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.
This is a significant crop of a close up image. The result is pretty good.
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.
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.
A few days ago I went up to one of my favorite spots in the local mountains with my Sony A7iii, Sony 24-105mm G lens and Apple XS Max. I wanted to get out of the house for a few hours and I wanted to see how the Sony would compare shooting a few more panoramas against the Sony. And I shot quite a few other standard shots with the Apple using it’s computational smart HDR compared with the Sony. This was more of a get-out-of-the-house drive than a photography one. But after the iPhone vs Sony results I got a few days back I thought I would run a few more comparisons.
The two shots above are, one with the iPhone XS Max and the other with the Sony A7iii and 24-104 G lens. Can you tell which is which? At first I compared the Apple panorama shot with the Sony at 24mm. When I greatly enlarged the panorama from the Apple I could see it was well exposed and it looked a little sharper on distant images than I expected. I also noticed some HDR effect. I then compared the iPhone standard photo with the smart HDR photo. The HDR had way more detail in far distant details. In the standard shot Apple did it’s typical smudge job which looks good at first glance, but not good when you blow it up. But here’s the thing, the standard Apple camera app did not smear and smudge the small details in the computational HDR photo.
I then compared it to the Sony shot. The Sony was way better than the standard iPhone photo. But the computational iPhone picture was about as sharp on my Apple Thunderbolt 27″ monitor as the Sony shot.
The day after I took these shots Olympus introduced their new expensive professional grade camera with some computational capture features a bit like the iPhone. And then a light bulb went off in my head. “Stacking files with computational techniques is an alternative to big sensors and big lenses.” Consider; In the last couple of weeks I have been able to get panoramas, videos, and still shots of about the same quality with my iPhone XS Max as the new Sony A7iii full frame camera with high quality lenses.
Does the iPhone replace the Sony? Not if you have about $4,300 to spare for the extra features you get with the Sony. But if you don’t have or want to spend that kind of money the iPhone XS Max that fits in my pocket is a very good substitute. All of the Sony shots I used were with raw and edited in Lightroom Classic CC. All the Apple photos were also done LR too.
The iPhone XS Max is not cheap, and you use it every day. Then again it was 25% of the Sony body and two lenses.
I have not tested carefully using the Adobe camera app in the iPhone with HDR. I suspect that the Apple computational camera is a bit more advanced than the Adobe one. The Adobe shoots 3 files for its HDR. I believe the Apple takes around 25. I noticed in the Olympus ads that their stacking technology is similar to Apple’s. I have heard that the Olympus system is not all sorted out. The Apple system is very good now and getting better with every update. This fall the new iPhone is supposed to have three cameras on one of its models. That is likely an improvement on this years camera.
After spending the last year thinking we all needed to trade in our DSLRs for full frame mirrorless now it looks to me like the changes are going to keep cascading in. I would guess it would be easy for Sony to add back in built in panorama to their camera bodies. I believe some of their cameras used to have it. The A7iii is very good at taking bracket photos fast. It is pretty easy to merge them with Adobe Lightroom. Mirrorless cameras tend to be faster in frames per second and have no mirror flapping around to cause problems with mirror shock. Sony is really the only one of the big camera makers that is into electronics and software.
Olympus has been an innovator in the past and they are the first to jump into computational photography in a big way with a high level type camera. I would guess that they will be able to fix many or all of their issues with this feature relatively fast if they want to. And the software should be able to be fitted to their less expensive camera bodies.
I really don’t know how things will shake out. But for sure things are going to be shaking in the camera imaging industry.
The top image is an iPhone XS Max panorama using Apple’s built in pano generator. I don’t think it is a great pano but I need the shot to make a point.
And the shot immediately above is from my Sony A7iii and about 15 shots taken hand held then merged on Lightroom. The pano with the Sony and Lightroom was pretty easy. Lightroom is very smart and does this quite easily. But, the iPhone XS Max made the first pano in camera, hand held, effortlessly. Looking at the finished panoramas on my high end monitor in full size (very big files, both of them) there is no appreciable difference in the results. The Sony produced file has slightly more detail, you can read the names better on the gravestones, but you can also read lots of graves on the iPhone produced image too. By the way, I want to give credit to Thomas Heaton who is a youtube landscape video maker and has his own channel on youtube for giving me the idea to do more panoramas. I have done them in the past, but after watching his video went out the next day and shot a few.
An hour later I went and shot some video down by the bay using the same Sony and iPhone. And the results were much the same. Although in this case the Sony and iPhone processing was the same as I did not edit either. Again the Sony had a bit more detail, but the overall viewing of the video is about the same. I only put up one video which I thought was the best clip. It is from the iPhone. I do find the Sony 24mm-105mm f4 to be a good video lens. It is fast focus, silent focus, stabilized, and has a good zoom range. The iPhone’s system of video and zoom is quite good also. If you hand hold and manipulate the zoom with one hand and hold the phone with the other the result can be quite good. Both the Sony and Apple smoothed out the hand holding pretty well. The panoramas are also not edited except for pushing the auto enhance feature as I did not like the resulting photo all the much, but wanted to share the fact that in this case the expensive Sony body and expensive G zoom was not noticeably better than the iPhone.
On the other hand I have not found iPhones to be that good at macro or close ups of plants and flowers. With the Sony A7 or nearly any other regular camera you can focus to a subject quite well with little effort. To me iPhones, even the latest iPhone XS Max are sometimes OK and sometimes not. Even the little Sony HX 80 compact I had last year could easily lock on to a flower and get an accurately focused photos. I have many many well focused iPhone shots of flowers, but only up to a certain point. Past that point the focus can be inaccurate. And also today on my hike up the large hill back of our house I only took the iPhone. Not having a sun shade for the iPhone was a big deal as was no polarizing filter. My point here is that while smartphones can be very useful in photography they have limits where larger or more featured cameras do better.
I pay a monthly fee to youtube so I don’t have to watch commercials and do watch quite a few varied clips. Many of them are about photography. Some are good and many not. But my reason for writing about youtube is to say that many trolls say really rude inappropriate things on YT. A couple days ago I posted a comment on a video about the Nikon D3500 (new) vs Nikon D700 (used). My comment was polite. Some troll came along like he was hot stuff and said that the Nikon D5500 I used to own was a “plastic turd” compared to the 10 year old Nikon D700. It was inappropriate of him (or her) because I did not disparage the D700 as I have no experience using one. But I have lots of experience using the D5500 and it was / is a camera I got many many very good photos from. It’s only defect was a small viewfinder and that it is not mirrorless.
All of the above shots were taken with the Nikon D5500 in 2015 with the old style Nikon kit lens. Take a look at those close ups of the bristlecone pines. That was not with a macro lens just the standard kit lens. Or the Bodie California shots. In the full size files that are very sharp pictures and most of them were shot jpeg standard size. No raw. In addition to taking really great photos the D5500 had about the slickest control system and menu I have ever used. The back screen worked for a variety of things plus going through the menu. Compared to that Nikon my current Sony and iPhone are miles behind. But the D5500 did not have an EVF which would have helped it. And the live focus for stills or video was terrible. In my humble opinion Nikon would be smart to just convert this camera into mirrorless. Take out the mirror, put in an EVF, but make sure it focuses as well as the D5500 does not when not using live view. The curved body and light weight makes this crop sensor camera so easy to use. Even with the low end style lenses they work pretty darn well. And there is a full line up of lower cost good performing lenses. Or instead of making it mirrorless leave the dam mirror in and just put a greatly improved live view auto focus in.
For the most part good photography is because of the photographer and not the gear. The last four beautiful strawberry sky photos were shot on the same trip as the D5500 ones, but they were taken with my old Motorola Droid Maxx. That had a 10 megapixel camera in it. And finally Film Fail. As much as I like shooting film with old cameras there is one part of the process I don’t like. Many film labs. Sometimes they screw up one or more full rolls of film. I got back two rolls week before last from a local lab that has done good work for me in the past. One roll of Kodak Portra 400 and the other Fuji Superia 400. Two different cameras. The lab fouled up both rolls. Many of the photos were of no consequence, but one roll was Christmas 2018. So those photos will never grace an album. Now I need to go back to the one local lab that does not screw up film rolls (or at least has never done so in the past) and just put up with the 40 mile drive to get there. And the extra money they charge.
Without hesitation or qualifiers these features of the Sony A7iii are great for my photography. The top photo is of my youngest daughter right after Christmas dinner. I took this as a series of about 6 holding the eye auto focus button and just pushed the shutter button. I saw in the viewfinder that the eye auto focus was working. The flash was set to TTL and the camera was just on Auto. I had on the Sony G 24-105 f4 lens. The camera set itself to her right eye, the Sony steady shot and OSS lens kept this shot in perfect focus. Brilliant. Did the Sony work better than I could have expected from my older cameras, yes. Did it work better than what my iPhone could have done, yes. My other cameras like the D750 or D5500 would have been able to focus on this eye if I had put the focus point on it or if I had shifted the camera focus point to where the eye was, but this would have been done by me and not the cameras. The iPhone XS Max or Sony HX80 would have found the face but not the eye. So bravo Sony. Without a doubt this is a big advancement forward and you have executed it well.
The eye auto focus on the Sony A7iii also works in a group of people.
The Sony A7iii is also easier to get mid day full sun shots with proper exposure. It is not possible to completely change the subjects to what they would look like if you had been shooting early in the day or late in the afternoon, but the Sony did allow for turning down the exposure enough not to blow all the highlights.
I went to this same location just before we went on vacation to Europe in 2017. I shot tests with my Nikon D5500, iPhone X, Minolta 600si with Kodak Gold 200. In 2017 I only was able to get the shots I liked with the film. The Nikon and the iPhone both overexposed. I could have improved my results back then if I had bracket my shots on the Nikon, but I didn’t. Film has more highlight tolerance than digital so the film was able to give very good results.
But the Sony A7iii shots above with the Zeiss 50mm f1.8 was as good as the film I shot in 2017. At this point I would be willing to say that the Sony very easily gives good mid day full sun shots better than the Nikon D5500. If I had used the Nikon D750 and also used the highlight setting I would say the results would have been similar to the Sony or the Kodak.
The Sony A7iii’s back screen moves like an iPhone or my Sony compact. It is fast and looks just like the viewfinder. This is an improvement over the DSLR’s which on the Nikons were laggy and not quick to focus. I find that I use the back screen a lot more than with the D750. The D5500 was a full on touch screen and I frequently used it when shooting landscape. I would touch the place to focus and it would set up the shot and fire away. This ability is sadly not on the Sony A7iii.
Size – The Sony A7iii is smaller than the previous full frame digital I had the Nikon D750. Not much, but overall about half a pound or .43 kilo. And the 24-105 lens on the front of the Sony is just enough shorter than the Nikon D750 with 24-120 to make it noticeable. So a win for the A7.
Conclusions – The eye auto focus is absolutely an outright advance for technology. It is easy to use and works well. This is a feature I expect to be standard on most cameras in a year or two. Mid day full sun shots on the other hand is a bit better than the Nikons but surprisingly not much better than on Sony’s low cost compact HX80. If the HX80 had been able to output raw I think it would be as good at mid day full sun shots as the A7. And then there is film. Film does not blow highlights easily like digital. But film needs to be developed and you normally want to use the full roll before developing it. But I will say that from what I know this is a win over the Nikon D5500. Back screen on the Sony is much faster than the Nikons. So I use it more. Too bad it is not touch like the D5500. Size is smaller with the A7iii over the D750 especially noticeable when using the kit lenses. Not so much with a prime 50mm.
If you the reader think I am struggling with my conclusions it is because I am. I have no struggle with eye auto focus. A great new feature. But for mid day full sun to me the Sony has proved to be better than the two older Nikon DSLRs but not reliably better than film. I have gone to some of my favorite places where I have shot photos over the last number of years and would say that Kodak Ektar gives a better average shot than the Sony. The back screen on the Sony moves just like a mirrorless should, fast. But certainly not as useful as a full touch screen. Then finally size. The Sony is smaller than the Nikon D750 but the D750 has a grip that fits my hand better. I do find the Sony and D750 with prime lenses about the same. The Sony is lighter but the Nikon is fine. But eye auto focus is a great feature to have. If I was going to be sent to a place where I could have only one interchangeable lens camera for a year I would be tempted to pick a Sony A7iii over a DSLR. Because it is great at both stills and video. But if I also had my iPhone XS Max along with me I would take the D750. Why. I think the D750 is more durable and less likely to break. The sensor is way back behind the mirror so I will be less likely to get buggered up. And at this point shooting video with an iPhone is more fun. And the results are fine.
Today I saw the first rumors of the update of the Nikon D750 that will likely come next year. Is that a wise move by Nikon, and is the DSLR dead? My answer to those two questions is yes and then no. But let me put in a qualifier on if it is a wise move by Nikon. It is a wise move if Nikon improves the auto focus in live view so that it is at least on par with the current Nikon Z6. If the back screen gets a bump up in speed then it becomes much more useful.
Over the last six years I have taken under ten videos with my cameras that were not smartphones. The new iPhone XS Max which I have had now for about two months takes excellent video including 4K up to 60fps. Apple has an easy to use video editor called iMovie that is free and works well. And I don’t have to learn all the stuff that goes with bigger cameras like my Sony A7iii like “log” “lut” “gamma” “grading” and so on. I have shot some test videos with my Sony A7iii. It is far harder to use than the light iPhone XS Max which I put on a small tripod type holder. The iPhone XS max also has a far better screen to use with the camera than the Sony. My point is that one of the Key mirrorless advantages is lost on me. Better video than a DSLR.
The key advantage for me of an EVF is to improve exposure. Seeing zebras and the histogram in the viewfinder helps. I mostly use the zebras and adjust exposure compensation using them as a guide. But with improved live view on a D760 you could see that information on the back screen. Is that as good as the viewfinder, no, but it would help. A big advantage of the OVF is it is always on and does not use power. Plus the D750 I had this year had a much clearer optical viewfinder than the Sony electronic viewfinder I now have.
The rumors I read say the new camera will have a new 36 mega pixel back lighted sensor. The optical viewfinder will be with a prism and 100% coverage. The back screen will be flippy and full touch enabled. Two SD card slots. (I have also read rumors saying the sensor will stick with 24 mega pixels and the back screen will not be flippy.) Price between $2,295 and $2,495.
Even though I wanted the weight to be less when I had the 750 that was only with the 24-120mm f4 lens that was 27oz. The D750 was fine with the 50mm f1.4. Now after owning the Sony A7iii for 2 1/2 months I would say I prefer the D750 and lighter lens to the Sony A7iii and lighter lens. The 750 is a bit heavier but has a much better grip than the Sony. And the Nikon buttons and co-ordination with the menu on the D750 was much better (actually much much better) than the A7iii. And if the new 760 comes with the touch screen like I used on the Nikon D5500 then the Nikon D760 will have a far far superior control and handling setup than the Sony.
The other giant benefit of the D760 is that I assume it will come with an F-mount. That means Nikon’s giant catalog of F-mounts will be able to be used on the new camera. That means all kinds of specialty lenses but also much better values like the 50mm f1.4 for approx $400 instead of $1,500 on the Sony.
For the last couple of years uncounted people with podcasts, videos, and blogs have hailed the coming of mirrorless to replace the old mirror system in SLR’s. I never really saw the reason for getting rid of the mirror. I have had an Olympus OM2n body I bought in 1980. In 38 years of use I have had exactly zero problems with the mirror. And the old Oly has just a magnificent viewfinder with a very simple optical focus aid. I would hope the new D760 would come with a similar manual focus aid or at least be possible to add one. I really like focusing manually, but find it harder to do with viewfinders that have no help to let you know when you are at focus.
With these rumored features.
Full frame new 36 mega pixel back lit sensor
Improved live view focus to at least Z6 level
Weight and size no bigger than the D750
F-mount not Z mount
Price between $2,295 and $2,495
I think Nikon would have a real winner. Of course something extra like a little electronic screen in the viewfinder with a histogram would be really nice too.
I have been on a film use slump. I have a closet full of film and I just have not been shooting film for the last six months. Why, I bought a full frame Nikon D750 and two lenses in May six months ago and spent the whole summer and September using-testing it. Then I sold the D750 and lenses and bought a Sony A7iii. And I have been testing it for the last two months. Yesterday after writing the previous post about how it was hard to love the Sony, today I thought, “Use a camera you really do love and have some fun”. So I got out my original Minolta 600si that was loaded with Portra 400 and got out my best, but heaviest tripod and started shooting. At first I did not get out the tripod out of laziness. I have learned in the last few years that if you want to get the best flower and plant shots a tripod helps. When you are doing close ups it is always best to have the camera rock steady.
One of the great benefits of shooting film over digital is that you have to wait to get it processed and cannot edit it immediately. What I mean is that you can have an enjoyable shoot and then keep enjoying yourself. You do not have to feel obligated to edit what you just shot. With film if you are using a good quality not long expired film likely all of the shots will come out. Maybe some need tweaking a bit but I almost never have ruined shots any more.
The above shot was the fourth shot I took with this camera and when I saw it I just went, “Wow”! Keep in mind this was consumer grade film from Wal Mart that was given to me for free and the processing was with a just OK lab.
When I get my film back from the lab scanned it usually is mostly processed and edited when I get it. Sure I Lightroom it a bit if needed, but way more often than when using a digital SLR the film shots come out right from the get go. And they are already in jpeg, plus I have the negatives or positives and a CD scan as back ups.
Back to why I love the Minolta 600si. This thing was designed and made as an anti menu statement. All controls are easy to use and this is a modern camera, auto focus with more than one point, adjustable metering with spot, center, and matrix, auto film load, advance, and rewind, top LCD giving you setting information, front and back adjustment wheel, even high speed sync on the flash.
All functions are obvious marked simple switches, dials, or marked buttons. Things that are individual marked controls are AF mode (Continuous, Auto, Single), Auto focus area (simple marked switch with picture grams ), Exposure (spot, center, matrix), exposure and flash exposure compensation dials, just like todays full frame digitals the front control dial is for shutter setting and the rear dial for f-stop, there is a mode dial with program, A, M, S, and drive switch with double exposure, bracket, single, multiple, and timer. In the manual it points out that if you have all the switches so they are either vertical or horizontal you are set on full auto and you can just point and shoot. Full Manual is also very easy to activate.
Having individual switches and dials for adjustments means you just make one direct movement to change the setting.
If you want to adjust AF area you just move the setting lever. Same with metering. Spot, center, or matrix meter setting you look at the dial and either move it or not. On the Nikon D750 or Sony A7iii you push the metering button and then change the setting. With the Nikon D5500 you need to bring up the back touch screen. Touch the place for setting, and then touch the setting you want. It is certainly true that the digital cameras have more settings. If you need those extra settings then the 600si won’t do for you. Very likely you do not need them.
Auto focus mode.
Same deal. Look at the knob and set to what you need. One movement. No menu screen.
Or look at the way the 600si handles drive.
Simple and direct. The indicator switch can be set to double exposure, bracket, single shot, multiple shots, and timer. The Sony A7iii is about ten times this complex. It has all the settings for this, but you have to remember where they are in the drive settings. The Nikons are also much more complicated but much easier to learn than the Sony.
The 600si also has a built in flash. I think this is a significant feature. The Nikon D5500 and D750 do too. But the Sony A7iii left it off. Why? They included it on my tiny compact camera and include it on the crop sensor bodies. It is much better to use a full size flash, but the built ins are very good for fill in.
You will also notice the Minolta has a double dial for exposure compensation and flash compensation. And the Minolta does high speed flash. And very handily it has built in motor drive for loading, advancing, and rewinding film plus auto film speed.
Conclusions – To me the Minolta 600si is for the film shooter who wants automation plus manual. So this camera is good for landscape, people, and wildlife. Landscape is usually easy and all manual settings usually work fine. But for people and wildlife it helps to have some automatic features. As a bonus, with an adaptor you can get the AF lenses from this camera to work on the Sony A7 bodies almost as though they were native lenses. I have found the auto focus and exposure work very well. Not so much with the TTL flash. These camera bodies sell for about $35 on eBay. Make sure you get a good one and maybe pay a bit more. The batteries are not common, but for sale on the internet at reasonable prices. I have found the batteries are good for a year or two. The manual states 15 rolls of film. I think it is about double that. I would suspect it depends on how much you use the built in flash. I bought a very capable high speed sync Minolta flash on eBay for $35. And I bought the 24mm f2.8 macro lens you see in the picture above on eBay for $80. The lens is a Sigma/Quantaray.
If you buy one of these in good working condition you will be able to learn to use it in a day. The manual is on the internet. It is simple, simple, simple to use. I would guess you can get a whole kit with one body and three lenses for $150. A stunning deal. I already have $4,600 into my Sony A7iii with only two lenses.
Digital cameras today can give you very sharp clear images like the paintings of Jan Van Eyck. Of course you can use fast lenses to soften focus and give you some bokeh, but sometimes Claude Monet and his style of soft images might be a better choice.
Both the top photo and the above rose are similar subjects but the look is entirely different. In my opinion it is easier to get the softer image of Monet using older lenses and film.
Which of these photos do you like best. I like them both. The Sony did an excellent job of balancing exposure and white balance and the film shot is the best one I have been able to get of this miniature Christmas tree with a lighted Christmas tree in the background. I think in the case of these two shots the tools used were needed for this result. I think to get the top shot with the Olympus camera you would need Portra 400 and the camera on a tripod. Plus you would need a flash with a cap over it to diffuse the light, which I don’t have. The Olympus does have TTL flash so that would be similar to the Sony. The Oly does not have steady shot so to get this shot hand held might be hard.
I tried getting the bottom film photo with several digital cameras. I was not able to get anything this good with the newer stuff. My point here is that to get good photos you need a variety of tools and you need to keep shooting. Keep trying and you will get some results you like. I am not telling you to spray and pray. What I am saying is to set up photos often and you will get some results you like.
Black and white adds a layer of mystery to draw you in.
Both of these shot with iPhone XS Max.
Do you like the black and white or color best? Of these two I prefer the black and white because it removes us more from reality than the color. The color shot is more like a Xerox of the scene. I like the black and white pulling us closer to the photo to see if the white spot is the moon or just a light. And the black and white adds a bit of sidewalk and street to pull us in. But I prefer color on the stained glass window. And I like color on the yellow street sign. Would these two pictures have been better with film. No doubt in my mind that both the color and black and white would have been better with film. Film adds a layer of distance between you and the objects. There is the analog chemical film process to make the image, and then the film image is scanned to make it a digital of the film. What is very nice is that the scanning is a Xerox of the image the film created. So all of what the film renders of the scene comes out in the scan. Using film and then doing a high quality scan is a great combination that adds the film’s rendering and then when you digitize it you can do some editing digitally instead of working in a darkroom. The best of both Worlds.
If you want clear clean sharp renders of the scene then digital is the best way to do it. But on the other hand if you want to create an impressionist version of the scene I suggest film and then scanning. Old lenses also help to give the impressionist look. Plus throw in some black and white. Every time I shoot a roll of black and white I always think that I should shoot some more black and white. I generally do not get that same feeling when shooting black and white digitally.
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