Monday, March 30, 2020

$1K "G" Lens vs. $100 "Kit" lens (Don't laugh...)

Sony offers two lenses considered to be “general purpose” or “walkaround” lenses for their APS-C E-mount cameras like the A6000 series:

The 16-50 f3.5 – 5.6 power zoom lens which is tiny and compact and offers a motorized zoom ideal for shooting video.  This lens sells for $100 when purchased as a bundle.

A high-end 16-55 constant f/2.8 “G” lens that sells for over $1000 USD.

So one lens is 10x the cost of the other.  Is the expensive one 10x better?  Let’s do a quick test: I took two pictures of the really cute subject under ideal conditions; one with each lens.  100% crops from both appear below (click on image to view larger and sharper):

Close-up of the test shots from the portrait above.  The $1000 “G” lens (right) is demonstrably better, but you probably wouldn't know unless you pixel peeped.
Now you're probably going to want to download the originals so you can pixel peep for yourself.  Here they are, but keep in mind that it was impossible to get an identical pose from my subject. :-)

16-55 f/2.8 $1K lens
16-50 f/3.5-5.6 $100 lens

Of course there's much more to a lens than just being able to count eyelashes.  Is it sharp in the corners?  At all f/stops?  Is there vignetting?  How are out-of-focus artifacts rendered?  Is there distortion?  (I'll answer that last one below: Yes.  And, surprisingly, the $1K lens had it just as much:)

One trick to designing affordable lenses is to not even try to correct distortion; as that can easily be corrected either in-camera or in-Lightroom.  Same thing with vignetting.  My goal in this test was to show how the cheaper lens had much more distortion than the expensive lens.  Turns out the $1K lens had similar distortion to the $100 lens.  Silly me.
From this informal test I conclude that you should not look down on the cheaper lens – like those small and cheap 50mm lenses that used to come standard on SLRs back in the 60’s, they are better than people give them credit for, and are smaller and lighter than their more expensive brethren.  Conversely, don't believe that a $1K lens is not going to have any faults!

Usually this is the time in my blog post when I take my test images, blow them up to poster size, hang them on the wall, and ask participants in a recent seminar if they can tell which lens took which picture.  That's not going to happen this time because I had to cancel all seminars through May 2020 (maybe more depending on how the pandemic pans out).  I will point out only that differences that are apparent when pixel peeping are often imperceptible when enlarged and viewed at a reasonable distance.
This is an example of enlarging and not viewing them at a reasonable distance.  Not a meaningful way to evaluate image quality!

Seminars in Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Kansas City, and St. Louis have all been indefinitely postponed.  New Zealand is still scheduled for November but let's see what happens before I secure a venue.

In the meantime, let me make everyone in the world this offer to help put your downtime to good use: There is a streaming version of the seminar, which you can enjoy in the comfort of your home.  I'm offering 20% discount on this course for the month of April - just use discount code april2020 when checking out.  You can get it here:

In the Pipeline

Tony Phillips is busy working on the following books.  You can pre-order them now at a discount but you won't be charged until we start delivering content:

Fujifilm X-T4
Fujifilm X100V
Olympus E-M1 III

Time to re-think the books?

I need your help.  I'm using some of my downtime to re-think my approach to the books.  My latest one about the Sony A6600 and A6100 (both mid-range cameras) is a whopping 757 pages!  Although a great value, I'm sure beginners will find the sheer volume of it intimidating (especially if they order the printed version).  What started out as a friendly, well-explained guide to every single feature has ballooned into a well-explained guide to a whole lot of features.  Many have mentioned that my explanations seem long-winded, yet I've received no shortage of emails from users thankful for this explanation style.  And each time I work on a new book, I re-evaluate each section, asking if I can explain this in fewer words, or clear up lingering confusion based on the constant stream of email questions.  (The section on Format, for example, has finally been reduced from 3 pages to 3 paragraphs.)  Entire sections were cut out and referred to by external reference to try to keep the page count down (which matters for printed books, where there is an upper limit on the number of pages that can be included).

So my question is this:  What would you suggest to improve the value of my books?  Do you think they are too large?  Which sections can you do without?  Is the chapter on video completely overexplained?  If I could start a new series from scratch, what should the guiding methodology be?

I have considered re-writing everything as a tweet so every idea fits within 144 characters (that would take a LOT of work!), but that would get spiritually closer to the Sony manuals, whose mantra is "use as few words as possible but still be accurate".  I had always striven (that's a word!) to be the opposite of that: "Use as many words as you need to make things clear".

Ideas on what you'd like to see in the blog are welcome too.  Are they too long?  Shall I publish shorter blogs more often (thus adding potentially even more noise to your life)?  Are the topics I present relevant to your photography?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Best of the Blog Trilogy - FREE!

You always wondered why I was charging for content you can still find online for free.  To help you get through isolation, here is a FREE (limited time) hand-curated collection of my best articles from both my blog and Cameracraft magazine.  Download your free 3-pdf collection here!  (Oh, and you're welcome! :-) )

Next time in Cameracraft

Mr. & Mrs. Steve Winnie and his modest collection of Minolta cameras. He has friends who collect motorcycles like this.
I investigate the worldwide resurgence of film, which, along with vinyl LPs, typewriters, and vacuum tube amplifiers, would never have been predicted 20 years ago.  You won't believe what's become popular or why!

I also work with Topaz' image editing tools like DeNoise AI, JPEG to RAW AI, and Gigapixel AI to see if their marketing hype is too good to be true.  (Translation: I bang my head against the wall so you don't have to.)  Subscribe today and support the last high-quality photo magazine with unmatched technical insights!

How I'm Spending my Time

I'm between books right now, and because of this worldwide pandemic nobody's hiring photographers.  So other than catching up on my reading (and working on some more Cameracraft articles), I've been working on various things:

Playing internet chess with the grandkids

I finally had time to actualize my pre-visualized shot of the Antelope Canyon.  (See this blog post for the importance of pre-visualizing your images.)
And why not use the time to also make some Xaphoon promotional videos?  Here's one: :-)

Hope you're all able to stay inside and stay safe!

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. Hi Gary,
    I'd like to share my thoughts on the idea of rethinking your books. When I bought my first Sony camera a few years ago (the A65), I was very happy to have a helpful companion in your book to go along with it. It explained things to me that I simply could not understand by reading Sony's manual. Since then, I have always bought your book as soon a I got a new camera. This included various incarantions of the RX100, the A77M2, the RX10M4, and lately the A6600.
    As I became more accustomed to Sony's cameras, their design philosophy (especially the menu structure), I found it more and more cumbersome to work my way through all those pages in your books. This was a direct result of my tranformation of a total rookie in advanced photography and Sony cameras to a more and more experienced Sony photographer, however.
    So, I would say it all depends on your target audience. I still love your books because I find every question answered in them.

    Take care,
    Christopher (from Germany)

  2. Re Rethinking the books
    As a reader of two of your Sony RX series books, I value the depth of information in them (which also gives confidence that the author knows what he's talking about). They're better written than most manuals, too, and full of photographic wisdom.

    As Christopher comments above, the length can be a barrier when you want specific pieces of information. Therefore I have one suggestion (this is for the pdf version, which is how I read them):
    A back button!
    I typically click to a section from the ToC, read it, try it on my camera, then want to get back to the ToC. Even better, to the chapter head in the ToC. A back button on the bottom of each page would do this nicely, and make navigating through the book easier.

    But don't stop the books! Here's one reader who considers the Friedman manual about as important as a new SD card whenever I buy a new camera.

    1. Another vote for Billy's Back Button!

    2. Well, I don't know if I can create a "Back Button", but what I can do is create a hyperlink in the footer that takes you directly to the Table of Contents. And I can do that easily. Would that be useful?

    3. Also, are you aware that if you read the .pdf file using Adobe's Acrobat Pro DC (at least that's what I have) you can have the TOC always showing in the left panel. I would imagine that different .pdf readers will have different user interfaces. But the TOC was embedded in the document on purpose to facilitate this kind of jumping back and forth.

    4. Hi Gary, as you probably know (if you check your records) I've purchased your books for every Minolta film and digital camera (except one the HtSi Plus) and Sony camera I have owned. I won't list them all here.

      I like the fact that you go into detail. So I vote for keep the detail. However, perhaps you could strip some of the detail out and publish it as an addendum, like some text book publishers do?

      What I'd like to see more of, again perhaps as an addendum, is "how to shoot video" with the subject camera. Since I don't shoot a lot video (although with every grandchild I find I am shooting more and more video) I don't feel the need to buy a standalone video camera so I appreciate that Sony has opted to include video capability to their cameras. But the flip side is as the still cameras get more functions adding in video serves to elongate the learning curve. Not to mention frustrate the heck out of me.

      Changing the subject, while I have your attention, do you use the AF Micro Adj feature to fine tune focus for every third party lens you use? And while on the subject you might remember I sent you an email about using my Tamron f/2.8 28-75mm XR Di LD Aspherical [IF] Macro Version A09 lens to shoot video on my A77M2 and A99M2. In that email I complained about the fact that Lightroom-classic and other software including Windows 10 Explorer, reads the camera metadata for the lens as a 24-105mm lens. Anyway, I found out when I did a AF micro adj for the lens and looked up the lens in the Lens ID table link (page 211 in PDF version) you provided in the A99M2 book, that the Tamron SP AF 28-75mm A09 24.6 does not have it's own description but shares the discription with the "Minolta/Sony AF 24-105mm F3.5-4.5 (D) or Sigma or Tamron Lens". If I understand the chart this is why the Tamron SP AF28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical [IF] Macro reads as a 24-15mm lens?

    5. I typically read the books as PDF or in my Amazon Kindle. Both versions allow me to bookmark a location and change the bookmark title from the generic page number to something more descriptive. Perhaps this is a solution to the "Back Button"

  3. Bonjour Gary,

    Have 3 different printed books on 3 different Sony Cameras,
    And I read them all from A - Z.
    And when needed I re-read.
    Like your style, like the way you're books explain things.
    So no tweet style for me please.
    And if I change from an A7R3 to the R4 there will be lots of things the same..., but that's OK with me, I can skip, but if I do need it one day I know it's there..., as I gave the old camera to my son with the book...

  4. Don't make too big changes in your books!
    I love them exactly for what they are.
    I bought two of them, about the a900 and a99.
    If you have any question, go and ask Gary's book and you WILL find the answer! And what's best: I even found answers to questions I never knew I would ask!
    After getting more and more experienced, in the next book with the next camera I of course will not read each and every single sentence anymore, but it is exactly their style and scope of contents which make them unique and a real reading treasure for fotographers interested in their camera's technique!

    Take care & stay healthy,
    Alby (from Germany)

  5. If I wanted "Tweets" I'd read the Sony manual. I like your in depth approach with a bit of humor thrown in to keep it from being too dry. Th.e quick reference cards are a great addition

  6. Gary,
    Please, PLEASE don't cut down on the size of your excellent books. I would have to quit telling people that my manual is bigger than my camera! (I have an RX100 Mk VII). I also have your books on the a7Rii, a7R, and a900, all of which I have read cover-to-cover. I prize your books for their comprehensiveness and for the fact that you not only provide the "what", but the "why" as well.

  7. Hi Gary,

    Totally agree with the others - your books are perfect the way they are. Do us a favor and find something else to do :-) PLEASE

    1. Why, you don't like the Xaphoon videos? :-)

    2. That's one cool video! You are just having too much fun. Talking about authentication (the other blog) - how can you prove the other guy?

    3. You have to run it through some authentication software. It's all explained in the technical paper I linked to in the blog.

  8. Hi Gary,

    I am a camera book junkie and have your books for the A6000, RX100 and A7 which I enjoy the depth of. I find there are some overlaps in the books, whether related to the Sony constellation of products, menus or general camera related instruction etc. I did find good value in your sample books for example when I upgraded my RX100 M1 to a RX100 M3 where the delta changes between the camera vintages were explained in the first 3 chapters. Since I'm in Canada I'm already penalized for the 30% exchange rates of from USD to CDN dollars too, so this cost can add up. Perhaps you can provide at least digitally books in 2 parts... part 1 are the delta or unique part of that model of camera and part 2 are the common elements of the Sony digital cameras (alpha series etc.). cheers.

    1. Hi, Gord! There's a ton of reasons for me not to do that. For one, it's more work for me, and readers would have to constantly bounce back and forth between book parts. For another, even the "common elements of the Sony Digital Cameras" change quite a bit from model to model (I know because I try everything out for every single camera), so things aren't as static as you think. Finally, revenue would go down significantly since a lot of people might think all they need is Part I, while I still have to put in the same amount of work making Parts I and II.

  9. I have purchased several of your books, as well as the back-button focus addendum, back to when I was a novice photographer trying to understand my DSL camera (Sony a350). I'm now four cameras later on the a7III, and the first thing I do when I purchase a new model is to download your book. They have been invaluable in helping me understand all of the features in these feature packed cameras. I love the in-depth instruction and smart comments based on your own experience. I particularly like how the opening of the books is an outline of how you set up your camera. I find this format allows me to get up to speed quickly, even if I don't understand everything you are doing, and then lets me dig into the details are a more leisurely pace. So my advice is to keep the same structure going forward. Keep it easy and bite-sized in the beginning, and then dig into the details.

  10. Hey Gary, I agree with all the others. Don't change the books. I love that you cover things very thoroughly. I often want to know the why as much as the how. If I don't feel like reading all the words, I can skip that section and go on to the next.

    Keep busy but safe!

  11. I have a couple of your eBooks and have enjoyed them in two ways: Initially when I first get the camera, and later when I can't figure something out. Mostly the second. So length is not an issue for me as much as easy and logical search ability. Thanks.

  12. Gary...Have always been a huge phan of your books for the Sony cameras. They are clear, indepth, and written so the "rest of us" can learn/glean from them. Always appreciated.
    You asked about places to scale back. In one area, at least for me, the flash section gets a bit deep and I know your love of "flash". For me, the basics of what the camera and attached flash can do is sufficient.
    Your books are long, but never tedious. The length is what makes them invaluable in many ways. They prove to be a reference to when I get stumped or forget a setting or what it does/doesn't do.

    1. Thanks. I feel strongly about wireless flash - it is the single best way to add "Wow!" to your images. And the very worst way to use flash is as the sole source of light in a dark room on top of your camera. In fact I expanded the chapter recently to include more high-impact examples of the Wireless technique to try to expand people's minds to the usefulness of this tool. (Translation: I'm trying to change YOUR mind! :-) )

    2. Although you don't me to sing your praises I agree wholeheartedly with your excitement for wireless flash. When I was getting started as a studio portrait photographer working for various national studios and shooting portraits in my ad-hoc home studio wireless flash, shoot through an bounce umbrellas allowed me to get studio results without spending money on expensive lighting equipment. Which is also why I used Minolta cameras.

  13. Dear Gary,
    I fortunately came across your e-book of the Sony RX10M4 - also a tome of 678 pages. The concept of this book was perfect for me. I read it completely, with the exception of video shooting - I am just a photographer. Almost every question which might have come in to my mind was answered. And your style of writing is such a great combination of precise explanation and entertainment, that it is very easy (and funny) to get the information - even for an non native English speaker). I just missed information about how to do the best macro shots and how the A-focus (between S and C) really works and what its worth for.
    Please do not change the concept of your books - just in case I will buy another camera...
    Klemens (Germany)

  14. Hi Gary,
    You know I love you books... Had them from the minolta Dimage A2 onwards..

    Just a thought... With much of the regurgitation that inevitably happens with much not changing since the previous model...

    For me it would be good to have a much smaller companion doc.. "what's new since the... A7xxx" to save wading through everything to start with.
    If this and the main manual were both say PDFs and you said they had to reside in a folder called Zzz or you had an installer that put it there... It could hyperlink between the two..
    Well at least from the What's New.. Into the full blown manual...

    Thanks again

    1. I've thought about this. From the point of view of a beginner, that would mean bouncing back and forth between two volumes. For me, that would be twice as much work creating hyperlinks (and you can forget about learning the camera via the printed book route - too much frustration for the new user). In the A7R IV book I was able to highlight the sections that had changed since the A7R III, which I think is kind of a compromise.

  15. Your e-books are great and reasonable price. Mine for the A77M2 and A99M2 sit on my computer desktop for ready reference. I'm 81 so not planning to move to the e mounts not just economics they seem to finicky for my big fingers!!

    1. @Haggisbasher,

      I'm with you. I have the same cameras. I am almost 69 (in a couple of weeks) and although the E line is all the rage and are much lighter I have not the finances or desire to move to the E line. However, I do wish Sony would put as much effort in lenses for A mount as they do for E mount.

  16. Add me to the list of people who buy your book for whichever camera is my latest acquisition (100, 57, 550, 77ii, 6500). I appreciate the depth and wouldn't want you to change them.

    I will say the 6500 book is the first one I've struggled with. I believe it's because you have a recommendation in one of the feature discussions that contradicts your recommendation in the discussion of a different feature. I (think I) figured it out.

    1. That does happen from time to time... it's hard for one person to catch absolutely everything. Which setting was in conflict? when readers tell me these things I usually roll them into updates.

    2. Looking at the book again it isn't jumping out at me now. I think it was the focus area discussion in the intro section 3 versus the setup for "Focus Point Link". I don't remember my exact confusion except you made something sound good but it conflicted with the settings for Focus Point Link. Not necessarily something you can "fix".

  17. Hi Garry,
    just a quick note I value your books very much and have several of them. But as I am photographer much more than a videographer I nearly allways skip the video parts. Maybe it is an idea to split your books into "a.... for photographers" and "a.... for videographers" to make them less intimidating. Hope this helps

    1. It does... and so do all of the other comments above. THANK YOU ALL for your feedback. It's nice to know I've been (more or less) doing it right all along.

    2. Great idea. I would like to be able to focus on the photography-relevant information myself.

  18. Hi Gary,
    Like someone else commented, your book is as essential to me as an SD card when I purchase a new Sony camera. I now have 4 (A6000, A7III and RX100IV and VII) and they have all been invaluable. I think the format is fine as a PDF (I never print them), but good navigation is essential due to their size. Unlike the other books, the A7iii one (v1.05) doesn't have bookmarks. Maybe you could fix this. Then the Adobe Reader navigation tools work well. They need to work well both as an introduction and as a reference, so using the contents/bookmarks is essential. Cheers, Rob

    1. Hi, Rob! Believe it or not you're the first to report the lack of bookmarks in the A7 III .pdf file. I've fixed that and emailed all registered users of the update. Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

  19. Gary, in 1969 I was posted by my company to work in Chicago for a couple of years. I found the company had just bought an expensive telephone system for which the manual was 2 inches thick. I asked my boss if there was a quick reference card I could use until I'd had time to read the manual. He explained that everyone found out how to do the things each of them wanted the system to do for them and ignored the rest. Experienced photographers use your books in the same way. reducing the content would destroy the value of the books - please do't do it!

    Philip in UK

  20. Hi Gary. I've bought a couple of your books, on the A77 and now the A7 mkIII. I'v found them both useful and they include content not found elsewhere. But it is true that they are very weighty volumes and I find that when I come across a problem with my camera for which I need the assistance available in your book, I am not able to access it (perhaps I'm on holiday for example, or away from the house). I recently took delivery of a new car and noticed that no physical instruction book was provided and that everything is provided in an app. I guess it would be a lot of work for you to transform the content you have into app form, but I for one would find that very useful. Just my suggestion! Plus please continue with the blog posts. I find them interesting and make sure to read them every time. Kind regards.

  21. Hi Gary
    As most of us just use a camera for taking photos, for the e-book, could you just reference out the section on video(A77, Chapter 11)? I for one have hardly used the video function since owning the camera and, IMHO, unless you are going to particularly video something of importance to you, most people would now use their phones.
    But I agree with everyone else, your books are a wealth of info. (if I know someone who has bought a Sony camera, I tell them to get your book and throw the Sony manual away) and are great as they are.
    Keep up the good work and stay safe.

  22. Hi Gary,
    I have bought two of your e-books (most recent A6400) and I agree with the others to leave the books at their current length. It's better to have more information than less. If people don't want to read certain chapters, they can skip them and move to what pertains to their interests or quest for knowledge.
    Sorry to miss your St. Louis seminar. I may take advantage of the online seminar. Thanks for all you do for photography.

  23. As my first comment/reply said. I am primarily a photographer not videographer and initially found that when Sony started adding video to their digital cameras it just added complexity to your books I didn't need or want. However, as I began getting grandchildren I rediscovered the need for video so I am glad you include video in your books (for my kids I shot video using a dedicated Panasonic video film camera. I have since had the film converted to digital). I would like for you write a separate non-camera specific book on shooting video.

  24. Hi Gary
    Like every one (it seems) of your customers, I have been very happy with the books I bought from you. I do have a suggestion, though. Actually, two. Both concern the index. First off, I cannot always find an index entry for something I want to look up. You are probably aware that indexing books is a proper professional discipline, and I wonder whether it would be economically feasible for you to have future volumes indexed for you?
    The second kind of index - or set of index entries - is a set of "How To .." tips. Because most of us are more in touch with the effect we want to produce in an image than with the Sony terminology that would help us achieve it.
    All the best, and now - back to the books!

  25. Mr. Murphy

    Well said on point suggestions.

  26. I have the A6000 with the 16-50 kit lens and the A6600 with the 16-55 G lens. (The A6600 and G lens was a retirement gift to myself). I really like your A6xxx books and bought the A6400 book to help understand the new features that also would apply to the A6600. Currently working through your Hi Impact photo seminar - thanks for the 20% discount!

    1. Hi, Don! Thanks so much for the kind feedback. Let us know how you like the streaming seminar here in the comments! :-)

  27. Interesting. Pixel peeping and assessment - completely agree with your observation. My (admittedly limited) experience suggests that local camera club competitions entail forensic scrutiny of pixels as counting in-focus pixels and volume of noise is easier to justify and avoids lengthy, and possibly contentious, explanation. As for your books, I have read only one and appreciate the Homer ('Doh!') and Lisa ('I hope there's an exam in this...') approach. However Glasshopper, if you seek a further challenge, perhaps you should consider composing haiku to introduce chapters:

    Light box I so need
    Yesterday's picture today
    Sound clicky clacky

    Or something like that :-). As for Sony's accuracy: touch pad/touch panel, I spent ages wondering where one or the other was located or was my camera broken already. One name, two functions. Works for me.

    1. I must admit I never considered Haiku. So thanks for that. :-)

      Touch Pad and Touch Panel are NOT the same thing - one is for when you're looking through the EVF and works differently because when you're looking through the EVF you can't possibly know where you're placing your thumb initially. (I'm guessing the section in my book didn't make that clear...)

  28. No, it is clear and I eventually figured out that turning and twisting the A7 III was not going to miraculously reveal to location of the missing pad/panel. The cunning accuracy that is Sony Instructions are that the pad and panel are discussed as if they are two separate things, not one masquerading as the other... But 'works differently'? Thumb on panel, move around, focus point change; thumb on pad, move around, focus point change. Did I miss something? Anyway your books are still the bee's knees - whichsame, along with the rest of the insect, I am trying to photograph...little beggars just won't stay still long enough.

    1. They are slightly different. When you're looking through the EVF, you can't possibly know if you're putting your thumb on the subject you want to focus on, and so in this mode the focus point moves relative to where you first touched the screen; whereas when looking at the LCD you touch your subject without needing to slide it around.