Photographic Improvements

Been having some down time over the Christmas break, both of the deliberate, and of the forced varieties. (Got rather sick after finishing work-guess the body decided I could afford to succumb once the stress of work appeared to have eased up. Stupid body!)

Other than a bit of mental space, family time, and time to knock over a couple of Lego builds, I’ve also been familiarising myself with a new camera.

2014 has seen a significant improvement in my setup for audio, video and stills.

I’ve added a Canon HFG30 video camera to the lineup, some Rode mics, a motorised slider for timelapse, and most recently (thanks Santa!) a new camera body and lens.

While photos for the blog don’t require the most sophisticated cameras (screen resolution is still very low for web-based images), I have a regular gig for a couple of magazines as well, and they do need decent res images. Not to mention that I have been resorting to using the iPhone for a number of blog images, and while pretty amazing for a camera based around a phone, it is still a very small lens, and tiny chip!

I had a very long debate about what route to go with the camera. I have been using Minolta for almost 30 years (although that sadly became Konica-Minolta, and the Sony in the last 10 or so), so have a lot of lenses, etc for that mount. It was very tempting to bite the bullet and head down the Canon or Nikon routes, but a combination of nostalgia, still having a lot of Minolta glass (and flash), and some really interesting points of difference between Sony and the other brands finally kept me with the same mount.

My first (semi-serious) camera (not counting an Exacta that I still have, which was the very first brand of 35mm SLR)


was a Minolta 7000. That was the world’s first body-integrated AF camera.


A few years later, I added what is still my favourite camera, the Minolta 9000. Titanium body, with both manual and motorised film advance, spot metering, and a bunch of other features, I loved this camera.


I used to run both the 7000 and 9000, with B&W in the 7000, and Fuji Velvia slide film in the 9000. I’d still be running both these cameras, except (sadly), the digital photographic age dawned. I stayed away for quite a while, but when Minolta (then Konica-Minolta) came out with their digital SLR, the impressive 6MP 7D, I was tempted to the darkside.


Unlike film cameras, digital cameras have a definite lifespan, and while my 7000 and 9000 are still working fine, the 7D died a few years later. This was replaced with a camera that I really suffered, the Sony A55. (Minolta had departed the photographic scene by that point, and had sold everything over to Sony, including the A mount). It was the end of the Minolta/Sony SLR, as in this case, the mirror is fixed, and there is no optical viewfinder with pentaprism head, so no longer a reflex. Instead the mirror is semi-transparent, and it is known as an SLT, or single-lens translucent. One advantage of this is the high frame rates now possible, with the A55 able to run up to 10fps.


While functional, the lack of control, and overall quality of the images has been a source of frustration, so with it also reaching end-of-life (prematurely), the latest body has been added to my collection.

The Sony A77 Mk ii.


I’m loving this camera. There is so much control over it, it is taking a bit of a learning curve, but with 24MP SLT, 12FPS, vertical grip, etc etc, it is proving a fun camera to use.

While the body was not cheap, the real splurge has been the new lens.

A Carl Zeiss 24-70 f2.8


This is a drool-worthy lens. Over 900g (twice the weight of the lens it is replacing), 77mm front end, a constant f2.8, and Zeiss glass.

First trials indicate this is an impressive combination of camera and lens. We will have it in the workshop soon enough, and although it probably won’t improve the online offerings much, it should make a difference to the printed articles, and allow me to easily get sharp images once again.

Super Lens

Nothing to do with woodworking, but I know some of you are also photography buffs.

Got a ‘new’ lens today from Ebay – one that I’d almost forgotten existed, or at least that it might be something now in reach.  It originally came onto the market in 1991, and remains even today the only production mirror lens able to autofocus (that, and the current Sony version which is the rebranded version (now that Minolta’s camera division was sold completely to Sony)).

It is the Minolta AF Reflex 500mm lens (equiv to 800mm on the non-full frame digital cameras, such as my A55.)

Not a great photo demonstrating the new lens…….except I took it handheld!  The lens is very light given its focal length – very little glass involved because of the mirrors.


December 31 saw the death of an icon: Kodachrome film. More precisely, the end of commercial processing of Kodachrome film. A particularly old process, and probably due for retirement years ago, but given its heavy use by photojournalists and photography aficionados, it lasted a very long time.  Many photos shot for National Geographic were on Kodachrome, including what is regarded as one of the most famous Geographic photos of all time, that of a young Afghan girl.

Such a sad day for old-school photographers.  Not necessarily the loss of a film format (or rather, process), but this, more than many other events in recent years spells the real death of chemical photography (as I call it).

With my recent experience of the dying of my first (serious) DSLR, I took some time today to go through my photographic equipment collection (ensuring I have a full collection of current equipment together for the latest camera.

Not unexpectedly, I got all the Exacta equipment out (East German (when there was such a thing), and the first range of Single Lens Reflex camera), and then my primary film cameras – the Minolta 9000 (and 7000).  I’d forgotten just how good these cameras were, especially the 9000. Definitely a professional 35mm SLR – it looks and feels great to use.  Sad the digital versions do not leave up to the standards set by this camera.  It is still going strong (even now), even after 15 years of heavy use by me (until I retired it in 2005).  From the motor drive at the bottom, that can take a drive battery slapped on (solidly) to its balance and features, it is one of the real victims of digital photography (like the Nikon F4, and obviously Kodachrome, and no doubt Fuji Velvia, arguably the greatest E6 (slide) film of modern time).  My best photos were all shot on Velvia fwiw.

I so miss using this camera.  I could almost be tempted to return to using film just to go back to it.  And for those that don’t know (but would care), Minolta no longer make cameras at all.  The 7000 was the first dedicated autofocus SLR, then the 9000 was produced for the professional market. Later, they combined with Konica when the first DSLRs came out to produce the 7D (my previous camera)

before selling the entire camera side of the company to Sony.

My latest is the A55 – hope it both lasts, and is a step back to  the quality cameras of old. (But I doubt it).  This is also not a SLR/DSLR.  The mirror is fixed, and semitransparent, so it now classifies as a DSLT.

Update: Interesting reading Brian’s comment, and it reminded me of the whole side of photography that I was heavily involved in – film development and printing.  Nocon was a big influence on me at the time, as was Ansel Adams.

My enlarger at the time was an LPL 7700 a professional colour enlarger.  Sold (regretfully) years ago as the digital photo age took over.


LPL 7700 Colour Enlarger Head

One reason I got away from digital competition photography is you really can’t have a good informed discussion on the merits of a photograph when one party hasn’t even heard of split-grade processing, zone systems, etc – so much has been forgotten about how to produce a really good photo with the apparent ease of digital ‘darkrooms’.

The sister site for Stu’s Shed is Stu’s Darkroom, which has a byline “Photographs and Images from the Lightbox and Darkroom of Stuart Lees, APSNZ”

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