From the pits, crowds and stages
With each new digital camera release we move further away from the dirtier elements of photography. No longer do digital sensors struggle with anemic dynamic range and poor low light performance. Everything is “clean” these days.
At the same time, lenses are being polished and aligned, exotic elements added and AF systems improved until they are the ultimate in optics. Sony’s GM line (or G Master) is their play at this high-end of lens design. I was lucky enough to get some pre-release time with their newest entry in the GM line, the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM.
Rewind. 2005. The Parish, Austin, TX. A first attempt at concert photography with a band that consistently dropped sonic milestones throughout my adulthood. Somehow I kept my shit together and strung together a few images I was proud of, and that was the fire that lit my photographic career.
2016 marked the 15-year anniversary of the Austin City Limits music festival and the tenth straight year I’ve aimed a camera at its stages. It also marks a time when music festivals saturate the summer landscape and the big productions like Coachella, Lollapalooza and ACL are competing with smaller, curated festivals that cater to focused genres. With all that competition, ACL continues to maintain its relevance, although not always through the music. The 2016 lineup was popular and varied enough to appeal to the wide demographic that attended, but the soul of ACL Fest is increasingly expressed by the fans themselves.
From the earliest days of the mirrorless movement, photographers have enjoyed the ability to adapt manual focus lenses made for various legacy camera mounts to their new systems. With their electronic viewfinders and focusing aids, mirrorless cameras are uniquely suited for the task of manual focusing older lenses. As one of those early adopters, I adapted every rangefinder or legacy SLR lens I could get my hands on.
The results were satisfying but manual focusing can be challenging for moving subjects or for those with poor eyesight. Thanks to the technology in the new Sony Alpha series mirrorless cameras – specifically those cameras with on-sensor phase detection autofocus – and the ingenuity of a small company in Hong Kong, we now have the ability to autofocus almost any manual focus lens manufactured over the past 75 years for the 35mm format.
This wizardry is delivered via a new smart adapter called the Techart Pro – I’m calling it TAP for short – for Sony’s latest generation of phase detect autofocus (PDAF) cameras: the a7RII, a7II and a6300. Don’t bother trying it with any previous Sony models but we might assume that future Sony PDAF cameras should be compatible. Out of the box, the adapter supports lenses made for Leica M mount, but due to the short flange distance of that platform, there is plenty of room for an additional adapter to stack on the TAP, thus increasing the mount compatibility to support: ALPA, Canon FD and EF, Contarex CRX, Contax/Yashica (C/Y), DKL, Exakta, Leica R, M42, Minolta MD, Nikon F, Olympus OM and Pentax K. These additional adapters can be purchased from Techart or perhaps more cheaply on eBay or Amazon. The TAP itself costs $349 and can be ordered directly from the manufacturer.
The manufacturer claims that TAP can focus a lens as large as 700g but for my purposes, I’m primarily looking at small and light rangefinder lenses as they maximize the compact potential of mirrorless. For this review I’m using the following selection of Zeiss ZM lenses:
- Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM
- Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM
- Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM
- Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* ZM
- Zeiss 85mm f/4 Tele Tessar T* ZM
Thursday, July 14th marked another milestone show in the storied history of Antone’s in Austin, TX. Celebrating its 41st anniversary, the venue hosted a surprise family get together featuring Gary Clark Jr and Barbara Lynn, as well as Don Leady & his Rockin’ Revue, featuring Jack Montesinos. With Susan Antone in attendance and a sell out crowd lucky enough to share the intimate evening with TX music greats, the new space on E 5th felt just right. Half way through his set, after commenting on how damn hot it was, Gary Clark Jr. recognized the uniqueness of the night – both points agreed upon by all in attendance.
These are exciting times for fans of legacy film lenses. Since the advent of mirrorless technology, photographers have adapted their old rangefinder and manual focus SLR lenses, but there have remained some wonderful optics that were for the most part, off limits. During the 1990s, camera makers were producing high end film compacts for discriminating professionals and enthusiasts. Cameras like the Leica Minilux, Contax T3, Konica Hexar AF and the Ricoh GR fit in a jacket pocket but rival the quality of larger SLR or rangefinder systems. While they continue to be used today by film aficionados, it is a sad day when they suffer from an electronics failure that can no longer be repaired.
Being a fan of compact film cameras like the Contax T2, Ricoh GR and the Leica Minilux, I couldn’t pass up a chance to test out the new conversion kit from MGR Productions that repurposes the Summarit 40mm f/2.4 lens from a Leica Minilux into an M-mount for use on my Sony. Check back for a full breakdown of the conversion process and samples.
The upside to having an eleven-year-old that is plane crazy is that I get to relive my own childhood love of aviation. A couple weekends ago we headed out to a vintage car and airplane show in Georgetown, TX with cameras in tow. My son had a little Konica A4 loaded up with some Kodak ProImage 100 while I grabbed the RX1RII and the a7RII with Touit 12mm. Click through for a gallery of our good times.
When mirrorless first emerged on the market back in 2008 with the Panasonic DMC-G1 – not counting the earlier and more esoteric rangefinders from Epson and Leica – the concept of a smaller camera performing at the level of a dSLR was quite foreign to photographers and if we are fair, still a few years off. As Olympus, Fuji, Leica, Ricoh, Pentax, Sony and eventually even Canon and Nikon jumped into the nascent format, all the early systems were small, with lenses that matched the diminutive bodies. Those early systems like the Olympus Pen, the Sony NEX and the Ricoh GXR were a revelation to photographers sick of the ever expanding waistline of their dSLR kits.