Sony HX-99 & Sony A7iii Update

I bought a Sony HX-99 compact mirrorless camera about a month ago to replace my previous Sony compact the HX-80.  I thought the HX-80 was a very good compact and the HX-99 is very similar with some significant improvements.

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Shot with Sony HX-99 using raw, edited with Adobe Lightroom Classic CC – The top shot was with my Sony A7iii and Sony 24-105 lens.  

The significant improvements you get with the HX-99 are

  • Ability to use Sony raw
  • Eye auto focus like what I have in my Sony A7iii
  • Face and Smile auto focus
  • Touch screen with same limits as on A7iii
  • Improved electronic viewfinder
  • Improved rear view screen
  • Adjustment ring around the lens for a variety of things it can do that can be set in the menu
  • Additional button on the back of the body that can also be programmed for different adjustments
  • 4K video in 24 and 30p

All of these features for $69 more than I paid for the HX-80.  Total price is $449.  In my humble opinion this is a screaming deal.  The carry over significant features from the HX-80 are

  • Very compact size.  Easily fits into small pockets.  Thicker than a smartphone but smaller over all.
  • Steady shot vibration reduction
  • 24-720 mm optical focal range!
  • Built in electronic viewfinder
  • Can be completely auto with very good auto recognition of scenes and excellent exposure control.  But also a full compliment of M, A, S, and P settings.
  • Built in flash
  • Very complete menu with bracketing and HDR
  • Very fast and accurate auto focus
  • Zebras and histogram in back screen and viewfinder
  • Excellent video capability with good built in microphone
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Sony HX 99
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Sony HX 99

I sold my Sony HX 80 compact because it could not use raw photo files.  I bought the Sony HX 99 when I found out it could.  But I did not expect that this little gem of a camera would add things like eye auto focus, 4K, touch screen, improved viewfinder, and two more programable controls.  To show you how good this camera can shoot long telephoto shots take a look at this Panda I shot at the Zoo today.

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Shot with Sony HX 99 at f8 and 160 ISO at a bit over 500mm (equivalent) 

If you pixel peep you can see a bit more noise than if I had used my A7iii with a 500mm lens, but this is not a noisy photo.

This camera is excellent for street-type photos.

I like to shoot raw.  But if you want to not bother this camera puts out very good jpegs.

The auto focus on this camera is excellent.  Much better than my iPhone XS max.  It is very similar to my Sony A7iii.  With a much smaller sensor than my A7iii the auto focus on this camera sometimes is better than the A7iii.  This happened to the yellow flower shot two rows of photos up.  I also used my Sony A7iii for this same group of flowers.  The HX 99 grabbed the flowers better than the larger camera.  I would guess that with the much bigger sensor of the A7 that the much smaller depth of the filed of focus allowed the compact camera to out focus it’s big brother.

If you pixel peep using Lightroom you can see that the image files from the full frame A7iii have much less noise than from the little camera.  In most cases you just add some noise reduction and it is fixed.  But of course you lose some detail when you put in the noise reduction.  The Sony HX 99 has about 50% more mega pixels than my iPhone XS max.  The Sony also has a nice quality Zeiss lens and the iPhone does not.  If I had to pick if the HX 99 or the iPhone XS max gave better results in general I would say the HX 99 is better by a little at 58mm and down and that the Sony is far better for tele shots where you can use it’s long lens.  But I have been able to get some really remarkable files from the Apple when it used smart HDR.

The Sony HX 99 handles like a regular small camera.  All the usual camera controls are on it unlike a smartphone.  But the big screen of the iPhone works very well as a viewfinder.  The Sony has direct controls that work when you tell them to.  Apple has put a computer between the camera operator and the camera itself.  So that means that when you tell the iPhone to flash or smart HDR the computer has the last say.  I like cameras that do what you tell them to do.  I hope Apple goes back to the way the flash and HDR worked just a couple of software upgrades ago.  I used to be able to set HDR and it would just do it, now, who knows.  I would guess that this fall when Apple adds a predicted third camera with longer telephoto that I will have to revisit if that iPhone is better than this camera.  For now the Sony is better.  But then I paid $449 for it and no phone included.

In almost all cases a full frame camera like the A7iii is going to be better than a compact like the HX 99.  But most of the time you don’t need better than the compact.  Most of the time unless you look carefully you will not be able to tell the difference.

Sony A7iii update.  

The secret of the Sony menu system for me has been to just get used to it and remember where things are.  If you are coming from Nikon like I did then Sony menus are just really different.  But at this point I am used to them.  By the way, the Sony HX 99 and A7iii are almost the same.  If you know one the other is easy.

The Sony A7iii is still not as comfortable in the hand as the Nikon DSLRs I had.

I have recently bought a very high quality Sony / Minolta 100 mm f2.8 macro and Sony / Minolta 100-400mm lens.  They both work great adapted on my A7iii.  I will put up a post soon about those lenses.  The 100mm is just stupendously beautiful in its results.  A gorgeous lens.

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All three of these are from the Sony HX 99

RVing Can Be A Very Good Way To Travel

The top photo is from our first RV trip to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta about 4 years ago.  This is a spectacular event to attend in a motorhome or trailer.  You are way closer to the action than if you stayed in a hotel.  Often the balloons land right in the area where you are parked, there is free transport to and from the fiesta, and this is by far the least expensive way to go.

I have been RVing using motorhomes since 1980, so this is my 39th year.  Like almost all travel RVing has it’s pluses and minuses.  If you have not traveled this way start this year.  If you are living outside North America then fly here and rent a motorhome.  Many of my business associates from Europe have done this and really enjoyed themselves.  It is very easy to rent an RV in the United States and you can learn to drive one easily assuming that we are talking about something shorter than 30ft.  For beginners 25ft is a good starting point to rent.  Huge ones like our bus take a LOT more practice to get the driving right.

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This is our Country Coach Affinity and the Jeep Wrangler we tow.  We have owned the bus over ten years and the Jeep for over 5.  Learning to use a big bus like this takes effort, but using a small motorhome or trailer is very easy.  A big rig like what we drive is expensive to maintain and buy.  A small trailer or motorhome is not.  If you already have a truck you are half the way to getting out of town in a trailer.  If you are new to RVing rent first.  My strong recommendation is to rent several times and several different types of motorhomes before you buy.  I cringe when I see posted on RV forums that someone has sold their house and is buying a new $400,000 motorhome and has never been on the road in one before.  What if they don’t like it?  What if you buy a 40 foot bus and your style of RVing is more attuned to a mini motorhome to camp in National and State parks.

Lake peck spilway clouds oly V50

When you RV you go to places in the beautiful United States that are seldom visited by people who travel by plane or car.  Like Fort Peck Montana.  It is one of the most awesome scenery places I have ever been to.  It is way out there in eastern Montana and I only found out about it because I got the AAA tour guide and took their recommendation to go.  I did add just a bit of color to the above photo but this one is right out of the camera.

Fort Peck road lamps minolta ektar

The above shot of the lake at Fort Peck is exactly how I got the photo back from the developer.  I shot it with a 30+ year old Olympus OM2n and Kodak Ekar film.  And North Coast Photographic in Carlsbad CA developed it.  If you use film and need a reliable lab that will turn out shots like the one above use North Coast.  They happily do mail order.  And are fast.

One of the features of RV travel that I love is the fact that when you close the door on the rig you own or one you have rented and start off your vacation begins.  That does not happen when you are flying off to some place like Italy.  A year and a half ago we flew to Venice and even though American Airlines did a pretty good job it was still about 18 hours of uncomfortable.  Some nit wit behind me played chess on the screen back of my head all night and so kept me awake all night.  No one should call that the beginning of their vacation.  When I get into our bus and take off I am in a big comfortable captain’s chair and I enjoy driving our Country Coach.  I also like the fact that once we get there we have a Jeep Wrangler to drive and often go to places most cars cannot.

We have not been out in our coach since the end of last summer and I am excited to go.  Of course things can happen like bad weather, bad campsite, crummy restaurant food, but we are not going far and I know the place we are going has hot mineral tubs outside so you can take a warm-hot soak and see the Milky-Way.  Plus we get to take our dog, who keeps us company.  See you on the road.

When Shooting Spring – 1. Use a tripod. 2. Use a Manual Camera. 3. Consider or Just Use Film

Advanced digital cameras with automatic features are great for action, low light, and video.  They are not that good for shooting spring flowers and other things that bloom in the spring.  For me spring has arrived.  My first California poppy bloomed today and I have early roses coming out.  Half of my yard is fields of blooming Alyssum and other wildflowers.  I record spring happenings like this every year.

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Sony A7iii with 55mm f1.8 lens 

Shots like the above are just far easier with manual cameras.  I had to fiddle with the Sony A7iii to get the focus on the orange poppy and not the background.  My iPhone absolutely refused to get sharp focus.  But my almost 40 year old Olympus with manual focus only was completely simple.  I have negative film in it so I know that the highlights will not get blown easily.  But from past experience I know flowers tend to be about 1 stop over a center weighted meter.  So I just set the Oly -1 stop.  Put it on a little light tripod, took maybe 30 seconds to focus precisely on the flow and took the shot.  Of course the disadvantage of film is you have to wait for it to be developed to see the results.  So I can remember how I shot the photo I keep a photo log in my iPhone notes app.

Then I loaded a roll of Ektachrome into one of my Minolta 600si’s.  Getting that set up was about twice as hard as the Olympus because the Minolta has auto focus and no manual focus aids in the viewfinder.  But no menus to putz with so maybe 10 times easier than my full auto Sony A7iii.

Film.  I have a bunch of film (maybe 25 rolls) left over from last year.  None of it has expired.  I just have not shot much of it lately because I have been too busy playing with my full frame Sony and iPhone.  But now that spring has arrived there are all kinds of beautiful subjects that will be available and I want to use some of my older cameras.  I have heard some disquieting news that Kodak Alaris is selling the film business.  As I mostly use Kodak film I hope there will not be any problems with supply.  Overall I like the look of Kodak film better than any other.  I would have to say Ilford makes excellent black and white.  The last roll I shot was Ilford 50 speed and it was just a great result.  And Fuji has announced they are raising their film price 30% soon.  So I don’t know how to read that.  30% + of their consumer film is not that much, but 30% on Velvia or Provia is a bunch.  That would make Velvia about 20 bucks a roll and that is too much.  The current price of $15 bucks is already too high.  BUT.

BUT continued – if I had just used my film cameras this past year and my old Nikon D5500 and Sony HX80 it would have been far far cheaper than what I spent to get two full frame cameras.  New full frame cameras and especially full frame camera glass that is good is soooooooo expensive it just makes my head swim.  New full frame lenses are being introduced left and right by Sony, Canon, Nikon, Sigma, and a bunch of others.  The latest for my Sony camera is a 135mm f1.8 – I am sure it is a great lens, but it costs $1,900 US dollars!!!! And it weights over 2 lbs (almost a kilo).  Good grief Charlie Brown that is a lots of dough and very big and heavy.  I have an Olympus 135mm f3.5.  These sell for about $40 on eBay and it weighs about 8 oz.  If I wanted I could get an Oly 2.8 for about $75.  Or I could get a Minolta AF 135 2.8 that would work on my A7iii for about $140.

I have bought two Minolta lenses from eBay that are supposed to arrive tomorrow.  1.  100mm f2.8 AF macro.  This lens is rated as about 9.5 on a scale of 1-10.  I paid $220 for it including shipping.  Condition is rated as mint.  2.  Minolta 100-400 f4.5-6.3. I am curious to see how good this lens is.  The reviews I read on it said it was good to excellent.  I paid about $250 including shipping.  Rated Excellent + condition.  I have been thinking about getting this 100-400 for a while now but was trying to decide if I wanted to pony up the $2,500+ for the Sony new one.  Then I tested the Minolta 70-210 f4.5-5.6 that I have against my Sony 24-105 f4 I bought new a couple of months ago.  I thought the Sony would blow it away.  It did not.  I shot some houses on a hill opposite out house that are about 2-3 miles away and the Sony and Minolta are about equivalent.  I paid $32 for the Minolta lens about 2 years ago.  Just before Christmas I paid $1,300 for the Sony.  The Minolta lens is smaller and lighter than the shorter zoom Sony.  The Minolta 100-400 I have coming is much smaller and far lighter than the new Sony 100-400mm.

I bought the 100mm 2.8 macro because spring is here.  I have been using various 50-55mm lenses on my Sony and Minoltas and 50 & 135 on my Olympus bodies.  The Minolta 100 has been rated as a great lens by a number of people including just last week the “Casual Photographer” blog.  Ken Rockwell has raved about how good the lens is.  So I am looking forward to it.  100mm in macro is just easier to use than 50mm macro.  My Zeiss 55mm lens is excellent and I can get pretty close with it and then just crop the image.  Hopefully the 100mm will be better.  A Sony 90mm 2.8 macro is about $1,000.

Even though I keep thinking that I will get away from using any film I keep going back to using some.  I like manual cameras.  I like being able to set them quickly how I want them without having to delve into any deep menus.  For landscape manual focus is fine.  There is the problem of getting a good lab to develop, but that is solved easily by just paying more to a good one.  Enough for now.

 

Spot Focus Very Hard With iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max does not have a spot focus setting or small dots marking where you are focusing in either the regular Apple camera app or the Adobe Lightroom iPhone camera app that I can find.  It has a fairly large square box instead.  This works well if you are shooting a subject that takes up a large enough area of the image, but does not work for images like this.

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Shot with iPhone XS Max and Adobe Lightroom camera app with the focus box over the top of the flower.  The box is about four times the size of the flower.  And I cropped this image quite a bit.  
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This is the same image uncrossed.  

The California poppy bloom is not in sharp focus.  This is a problem for me.  I like flowers in sharp focus.  With any of my larger cameras or my Sony pocket camera focus on this type of subject is very easy.

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Shot with iPhone XS Max and Adobe camera app.  Using manual focus with peaking.  

The very good Adobe iPhone XS camera app allows manual focus when in “pro” mode.  I used that when shooting the above photo.  The subject I focused on is in fairly good focus when you look at it closely but certainly not what I consider sharp focus.  Again, any of my larger cameras or the Sony pocket camera would have easily done a much better job.

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Same shot with auto focus.  Both are using the Apple wide angle lens.  

Here is a shot of the same bush using auto focus.  The results are similar to the manual focus.

I have been able to get many very sharp focus shots with this smartphone.  Here is one from yesterday.

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This focus and image quality from the same iPhone using the same Adobe camera app is so good it challenges my Sony full frame mirrorless A7iii with very sharp Zeiss lens.  BUT if you cannot reliably get sharp focus when you need/ want it then the camera is less useful.  I take lots of flower & plant shots all the time.  I need sharp focus when I ask for it not maybe.  Same thing with smart HDR and flash.  When I turn them on I expect them to work.  All of these problems can be fixed with software changes.

But while I am waiting for Apple to fix this I am going to go out and buy another compact digital camera.  I sold my Sony HX 80 super zoom last October because I could not get raw out of it.  The jpegs out of that little camera were great.  But you just get better details and more latitude on adjustment when you have raw files.  I was also not really happy with the tiny viewfinder that you needed to manually pull out when you wanted to use it.

Sony has an update to the HX 80 called the HX 99 which adds raw image capability, 4K video and eye auto focus.  Unfortunately the new one still has the tiny viewfinder with manual pull up.  Nikon is bringing out a similar compact that also has raw & 4K with a fixed electronic viewfinder with double the pixels of the Sony.  The Nikon is called the A1000 and it has a zoom from 24-840 compared to the Sony 24-720.  Max f stop is nearly identical.  When the Nikon is available to hold and touch I am going to check it out to see if I like it better than the Sony.

Who knows maybe Apple will fix these problems in the mean time.

 

iPhone XS Max Camera – Apple Camera App (jpeg) vs Adobe Lightroom Camera App (raw) vs Sony A7iii with Zeiss 55mm Lens (raw)

So today is another cool and rainy day, drizzle actually.  Cool not cold as this is San Diego California.  We are having the most rain for any rainy season in quite sometime.  Point is many activities I normally plan or do on Saturday are cancelled.  So time to test some cameras.

The iPhone XS Max phone has a great camera for stills and video.  One of the great things about using a camera in a modern iPhone or Android is that you can use different camera apps.  I use the native Apple app and also the Adobe Lightroom one.  I have tried several others but now just stick with Apple and Adobe as I also use those softwares to organize photos and with the Apple app both photos and video.

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iPhone XS Max using Apple camera app ISO 25 4.25mm lens f1.8

This is a significant crop of a close up image.  The result is pretty good.

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iPhone XS Max using Adobe camera app and raw ISO 25 6mm lens 1/120

This is the same image taken less than a minute later with the Adobe Lightroom CC app camera and the same crop.  Maybe you can see the quality of these images on what you are viewing on, but if you cannot I will tell you that the second one is significantly better.  I would say a good portion of the improvement is due to using raw and that the software does not smear the details.

I would have tried Apple’s new and excellent file stacking smart HDR on this shot.  I turned it on.  But this year the phone decides if it will use HDR or not no matter if you turned it on or did not.  This is a change from last year where you could manually control it.  Same thing with the flash.  You can turn on the flash on the iPhone this year, but the camera software has an override.  So if you want to use the flash as a fill in during daylight maybe it flashes and maybe not.  For this reason I am thinking about buying another compact camera to replace my Sony HX 80 I sold last Oct.  With a real camera when you turn something on it actually does what you tell it to.  Nikon is making a new Coolpix 1000 out next month.  I am going to look at that and the latest Sony model the HX 99.

Using my Sony A7iii and very good Zeiss 55mm lens here is the result.

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Sony A7iii with 55mm lens f5.6 at 1/50 of a second ISO 100

Looking at the full sized files I would say the Apple /Adobe shot and the Sony shot are about equal.  Frankly this is phenomenal for the Apple camera.  A high end smartphone equal to a $2,000 camera body and $1,000 lens.  And this is a close up which is to me one of the weaknesses of the iPhone camera as you get a center zone focus but on focus point like on the Sony.

The rain has stopped for a few hours and I am going to get out of my office and get outside.