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Photographing Landscapes in Death Valley with the Sony a7II and a7s

Photographing Landscapes in Death Valley with the Sony a7II and a7s

A Hands on Review of both the Sony a7II and a7s | Part 01

Last week I headed out to Death Valley with some photographer buddies, Joey Carman from Los Angeles, Ken Sklute from Arizona, and Kevin Connors from San Diego. All long time friends. It was my first time in Death Valley. Ken and Kevin had been there many times and they knew the lay of the land well. Road Trip Bonus! We woke up before first light each morning, about 4:45AM and hit the road by 5:30AM. Typically we hike a mile into the “Mesquite Sand Dunes,” off the main road. It was pretty cold but warmed up considerably after the sun came up.

Death Valley was a great time to hang with great friends, many many laughs and a stunning visual experience. It was also a fantastic time to press my Sony a7II and a7s into service and use all my lenses: 16-35 f4 Zeiss OSS, 24-70 f4 Zeiss OSS, 70-200 f4 G OSS and the amazing 55 1.8 Zeiss. Due to the dusty environment I decided to fix the 70-200 f4 G OSS on my a7II body and the 24-70 f4 Zeiss OSS on my a7s while occasionally switching it out for the 16-35 f4 Zeiss OSS. I noticed after the first day the the sensor would get allot of dust on it from switching lenses in the dunes. Go figure.

Production and Post Production Notes: Its not my intention to show RAW, SOCC images. Rather I use my Sony Mirroless system as a tool. This post is to show what’s possible using this system. That being said here is my method for post. I’m a RAW shooter. Images are culled in Camera Bits – Photomechanic, Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1 is for the majority of post pressing into use: color and density corrections, sharpening, gradients, curves, camera profiles and so forth. If images are edited further than Adobe Lightroom, I use three tools. I am unapologetic for editing or enhancing my images.

For black and white images I’m using MacPhun Tonality, Nik Filters and Adobe Photoshop CS5, all are stand alone desktop modules.

Technical Performance Notes: I’ll discuss the specific performance of each camera and each lens that was used to create the images below.

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Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley, Sony a7s, 70-200 f4 G OSS, ISO 200, f11, 1/50th

The Players: Each of the images below were photographed in crappy tungsten hotel-room light. ISO set to Auto with a min of 100 and a max of 25,600. White Balance on Auto. Color correction in Adobe LR.

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Joey Carman my best friend from Los Angeles: a7s, 55mm 1.8 ZA, ISO 1250, f2.2, 1/60th sec.

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Ken Sklute aka Luigi – My best friend from Arizona: a7s, 55mm 1.8 ZA, ISO 1250, f2.2, 1/60th sec. I’m really digging the depth of field on the Sony 55 1.8 ZA. I get enough facial features in focus very sharp with pleasing fall off.

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One of my best friends and Mater Craftsman, Kevin Connors from San Deieo, a7s, 55mm 1.8 ZA, ISO 500, f21.8, 1/60th sec.

Libations are mandatory for late night life discussions:  a7s, 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS, ISO 5000 {not a typo}, f4, 1/60th sec. Super clean at 5k ISO.

Libations are mandatory for late night life discussions: a7s, 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS, ISO 5000 {not a typo}, f4, 1/60th sec. Super clean at 5k ISO. BTW, this wine is an insane buy at Total Wine. $6.46 per bottle and drinks like a $20 bottle of Meritage. If you love wine…..you should check out my new blog winephotoworkshops.com

I don

I don’t drink beer often but when I do…I drink Negra Modelo: a7s, 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS, ISO 4000 {not a typo}, f4, 1/60th sec. Super clean at 4k ISO.

I really pushed the limit of this image in Adobe LR, first converting to black and white then using curves to blow out the back ground and pushing the exposure to black.  a7s, hand held, 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS, ISO 1250, f4, 1/60th sec.  It was early morning in Mesquite Dunes before sunrise and Joey was on a hill scoping out the terrain.

I really pushed the limit of this image in Adobe LR, first converting to black and white then using the Tone Curve module to blow out the back ground and pushing the exposure to black. a7s, hand held, 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS, ISO 1250, f4, 1/60th sec. It was early morning in Mesquite Dunes before sunrise and Joey was on a hill scoping out the terrain.

In early morning dim light {before the sun rises and in some flatly lit scenarios later afternoon, something that is apparent right away are some focus issues with the a7II while creating landscape photographs. When the lighting is flat and no to little contrast exists, I had a hard time, even when changing focus point sizes from small, to medium to large {a very cool feature on the Sony mirrorless sytsem}, and to Wide Area Focus the camera still had trouble focusing. Even with using the large focus point and fixing it on a mountain range in the distance or fixing it on the delineation between two slightly contrasting borders of mountain range and sky the a7II still had issues focusing. I could not get it to lock on right away, on my first focus try. I was able to get a lock after multiple tries. I noticed this behavior while creating landscapes and the a7II was mounted on a tripod. I did not try locking on focus and making portraits in similar lighting scenarios so I can not share data yet regarding portraiture. That being said, I did find the a7II to yield magnificent results paired with the 70-200mm f4 G OSS. ISO for landscapes was always kept in the 100-200 range and the majority shot in manual mode, few in aperture value.

Two views:  (l) Titus Canyon just before sunset and Bad Water looking North.  As the earth dries after the rains, the salt pushes up the mud and for miles the earth is fractured like a cobbler topping.

Two views: (l) Titus Canyon just before sunset and Bad Water looking North. As the earth dries after the rains, the salt pushes up the mud and for miles creating fractured earth that looks like a cobbler topping.

Bad Water looking North.  a7II, 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS, 24mm, ISO 100, f22, 1/13th sec.

Bad Water looking North. a7II, 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS, 24mm, ISO 100, f22, 1/13th sec.

Animal Tracks.  I

“Animal Tracks!” I’m not sure what kind of animal it was. We did hear a frog and see lots of coyotes. Sony a7s, 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS, 51mm, ISO 200, f14, 1/80th sec.

Telescope Peak, Death Valley.  My buddies hung by the SUV. I took off on a path the had some insane overlooks. The trail just kept going and I kept photographing.  Sony a7II, 70-200mm f4 G OSS, 102mm, ISO 100, f20, 1/10th sec.

Telescope Peak, Death Valley. I took off on a path the had some insane overlooks. The trail just kept going and I kept photographing. Sony a7II, 70-200mm f4 G OSS, 102mm, ISO 100, f20, 1/10th sec.

Break dawn at Mesquite Dunes 6:44AM and chilly.  We were blessed with some clouds after a lack luster overcast day the day before.  Sony a7s, 24-70 f4 ZA OSS, ISO 200, f8, 1/4 sec.  I

Break dawn at Mesquite Dunes 6:44AM and chilly. We were blessed with some clouds after a lack luster overcast day the day before. Sony a7s, 24-70 f4 ZA OSS, ISO 200, f8, 1/4 sec. I’m impressed by the Sony 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS. Tack sharp edge to edge from f8 all the way through f22.

The Sony a7s has the Sony VG-C1EM battery grip attached to it. The grip does make the camera larger and IMO more balanced. Plus the a cartridge that slips inside the grip-shell allows two batteries to be placed inside the grip. Over all I found the a7s with the VG-C1EM attached felt a bit more beefy and better balanced. The form factors of both the a7II and a7s are diminutive when moving from a DSLR system. Its a welcomed form factor and one I was used to from using my Olympus system previously and super comfortable with by the end of the four days of shooting. I also found my self being able to easily move through the menu system, which felt new to me only a few days before. That’s what shooting a few thousand frames between both bodies will do for you. I was mostly accessing ISO, frame rate, and focusing point sizes. Most of the time I had the 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS attached to the a7s, occasionally slipping on the 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS. Both lenses performed flawlessly. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts the 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS does have some distortion issues and a little vignetting but is easily fixed in Adobe Lightroom by enabling the lens profile which I’ve made a Develop Preset for. Edge to edge sharpness is excellent and after reviewing my images, I don’t see any need to employ focus stacking to achieve sharpness across the entire image plane. You can see that images are photographed from f8 through f22 with excellent acuity.

Working the Mesquite shadows and sand patterns in the dunes.  Sony a7II, 70-200mm f4 G OSS, 145mm, ISO 100, f18, 1/60th sec.

Working the Mesquite shadows and sand patterns in the dunes. Sony a7II, 70-200mm f4 G OSS, 145mm, ISO 100, f18, 1/60th sec.

The Wave:  Sand dune abstract.  I

“Sand Wave,” dune abstract. I’m really delighted with the sharpness of the 70-200mm f4 G OSS . There is a bit of fall off in sharpness at the near edge but that is to be expected due to the compression. To remedy this all one would need to do is focus stack. Sony a7II, 70-200mm f4 G OSS, 200mm, ISO 100, f14, 1/50th sec.

Marc Weisberg is an award winning photographer and Sony Artist of Imagery based in Irvine, California. Specializing in Luxury Architecture & Real Estate Photography, Food + Wine Photography, and Weddings & Family Photography, he’s easy to work with and produces clean, crisp, and technically flawless images. Marc’s photography is published internationally in over a dozen books and magazines. You can contact Marc by phone at 949.494.5084…. or email.

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