Street Photography and the Sony A7s

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Recently I took a trip to NYC and I wanted practice street photography on the same streets as Gary Winogrand and Robert Frank. I chose the Sony A7s to take with me because I’m spoiled on a full frame sensor and the option to change lenses. The Sony A7s is easily in my top 3 favorite cameras, and I’ve previously used it and loved it for sports, landscapes, portraits, and video. I enjoy the responsive and silent shutter, the intuitive AF tracking, and the great low light performance. Most of all I love how small and lightweight it is.

In one of our previous articles from 2009 we outline what makes a good camera and lens combination for Street Shooting. Though it is a bit outdated the core advice is still the same.

Use a camera that is light enough to carry all day, and small enough to be inconspicuous. 

Many times, the goal of street photography is to capture what is happening around you without interrupting or being intrusive. The size of the A7s helps with this and the silence of the shutter could leave a shooter almost unnoticed.

This advice is also for the comfort of the photographer. If you are most comfortable with your D4s and carry it everywhere you go, then by all means use that.

Speed is Important

Because of the spontaneous nature of street photography, it’s important to choose a camera that turns on and is ready to shoot very quickly. In addition, it’s best to avoid cameras with a long shutter lag or poor autofocus. Missing shots is inevitable but how many you miss can depend on the speed of your gear. In fact, it’s best to have a camera that performs well in auto mode. If your manual settings aren’t prepared for the situation it’s good to trust that you can just switch the dial to auto and have fair chances of a decent exposure.

Speaking of exposure, its important to be prepared for low light situations. For shooting indoors or just walking around at night, you must consider the maximum aperture of the lens and the ISO capabilities of the camera. I always suggest at least f/2.8, but the joy of prime lenses is the benefit of an even wider aperture.

I paired my A7s with a traditional documentary style focal length, FE 35mm f/2.8,  which is so tiny I barely knew it was there and opens up enough for most low light situations. You can see in this previous post how impressive the image quality is as well. I also threw in the FE 55mm f/1.8 lens for times when a bit more reach might be in order or I want to snag a portrait of one of my travel buddies.


There is some debate between the need of an optical viewfinder vs. an electronic viewfinder. My advice is to first, just make sure you have a viewfinder period. Live view alone is not ideal, though it is a very useful feature. When shooting in bright sunlight it is impossible to see the screen to compose images.

When using an OVF you see the actual action happening in real time with the exception of when the shutter fires and the view momentarily obstructs itself.

An EFV gives an uninterrupted view of the action, but on some cameras can lag, distort color or not show an accurate frame. I am happy with the EFV on the Sony A7s as it has never given me any of those problems and it has a 100% view. I particularly enjoy the automatic zoom in for manual focusing and ability to review images.


The A7s is overall a great performer for street shooting. This translates into any vacation or travel situation as well. It's small enough to fit in a purse or large pocket, and large enough to feel comfortable in hands big or small. The external dials make it user-friendly for shooters of all levels and the automatic settings are very adequate.


Sarah McAlexander


August, 2015


Quick MTF of the Tokina 24-70 f/2.8 PRO Fx

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Courtesy Tokina, USA

Tokina is releasing a new competitor in the 24-70mm f/2.8 standard zoom lens group. It's a reasonably sized lens, having an 82mm diameter front ring, measuring 4.25 inches long, and weighing 2.2 pounds. That's just a bit smaller and lighter than the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC USD or Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mk II L lenses, a bit shorter and heavier than the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 AF-S G. Of course there is an ultrasonic motor and 9 bladed aperture assembly.

The Tokina has 15 elements in 11 groups with 3 molded aspheric and 3 ultra-low dispersion glass elements.

The release price is $1,000, making it a bit less expensive than the Tamron and far less expensive than the name brand 24-70 f/2.8 lenses. If the Tokina can deliver performance in the neighborhood of the other 24-70 lenses, its aggressive pricing should make it very popular.

We got our hands on one copy of the Tokina today. As you know, I prefer to test at least 10 copies to get and idea about the range of sample variation with a new lens, but it may be weeks before we get more of these, so I ran the one we had through our MTF bench just to get an idea of what it would be like. I'll directly compare it to the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC USD lens in this post.

Focal Length Comparison

Most zoom lenses have better resolution at certain focal lengths. All of the 24-70 f/2.8 zooms we've tested have been weakest at 70mm and strongest at 24mm, which makes sense for a couple of reasons. The Tokina is certainly no exception, being awesomely sharp at 24mm but fading a bit at 50mm through 70mm.  (I apologize to those who can't see the entire 800-pixel image without scrolling. We try to stay at 600 pixels, but this just isn't readable at that size.)

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

Comparison with the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC

The logical comparison for the Tokina 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO Fx is with the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC USM since they are the two primary third-party lenses in this focal length range. (Yes, Sigma has a 24-70mm zoom, but it's a much older, soon to be replaced design and just not as good as the newer lenses.) If you'd like to see how it compares with the manufacturer's 24-70 f/2.8 lenses you can see their measurements in our previous 24-70mm post.

Both lenses are at their best at 24mm. The Tokina, though, is clearly better in the center. In the outer 1/3 of the image there's not a lot of difference, however.

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015


At 50mm things are remarkably even. I wouldn't even begin to try to hair-split any differences.

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015


At 70mm, as we saw in the 24-70mm comparison we did last week, the Tamron really falls off. The Tokina remains every bit as good as it was at 50mm, and is clearly better than the Tamron.

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015


So What Does This Mean?

Well that really depends how much stock you put in MTF of your lenses. From that standpoint, it looks like the Tokina has better resolution than the Tamron at 70mm and in the center at 24mm. Otherwise, they're very even. Based on MTF, and with a lower price point, I'd have to declare the Tokina the better lens.

There's a lot more to it than that, though. The Tamron has vibration control and depending upon your shooting habits that may be a huge difference. Higher MTF doesn't matter a bit in a motion-blurred photograph. Plus the Tamron has been available for some time and is known as a reliable lens with low copy-to-copy variation. There would also be a slightly different choice depending upon which brand you shoot with. The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mk II is a really good lens; a bit better than the Tokina. If I shot Canon and money was no object, the Canon lens would be the way to go. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S isn't the best Nikkor zoom, so if I was a Nikon shooter, I'd be strongly leaning to one of the third-party zooms. Or waiting for the new Nikon 24-70mm lens to arrive.

And let's remember, this is one copy of the Tokina compared to the average of multiple Tamron lenses. I'll feel a lot more comfortable when I've tested 10 copies of the Tokina and seen how much sample variation there is. But for now, the Tokina is looking like a really good lens and an awesomely good price.


Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube


July, 2015

A Quick Look at the New Sigma 24-35 f/2 Art

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Image Courtesy Sigma USA


I generally do MTF testing on multiple copies of a given lens so that I can present the averages, look at sample variation, and stuff like that. I'm always aware that looking at any single copy of a lens, especially a zoom lens, gives only a limited prediction of how other copies might look. But sometimes a limited prediction is still pretty exciting. As luck would have it, I was able to get a single copy of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2.0 DG HSM Art lens for testing today. It will be a week before we have enough copies to begin doing out multiple copy tests, so I thought I'd go ahead and post the results of the one copy. Continue reading

24-70 f/2.8 Zoom MTF and Variation

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We've finished, mostly, our fairly long series of articles on SLR prime lens variation. We started with prime lenses for several reasons. They are much quicker (and quicker is a relative term here) to test than zooms. They are simpler lenses and we expected that meant they would have less variation. We learned a lot doing the prime lenses and now feel we're ready to start looking into the more complex of zoom lenses. Continue reading

Using the Zacuto Zgrip Relocator for C100 with the Movi M5

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We are currently teaming up with our friends over at Zacuto as a part of the #withmycamera Giveaway. Today, you can win a $600 LensRentals.com Rental Credit as well as a $1250 Zacuto Gift Card! Check out all the details here!

I think this would be a great opportunity to talk about one of my favorite ways in which Zacuto helps me get the job done. Two of my favorite products would have to be the Movi M5 and Canon C100. I shoot mostly weddings, so the C100 is the perfect option for me, with its Dual Pixel AF, C-log, built-in ND, and incredible low-light performance. The Movi M5 gives me an enormous amount of versatility on a wedding day, allowing me to have almost limitless creativity with my shots.

The AF on the C100 is really handy and works very well, though it's not perfect. When it works correctly, it allows me to achieve breathtaking shots, but when it doesn’t work correctly, it makes my shot completely unusable. During a wedding, I can’t always tell the bride and groom, “go back to 1.”

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Supertelephoto MTF Curves

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Brandon has accomplished much during his summer with us, including several things I never thought we'd be able to do. One of those things was measuring the MTF of supertelephoto lenses on our optical bench. A vertical bench just isn't designed to handle the mass of those big lenses and technically isn't supposed to be able to test anything over 200mm focal length. Brandon found some workarounds that allowed us to get accurate MTF readings on a number of supertelephoto lenses.


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Using ND Filters to Balance Ambient Light With Artificial Light

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A week or so ago, I posted an article about some of the features on the Profoto B1 that separate it from the competition. Among those features, was High-Speed Sync, allowing you to use off camera lighting at shutter speeds faster than 1/200th of a second. Today, I would like to tell you about how to achieve that same goal, but with the use of one of my favorite tools - The Neutral Density Filter.

What is a Neutral Density Filter?

Typically, I’ve found the best way to describe a Neutral Density filter to photographers, is calling it a pair of sunglasses for your camera. It doesn’t add any color gradients to your images (or a good one won’t at least), but simply, just stops the amount of light coming into your camera lens. This can be effective for a lot of reasons. Landscape photographers often use them to create interesting effects using a long exposure. An ND filter allows you to stop down your shutter speed, and get super smooth water and clouds in images when extending the time the shutter is open. But the opposite is also true, and ND filter can allow you to open your aperture more, allowing for a shallow depth of field in your portrait work when lighting on location. This is how I often use ND filters for my work, and then compliment the subject with flattering light coming from off-camera flash.

Mastering the ND Filter Technique

Many people often ask me why I use ND filters in my work, and the answer I always give them is balance. When I began shooting outdoor portraits, I was frustrated that my skies were always white in color, instead of showing the great depth of blue that I often see. In order to fix that, I needed to find a way to balance the ambient light with flash, and began using an Alien Bee B800 with my work, however, this brought a whole new realm of problems for me. For one, in order to get the colors out of the sky, I often had to shoot at f/11+, cause my shutter speed was limited to 1/200th of a second (The max sync speed for most traditional strobes & flashes). The result was an image with everything in focus, and with no draw to the subject in the photo. So I went back to the drawing board.

Image Taken Using a 4-Stop ND Filter to balance Ambient and Artificial Light

ND Filter Allows me to Balance Lights on Location, Giving me a Shallow DOF

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A Quick Guide to Teleconverters

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Teleconverter use and compatibility can easily get confusing. I'd like to shed some light on the subject for those looking to get more length out of their lenses without the extra weight or cost.

Teleconverters can add versatility to your camera bag by giving you extra length and a variety of looks out of lenses you already own. It can also mean a much lighter load  to carry through a wildlife excursion or golf tournament.


Nikon 2x Teleconverter Mounted Between Lens and Camera

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Variation Measurements for Telephoto Lenses

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We're nearing the end of the Varation series for prime lenses. If you are joining in late, you may want to go back to the original article for an introduction into the methods used. Today will look at the short telephoto group, lenses ranging in focal length from 85mm to 150mm. We've also included a summary table of all the lenses we've tested to date at the end of the article.


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Variation Measurements for Wide-Angle Lenses

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When we started this series, we introduced our methods using 24mm lenses, then followed up with looks at the 50mm and 35mm groups. Today we're going to go back to the wide-angle lenses; the ones we expect to have the most variation of all. We probably should call this post the Zeiss Invitational, since they have by far the most wide-angle options. We also left a couple of the 24mm 'ish' lenses out of our opening post, so this post will include some of those, too.

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