[REVIEW–TAMRON SP 45mm and 35mm f1.8 lenses]

Price: $1099 rrp
Peach of a pair

THE LOW-DOWN: These lenses add to Tamron’s range of primes and bring new features for short to medium focal length lenses. For instance they are both image stabilised (Vibration Compensation in Tamron-speak) and they both have close minimum focus distances. The lenses are beautifully made and finished and are supplied with lens hoods. The nine blade diaphragm is circular which Tamron claims improves out of focus highlight rendering. The ultra-sonic focus mechanism is fast and silent. The units are sealed against moisture and the front elements are coated with a grim repellent fluorine coating.

LIKE: The lenses performed well under test delivering consistently sharp images even in difficult situations. The vibration compensation is effective, easily coping with the jiggling of a helicopter. The short minimum focusing distance makes both lenses virtually macro optics.

DISLIKE: There is nothing to dislike, but to release two lenses that are so close in focal length at the same time seems a little odd. Both are for full frame cameras, so mounted on APS DSLRs the focal length spread is a little wider – 52.5mm and 67.5mm.

VERDICT: These lenses are part of the new generation of third party products that challenge the original camera makers in terms of optical and construction quality and generally offer better value. Mounted on a Canon 5D MkII their performance was exemplary. The Tamrons are in direct competition with Sigma lenses – for instance the majestic Sigma 50mm Art f1.4 ($1000) or even the cheaper ($500) 50mm without the Art appellation. Prime lenses don’t have the versatility of zooms but they have optical qualities of sharpness, freedom from distortion and generally excellent contrast and colour that only the most expensive, short range zooms can come close to matching.

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Photographically speaking some countries are best viewed from ground level looking up. Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand are places where the best angle on the towering mountains is from ground level.

On the other hand there are some countries, like this one, that benefit from a higher angle of view. Pointing the camera at the endless flat expanses of the sunburned country tends to produce some monotonous pictures. The Aborigines intuited this fact and represented a more interesting country by looking down and picturing it as lines, dots and circles. They knew a thing or two that photographers can learn from them.

While realising that this is an expensive suggestion and not accessible to everyone the fact is that much of Australia is best viewed from a stable aerial platform such as a hot air balloon or a helicopter.

A balloon over the Hunter Valley or a helicopter along the coast between Sydney and Wollongong provides the bird’s eye view of natural and human-made wonders of woodland, vineyards, farms and the spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge, which must be seen from above and over the ocean to appreciate its magnificence.

There is a vast stretch of park-like country between the Grampians in western Victoria and the Coonawarra in South Australia that from the air looks like Capability Brown has met Fred Williams. Massive old eucalypts sit plump and grey-green in the paddocks of crops and grazing sheep and cattle. Tractors and harvesters have made intricate track patterns, broken up at random points by creeks and dams. What from the ground looks pretty ho-hum from the air is a divine-human collaborative work of art.

Balloons are slow, and stable so an ISO setting of 1000 or so is high enough to guarantee sharp pictures. A moderately wide to telephoto lens will do the job nicely. A compact camera would be best set to ISO400 to reduce image noise.

Helicopters present a couple of problems. They vibrate, so an even higher ISO might be needed to provide a shutter speed of 1/2000 second or faster.

The other problem is shooting through curved perspex. Some choppers have removable doors – it increases the scare factor but fixes the reflection problem. If the doors are fixed then use a lens hood to minimise flare and put the camera as close to the perspex as possible without touching it. Then take a deep breath, steady the hand and press the shutter button. Now start saving for the excursion of a lifetime.

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[REVIEW–SONY a7R MkII mirrorless camera]

Price: $4000 body(street price)
Practically perfect

THE LOW-DOWN: This camera is a full frame mirrorless camera with a 42 megapixel CMOS sensor. It has five axis in-body image stabilisation and a hybrid phase/contrast detect fast auto focus system. The electronic viewfinder is a 2.4m dot OLED device with 100 per cent coverage. The 1.2m dot high resolution LCD monitor tilts. The shutter – criticised on the MkI model for being too noisy – now has a silent mode. 4K video is recorded in-camera. Ergonomics have been changed slightly from MkI, putting the shutter release button in a more comfortable position.

LIKE: This is a camera that is practically perfect. Image quality – jpeg, RAW and 4K video – is stellar. Sony has addressed a criticism of MkI for providing only compressed RAW images with reduced colour depth. The new camera, with a firmware upgrade, provides un-compressed RAW files.

DISLIKE: Battery life is still a little restricted. An extra battery is a wise precaution. The EVF is not up to the standard set by Fujifilm and Olympus.

VERDICT: This camera is the mirrorless competitor to the superb Nikon D810 and Canon 5Ds. With the Sony you lose the optical viewfinder but you gain the versatility of a camera that is permanently in “live view” mode. For video there is no contest – the Sony wins hands down. The Sony is smaller and lighter than the competition but it yields when it comes to available lenses. Nikon and Canon bodies are entries into systems with a range of lenses of all types and prices. Sony lenses are few and expensive and the adapters for other lenses don’t work very well. The traditional DSLRs feel old fashioned and clunky by comparison with the up-to-the-minute mirrorless form. Decisions decisions!

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After years of resisting the video capability of digital cameras and smartphones we admit that we were wrong. Now we are shooting video all over the place with phones and mirrorless cameras because the devices are easy to use and the quality is outstanding.

We also resisted video because of the tedious business of editing the footage. We needed editing applications that are easy and a bit of fun to use. The good news is that it is all coming together with the latest generation of cameras, phones and software. At least it is if you are a Mac Pixie. Over in the Windows camp the picture is not so rosy.

If you buy a new PC with a clean install of Windows 10 you won’t be getting a video editor. If you don’t want to pay money you must download Windows Movie Maker which was last updated in 2012 and has an ugly interface and counter-intuitive controls. For something more modern you must buy a third-party program like Adobe Premiere Elements 14, which is an excellent editor for PCs but is expensive at $150 for the Photoshop Elements/Premier Elements bundle. The interface is clean and functionally intuitive. It has all the effects and video and audio controls that most amateur videographers could ask for. Version 14, the latest, handles 4K input and output. Creating titles and credits in various styles is simple. If you are using an older version of Premier Elements you will be impressed by the version 14 evolution of the application from a slightly complex program to an elegant easy-to-use editor.

Meanwhile, over in Mac world the picture is entirely different. If you have installed the El Capitan operating system then you will have the latest version of iMovie included or downloadable from the App Store. If you are totally committed to Macdom then you will have iMovie on your iPhone and iPad as well which means that you can start editing on the iPhone, for instance, and finish the job on the iMac.

Why would Microsoft release a much-ballyhooed new system, Windows 10, without an inbuilt video editor? Perhaps they have plans to add one in the future but given the universal use of video from smartphones, including their own Windows phones, this is yielding the field to Apple when it comes to new customers choosing between platforms. As things stand, if video is your enthusiasm, then choosing is a no brainer – Apple wins.

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