Using the “Star Trails” Application on the Sony A7II

I love photographing the night sky! I recently have discovered  while digging through the Sony A7II camera menus that you can download applications (apps) to select Sony cameras. I created a Sony Entertainment Network account and bought the “Star Trails” app. for under $10. There are not many apps to choose from.. yet, but I was told that the information is “Open-Source” and hopefully that means More and more things on the horizon. I fumbled through the application without reading the instructions and tried the two “presets” my first night. After seeing the clips made, and realizing that there is a custom setting, I went out the very next night and did things that produced better results. See the results here: Star Trails Clip

First I will talk about the application. It is new in the app store and its good at what it does, however, it does have some room for improvement. There are currently two “themes” (dark sky and light sky), and one “custom” feature in the main menu. The basic instructions can be found here: Star Trails.  Here are a few things I wish I had more control over or could change:

  • I would love to actually keep the stills captured so as to be able to modify and really customize the output in Photoshop or a stacking application if I desired. As the app is now, the images are just used to create an AVI file and then are discarded. There is no trace of them on the memory card and the AVI file is in it’s own file folder. It would be nice to be able to choose between just image files, image files and AVI, or just AVI output.
  • I would also like to be able to set my own exposure time past 30 seconds – maybe up to 99 seconds so I can actually capture some of the star movement in each image.
  • One other thing to change is to make clips that last more than the application limits me to. The longest clip I have been able to make was about 45 seconds.

I would Love to give this feedback to the actual app developers, but cannot find a link to do so on the Sony Entertainment Network site.

I also have ideas for future development of several applications – I just wish I had the knowledge and time to do so! 🙂

Side By Side: Canon 6D / Sony A7II

Tonight is the first time we have had clear skies in quite awhile in Las Vegas,so I decided to go out and put the Sony A7II next to the Canon 6D for a low-light comparison. I am planning a weekend of star-gazing and astrophotography so I wanted to see how the Sony would perform. The catch is that I only have the Sony Zeiss 24/70mm lens for the A7II. Normally I would use a much faster lens to capture the stars. For the comparison, I drove to my favorite night sky location about 45 minutes North of Las Vegas. I love a particular Joshua tree and went there as I am familiar with the area and wanted to do this test without the stresses of finding a new location (I left the house at 9:30pm). I did not use any front lighting for the images below. It was very dark as the moon was not to rise until 1:30am. I used the same tripod (did not move it) and put a quick release plate on both cameras. To focus both cameras, I set each camera to Auto Focus, shined a flashlight on the Joshua tree, locked in the focus, and then set the camera or lens to Manual Focus mode for the actual exposures. I went by the “600 Rule” of star photography (not the ever-popular “500 Rule” that I should have used), and set the Exposure time to 25 seconds on both cameras in manual mode at f/4. To give more details on the setup: The Canon 6D is a Full-Frame camera body with a 20.2 megapixel sensor (5,472 x 3,648). I used the Sigma 24-105mm lens at f/4 and 24mm. The Sony A7II is also a Full-Frame camera body, but has a 24.3 megapixel sensor (6000 x 4000). I had the before mentioned Zeiss 24-70mm lens also set at f/4 and 24mm. I shot seven images with each camera, only changing ISO settings as follows: 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, and 25600. All images were captured at 3200K white balance. The images were converted to a .jpg file and placed side by side for this blog. There was no additional editing done to these images. I know it is not the best composure, but I was just shooting this as a test. From looking at the results,I can see that the Sony seems a little more sensitive to low light. It appears that the images at the same ISO are a little brighter on the Sony side. The stars are a little soft and have some motion because I SHOULD have stuck with the 500 Rule for night photography and used a shutter speed of 20 seconds for the 24mm lens, but even with that said, the Sony seems to have a crisper star. I also think that the Sony has more of a visible Dynamic Range. You can see more detail in the Joshua tree. The larger points of light actually have a star-point look to them with the Sony images. At 3200 and even 6400 ISO, the Sony seems to handle noise better from what I can see. I am very impressed with the Sony from this non-scientific side by side test. Here are the images, I would love to hear what you think. Please remember to click on the image to see it at the full size.

Canon 6D - ISO 400 - Sony A7II

Canon 6D – ISO 400 – Sony A7II

Canon 6D - ISO 800 - Sony A7II

Canon 6D – ISO 800 – Sony A7II

Canon 6D - ISO 1600 - Sony A7II

Canon 6D – ISO 1600 – Sony A7II

Canon 6D - ISO 3200 - Sony A7II

Canon 6D – ISO 3200 – Sony A7II

Canon 6D - ISO 6400 - Sony A7II

Canon 6D – ISO 6400 – Sony A7II

Canon 6D - ISO 12800 - Sony A7II

Canon 6D – ISO 12800 – Sony A7II

Canon 6D - ISO 25600 - Sony A7II

Canon 6D – ISO 25600 – Sony A7II

San Francisco Photo Shoot: Gypsy Love

While planning my trip to California, I booked a photo session with the amazing Gypsy Love. Gypsy is a Bellydancer/Entertainer/Singer based in San Francisco. We had done a shoot a few years ago inside a restaurant, and this time Gypsy found a beautiful location near the VA hospital in the Sutro Heights area of the city. Gypsy had 2 assistants and I had my friend Chuck as my lighting assistant. Gypsy is so much fun to work with and also very professional. She knows what she wants out of a shoot and works great with the camera. We have made many beautiful images in the two shoots we have had so far, and I hope to be able to work with her again and again! The learn more about her, check out Gypsy Love Productions. Here are a few images from our most recent shoot.  Gypsy-Love_239  Gypsy-Love_350  Gypsy-Love_070




Meeting a Really Talented Hooper

While walking on the Strip the other day and getting used to the Sony A7II camera, I came across a real talent. Not just another person who might resemble a celebrity or a person that bought a costume and expects tips for taking pictures of them in costume or character. This girl was spinning not one or two, but up to 4 hoops at the same time choreographed to music that she had playing on a portable player. She did not ask for tips or get upset if someone stopped to take a picture and then keep walking. She just kept hooping with a smile on her face. She was just doing what she loved and appreciated each person that showed her that they also enjoyed what she was doing. Her name is Miss MichelleBell and she just recently relocated to Las Vegas. I talked with her briefly after her performance in front of the Bellagio and found out she also loves spinning fire and came from Illinois. She has a great personality and a positive outlook and you could just tell from being in her presence that she loves what she does and the reactions from her audience shows her they do too! I hope to collaborate with her in the future on a few shoots that involve her LED hoops and also possibly some Fire one day! 🙂 I was able to capture a few images of one of her many nightly performances with the Sony A7II, but I didn’t want to obstruct her audience’s view. To see her show in person, find her by the Bellagio fountains and if you appreciate what she does, tell her – or show her.

Miss MichelleBell Miss MichelleBell Miss MichelleBell Miss MichelleBell Miss MichelleBell Miss MichelleBell Miss MichelleBell Miss MichelleBell

The A7II and a Fashion Show

The Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas is a fun place to shoot a Fashion Show every weekend They have a 10 minute show that features a store in the mall every hour on weekends. The catch is: you cannot take a huge camera into the mall and expect to shoot. I have been asked to leave using a 6D with a battery grip and the Sigma 24-105mm Lens. When I talked with security about why I was asked to leave but many other people that were shooting pictures were allowed to stay, his reply was I had a “professional looking” camera and that I was the only one that looked like a professional. I later confirmed that same policy with Mall Administration and was told anyone can take photos as long as their camera did not “look professional”. Since then, I have been in the mall shooting with my Canon 70D and the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens, but with no grip and no lens hood – and guess what? I did not get asked to leave. I actually shot an entire show (they have one every hour from 12-5pm Friday – Sunday) standing pretty close to a security officer. Now I have not been in the mall in some time, but decided to take the Sony A7II with the Zeiss 24-70 this weekend and see how it would perform. I wanted to try the Focus-Following feature and also see how it would do with the lighting conditions that the Runway has on it. I removed the Lens hood to make the camera look even smaller in my hands than normal, and stayed for an entire show. This weekend, the Fashion Show was from Macy’s and was all Juniors dresses (probably going after the Spring Prom market). The lighting was actually better than I have seen it here in the past, but still is mostly lit from directly above and behind the models as they walk towards the end of the runway. There are huge LED panels that flash the name of the store during the show, and no front lighting on the models. I set the Sony camera to Continuous Focus and to Focus Track the subject that I select. I was in Manual Mode and my core settings were f/4 and 1/250th of a second (to prevent motion blur as the models were walking), and Automatic ISO. The ISO settings in the images fluctuated, but mostly stayed within the 200 – 640 range. The focus tracking was really easy to set up and use and actually tracked each model accurately as they walked towards my position at the end of the runway. I did notice that if I let my finger off of the shutter, it did take a second to re-focus and sometimes that would cause me to miss the shot I was going after, but for the most part the focusing system was fast and very accurate. Here are a few images that I captured from the show. I hope to soon take it to a concert soon to see how it does in extremely low light conditions. Overall, in comparing my images with past ones I have shot at the Fashion Show Mall, I would have to say that the Sony has much more depth and a higher dynamic range in camera than the Canon 6D and 70D. The Focus Tracking is very impressive and was easy to learn how to set up. I also think the focus system is more accurate than that of the 6D and seems similar in speed and accuracy to the 70D. The more I use the Sony, the more I learn what it can do. There are so many features, and only so many places to put buttons, so Sony has made it easy to customize each button to a vast assortment of settings that normally would be found in the cameras menu. Oh, one last thing… as far as “Professional Looking” camera – the Sony has a 4mp advantage over the Canon and is smaller and lighter. It has a great feel and the grip does fit to my hands for the most part. I do wish I had the battery grip, for a vertical shutter release, for an even better feel in my hands, and also for the extended battery life.

Note: Images were white balance corrected and cropped and my watermark was added. No other post-processing was involved.

Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show Macy's Fashion Show

When things change…

In the last couple of weeks, my photography world has changed quite a bit. I have been using a new camera (to me): the Sony a7ii, with a mission to self-learn it’s functionality while traveling on the road and using it as my Primary camera system (actually not even taking my full lineup of Canon gear out of the camera bag). During this road trip I covered 3062 miles from Las Vegas to San Diego and then all along the California coast to about one hour North of Fort Bragg. Many of these locations I have never been to and had one time slot to get an image that I would be happy with. This was a very interesting self-imposed challenge. I ended up shooting over 4000 images (I think this count includes bracketed shots) along the way and learned through trial and error some of the distinct differences between the Sony and Canon brands, and also the way a mirrorless full-frame camera works compared to a traditional DSLR full-frame camera. I will be posting a few blogs about this mental and physical journey here in the near future, so stay tuned! 🙂

Flower Fields - Carlsbad, California

Flower Fields – Carlsbad, California

Also, when I returned to Las Vegas, I finally caved and bought into the Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) for Photographers. I did this because I am an active user of Lightroom and the newest version, Lightroom 6 – now called Lightroom CC, was just released. The price for the standalone upgrade would have been $79, but for $20 more I got an entire year of the Creative Cloud which includes the newest versions of both Photoshop and Lightroom. The normal price for this service is $9.99 a month, but B&H photo offered it for $99 total if prepaid for the entire year. I installed the 30-day demo version for now while awaiting the activation code that B&H shipped to me for free (not sure why this was not an email transaction). Including the trial, I think I will get 13 months for the price of 10 when all is said and done. The reason I mention this on this posting is this is also a major change. I think the new features in Lightroom CC will be an easy transition for me, but I just upgraded from Photoshop CS5 to the 2015 CC version and it looks completely different! Anyway… time to get into these new applications and see what I can figure out! 🙂

Lightroom CC Splash Screen

Lightroom CC Splash Screen

A night with the Sony A7s

This year at WPPI, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Sony booth and see firsthand the technologies that I have been hearing so much about. While talking with a Tech rep, I overheard that there was an opportunity to sign out a camera and lens for a night to shoot with. I was put on the waiting list and was able to get a Sony A7s with the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens for one night of shooting. I tried my best to familiarize myself with the camera while taking a few afternoon classes (it was WPPI) and like a kid waiting for recess, I ran out of the MGM for a full night of shooting. Normally I shoot nightlife and concerts, and that is just what the A7s was supposed to be the best at. I did not have any shows lined up as I was supposed to be attending WPPI all week, so I headed down to Fremont Street where I know the stages always have free entertainment to test the camera out with. The Sony rep. gave me 2 batteries and it was my intention to shoot until both were completely drained. I started with a show called the “Hardwood Hotties” – a themed song and dance on the 3rd street stage for March Madness. I ended up staying for 2 hours worth of the show and then went on my quest for neon and then finally a walk on the Strip. The next morning, before returning the camera, I went to the IceLight booth and captured a few images of their models. All images in this post are completely unedited. I wish I knew more about the camera features and settings, but using a camera for one night was fun and the basic settings were easy enough to figure out for a night on the town.

Here are my thoughts and observations of this camera and lens: First off, it is much smaller than the Canon 6D with a battery grip that I am used to holding! I am also not used to using an electronic viewfinder.The controls and dials almost came naturally to me (but I have been around cameras since the early 80’s). The focusing system was also very fast to respond. When you take the lens off of the camera, the sensor looks huge and is visible, right inside the body opening. There are tons of controls and lots of menus to figure out, and if given another opportunity, I will do my best to do just that. From looking at the images that I captured, I can say that they are sharp, the color is very accurate and the low noise at higher ISO settings is amazing! For my shooting, I had the camera on the manual setting, with the exposure at 1/200th f/4 and on automatic ISO as I wanted to see what the low-light capabilities were and I had no tripod, so everything was handheld. I loved this experience and hope I get to shoot with a Sony again in the near future! Oh, one last thing… the batteries outlasted me, I was worn out and quit shooting with over 50% of the second battery left. 🙂

Fremont Casino

Fremont Casino f/4, 1/200th, ISO 500, 24mm

Slot Machines

Slot Machines f/4, 1/200th, ISO 2500, 70mm

Hardwood Hotties

Hardwood Hotties f/4, 1/200th, ISO 4000, 30mm

Hardwood Hotties

Hardwood Hotties f/4, 1/200th, ISO 8000, 70mm

Hardwood Hotties

Hardwood Hotties f/4, 1/200th, ISO 4000, 59mm

Hardwood Hotties

Hardwood Hotties f/4, 1/200th, ISO 4000, 70mm

Glitter Gultch

Glitter Gultch f/4, 1/200th, ISO 400, 47mm

Chapel of the Bells

Chapel of the Bells f/4, 1/200th, ISO 500, 24mm

Bellagio Lobby

Bellagio Lobby f/4, 1/200th, ISO 3200, 30mm

Paris Casino

Paris Casino f/4, 1/200th, ISO 10000, 24mm

Brooklyn Bowl

Brooklyn Bowl f/4, 1/200th, ISO 800, 24mm

High Roller

High Roller f/4, 1/200th, ISO 8000, 24mm

Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood f/4, 1/200th, ISO 3200, 24mm

City Center

City Center f/4, 1/200th, ISO 12800, 24mm

IceLight Model

IceLight Model f/4, 1/200th, ISO 500, 70mm

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