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Playing with Light in Venice

HDR Tutorial

Don’t forget to get the newest version of the video version of the HDR Tutorial!

Daily Photo – Playing with Light in Venice

The extreme contrasts of light and shadow can be quite punctuated in Venice. Many of the colors of the buildings are already pretty bold, and when the sun hits them, they pop out to a new level. It’s a pretty good case for HDR, I think, especially because you don’t want to lose all the beautiful colors back in the shadows…

Playing with Light in Venice

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/400
  • Aperture5
  • ISO160
  • Focal Length25.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias+1

Missing the Food Fight

Photo Tip: Repeating Structures

If you ever have the chance to have the same object repeat itself into the distance, try to make it happen! It gives the viewer an immediate sense of depth.

Daily Photo – Missing the Food Fight

My friends were inside a restaurant right by here in Hong Kong having a food fight while I took this. I found this out later when I saw them all outside, covered with various bits of food. I’m not sure it’s excusable, but it must be a bit less excusable when it’s a 1-star Michelin restaurant!

Missing the Food Fight

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7M2
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time30
  • Aperture11
  • ISO160
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias+1.3

Walking in the Sands of Time

Upcoming Video

We have a great video coming up that was shot in this location. I think you’ll really enjoy it!

Daily Photo – Walking in the Sands of Time

Here’s another shot from that amazing little town in Namibia where the sand has overtaken the city. I can’t imagine living here and having to sweep every day, only to one day totally give up. I’m still confused about how all the sand got inside…maybe the windows and doors finally rotted away and let the sand inside. Some rooms have so much sand inside that you can’t even stand up!

Walking in the Sands of Time

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time3
  • Aperture8
  • ISO125
  • Focal Length15.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Another Rooftop Bar in Hong Kong

A Good Google Search

I don’t know why I never thought about this before, but when you’re in a new city and looking for good photo spots, google “Best Rooftop Bars in [cityname].” Invariably, I end up finding great photo ops from up there.

Daily Photo – Another Rooftop Bar in Hong Kong

We tried to find as many of these as possible while there, and luckily, there were a ton! It’s the complete opposite of Venice (see yesterday’s photo), where you would expect a lot of rooftop bars and restaurants, but there are hardly any. I forgot where I was here, but I really liked the look of this building here with these porthole windows.

Another Rooftop Bar in Hong Kong

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time25
  • Aperture10
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length18.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias+2

Amazing Venice Forever

Texture Tutorial

Here’s another one of my favorite new texture shots from the Textures Tutorial.

Daily Photo – Amazing Venice Forever

Rene and I crossed this bridge almost every day. In fact, it’s not too far from here where he fell into the canal, so he has fond memories of this area. This is one spot we’ll stop at for sure during the upcoming Venice Photo Adventure… we’ll all line up here along the bridge and have a ball!

Amazing Venice Forever

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/800
  • Aperture5.6
  • ISO250
  • Focal Length69.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Close to Blast Off

Photos in China

If you’re looking to experiment with city photography and not getting hassled by the authorities, I really recommend China. I hardly ever see anyone taking photos while there, so it’s pretty much the wild wild east.

Daily Photo – Close to Blast Off

Here’s one of the many cool-shaped buildings around the CBD area of Beijing. It’s worth spending a whole night just wandering around this area and getting all the little bits here and there. Once you start shooting details of architecture, it can be a little addicting, because there is always more to see. When do you stop? Only when you get super hungry or super tired!

Close to Blast Off

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time2.5
  • Aperture4
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length24.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

The Tower of London in the Night

Colored Lights at night

I’d like to send a shout out to all the lighting designers around the world, and especially those in London, for making such colorful lights that make the sights so much cooler!

Daily Photo – The Tower of London in the Night

Wow this place is empty at night. During the day, it’s an absolute zoo. At night, things are quite quiet… the sort of quiet you get right before a zombie outbreak. I’d love to actually spend the night there inside the Tower of London somewhere… wander around inside all night and take photos and more…

The Tower of London in the Night

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time4
  • Aperture4
  • ISO80
  • Focal Length29.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Using the Lines of Cities

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Daily Photo – Using the Lines of Cities

Since I’m not a big-city guy any more, I do certainly notice all these bright and bold lines in them, like here in Hong Kong. I took this one night while crossing the street. I used an extra wide-angle lens to really stretch those lines out and give them a nice feel. These two colors seem to go well together (yellow and blue), especially with a lot of black around.

Using the Lines of Cities

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time0.8
  • Aperture7.1
  • ISO125
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

THREE Days Left on the Kickstarter!

Amazing Update with just THREE days left for the new camera bag on Kickstarter!

Pop over here to see the update!

Edit – the Kickstarter is over now – but the links above will take you to where you can buy the bag!

These Peak Design guys are REALLY hardcore… I was lucky enough to spend some time with them in Vietnam, visiting the factories, looking and testing fabric samples, trying out different kinds of builds, holds, carries, and more. Idea is one thing, execution is another. Great job PD!

Visiting the Floating Homes in Phu Quoc

The Lockett-fixer

Below I mention the great Peter Lockett. I swear, this guy can make anything happen. He was able to get us Any Thing Any Time in Vietnam. We commandeered several vehicles, got into the most amazing places, and basically had everything we ever needed and more! I gotta go on more trips with this dude!

Daily Photo – Visiting the Floating Homes in Phu Quoc

We ended up on a beach in the south part of the island to do some filming for the Kickstarter video. Out in the water, we could see a cluster of floating homes. At one point, Lockett commandeered this boat and driver who then was awesome enough to take me out to see it. Incredible!

Visiting the Floating Homes in Phu Quoc

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/8000
  • Aperture3.5
  • ISO160
  • Focal Length24.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-2.7

The Beaches of Dubai

Thanks Again Dubai films!

Thanks again for arranging this amazing helicopter ride over Dubai — I’ll never forget it! 🙂

Daily Photo – The Beaches of Dubai

There are SO many beaches along here that it’s just incredible. There are two main sections of the city, and this part you see is right in the middle. These are the beaches I got to know the best because I happened to be staying here, but as far as I can tell, all the beaches are amazing. The water is calm all the time too… no waves or anything.

The Beaches of Dubai

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/400
  • Aperture4
  • ISO320
  • Focal Length17.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

A Polar Sunbow Erupts Over an Iced Volcano

This effect

Down below, I made up a name for this… a Sunbow, which obviously is a made-up word. People got quite angry at me on social media when I said this… but I actually don’t know the name. Do any of y’all?

Daily Photo – A Polar Sunbow Erupts Over an Iced Volcano

An epic place without scale or relativity. Somewhere on this terrible volcano are the remains of a jetliner, which crashed after taking off from New Zealand on a sight-seeing tour. I was on another plane, a CL-130, when I took this. The “L” means it lands on skis. It has no proper windows to speak of, but I managed to befriend the loadmaster, who got me into the cockpit for take-off. Quite by chance, there was a polar sunbow that appeared over this most dreadful and awesome of volcanoes. There is nothing that erupts new earth as close to the Antarctic pole, so to soar over it in peace was surreal. The white sun seemed to welcome everyone below and above.

A Polar Sunbow Erupts Over an Iced Volcano

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7M2
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/2000
  • Aperture5.6
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length18.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias-2.7

What You See at the Venice Biennale

A cool product

Here’s a cool thing I saw called Saent. Check it out! I bought one…

Black and White

I’ve thought about opening up a Tumblr or something just to quickly dump all of my “misc” work that never makes it to the blog. I actually create 3000+ photos per year, but only publish my favorite 10% here on the blog. It’s not that the others are “bad” but there is lots of experimental stuff, kind of like this one you see here.

Daily Photo – What You See at the Venice Biennale

This is from the Russian pavilion. That’s my friend Rene up there, getting freaked out by this giant gas-mask guy. Those eyes inside are on huge video screens, so they actually move around, right and left… it certainly gives you a strange feeling… like the Russians are watching! 🙂

What You See at the Venice Biennale

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraDSC-RX100M3
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/250
  • Aperture2.8
  • ISO1000
  • Focal Length8.8 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias-1

London in the Rain, Stumbling Around at Night

Plugin for Rain Effects

I wish there was a plugin to simulate a wet ground. That seems like serious cheating in a way… and I have no idea how they would make one, but it could be awesome!

Daily Photo – London in the Rain, Stumbling Around at Night

I think London at night is one of the most amazing experiences ever… especially when there's a bit of rain to make all the lights come even more alive. I visited this area late one night after going to see a very strange (but good) theater show. It put me into quite an unusual mood, which set a good brain space for this kind of wandering!

London in the Rain, Stumbling Around at Night

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1
  • Aperture4
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length19.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Watching The Big Lebowski in Antarctica

Strangest place you’ve ever watched a movie?

Now that we can watch movies most any time, anywhere, with our laptops or iPads — where is the strangest place you’ve ever watched a movie? I’ve watched many in my truck overnight while camping out waiting on a sunrise… that’s always a fun place to do it!

Daily Photo – Watching The Big Lebowski in Antarctica

Over at the American base, they took one of the original structures from decades ago and converted it into this awesome movie theater! I didn’t have my tripod at the time, but this is the best I could come up with!

Watching The Big Lebowski in Antarctica

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/50
  • Aperture
  • ISO6400
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias+2

Sony A7RII First Look by Mason Marsh


Guest Post by Mason Marsh

Sony recently invited my good friend Mason Marsh to test out the new Sony A7R II. Mason is not only an awesome person and photographer but he’s also a Master in The Arcanum! Mason was kind enough to share his thoughts on the new gear with us. Enjoy!


When Trey penned his Dear John letter to Nikon a couple of years ago, he professed his love for Sony’s tiny mirrorless cameras with their svelte form factors, stellar image quality, and adaptability with virtually any lens. He turned a lot of heads and spawned a lot of controversy with that post. At that time Sony’s little NEX cameras barely compared to the big pro bodies from Nikon and Canon, so many people wrote off Trey’s move as some sort of stunt. In late 2013 Sony released their A7 full-frame mirrorless cameras, and the tone of the conversation changed. In the A7 and A7R Sony packed professional features into compact packages. The A7R really turned heads with a massive pixel count, extreme dynamic range and eye-popping image quality. Many, many photographers joined Trey in the mirrorless camp and the buzz around these new tiny cameras with big sensors began to grow.

But the A7 and A7R weren’t perfect cameras. Sure, they looked cool with their retro aesthetic, and with a little adapter you could connect your current lenses to them, but there were some troubling trade-offs. The alarmingly snappy shutter sounds of the cameras broke the hearts of many wedding and event photographers, and landscape shooters lamented the flappy shutter’s vibrations – despite assurances from Sony that the mechanisms did not cause image blur. Add to that the reality that despite their full-frame sensors, the new Sony machines didn’t wow anyone with their autofocus or high-ISO performance. The hope of small-camera nirvana fostered by the A7 and A7R attracted many photographers and thousands of units were sold, but detractors stood firm, refusing to compromise to shave a few pounds from their kits.

Third-party manufacturers cranked out adapters for almost every brand of legacy lens, and the sight of space-age Sony tech mated with Mad Men-era glass became commonplace. Lured by the idea that by replacing their bulky DSLR with one of the Sony mirrorless marvels, they could retain their beloved fleet of lenses, scores of photographers made the switch only to find their fast Canon and Nikon glass focusing maddeningly slow. For the Leica glass aficionados like Trey, the A7 and A7R didn’t need to have blazing autofocus, or any autofocus for that matter. For those raised on Canon and Nikon AF, the sudden drop in performance drove them to native lenses. Sony’s selection of FE mount lenses was scant to begin with, but one by one they released fast primes, compact zooms, and through their partnership with Zeiss, the converted found solace in superb image quality even though AF speed was lacking.

The low-light crowd turned up their noses at the Sony cameras until six months later when the A7S joined the team. While the “R” stood for Resolution, the “S” brought Sensitivity. The new kid with the magic sensor that could see in the dark quickly gathered a chorus of converts happy to sing the praises of this revolutionary sensor. The A7S also brought 4K video to the Alpha mirrorless, but an external recorder was needed to realize such lofty standards. Astro nuts and videographers snatched up the A7S by the armload.

With the A7S in the mix Sony began to refine their ergonomics and autofocus. in late 2014, Sony replaced the original A7 with a Mark II version that brought a much better form factor, quiet (and smooth) shutter, improved autofocus and 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS). With the A7II, many of the complaints that people had about the original A7’s were countered by industry-shifting technology. Even more DSLR shooters traded in their kits for Sony gear. The market economics became clearer. Before Sony launched the A7 line, everyone in the industry was seeing slacking sales. Canon and Nikon reported alarming revenue drops as amateur photographers abandoned compact cameras for smartphones and professionals moved to mirrorless systems or stuck with their aging gear. By early 2015, the big kings of the camera market were standing flat-footed on dropping sales and lackluster offerings while Sony was enjoying a 17% rise in sales. The shift in the market from DSLR to mirrorless was also reflected in the revenue figures of Fuji, Panasonic and Olympus, but no one has caught the wave like Sony.

In hindsight, Trey was starting to look like Nostradamus.

Disruptions in the Force

In a breathtaking run Sony invented the full-frame mirrorless market, expanded it, then reinvented it; all in less than 14 months. With sales in the black and a growing list of notable photographers switching to their cameras, Sony plowed into 2015 with three remarkable cameras. Despite all of this, there were still many reasons why Sony wasn’t a slam dunk. The A7II answered the complaints of many with a better shutter and shape, but it didn’t have the A7R’s pixels or the A7S’s low-light and video prowess. Sony had three great cameras that if mashed together could be considered the best camera in the world. So that’s what they did.

Enter the A7RII. Sony took the shell of the A7II and gutted it. They then reached deep into their R&D black magic labs and concocted the world’s first full-frame back-illuminated CMOS sensor with a hard drive stomping 42.4 megapixels. By literally flipping sensor technology on its head Sony was able to cram an enormous number of pixels onto the sensor while dragging the low-light and autofocus performance up to redonkulous levels.

When the camera was announced in June, the specs were staggering: 42.4 megapixels, native ISO of 100 to 25,600 (expandable to 50 – 104,900), 14 stops of dynamic range, 399 phase detection AF points, 4-stop 5-axis in-body image stabilization, silent shutter, 4K in-camera video, robust weather and dust sealing, and a partridge in a pear tree. Sight unseen, people snapped up the entire pre-sale production run in days. On paper, Sony’s little full frame camera seemed to be a true DSLR killer.

Petting the Underdog

It certainly had my attention. I have been a Canon devotee for 25 years, but I began to dabble in mirrorless with the Fuji X-T1 when it came out over a year ago and I could see the future of photography in that bright EVF. However, anyone who has used a mirrorless camera will tell you, they have been an exercise in compromise. You trade size for performance. You swap your amazing big-ass DSLR with it’s blazing frame rates, quick autofocus, and weatherproof body for something more demure. It’s akin to swapping your 4X4 Dodge RAM pickup for a Subaru Outback. Both will get you there. The Subaru is easier to park, but don’t expect it to take 1,000 pounds of gravel along for the ride.

Right before the new camera hit the streets, I joined a couple of dozen other photography journalists at a Sony event in Portland, Oregon where we were all given an A7RII, some lenses, beer, good food and two full days of activities curated to provide ample opportunities to make the system shine. After I picked up my camera and lenses, I sat down with it for a couple of hours to pick through the menus, spin the dials and toss the camera joyfully from one hand to the other. When I sat down with the loaner camera in the swanky hotel meeting room in Portland, I knew the specs of the camera in and out and was fully impressed. I had shot each of the preceding Sony cameras, so I knew what the system felt like. What I wasn’t prepared for was to be so surprised by the reality of the camera’s autofocus prowess, low-light finesse, and general lovability. But is that lovability enough to compel DSLR slingers to sell off their D4s and 5Ds? Let’s step over the hype and pick apart the arguments for and against the A7RII.

New Friends are Silver and Old Friends Gold. Gold is Heavy.

In this debate there is a lot of money on the table. When serious photographers look at cameras, they look at the entire system and Sony’s limited selection of native lenses for the A7RII pales in comparison to Canon and Nikon’s massive fleets of glass. For Canon users, EF glass is adaptable to the A7RII via third party adapters from Metabones, Fotodiox, and a handful of other Whodat? companies. With these adapters, shooters can marry the Sony camera to the amazing Canon/Nikon/Leica glass they love. Sounds perfect, right? In theory it is. Because of the smaller form factor of mirrorless camera bodies, adapted lenses retain the proper flange distance and keep their focal length and max aperture. What they haven’t been able to realize up to this point is autofocus performance. With the A7, A7R and A7S, adapted lenses hunted aimlessly for focus lock and frustrated users were faced with shedding their beloved glass for Sony EF lenses or returning to their bulky DSLRs.

With the A7RII, Sony brings a revolutionary new sensor to the fight that boasts 40% faster autofocus speeds from a sprawling 399-point phase detection AF array. While non-native lenses now leverage those 399 focus points, the performance isn’t earth-shaking. Newer Canon lenses (2006 and up) seem to enjoy autofocus speeds comparable to the 5D Mark III, but not as swift as the EOS 1D X or 7D Mark II. Nikon lens owners are still waiting on the sidelines for an adapter maker to bring something to market that will unlock the magic in that sweet Nikon glass. When I mentioned the allure of being able to use my Canon lenses on the A7RII, a Sony representative replied, “but we really want you to buy our lenses.” And therein is the rub. The satisfactory compatibility of the A7RII and lenses from other mothers is a brilliant marketing move. Sony has opened the door for those of us who are resistant to the idea of jumping whole-hog into a new system. “Sure” they say, “you can bring your old friends to our party, but we know you’ll be dancing with us by the end of the night.” After playing with the Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro, 35mm F1.4, 16-35 F4 and 70-200 F4 I can tell you that the full potential of this amazing new camera isn’t available with my Canon lenses. With adapted lenses you lose many of the A7RII’s autofocus magic like Eye AF, Lock-On AF, and zone focusing. I am bringing my adapted Canon 11-24 F4L, 70-200 F2.8L IS II, 50 F1.2L and 100-400 F4-5.6L IS II to the party, but in the back of my mind I know they may be catching rides home with other people.

Shed Thy Burden, or Not.

Goldfish will grow to match the size of their tank, and I think photographers will often make their kit fit their bag. One commonly-cited factor in moving to mirrorless is the weight and space savings realized with smaller camera bodies and lenses. If one ditches a Nikon D800 and 12-24 F2.8 lens for a Sony NEX body and prime lens, (cough, Trey, cough), the weight and space savings are incredible. There is no question that Sony’s A7RII is smaller than comparable DSLRs. The Sony weighs 625 grams (including battery) while the Canon 5D Mark III (and the new 5DS and SR) come in at 950 grams and the Nikon D810 tips the scales at 980 grams. Now to be fair, both Canon and Nikon have excellent full-frame DSLRs that are more compact than the 5DM3 and D810. The Canon 6D weighs 770 grams and the Nikon D750 is 750 grams. If you only take into account the camera bodies, the Sony clearly shaves weight from your bag. But wait, you say, what about the lenses! That is where things get tricky. If you snag the Sony and keep your Canon glass, you will need an adapter like the Metabones EF to E version IV which weighs 193 grams. I am planning to replace my Canon 5D Mark III with the Sony A7RII but keep my favorite L lenses (for now). The A7RII with the Metabones IV weighs in at 818 grams so the argument that mirrorless cameras save weight is true, but the savings are limited. Sony is cranking out a steady stream of FE mount lenses, and they plan to add seven new ones in the next several months to the 23 in the stable right now, but their selection of native glass is scant compared to the sea of lenses from Canon and Nikon. Disciplined landscape and travel photographers will find plenty to work with in the Sony lineup, but the utility of being able to adapt alternative glass is very nice. The impact of your personal lens choices is what will dictate the mass of your kit. Trey routinely travels with a svelte kit of one or two Sony A-series bodies and a handful of adapted prime lenses, a far cry from the hulking Nikon load he used to lug around.

When the Puppy Barks Louder than the Big Dogs, Things Change.

I won’t jump into the nitpicking around Sony’s compressed raw files not being on par with the uncompressed output from the Nikon D810 or Canon’s new 5DS/R as 99.987% of the planet’s population cannot see a difference in the image quality from any of the high megapixel cameras on the market today. Pixel peeping is fun in moderation, but when prints are made and images sling to the web few people care whether the camera that made them had a mirror or not. The bald truth is the files emerging from the A7RII, D810 and 5DS/R are amazing when created by competent photographers. Trey’s massive prints hanging in businesses, galleries and homes around the world will stand up to the highest scrutiny. Sure, Sony could sweeten the deal by granting us uncompressed raw files with a future firmware update, but then we’ll all complain about the suddenly larger file sizes. When shot and processed right, the A7RII’s raw files are stellar. With 14 stops of dynamic range at lower ISOs, 42.4 megapixels, and all the trimmings, the A7RII is not a compromise in quality. In side-by-side comparisons using the same lens, settings and scene, I found the A7RII showed better dynamic range than the Canon 5D Mark III. In the shadows the two cameras seemed deadlocked. In color and detail quality, both cameras looked comparable. I am sure there will be much more detailed analysis from pixel peepers, but to my eyes, the little Sony not only measured up to my pro-level DSLR, it beat it. The days of compromising quality for size are over.

Eating Batteries Like Candy.

No question, having a camera empty a battery in 300 shots is a bummer, but you can’t outrun physics. The A7RII is an electronic beast, and the beast is hungry. On board you have a massive sensor, two screens (3” LCD on back and .5” OLED EVF inside), a busy 5-axis internal stabilizer, 399 on-sensor focusing points, and a dampened shutter. They all gobble up the amps. All of this tech lives inside a compact package, and no one wants a big fat battery crowding up the place so something’s gotta give. Mirrorless photographers have gotten good at battery management and once you get used to it, there’s no pain in quickly swapping out cells. Remember when we had to open THE ENTIRE BACK of our cameras to swap film every 36 shots? Sliding in a new battery every few hundred exposures is no big thang. Sony has heard the cries of the masses and given us a few sweet treats with the A7RII.

First off, you’ll find two batteries in the box! They didn’t have to do that. In addition to the extra battery, Sony bundles a charger plus a USB power cord and plug with the camera. So you can charge one battery in camera while the other is nestled into the charger. Pretty cool, right? But it gets better! The USB cable can be used with that big external battery you bought to charge your phone. To me this is a really useful secret feature that is new to the Sony lineup. For $40 you can buy a 20,000mA battery and throw it in your camera bag. Between shooting sessions plug in your camera and top off the battery. I was able to bring the A7RII’s battery from 35% to 100% in just over an hour and Sony claims by plugging in the camera to a wall outlet will fully charge the battery in just under two hours. The external USB battery option also works while the camera is in use so timelapsers, event photographers and travelers can run and gun while charging the little battery in the camera.

Cranking Up The Night Vision

Sony’s A7S brought creepy spy-camera low light prowess to mirrorless cameras, but the cost was paid in pixels lost. Nikon’s D4s and Canon’s EOS 1 D X also brought killer high ISO performance, but they too capture light with big photosites. The 1D X can crank up to 204,800 ISO with its 18mp sensor while the D4s can climb to 409,600 ISO with its 16mp sensor. For the record the A7S only has 12mp and tops out at 102,400 ISO. Now, 409,600 ISO sounds cray-cray, and it is, but the images captured at those stratospheric ISOs are notoriously noisy and useless for anything but espionage. The Sony A7S was the first full frame camera to bring quality to the quantity game. Astrophotographers and videographers have been singing the A7S’s praises and entire music videos have been shot under moonlight. When the A7RII was announced with a top ISO that matches the A7S’s 102,400, many people scoffed that a sensor with 42mp couldn’t possibly gather enough light to perform at those high ISOs. Back side illuminated sensors defy conventional wisdom, however, and Sony parked the world’s first full-frame BSI sensor in the A7RII and the low light performance is stunning. BSI sensors are fundamentally different from traditional sensors because the photosites, those tiny little receptors that gather light and convert it into data, are literally open to more light. When a sensor is built, the array of photodiodes is laid down first, then the connecting circuitry is paved on top. This construction allows some but not all of the light to hit the diodes, kind of like looking through a screen door. You get the view, but not all of the light.

With a BSI sensor the photodiodes are laid down, then flipped over and the circuitry is then applied to the back of the array. In Sony’s case they had to engineer a way to physically flip the assembly on the line, which is incredibly tricky considering the delicate nature of microscopic electronics. This new method of building sensors allows in more light and light from sharper angles, so image quality across the frame improves (hello sharp corners!), sensitivity goes up, and the transmission of data from diodes to processor speeds up. We all win. Images in the A7R2 don’t look brighter, but the camera does leverage the new sensor tech to produce clean, noiseless image at ISOs much higher than any other high-resolution camera. This is a big deal for anyone who shoots in low light. Using light to moderate noise reduction in Lightroom, I have been able to get decent images at 102,400 ISO and surprisingly clear images at the native max ISO of 25,600. You won’t want to make massive prints of shots made at 25,600, but for online use they are impressive. Ultra high quality images suitable for large prints can be produced at 6400 ISO and possibly even higher if the exposures are spot-on and processing is handled with a careful touch.

As a long-time DSLR user with an eye for downsizing my kit, the Sony A7RII resolves all of the issues I have had with mirrorless cameras to date. With native lenses it brings uncanny autofocus ability. With features like Eye AF and wide area phase detection AF points across almost the entire frame, the A7RII bests cameras twice the size with a quarter the resolution. Other mirrorless cameras from Olympus, Panasonic and Fuji bring comparable AF performance, but not at the A7RII’s resolution or in low light. When used with non-native lenses like Canon’s latest L-series glass, the A7RII engages the phase detection AF system to bring dramatically better autofocus chops than previous Sony A7 series cameras. The compatibility with third party lenses makes the A7RII the highly versatile and capable core of a the world’s largest lens ecosystem.

The camera’s excellent EVF and pivoting LCD screen make scrutinizing your work easy business in harsh sunlight, odd angles and other difficult situations and thus my LCD loupe is now looking for a good home. The form factor of the camera is simple and elegant. Customizable buttons adorn the top and back of the camera and while some will bicker about the ergonomics of the compact dials and buttons, Sony has done a fine job of providing just enough control without too many frills.

The camera’s menu system is deep and complicated, but not nearly as bad as past Sony cameras. Sure, there are curious options here and there and sometimes settings aren’t located where logic would put them, but nothing in the A7RII’s menus seems useless or silly. Like with past A7 cameras, Sony includes the option of downloading applications to the camera (even through the built-in WiFi). Many of the available apps are questionable in utility, but the Remote Control app that allows you to use your smart phone to control the camera is elegant and should be standard equipment. The timelapse app is also very useful. The hands-free remote app is a wonderful option, despite being in Beta. When installed and activated, you can trip the shutter by simply waving your hand behind the camera. Very cool.

The build of the camera is robust and solid. It feels substantial in the hand. All doors, covers, buttons and dials feel professional grade. Weather sealing has always been a concern with the small mirrorless cameras but the A7RII is up to the rigors of heavy outdoor use in mixed conditions. I took several heavy splashes of water while shooting break dancers in water and the camera never even blinked. On a dusty volcano, I never worried about getting it dirty. I wouldn’t dunk it in sea water, but anything else is fair game.

Above everything else, the A7RII is a killer imaging machine. The 42.4 megapixel sensor renders crisp detail and lovely color. The dynamic range makes HDR toning an option with every single frame. You can still bracket with it, but you may not need to except in the most challenging of light. Fans of Trey’s wild Lightroom presets will find the massive files produced by the camera a delight to play with in processing.

Considering the top-notch image quality, snappy autofocus, and see in the dark low light capabilities of this camera, you would be hard pressed to find a more useful, fun and productive creative tool. Sony hopes to sell 100,000 A7RII’s and I am confident they will do just that…unless they release something better in six months!

PROs:

  • Image quality is very high
  • Autofocus with native lenses is exceptional
  • Camera is great size, a good balance between compact and comfortable
  • 42.4 Megapixels
  • Excellent low-light performance
  • Robust weather and dust resistance
  • Wifi and NFC built in
  • Can accept wide range of lenses via third-party adapters
  • Highly customizable buttons
  • Excellent OLED EVF and pivoting LCD screen
  • Can be charged via inexpensive USB external battery packs
  • 4K Video internally
  • Available applications enhance utility (timelapse, remote control, etc.)

CONs:

  • Expensive
  • Battery life is very limited
  • Adapted lenses have limited AF performance
  • Large file sizes tax SD cards
  • Limited selection of native lenses
  • No internal GPS

For a deeper dive into the Sony A7RII, including long exposure, low-light, 4K video and other tests, visit masonmarsh.com.

The New DJI Zenmuse X5 and X5R

Wow! What a system… finally, a big sensor on a quad!

I’ve been flying with the Phantom series for years, and I was so excited when I got a chance to try out this X5 system on an Inspire. This sensor is basically 8x the size of the regular sensor, which means you get a ton more light. Even better, it’s based on the Micro-Four-Thirds (most confusing standard name in history — they might as well call it “Small 1 + 1/3” ) system, which means it adheres to an open standard where many manufacturers contribute to the overall awesomeness. This means it’s an interchangeable lens system, which gives you maximum flexibility for photos and video.

See my DJI Inspire Review. I wrote this a few months ago before there was this even more awesome camera!

We used this for most of Trey’s Photo Walk Across the USA. I’ll include a few videos below where we used it… all the aerial footage was taken with the new camera.

Because I’m primarily into photography, here’s a photo that I took below. That Inspire is SO STEADY. When this was taken, there were actually 5 images, auto-bracketed. They were so steady, in fact, that I could have made an HDR, but I didn’t… this image below is just from one of the exposures. It was at 15mm, f/1.7, 1/15s, ISO 1600.

from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

Anyway, how incredible is that? How cool is it just to be able to take your quad up hundreds of feet and take a photo? Actually, in the middle of the city, it’s hard. During the Photo Walk here in Dallas, we were staying at the Ritz-Carlton, and they were nice enough to connect us to the mayor, who ended up giving us special permission to fly. And, we thought, heck, if we only have one chance, we’re gonna use this kick-ass new camera!!!

It’s obviously great for video, but as you may know, gentle reader of the blog, I am more into the photography side. I love that it takes RAW photos, and the sensitivity range is selectable from ISO 100 all the way to ISO 25600. You can either let it automatically take photos, or you can go into full RAW mode. Being able to see the live image on my smartphone or iPad is supa-awesummmm.

I always get excited like a little kid when I see the image live on the screen. It always seems to attract other dudes too, who end up surrounding me in a socially awkward semi-circle. I call it the DJI semi-circle-jerk.

So, as you can assume, I LOVE this new camera on the Inspire. I feel like I can now get some of the most unique angles, any time of the day or night. I also get to meet a lot of dudes in the semi-circle-jerk.

Now, here are a few videos from the Photo Walks across the 13 cities. We have the big San Francisco Photo walk coming up next week when I get back from Papua New Guinea. Be sure to check out the Tour Website and you can join us in SF!

We’ll start with the Dallas video. I didn’t have any Grey Poupon to hand out of the Rolls, but I had some Nutella from New Zealand (not product placement haha).

And here’s Amazing San Antonio… check out those night time DJI Inspire Zenmuse shots!! Thanks again Ollie from Virtually Famous for grabbing such amazing video footage. And thanks to the entire crew for making all of this possible! Warning: When you watch this video, you’ll definitely want one of these toys!

A video review of the original DJI Inspire!

You guys know Kai from Digital Rev TV? Here’s a crazy video I made with him when reviewing the original Inspire. It’s quite silly and mega-awesome!

A Great Place to Explore in Dubai

Zooming in

You may remember a few days ago I talked about “cutting the tops off buildings on purpose.” That’s what I did again here… and I’m really loving the effect of it all. It goes against your first instincts, I think, not to include the top…so it’s a bit of an unnatural decision, but you can get used to it.

Daily Photo – A Great Place to Explore in Dubai

I had big plans this night! I had been to this area once before, and I planned on coming down here for the night and staying out forever! I was by myself and planned to take photos like crazy, eat a bunch, chill out outside with some drinks and listen to music, then go take more photos! Well, I sat down to eat and realized I was mega tired… so I just wolfed it down then went back to the hotel. It was actually a mega lame night… just wasn’t feeling so great.

A Great Place to Explore in Dubai

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time2.5
  • Aperture4
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length61.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Red Faces in the Sun in Africa

Centering a Subject

You know in the rules of composition they say never to put your subject in the middle. Well I didn’t write the rules, so I will only occasionally follow them! 🙂

Daily Photo – Red Faces in the Sun in Africa

When we were in this little village in Namibia, this girl had pounded out some red powder with a mortar and pestle and was slowly rubbing it on her face. I don’t know if it was to protect her from the sun or just decoration, but either way, I thought it made her look pretty awesome!

Red Faces in the Sun in Africa

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7S
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/4000
  • Aperture
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

Rivers of Laser Fire

To give you an idea…

…of how precarious it was, here’s a shot of me there earlier in the day.

Trey photographing the Burj by Rene Smith

Daily Photo – Rivers of Laser Fire

One night my friend Rene and I were atop a skyscraper in Dubai and we stayed as long as we could. There was this one Quite Precarious Spot on the corner of the building… I got over there, and this was my final shot for the evening.

Rivers of Laser Fire

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1.3
  • Aperture4
  • ISO125
  • Focal Length19.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Slide Lite Announced! :)

Love this camera strap! It’s now just been added to the big Kickstarter!

Stopping in Tekapo on the way to Antarctica

Sick of seeing this church?

I take A LOT of photos of it… I think people in New Zealand get tired of seeing it because they see it so much, but my feeling is others around the world can’t get enough of it! 🙂

the space between here and there

Daily Photo – Stopping in Tekapo on the way to Antarctica

It’s easy enough to drive to Christchurch in a day, but why do that when you can stop halfway there and stay here for the evening? That’s what Stu and I did on the beginning of our harrowing trip to Antarctica. The skies aren’t always this amazing by the Church of the Good Shepherd, but I’m glad they were this night.

Stopping in Tekapo on the way to Antarctica

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/40
  • Aperture4
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias+0.3

A Room With a View

What else happened this day?

Here’s a little video of what happened in London before I took this photo!

Daily Photo – A Room With a View

Here’s my friend Stu atop The Shard in London inside one of the most awesome bathrooms I’ve ever seen! Yes, you might think it was awkward for me to take this photo while in the bathroom… I suppose it was a little bit, but not NEARLY as awkward as it was for all the guys behind me waiting while I had Stu strike a few poses…

A Room With a View

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time0.5
  • Aperture6.3
  • ISO250
  • Focal Length19.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-0.3

Flying Over the Lindis Pass

Getting Closer to the Final Photo Walk

Even though I’m deep in the middle of Burning Man, I’m getting ready for Photo Walk 13 of 13 in San Francisco. Be sure to go over to the tour page to get all the details!

Daily Photo – Flying Over the Lindis Pass

Here’s another quadcopter shot. Two days in a row for these! I also took this one with the DJI Inspire. You can see the road there on the right. This set of mountains is actually one of the lower parts of the Southern Alps, and this is the main road people use to drive from Christchurch down to Queenstown. I’ve been on it about 50 times now…and then when I flew the quadcopter up like this to get a shot, I was impressed by how much a few hundred vertical meters can affect the shot.

Flying Over the Lindis Pass

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraFC350
  • Camera MakeDJI
  • Exposure Time1/320
  • Aperture2.8
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length
  • FlashNo flash function
  • Exposure ProgramUnknown (58655)
  • Exposure Bias+0.656

Quadcopter over Hong Kong

And here’s the video!

That I got while with Kai from Digital Rev TV in Hong Kong!

Daily Photo – Quadcopter over Hong Kong

This is the result of a panorama I stitched together from a few photos I got from the air. I just used Photoshop for this… I usually use that for the small panoramas like this, but for major productions, I use Autopano, which generally seems to be better at stitching together complex things. But I do hate the interface in Autopano… it’s terrible!

Quadcopter over Hong Kong

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraFC350
  • Camera MakeDJI
  • Exposure Time1/140
  • Aperture2.8
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length3.6 mm
  • FlashNo flash function
  • Exposure ProgramProgram AE
  • Exposure Bias+0.656

Exploring Every Possible Path

Using Tripadvisor

I find myself using Tripadvisor more and more on trips to find hotels and places to stay. It’s a very handy resource, I must say… and it gets stronger every day with all the community feedback.

Daily Photo – Exploring Every Possible Path

There’s a little town beside Yangshuo and I can’t quite remember the name right now! But it was full of these tiny little alleyways and tunnels that darted this way and that. Here’s a quick scene I captured while there…

Exploring Every Possible Path

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/1250
  • Aperture
  • ISO3200
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramShutter speed priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-0.3

Dubai From the Inside Out

Cutting Off the Tops of Buildings

This is a new style of architecture photography I’ve been toying with. I think the instinct is to always capture the entire building, especially the top. But in slicing off the top on purpose, it can give you many more options with composition. Also, the way the brain works, the viewer doesn’t have to see the top to know that it also looks pretty awesome… in fact, their imagination of the continuation of the building may be better than the building itself!

Daily Photo – Dubai From the Inside Out

Very early one morning we found ourselves halfway up one skyscraper while taking photos of others. We’re now looking in the direction of the Burj Khalifa, which you can see there on the right. To the left there was a frenzy of construction going one to erect yet another one. I like how everything in there seems very greenish and ant-nest-like.

Dubai From the Inside Out

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time0.3
  • Aperture4
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-0.7

Hello Farmer Friend!

Speaking of Burning Man

This is where I first came up with the idea of crazy presets… It’s because I walked around the first Burning Man with these orange goggles that made everything look like this. I then set out to see if I could re-create the effect in Lightroom… and from that point, I was hooked!

Daily Photo – Hello Farmer Friend!

Here’s a very out-of-the-way place on a little river that feeds into the Li River. We walked along it for a while, and even boated along it. It was really awesome to see this guy crossing over the river with his animal on this old bridge… well it could be new! I don’t know… things like this in China could be very old or very new and just quickly-run-down.

Hello Farmer Friend!

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/400
  • Aperture4
  • ISO320
  • Focal Length63.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Happy September, and Welcome to the September Lightroom Presets!

Day ONE of a new month, get the new Presets!

Pop over to the Lightroom Presets page to grab the new ones at half price… this only lasts 24 hours – it’s something special we do for everyone here on the blog! 🙂

Daily Photo – Another Epic Dinner in Dubai

I’ve eaten at some really beautiful places in Dubai… I spend half the time eating and the other half taking photos. This is a very loungey-kinda-place around a pool. The pool helps keep everything a little bit cool, so you’re not always sweating out the wazoo!

Another Epic Dinner in Dubai

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time0.8
  • Aperture5
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-0.7

Visiting Temples in Thailand

Now at Burning Man

For the next 10 days, I’ll be at Burning Man, so I won’t be super-responsive, or responsive-at-all until I return! I’ll still read and respond to comments, but it will just be a little delayed. I’ve queued up a lot of blog posts with some favorite photos while I am gone so you can stay entertained while I’m off in the woods…

Daily Photo – Visiting Temples in Thailand

I loved this gal’s super-blonde-with-reddish-highlights-hair (which is rare in Thailand) and those cool tattoos on her back. I saw her kneeling here alone from afar and scurried over quickly to get behind her and take a photo before she moved.

Visiting Temples in Thailand

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/4000
  • Aperture
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

One of the Nicer Places at which I’ve Been Treated Rudely

We’ll come in here for the Venice Photo Adventure too

We may have too many people to go in here all at once, but we’ll go in with groups of four… shuttle in and out! 🙂 They’ll be a bit confused, but I’ll keep the rest of the group outside busy too with other secret missions!

Daily Photo – One of the Nicer Places that I’ve Been Treated Rudely At

This is the Hotel Danieli, which is absolutely lovely, as you can see. They were really nice about me taking photos around with my tripod, which was great. I was here with my friend Rene, and we were keen to get up on the rooftop restaurant to take photos. We were more than happy to actually have a full dinner and everything too!

Anyway, we stopped at the concierge to make reservations. He said it was booked solid for a week. We were just up there and it was 90% empty! He then pretended to call upstairs and said the line was busy, sorry. It was really silly…

We did finally come back and have dinner, but we had to come back under an assumed name like criminals!

One of the Nicer Places that I’ve Been Treated Rudely At

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/60
  • Aperture4
  • ISO800
  • Focal Length14.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

A Cloudy Queenstown Morning

Thank You Again

For all the people that come out to our Photo Workshops, I really want to thank you for not only trying so hard, but being so open and ready to learn… some of the kindest, most open-hearted people come on these things. I think that’s a surprising thing to so many attendees — the other participants and how they quickly become close after only a few days!

Daily Photo – A Cloudy Queenstown Morning

We went out with our group from the New Zealand Fall Photo Adventure to see a sunrise, but instead got clouds. Not so bad, I say! I like a good set of blue moody clouds in the morning… you never know what you’re gonna get around here! But you can see those nice bright red and yellow trees in the distance… you can imagine how they look when the sun hits!

A Cloudy Queenstown Morning

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/20
  • Aperture7.1
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length24.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Getting All Sweaty in Thailand

Finding Secret Spots!

Here’s a video of how I used Stuck on Earth (a free app) to find this place below.

Daily Photo – Getting All Sweaty in Thailand

I lost about five pounds in water weight during this shoot! It happened to be an extremely hot day, but I was still in the mood for taking photos. This spot was actually very close to where I was staying in Bang Saray, so it didn’t take too long to get here… I used the extra time to take photos and get more sweaty!

Getting All Sweaty in Thailand

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/200
  • Aperture4
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length32.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

In the Danger Zone with the Cape Buffalo

Down in the Weeds

I love getting low to take these shots, but the only way I was able to get this one was from the water while on a boat. Normally, I’m up in a vehicle, which makes this sort of thing very difficult!

Daily Photo – In the Danger Zone with the Cape Buffalo

These are the meanest of all the animals and the ones that the guides fear the most! I did not know that before I went… but when my guide got scared, I got scared.

In the Danger Zone with the Cape Buffalo

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-6000
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/2500
  • Aperture4
  • ISO500
  • Focal Length200.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

Driving Around The Hills

More Max Patte work

If you’re ever in Wellington, be sure to visit Weta Studios and take a tour. It’s absolutely unbelievable and you can see some of his incredible work he did for all the Weta movies.

Daily Photo – Driving Around The Hills

Here’s another one of Max Patte’s sculptures that you see when driving around The Hills golf course. I must say that I spend more time taking photos on the golf course than playing golf! Sometimes I just go get a golf cart and don’t even put on my clubs… I’m sure people just think I am nutty!

Driving Around The Hills

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraNIKON D800
  • Camera MakeNikon
  • Exposure Time1/50
  • Aperture16
  • ISO125
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

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