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Sony's Ménage à Trois


Dallas

Last year when Sony announced their “full frame” 135 mirrorless camera duo of the A7 and A7r they got the attention of quite a few photographers who wanted the large sensor capability of a 35mm frame in a smaller, lighter mirrorless body. The advantages of the mirrorless cameras I have written about at length, so I won’t go into them again for this article, but one of those advantages was that you could use an adapter to mount just about any lens from any manufacturer on the A7’s and enjoy the short depth of field you get from a large sensor on either a 24 or a huge 36 megapixel sensor. Lots of shooters jumped onboard this train.

Now Sony have announced a third body in the A7 series, namely the A7s, which is the same body, but with a lower resolution of only 12 megapixels and according to the press release the ability to shoot a 135 body at ridiculously high ISO values (somewhere over 400,000 ISO).

What’s interesting to me about these cameras is not so much that they’ve made the first mirrorless 135 system (not counting the Leica M’s because they are not autofocus), but that they’ve done it in three distinctly different flavours, giving the photographer some system options that they don’t get from any other manufacturer at present.

If you want to shoot extreme high resolution images you opt for the A7r with its 36mp sensor. You get amazing resolution and the ability to produce massive prints with the best possible dynamic range.

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For general purpose photography you opt for the A7 with its 24mp sensor and you have not only great image quality, but you don’t have to be as careful as you would need to be when shooting the high res A7r.

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If you want to go nuts and shoot in total darkness with scant regard for camera shake you get the A7s and pump up the ISO until you exceed the max shutter speed in near darkness and you get great image quality.

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On the top and the back they all look like this:

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What I like about this approach is that it’s the same body used in all three variations, so the buttons and dials are exactly the same. The only thing different is what's inside the box. If you’re shooting with something like Nikon or Canon and you wanted the same sensor flexibility you would have to buy three completely different bodies, each with it’s own interface and layout. For example, to get the same kind of sensor variability with Nikon you would have to buy a D800, D610 and D4S. You would have to know each body quite well to be able to swap between them easily. Right now pros shooting the top end of the DSLR market don't have a body like the Nikon D4S or Canon 1DX packing a 36mp sensor, or even a 24mp one. You've only got the one sensor to choose from. If you want more pixels you have to look at a different body and one that doesn't share the same feature set as your pro body.

By offering different sensors in three identical bodies Sony have given their brand adopters a very handy system perch that will allow them to accomplish all manner of things photographically without having the inconvenience of needing to learn a new button layout or menu system for each iteration. I think that’s a brilliant strategy. Can Nikon and Canon compete with that? Well, given the price of the D4S I don't see too many professional photographers being in a position to be able to afford three of the same types of bodies. However, it does beg the question of a future pro DSLR having the ability of being able to swap out the sensor as part of the system. Whether that's something they can do feasibly remains to be seen. Personally I think it would probably take them too long on the R&D front, so realistically speaking following Sony's approach of offering a cheaper mirrorless body might be the way forward. For Canon this would probably be a lot simpler than it would be for Nikon, who bring with them over half a century of legacy engineering to be worked around.

What Sony needs to do now to build on this sisterhood of bodies is to further develop their lens line-up as well as the range of other accessories that photographers seek out (flashes, remotes, etc). If they can begin to offer the same kind of lens choice depth as the major players like Canon, Nikon and Micro Four Thirds, they will be a very strong market player going forward.


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Ming Thein was less than enthusiastic about the A7r.  He opined there was too much shutter vibration and said using lens adaptors introduces inaccuracy in the mounting.  Well, that's what he says.

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Ming Thein was less than enthusiastic about the A7r.  He opined there was too much shutter vibration and said using lens adaptors introduces inaccuracy in the mounting.  Well, that's what he says.

I bought the A7 instead of the A7R, just because of the shutter vibration issue. The thing is that people only had to read the Sony litterature that was publicized on the internet before the cameras went on sale to understand this....

The A7 has an "electronic first curtain" and that makes all the difference. So I get 24 megapixels that are without vibrations at all, but I guess some people (or gearheads?) just had to have 36 megapixels.

I've had no issues with the adapters for Nikon F mount, and the A7 works fine with my manual focus Nikkors.

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The concept is interesting, why not have three identical bodies with different sensors? Nothing wrong in that.

However, the system is unfortunately very immature. A nice line-up of lenses tailored to the cameras, such as Fuji offers, would change that dramatically. Adapting vintage lenses is a nice thing to play with for us enthusiasts, not something you want to put up with as a professional looking for a broad and dependable system.

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Sony defintely needs to introduce lenses to make the system viable. For me, adapting F mount lenses solved the problem that the modern DSLR viewfinders don't give the required focusing accuracy. So I could keep the old MF Nikkors, and Nikkors is what Nikon is really about.

Edited by bjornthun

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bjornthun, I view the criticism of using an adaptor with some skepticism as I don't remember the issue being raised elsewhere or when teleconverters first came into use.  The A7 and its descendants are going to be around, electronic viewfinders will continue to improve and more native lenses will become available.

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I think that some of the criticism of adapters has come from MTF measurements done by lensrentals.com, but I don't have the link to it right now. Anyway the adapter from Voigtländer and one from Metabones have worked fine for me.

What matters to me is that with the A7 I found a solution that works for me. So now I'm a happy camper with my manual focus glass. :) More choices enables more of us to find our own optimal solutions.

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...and this is what the future Nikons and Canons will be like as well. The F and EOS mounts are on their last legs, soon to be operable via adapters on the new short-register bodies only.

 

The new Canon & Nikon wide angles in particular are going to be mind-boggling, freed from the limitations of having to be designed with optical trickery to clear the redundant space taken up by the redundant mirror box and its film photography origins. The end will be completely sealed when the fully electronic shutter problem is finally sorted - the mirror will then become a noisy, performance retarding obstacle.

 

In the words of Seven of Nine - "resistance is futile". :D :D

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Is not one of the issues with adapters that there can be a significant loss of functionality?  For example, if I want to use Nikon lenses on my X-T1 then I lose aperture control unless the lens has an aperture ring (most of my Nikkors are G).  

 

Happy to be corrected.

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For some lenses like G lenses you can get adapters that mimic aperture control. I got a really cheap one from China for my m43 system and it has a ring that you can rotate while it simultaneously adjusts aperture on the lens. Of course neither you nor the camera have any idea on what aperture you're using but most of these mirrorless cameras somehow seem to be able to gauge exposure time properly when you are in A mode. It's also possible to set up the camera so that you see the depth of field in the LCD or EVF live, without the usual dimming of the finder that you'd experience with a DSLR. 

 

Well, I speak for the Olympus range in this regard. Things might be different with Sony, so hopefully a user of these cameras can weigh in with a more accurate answer? 

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That big sensor in a little body looks great. 4K video and 400K ISO is truly bonkers. One area where an electronic viewfinder is unassailably superior is photographing when you can't actually see.

 

Expensive, though. And not compatible with the lenses I already own at the moment - though it looks promising. When the time is right, one of these (or rather the then-current implementation of it) is definitely on the list of things to try. 

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The adapter for Nikon G lenses to the various mirrorless mounts just moves the stop down lever on the lens as you turn the aperture control ring on the adapter. Since the camera doesn't know what's going on, the viewfinder image will be boosted as you stop down. Adapters for Nikon F to mirrorless are purely mechanical, except for the one from Nikon F to Nikon 1 mount that Nikon makes.

Sony 's SLR lenses (Minolta A-mount) has mechanical aperture like Nikon and either screw driver AF or an integral AF motor in the lens, all just like Nikon. If Or when Nikon goes mirrorless DX and full frame it is possible for Nikon to make an adapter like the ones Sony makes that lets you use Sony/Minolta A mount SLR lenses on the mirrorless cameras with AF, and full aperture functionality. The adapter is fairly expensive since it needs to drive AF and a mechanical aperture lever in the SLR lenses. In the case of using 43 mount SLR lenses on m43 mirrorless the adapter is purely electronical. The Canon EOS mount is also purely electronical and an adapter will be easy to make.

Metabones makes an electronic Canon EOS to Sony FE/E mount adapter already, but sadly nothing for Nikon.

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Be advised that the A7/7r/ and A6000 have now deprecated one touch zooming with manual focus lenses, vs the previous generation NEX's.  It takes a significant delay and two button pushes to check focus, vs the one click of before.  This is a huge deal that nobody mentions.

 

IMHO the new sony's are unusable with MF nikkors, a real disaster for me.

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Be advised that the A7/7r/ and A6000 have now deprecated one touch zooming with manual focus lenses, vs the previous generation NEX's.  It takes a significant delay and two button pushes to check focus, vs the one click of before.  This is a huge deal that nobody mentions.

 

IMHO the new sony's are unusable with MF nikkors, a real disaster for me.

You mean, two clicks on the c1 button to get to 5.9x magnification and a third click to go to 11x magnification? Still it's way better than an OVF, for me.

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Comming from real Pro Nikon cameras and Leica M9 - Trying out these new Sony A7 cameras was more like plaing with something like a toy or some mockup of a design study, great fun but definetly not a tool for me.

 

Sony usually do well with ther look and feel and so they have done here, well done Sony.

 

I don't see any resemblence in speed or handeling even tuching the level of Nikons Pro cameras D3 or D3X and definetly not the Leica M9 either for MF.

 

Also the M9 is much more compact, the A7 is much thicker, and with adapters cumbersome and even thicker.

 

Mirrorless yes, but that doesn't make any difference and definetly zero advantage IMHO

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The M9 sensor is an old CCD type and can't compete with Sony for ISO performance. The M type 240 is the current and newest M body and can via adapter use any kind of lens like the Sony A7/R cameras, so even the Leica M line has gotten mirrorless oportunities these days. Leica does offer a Monochrome and an M9-P using a CCD sensor that are based on the original M9. The M type 240 has the best ISO perfformance among the M rangefinder cameras with a CMOS sensor and also has mirrorless capabilities.

Sizewise the A7/R and Leica M type 240 must be considered similar and can be used with mostly the same lenses via adapter. Sony does win on price.

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I don't care about the ISO performance so much as long as the M9 (identical to M9P) is better looking images that the Sony A7 series.

ISO 800 to 1600 is by far enough and image quality is so similar to Nikon D3X a huge advantage when working with both cameras for the same projects. D3X is also a ISO 800 to 1600 camera btw.

 

I don't like the look of the images from Leica M (Type240), high IR contamination and different colors.

 

Get a used Nikon D3 and/or D3X and/or D800E with grip, they will blow away the performance of the Sony A7 types anyday :)

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Rember it's about PHOTOGRAPHY not just high ISO and prices on new equipment.

 

Nothing wrong with old used equipment IMHO.

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...and this is what the future Nikons and Canons will be like as well. The F and EOS mounts are on their last legs, soon to be operable via adapters on the new short-register bodies only.

 

 

In the words of Seven of Nine - "resistance is futile". :D :D

 

I don't think so.  The F mount in particular has withstood the test of time.  MF is something that gets talked about a lot in photo forums, but AF is what most use in the real world.  In photo forums it seems like the D800 does not exist, that only the D800e is a functional camera and in the real world there are 6 D800's for every D800e.  You should see the advocates of manual transmissions clogging automotive forums with posts about involvement in driving while the take rate on that model is 10 automatics to one manual.  Opinions and discussion are valuable, but there is also reality.

 

I am leery of some of these new camera systems because of the possibility they will be abandoned.  This already happened with the original 4/3.

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I don't think so.  The F mount in particular has withstood the test of time.  MF is something that gets talked about a lot in photo forums, but AF is what most use in the real world.  In photo forums it seems like the D800 does not exist, that only the D800e is a functional camera and in the real world there are 6 D800's for every D800e.  You should see the advocates of manual transmissions clogging automotive forums with posts about involvement in driving while the take rate on that model is 10 automatics to one manual.  Opinions and discussion are valuable, but there is also reality.

 

I am leery of some of these new camera systems because of the possibility they will be abandoned.  This already happened with the original 4/3.

The 43 system was an SLR system that went away just the same way as Alan predicts for the current Canon EOS and Nikon F mounts. However, the 43 lenses can easily be used with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, so we may guess that SLR lenses will live on and be used much longer than the DSLR/SLR cameras themselves.

 

There will of course be a difference between what is sold in the market and what is discussed in a forum for enthusiasts. That's only to be expected. 

Edited by bjornthun

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You mean, two clicks on the c1 button to get to 5.9x magnification and a third click to go to 11x magnification? Still it's way better than an OVF, for me.

Yes, before it only took one click.

 

If Sony had reversed the actuation, my problem would be solved.  As it is, my focus acquisition from two years practicing the Sony system in a professional environment is fucked.

 

It means 4 things.

 

1) You cannot switch between N6/7 and A6000 in a professional setting with manaul focus lenses, because the zoom button does different things, and the cameras are too similar in feel to know which one you are holding and to modify your behavior.

2) None of the preview sites can be trusted to notice the most basic and critical ergonomic changes from one generation to the next, they are all idiots.

3) It takes much longer than before, one click is better than two.

4) Sony may deprecate the behavior of buttons on its cameras and give you no option to revert to the behavior of the previous generation cameras. 

 

This last point is why Nikon cameras from 10 years ago are just as intuitive as the one you pick up today.  For all its faults, Nikon gets major kudos by thinking about ergonomics transgenerationally through its professional system.

 

Sony will never understand this, and perhaps that is why its cameras will never be considered for professional use in event photography settings (i.e. red carpets and weddings).

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The 43 system was an SLR system that went away just the same way as Alan predicts for the current Canon EOS and Nikon F mounts. However, the 43 lenses can easily be used with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, so we may guess that SLR lenses will live on and be used much longer than the DSLR/SLR cameras themselves.

 

There will of course be a difference between what is sold in the market and what is discussed in a forum for enthusiasts. That's only to be expected. 

 

Four thirds lenses work very nicely on the E-M1. I have 2 of them. Today I got a brief opportunity to play with the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0. That lens is bigger than a traditional 70-200/2.8 you get on 135 systems, but OMG... what a lens. 

 

So no, the four thirds system didn't get abandoned. It got evolved into m43 as Olympus transitioned from DSLRs to mirrorless, but the legacy is now fully supported with adapters. I have no fear that m43 will be abandoned, in fact with new manufacturers bringing out lenses for the mount all the time it seems to be the healthiest of all the mirrorless camera systems out there right now. 

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So no, the four thirds system didn't get abandoned. It got evolved into m43 as Olympus transitioned from DSLRs to mirrorless, but the legacy is now fully supported with adapters. I have no fear that m43 will be abandoned, in fact with new manufacturers bringing out lenses for the mount all the time it seems to be the healthiest of all the mirrorless camera systems out there right now. 

I too think that the m43 system is very healthy. There is a wide selection of cameras and there are camera bodies specialized toward stills imagery (Olympus) and bodies that are excellent for video (Panasonic). The selection of lenses is excellent and with the current road map from Olympus, you will only miss tilt/shift lenses in a year from now. Particularly the telephoto department will see new additions in the year ahead. 

 

Personally I feel also that the OM-D E-M1 is a better implemented camera than the Sony cameras. The EVF provides a level of real time control of exposure that surpasses what Nikon can do presently. The E-M1 also feels more responsive than e.g. Sony at the moment.

Edited by bjornthun

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The 43 system was an SLR system that went away just the same way as Alan predicts for the current Canon EOS and Nikon F mounts. However, the 43 lenses can easily be used with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, so we may guess that SLR lenses will live on and be used much longer than the DSLR/SLR cameras themselves.

 

There will of course be a difference between what is sold in the market and what is discussed in a forum for enthusiasts. That's only to be expected. 

 

Owing to the format size, the optical viewfinder of 4/3 system was too tiny and thus practically useless.  Also, I would bet that Panasonic didn't like the fact that they had to depend on Olympus for the mechatronics technology of the mirror box because they had no know-hows for that part.

 

I do know and enjoy the merits of mirrorless systems but don't want to look into those all-too bright EVFs.  So far as the conventional rifle-like shooting style is concerned, I don't wish the optical viewfinder of DSLR system to be obsolete.

 

I would agree that m4/3 system is a lot healthier than the confused Sony system, though.

Edited by Akira

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      So to get yourself set up with the T, zoom lens and an EVF you’re looking at $4150 and you haven’t added a strap or case yet. It’s certainly not a system for the feint of wallet, but then it wouldn’t be Leica if it was, would it?

      The Mount
      This is the thing that has most of my attention. Leica have taken the step of being the first legacy system manufacturer since Olympus and Panasonic to introduce an entirely new mount for an entirely serious mirrorless camera system. They're starting something new but also offering something old to prop it up along the way. This is not an insignificant point to note.
      Here on Fotozones I’ve been saying for a long time that if the likes of Nikon and Canon want to enter the mirrorless market seriously, they will have to make a decision on whether they want to engineer around their legacy mounts (F and EF) or develop an entirely new mount and range of lenses. The Nikon 1 and EOS M are not serious mirrorless cameras in my opinion.
      What we’re seeing here from Leica is that they’ve decided to follow the path of new development rather than abandon their existing M mount. BUT they’ve done it in a way that allows full use of their legacy M system via adapter, which is crucial to retaining legacy customer participation in the brand. This is a leaf right out of the four thirds and micro four thirds story book. Nobody gets left behind. I’m confident that Nikon and Canon may both be watching how this move is received by existing Leica customers with interest, because it’s their own customers who are calling out for modernisation of their products too.
      Conclusion?
      Do I want a Leica T? Well, I’m always game to try new things, so yes, I do. Some of the sample images I have seen from reviewers show me that it definitely offers that unique Leica “look”, but in spite of this and the things I have mentioned in this article, it doesn’t quite have the same hold on my emotions that a Leica M does. There are things about the T that I find good, like the touch screen and the ability to use M glass, but there are other essential things from a photographer’s perspective that are missing, such as image stabilisation and a built-in EVF.
      On the whole I might be less than blown away, but I do think that Leica is on the right path with this product line. Perhaps a future iteration of a T body will blow its magic dust towards my heart. For now though I guess I’m going to have to wait for somebody with an M9 and an ignorant heir to die before I find myself back in the Leica brandishing business.

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    • By Dallas
      Yesterday Nikon Corporation announced the third iteration of their Nikon 1 Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, unsurprisingly titled the Nikon 1 V3. It’s got a lot of people talking, but not all about the right things in my opinion.
      There is a lot of negative comment about certain aspects of the camera, which I do see as justifiably stupid moves by Nikon, but then again on the positive side, if the specs and claims that Nikon make are to be believed, then they are going to be able to make one helluva serious mirrorless camera when they finally decide to take the segment seriously.
      OK, so the first thing that’s got everybody shaking their heads in disbelief (that we can file under “the Bad”) is the use of micro SD cards as the media choice. This is definitely not a smart move for a couple of reasons. Micro SD cards are tiny. Really tiny. Losing them in the field is a very real possibility if you have to change them often and considering that the most common sizes found in the market are 8GB, you may need to carry a few of them, especially if you’re going to be using the claimed 20 or 60 frames per second shooting rate that the camera boasts. At that rate a 5 second burst is going to provide you with 100 or 300 images at 18MP each. Lots of storage will be needed.

      The other problem with micro SD cards is that while they are cheap, they don’t offer very fast write speeds, so the chances of actually getting through a 5 second or longer burst seems a little unlikely with your standard cellphone issue micro SD card. I can’t find any information on the Nikon site relating to buffer size for the V3, so I do hope for the sake of Nikon that they have included a really big one in the camera, otherwise the high frame rate is going to be totally useless.
      More fodder for “the Bad” folder is that the V3 doesn’t support Nikon’s excellent Creative Lighting System (CLS), which means that it can’t control remotely positioned speedlights. I can understand this because I believe CLS depends on a whole lot of information that is usually read off sensors found in the DSLR mirrorbox, so with a mirrorless design the engineers at Nikon would probably have to incorporate it onto the sensor, which already has a whole bunch of things going on, considering the number of AF points, both CDAF and PDAF. Then again the person buying a V3 isn’t likely to begin using CLS seriously, are they? Might as well get a DSLR if you’re getting that creative with lighting.

      In “the Good” folder we have some staggering numbers claims from Nikon. Up to 60 frames per second when using fixed focus and 20 when using auto focus tracking? That is very fast. Another claim, which if true, is that it can track moving subjects faster than any DSLR can, using 105 phase detect points on the sensor. So if you put the FT-1 adapter on the V3 you can use any of Nikon’s lenses with crop factors of 2.7x. This is very good news for those who shoot birds (especially those in flight), because with this small camera and (say) a 70-300mm VR lens you will get a field of view range equivalent to 810mm. Twitchers will love it.
      Also in the Good folder (for me) is the modular design that allows you to add a grip and EVF, as well as the fact that Nikon are using a touch screen, tilting rear LCD. This design allows the camera to be used in a variety of situations, as those of us already using the technology in other cameras can attest to.
      It has wifi too, which is good. It may not be the best implementation of wifi, but it's there and it's good to see that Nikon are offering the technology instead of ignoring it completely.

      However, in the Ugly folder we have the price consideration. The basic kit Nikon are punting includes the 10-30mm kit lens, the grip and the EVF for $1200. That’s the US street price, so given Nikon’s global pricing trends those of us in far flung corners of the world, we are going to probably be paying in the region of $1500 to $2000 for the basic kit. That… with a dramatic Horatio Cain / Jeremy Clarkson pause for effect… is complete madness. It puts the camera into the price turf of the likes of the Olympus E-M10, the many various Fujifilm products and other far more desirable mirrorless offerings. I can’t see photography enthusiasts or the soccer Mom buying into the system at that price. Not with the poor native lens options available. Nobody involved in photography is going to recommend getting one when there are so many other, better options available. The FT-1 adapter will add $271 to the price if you’re wanting to use your other Nikkor lenses on this camera.
      But all of this is conjecture based on my not having ever seen or used the camera. Yet. I do think that this particular release is a step in the right direction for Nikon though because it shows the industry that they do have the chops to put some serious technology into a mirrorless camera. If they ever start re-thinking the kind of sensor and mount that they could marry this advanced technology to then they will definitely begin making a march into the fast growing mirrorless realm. Right now though the V3 seems to me to be more like a little dog with a big bark. Does it bite? We’ll have to wait and see.


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    • By Greg Drawbaugh
      Condor Airlines Boeing 767-300ER departs from Minneapolis-St. Paul airport at 915pm local time to head back to Frankfurt, Germany.  I took this shot last Saturday on one of the longest days of the year.  On the composition side, I always struggle how to place the aircraft in the frame when I have an open sky.  Comments and constructive ideas always welcome.

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