Friday, January 30, 2015

Hawkitecture with the Sony a6000–Seattle Skies Are Lit With Blue & Green

f/4.5 @ 70 mm, 1/20, ISO 3200, No Flash

Make no mistake, the 12th man’s presence can be felt anywhere in Seattle right now

Seattle is lit with blue and green colors everywhere this week in what is being referred to as “Hawkitecture” as it prepares for its second straight Super Bowl. Even if you aren’t a Seahawks fan, I thought some of you would appreciate this different view of Seattle that I captured while reviewing the Sony a6000.

f/4 @ 20 mm, 1/6, ISO 800, No Flash, Handheld

Entering the land of the 12th Man

All of the shots featured are unedited a6000 shots that were taken using this tripod setup except where the captures mention “handheld”. In the case of the handheld shots the tripod was still used, but against my chest instead of on a fixed surface (as described in the article).

f/5.6 @ 70 mm, 1/5, ISO 100, No Flash

Seattle Great Wheel is ready for the big weekend with the shadow of the Seahawks stadium just behind it

f/5.6 @ 68 mm, 2s, ISO 100, No Flash

Hawkitecture can be seen all over from the Space Needle to the Seattle Great Wheel

f/4.5 @ 46 mm, 1/80, ISO 800, No Flash

f/4 @ 70 mm, 1/8, ISO 100, No Flash

The cranes working on Paul Allen’s buildings on Mercer St are all sporting Seahawks logos

f/4 @ 20 mm, 1/60, ISO 1600, No Flash, Handheld
Even the marina is sporting the home team colors

f/22 @ 16 mm, 6s, ISO 100, No Flash

The Seattle Great Wheel is ready for the big game!


My apologies to the Patriots fans and Seahawks haters out there who are rooting against my home team. Despite your disdain for my team, hopefully you can appreciate the photos and the enthusiasm of the “12th Man” coming together to support their team.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top 10 Things To Improve Your Photography

Follow these tips to start making better photographs
Follow these tips to start making better photographs

I’ve been blogging about Photography since 2008. During that time I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to review well over a thousand different products – some of which have been for the blog and some have been products I purchased personally. During my journey I’ve learned a lot, so what follows are the 10 most valuable things I’ve learned since I first became a photographer in 1984 with my Canon Rebel AE-1.

What follows here are the tips I would give my family and friends if they came to me today asking for advice on how they could improve their journey in photography.

  1. Get educated on how to take great photos  – Great gear helps but knowing how to use it matters even more. Simply put, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on great gear and you’ll certainly get sharper images that are super clean with faster shutter speeds than those who buy the bargain basement gear. However, a tack sharp boring shot is still a boring shot.

    Knowing how to use your gear and how to compose a scene goes a long way into making even the most basic gear look impressive which is why great pros can blow your $10k gear investment away with their iPhone shots.

    To learn how to make the most of the gear you have, I strongly recommend you check out my which books should I read? article. Even if you can’t handle reading books, it also offers great training suggestions from my friends at KelbyOne and BPSOP.

    Photographers like me also offer training, so contact me or a favorite photographer  for details on how you can get educated by people who can really help.

Do as much as you can in-camera, but software helps you get the best results

  1. Edit your images to enhance and remove distractions – Even if your only camera is your cell phone, to get the results you are expecting from your camera you’ll need to know some basic post-processing techniques.  To do that you’ll want the right software to make that task easy. You’ll also have the reality of managing your huge library of photos, so you’ll need the right products to help you find your photos quickly and easily. As a result, at least an investment in Lightroom will do wonders but there’s also a variety of great plug-ins that can help you get results quickly and easily.

A high quality bag can save your gear from disaster

BlackRapid makes great straps and bags for small cameras

  1. Protect your camera investment! If you get serious about photography you’ll quickly spend well over $500 and more likely thousands. With a major investment like that you should take care of it by both storing it properly and in many cases getting camera insurance. A great camera bag can help you hold all of your stuff in an organized way as well as protect it from the inevitable falls.

    TIP: Avoid camera bags with the name of camera makers on them – it only tips off thieves that you are carrying expensive camera gear and who makes it.

Show the world before the place where you stored your photos fails or gets lost

  1. Show the World Your Photos – Your photos that only live on electronic storage are pointless. Something inspired you to take that shot, so be proud of your work and let people see it.

    Sharing could be old school printing (which is even more fun when you printing your own photos) or as fancy as an online portfolio website.  However the reality for most is that they’ll end up being shared on social networks like Instagram, Google+. Facebook, etc… which makes more sense than them sitting on your phone until it gets lost or stolen or on a hard drive until it crashes. At least if you lose your data there’s some place you can go to see that important photo (especially those of your children).

    TIP: Stop obsessing about megapixels! Normal people don’t need the super megapixel cameras like the Nikon D810 or Sony a7R. Your 1080p HDTV is only 2.1 megapixels and even the hot new 4k TV’s are only 8.29 megapixels.  What’s more, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram need even less pixels! 

Self-printing can be a fulfilling final step of sharing your artistic vision with the world

  1. Print some of your favorite photos at least once a year – Think about it – how will people 50 or 100 years from now see the photos you taken of your family members, vacations, or even of yourself? Digital devices fail and digital storage relies on people making backups. Since backup storage and file formats always change, who will keep this process going 100 years from now?

    Here’s a great article that sends this point home that I encourage you to read.

    Printing doesn’t have to be complicated. Printing could be as simple as taking your photos (including the unedited ones) down to your local photo print store or shipping them off to an online print service. If you enjoy seeing your photos printed then you can enjoy the complete end to end vision of your artistic intent by printing your photos yourself

Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT
Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT

Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight
Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight

  1. Get Better Light – Yes, the beauty of sunrise and sunset can make for gorgeous natural light, but sadly it’s not always there where you want it and when you need it.

    If you’ve invested in a high end camera that supports a flash then get one! Having flash on the top of the camera far away from the lens can really make a huge difference between a good shot and a dark and noisy one.

    Get a good flash like the Canon 600EX-RT or the Nikon SB-910 then read On-Camera Flash Techniques to learn how to use it. You don’t need 4 or even 2 of them because you are not Joe McNally, so just get one get one and learn how to use it properly on your camera. It will help you tremendously when you are indoors.

    TIP: Remember aperture is for creative intent, so don’t be duped by “fast lens” stupidity. It amazes me how people think they don’t need a flash anymore once they buy their 50mm f/1.4 lens because it’s a “fast lens”.

    First of all, all the 50mm f/1.4 lenses I’ve ever used have PAINFULLY slow autofocus so you certainly aren’t going to be focusing faster. In fact, in low light – you’ll be lucky if your shots are even in focus because you’ll be focus hunting so much! A fast focusing f/4 lens with stabilization might actually help you get the shot better than your

    Secondly, a lower f-stop number WILL give you more light and more light means faster shutter speeds. However, think about your creative intent and depth of field. If you intend to capture a full scene, then the super shallow depth of field you get with f/1.4 is NOT the aperture you should be using. f/5.6 of even f/9 might make more sense for your creative intent, so your new nifty 50 isn’t going to buy you significantly faster shutter speeds than the f/4 lens you probably already had.

    A shallow depth of field f/1.4 shot can be awesome, but it is very limiting and certainly not appropriate for every shot indoors of a child, a concert, an event or every travel shot. As a result, don’t be fooled into thinking that a small investment in a 50mm lens means you don’t need to know how to use a flash.

Drastically improve your handheld shots with this cool trick from Gary Parker

Tripod & Ball Head Recommendations

  1. Want sharp shots without a flash? Learn how to stabilize your camera. Yes, it is true that if you have a good hold of your camera with your arms supported against your body you can get a sharp shot. However, most of us mere mortals still have shaky hands so stabilizing our camera can mean the difference between a razor sharp shot and a fuzzy shot.

    If you can get a lens (or camera) with electronic image stabilization (e.g., IS, VR, OIS, OSS, OS, etc…) then that will certainly help, but often times even that isn’t enough. If it is not, then use this special handheld technique or DISABLE your electronic image stabilization and use a good tripod (tripod & head recommendations).

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM (my review)
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

  1. Get Great Lenses FIRST – I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again. Lenses are like audio system speakers. You can have a $100,000 audio system but if you connect it to $99 speakers you’ll get $99 sound. The same is true with lenses, so a used camera with the latest and greatest lenses will get you SIGNIFICANTLY sharper images than the latest camera and kit lens bundle at your local warehouse club or bargain online store.

    Check  out my which lens should I buy? article for my recommendations and check it regularly as I try to update it when there are big changes. In fact, I’ll probably update it later this month to reflect some of the great lenses I’ve tested recently.

Canon EOS 70D
Canon EOS 70D
Nikon D7100
Nikon D7100

  1. Get a good camera to start with and stick with it until you have everything else first. Yes, having a great camera that performs well at high ISO’s like the Nikon D610 / D750 or Canon 6D / 5D Mark III can be extremely valuable, but having a good lens and a flash might mean you never have to use high ISO’s for most of your shots (assuming you aren’t a sports photographer). As a result, having a great flash and lens to go with your less expensive camera like the Canon 70D or Nikon D7100 (or even a less or used model) makes more financial sense.

Fujifilm X30
Fujifilm X30

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Fujifilm X100T
Fujifilm X100T

  1. Got a limited budget? If so, then don’t get a camera with interchangeable lenses. Photography is fun, but it is also an endless money pit. If you have thousands to spend, then go ahead and get a DSLR or mirrorless system with interchangeable lenses. Yes, you read that right – mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses may be small and the lenses slightly cheaper than their DSLR counterparts, but you’ll still blow even the most generous budget if you go there.

    If your objective is to take great photos without going broke, then get a great compact like the Fujifilm X30 or the Sony RX100 III. If you insist on better image quality then consider a Fujifilm x100s or the x100t which will give you DSLR quality, but with a fixed lens so you have to think about your photography.

    Still too expensive? Consider getting the best smart phone you can afford the next time your phone is eligible for an upgrade. The latest models offer incredible image quality in a compact package.

    Got a big budget? You still might want one of these cameras when you are “packing light”.


Photography is fun, but it is no different than other hobbies like golf or sewing – it’s easy to spend a fortune and still get poor results. My advice here is based on years of experience and is offered to try to save you both money and frustration along your journey.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

REVIEW: Sony a6000 & 16-70mm (Part I of II)–Real World Photos

Sony Alpha a6000 with 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens - Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Sony Alpha a6000 with 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens


  • 24.3MP APS-C Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor
  • Tru-Finder 0.39" 1,440k-Dot OLED EVF
  • 3.0" 921k-Dot Xtra Fine Tilting LCD
  • Full HD 1080i/p AVCHD Video at 24/60 fps
  • Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC
  • Fast Hybrid AF & 179 Phase-Detect Points
  • Up to 11 fps Shooting and ISO 25600
  • Multi-Interface Shoe and Built-In Flash

Hands On Thoughts

Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera Body
Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera Body

The Sony a6000 has been out for a while, but I have had a bunch of requests to review this camera so I finally broke down and did it. Based on the suggestions of some of my blog readers, I also decided to go with the hot Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Zeiss Lens (shown below):

Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens
Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens

I was a big fan of the Sony NEX-7 and A7R, so I was right at home using this camera (or should I say, cursing the menu again?!!!). In fact, this camera was so much like the NEX-7 that I started to having feelings of déjà vu! 

Now, I loved the NEX-7, but I just thought it was way too expensive. When Sony released this camera that functionally was similar (and in some ways superior), but for half the price many people started to wonder if this was the time for them to jump into Sony’s e-mount mirrorless lineup. Honestly I was so busy with other products to review, the holidays, travel, photo shoots and more that I missed this product release. However, after spending the last few days with it I’m now seeing why my readers wanted to know more – I’m very impressed with what I just downloaded from the SD card!

Sony a6000 Rear View
Sony a6000 Rear View

Functionally this camera is very similar to the NEX-7, but everything about it (like its improved ISO) scream the next generation hardware. As a result, I’m not going to go into too much depth here as honestly most who get to this review by now have already done their research and are looking for more opinions! Feel free to check both out on B&H’s web site if you need more geek data. What I will tell you is that all of my NEX-7’ body feedback applies here – both good and bad. While there are some improvements to the physical button layout, the menus are just as frustrating as ever.

Sony a6000 Top View
Sony a6000 Top View

The body design is nice and functional, and the electronic viewfinder is excellent. Overall if you’ve used Sony’s before, then expect more of the same – both good and bad. If you haven’t, you’ll find the menu system maddening, but this model has enough programmable physical buttons that you can get through most of the frustrations by setting things up the way you like it. The location of format will still drive you insane, and you’ll have to pay attention to the questionable shutter speeds it likes to choose, but otherwise its quite competent.

While I haven’t held them side by side, the NEX-7 did feel more solid and durable whereas this feels more entry level in build quality. However, the control behavior is similar, so I wouldn’t be able to justify the NEX-7 price for better build quality.

To get more feedback on my thoughts of the body, see my NEX-7 review as all of that feedback applies here too (including the flash). The only caveat is that I’ve warmed up to this viewfinder whereas I wasn’t in awe of the one on the NEX-7 – maybe I’ve changed.

Real World Shots

The following images come straight from in-camera JPEG’s using the camera default noise reduction settings. Most camera settings are the default with the exception of RAW+JPEG, a desired White Balance (only Shade or AWB), and a desired focus point. , The default creative style was used for all of these photos.

Click here for a full gallery of unedited images.

All images are copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may not save, print, edit, modify or otherwise use any images featured in this article or the gallery without expressed written permission.

f/9 @ 30 mm, 1/25, ISO 3200, No Flash, Handheld

This was a wow photo for me – the colors just jump off the screen on my 32" NEC 4k display. Even at f/9 and ISO 3200 the detail was excellent and the dynamic range was good (although not quite a7R good)

f/22 @ 31 mm, 0.6s, ISO 100, No Flash

Taken under a busy road, but you’d never know it from here. f/22 was soft for sure, but still a totally usable shot that I think most people would be satisfied with. The shadow detail was very good as well!

f/4 @ 16 mm, 1/60, ISO 160, No Flash

This was a shallow DOF shot intentionally, but the place where I focused was plenty sharp
Overall, I had already fallen in love with this camera by this point!

f/5.6 @ 16 mm, 1/60, ISO 640, No Flash

This is one of those horrible photos geeks like me take to admire the detail this sensor and lens combo could capture. Terrible photo, but cool detail on those little pine cones huh?!

f/5.6 @ 61 mm, 1/100, ISO 800, No Flash

The bokeh wasn’t too shabby on this despite the focal length, cropped sensor and high ISO.  However, this definitely isn’t the lens you want to be using if you are a bokeh junkie

f/4 @ 22 mm, 1/60, ISO 160, No Flash

While Kai didn’t give one of his million dollar smiles, I was in awe of the detail and color of this shot (taken with shade white balance like all of the landscape photos here)

f/11 @ 16 mm, 1/60, ISO 1600, No Flash

While not bad, when you compare f/11 to the f/5.6 version here, you quickly see how much detail is lost. If your output is online in sizes like you see here, all is well, but if you are outputting to 4k or printing big then you’ll want to avoid diffraction induced softness

f/5.6 @ 16 mm, 1/60, ISO 320, No Flash

Thanks to the cropped sensor, you can get a lot depth of field with f/5.6 over full frame so that combined with a sharp foreground image had me favoring the f/5.6 shots over the f/7.1 & up shots. See below to see the softer results at f/16 below and compare it with this to see what I mean.

f/16 @ 16 mm, 1/60, ISO 2500, No Flash

Despite having more depth of field, the f/16 image begins to get so soft that it doesn’t draw you in like the one above (which almost invites you to jump in your display and go for a walk down the path)

f/18 @ 16 mm, 0.4s, ISO 100, No Flash

Taken individually without comparison shots, the smaller apertures (larger f-stop numbers) are still plenty sharp and suitable for scenarios like this where you don’t have a variable neutral density filter so you have to resort to small apertures and a base ISO to get smooth flowing water

f/22 @ 70 mm, 0.8s, ISO 100, No Flash

This water wasn’t moving too fast so it isn’t quite as compelling as I’d like, but I was repeatedly satisfied with the results I was getting from this lens and camera combo – even at the softest lens aperture

f/6.3 @ 21 mm, 1/60, ISO 400, No Flash

Face detection and good stabilization made it so easy that our 5 year old son could snatch this shot of us – handheld! (Now of we could get mom to relax while he shoots, we’d probably get a good shot – ha, ha)

f/7.1 @ 25 mm, 1/60, ISO 200, No Flash

Kai rejoices at what he can do with this camera just before he gets eaten by the forest

f/11 @ 16 mm, 1/50, ISO 3200, No Flash

Just kidding – both this and the photo above show that you don’t have to fear large f-stop numbers with this camera and lens combo even with people – the results will often be plenty satisfying for typical social media posts and 4x6 prints

f/4 @ 32 mm, 1/60, ISO 2000, No Flash

This was good, but when I compare it to my baseline image taken with a D600 (here) you start to see the dynamic range limits as well as the wider depth of field compared to a real DSLR. This is a great result for sure, but this did remind me why I still prefer full-frame DSLR’s!

f/5.6 @ 17 mm, 1/40, ISO 3200, No Flash

Even entry level DSLR’s have failed miserably at capturing the range of tones in this shot, but the a6000 did an admirable job. The fact that this was handheld at ISO 3200 made me even more happy with the out of camera result

f/4 @ 34 mm, 1/60, ISO 320, No Flash

While wide angle lenses don’t offer background distraction blurring bokeh, this lens certainly offered super sharp images when wide open and the a6000 had gorgeous color straight out of the camera when the white balance was set to shade or daylight

f/4 @ 23 mm, 1/60, ISO 1600, No Flash

Auto white balance did favor a more bluish cool temperature

f/22 @ 16 mm, 1/8, ISO 12800, No Flash

At ISO 12,800 you basically start getting cell phone quality images

f/22 @ 16 mm, 1/15, ISO 25600, No Flash

At ISO 25,600 you gotta start thinking about B&W with a nostalgic look if you want to use the image for anything beyond a personal memento photo

Click here for a full gallery of unedited images.

All images are copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may not save, print, edit, modify or otherwise use any images featured in this article or the gallery without expressed written permission.


I’m loving this camera quite a bit and it’s high ISO performance up to 6400 is good enough to make me wonder what the bookcase shots are going to show me when I compare it against my Fujifilm X-E2. Things are very promising from my early testing, so come back to see my final verdict in the next installment of this article.

More to come in part II

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order the a6000 on the B&H web site. For the Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens, click here.

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:


If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.