The Mutrah souk in Muscat is one of the mandatory places to go for visitors. It is a very traditional place, with various shops lining the narrow alleyways. It is actually quite small, but still one can feel “lost” inside, due to the narrowness of the streets, and the ambience inside: traditional fares like incense and spices are available, as well as all other types of products. Be sure to visit one of the juice stands for a really good natural fruit juice, or the more traditional teas and samosas.
Less known to visitors are the streets located just a stone throw’s away from the more commercial streets; in here it is possible to find busy men unloading merchandise for their shops, and traditionally decorated wood and steel doors. Away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial activity, I was able to concentrate on capturing some of the “flavour” of the souk, the details that often go unnoticed.
In this regard, the Sony A7II and Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm lens are a wonderful combination, for this more contemplative type of photography. Having visited this place so many times before, this time I wanted to obtain some different results, other than the more “normal” shots inside the souk proper.
This is just a quick post to share my experience with the above combination. The Sony A7II is the second iteration of a very successful line of mirrorless full frame cameras. Main improvements over its predecessor are: a larger grip – thus better ergonomics, at least for me; a more robust build (the camera features more metal in its chassis); and of course, IBIS (image stabilization via the sensor, so all lenses can benefit). Two things are a bit of a let-down: loud shutter noise, and lack of touch screen.
But most importantly, the camera handles beautifully in the field, where it counts. I use it for documentary, street, and travel photography, with a trusty Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM lens. This is Leica M mount lens, and as such, it requires an adapter to be used on the A7 (I have opted for the Novoflex adapter, solid and reliable). Much has been said about this lens, basically people hate it or love it; I am in the latter camp, otherwise I would not be using it, right?
The lens renders in its own special way: (near) wide open it delivers a “softer” and “dreamier” look in the areas that are not in focus, with a rapid and smooth transition between your subject and the background. Stopped down, the sharpness increases over the image area, but in the corners, the image is perhaps not sharp enough for “sharpness crazies”. To me, it is more than enough, and I am quite happy with it.
Of course the lens is not auto-focus, but manual focusing with the A7II is a breeze, thanks to some assisting tools. These are focus peaking and zoom/magnification of the user selected focusing area. The lens itself has a “true” manual focus ring, smooth as butter, plus an aperture ring; really “old school”.
Finally, I post some images taken with this combination, from Lisbon, Fatima sanctuary, and Batalha monastery.
I recently went to Abu Dhabi on a business trip, to attend a conference. As always, I wanted to take a “small travel” camera with me. Recently, I had been looking with increasing interest at the Sony RX10. Actually, I had been looking at this camera since it was introduced in 2013, but the original high asking price cooled off my interest. With the price going down with time, I ended up getting one; after all, it is hard to resist the package: Zeiss 24-200mm f2.8 lens, 1 inch Sony sensor, good ergonomics, image stabilization, plus the other bits and bobs.
So when the time came to choose a camera to take with me to Abu Dhabi, the choice was obvious. I carried the camera plus a 13 inch laptop in a shoulder bag, no problem. I know Abu Dhabi well, but being on non-leisure trip means getting up early and staying up late, to make the best of the light. I was also travelling without a tripod this time, even my small travel one, so I was totally relying on upping the ISO and image stabilization. I went out mostly to photograph along the Corniche, close to the hotel where I was staying. The skyline in getting more impressive by the day, and makes for interesting photographs at sunrise and sunset.
The camera performed as expected. Zooming the lens is indeed slow, but after a while one gets the hang of it, and anticipating the focal length required makes up for it. Auto focus worked well, even in night scenes I always managed to find something to focus on, quickly and reliably. The ISO performance from the camera is acceptable, considering the size of the sensor. I was typically shooting in aperture priority mode and auto ISO up to 1600. This managed all the situations I encountered.
Now, at ISO values 800 and 1600, the image starts to degrade if you examine your images at 100% on screen. Careful sharpening and noise reduction can help up to a certain point, and the images end up being acceptable for most uses. In the end, I was able to take the photos, and it is marvellous how much technology has progressed.
I would say that the RX10 is a camera that will serve many photographers well, and that delivers high quality images if you understand its operational limits. It even allows you to step out a little bit from those limits and take photos that otherwise would not be possible, while maintaining a certain file integrity and quality. In the end, as a general purpose fixed zoom lens camera, it more than delivers.