Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Sony 135 f/2.8 STF on Sony A99

A couple of months ago we rented a couple of lenses for an assignment in Napa Valley: along the Zeiss 16-35 f/2.8 to be used for indoors, I also rented a copy of the Sony 135 f/2.8 STF, pushed more by curiosity than actual need. This is a unique and daunting lens at first sight, it's big, built like a tank and it doesn't autofocus: the apodisation element that renders the silky-smooth bokeh it is so well known for prevents the phase-detection sensors from doing their work, forcing to go all manual. Having myself never engaged in the dark arts of manual focusing and always relied on the magic of the AF module for pretty much everything, I was preparing to stare at countless out of focus shots mercilessly heading to the electronic bin.

How wrong I was.

Wine barrels in Napa Valley

The bokeh is obviously delicious, smooth, silky, insert your drooling word here, but coupled with the A99 EVF and focus peaking the lens is also a joy to use: the apodisation element doesn't prevent the A99 from recognizing and highlighting edges that are in focus, since the algorithm runs in image space, based on the data captured by the main sensor. Focusing is a matter of rotating the very smooth focus ring until the portion of the frame you want to focus on is highlighted and snap away, knowing the result will be very, very, sharp where it is intended to. The color rendition is also superb: the image above has been barely touched in post (click for a larger view) just to remove small imperfections: a fantastic concerted effort by the camera/lens combo.

Back to focusing, the keeper rate was extremely high through the entire weekend both with static (easy) and moving objects.
Here's a shot of +Lina Mosashvili fooling around in a mustard field: I asked her to not stand still to practicing my focusing technique, especially with the 135 STF for this review. The separation between subject, foreground and background this lens can achieve is just godly.

Girl in a mustard field in Napa

From the same mustard field, here's an image I was very happy to include in my stock portfolio: yes, it's just a flower, but that bokeh...

Mustard flower in Napa
I can't wait to rent the Sony 135 STF again and try it out on more portraits and, why not, food photography.

The STF has also a dedicated aperture ring that controls a secondary aperture with ten blades that can be steplessly set between T/4.5 and T/6.7: it can be used to tweak the amount of light transmitted and the depth of field. When the dedicated aperture ring is set to A, the primary aperture is controlled by the camera. The system is rather confusing, but once wrapped your head around it, it allows for some very fine control. I simply left it at T/4.5 and rolled with it. This lens is meant to be used wide open anyway.

The APD element is not only unmatched bokeh, but it also decreases light transmission by about 1.5 stops that might rather soon force to increase ISO when not shooting in bright conditions: that is why the 135 STF is marked as T/4.5 which means that the light transmitted when, for example, the lens is at maximum aperture is the same as the light transmitted by an equivalent lens stepped down to f/4.5. In other words: this is not a bright lens.
On the other hand, the A99 doesn't suffer much from pumping up ISO, which reinforces the idea that the Sony 135 STF and the A99 are a match made in heaven by the Gods of Photography for us mere mortals: get one, go out and shoot.

Thumbs up:
  - Fantastic bokeh
   - Very, very, very sharp
   - Built like a tank

Thumbs down:
  - Manual focus only (is it really a problem now?)
  - Hefty price tag for a very specialized lens
  - Not a fast lens

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Heidelberg Red Castle

Heidelberg red castle
Sony A900, 135mm, f/8, 30s

Despite battles and wars and destruction surrounding the history of Heidelberg Castle since it was first built in the thirteenth century, a lot of romance is connected to it: in the seventeenth century the newly-wed Prince Frederic V welcomed his young wife, English princess Elizabeth Stuart, to Heidelberg with splendid colors and fireworks. Since that day the Heidelberg Castle is illuminated four times a year, which draws a multitude of tourists (and photographers) to the show every summer.

The gardens around it also witnessed the last meeting between Goethe, on the occasion of his 75th birthday, and his life-long lover, Marianne, who left these words reflecting on the event:

"On the terrace a high vaulted arch
was once your coming and going
the code pulled from the beloved hand
I found her not, she is no longer to be seen"

This is also where +Lina Mosashvili and I spent our first day together more than three years ago, few weeks after I took this image.

I was standing on the other side of the river, but I still wanted to fill the frame with the castle and have a nice black framing around it. I shot at 135mm to close up on the ruins but still keep the purple smoke in the frame. By closing to f/8 to have good sharpness from the lens, the camera gave me 30 seconds of exposure which nicely blurred the smoke. Later I cloned out every distracting element, like the tip of the bridge that was obstructing the lower right part of the image.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Halekala, the House built by the Sun

Haleakala Volcano in Maui
Sony A900, 50mm, f/11, 1/20s

On the peak of the Haleakala mountain in Maui, the Space Observation Centre is today borrowing the House built by the Sun, according to the Hawaiian tradition, and enjoying every day a spectacular sunset above the clouds. Two islands on the right in the middle of the ocean are also quietly taking part in the show. Again according to the legend, Māui's grandmother helped his grandson capture the sun and force it to slow its journey across the sky in order to lengthen the day. The day was very long indeed for us while climbing, by car of course, the twenty five miles of a very windy, winding and scenic road that took up to the 3000m on the top of the volcano. The Space Observation Centre is unique for its position that gives some of the clearest viewing conditions in the world. Sadly the Centre wasn't open to the public: don't think we didn't try.

We waited the for the sun to set completely to avoid flares, reduce the dynamic range of the scene, and to maximize the contrast in the beautiful cloudscape. To achieve the vast panoramic vista that we had in mind and include both the building on the left and the islands on the right, but still have plenty of details on the Observation Centre and the impressive clouds, we shot five images with a 50mm lens using a sturdy tripod and panning left to right, that we later stitched together in Photoshop to achieve the final panorama. The mountain at the bottom left and the clouds at the upper right form roughly two trapezoids that frame the scene in the middle to focus the attention on the clouds and the ocean beneath us. The final size of the image is more than 50mpx.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cornwall sunset

Cornwall sunset

Newquay, Cornwall, UK. 
This image was just an intuition of a typical sunset in Cornwall when shot initially, one of those instances where the vision is not quite clear at the beginning, but it forms itself over time, in this case in the arc of a couple of years. The sunset was there, the beautiful setting on the coast of Cornwall, in England, was giving the subject, and the wide dynamic range of the sensor was used to capture as much information as possible by exposing to the right without clipping the highlights. The vision wasn’t quite there during the first editing though, but by looking repeatedly at the image for months, after more than a year, it started shaping itself: by giving more emphasis to the brooding stormy sky in post processing, and by underlining the wave coming into the opening in the rocks on the right, the image came to life. It now shows better what you might feel when witnessing the power of the Atlantic ocean.

The image was taken hand-held with the aperture set close enough to get good depth of field, but still being able to hold the camera still at around 1/25s: the steady-shot technology delivered a sharp image across the frame. The relatively slow shutter speed also gives a nice feeling of movement in the crashing waves. In post processing we increased contrast and saturation in the sky while reducing brightness to bring the dynamic range in check and enforce the stormy feeling that was so present in the original scene.

Sony A900, 24mm, f/7.1, 1/25s, +1EV

Welcome to our blog!

Francesco Emanuele Carucci photography
We are lucky enough to live in and travel for our photography to some of the world’s most picturesque and interesting places like Californian coast of the Pacific Ocean, volcanic peaks of the Hawaii islands, endless waterfalls of Iceland, breathtaking San Francisco with its “ups and downs”, good old Italy with antique cityscapes and “pregnant” vineyards. Through our photography blog we would like to share with you our experience of these places and transfer what we felt while looking at the stunning views that are captured in our images.

In many remote places we have visited we were held in surprise by the human presence we discovered.  In the era when human intervention in nature often leads to negative consequences, we have found a number of places where it blends into it, complies with its rules and even guards it. The equilibrium between the two, nature and humans, is a shared theme of our photography and is represented by images like “The House Built by the Sun” featuring an observatory peacefully nested on top of the Haleakala volcano in Maui; or “Hohenschwangau Castle” planted in the Bavarian Alps harmonizing with the overall landscape rather than disrupting it; or “Fishing in Maui” where two fishermen pull their nets in silent agreement as the calm Ocean sings a lullaby to the sleepy nature…

As we strive to convey the feelings, photography to us is a fusion of art and technology with both of them being equally important for a great image. That is why we do out best to be artistically evocative as well as technically brilliant! We achieve this ever moving goal by constantly upgrading our photography equipment to the latest technology, improving the tools and techniques, and taking extra care while editing the images during post processing. On the blog we also share the knowledge that we gather during this never ending learning process and hope that you join us in our journey!