The Taming of the Shoe
|The PC Sync connector|
- A99's Wireless Flash Delay
- A Zeiss Full-Frame Alternative
- Seminar Update
The Taming of the Shoe
Once upon a time there were cold shoes. Nobody called them that, but that’s what they were -- small brackets mounted onto the camera body onto which you could mount your flashbulb holder.
|The original Flash bracket holder,|
retroactively labeled the "cold shoe".
|Adding the circuitry to trigger the flash |
now made it a "hot shoe".
devised what is now known as the “Hot Shoe” (left). The metal rails on the bracket, coupled with the metal circle in the center, served to provide a replacement for the two wires in the PC Sync cord. Mind you, at this stage the only thing this provided for was to tell the flash when to fire – no other information was exchanged. The flash would always output a fixed amount of light, and it was up to the photographer to calculate the distance of the subject and use the appropriate f/stop to ensure proper illumination. This was often a time-consuming task for each and every shot.
|An auto Thyristor flash calculated |
proper flash exposure on its own.
|More automation meant more|
communication pins. Say goodbye
Here’s where things started to get proprietary, for a TTL flash for Nikon would not work on a Canon or a Minolta. Here’s also where things started to become unreliable, for if the flash was not mounted and secured just perfectly onto the hot shoe, a flash exposure error would almost certainly take place. (As a wedding photographer I saw this happen to more than one Nikon shooter - and during the days of film they had no idea it occurred until after the event.)
|Minolta's solution - much faster mount / |
unmount time, and fewer alignment failures.
When Sony bought Minolta, a flood of market research of non-Minolta/Sony shooters (the folks they were trying to court) told them to "dump the proprietary hot shoe". And you could tell that Sony wasn't a fan of this shoe either because as time went on (most notably in the NEX-7 and A65 cameras) they let their manufacturing tolerances slip, resulting in accessory flash wobble when attached. Between that and the flash exposure accuracy problems of the A77, A65, and NEX-7, clearly Sony's attention was elsewhere.
It turns out they had bigger problems to solve. Sony's various camera divisions were all converging (still cameras could do video, video cameras could do stills), yet there were three distinctly different accessory shoes in use: The Alpha one inherited from Minolta, the "Smart Accessory Terminal" (hastily designed for the NEX), and the Active Interface Shoe used for the handycams (below). Is there a way to standardize on an accessory interface and still provide new capabilities to all future cameras?
|Handycam Active Interface Shoe|
|The new "Multi-Function|
Accessory Shoe" tries to
meet all needs across all
|These pins, while stiff, look |
vulnerable and I'm not looking
forward to having to
pamper my equipment.
Do I like the new design? Not especially. It now takes more time to mount / unmount a flash, and I no longer feel comfortable just throwing the unmounted flash into my camera bag (like I used to when I was a high-pressure wedding photographer) for fear of those little unprotected pins getting bent. Time will tell just how susceptible these are to damage, but I'll tell you now I'm not looking forward to having to pamper my accessories. (Preemptive strike: No, I don't use lens caps, either. They slow me down.)
Wireless Flash Delay
I'm still getting used to my new A99, which offers the best image quality of any camera I've ever owned at any ISO. I'm overjoyed that the dreaded flash exposure accuracy problem which plagued the A77, A65, and NEX-7 (which went unacknowledged by Sony) has gone away, but it has been replaced with a lesser problem that for me is just a pain: The wireless flash feature has an inexplicably long delay. (The NEX-7 had this too, but I never expected this camera to be as responsive as a high-end shooter.) Is this important? It is for me, but then again most people don't use wireless flash to shoot kids the way I do. Here's a quick video clearly demonstrating the artifact so you can decide for yourself:
I highlight these problems with a bit of trepidation, since as an engineer I understand just how insanely complex these cameras have become, and I have to acknowledge that Sony got the really hard things right. (It's just frustrating that they can't seem to re-implement a 30-year-old technology properly.) The camera also has a flash sync speed of 1/200th of a second when using the PC Sync cord or anything other than a Sony or Minolta accessory flash (the advertised speed is 1/250th of a second.)
Emphasizing these small problems might send the wrong message regarding all the unique positive things this camera has to offer. (So to balance things out, let me state up front that there's no oil drops on the sensor! :-) )
A Zeiss Full-Frame Alternative
For those of you concerned about the cost and the 2-pound weight of the "Standard" Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8 lens for your full-frame camera, consider this alternative: Konica Minolta once made a 28-75 f/2.8 constant aperture zoom lens that is 98% of the Zeiss optical quality at about half the weight and one-fifth the price. Pretty good trade-off if you asked me. (There are Sony and Tamron versions too which are more expensive but still great optical performers. Kurt Munger seems to favor the Tamron version.)
Surely you've heard about the seminars by now! (If not: http://FriedmanArchives.com/seminars) They seem to leave an impression on all who attend - even those who have attended other seminars in the past. Here's what's on the calendar for 2013 (exact dates still to be determined):
- Singapore will occur in March (tentatively March 23-24)
- Seattle and British Columbia (no, I'm not sure where yet) in June
- Australia (Brisbane and either Sydney or Melbourne) and Rotorua, New Zealand in October
Next month I'm going to share with you what I've learned about the new frontier of making e-books for the various e-readers (It's not for the faint of heart, and there are NO good tools out there to aid the poor author who doesn't have a background in programming!) (It was a pain even for me, and I used to program for a living!)
I'll also have status updates on the upcoming e-books for the Alpha 99 and NEX-5R and NEX-6. Stay tuned!
You didn't think I'd get in a blog post without mentioning Cameracraft Magazine, did you? :-) http://friedmanarchives.com/cameracraft