Tag Archive for mirrorless

Going Mirrorless – From Sony A99 to Canon M6

Yep, that’s right. I’m transitioning to Canon, and mirrorless. What does that mean? I’m moving from the Minolta/Sony system that I’d been with since the 1990’s, to Canon; and I’m starting with the Canon EOS M6, the Canon 15-45mm, and an adapter for Minolta/Sony Alpha mount to EOS M-mount. Here’s the start of that story.

The Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera

The Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera

Why?

I started with Minolta (the MD-mount system) in the 1990’s. My first real camera was actually a Seagull, but the camera and mount system was a licensed remake of the Minolta MD system. Then, when I found myself in Korea in 2000 and 2001, I found that I had missed some great street photos because I was simply too slow setting the camera, prompting me to switch to auto-focus, and I stuck with Minolta.

Portraits of a young Japanese lady modelling with an antique film camera.

Portraits of a young Japanese lady modelling with an antique film camera.

In 2005 or 2006, I decided it was time to switch to digital, and by that time Konica and Minolta had merged, and so I got the Konica-Minolta Alpha Sweet (aka Dynax/Maxxum 5D in other parts of the world). Then in 2006 KM went into partnership with Sony. Sony had collaborated successfully with Carl Zeiss for video lenses, Ericsson for phones, and such. Perhaps they expected to develop a Konica-Minolta Sony camera. It was murky what actually ensued, but it looks like KM dumped their camera division on Sony and ran. Minolta, in inventing the worlds first autofocus system, had infringed the copyrights and patents of Texas Instruments, and spent most of the 1990’s in courts. It seems they wanted to offload that liability and save the company at the cost of their camera making pride. From the 1930’s to 1990’s, Minolta lenses were considered second only to Leica (and some instances better). Minolta had a fantastic reputation. Up until the late 1980’s, the top brands were clearly Nikon, Minolta, Leica, and Hasselblad; not Canon. The advent of the digital era and Minolta’s legal problems changed all that.

Sony A77 left, Minolta A7 right. My cameras with ribbons that take evil spirits away given during the Konomiya Naked Man Festival.

Sony A77 left, Minolta A7 right. My cameras with ribbons that take evil spirits away given during the Konomiya Naked Man Festival.

The Minolta/Sony to Canon M-mount adapter

First of all, all the glass (lenses) I’ve invested in over the years are not wasted. I can still use them with the K&F Concept adapter. At the moment, the Canon M-mount system is far from mature, and so there is a distinct lack of quality glass at the moment. Sony has taken nearly ten years to finally release some zoom lenses with f2.8 capability, and I hope Canon won’t take so long to get to this stage of maturity. In the mean time, what can I do for both quality glass and wide open apertures? I have some wonderful glass from Minolta, the original and first batch of auto-focus lenses in the world of any brand, including the 50mm f1.4 and 100mm f2 macro; both still are stunning even by today’s standards. I also have a Sony 70-300mm zoom lens, and a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens. Most exciting of all, I have a Lens Baby Composer 50mm. These will work, but only in the manual mode. The K&F Concept adapter is not electronic, it’s mechanical. So you will only have manual focus (so only for lenses with a manual focus ring) and it has an aperture ring so you can manually adjust the aperture in the lens. However, in the Canon M6, you need to set the camera to allow for the shutter to work in the “No lens attached” mode. Instructions are provided here: http://support-hk.canon-asia.com/contents/HK/EN/8202418700.html. Once, you’ve got this set, then you can shoot without a problem.

The Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with K&F Concept adapter, and Minolta 50mm f1.4 lens.

The Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with K&F Concept adapter, and Minolta 50mm f1.4 lens.

Of course, you can also get a Canon native adapter to fit L-mount to M-mount lenses. These will have electronic communication, so you can have auto-focus and electronically controlled aperture. Eventually, I will get some high quality L lenses, mostly for the auto-focus and wide open apertures, and so I can use them on the 5D or 6D that I plan to get one day.

A photo taken with the Canon EOS M6, K&F Concept adapter, and Minolta 50mm f1.4

A photo taken with the Canon EOS M6, K&F Concept adapter, and Minolta 50mm f1.4

This photo above shows that a shallow depth of field is possible on the M-mount, despite there being no native lenses capable of f1.4. Note, the crop factor of the APS-C sized sensor makes this 50mm lens and equivalent of about 70mm focal length, adding intensity to the depth of field.

The following photo is of the Sony 70-300mm G lens, with the adapter on the Canon M6. As you can see, the size differential is so big that the camera does not even touch the table! The size difference is simply hilarious.

The Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera looks tiny compared to the Sony 70-300mm G lens mounted via an adapter.

The Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera looks tiny compared to the Sony 70-300mm G lens mounted via an adapter.

Currently, there are no native telephoto lenses for the m-mount that go beyond 200mm in length. Additionally, there are currently no high quality lenses for this mount, except for perhaps the Canon 22mm f2. It is expected that two things will happen later this year or next; Canon will release a full-frame m-mount mirror less camera, and high quality glass (hopefully zoom lenses with at least f2.8 capability). The following photo was taken with the Canon M6, K&F Concept adapter, and Sony 70-300mm G lens. The main issue with this set up is that the adapter is mechanical only, which means manual focus, and manual aperture control. I found myself constantly fiddling with the focus ring. Also film cameras had a split-plane system for focus confirmation, digital cameras have a green-square confirmation, in the “no lens attached” mode the Canon M6 shows nothing; so all focusing is a combination of guessing and hoping.

A photo taken with the Canon EOS M6 with K&F Concept adapter, and Sony 70-300mm G lens

A photo taken with the Canon EOS M6 with K&F Concept adapter, and Sony 70-300mm G lens

The following photo is the first one from the Canon M6 with its own native lens, the Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3. Soon after the photo was taken, it was transferred to iPad via the camera’s own Bluetooth connection, where the photo was lightly processed and uploaded to Instagram; mere minutes after that train had passed.

At a Kintetsu train station in rural Japan. Photo taken with Canon EOS M6, with Canon 15-45mm lens.

At a Kintetsu train station in rural Japan. Photo taken with Canon EOS M6, with Canon 15-45mm lens.

The Canon EOS M6 is a brilliant little camera. If I had have known how great it was, I would have got it a long time ago. The images are not perfect, but are really, really good. The images are bright, clear, with great colour reproduction, and good-enough sharpness. It is very small and very light weight, so as a travel camera, it’s a no-brainer.

The big questions I have is, if Canon does bring out a full-frame m-mount camera, what does that mean for the Canon m-mount lenses that I have? Are they for APS-C format m-mount, or will they work fine on both full-frame and APS-C? Will the full-frame m-mount camera be in my price range, and worth the upgrade? Will there be a 24-70mm f2.8 lens for m-mount? Should I still consider getting the Canon 5D MkIII or MIV, or 6D, or just commit to m-mount exclusively?

In other news, BIG news. In private communication with Lens Baby, they suggested the Lens Baby 35mm Burnside may be available for m-mount for special order. However, I’d still like to wait and see what happens with the full-frame m-mount issue, and if I would still prefer to get an L-mount camera.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

Sample photos taken with the Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera with m-mount Canon 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 lens.

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Future of cameras

After many years I think I’ve learnt a few useful things. 1. Camera bodies become obsolete. 1a. Digital camera bodies become obsolete very quickly. 2. Lenses are often usable on many more camera bodies than vice versa. 3. An old joke: How do you make a million dollars in photography? Start with two million.

Trey Ratcliff on his blog, posted via Google+, and replied to by David La Spina on his blog both feel that the future of camera bodies in photography is not in SLRs. I argue that the “future of cameras” is not the discussion to be having, but a very different one.

Firstly, what cameras are there? Trey uses the term ‘3rd Generation’, which he essentially means mirrorless like the Leica cameras (old and new). Of the mirrorless camp, there’s the Sony Nex series, the Nikon J1 and V1, the Olympus Pen (old and new), the Canon G series, Leica’s (film and digital), the Fujifilm x series et al. These are very good cameras, and the quality of images they are capable of almost parallels current high-end cameras, and these mirrorless cameras can produce images that exceed what the first professional digital SLR cameras could produce, including (in order of appearance) in 1987 Minolta SB70s, in 1995 Minolta RD175, in 1999 Nikon D1, and Canon (whatever they had). There’s also mobile phones, which will be briefly discussed below. Of the high-end camp, currently there’s the very new Nikon D4, very new (not yet released) Canon 5d MkIII, and there’s the current Sony A900, rumoured replacement Sony A99 (rumoured to be announced later this year), and Sony A77 cameras. To you, perhaps strangely, there’s more: there’s still film also to discuss below. There’s my favourite Minoltas, as well as Leicas, Rolleiflexs, (cringe) Lomo, and more.

However, there are some points that both Trey and David are missing out on. Whilst this week Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US, Ilford (now owned by Harman Technology) and Fujifilm are still financially viable. Why is this? There are still some professionals that still use film for aesthetic reasons, and practicality (there currently are no large format digital sensors commercially available for landscape and architectural photographers), as well as hobbyists. Interestingly, Rolleiflex, Hasselblad, and Leica film cameras still sell quite well and still fetch a good price on eBay. Ok, so there is a niche market for film. That is to say, film and film cameras hasn’t gone away, and isn’t going away (yet).

So, could the traditional SLR format and camera shape disappear? It could (or will eventually). Take for instance the TLR format camera which is no longer being made (that I’m aware of), and despite its former ubiquity. So, the digital SLR will of course disappear, but only eventually, but does that make put them on an endangered species list today? I don’t believe so.

 

Mirrorless

When the Sony Nex system was released I hated the idea for several reasons. Firstly, it didn’t use a lens mount system that was available at the time, but the new E-mount. For alpha-mount users (Minolta & Sony auto focus mount), like myself, this could be seen as a death-knell. The brief history is that Minolta created the MA mount system, which was eventually replaced by the MC mount, a few years later that was replaced by the MD mount (I have this still), and a few years later the first auto focus system and a new mount for it: the Minolta Auto-focus mount (later, on Sony take over, known as the “Alpha-mount”). All of this updating meant having to replace lens systems. A photographer a generation or two before me would have bought a 50mm lens four times. As for me, I still have a 50mm f1.8 on the MD, then a 50mm f1.4 on the Alpha-mount (Minolta then Sony), and now I face the prospect of having to move to the E-mount. All this re-buying means less money for me, and more money for the camera companies; and of course I have a range of lenses that would need replacing.

Secondly, the ergonomic format of the mirrorless cameras (like the Sony Nex) to the film & digital SLR cameras (like the Minolta 7, Sony A900, Nikon D4, Canon 5d.MkII) are quite different. The modern SLR cameras have shutter speed, aperture and iso controls placed so they are very easy and quick to adjust (except apparently the iso & white balance settings on the Canon SLRs), so the user does not need to take their eyes off of the subject to make adjustments. This means that serious photographers (professional, semi-pro, or amateur) can quickly adjust settings to more accurately control exposure as required in even difficult changeable lighting situations. Often, I find that I am not happy with the Shutter or Aperture priority settings the cameras suggest, so I most often use Manual, and thus require the ability to make quick adjustments. The problem with the mirrorless and point-and-shoot cameras is that to adjust these same settings, you would need to take your eyes away from the subject to see what adjustments you are making, often having to rummage through the menu system of these cameras. The Sony Nex 7 has separate control dials for this, but currently this is more the exception. Further, the Nex 7 has the two dials side by side, rather than for easier thumb and finger control, and these dials are smooth, so use with gloves is not possible. Also, Japanese manufacturers are designing products that suit their own local customers rather than international customers. Often the mirrorless cameras are quite small, and the buttons can be difficult for people with large hands and fingers. There had been many complaints by non-Japanese users about the Sony A200 to 500 range on this ergonomic issue.

These ergonomic problems are not unfixable. It won’t take much to redesign a mirrorless camera to be ergonomically better (the Fujifilm x1 Pro looks quite usable, so too the Leica M9), additionally the menu system can be made more user-friendly. So then, could the high-end digital SLR bodies become mirrorless? My guess is that Sony will be the first to do this (they already have pellicle cameras like the A77). If so, then it’s a matter of time that the Alpha-mount becomes properly irrelevant, and the new E-mount the standard. Of Nikon and Canon? We still haven’t seen what serious contenders they can put up against Fujifilm, Sony Nex, and Leica. We don’t know if mirrorless is a niche that Nikon and Canon wish to aggressively pursue (at least yet). And let’s face it, the Nikon J1 and V1 are embarrassing. Shops here in Japan target these Nikon J1 and V1 cameras to 20-something year old girls who have a bit of disposable income and love to blog about the food they eat in restaurants near their offices.

 

Mobile phones & homogeneous aesthetics

Regarding mobile phones, it makes me cringe to consider mentioning these seriously. Realistically, for a mobile phone to match the quality of mirrorless and SLR cameras, the phone ought to be supplanted with a camera with phone functions built in. That is, all the hardware (sensor, processor, and external controls) needs to be of suitable competitive quality, and the controls need to be easily available to the user. Ok, so a mobile phone can take a photo in a variety of light conditions, but the dynamic range of these cameras is quite poor. Being able to adjust (even quickly) the controls to focus on the right subject, control the exposure for the right aesthetic is still not easy for the camera’s on-board computer. Photographing a castle is different to creating a shallow-depth of focus portrait or macro shot. We humans know what we want to see in a photo, but a mobile phone computer can’t do that (yet). However, face-focusing and smile-recognition systems being integrated. Though, it needs to be said, these technologies are replacing human creativity, reducing chances of accidental exposures that turn out to be pleasing, and dispreferring deviant exposure settings, whilst homogenising photographic quality and aesthetics; have you tried to use the Nikon J1? What advantages are there in having a high-end camera when you can just use a cheaper, multi-functional mobile phone? Well for professional purposes there’s image quality. I’m yet to hear of a fashion photographer shoot for a magazine using his iPhone. I’m yet to hear of a mobile phone that has been connected to a studio light set up. I’m yet to hear of a mobile phone that can be mounted on a tripod to do slow-shutter speed photos of waves curling around rocks. If you really want an inexpensive camera that can do these things, go to film. Seriously, high-end, fully capable SLR film cameras can do all these things at a fraction of the price of a new full-frame digital camera. And if you consider cost of processing compared to the cost of updating digital cameras, film is still cheaper for many people. Also, if you consider aesthetic look, you can save a lot of time spending moments creating a whole batch of shots on a film camera that look like they’ve been taken on a film camera, rather than shooting digital and then spending ages manipulating them all to look like they’ve been taken on film! And still, a keen eye can recognise the difference between a shot taken on film, and one manipulated to look as such in PhotoShop. Of course, plugins for PhotoShop can speed up the adjustment process, but all your images will have a homogeneous fake-film look. The problem that I have with More Lomo, and PhotoShop Express on the iPhone, and iPhonography in general, is that the pictures lack dynamic range control, darks are too heavy, highlights are blown, colours are overly saturated and tonal bands appear in the sky, rather than having smooth transitions (even on the small images I see other people posting). I do use my iPhone camera function, but for social events and recording the covers of books I might consider buying later.

Conclusion

Consequently, to me, the future of cameras is not the issue, but the future of photographic aesthetics. For quality and variety, we need to retain the use of film, retain the ability to have accidents, make purposeful deviant exposure decisions, and we need to be able to change exposure settings on the fly. To me, a good photographer should have a repertoire to use, making full use of his photographic palate, using film (SLR, TLR, or mirrorless), small digital (like point-and-shoot or mirrorless), and purpose built SLRs (film and digital). We should be experimenting and using the right tool for the right job.