Project Year – One Third Done

I’m now about one third done with my project to shoot with legacy lenses for a year. Using forty plus year old optics full time on a Sony A7II may seem a little unusual. It is a different approach to digital photography and not something to do without planning. For me it is worth doing. Those old lenses are inexpensive and some even give excellent results.

Images captured with legacy lenses often have a different look than those captured with modern optics. Lenses for film cameras were designed using analog methodologies and manufactured with less precise tooling. That gives them what some enthusiasts call ‘character’. When adapted to digital cameras they often render images with unique qualities. That is not to say better qualities than modern lenses.

So far all my project images have been shot with one of four prime lenses in the range of 28-135mm. Not much reach considering I shot many images at 200mm with my X-T1. That would be a field of view around 300mm with the full frame A7II. Using prime lenses with just four available focal lengths has caused me to adapt the way I visualize images. That along with manual lens control has forced me to work slower. I’ve been shooting fewer frames with better results.

Project Year - Kit
Project Year – Kit

The first third of the project has not been as productive as I’d hoped. My time shooting in the field has been less over the last few months than any time in recent years. I expect that to change. I will be shooting more in the Texas Bend as well as around San Antonio in the coming months. Just for starters Día de Muertos is in a couple of weeks. That is always interesting to photograph.

To sum up, the project has exceeded my expectations. I’m enjoying my time with the camera and shooting better images. That makes the project a success to this point. I expected using legacy lenses would be a burden but I like the control they give me. Also the lenses I’m using are producing good results. What’s not to like?

Tools for the Job

Lone Star Superman
Lone Star Superman – Zuiko 135mm 3.5 @ f8.0

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham H. Maslow

An often heard cliché is that the camera is just a tool in the hands of a photographer. That is true as long as the photographer can come to terms with a particular camera to use it as a tool. I may have reached that point with the Sony A7II.

Of course the camera as tool encompasses both body and lenses. That complicates things when using legacy lenses because the two were not designed to work as a system. Finding the right match of body and lens requires some work on the part of the photographer. There is at least a little luck and intuition involved as well. This is particularly true if you have limited experience with legacy glass. I am in that category.

All of this makes me reluctant to say that I’ve found the right tool for my year long photography project. The camera body is indeed excellent but the lenses are a work in progress. With only four lenses, three of which were purchased several years ago, I can’t say that I have the right lenses. How do you know if they are the right lenses?

Being pragmatic at heart and trying not to be a gearhead my approach is to shoot with what I’ve got. Given the results so far this seems to be a reasonable if not optimal approach. As I get deeper into the project a time may come when purchasing additional lenses will make sense. Until then I’ll muddle along using my current glass.

Best to remember that my project is to shoot the A7II for a year using legacy lenses while spending the least amount of money. As long as the images look good I’ll stick with what I have in the bag.

Lone Star Superman No2
Lone Star Superman No2

Shooting the A7II in Luckenbach

Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach
Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach
Zuiko 135mm 3.5 @ f3.5
On Independence Day I drove up to Luckenbach with the A7II to shoot some outdoor music performances. To be honest I didn’t have high expectations of being able to use a manual lens to get decent shots. As expected the results were mixed but the manual lens was less of an issue than the camera firmware.

As has been reported numerous times elsewhere the A series cameras insist on using 1/60 second shutter speed when set to aperture priority and auto ISO with manual lenses. That behavior makes shooting any sort of moving subject problematic at best. In most ways the Sony is an outstanding camera but it falls down badly in this situation because you can’t set a minimum shutter speed in aperture mode. It is really too bad and disappointing for such a competent tool to behave this way.

All cameras have quirks and there are ways around the slow shutter speed problem with this one. You just have to change how you work with the camera. There are three variables that can be manipulated on this particular camera to get proper exposure. These are aperture, shutter speed and light sensitivity (ISO). Using some combination of the three variables provides a solution.

Two simple workarounds use either shutter priority or full manual along with auto ISO to achieve a proper result. Both are very similar when using manual lenses. Set the aperture on the lens, select the appropriate shutter speed and allow the camera to work out proper exposure by varying the ISO within a user selected range. As long as the camera can adjust sensitivity to achieve proper exposure you are good to go.

This is not a point and shoot solution. It requires the photographer be able to judge lighting conditions well enough to be able to select a shutter speed that keeps exposure within the ISO range the camera will use. The camera provides all the information you need to get proper exposure right in the viewfinder but the photographer is in control.

The point is that the photographer has to make decisions to ensure that the camera performs correctly to get the desired result. If you are unwilling to control the camera to get proper exposure then don’t shoot with manual lenses.

Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach No2
Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach No2