A few weeks ago Laowa sent me a copy of their first lens dedicated to Sony’s full frame e-mount system, the 15mm f/2. This lens is meant for landscape & astrophotographers who want to capture as much of the beautiful night sky as possible; which means wide and fast. Last year I was able to get a copy of their 12mm f/2.8 for Canon and used it on my Sony A7Rii with a Metabones adaptor. I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed the lens. A lot of what was great about that lens can be translated over to this one as well. First, let’s talk about the physical design and characteristics.
I’ve had a copy of the x100F since early November. During that time I kind of made it my go to camera for just about anything and everything. From my more artistic professional shots, to travel, to basic family vacation images. This camera has been everywhere. From around my own home in Kentucky, to the Great Wall of China, to Disney World in Florida. I’ve thrown just about everything I could at this camera and it delivered wonderful results. If you’d like to learn more than read more...
A few weeks ago the company making the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing their upcoming lens. They have a lot of information on their kickstarter already so I knew what to expect: sharpness throughout, zero distortion (amazing for such a wide field of view), and a fast aperture, all packed into a nice compact collection of glass and metal.
This post is purely opinion based much like everything I write on here so take it with a grain of salt. Though I feel as though it’s something that really needs to be addressed in the vast world of photography groups. Over the last couple of years I’ve been apart of many photography groups. I’ve left most of them.
Let me start off by telling you that I don’t do the scientific reviews. I leave that up for other people. I like to discuss the more practical sides of cameras and systems. I like to use something for awhile and then give you an honest review of my thoughts on it. You won’t ever see 100% crops, ISO comparisons, or anything of that fashion.
Light. It’s the very foundation of photography. Without it (and the lack there of) we would have nothing of interest to see. Control light and composition and you rule the king and queen of an aesthetically pleasing image. This is why I’ve been asked about the lighting in my photos about a thousand or two times (I’m being quite literal here). Fortunately, I can do a blanket article to answer this question.
It’s been a couple of months that I’ve been using the highly praised A7Rii, and it is about time I give my review on Sony’s latest flagship device.
It was herald as one of greatest cameras on the market. With 42 megapixels, squeezing out low-light performance like a Canon 6D, fantastic dynamic range, in-body image stabilization, and, to top it off, super-fast autofocus that is supposed to rival DSLRs… even with Canon built lenses!
Along with plenty of other photographers I have received this question quite a bit. That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate an entire post based off of this question since it’s sort of an all encompassing subject. One that should probably be revisited regularly since technology changes at a pace only a Buggati can keep up with. I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t had enough experience with many brands to give you a detailed explanation as to what camera you should get. However, I will help guide you by offering you some insight into some major considerations when picking out your first real camera.
First up, is Mirrorless vs DSLR. If you’re reading this, then chances are, these two words may be greek to you. So let me boil it down to some simple concepts for you to consider the differences. One of the main types of cameras (digital or not) that have been around for decades involve a mirror. When you look at the camera without a lens on you’ll see an angled mirror. This mirror is how you’re able to see through the viewfinder and compose your shot. Since you’re looking through a mirror you’re seeing the scene exactly how your eyes see it and that’s not necessarily how your sensor will read the image. With a mirrorless system, that mirror is gone; hence the nomenclature. This elimination of a mirror allows a couple of benefits for photographers. One of the biggest deals people like to make about mirrorless systems is that they’re inherently smaller since there is a significant portion of the system eliminated. While this is true, the differences are minimal once you strap on “real” lenses to that “small” camera. We’ll cover lenses a bit later. The real benefit I see in mirrorless cameras comes down to how the viewfinder works in these systems. See, you’re constantly getting a “live” preview of your scene in a mirrorless system. What you see in the viewfinder is what you’ll get when you press the shutter. Having this preview allows you to really get a sense for what changes are going on when you change your exposure settings. You won’t be able to see everything the way it is (motion blur for instance) so you’ll still need to understand exposure, but at least this is a good start. You also get different overlays on your current view (histogram, rule of thirds grid, and so much more). The biggest downfall of mirrorless cameras is that since you’re getting a digital projection (aka, you’re looking at a screen) you’re eating up a lot of battery; and with smaller bodies come with diminished battery life. However, this is a small issue since you can easily carry extra batteries. Hence, I feel like a mirrorless system is the way to go for anyone’s first camera. The main companies that offer great mirrorless systems for decent prices are Sony, Fuji, and Olympus. Nikon and Canon have them, but they’re not even in the same ballpark as the others in terms of quality and available lenses.
Next up is the consideration of sensor size. If you choose to accept that mirrorless is the way to go then you need to decide what type of sensor size is important for you. They all offer great image quality with today’s technology, so try not to get lost in the minuet details here. Each company has different sensor sizes and these will have an effect in two main areas, depth of field and low light capabilities. The size of sensor also has some impact on dynamic range, but I won’t cover that in this article since this probably shouldn’t be of your concern at this point. Olympus uses what’s called a micro-four thirds sensor (m43). This is the smallest sensor of the bunch. A smaller sensor means that at an equivalent lens focal length and aperture more of your image will be in focus. The shrunken sensor also means that you won’t have the best performance in low light. Fuji and Sony both have what’s called a “crop sensor.” This is a bigger sensor than the m43 sensors olympus manufactures and thus a shallower depth of field and better performance in low light. Finally, at least in the scope of this article, you have a “full frame” sensor offered by Sony. Currently Sony is the only company throwing a full frame sensor in a mirrorless package. This type of camera has some of the shallowest depth of field and has the best low light functionality in the mirrorless packages (in our price range, mirrorless medium format options do exist, but then you’re taking out a mortgage for a camera). Something else to keep in mind with these sensor sizes is that the focal length of the lenses are actually different. A 20mm lens on a M43 camera is actually like a 40mm lens on a full frame camera. It’s complicated and this has it’s own subject on its own, but the standard focal length measurement is based off of full frame cameras. This is just important when you’re buying lenses and someone tells you that you need to have a 50mm lens in your pack (or any focal length for that matter), it’ll actually be a different focal length depending on the size of sensor you get.
Why does the sensor size matter? Lenses. When you purchase a camera you’re making an implicit promise to invest more money into that camera in terms of lenses. All of these systems have a wide range of lenses available (not like Canon and Nikon have, but still). A M43 lens won’t really work for a full frame camera. See, when you decide that later in the future you want to upgrade your camera, you’ll want to make sure your lenses will work with that camera. With Olympus, you should be okay since it doesn’t look like they’re leaving the M43 arena. Fuji also seems locked down on cropped sensors. Sony on the other hand makes both cropped and full frame sensor cameras. So if you buy a cropped sensor camera from Sony (like the a6000) then you might want to get full frame lenses for it (the FE line). These lenses work on cropped sensors but the cropped lenses don’t. Have I confused you yet? No? Wow, then you must be some sort of genius.
Let me give you the quick summary of what I recommend for your first real camera… Go get a mirrorless. You can’t go wrong with any of the aforementioned systems I mentioned. You really can’t even go wrong with Nikon or Canon. They have a “live view” mode, but they’re not quite as developed as the mirrorless systems since that’s sort of an “extra.” If I were to recommend a simple but fantastic camera to start out with, the Sony a6000 will give you a great starting point. Then start collecting full frame lenses from Sony and Zeiss while you get better at shooting. Then eventually you can move up to the full frame sensor A7 series cameras and have a nice lens collection to go with it. There are so many other details that you need to consider, but that’s just my general recommendation for those starting out. The other brands have their own strengths that Sony doesn’t offer. Oly makes some great cameras that are dust and water resistant. So does Fuji. Fuji also has a hybrid autofocus that uses your typical phase detection and a rangefinder like system. This is beyond my understanding since I’ve not dealt with rangefinders. Canon and Nikon have a great selection of lenses that are super fast, and amazingly sharp. Finally, with Sony’s new A7Rii, you have the option to use just about any other company’s lens mount on their camera while still maintaining great autofocus.
In the end I’m sure you’ll make a good decision. Just make sure you have fun with it. These are just tools to help you capture your moments. Nothing more. Don’t let the hammer drive then hand that holds it. Learn whatever system you have. Learn it’s strengths, and utilize it’s weaknesses.
It finally happened. I have started to allow full prints of my photography. I didn’t think this day would happen since my subjects are my children. I intended to simply start doing landscapes, then I realized I don’t have a large enough collection to start doing just that. I also remembered that these photos have been seen millions of times anyways. So what does a few prints hurt. Not to mention they’re already in magazines across the world. So without further ado, go head on over to the prints shop and check out what I’ve made available. [UPDATE - Prints are no longer available commercially. If you’re interested in a particular image, please contact me individually through my contact page]
Also, I have updated the website a little bit. Added some polish, and changed some of the options. I originally made the website over a couple of days and it showed. This time I will be taking it slow. There are more additions heading to the site like a new payment method for the print shop, the gear section will be updated and in more detail, the print store will get updated with more options, I will probably add a couple of videos, I have plans to make my Lightroom Presets available for Photoshop, the home page will get some more information, and I’ll try to keep up with the blog a bit better. I also did some behind the scenes work for the website so it should be many times more reliable than it was before (ditched my old server for a cloud solution). It’s a bit more coding work on my end, but its worth it to be able to trust that my website is working properly. Oh, you thought I let web developers run my site? Ha! I’m far too big of a control freak to ever let that happen.
The Children’s book is still in the works. I’m stretching myself a bit further than I should be right now. Wife, two kids (and another due to arrive any day now), dental school, business, and such… that some of my projects have to take a bit longer than I want. I could probably have whipped something together over a month or two, but I felt like I wanted a deeper connection with it, so I’m letting certain things marinate a bit longer. I want quality, not just something I pieced together in the last minute for a quick buck. This book’s existence is primarily meant for my own children, and if other’s want it, then it’ll be available to them. There you have it, the main update! I hope you’re all doing well.
If you follow me on this site, Facebook, 500px, instagram, or one of many social media networks, you know that I am more known for my work with the photos of my two boys. They’re what really inspired me to get deep into photography. Especially my oldest son (but that’s another story). During that time I’ve developed my way into this niché in photography. I thoroughly enjoy it and will continue with it for as long as my children will let me. However, I have always had a fascination with landscapes and scenic images that can tell a story all on their own. I even vaguely explored other types of photography once or twice. Including a shot nearly identical to the image featured here.
Now that I’ve been able to become efficient at portrait photography, I’ve decided to venture into some other aspects of the art that have eluded me for the last year. That is why I went back to the home that really gave me an itch to do this. I wanted to stretch the legs of my new camera, while at the same time, recreate some of the magic of that I found when I took the original shot. I am hoping to explore new places and develop an even greater love for photography. It offers so much potential that I feel like I should not limit myself to a single niché.
I’m excited for this new venture. I almost feel like I’m making photography new again. The recently late Leonard Nimoy mentioned that when some people become well known for their particular type of art, they are welcomed with support but there can also be some resistance. I realize that I’m followed because everyone expects to see my adorable sons, though I rebranded myself last month for a reason. Because I plan on exploring several different avenues of not just photography, but artistic creation in general. I’m still cooking something else up that I’ll hopefully be releasing in the Fall that you might just appreciate.
Lightroom is an extremely powerful tool filled with just about everything a photographer needs to create an amazing portfolio. Not only is it powerful, but it’s fast, and can run on modest hardware. All of my photos have been edited on my 2012 Macbook Air. Most of my edits only take me five to ten minutes to get from a RAW file to a finished product. To top it all off, it has an elegant and powerful organization toolset. A lot of the beauty of Lightroom is its selection of photo centric tools placed under the Developer tab. I’m going to very briefly describe each major section that I focus on during my edits and what each of them do. This is a simplified article regarding what you can do with Lightroom. To watch some of this knowledge play out on screen I do offer editing videos where I use each of these tools mentioned to edit some of my photos.
First up, you have your histogram; a graphical representation of your image. From exposure information, to contrast and color casting. Within this box you can actually adjust your exposure, highlights, shadows, black and white points simply by dragging in their respective areas. The left side is the darker regions of your photo and the right is the lighter regions. You can also activate highlight and shadow clipping information on your photo by pressing on the arrows in the top left and right of the histogram box.
Next up is the Basic edits box. This can give general edits to the overall image. If you want to bump down highlights or restore shadow information on the overall photo, this is where you’ll do it. Essentially, this places those same controls of the histogram into individual sliders. If you want to bring out some details in your shadows, drag the slider up. If you’d like to darken up your image a bit, drag down your black points. You can also give a general addition of contrast with that slider. There are several controls for coloring. The temperature slider can balance out your white balance if you didn’t get it right in the shot. Or it can create warmer or cooler images if you want to drag them a little further. The tint slider goes a bit further to adjust your magenta/green spectrum of your photos. This can be used in conjunction with your temperature slider to create interesting color combinations. There is a clarity slider as well. This somewhat works like contrast on a micro level. This slider can be very helpful, but can also give you just enough rope to hang yourself with, especially regarding portraits.
If you’ll notice, just below the histogram box is a nice little toolset for more direct manipulation of your image’s settings. You have adjustment brushes, circular tool, gradient tool, spot healing brush, and a crop tool. Each of these can be very powerful. The first three tools mentioned can make similar adjustments that you can do in your basic box. These are how you make adjustments to skin, skies, eyes, and more. The spot healing brush isn’t as powerful as what photoshop users are used to, but it’s perfect for minor corrections. Then there is the crop tool. Didn’t get your composition quite right in camera? This is a way to help alleviate that.
Another way you can adjust your contrast, shadows, highlights and such is to make use of the tone curve. Just like your histogram your darks are on the left and lights areon the right. Moving them up/down from the default linear position will adjust the values on your photo. Some people even use this tool to help obtain a more film/matt like look in their photos. This can be done by maintaining the linear direction but by dragging the black points up and the white section down. This decreases contrast and flattens the images a bit.
Colors can be managed by the HSL/Color/B&W box. You can change the tones of some colors, de/saturate them, or even adjust the brightness of each color. Have a dominant color on your photo that you want toned down? Desaturate it a little and adjust its brightness. If B&W isyour thing, head on over to it’s tab and your image will automatically be adjusted for black and white. Once there, you can selectively adjust the the brightness of each color tone. This is important because black and white images tend to rely heavily on contrast.
Split toning is not something I use heavily. However, this tab can give color tones to your highlights and shadows. If you want to give your black and white photo a hint of color? This is a way to do that.
Now that your photo has been adjusted for contrast and color, you can bring out the details. This is very important when shooting RAW because the camera hasn’t applied any sharpening for you. Many people rave about PS’s high pass tool. You can achieve very similar results with this tab. The better your image file, the more you can push it. If you do portraits, you’ll want to use that masking slider as that will allow the sharpening be applied to areas of microcontrast rather than everywhere. This is key since pushing your sharpness too far can result in grain.
The Lens corrections area is great when you’re using glass that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. This is where you change distortion, chromatic aberrations, and many other aspects to what can go wrong during your shoot.
The last tab I’ll talk about is the Effects tab. Here is where you can correct for a vignette or even create one yourself. You can even add grain if you want to give it a grungier look. [dt_gap height=“10” /] Well there you have it! A brief synopsis of Lightroom and the tools I use to help make my photos what they are. I don’t use any presets and if you’d like to learn more about how I do this, my videos can be found at www.adriancmurray.com/videos/
To predicate this post I’d like to remind everyone that it isn’t the tools that make the art. Sometimes we get so caught up in gear that we forget that cameras are simply our paintbrushes and we are the ones that choose the final image through selection of light and composition. However, I receive many questions about cameras and lenses so I’m offering my opinion about my own gear here.
For awhile I’ve been posting on some photography groups in social media. Some people are surprised to discover that I’ve done all of my post processing work in Lightroom. Others are more surprised that I deliberately choose to steer clear from Photoshop as my weapon of choice. I actually subscribe to Adobe’s CC photography package so I do have both pieces of software. I even spent several years in graphic design where I heavily used photoshop for many designs. So it’s not that I am afraid of using Photoshop from a technical standpoint, or that I don’t have access to it. When I started in photography my focus was on learning what the camera was capable of. I wasn’t concerned with what I could do on my computer. I had been there. Done that. I knew that I could create entire worlds with software. What I wanted to do instead was capture the world I was living in; capture my kids discovering the magic of our mundane reality. Photoshop could help create some of the imaginary worlds that we see in films and dreams, but I felt like for my goal as a photographer Photoshop was the very definition of overkill. I had all the power I needed with a lens, a camera, and the lightweight champion, Lightroom. I also loved that I could get from a RAW photo to a finished result in a few very short minutes and I didn’t need a supercomputer to do it.
…Photoshop can do everything that Lightroom can do and so much more…
I’ve heard plenty of people try to convince me to use the industry standard by saying how Photoshop can do everything that Lightroom can do and so much more. I knew this. In fact, that’s the exact reason I stay away from it. When I opened up Lightroom I knew that I was editing with limitations. Having these limitations kept me grounded. What I was worried about with sitting in front of the “PS” logo was that I would start to abuse its power. That I would abandon the very core of my photography and embark on a journey to create worlds that might not exist. Because for most of us, the fantasy is far more fun than reality. Then I cheated. One day during my last vacation I went out and took some photos of my oldest son during sunset. I loved the golden light bouncing off the surrounding snow. However, there was one thing that really bothered me… There wasn’t any actual snow falling. I had missed the falling snow because I wanted to wait for the perfect light. That’s when I had opened Photoshop for the first time and played around with a couple of overlays including some from
. I had a little fun with it for the night and even posted the result on all of my social network pages.
However, by morning the whole experience made me feel cheap. I had just done what I had avoided for so long; I created a world that didn’t exist. I fabricated a memory. Now I’m sure a lot of you are saying right now, “so what? You added some snow! It was snowing just hours before you took the photo…” I get that perspective. But I got into photography because I wanted to capture my childrens’ imagination in reality. Not to design a new reality. If it were snowing when I took the photo, the light wouldn’t have been quite the same. My son wouldn’t have been as comfortable. The photo was a sham and I knew it. Even though I knew I didn’t love what I had just done I gave the falling snow another go around. I applied it to a photo that was more fantasy than reality. I had a concept in my head about King Arthur and had a sword at my disposal. The image was fine without photoshop but I figured, sure why not add in the snow again and add some more dynamics to the story. This time I didn’t have as much fun like I did the first time I added some falling snow. After that, I was done with augmenting my reality on my 13" laptop screen. I had reaffirmed that I was a photographer and not a digital artist. Now hold on just a second before you think I’m saying everyone who uses photoshop is cheating or isn’t a photographer. I’m not saying that one bit. In fact, some of my favorite photographers use the tool. Some use it heavily, some use it as if it were Lightroom. I have a very large amount of respect for these artists irrespective of what tools they use to create their final image. The reason I say I felt like I was cheating is because I wasn’t being true to myself as an artist when I used Photoshop. I will continue to avoid photoshop for any of my images and stay true to who I am as a photographer. Just like other photographers and artists will continue creating amazing work utilizing Photoshop. The question isn’t why I use Lightroom over Photoshop. What you really want to do is ask yourself what is at the core of your photography.
Every year it’s standard protocol for each of us to do something new; to change ourselves for the better. Since today marks the first day of 2015, I figured it was fitting for me to share my plans for the next 365 days. For the last few months I’ve been using a simple portfolio site provided by 500px and I’ve been quite happy with the designs they had available. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of expansion for their themes and I have decided to move on to some familiar territory, a blogging system. I have a lot of plans for this new site. For starters, I am going to offer training videos, give some tips on the blog, and perhaps even market a book that I may or may not be working on in what little spare time I have. The purpose of this site is for information. I am apart of many social media networks and groups and have noticed a clear consensus, people want more information. Therefore, it’s time that I offer some information and insights into my perspective in photography. I’ll be updating this site for the next little while.