Gear, Photography, Review, Technology

Bag Review: Trakke Assynt 17

Both as a photography nut and a regular guy, I’m a sucker for man-bags and backpacks. I currently have an F-Stop Loka UL with a couple of ICUs, two Peli cases, a Billingham Hadley Pro and a Contax/CCS Heritage bag on the photo side. For the manbag I also have a leather manbag from Billy Bags and a Trakke Assynt backpack. I had been using the Hadley as my daily bag but getting older my back can be a bit tetchy so decided to go down the backpack route.

After agonising over assorted Sandqvists I stumbled on the Trakke Assynt on my doorstep in Netil Market’s Outdoor People stall. The Assynt comes in a a few colours, most notable the lovely shade of blue I chose, which contrasts so well with the signature orange interior. It’s Waxed cotton and seems to be well made using steel and wood as well as waxed canvas (more on this later).

I spent my student days wandering around with a waxed canvas fishing bag, which I foolishly gave away to a relative for actual fishing use. Ever since I have loved unstructured canvas bags because of the way they fit to the wearer contents of the bag. The trakke does this but also has a wee bit of padding down the back as there’s a slot for an iPad or (very) small laptop adjacent to wearer’s back.

The main compartment has a drawstring with a beautifully tactile spherical wooden toggle and then the lid is secured by stylishly utilitarian stainless steel buckles. There is also a zippered pocket on the outside of the lid which is well waterproofed and where my headphone and Digital Audio Player usually live. As well as the padded section for the iPad the bag also has a zippered internal pocket which is handy for pens, business cards or a compact camera like my Olympus XA or similar.

It’s not a photographers bag with no padding to the front, however, to load it with photo gear I use Domke wraps, which come in various colours and are invaluable for throwing gear into hand luggage cases when I travel. I have never had damage to lenses this way, but I try to avoid carrying TS-E lenses this way as the tilt mechanism can move.

Now to the reason that, unfortunately I cannot recommend Trakke. It’s a great looking, well designed bag however, unlike the waxed canvas bag of my student days, the Trakke hasn’t worn fantastically well. It rubs against the back and belt towards the base and, in my case, this means it wearing through completely to have a small hole after about 18 months of regular use. I wouldn’t mind so much but this is a premium product at around the £150 mark and should really last much better than this…


Architecture, Interiors, Technology

Architecture with the Zeiss 35mm PC-D

There are plenty of people who would suggest that you can’t shoot architecture with a 35mm and you need a 24mm or wider.  I used to be in that camp too some extent but I have found that with a shift lens on a full frame body you can do a lot with a 35mm lens. It helps that I’m beginning to ‘see’ in 35mm for the first time in years thanks to starting my Little Chef project with the Zeiss 35/2.8 on a Sony A7r – partly because it’s a retro sort of field of view, typical of the compacts available in the chain’s 1980s heyday, and partly because it’s still my favourite lens for the system in terms of overall ‘feel’.

As well as having this very special lens I’m also lucky enough to live in a vibrant city with some amazing architecture and architectural events. So, when this year’s serpentine pavilion coincided with the launch of the V&A Museum’s new entrance I decided to challenge myself to shoot them both exclusively with the Zeiss PC-Distagon on a relatively new-to-me Canon full frame body.

This session was also the first time I’ve really shot architecture with intent for some time and I enjoyed both the lens and the challenge, though it’s slightly flawed. Having a very short throw between ∞ and 3m is bonkers in a lens that will be primarily used for critical shooting of buildings. Other than that the lens certainly wasn’t a limitation, easily matching the 50 Megapixel sensor of the Eos 5Ds when it was properly focussed and held steady – the latter being key as resolution increases. In all honesty I would place the Zeiss ahead of the Canon 35/2 IS for sharpness but perhaps that is to be expected as the Zeiss lens is designed for critical sharpness and low distortion where the Canon is more of a street shooter. The other issue is that when the PC-Distagon flares it’s not the nicest flare I’ve ever seen – one image in the Serpentine set shows this very clearly.

Architecturally both buildings are superb, although I do think that there is a lack of seating space in this years Serpentine Pavilion as the structure itself doesn’t have the perching places that some of the others have, so it’s not as enjoyable on a busy, sunny day as some of the earlier ones.

First gallery is of the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, by Amanda Levete Architects and the second Gallery is of the Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré…

Gallery One – V&A Exhibition Road Quarter & Entrance.

Gallery Two – 2017 Serpentine Pavilion

Gear, Review, Technology

Thoughts on the Sony A7r

Note: This review still counts as WIP as I’m adding more as I continue to use the camera…

Having enjoyed the NEX-6 as a platform for my Contax glass and for the compact body and good handling, I never quite got to liking the kit lens, although the power zoom implementation was very good. When the A7 & A7r were announced I felt that I might end up with one. Last year I was given the 1Dx as an insurance replacement form my ageing 1Ds and never felt it was quite the right for me – I don’t really have much need for lightning AF and wanted a higher resolution body. When I got a really great deal from Park Cameras for my 1Dx and a useful Tax rebate I decided to pull the trigger…

I’ve got the body itself but have also bought into the system overall and added the FE 35 & 55 lenses, the battery grip and a Metabones Smart Adapter III for my Canon glass. Having had the NEX-6’s big brother for over a month now, and have had a real chance to get to know it. The form factor is great, I absolutely love having a full frame Digital Camera that is roughly the size of my Contax 159MM. That said I’m a 6 foot guy and the body is a tiny bit too short in my hands, I do have the battery grip – more on that later.

Contax 159MM & Sony A7r

Contax 159MM & Sony A7r


The Camera

The size is one thing, but I feel that the ergonomics have gone slightly backwards from the NEX-6. The video button is now harder to use, and I’m not a fan of the physical exposure compensation dial as it limits you to ±3 stops, which is a bigger problem as the camera consistently underexposes so I usually have +1/3 or +2/3 of a stop dialled in. Otherwise exposure works fine with my favoured Av mode. The front and rear dials can sometimes both do the same thing which is OK but a bit weird. I’ve also found I can mix up the rear dial with the exposure compensation occasionally.

Like the NEX cameras rear screen tips up and down but isn’t fully articulated. It’s a good screen but not touch sensitive, which is a decision I found puzzling with the NEX-6. I feel that if you are going to have apps and WiFi the screen must be touch sensitive – entering passwords and the like is a pain using the d-pad.

In use any camera shake is highlighted but I feel that the well documented ‘shutter shock’ seems to be a bit overplayed. I have, however, noticed it at times. Whet has surprised me is that in some cases depth of field seems less than I’d expect. I have yet to understand why that is.

Adding the battery grip not only adds battery life but gives a bit more stability and gives me an additional set of controls to allow easier use in portrait mode. As it happens I didn’t buy it for hand-holding but to allow as an extra-large tripod spacer – it gets the TS-E lenses away from any chance of fouling on the tripod.

Ergonomically the grip isn’t as big an improvement as I’d hoped, it’s actually slightly too big making the camera a little top heavy. I also find the battery door catch fiddly, which would be OK if I didn’t put the grip on and take it off regularly.

On the subject of batteries, the A7 is supposed to be a pro/semi-pro camera, so why no charger in the box sony? Also why can I not charge batteries in body when the grip is attached. Finally, with such a short battery life from the NP-FW50 there should be 2 in the box, when you buy the camera. I don’t machine gun, and have learned to switch off between shots (praise be to the firmware update for making that possible…) but in no way can I go a full day on a single battery.

Sony A7r & Canon TS-E 17mm

Sony A7r & Canon TS-E 17mm



The two FE primes are superb, this has been well documented elsewhere, including the DxO test that placed the 55mm not all that far behind the Zeiss Otus on a D800. In use they also produce RAW files that simply don’t acre the cr*p out of me. The level of vignetting and distortion on both lenses is reasonably well controlled optically. As I worked with the lenses I found the 35 is more to my taste and it is also bitingly sharp and gives ample resolution on the 36mp sensor. I do tend towards a slightly wider field of view and what I’d love to see is something like the old Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Distagon revived and made at the quality level of these lenses. I’d also like to see a lens on the level of the 85mm f/2.8 Sonnar as well.

I Also love the fact that, via a Metabones Smart adaptor III my Canon glass works perfectly in Av mode – albeit the TS-E 17mm looks a bit foolish! The Canon lenses will AF but they are very slow and it’s not very practical. In reality I mainly wanted to be able to use my TS-E lenses, so that’s OK. I will need to add an FE mount zoom at some point, for walk around use.

The sensor is particularly brutal on adapted lenses and while most of my Eos lenses hold up to the 36mp sensor it has really highlighted the Tamron 70-300 VC’s relatively poor resolution at the long end. On the Manual focus lenses side my Tamron glass is pretty much out of it’s depth but the Contax Zeiss glass all seems to be good.

Focussing & Viewfinder

This is perhaps the biggest drawback to this camera. I enjoy using it with the two FE primes, where the AF. Performance is mostly acceptable. Though it doesn’t always lock where I want. As I’m rarely shooting at f/2.8 and above that’s fine though it may be a problem for fast lens fans. I also find manual focus using peaking to be harder than it was on the NEX-6 and the viewfinder seems less clear. I also finding can’t use Zebras because of this. It felt like heaven when I picked up my wife’s Canon 5D II, looked through the finder and watched it focus crisply, the other day.

In Conclusion

I like the A7r a great deal it has a lot of the attributes I want in a camera but there are a number of issues Sony needs to resolve for the next high end E-mount body. Key among those are a charger in the box, a fully articulating touch screen on the rear. better AF, better focus peaking, more accurate exposure and a ‘soft’ exposure compensation dial with more than 3 stops. I would also like a slightly taller chunkier body or, at least, an add on grip which makes it about 1-2cm taller.

We know that the lens range is going to improve, and I look forward to the rumoured Zeiss 16-35. Once that is out I’d also love to see a 25/28mm and an 85mm both at f/2.8, because combined with the 55/1.8 they would give a near perfect walk around set.

Ultimately I’m happier overall with the A7r than my Eos 1Dx – it suits my regular shooting styles better, though improvement to the Manual focus so I can get more reliable results from peaking without magnifying the image would be welcome. However, I’m glad I still have access to a Canon DSLR as I do shoot the occasional event and I’d still be happier with a 5D II in that situation than any of the mirrorless cameras I’ve yet tried.

Maxxi Rome - A7r & TS-E 24mm

Maxxi Rome – A7r & TS-E 24mm

Gear, Technology

02.03.14 -> Sitting Thinking

It was one of those days… we were supposed to drive up from Hastings to London, but the car was leaking oil so we ended up on a train and a bit grumpy, so the only photograph I took on Sunday was the one below while having lunch and a coffee during a weekend of Existential Camera Angst… Last year I fell and destroyed my Trusty old Eos 1Ds, my insurers new for old policy meant I acquired a brand new 1D  x body. Since I shoot a lot of architecture and static subjects with manual focus lenses 14fps and blazing autofocus are not priorities. I’ve also enjoyed using the I’d picked up earlier in the year NEX-6 for it’s lightness and near pocketable size. That said the Eos’s low light performance is pretty darned good, and I’ve shot some nice stuff with it.

On the 28th I went into Park Cameras shiny new London store for a look and asked what they’d offer as trade-in on the 1D x. basically, they made an offer I found hard to refuse, so I spent much of the weekend been pondering making the change to a Sony A7r and Metabones adapter for my Canon TS-E lenses. Meanwhile my wife was looking to the balustrade on the cafe stairs as an inspiration for our flat…

Leon, Kings Cross

Leon, Kings Cross

Gear, Technology

26.01.14 -> The Best Camera…

is the one you have with you. The featured pic today is what I’d have got if I’d waited until I had my best gear to hand before taking this image on the 16th I think this shows why it’s best to grab the shot while you Can! It’s a lesson I’ve not always learned. For me, while the later shot shows just how much better the Eos 1Dx is than the NEX, the building and it’s’Westgate Centre’ sign really make the image. This Post Eos 1Dx & 24mm TS-E, original with the NEX-6 and Tamron 17mm

Sheep Lane II - The final Cut

Sheep Lane II – The final Cut