Saturday, August 17 2019

Sony update

As I assumed when I last wrote, I have used my digital camera a bit more than my trusty film cameras. Reasons for this are multiple, but mainly due to a) laziness and b) so many cat photos that don’t need to be on film.

Short summary of the camera: I find some interface quirks annoying, particularly with manual focus lenses, but it’s a relatively easy camera to use in my opinion. The quality of the files is absolutely bonkers. Huge dynamic range and low noise. Shooting manual focus lenses in dim light is nice with the electronic viewfinder. I still find a rangefinder more intuitive in good light. The camera is a bit bulky, but not too bad. Autofocus in dim light is annoying.1

I have acquired a few more lenses, using the rationale of upcoming trips/events.2

Lenses

As I stated in the previous post, the Zeiss Loxia 21 is pretty amazing. I might have been tempted to get the Loxia 25 instead, had it been released when I originally purchased, because I do love 28mm, and the 25 is as close as you can get. At the same time, I do also like 21mm… At least the Sony system focusses closer than the Leica standard of 0.7m, so I can get tighter framing when I want it. (As it turned out, I got the 25mm anyway.)

Zeiss Batis 25/2

So why the additional purchases? The Batis 25 rationale was threefold:

  1. Zeiss was running a discount promotion on wide angle lenses.
  2. I had $100 B&H Photo credit.
  3. I find manually focusing the Sony to be slower than on Leica M. An autofocus lens in a focal length I like for people seemed to make sense.

I thought back a little bit to that time I borrowed a Canon 24/1.4 from work and shot a few rolls with it (pictures here). Having autofocus on a camera that has great lowlight abilities seemed like a win when I was interacting with people. I have also come to accept the fact that the 28mm focal length is going to be ignored on the Sony system, so 25mm might be as close as it gets. Zeiss particularly seems to feel this way (more on this in a bit).

Svartifoss

The Batis is a nice lens. A bit on the large size, but it’s light. It has to be wider than 25mm; it actually seems pretty close to the Loxia 21. Every once in a while, you can get some ‘onion-ring’ bokeh, which is annoying, but it is what it is. And now that Sony has announced a 24/1.4, I might have considered that instead, but too late for that.

I bought it before our annual July 4th gathering of friends and family in 2018, which actually happened in August that year for the same reason I haven’t been developing film: everyone is busy. No complaints. It’s main issue of color fringing in out of focus areas doesn’t bother me much since I mostly stick with B&W. Had the old Canon EF 28/1.8 looked like this years ago, I would have probably never moved to Leica.

Zeiss Loxia 50/2

My beloved Leica 50 Summilux only works okay on the Sony. The corners are kind of crap up until about f/5.6, the handling is a bit fiddly, and it doesn’t integrate into the Sony system that well (like all adapted lenses). The bad corners are fine for certain types of candid shots where they would be out of focus anyway, but a lot of times, I use a lens wide open because I need more light. The Summilux on the Sony didn’t seem like a dependable travel lens to me.

bird is the word

We had a vacation planned to go to Iceland. I had no decent 50mm lens, so picked up the Zeiss Loxia 50/2. It might not be sharp enough for some, or have a bit fussy bokeh, but I like this lens. Reminds me of Leica lenses. Great focusing damping too—much better than the 21mm Loxia in my opinion, as it has less resistance.3 If you like classic lenses, this is a no brainer. It is fatter than an M lens, but the Sony mount has a larger outer diameter. It’s not much taller than an M 50mm lens once you take into account the adapter needed to make up the difference in flange distance to the sensor/film.

Anyway, the trip to Iceland was great, and I had fun with the 3 lens combo (Loxia 21 & 50, and the Batis 25). I mostly used the Batis 25 when walking around town due to the autofocus, and the other two lenses when things were a little slower. I also took my Ricoh GR, which I used here and there, but my wife used more. Photos are here.

It’s funny that this lens gets a bit of flak on the internet forums as not being super sharp wide open. Go to a rangefinder forum, and the equivalent ZM 50 Planar is always touted as super sharp and clinical. My understanding is that they are basically the same lens, with the Loxia being tweaked for the Sony sensor. I personally think it is a fantastic lens and a classic formula.

I did consider getting a Zeiss ZM C-Sonnar 50/1.5 (and probably will anyway). I’ve always been intrigued by the lens, but the focus shift scared me off. That would be taken care of on the Sony. However, it’s not a cheap lens and I would still be adapting it. I do wish Zeiss would come out with a C-Sonnar Loxia. Instant purchase.

Zeiss Loxia 25/2.4

At some point last year, I wrote to Zeiss and asked them if they plan on making a 28mm Loxia. While I did not expect a fully transparent answer and took their response with a grain of salt, they said no, use the Loxia 25mm. There was a Zeiss rebate going on, I had some B&H Photo credit that was about to expire, and so I pulled the trigger.4

Murphy

I’m happy to report the 25mm focus feel is like the 50mm and not like the 21mm. Yes, 25mm is closer to 21mm than I would like, but it’s also closer to 28mm than 21mm or 35mm. It’s also what is available in the system. So here we are.

I’ve not used it a ton yet, but I can see that this will be my main lens on the Sony. The 21mm will come out when I want the wider angle of view, or just want to change things up; otherwise it not be the companion to the 50mm in the compact 2 lens bag.

Camera handling

On a side note, I previously mentioned that the Sony interface is a bit fiddly. My most recent digital camera experience is with the Ricoh GR, which handles wonderfully with what I think is very intuitive control placement. The Sony is a bit less so.

My opinion has changed somewhat. I just purchased a Nikon D7500 and some lenses for work5. Having used it a bit, I find the Sony system more user friendly. It’s been so long since I’ve used Canon that maybe I would find it the same way. Sony could use some refinement to its interface, but it’s not too bad. I wish they would change a few buttons here or there, and maybe they have on the III and IV models, but I don’t find the cameras too much ‘like a computer’ which is a common criticism.

Summary

So this is how I end up with 3 lenses in the 21-25mm range. Dumb, right?

I know there is a ‘trend’ in Sony land to jump ship from the Zeiss lenses to the wonderful Cosina and Sony lenses coming out. They do look great, but I find the quality of the Loxia lenses incredible, particularly the 21 and 25. I’m sure the Sony and Cosina lenses are also incredible, but I’m happy where I am with this system. Had I joined now, I probably would have the Sony 24/1.4 instead of the Batis 25/2, and possibly the Cosina Voigtlander 21/3.5 instead of the Zeiss Loxia 21/2.8. I would have saved a little bit of money and traded half a stop at 21mm for a whole stop at 24/25mm. If I made the swap now, I’d be out an extra few hundred dollars, and I just don’t care enough to bother. I’d rather put that money towards something else, like the ZM C-Sonnar…

For those who might be interested, here’s all of my uploaded photos by lens:


  1. One of the reasons I ended up using manual focus lenses… I hate auto focus hunting.
  2. Errr… rationalization?
  3. This was actually something that bothered me about the 75mm Summilux.
  4. I’m fully aware that the marketing of credit and rebates is working on me.
  5. We have some long telephoto zooms for Nikon, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy into another system.

Sunday, June 30 2019

Samson Go Mic

Years ago, I bought a Logitech C920 webcam. I can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea. We were in the process of setting up an online video-chat-based roleplaying game session1 and my built-in FaceTime camera in whatever laptop I had at the time must have not been cutting it.

Logitech C920

Fast-forward almost 10 years. We still play our mostly weekly game via video chat and I’m still using the C920. Anyone who video chats with any regularity with a group of people knows the process is constantly plagued with audio issues. The issue with my setup is that it always produces echo. What type of echo? When any one other than me speaks, the audio plays through my external speakers and is picked up by the webcam microphone, and is rebroadcast to everyone else. Very annoying. There are multiple solutions to the problem:

  1. I can wear headphones and not use external speakers. This sucks if you are video chatting for a few hours and/or need to get up and move around at all.
  2. Use my MacBook Pro’s internal microphone. macOS seems to have the magic sauce built-in to cancel out incoming audio that is broadcast over the speakers.

I usually opt for #2. It’s somewhat annoying because my laptop is actually behind one of my screens, the mic is relatively far away, and sometimes the mic pics up a bunch of computer fan noise2 and other crap since those sources are closer than my mouth.

I’m thinking of getting a new computer, and have been eyeing a Mac Mini. Mac Minis don’t have FaceTime cameras, nor do they have built-in mics. So I started to poke around and try and figure out how to fix the issue. A little bit of research and the internet came back with the following possible solutions:

  1. Wear headphones… see above.
  2. Get a Logiech C615. Apparently the cheaper webcam has built-in noise cancellation that works better.3
  3. Use an external microphone.

#1 was already out, and I already have a decent webcam, so I wanted to avoid #2. That left #3, the external mic. Most of my friends in the group have external mics, Blue Yetis to be exact, though my brother has an EV RE20 and a professional audio interface. I didn’t want a big ass Yeti on my desk; I wanted something small. I also wanted a USB mic as I wasn’t looking to buy a recording interface at the moment. A bit of searching led me to the Samson Go Mic.

Samson Go Mic

The Go Mic is tiny and hefty. It has an integrated stand that doubles as a clip. The mic is connected to the stand via a ball-mount mechanism for positioning, and the stand has a threaded socket for mounting to a microphone stand. I have it sitting on top of my monitor. It all folds up into a 1.5” x 3” x 0.5” envelope and comes with a little zipper case. Amazingly, it also has switchable patterns: omnidirectional and cardioid. And it was only $30!

After a bit of testing yesterday with FaceTime, it seems to have fixed my echo problem. It was reported to have sounded better than the internal mic and the C920 mic. I sit about 2.5 feet away from it; if I tried a little harder and positioned it closer to my face, it would sound even better. So the verdict is: Success! If you are looking for a possible solution to FaceTime/video chat echo on macOS while using an external webcam and speakers, this might work for you.

The only negative I have of this mic is that the USB connector:

  • It is a USB mini-B and not the more modern micro USB.
  • The connector is on the side of the mic, so when you use the provided cable, it sticks out the side and looks messy.

I remedied the second point by buying a right angle USB cable that plugs into the side of the mic but then routs to the backside of the unit.


  1. My old group (my brother and our high school friends) are scattered all over the country. There’s no good way to play in person, and it gets us all together for a few hours every week to bull shit and hang out.
  2. Google Hangouts is murder on my processor. As soon as I get on, it pegs the fan.
  3. My pet theory is that the C615 has a mono mic and not a stereo mic like the C920 and that this somehow interferes with the echo reduction algorithm macOS uses. Another idea might be sample rate–the C920 input only goes to 32 kHz, while the C615, the laptop built-in mic, and the Go Mic all go to at least 44.1 kHz.

Wednesday, December 5 2018


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