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Finally, Properly Fast Shutter Sync Speed is a Thing Again

With today’s announcement of the Sony Alpha 1, we saw an important camera capability moved to the forefront of the announcement: shutter sync speed.

While it is often a detail that some photographers have to dive into press releases and spec sheets for – and ultimately be disappointed by – it is an absolutely crucial spec for an advertising photographer. With clients that expect nothing less than a completely sharp frame without any degradation from “fake” high-speed sync, this is also a camera spec that can’t be cheated.

Sony has done the right thing in giving the Alpha 1 a 1/400 second shutter sync speed.

However, as with all marketing, there are some things that must be put into context. The first of which is to ask us what our industry’s history on this detail has been. For those that have been shooting digital since the big two (Nikon and Canon) had entered the game, you will remember that both the Nikon D1 and Canon 1D had shutter sync speeds of 1/500 second.

No, there is definitely a caveat that Sony has used to qualify the new Alpha 1 as the “fastest in 40 years” as the company said in its live stream video announcement. The 1D and D1 (yes, it is hard to type these model names back to back) both were cropped sensors, as both predated real full-frame 35mm digital cameras.

So yes, it is the fastest in some time because it matches the 1D and D1 once the playing field is leveled (in APS-C crop the Alpha 1 shutter sync speed increases to 1/500 second). Still, marketing aside, I hope its inclusion in the Alpha 1 is an indication of us returning to a place that actually started strong and was left to languish unattended for far too long.

The camera that some advertising shooters turned to in recent years for this area was actually the Panasonic S1R, which brought the flash sync speed up to 1/320 second (less than half a stop from the Alpha 1). I actually bought one for a shoot (ironically a Tokyo Olympics ad campaign) specifically for this reason. While it served its purpose, I found that the approach towards creating stills with the system a bit disruptive and let go of the camera after using it for only a day. While its speed was a subtle improvement from the 1/250th that was pretty much the industry standard then and now, it was too marginal in increased capabilities to warrant the other downsides I found with the platform.

This brings us to where the paths of advertising photographers fork: medium format.

While super high megapixel cameras are an aspect of high-end advertising productions, the sync speeds of Hasselblad and Phase One cameras are often equal in importance to resolution – or even more important – for photographers shooting moving subjects. Hasselblad’s H6D and X series cameras have a 1/2000 second flash sync speed, and the Phase One XF has a 1/1600 second flash sync speed (the reason I have left out the Fujifilm medium format cameras from this is because they actually have a very low 1/125 second shutter sync speed). Such speeds freeze the most minute actions when paired with the right lights. However, the cost of the systems can be a bit intimidating, so seeing higher flash sync speeds in cameras not equipped with a leaf shutter should always be praised. The Alpha 1 is not cheap, but it’s not reaching nearly the upper echelon of medium format either.

This all brings us to the question of how fast of flash sync speed do you need?

The answer is complex, but in short: as fast as feasibly possible if you are shooting outdoor action advertising campaigns. Right now, there is a strong argument for shooting what you currently have, as the high-end advertising industry is currently on hold due to the pandemic. In time things will return, and when it does the question becomes “is the jump from 1/250 second to 1/400 second worth a system change?”

On its own, probably not. But for many professional photographers, the choice to increase shutter sync speeds back to their former glory is absolutely a move in the right direction and one that has been requested for years.


About the author: Blair Bunting is an advertising photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. You can see more of his work on his website, blog, Facebook, and Instagram.

All photos by Blair Bunting and were specifically chosen for their reliance on fast shutter sync speeds.

The Sony Alpha 1 is the Most ‘Pro’ Camera of the Mirrorless Age

The Sony Alpha 1 is undoubtedly impressive. It’s the culmination of years of technology advancements across multiple camera lines that have converged into a single, outrageously powerful capture device. It also is a return to the idea that the best camera a company can make is not for the masses.

Time was, the most advanced camera that a company could develop was not one that would be for everyone. Back in the DSLR age, the Canon 1D and Nikon D1 (and other single-digit D series cameras) lines were cameras that showed the most of what could be done in technology to support the most high-end, discerning, working pros. And for the most part, that meant sports, wildlife photographers, journalists, and some studio photographers who preferred the larger, boxier form factor. That also meant at the same time that they were not the cameras for many professional photographers.

In the case of Canon, that’s what the 5D series was for. It filled that gap.

You probably didn’t need these cameras either: They weren’t made for you.

These top tier devices were so capable that their prices would be well beyond the average person and even many professional shooters. It wasn’t unheard of to expect to pay between $6,000 and $10,000 for one of these cameras. That was the norm. And that was ok because what those cameras excelled at were not made for nearly anyone. The average photographer did not need 10+ frames per second and robust weather sealing of those DSLRs, for example (and arguably most still do not).

However, as the market has gotten more compressed and the only camera segment that has remained somewhat constant is that of the higher-end, interchangeable lens body, manufacturers making mirrorless bodies have generally shied away from blowing the doors off the high-price cameras in lieu of trying to maintain or even increase sales volume.

While most standalone camera sales have collapsed, the interchangeable lens market, driven by pro-level bodies, has steadied. via Statista.com

Mirrorless cameras are the only cameras that can achieve decently high volume and also a higher average price. Naturally, this is what a company looking out for its bottom line is going to want to target.

While the Sony a9 and a9 II both touch on the idea of a pro-level mirrorless, the Alpha 1 is the first mirrorless camera to truly stand apart: this is a professional’s camera and not even a camera for most professionals. It is as niche as niche can be, and most who watched the live stream today won’t purchase it because they have absolutely no need for what it can do.

Two years ago, advertising photographer Blair Bunting wrote a contentious article asking why cameras weren’t more expensive. It ended with this paragraph:

What wonders could be bestowed upon us if we were willing to pay for the technological creativity that would improve our creativity as we know it? We who call ourselves true professionals should demand true professional cameras with all the bells and whistles. Using prosumer equipment may work for vloggers and Instagram “influencers,” where less resolution is needed (and may actually be beneficial). However, isn’t it time we saw a flagship platform that elevated the art, inspired us, and opened our eyes the way that the legends of the past once did?

Many in the comments understandably took offense to what he says here. However, Sony has done just what Bunting asked for. The company has made that truly professional camera with all the bells and whistles that would actually hurt the productivity of many vloggers and influencers and even many working professionals because it’s just too much camera. It might hurt to hear it, but this isn’t a camera for the majority of us.

The Sony Alpha 1 is a return to a true “pyramid” structure of devices. At the very top is the premium, most expensive, most powerful device a company can make that really only a few thousand people around the world have any need for. Below that is the a7R IV and the a9 II: cameras that are incredible in what they can achieve and still outperform much of what many successful photographers will need. Below that, the a7 III and the a7c, and so on down the pyramid.

The Alpha 1 is designed to show us the absolute best so that consumers have faith in a brand, and who will seek the product further down the pyramid that is best suited to them. It really makes no sense to sell the top of the line camera to the masses like Canon and Nikon currently do, so I fully expect both of them to come out with mirrorless cameras that exceed what the EOS R5 and the Z7 II both do. If we don’t have a camera like the Alpha 1, we don’t get to see what else is possible. The next great innovation from Canon or Nikon only comes because each of these companies keep pushing each other. We got the Sony Alpha 1 because the EOS R5 exists, and so on, and so forth.

So for those who are complaining that the Sony Alpha 1 is too expensive, I’m sorry: it’s not. It’s priced exactly where it has to be, and if you think that’s too much to ask, then it isn’t for you.

And that’s ok.

This Mirror Lens Filter Lets Models See Their Own Poses

Inexperienced models often struggle in front of the camera because they lack insight into their own appearance. While we all can look our best in front of a mirror, it’s because we can see ourselves. This filter aims to bring that ease of posing to photography.

While also valuable to vloggers, the Reflective Filter looks to be especially helpful for anyone who is unsure of themselves in front of the camera. “Inexperienced models” can be anyone from brane new fashion models looking to start a career or just anyone who is having their photo taken for marketing a business. Companies with a focus on testimonial-style imagery and videos struggle with looking natural on camera because of insecurities involved with their poses and expressions.

Claiming to be the world’s first, patented, mirror camera filter, the Reflective Filter is designed to make being in front of the camera much less nerve-wracking. Co-founder of Excelence Brilliance Indesign (EBI), the company behind the filter, Omar Hammouda says he began as a portrait photographer and videographer and through his experiences of working with “countless” models and influencers as well as his personal experience of trying to vlog, he realized that he needed a real way to make eye contact with the lens.

He says that this product is aimed at vloggers, models, influencers, and small business owners who might not have the confidence to give their best look to the camera either due to inexperience, or they might simply prefer to see themselves when shooting. For those who shoot video of themselves, most rely on a monitor off-camera for positioning aid, but when recording you can’t look at that monitor because it breaks eye contact with the audience. So while a monitor is great for setting up a shot, the confidence-boost that you can get by, essentially, the ability to talk to yourself is lost.

The design is simple: it’s a one-way mirror reflector that also doubles as a polarizing filter. Just like any other filter, it screws on to the front of your lens to immediately turn it into a mirror for your subject supposedly without changing image quality for the photographer. EBI claims there is no image quality loss to images captured with the filter.

The Reflective Filter appears to only be available at launch in the 82mm size, but at least starting that large allows it to be attached to many lenses thanks to widely-available step-down filter threads. The filters cost $50 each as part of the Kickstarter campaign, but EBI plans to retail the finished product for $150. The company expects to ship the filter to backers by June of 2021.

Always remember: Kickstarter is not a pre-order platform. Do your research and back with caution.

In Praise of Inexpensive Lenses

When I was a semi-professional 4×5 landscape photographer I often spent a half-hour shooting a single sheet of film and several hours enlarging it to the best of my ability. I sought the sharpest possible result. And now in the digital age, I still pursue sharp images.

Phillip Reeve writes on his website that he has two hobbies, photography and photographic equipment and they rarely intersect. I too enjoy both creating photos and testing lenses. The two hobbies are different.

My second hobby has led me to discover that lightweight inexpensive lenses perform well at the smaller apertures that I usually choose for depth of field.

I enjoy taking my Sony a6400 along on daily walks and often take the smallest zoom lens available, the 16-50mm. It weighs only 117 grams and is very flat. Photo writers often recommend that you ditch this cheap “kit lens” and replace it with a “real lens”. But in my tests, it matched my best 35mm Zeiss prime at f/5.6 and smaller apertures.

Sony a6400 with 16-50 kit zoom extended.

Zooms and Primes

When zoom lenses first became common, I thought they weren’t good enough and only used primes. But with time zooms improved and I learned that they often match or even exceed the sharpness of primes, especially at small apertures and with a bit of sharpening in edit.

At large apertures, cheap lenses are reasonably sharp on center. It’s off-center where they may be soft. But when I do use large apertures, I want blur off-center to highlight the central “star” of the shot. Of course, composition goals might dictate placing the “star” off-center, but I shoot it on center, where lenses are best, and crop for composition.

Isolated “star” subject
Another isolated subject

Quantitative Testing

I love imatest test results. When first investigating a lens, I Google “lens-name, imatest”. I find that a good starting point. But if lens “A” has imatest result of 2,000 lines and lens “B” tested at 3,000 lines, how do I relate that to my photos? To answer that I seek test pics. Cameralabs and Phillip Reeve offer test pics on and off-center at all apertures. Also, I often shoot my own tests.

Shot with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS at f/11.

My favorite test subject is a sloped shingled roof. As Lensrentals founder Roger Cicala teaches, an oblique shot shows sharpness and field curvature. He also teaches that field curvature is rarely a problem. More about that later. Roger likes to shoot grass and that works, I’ve come to like shingled roofs.

All roof shots except “composition shingles” were made with Sony a6400 and 16-50mm kit zoom.

The test roof
Composition shingles

Sharp lenses capture the grainy quality of the crushed rock on composition shingles. Wood shingles are good too. Another advantage of an oblique subject is that if you miss perfect focus, it’s probably there, a bit higher or lower in your frame.

Recently I shot this roof with several 35mm primes and zooms at all their apertures. I examined the sides of the image to determine at what apertures the sides reach their best sharpness. This was f/5.6 to f/8 for most good lenses and every lens I tested had sharp sides at f/11. My cheap 16-50 “kit lens” surprised me by achieving sharp sides at f/5.6 and smaller when slightly sharpened. That’s excellent.

Crops of test roof. Color shift is present in the entire roof image above

Center crop (left), right side (center), and right side sharpened (right).

My Zeiss ZA 35mm f/2.8 had sharp sides wide open. When I saw this, I was amazed and delighted. But then I realized that even though this lens has sharp sides wide open, I would usually stop down to f/11 or f/16 for depth of field. And on the occasions when I did use large apertures, I would want soft sides. So the outstanding performance of this lens was of little advantage over lesser lenses.

Shot with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS at f/11.
Shot with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS at f/11.
Shot with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS at f/11.

Why I Don’t Fret About Field Curvature

I usually want depth of focus and use small apertures where field curvature disappears. And if I’m using larger apertures, that is to isolate the central “star” of the shot and I want blur off-center.

Shot with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS at f/11.
Shot with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS at f/11.
Shot with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS at f/11.

A “Good Lens”

The widely accepted definition of a good lens is one that’s sharp over the entire frame at a wide aperture. The ZA 35 mentioned above would be considered “very good” because it achieves that wide open. But I’m happy as long as my lens is sharp over the entire frame at least by f/11. To date, every lens I’ve tested meets that. And because I like light weight, I often walk around with my cheap lenses, which are my lightest.


About the author: Alan Adler lives in Los Altos, California. He has been an avid photographer for 60 years. He is also a well-known inventor with about 40 patents. His best-known inventions are the Aerobie flying ring and the AeroPress coffee maker.

Mystery: Different Canon RF 100-500mm Lenses Similarly Cracking

Roger Cicala of Lensrentals noticed that multiple copies of the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 returned to the warehouse with the same visible crack in an internal element. Why it kept happening was a mystery.

Cicalas initial assumption was that it had to do with Canon’s change in the optical stabilization system, which no longer locks down like it did in previous lenses. If you shook an older EF lens, it doesn’t rattle. This new lens, however, does rattle. Since Lensrentals ships its products very well protected, Cicala guessed that the free-moving parts were somehow banging together in shipping which is what would cause the same type of crack to keep occurring.

“In every case, when we looked through the lens, the crack moved when we shook the lens,” he writes on the Lensrentals blog. “So, I assumed the cracks were in the IS unit since it moves when you shake the lens.”

A real head-scratcher, Cicala and concluded the only way to figure out why the crack kept appearing was to tear the lens down. As he broke the lens down into smaller and smaller parts, the element was still not revealing itself. Even when he got the inner area of the focusing array out, the element was still buried deep in the barrel.

“The cracked element is obviously within this assembly but we still can’t be certain which element it is, other than it’s neither the frontmost nor the rearmost,” he writes.

“I suspect that this entire assembly is a single part in the part catalog; that the repair center just replaces it as one piece if anything breaks in there. But we want to know what broke and perhaps find out why it broke, so we’re going to take this a bit further than the usual disassembly.”

After further disassembling the pieces, Cicala was able to finally ascertain which element experienced the crack.

“Finally, we can see that the cracked element is the one right behind the aperture assembly. That’s a thin singlet that we can tell by moving the front focusing motor manually is also the forward focusing element,” he says “There’s no possibility that this element could physically contact the one we just removed. The aperture assembly separates them and the aperture is soft and flexible, so that couldn’t have caused damage.”

After even further teardowns, Cicala was stumped: there was no way that element physically came in contact with any other piece. What he learned for certain was that the free-moving design of the optical image stabilization system was not responsible for the crack.

“We did carefully check the movement of each element in the inner barrel with the focus motors off, etc. and there is no possibility this element impacts any other element. There doesn’t seem to be any hard stop in its travel that could cause a shock with movement,” he writes.

“So why did several of these crack during shipping? I have no idea,” he admits. “My first thought, given that it’s winter, was perhaps temperature shock, moving from sub-zero trucks to warm indoors or something. But I’ve asked several people more knowledgeable than I and none think that’s a possibility. The ones that cracked are all early copies from a similar serial number range, perhaps there were some flawed elements early on.”

The sheer volume of products that Lensrentals moves gives Cicala an unusual position of seeing many examples of any given camera and lens, including outlying issues like this one.

Lensrentals has provided Canon all the data that was discovered as part of this teardown, and the company has assigned a team to look into the issue. Perhaps eventually the real culprit behind the crack will be revealed, but for now it remains a mystery.

To see the full detailed teardown, check out the full blog post on Lensrentals.com.

Apple is Adding the SD Card Reader Back in Upcoming MacBook Pro: Report

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman is a well-respected journalist who has a very strong record when it comes to rumors, and his latest promises the return of a port that photographers have been yearning to see: the SD card slot is coming back to the MacBook Pro.

While Gurman’s latest report focuses on a lighter and thinner design for the MacBook Air (which will also include MagSafe in a total reboot of the line), for photographers he buried the leade: the real news is the return of the SD card port on the upcoming 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros.

Gurman refers to the upcoming models as the “fix everything” edition, which will see the removal of the maligned TouchBar and the reintroduction of both MagSafe and an SD card port.

As mentioned, the report also notes that the MacBook Air is getting a redesign to get even lighter and thinner, although to what degree is not mentioned. Gurman mentions that these changes will not replace the current MacBook Air that was just announced but exist as a more premium alternative. He also mentions that these new MacBook Airs will likely come after the release of the new MacBook Pros, and could arrive as late as 2022.

In his previous set of rumors, Gurman also reported that Apple would be releasing a more compact version of its Mac Pro as well as a more affordable version of its Pro XDR Display. On top of that, the iMac is finally getting a much-needed redesign.

Photo by Maxim Hopman

It appears that along with moving towards getting its own in-house silicon inside its devices, Apple is using this opportunity to revamp its entire computer lineup. This kind of “fix everything” approach combined with how well the latest devices run thanks to Apple Silicon is likely going to make Apple’s computers all the more desirable. If these rumors come to fruition, not only will Apple have a host of devices that are powerful enough to appease creative professionals, they will also have the kind of hardware features that photographers and videographers demand.


Image Credits: Header image by blocks.

Comparing the Sony a7R Camera Line’s Different Shutter Sounds

The unique click of one camera’s shutter can be fun to compare against one another. In a series of short videos posted by Map Camera, you can listen to the slightly different sounds of the shutters from Sony’s a7R line.

PetaPixel has featured numerous videos highlighting the different sounds shutters can make, like this one that compares a variety of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, to one that lets you hear different classic analog camera shutters, to this video that highlights 37 different shutter sounds in three and a half minutes.

But it’s less common to see a comparison of the same camera model across generations.

The original a7R, which debuted in October of 2013, can be heard below:

The a7R II made its debut in August of 2015, two years after the release of the a7R. It was characterized most notably by its 42-megapixel sensor and 399 on-sensor phase-detection points which dramatically improved the autofocus capability of the camera. You can listen to its shutter below:

The a7R III came to market two years after the a7R II in October of 2017. While it maintained the 42-megapixel resolution, Sony added more autofocus points and further improved autofocus performance. Probably most notably, however, was the boost to battery life and the addition of a second SD card slot. Listen to its shutter below:

Continuing with its two-year release schedule, Sony debuted the a7R IV in July of 2019. This latest iteration added more autofocus points and pushed the resolution up to 61 megapixels. Still, the a7R III was still considered to be an excellent camera and while the a7R IV did make notable improvements, many saw Sony’s latest high-resolution mirrorless as more incremental than revolutionary. Listen to its shutter below:

Despite the four cameras sharing the same “R” designation, and Sony never mentioning changing the shutter mechanism itself, do you think you can hear a difference in sound with each model? Let us know in the comments.

(via Sony Alpha Rumors)

The Red TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 ‘Year of the Ox’ Lens is Gorgeous

TTArtisan has unveiled a limited edition version of its 50mm f/0.96 lens for Leica M-Mount cameras that features a striking red finish to celebrate the Year of the Ox according to the Chinese Zodiac.

The company already had two variants of the lens, silver and black, but the red version is limited to 500 pieces worldwide and features a unique engraved lens cap.

For those who are fans of the color red (or born in other Ox years like 1961, 1973 1985, 1997, or 2009), this lens would look great on any Leica M-Mount camera.

Looking at the actual specifications of the lens, it’s a wide-aperture normal-focal-length prime that features one large-diameter, double-sided aspherical element, and eight high refractive index elements that TTArtisans says suppress distortion and spherical aberration. The result is supposedly a more accurately rendered image with a high degree of sharpness.

It also features two extra-low dispersion elements that reduce color fringing and chromatic aberrations. The 50mm f/0.95 is also equipped with a 14-bladed diaphragm for smooth defocused areas.

Both the black and silver iterations of the lens cost $755, but the Year of the Ox Limited Edition is going to cost you just a little bit more: $899. It is available from the TTArtisans online store while supplies last.

(via Imaging Resource)

Get a Closer Look at 400MP Photos Captured with the Fujifilm GFX100

Last year Fufjilm announced a firmware update that would bring pixel-shift multi-shot to the GFX100, allowing it to jump from 100-megapixel photos to capturing whopping 400-megapixel photos. In this 12-minute video, ZY Productions shows exactly what that looks like.

Thanks to the firmware update, the GFX100 can now capture images with a final dimension of 23,296 by 17,472 pixels, which is about 407 megapixels. While that’s really impressive, there is a downside to using the feature: the camera can’t move.

Just like with any pixel shift method from any manufacturer offering it (Sony and Panasonic both come to mind), the camera is making the larger image by combining multiple photo captures that are taken and combined in-camera. Because it’s shifting the pixels slightly between each of those captures and overlaps the pixels with each other, the resulting image isn’t just larger: it’s higher quality as well.

Curious if that was visible, ZY filmed the process with the sensor exposed. Unsurprisingly, the shift is not visible. This is because the microscopic shifts are happening at a sub-pixel level and that’s just too small of a change to see it with the naked eye.

The video above goes into much more detail on this matter, but suffice it to say that any movement at all either by the camera or the subject will result in a blurry image. That means the only subjects that are a viable use of the tech are those in a fully-controlled studio setting.

ZY uploaded the full resolution images he captured for this video for anyone to download here. Below are three images he shared followed by a 100% crop to show how much resolution a photo has.

In his video, ZY zooms in even further so that you can really see how insane the amount of resolution is. To get to the point where the individual pixels are visible, you have to zoom in to an incredibly small section of the image.

As he explains, the primary purpose of this technology is for cataloging art. This much detail is not really useful to most photographers, but for the sake of artistic historical backup or examination, the more data you have to work with, the better.

For more from ZY Productions, make sure you subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

(via Fstoppers)