Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Baseball with RBS (Really Bad Shadows)

Also in this issue:
  • The Future of Sony's A-mount
  • Announcements
  • Day 2 of the Seminar is now available for streaming!
Baseball with RBS (Really Bad Shadows)

In the states, there is a special kind of baseball game called T-ball which caters to 4-year-olds.  Rather than having to hit a ball that is pitched to them, the baseball sits stationary on a stand (a “T”) and the kids swing the bat to hit it.

T-ball tournaments are all the rage here, but this month I witnessed what I think is pretty extraordinary.  At the end of the season there was a “World Series” playoff, and a whole team of T-ball players from Taiwan flew in to participate!

That’s right – a whole bunch of rich parents paid gobs of money to give their kids an international travel experience that they are very likely too young to appreciate.  I had the honor of shooting one of the games in this historic playoff.

To get these shots, I wanted as much of a classic fuzzy background as I could get, so I used my 80-200 f/2.8 and an A77 II set to “A”perture Priority mode at f/2.8.  Being a bright day, the camera naturally chose a fast shutter speed, appropos for sports.

Now in sports photography, you’re not in control of much.  Not your light, not the players, not the action.  And I was particularly hampered by the adult-sized hats that the players were wearing, casting giant shadows over their faces that looked dark to my eye and came out entirely too dark to the camera (which doesn’t have as much dynamic range as my eye).  If I was close I could use fill-flash, but if I wasn't...

Most of you are probably thinking “The shadow problem could be minimized if you shoot RAW and pull out the detail from the shadows later on”.  Which is true.  But it turns out RAW isn’t necessary here.  I daringly shot 2,000 pictures in .jpg only on “Standard” quality (hey, it’s a T-ball game!).

So could I squeeze great pictures out of jpgs that you've always been told couldn't be manipulated very much?  Have a look at some of these “before” and “after” shots (and click on any one to make it larger).

(Mind you, if I had had Face Detection turned on, the camera would have biased the exposure for the face and then the background would have been blown out, so that's not at all preferable.)

To get this effect I used the adjustment brush and the Auto Mask feature in Lightroom and essentially painted the faces lighter. (See Adjustment Brush settings below.)  Then I raised the shadow level and in some cases reduced the highlights just a little – doing too much of any of this will make it look post-processed and I definitely didn’t want that look for this game.

The Adjustment Brush in Lightroom (yellow rectangle), and the settings I used.  Then I just painted the face until it looked right.

The team managers had no idea that I had done any of these things – instead they all remarked about how strong my colors were (something I never touch in post-processing).  The strong colors were a direct result of strong light.

The Friedman Archives Seminars

Four more seminars are slated for the rest of this year, all of which are now open for registration (click on a link to take you to the appropriate page):

The Friedman Archives Seminars were originally designed for beginners who found the digital imaging learning curve to be too intimidating.  But to my surprise, its appeal has gone way beyond that demographic.  I have discovered that my approach is so unique that even old-time photographers with more than 30 years of experience under their belts have found them to be inspiring and intuitive.  Have a look at some testimonials from over the years...

What’s that?  Can't attend a seminar in person?  Now, after many months of editing them down to their essence, both Day 1 and Day 2 of the Friedman Archives Seminars are available for streaming!  Now you can attend the seminars in the comfort of your home, anywhere in the world.

You've heard me talking about these seminars for quite some time if you've been following the blog.  Go ahead - take the plunge and invest in your ability to see and execute your vision!

BBF Ebook now in German

The e-booklet Back-Button Focus for your Sony Mirrorless Cameras by Ross Warner and me is now available in German!  Thanks to translator Bastian Scholten for this excellent work.

Next Time in Cameracraft

The latest issue of Cameracraft magazine is going to press soon.  As always, we have amassed a collection of work you won't find anywhere else designed to inspire and educate.  In the upcoming issue:

The amazing beach dance photography of John Sutter and the creation of a masterpiece
Glowing macro flowers by Treeza Condon - with a 36 megapixel pro camera but no budget for lenses
Danny Cass takes street photography to a new level - up-close using his iPhone (and doesn't get beat up)
Danny Cass gets daring with
iPhone street photography
Crop versus FF - the real quality comparison - David Kilpatrick shows why if you really want to shoot full frame, you need to max out the megapixels
I publish my first rant in my regular column. :-)
And this amazing artifact:  Richard Kilpatrick rescued and restored a complete Hasselblad newsdesk system from over 20 years ago, scouring the internet for rare parts, and discovered the news photos last seen on it by the agency which once owned it!

Ebooks in the Pipeline

One book covering the RX-100 MK4 and the RX-10 II will commence as soon as I get my hands on those cameras, followed by one on the A7r II.  Send me an email at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com if you'd like to be notified when these ebooks are released!

The Future of the A-Mount

I get a lot of email from die-hard Sony A-mount shooters, concerned by the seeming lack of announcements for products in the A-mount ecosystem.  Will Sony eventually abandon the platform?  Should they start to panic?

The short answer is "Don't panic; the A-mount is not going away"; however there is a longer, more nuanced answer.

The first thing you must understand about Sony is they are just recovering from a massive corporate reorganization, where several major divisions were sold off just so they could concentrate on being great in fewer areas.  You should also understand that in the last couple of years, the E-mount is the source of both growth and profit for the company, at a time when all DSLR sales have slowed.

This data is about one year old.  Source

Yes, according to this graph, DLSR sales (the A-mount is considered a DSLR for market research purposes) as a whole are much larger than mirrorless sales.  But if you break down the data from Sony's market share, the picture looks very different:

Mirrorless system camera market share in early 2015 (Japan only)  Click to view larger.

DSLR market share in early 2015 (Japan only)  Click to view larger.  Source  Originally shared by 

So Sony now has #1 market share in mirrorless while a single-digit, distant 4th place (behind Pentax) in the DSLR market.  It has been the full-frame A7 series of cameras that have been responsible for getting Sony closest to the goal they've had since they bought Minolta: To get people to convert over from Canon and Nikon.  (And, lately, Leica.)

If I were on Sony's board of directors (which I'm not), I would look at these sales figures, the profits, the growth, the industry buzz, and the endless cries of "There are not enough lenses for the E-mount", and decree "If we are to get back on our feet financially post-reorganization, the majority of our effort right now should be put into bolstering the E-mount platform."  And clearly that's what's been happening.  We have seen that the recently-announced A7r II has set some milestones for data throughput, and on-chip phase detection (and resolution, too, but Canon wins the award there) to the point where most of the advantages of the traditional DSLR or SLT seem to have been neglified (that’s a word!).

So is there still a place in the world for the A-mount?

Well, let's look at the A-mount platform's unique strengths:

1. Faster focusing and object tracking for stills.  If you're shooting an Olympic athlete with a very long lens, DSLRs have always had a strong performance advantage because of their highly evolved phase-detect autofocus system.  (Although with the announcement of the A7r II, this performance gap seems to be closing mighty quickly if not erased altogether.)
2. Better balance when using long telephoto lenses – the E-mount (specifically the NEX 3 and 5) was originally targeted at novices who wanted an upgrade path from their cellphones, and so small and tiny was the form factor, along with small-ish lenses.  And the bodies remain relatively small, so affixing a serious telephoto lens (like a 70-400 f/4 with an adapter) make for an unbalanced pair which is kind of kludgy to work with.
3. Better ergonomics – let's face it, a serious grip for the hand, and a plethora of buttons that fall where your fingers expect to find them, and a real, long-lasting battery make shooting with the A-mount in high-pressure situations more satisfying.  (I also have grown to love the twist-and-flip display on the high-end A-mount cameras – great for shooting kids at eye level in portrait orientation!)

Just about all of these advantages listed above appeal mainly to advanced or esoteric users – the right six-sigma of the bell curve, where very few of the average users' use cases actually fall.

Nikon and Canon know this, which is why they don't see a real threat from the mirrorless world.  From their point of view, given all the advantages listed above, mirrorless provides no meaningful benefit to the really serious, professional, non-tourist, six-sigma photographer.  Besides, DSLR sales still continue to tower over mirrorless.  ("Plus, real photographers prefer optical viewfinders for their brightness when shooting outdoors.")  There is no compelling reason to aggressively pursue that market, so at least for now, they are safe.

But from Sony's point of view, the E-mount, and sensors, if executed properly, will be their financial savior.

So what of the A-mount?  It will not go away, but it will likely not become as popular as the E-mount, either.  It will continue to cater to the six-sigma customer, the one with esoteric needs.  I predict that in 20 years the DSLR category will be much like 8x10 view cameras are now – yes they still exist, yes they are better for very specific applications, but only the die-hards will be drawn to them.

And the A-mount platform will continue to benefit from whatever innovations develop for the E-mount.  For example, I predict the next A-mount camera will no longer have that translucent mirror, now that Sony has figured out how to put all the functionality on the sensor with the A7r II (and not just have it act as an assist to the main phase-detect array as it was on the A99).

So, panic not.  New models are on their way, and I greatly look forward to using them.  Your existing investment will still be taking great pictures 20 years from now.  And when people see you shooting with such a large camera in the future, you will be perceived as being a great photographer because, you know, bigger cameras take better pictures. :-)

Until next time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. I learnt something really useful in this article: whilst we all know that face recognition causes the camera to detect and focus on faces, and if there are no faces then it has no effect, what I just learned from this article is that face recognition also causes the camera to bias the exposure to ensure that the faces come out ok and that can be to the detriment of the picture as a whole. I was surprised by this and went out on a mini photoshoot to test it - and that really is the case - quite startling differences since I chose a heavily backlit scene intentionally. Thanks for that Gary. Much appreciated as usual.

    Another thing I learned is that I tend to look at my subject and think: lots of motion, shutter priority, reasonable speed. Yet here Gary says effectively narrow depth of field, aperture priority and big aperture (small f-number) and yes there's plenty of movement but there's also plenty of light and big aperture will result in high shutter speed anyway and that will take care of the motion. So lesson: maybe can score two hits - don't just choose one priority because one might come as a by product of another.

    1. Wide aperture needs to be considered carefully.

      A narrow depth of field makes focussing harder and if the light is not good, or auto-ISO maxed out, then the speed could still be too slow for action shots.

      I notice Gary was using his A77 which, as a DSLR, has fast focussing, compared to mirrorless cameras. And it was a bright day, so there was plenty of light to accommodate fast shutter speeds.

      Plus I guess 4 year olds playing T-Ball will not be the most demanding subjects for action shots.

    2. The shooting environment should always be considered when selecting camera settings. In this case, as you have correctly pointed out, these were the right settings for this setting. :-)

    3. Actually 4 year olds are among the most demanding of action shots because of their quick irregular movement and small size. No they don't run as fast at top speed but they accelerate and stop much faster than adults and they change direction much faster. If you don't believe me tru catching one.

  2. It was interesting what you mentioned about the E and A-mount lens cameras. I have a A77 and won't buy the newer A77s because Sony removed the GPS function. I don't mind the size of an A77--it seems to be just right as for size. The A99's size is fine too except it would tend to be rather heavy while including lenses when carrying in a backpack on a steep grade.

    1. I think you are missing out unless GPS is essential to you

    2. Wayne, I have the A77ii and have found the lack of GPS to not be a problem at all, as when I need to geotag the shots I can do it in Lightroom after the fact, and I had heard it was quite a battery drain. The addition of the wireless, however, has been quite handy a number of times, and I've found it quite a good system compared to the horror stories I've heard from Canikon implementations.

    3. I really like Sony's on-board GPS. Recently even Canon, Nikon and now Pentax have added GPS to few of their DSLRs. One less thing to fiddle with in post. Much of my photography involves outdoor treks, so GPS is essential. Yes I could carry or attach another device, but with an A99/77/65 I don't need to and it's one less thing to manage.

    4. There are people who really do need the GPS function and do not want to carry around additional equipment which takes additional batteries. Also, I have not tried getting the GPS attached to each picture. It would seem to be a significant problem getting the correct GPS info associated with each picture taken correctly. What if a person takes pictures a little distance from each other and then wants to somehow associate the correct GPS info with each photo? With the built in GPS function you don't have to worry about this and take extra time doing so. Some mention about the battery drain of the GPS but it can be turned off, just like some other functions. Some also may feel that the camera takes too long to lock onto the GPS signals but have they updated the GPS ASSISTME.DAT file?

  3. Well, you convinced me to ditch my DSLR. 6 sigma means that about one in every 500 million pictures would benefit from using a DSLR. If I take one picture every minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it will be more than 900 years before I get to 500 million pictures.

    Not worth schlepping that thing around for 900 years for that one opportunity. I'm switching to point and shoot :)

  4. how were you able to use the Lightroom adjustment brush so cleanly, without leaving a funny border or distorted edge? Can you show us an image of the brushed area? thanks...

    1. Lightroom has a useful feature called "auto mask" which works kind of like the magnetic lasso tool in Photoshop - it looks at the area you're brushing, figures out on its own where the area's boundaries are, and masks that area for you. If the area you're highlighting is distinct in terms of light or color, it works great.

  5. Gary,

    Any info you have on the coming a7000? I hope it will perform better in low light than the a6000. Anything over ISO 400 and it produces too much noise for my taste indoors.

    1. I have no insights. However, if noise is your concern, you have no business using a camera with the highest pixel density on the planet. :-) Try either a NEX-6 or an A7s. GF

  6. Alternatively, you could say that Sony has already provided a A-Series upgrade path by providing converters for the A7 series for A-series lenses. I'm not convinced we will ever see another A-Series camera, mainly for the reasons you say. Sony are a niche player in DSLR's. The big problem is the the A7 is expensive and there is no feeder model like a D3200 to get a beginner to buy into the architecture. Without those there is a danger that Sony becomes a niche professional brand

  7. A-mount adapters are nice. Even nicer would be a mirror-less adapter with a motor in it: this adapter would auto-focus with every A-mount lenses in existence. It would also solve a few calibration issues (focus breathing, zoom calibration problems) simply because focusing would take place on the sensor.

    This adapter would truly transform E-mount bodies into "High performance universal digital backs"... Maybe I'm dreaming but if Sony releases a mirorless A-mount body, it would prove that this adapter is possible as well.

  8. @Patrick Mayer

    That's possible with the LA-EA4 adapter, it has a build in motor. see

    @Gary Friedman and others

    How do non sony manufactures see the a-mount system. Can we expect lenses from tamron and sigma ind the future ?

    from an economic/logistic point of view, it would be best for a brand with only one system. I think sony will drop one of the mounts within 10 years, and fokus on the one with the highest profit.

    1. I can't lend any insight here. Generally the way to measure 3rd party interest is to look and see how many of them support your chosen platform. Support for Sony A-mount is higher than it was in 2005, but 10 years from now, I can't predict.

    2. Don't know if it does support AF-D (fast focus with phase detection, final fine-focus on the sensor itself): if anyone confirm, without a doubt, that micro adjust is no longer required, at all aperture and focal lengths ( on a zoom lens ), then great! But I haven't read this anywhere thus far.

  9. Long live the A-mount. 😂 I know it's egotistical and the person makes the photo not the camera but I like the looks I get and the words of admiration "wow that's a really nice camera" when I'm out in public with my grandkids taking pictures at the zoo, museum, canal walk downtown, or their various events. 😁 Really that's only a small part of why I like the A-mount but at my age I may never buy or need (famous last words) another camera. My A99V and old KM 7D do the job for me. Besides, with my awesome Nokia 1020 phone camera for which I have a grip that also provides extra battery life along with a tripod mount and awesome 41MP resolution (when shooting raw, yes it shoots raw) I have point and shoot covered too.

  10. Speaking of .. your investment will still work in 20 years. The lenses, probably, but the camera body? I have seen some alarming messages of slt-a55 going out of order after too little exposures. Then, I've found some graphs that such a case was probably the six sigma Bell curve on the left. ;-).There was also a remarkable difference to the more high-end cameras there. Maybe a topic for next time?

    1. Maybe a topic for next time, but there's really too little data (other than my personal experience plus single data points you can pull off discussion forums) to draw meaningful conclusions. (Remember, people who have older cameras that work properly don't post this on discussion forums.)

  11. Hey Gary, you called it. And, I have to amend my statement "at my age I may never buy or need (famous last words) another camera". After seeing the specs on the A99ii I'm saving my pennies. :-)

    1. Well, I called it but it still has the SLT mirror, so I was half-right. :-)

    2. I came back and read this 11/28/2018 1205 EST after reading the Nov 2018 post. I did in fact sell my A99V got A99ii and my old KM7D finally stopped accepting the CF card (I think the pins got boogered up) so I got A77ii to replace it. Like I said, famous last word :-)


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