Studio flash – a dancer against the light

Renee joins us again, helping me show you what the A1 can do with studio flash. Last time you saw her dancing in natural light (and you will see some more of that later). This time, though, it is studio flash, on the classic white cyclorama. I deliberately chose an assortment of images with varied lighting; I moved my lights around, including putting a large key light off to camera right. I even included some where I triggered only the rear lights to give a silhouette-like result.

Every one of these images was shot using the Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM (at f/8) and the Sony A1 (at 1/200). I have put them into a gallery so you can click on them to see them full-size.

I asked Renee to wear a full-length black leotard because I like doing silhouette / semi-silhouette images, like the feature and last images, and a dancer is perfect for those. Renee is excellent at making shapes, and creating strong lines against the background. You’ll also notice that she doesn’t feel constrained to conventional ballet forms… Her version of the bridge pose raises the difficulty score to 11 (and how often do you see a perfectly flat abdomen in that pose?).

The Sony A1 was the first full frame digital camera able to shoot with studio flash using electronic shutter (the Nikon Z9 has joined it since, and I believe the Canon R3 can, too). The A1 has a flash sync of 1/200 on electronic shutter (and an unusual 1/400 using mechanical shutter, but I doubt I will ever use that). When I was using, for example, a Canon 1Ds III (with a flash sync of 1/250) I found myself using 1/200 (using Elinchrom’s first generation EL Skyport radio trigger) to ensure I got a clean frame (without a black edge). That might have changed with their later trigger, but by then I was accustomed to slowing my shutter speed when using studio flash units; I used 1/160 with the Canon 5Ds, which is specified as a 1/200 flash sync. But when I started with the A1, using the newer radio trigger (one for the Sony multi-interface flash shoe), I discovered I can use 1/200 without worries. That was a pleasant surprise.

I must admit that using an electronic shutter can be a bit disconcerting to a professional model, because many are accustomed to hear the shutter to confirm that the photographer has taken the shot. I can turn on a “sound”, but I really like the silence. That is ameliorated when using studio flash (the burst of light gives it away).

These images are a bit more processed than most of the images I show you, but that is normal for my studio work. I’m not a “straight-out-of-camera” shooter in the studio, and I regard processing as part of the image creation. Most of these were processed with Photoshop, but one was processed with DxO PhotoLab 4.

The Sony A1 has changed my photography in multiple ways, but I didn’t think it has changed my shooting with studio flash much, apart from distracting the model by shooting silently. That was before I realised that the A1 eye autofocus, and its ability to focus on the model’s eyes almost anywhere in the frame, has made “focus and recompose” a thing of the past – that matters.

A pirouette turns out beautifully

I’ve shown you the A1 photographing sequences of birds and cats, but I thought it was time for something different: a dancer – meet Renee, who dances ballet professionally.

I was planning to shoot with studio flash, but the natural light coming through the high windows in the industrial-chic space was far too tempting. Besides, I cannot shoot at 20 frames per second with studio flash, and dance makes for fine sequences. So much so that we’re going to start with a pirouette sequence.

Click on the gallery below to see the details. 11 consecutive images, shot at 20 frames per second (so half a second from start to end. None of these frames have been cropped, and they have had minimal processing. Shot at ISO 500, f/1.8, shutter speed from 1/800 to 1/1000, using the Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM and the Sony A1.

This shoot was enormous fun. A tip for those who haven’t worked with a professional dancer before: be prepared to keep shooting, lest you miss something fabulous!

Australian kestrel in flight towards me

After having a barking owl flying directly at me, I was delighted to have a pretty little Australian kestrel flying towards me, but these little raptors don’t fly in straight lines.

It was a heavily overcast day, and somewhat windy. These images were all shot with a Sony 70-200mm GM II lens at 200mm, at ISO 500, f/2.8, 1/2000.

Here is the sequence in a gallery that you can click on to see the details – these are 24 consecutive images, shot at 20 frames per second, so you are seeing just over 1 second of flight here. None of these frames have been cropped.

Yes, those last three frames clip the bird’s wing. I was doing my best to track the bird’s flight, but the images above are just over one second of flight. I had expected the bird to fly to camera right. You can see the strange way it moved to head towards me. If you keep an eye on the fence post launching point, you can see how much I had to pan. As I looked through these images, I was impressed at how tightly the eyes were glued on me, and how well the A1’s eye AF worked.

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon…

Summer has started a little hesitantly where I live, but the first Sunday in December was a lovely day, barely a hint of a cloud, bright sunshine, but not too hot. The reflection in the water is pristine, so there’s not a breath of wind. It’s a good time to relax, soak in the sunshine, and maybe listen to Queen’s song.

Shot with the new Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II on a Sony A1. The shot above was take at 111mm, f/2.8, 1/2000, ISO 200 (due to auto-ISO). The image is uncropped.

To demonstrate that it wasn’t just the hippos taking a leisurely approach to the day, here are a couple of lions luxuriating in the warmth. The younger of the two clearly thinks the older makes a good footrest.


This shot was taken at 148mm, but all the other settings are the same.

The Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS mark II is proving to be a very pleasant lens to use.

Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II – First Impressions

Sony announced a new version of their 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in October 2021. This one replaces their original 70-200mm f/2.8 for E mount, announced in 2016. They did some interesting things in this new lens. I will get to those.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is a staple for professional photographers. It is flexible, capable of good subject separation, and reliable. I am not a professional photographer, and I am quite fond of using prime lenses, but I have owned three 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses over the last two decades, because they are too useful to ignore. I bought the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS over 15 years ago. It was considered a fine lens back then; almost 1.5kg of metal and glass, complete with Canon’s image stabilisation. Several years later, after a move to Nikon, I bought the Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II. Also a fine lens; and just over 1.5kg of metal and glass with Nikon’s Vibration Reduction system. When I moved to Sony, I resisted the temptation of Sony’s 70-200mm, because it, too, was around 1.5kg (a little less), and I wanted lighter lenses. No 70-200/2.8 for me!

Sony finally got me to buy a zoom lens with the 200-600mm G. I want to reach out to 600mm, but the 600mm f/4 GM is seriously pricy. Unlike the 150-600mm zooms from Sigma and Tamron (which extend a lot when zooming out to 600mm), the 200-600mm has both internal zoom and internal focus. I discovered that I liked that.

So when Sony announced that their new 70-200mm was also internal zoom and focus, I started to pay attention. Even better, this is a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens which defies the expectation that it weigh 1.5kg; this one weighs 1045g, barely over 1kg. This lens gets features we’ve seen in some of Sony’s best new lenses: it has an extreme aspheric element (like the 135 GM, except that this one is made from ED glass, reducing both spherical and chromatic aberrations simultaneously), it has four linear motors driving a pair of focus groups (like the 135GM and the 50GM). Oh, and where the original Sony 70-200 GM had a minimum focus distance of 96cm (which was good), this one reduces it to 40cm.

I got lucky. My local store managed to get stock of this lens quickly, and I leapt on the chance. I needed a 200mm lens that weighed less than the 200-600mm, and Sony didn’t seem to be coming out with a 200mm prime (admittedly, a 200mm f/2 could weigh even more than the 200-600mm). I hoped I would not regret my impulsive behaviour.

Very first impression? It’s really light! It does not feel like a 70-200 f/2.8. It feels barely heavier than my beloved 135mm GM (where “barely heavier” is 95g = 10% of the weight of the 135 GM).

I had plans to visit a collection of exhibits from the London Natural History Museum, so I took my new lens along. It’s an unusual selection of exhibits, featuring some things I had not expected to see (a first edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and specimens collected by Darwin and several other famous naturalists). Sadly, a lot of the collection is in fairly dim light. Fortunately, my new lens was fully capable of focussing even in the dim light. My biggest problem was reflections from the glass cabinets – it was impossible to get a good shot of the dodo (I will have to return another day to try again).

The image I’ve shown above was shot at ISO 12000, f/2.8, 1/125 at 108mm on the 70-200mm using a Sony A1. It is uncropped.

It amused me to show an image of a fossil predator taken with the most recent of Sony’s GM lenses.

I would not normally report my first impressions after a single outing with a lens, but this one has really impressed me.

Lemur against the light

I visited the zoo at lunchtime, and caught this lemur sitting in the shadow, avoiding the harsh sunlight that we can see in the background. I like how much detail I captured in the shadow, and the separation of the lemur’s muzzle. The A1 managed to focus on the lemur’s eyes, despite the significant difference in brightness between the lemur and the background.

This image was shot with the Sony 200-600mm G lens at 312mm on a Sony A1, at f/6.3 1/2000 ISO 1250 (on auto ISO). The image is uncropped – thought you’d like to see the whole frame, including the lemur’s fingers.

Wild black kite – got any spare?

The wild dogs get fed, and the local black kites are ready to souvenir anything that gets missed. Yes, kites are predatory, but they are perfectly willing to scavenge.

This image was shot with the Sony 135mm GM lens on a Sony A1, at f/1.8 1/10000 ISO 100. What you are looking at is a 2500×1667 crop from the frame. Arguably, this wasn’t the best choice of lens for this subject, but Sony has yet to make the 200mm f/2 GM or 300mm f/2.8 GM that I’d dearly love to be using here. That said, the 135 GM is so sharp, I can get away with such a savage crop. I really like having the extra headroom on the shutter speed, being able to go above 1/8000 all the way to 1/32000 – it effectively gives me two more stops before I need to think about stopping the lens down.

Cheetah intensity

Kulinda the cheetah is prowling. Not moving quickly, but intent on examining what the keepers have done to her space (she has been out for just a few minutes). She has come quite close to the window. This is a completely uncropped frame (and you know how much I love to crop!) – no room to crop, but I’m willing to put up with that on this one.

This image was shot with the Sony 135mm GM lens on a Sony A1, at f/1.8 1/3200 ISO 100. You could argue that I should perhaps have shot this at maybe f/8 to get a greater depth of field, but I like that only her head is fully in focus, courtesy of animal eye AF in the A1.

I can’t resist. Here’s another image from shortly before, as she stalked past the window. This image was shot with the same settings, and it, too, is uncropped. The early morning sun is low in the sky, but it’s already bright and clear (look at how strong her shadow is); there were no clouds this morning.


Making the mundane not

I like the idea of making a perfectly mundane object just a little different. You cannot get much more mundane than a manhole cover, and a great many of them are quite boring. Whoever designed this one decided it could be a bit distinctive without losing any of its functionality. That appeals to me.

This images was shot with the Voigtländer APO Lanthar 50mm f/2 lens on a Sony A1, at f/8 1/200 ISO 250 using manual focus. The image is cropped.