New Lens Testing

Photos taken: July 6&7, 2018

I retired – again – a few weeks ago. I joked with my friends that I’ve gone back and forth between working and retirement  so often in the past four years I should just start calling myself “unemployed”. Who knows, maybe retirement will stick this time – certainly retiring in mid summer is a great way to go; we’ve had lovely afternoons on the deck and whiling away the hours. We also had grand kids for a little over a week and that kept us hopping.

I can waste time easier and faster than most anyone I know; however, I find that I’m not at my happiest after a few days of that go by. So, I thought it might be wise to focus on some efforts that I always find time not to do when I’m working – even part time. Even though it’s not New Year I developed a bit of a plan to make sure I stay engaged.

  • Spend 1 hour a day in some physical activity. That’s usually yoga 3 times a week and walking or swimming the other days.
  • Spend 2 hours a day on some creative outlet. These might be a combination of:
    • Reading. I’ve been stuck in a dense history of the Gilded Age for a couple of months now. My reading list is backing up.
    • Improve my photography by taking more pictures, learning about photography and picture post processing.
    • Improve my skills on the guitar. I need to move on from playing along with songs on Spotify and learn more chords, fingering techniques and such.
    • Continue blogging; I definitely love the writing process. I need to work on editing my posts so they aren’t so log. Yeah, right.
    • Keep on with my adventures in cooking.
  • Social interaction. This takes care of itself – with my wife’s help. We have coffee with yoga friends three times a week following our practice. We are blessed with a wide range of friends that we see regularly. I bowl with friends once a week, and try to get to lunch with a couple of buddies once every 2 weeks or so.

These goals will take 3 to 4 hours a day – leaving me plenty time of reading the comics, watching TV, and investigating such things as “is Dawn dish detergent really $.30 a bottle better than Joy?”

I focused on photography these first days of retirement. A nice benefit of the work I was doing was it afforded me the opportunity to indulge in camera gear. I’ve seen plenty of evidence on Flickr and other platforms that I know it’s the person behind the view finder that is responsible for the quality of the picture. Regardless, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a Sony A7R3 and a Sony 24-105 full frame lens to play with. It’s way out of my league – I feel like a Vespa rider climbing onto a Harley Davidson – there is more power than I can make use of and it will take time to learn how to take advantage of its offerings.

When I received the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G lens on Friday I immediately put it on the camera and took some pictures around the house.

On my deck shooting the green space at 24mm.

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A zoom of 105mm isn’t crazy long; I focused on the wood duck box as I zoomed in.

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Next I went out front to take some closeups of the garden. Carla found some spray to keep the local deer from treating our rose bush like a buffet.

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And a hydrangea

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That lens and camera makes nice images. But the real test will be trains.

NOTE: This next section is for beginning photographers like me – especially those who have just picked up a Sony A7III or Sony A7RIII. I discuss a focus problem I had and the various settings I adjusted in an unsuccessful effort to improve things. [Spoiler alert – I think I came across the solution.]  If this isn’t your cup of tea, scroll on down to the wildlife pictures at the bottom.

I’ve been striving to improve my train photography and have determined to work on it for a while. The train picture I’m proudest of is this one I took in March. The Sony A7R3 is a fantastic tool to track moving subjects – much better than its predecessor the A7R2. I set up my gear Friday night so I could get on the road early Saturday. I set the camera like this:

  • Shutter priority at 1/320 of a second
  • Focus area to “Lock on AF: Flexible Spot M[edium]”
  • Focus mode to “Continuous Autofocus”
  • Drive Mode to “Continuous Shooting Mid” This is 5 shots per second. There is also Hi: 8 frames a second, and Hi+ (which I think should be renamed to “Ludicrous”) at 10 frames a second.

Once I reached the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge – my favorite local train watching spot – I didn’t have long to wait to test things out – a northbound UP showed up just after I parked and got my white balance set.

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Shutter Priority. 1/320 sec at f/4.0. ISO 250. Focal Length 105mm

I was pretty happy with this first take – it wasn’t jump off the page great, but the flag, herald, and numbers looked fairly sharp. [Note: these images are not “out-of-the-camera”; all have all be cropped and processed in LightRoom]

I noticed that in shutter priority, the camera tries to keep a wide aperture and would push the ISO up. For testing purposes, I switched to Manual mode, and bumped up (narrowed) the aperture and let the camera take care of the ISO. This turns out to have been a mistake – as you’ll see if you keep reading.

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Manual Mode. 1/250 sec @ f/10. ISO 320. Focal Length 45mm

I had a burst of pictures; this one is okay but the next few were less sharp – the numbers on the number board weren’t as clear as I would have wished.  It was also a bit dark. The northbound trains are in the shade of the hill on my left – I used LightRoom to bring up the shadows.

I figured if things weren’t sharp, I’d up the f-stop to get more depth of field. I considered upping the shutter speed, but the trains aren’t moving that fast and I wanted to work on one variable at a time. For the next shot, I kept my focal length down and waited for the train to come to me – but it’s soooo hard to wait. This one looked good in the view finder but way, way dark in LightRoom; I had to raise the exposure by 1.85!

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Manual Mode. 1/250sec at f/13. ISO 400. Focal length 33mm.

Finally, a train coming from the north where it would be in direct sun for a bit.

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Manual mode: 1/250sec at f/10. ISO 320. Focal Length 105mm

I think the “Amtrak” on the front should be more clear; and even at f/10 there isn’t a big depth of field.

As I pushed the button to take a continuous series of pictures of this last train, I noticed something.

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Manual Mode. 1/250sec @ f/10. ISO 250. Focal Length 44mm

I took a long burst for this series – 22 shots. The first pictures were in great focus – but too far away for use. As the train passed I noticed that the focal point in the display didn’t track the locomotive like I expected it to once it locked on. It stayed in one place and the train passed through it. In this case those green containers were much sharper than the lead locomotive I was trying to track. WHAT???

If I can’t get an in focus picture with this camera/lens, then I’m doing something wrong – it’s not the equipment. I obviously need to sit down and figure out what I’m doing wrong. Ah, Google. I first searched for “train photography with sony A7RIII” – that turned up nothing; so I replaced “train” with “action” and came across this awesome, fantastic YouTube Camera Settings for Shooting Action – Sony Alpha A7RIII and A7III by Mark Galer “Sony Global Imaging Ambassador.”

I learned some stuff. For all the details, watch the video  where he goes through each setting he tweaks – I’m just going to highlight a few things that stood out for me.

First, he suggests shooting in Aperture Mode and starts with f/5.6. This is counter intuitive. But Mark tells us that when shooting at apertures higher (narrower) than f/8 the continual auto focus stops to work; the camera keeps its focus on the original focal point. This is exactly what I saw in my last photo burst of 22 pictures where the later pictures focal points were on the freight cars behind instead of the lead locomotive. It also explains why my first string of shots was in better focus. I was shooting at f/5.6.

Second, for focus area he picks “Lock-on AF: Expand Flexible Spot” to get better tracking.  I was close here with my “Lock on AF: Flexible Spot M” setting. I’m not sure what “expand flexible spot means.”  I’ll research that later.

Third, he changed a setting I didn’t know existed: “AF Track Sensitivity”. “If you need to be faithful to a particular subject” [e.g. locomotive]  change this from the default of 3(Standard)  to 1(Locked On). The camera will work harder to stick with the subject first focused on. That sounds great!

He also tells us not to be afraid of higher ISOs; one of the strengths of this camera is the ability to block out noise at the higher ranges. His Max setting is 12,800 – like I had already set.

The last high point I picked up is changing another setting I wasn’t aware of – “ISO AUTO Min SS” –  to “Fast” or “Faster”. This is the setting that allows us to use Aperture Priority instead of Shutter Priority. At the “Fast” and “Faster” settings the camera will speed up the shutter speed to diminish motion blur. You can also set the number directly – he suggests 1/1000 for fast moving subjects. I’m going to start working with Fast and Faster.

I like Mark Galer’s approach to teaching; I’ve subscribed to his YouTube channel. There is much more good information in the video. I adjusted my settings based on his video and saved them in one of the three memory banks. I’m going to try to get out this week and try the new settings – I’ll report back.

TL;DR [Too Long; Didn’t Read] If your Sony A7RIII action images are out of focus, watch the Mark Galer video linked above.

Now, back to my day of shooting. At one point between trains, I was reading a manual on my iPhone and flipping camera settings settings when I looked up and a doe and her fawn were no farther than 25 feet away. I tried not to jump as I brought my camera up.

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The fawn was worried about me but wanted to keep up with her mother.

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They took off to my left then circled behind me. When I saw them going the other way, a car was coming down the trail and the fawn bolted back to safety.

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Thanks for making it this far. I have high hopes that my setting changes will result in improved images.

About howardwthompson

I'm a person who likes to travel, read, cook, and eat
This entry was posted in Personal, Photography, Trains, Wildlife and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to New Lens Testing

  1. Pingback: Camera/Lens Testing Update | 2for66

  2. Frances says:

    That is a very ambition list of ways to stay engaged. I applaud you. Try not to get sucked into too much FB or UTube videos viewing. Your hours will just disappear before you realize it. 🤣

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