were doing a helluva lot better than I did.
Fact is, I’m just going to have to spend more time getting to know all of this gear.
Philosophical musing #2: the concept of jinba ittai.
JInba ittai – again, roughly translated – refers to the ideal of unity between rider and horse. I came across this concept years ago when Mazda first introduced their Miata and told the world that they’d used jinba ittai as the inspiration for the driving experience they were trying to create.
They were successful.
I think jinba ittai is a concept Sony can and should take to heart as well. As I’ve said very recently, Sony cameras’ greatest strength – how much you can do with them – is also their greatest weakness: every option, every tweak, is an opportunity to interrupt the flow of capturing the moment. The autofocus choices are a perfect example. Too often, I think – like most cameras these days – complexity is getting in the way of image-making.
Then again, the last image in the still series (the volleyball game) is a decisive moment, captured with the a6300 and what is ultimately a very simple prime lens -- the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 – even if I set up the camera in advance and then took advantage of the a6300’s 11fps to get it. That little Touit became one of my favorite lenses for the a6300 and frankly, it shocked me that it did.
Let’s talk about why by introducing the concept of wabi sabi, philosophical musing #3.
Until last week, all I knew about wabi sabi is that it’s a restaurant in my neighborhood.
Now I understand it original meaning which – again, very roughly translated – is: finding beauty in imperfection.
I find beauty in rusted out cars and weathered buildings; I find beauty in asymmetrical faces; I find beauty in the crumbling texture underneath the incredible murals I saw in Miami’s art district.
But when it comes to optics, I typically prefer the sharpest and highest contrast lenses I can afford. My view is that you can always dial imperfection in.
On the other hand, there are photographers and DP’s – much more skilled than I – who sometimes prefer imperfect lenses: “character,” after all, is another way of describing technical defects, and software just doesn’t cut it.
The Touit 12mm is not regarded as the sharpest lens out there, and yet I loved the images I was able to create with it in spite of that fact; because of that fact; or regardless of that fact. It’s so light and compact that I could throw it in my pocket while wandering the Art District with just one other lens, Sony’s new 24-70/2.8 G-Master, which on first blush to my eye looks as sharp or sharper than Canon’s legendary 24-70/2.8L.
In short, the optics and physical design of the Touit 12mm in this instance allowed me to get precisely the image I wanted (yeah, I don’t care about the blown out highlight called “the sun” in the image, either).
Even more: it dawns on me that if an image inspires one to pixel peep rather than simply soak it in, the image has failed the test of emotional engagement. Kando, meet wabi sabi AND jinba ittai.
Perfect time to introduce my last philosophical musing today, Zeno’s Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles.
The Greek philosopher Zeno described a number of paradoxes, but I’m talking about the Tortoise and Achilles.
The basic premise is this: if, with each step you take you close the distance to your goal by half you’ll never actually reach the goal. Achilles, Zeno asserted, would never catch up with the tortoise, whom he’d given a head start.
Put in context here: even if a camera manufacturer makes tremendous strides with each new camera, it will never be enough because the goal always changes.
I LOVED the Sony a6300. I drooled over their 85mm f/1.4 G-Master. I respected the 24-70mm f/2.8 G-Master. I got giddy over the Canon 300m f/2.8L II. I had a little bit of a crush on the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8. I had a one-night stand with the 70-200mm f/4 without regret.
More specifically, in the few days I was hands-on with the gear I learned that:
· the low light capability of the a6300 is much better than I’d anticipated – so much so that I need to go back and double check;
· Sony really has beefed up the a6300 so that it can use geared cine lenses now, something the a6000 can’t (I’d brought down Wooden Camera’s lovely Quick Cage for DSLR Small, but it proved unnecessary for the a6300. I’d wait until they have a solution that doesn’t take over the Multi-interface shoe);
· the 4K internal recording is stunning, especially when combined with stunning glass (in addition to the Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II, the Sony 85/1.4 is an oh-my-god-I-want-one-now proposition, and the 24-70/2.8 is going to make a LOT of event photographers very, very happy – as well as travel photographers who can use clear image zoom you to extend the range to 105mm, for a full frame field of view equivalent of just about 160mm);
· the G-master lenses seem to have better, more consistent action when manually focused than other fly-by-wire lenses;
· I can use the viewfinder with my glasses on OR off, which is pretty amazing;
· 120 fps is my new favorite feature, even beyond the 4K internal recording; and
· yes, the a6300 has a microphone jack – which, it turns out, you’ll really need (see below).
Still, perhaps we need to add another animal to Zeno’s paradox, because with all of this said I’m feeling a little piggy.
· The feature I missed and now want the most is the internal, electronic variable neutral density filter of the Sony FS5 (see what I mean about being piggy?).
· I want manual audio gain (CameraStore TV’s Jordan Drake pointed out to me that this is why he had to run a wire from the UWP D11’s output jack to the a6300’s mic jack). I’d say this is not piggy but rather a reasonable request for the next firmware upgrade.
· I wish Sony had figured out how to keep the port cover the same size, because now ReallyRightStuff has to redesign the L-bracket I have for the a6000 to provide clearance for it – without it, I can’t clamp the HDMI cable so that it makes a consistent connection with the micro-HDMI port (let alone access it). The poor connection quality of micro-HDMI isn’t a Sony issue – it’s a universal issue. But in the meantime, it would be nice if Sony provided its own clamping solution.
· I’d still like a headphone jack.
· I want a rationalized menu system.
· I want the movie recording button to be sorted, somehow combined with the stills release while at the same time allowing me to alternate between two movie recording modes (say 4K 24p and 120fps FHD) seamlessly. I will say that the movie record button seems to be more sensitive and requires less effort to trigger than the one found on the a6000.
· I want the ability to change the focus point on the fly directly with a physical control under my thumb.
· I want a world class smartphone app for remote control of stills AND movie, and for setting up shooting profiles as easily as I can drag and drop icons in Microsoft Word (which is a vastly more complicated piece of software).
· I wish the viewfinder could tilt like the one found on the Panasonic GX8. While I’m at it, I wish it were as big as the one on the a7R II (that’s pretty darned piggy).
· I want 10-bit output (this is SO piggy that I’m embarrassed, but not too embarrassed to put it here).
· This is last one is even piggier, and in reality I’m putting it in only as a notation which may lead you to another camera altogether, which is fine if it matters to you: rolling shutter is NOT tamed, so what the heck, I want a global shutter option in there.
· I lied. THIS is really the last one, piggiest of all: I’d like Sony to defy the laws of physics and make the G-Master lenses smaller and lighter (well…they actually could adhere to the laws of physics while achieving the goal if they made them in E rather than FE versions and we were willing to sacrifice a little lens speed and sensor size -- I certainly would). And I’d like to be able to control manual focus via the app I want above including speed and ramping – actually, I’d like to control it using my finger across a live image.
I also want world peace.
In the meantime, I’ll happily take the a6300 for the extraordinary achievement it is – as is.
Two Simple Facts
The simple fact is that Sony has pulled a rabbit out of its hat, creating an upgraded version of a $500 camera for which it is entirely justified pricing it twice as much as the original -- as it has. The a6300 is pretty well untouchable at the price.
It is brilliant.
And with its introduction of the G-Master lens line, Sony appears to be delivering on the promise of optical and focusing performance for stills AND video second to none, at stiff but market rate prices.
In particular, the 85mm f/1.4 G-Master is... a revelation.
In the End
Still, my time in Miami reinforced for me that what is most important is living, not simply observing or capturing. Very little tops stimulating conversations with fascinating people. Very little tops crafting an image or a scene and growing as a result.
All of which are reminders yet again that ultimately it’s not about the gear at all but instead the skill, passion, creativity, and collaboration we bring to our work.
Yeah, OK: it’s about the gear, too – which I’ll be going into more detail over the coming weeks.
A special thanks to Michael and Nicole at Zeiss; Stuart at B&H; Ryan and Cole at Veydra; Ryan, David and Michael at Wooden Camera; and of course to the too many to name folks at Sony for putting it all together and sharing their thoughts (but hey, could I not mention Matt, Mark, Neal, Kenta, Daisuke, Janice, Samantha, Sean, Susan, Alex, and Brian).