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26 Mar

LCDVF as EVF solution for NEX

In Reviews by Greg / March 26, 2011 / 2 Comments

If you have not heard of the LCDVF product please read about it on their website here – www.lcdvf.com/

The LCDVF is a viewfinder optic and hood that attaches to your LCD screen, turning it into a giant EVF. A metal frame is stuck to the LCD and the LCDVF has very strong magnets that hold it perfectly in place against the LCD screen. This method would work great with any model that has live view, particularly those with main sensor live view. At first I was really put off by the idea since the LCDVF adds quite a bit of size to the NEX, but for my shooting style it doesn’t matter much.

Before looking toward the LCDVF, I tried the Hoodman Hoodloupe, and I cannot recommend that product to anyone. The attachment straps are a terrible idea and only the center of the image stays in focus, the edges are out of focus just like a cheap camera lens. You also have to adjust focus on the hoodloupe, unlike the LCDVF which is perfectly focused and does not have (or need) an adjustment. It costs almost the same as the LCDVF by the time you buy any of the required attachment options and it is of much lower quality. That being said I really liked the idea of the Hoodloupe so after a lot of research and review reading I went for the LCDVF.

Yesterday I finally received mine, I purchased the 16:9 model which is specifically designed for NEX and certain M4/3 cameras with 16:9 screens. It fits over the NEX screen almost perfectly, just being slightly too narrow but its not cutting off anything I need to see at all.

Today I took the LCDVF attached my NEX-5 and my a55 out so I could do a comparison between the a55 EVF and the NEX with LCDVF…and lets just say there is no comparison. I actually do like the a55 EVF despite its limitations, but once you get used to using the wonderful NEX LCD with a magnifier as an EVF, there is just no comparison. It has excellent eye relief and its very easy to manually focus.

It also gives you the ability to shoot larger lenses with the NEX without a tripod, since you get the extra stability of having the camera propped against your face. It helps in so many ways I can say the LCDVF will always be in my bag when I am doing any significant amount of shooting with the NEX.

I am also planning to order an extra 16:9 frame for the a55 since I used both frames for my pair of NEX-5’s. Once I get one on the a55 I am not sure I’ll ever use it’s EVF again…. Again let me emphasize that I actually like the a55 EVF, but by comparison the LCDVF is so much better to me.

The LCDVF includes a padded carrying case, a strap, a padded eye cushion and 2 metal frames for attaching to your camera. The strap is useful so you can switch back and forth between using the LCD normally and using it with the LCDVF without having to pocket the LCDVF each time.

That being said, it really wasn’t designed with photography in mind. The big eyepiece is perfectly suited to wrap around your eye when shooting in landscape orientation. But it does not have a way to rotate the eyepiece for portrait shooting. I might have to find a way to trim the eyepiece or make it rotate. Shooting in portrait is still great even with this limitation.

There is a small amount of light that leaks around the joint between the frame and the LCDVF when shooting in bright sun, but its not bothersome to me.

Overall, I love the LCDVF and highly recommend it to anyone looking to have EVF-like capability on their NEX, or even for a5xx and SLT users with who want to use it as an EVF replacement / substitute.

07 Jan

Sony cameras and infrared

In Infrared by Greg / January 7, 2011 / 4 Comments

While I never shot infrared in the film days, I know that with any camera it was possible to get started shooting infrared just as simply as buying infrared film and an IR filter. With digital things have changed a bit, while most digital sensors are perfectly suited to capturing infrared light, there is very little support for it from camera manufacturers. Nearly all digital cameras have powerful IR-blocking filters installed over the imaging sensor preventing IR photography with anything other than very long exposures. Sure, Sony has the Nightshot mode, but daytime IR photography is at best very difficult and the results are really quite limited as its real purpose is shooting at night, and then there were a few offerings from Fuji which never seemed to take off. Infrared is definitely a niche and perhaps the fact that only a relative few are into it is for the best.

So then, what do you need to get started in infrared? The short answer is any digital camera – since nearly all digital sensors are very sensitive to IR light, even with the blocking filters most of them have, its still possible with 30 second exposures to get started. If you are really serious about infrared, then a converted digital camera is the way to go. There are currently a handful of companies offering infrared conversions which I will talk more about in a later post. What I do want to point out now are features that make particular cameras better candidates for IR conversion – there are only two features I consider “must have”:

1. Custom White Balance – because IR cameras are essentially responding to infrared light and creating visible light images, it is necessary to use a pretty extreme white balance if you are interested in doing false color infrared. Note that the camera should have both a custom WB feature which attempts to automatically set the WB as well as a manual white balance. If your only interest is in black and white infrared, then this feature is unnecessary. Without a custom white balance feature it is typically near impossible to achieve an acceptable IR white balance.

2. RAW file support – in order to get the most from your custom white balanced files it really helps to have a camera that supports RAW. As a personal rule I shoot all photos in RAW, be it “normal color” or infrared, because it allows me to get the most out of every picture, this is a preference that I know some will disagree with. For infrared its mostly the same rule, it also allows me to create custom color profiles to use with Adobe Camera Raw allowing even better false colors IR.

In addition, there are some features that while non-essential can certainly make things a lot easier:
1. Main sensor live view – this allows you to compose the image exactly as the camera sees it, so you can adjust white balance as well as judge the exposure without taking a shot first.

2. Main sensor manual focus check – this is a feature where the camera can enlarge a live view image in the LCD so that you can verify the focus is correct. It is important that the camera uses its primary image sensor for live view (example – Sony a550/a580) as some cameras have a dedicated live view sensor (example – Sony a350). The reason is that IR light focuses differently than visible light and in a converted camera the infrared pass filter is installed over the sensor where the IR-blocking filter was.

3. Main sensor Contrast Autofocus – this allows the primary sensor to autofocus making accurate AF possible with nearly any AF lens and focal length. The main disadvantage is that Contrast AF is not as fast as the traditional Phase Detect AF used on nearly all DSLR’s.

4. Mirrorless cameras – while this is more an entire class of cameras rather than a feature, I consider these an advantage for IR photography. Since the OVF of a traditionally DSLR cannot offer much help other than composing the photo in visible light, in addition the phase detect AF sensors cannot accurately autofocus in IR, it’s best just to get rid of these items. Mirrorless cameras lack these things making them smaller and lighter – in addition to being able to adapt a huge range of lenses for other camera mounts.

Since I am a Sony user, I will provide a short list of features offered in current camera models that are helpful to IR. Note that I do not recommend any current model of Cybershot camera as none of them offer a manual custom white balance or RAW support (eventually I may do another post on Cybershot models for infrared). All current Sony NEX and Alpha’s offer both manual custom white balance and RAW support.

a500/a550:
-Main sensor live view – allows manual focus and composition in IR through LCD

a560/a580
-Main sensor live view – allows manual focus and composition in IR through LCD
-Main sensor contrast AF – means AF is possible with a-mount lenses

NEX3/NEX5
-Main sensor live view – allows manual focus and composition in IR through LCD
-Main sensor contrast AF – means AF is possible with e-mount and SAM/SSM a-mount lenses using the LA-EA1 adapter
-Can adapt a huge range of other lenses with third party adapters
-OVF is removed which is an advantage for IR since it isn’t very useful

This is not to say other cameras offered by Sony cannot be used for IR, the features and cameras listed above are specifically beneficial to infrared photography. My first DSLR converted was a Sony a350 and it has performed excellently as an infrared camera. My second is a mirrorless Sony NEX-5 and I have yet to take pictures that I feel are really better than my a350, its mainly just an easier camera to use with infrared for the reason’s listed above. Plus, it takes up a lot less room in my camera bag which is a great.

As a final note, you may also be wondering about the new SLT (a33 and a55 models) technology from Sony. At this time no one to my knowledge has converted an SLT for infrared photography. My concern would be that the fixed mirror may not respond favorably to infrared light, it may block light or add glare to every image. Features wise the a55 does not offer any advantage for IR over its a580 counterpart, in fact it is less useful because it lacks the Contrast based AF. I would shy away from SLT’s for infrared work, though I do use an a55 for regular photography and it is an excellent everyday camera.

03 Jan

Wireless Radio Flash Trigger for NEX

In DIY,Mods by Greg / January 3, 2011 / 4 Comments

I originally posted this on DPReview here, but thought I would repost it here for my website readers, with some minor edits –

I have been trying to find a reliable way to trigger external flashes with the NEX, particularly so I can use my infrared converted NEX with flash. This way seems to work quite well, I am able to reliably trigger 3 flashes that I use for shooting in my small lightbox. I have tested shutter speeds from 1/5 – 1/160 with good results.

Here you see a wireless radio flash trigger taped to the NEX on-board flash and attached to a cheap optical slave flash trigger. I then cover this assembly with my Lensbaby pouch (just happens to be the right size) so it does not leak any light:

NEX-5 with Radio Trigger setup

Just to show the NEX triggering its own flash for this shot – the flashes from above and the side were triggered by the NEX’s onboard flash, not by my trusty a700 which took the picture:

NEX Triggering its own flashes

Here is a quick test shot with the NEX-5 triggering 3 flashes – 1 above in a softbox (Canon 430EZ), 1 on the right through an umbrella (Minolta 5600HS) and 1 on the left through umbrella (Minolta 5400HS). Just to prove its possible to trigger flashes with the NEX (I had been having trouble getting it to trigger an optical slave, but with the radio popper trick it works much better).

Test Shot - NEX triggered external flashes

Here is the radio trigger I used:
http://www.amazon.com/…XZW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286043360&sr=8-1

And here is the optical trigger:
http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.8291

I am still hoping for Sony to offer real options for controlling flashes on the NEX, but this will do the trick for now.

02 Jan

Front Page Images

In Uncategorized by Greg / January 2, 2011 / 0 Comments

Here are the images posted on my front page:

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31 Dec

Christmas Photos

In Christmas by Greg / December 31, 2010 / 0 Comments

This year for Christmas, I decided it would be fun to do a series of pictures to commemorate this special time of year. Many of them were used on Christmas cards that I designed myself. The Christmas card making part ended up being much bigger of an undertaking than I anticipated as the cost to make my own cards was far more than just buying the handful of cards I needed. That is not to complain though, it was fun and everyone really enjoyed them and I will most likely do it again next year, its just not a good way to save money during the most expensive time of year. Here are the pics:

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31 Dec

Night of Worship

In Events by Greg / December 31, 2010 / 0 Comments

On November 28, 2010 I had the honor of photographing Church of the Open Door in Elyria Ohio for their 60th anniversary celebration.  The church was completely packed with church members who normally worship in separate services with distinct worship styles.  The first 60 years have been great, hopefully the next 60 years will be even better!

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