First Engagement Shoot: One Great Couple, Two Volunteer Assistants, Two Cameras, and Three Lenses.

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Have written a post about a wedding shoot I did at the end of the before times in late 2019.

Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Kauffmann Wedding - The Reception
Kauffmann Wedding - The Reception
Kauffmann Wedding - The Reception

A great couple. A great time. Then everything went upside down and I have been doing personal work ever since and had taken on no new “outside” work. Spent time pursuing various blog post themes to humor myself since then. Had been asked to do work, but I had turned down everything that came my way. My first priority was keeping my immediate family safe, especially my Mom. Her well-being was at the top of our minds under normal circumstances, but after losing my Dad in early 2019 her safety was and is really top of mind for us.

With things finally seeming to be getting better recently I started thinking of getting back out there and taking on photo work. But I needed a push. Then a younger cousin announced that she was engaged. Not just any cousin either. It was the daughter of my cousin and first best friend, Johnsie (Photos by my Dad.).

We were born the same year and grew up one floor apart in Albany, NY (Philip Street represent!) the first 7 years of our lives. Then our folks broke for the ‘burbs. Us to the further sticks of Upstate, NY and them to Raleigh, NC. Was bummed out immensely by this and our visits to NC were a highlight of my childhood. She, her sister Gina, and I have remained friends since.

Photo by my Dad.

As an only child, my friendship with Johnsie and Gina meant the world to me. Suffice it to say I took Johnsie’s daughter’s engagement (Shout out to the pater familia Keith! Quite the solid fellow. The N.C. State graduate half of this N.C. State/UNC in house alumni rivalry.) as an opportunity to get back into doing photo sessions again and offered my photography services to Alex and her fiance Jeremiah as an engagement gift….

And it is an opportunity to shake the dust off of my photography game.

One Great Couple

Alex and Jeremiah were wonderful to work with and I expected no less. A beautiful and intelligent couple and I wish them all the best.

Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
I introduce you to Alex and Jeremiah, the future Smalls.

Two Volunteer Assistants

Not pictured are two young ladies that helped immensely with the day. My daughter Estelle volunteered to come along as my assistant and she did a great job. Among other things, she was an immense help when a reflector was needed for a few shots. Another young lady who was a friend of the couple joined us and assisted with Alex’s hair which was a great help on a slightly windy day.

Location Sidebar: Used the local campus they both graduated from, UNC Greensboro. Great for sentimental and aesthetic reasons alike. A beautiful campus.

Two Cameras

Sony A7c and A7III
A7III and A7c

My two very good cameras vs. one or two flagship camera models panned out. While these cameras have different form factors from one another when in use I flipped back and forth between them without a hitch. Unlike when I used an A7II and A7III for that wedding these are functionally identical save the location and spec of the viewfinder and the maximum mechanical shutter speed.

  • Same sensor.
    • I like this. More MP is seen as better, but 24MP has proven to be just fine for my purposes. A sentance that has never come to mind is, “I wish this camera had more MP.” I also like the fact that I am pretty much getting the same image no matter which camera I use. Form factor differences favor function (stills vs. video) rather than performance. And either camera could be used in place of the other in a pinch regardless.
  • Same AF experience.
    • With the exception of the A7c having video Eye AF these cameras are on par with each other AF wise. Which is to say excellent. Do newer Sony cameras improve on this further? Yes. But a sentance that has never come to mind is, “I wish this camera focused better.” So I am good.
  • Same Touch Screen Functionality
    • This is the only thing that hemmed me up during the wedding shoot a couple of years ago. The A7II is a great camera, but one feature I use fairly often is touch AF point. The A7II was not bad, but with no touch screen it required a button press followed by the D pad to place the AF point. With the A7III and A7c I just place my thumb on the right side of the screen and slide while looking through the viewfinder or touch the focus spot on the back screen to place the AF point. Not needed often because the Eye AF and Face Detect work so well, but handy when you are looking to quickly focus on an object in the frame without changing AF settings. An example of this was when I was looking to focus on the engagement rings instead of the couples faces.

Settings:

  • ISO 100
  • AF-C
  • High speed multiple shot
    • Used to battle the occasional blink and to create different crops of certain poses without havig to use the exact same shot.
  • Zone Focus AF set to center by default.
  • Human Eye AF
    • Unlike the A7II before them both of these cameras jump to the eye when detected and do not require pressing a button in stills.
  • Touch Screen On
    • For touch AF as mentioned above.
  • Switched the A7c to silent shutter to reach 1/8000s instead of the 1/4000 mechanical shutter limit.
    • Mechanical shutter suits me just fine most days, but midday sun and an f/1.2 lens could use a bit of a shutter speed boost.
    • The A7III tops out at 1/8000s with the mechanical shutter so I left it as is. Though I could have theoretically switched it to silent shutter as well with no ill effects for this type of shooting with no action or panning involved.
  • Both lenses wide open.
    • Could have closed each down a bit to expand the depth of field a bit, but I really wanted to make full use of these two lenses. There is nothing wrong with f/1.8 or narrower apertures, but I personally did not buy these lenses to shoot them at f/1.8.
    • This is the first time using them in the wild (technically second after these posts here and here) and I really wanted to see what they did wide open and they did not disappoint.

Lens Preface

In the last year, I decided that I will not pursue having both the best lenses and the best cameras available. Not only would that be cost prohibitive, the lens matters more than the camera for me. This started by stepping back from a great urge to move to digital medium format when the most recent, more affordable Fujifilm GFX was announced. Main issue what that the outlay required would net me only one body and one lens at best. One lens that would get me the benefit I was pursuing, subject isolation. Moving to the GFX system for a modest spec, more affordable lens while losing out by no longer having two camera bodies, lens diversity, and top tier AF (Contrast only AF on the GFX 50S II was a deal breaker for me.) was not the move. Was not easy, but I finally came to grips with this fact.

The next temptation was “upgrading” to a Sony body with greater MP. But I was fine with the MP count I had. Subject isolation and low light performance was my end goal for any upgrade. More MP would do nothing for either in isolation. Other than bragging rights, and a brief bit of envy when friends made the jump to other gear if I am honest, I had no real reason to upgrade. Being smitten the A7III/A7c combination also played a part in my next decision. I chose to pivot to acquiring the best lenses available for the system I already had.

While I do like having more lens options I am also trying to streamline my shooting process. Gone are the days when I bring everything and sort it out once I arrive. For the wedding I brought everything and the kitchen sink including a 4×5 film camera… to West Virginia… West Virginia! <ahem>… and used two cameras, two flashes and four lenses? Hit it Mrs. Puff…

Raising three little kids in the early 2000s and the majority of my wife and I’s references come from cartoons. Largely Sponge Bob. Other hits are, “Oh. Now the talking cheese is going to preach to us!”, “Bring it around town.”, and “You think I’m… special?”.

This time I brought only the lenses I intended to use, not everything that was not nailed down in case I might possibly have wanted to use it… maybe.

Three Lenses

The lenses were the stars of the show for this photo session. For the occasion and my purposes, any Sony full-frame body A7III and beyond would do as long as I had these lenses. Listed in order of shot count from the day.

Rokinon/Samyang AF 24mm f/1.8

First Sample Shots - Rokinon/Samyang AF 24mm F1.8 FE
GORDON PARKS PHOTOGRAPHERS COLLECTIVE HARLEM AND SOHO-VILLAGE PHOTO WALK
GORDON PARKS PHOTOGRAPHERS COLLECTIVE HARLEM AND SOHO-VILLAGE PHOTO WALK
GORDON PARKS PHOTOGRAPHERS COLLECTIVE HARLEM AND SOHO-VILLAGE PHOTO WALK
GORDON PARKS PHOTOGRAPHERS COLLECTIVE HARLEM AND SOHO-VILLAGE PHOTO WALK

Ok, this first lens may not be best of breed, but it was too good of a deal and was perfectly fine for the amount of time I was going to use this lens spec. In my humble opinion, it is the best prime Rokinon/Samyang has ever made and quite the over-achiever. More is said in the link above, but it is all there.

  • Great IQ.
  • Great AF.
  • Fast aperture for its focal length.
  • Sturdy build, non-shiny fingerprint averse materials, with a great button/switch layout.
  • Weather sealing.
  • A legitimately useful infinity on demand hat trick.
  • All for a very reasonable sum.

Only used it for a few shots and it performed flawlessly.

Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session

SIGMA 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

SIGMA 105mm f/1.4 Art
SIGMA 105mm f/1.4 Art
SIGMA 105mm f/1.4 Art
SIGMA sd Quattro
SIGMA 105mm f/1.4 Art

This is one lens that I wanted more than any other while also hesitating to buy more than any other. Why? Price. But for the spec and performance, it was really not all that expensive all things considered. Rather annoyingly these cost nearly as much used as they did new when one did show up. What changed? I go into this more in the link above but I figured that the SA mount variants had to be marked down eventually and when they were I would score one and a SIGMA SA to FE adapter. My patience paid off, it did eventually happen, and I pounced. (No longer available evidently.) The result? No regrets, but knowing what I know now, I would have paid full price earlier if I had to do it over again. For me, this lens also functionally filled the subject isolation/background compression role traditionally held by a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens or the like.

Some balk at the size and weight of this lens, but this has not been an issue for me. I fully admit that this is also not a handheld walking around or traditional camera strap lens. When not in use I let the camera and lens hang from my side with the shoulder harness mentioned below. For better balance, I attached the harness mounting point to the lens tripod foot. When shooting I support the lens with my left hand by the tripod foot and aim with my right. We walked all over a college campus for about an hour and I never once felt fatigued or weighed down by this lens.

This lens is also more flexible than I would have thought. Above portraits, I have had great fun shooting everyday shots with this lens for a different perspective partly owing to its reasonable close focus distance. Have found AF to be swift and rock-solid as well. As I was reviewing the images captured by this lens and the lens below I came up with a nickname for them both when combined with Sony AF.

Cheat code lenses.

Just trouble yourself with communicating your intentions with the subjects and properly framing your shot and let it rip. Keeper after keeper. Samples below.

Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM
Night Light - Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM
A7c - FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master
Wilson at SE Camera
A7c - FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master

In addition to the SIGMA 105mm above this is the other Sony FE mount lens I wanted. Tried to reason my way out of it in a blog post, but once I put away my medium format aspirations I pivoted to getting this lens on trade from my local camera shop after a quick test run.

And like the 105mm knowing what I know now I would have purchased this lens earlier. Why?

Simply put this is by far the best lens I have ever owned or tried. Regardless of mount, sensor size, etc. It is the best of many lenses in one lens.

  • Macro lens sharpness levels even wide open.
  • Sports lens AF speed and accuracy even wide open.
  • Subject isolation and low light performance typically reserved for manual or slow focusing primes or considerably more expensive larger sensor systems.
  • Not actually that large when you take the specs and performance into consideration.
  • Not actually that expensive when you take the specs and performance into consideration. You get what you pay for in my opinion.

Have heard and have had some respond to my earlier post on this lens that f/1.2 is not needed. Some have gone as far as to say it is ridiculous. Camera gear that is ridiculous? It can all be considered ridiculous actually. My daughter was over my shoulder during the day taking some great shots herself with her iPhone. For many reasonable folks once framed up those shots would have done just fine. On the other end of things you have medium format and full-frame cameras and lenses with sky high specs and prices to match. Some full-frame cameras and lenses arguably have fewer features (Not trying to start anything, but they do technically lack common features like AF. But this is a no judgment zone. You do you.) and cost even more and few bat an eye. All of it would be considered ridiculous to some. Below a certain point and gear is not good enough. Above a certain point and gear is just ridiculous. All of it is relative. Reminds me of a George Carlin bit about bad drivers.

I personally have chosen a G Master 50mm f/1.2 level of ridiculousness. Your mileage may vary.

On to the samples.

Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Touch AF point select.
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session
Alex and Jeremiah Engagement Session

Cheat code lens.

Camera harness addendum.

Was not going to mention this initially but another star of the day was my COIRO 2 camera shoulder harness.

Blog Post Shots: COIRO Dual Camera Harness

Check the link for details, but it made easy work of carrying around two cameras with substantial lenses attached. Not once did the cameras wear me down or make me feel fatigued. And they were right at my side when I needed them. I also like that the cameras always stay attached with a main strap attached as well as a back up tether.

A great couple and great gear make for a great photo session.

That is not to say that either of the last two lenses are “have to have them” lenses by any stretch. Could I have gotten on with more reasonably priced and sized lenses than the last two? Certainly. There are plenty of great options at near any price point. Here are the ones I would have reached for if value, size, and weight were my main concerns. Both would also offer excellent subject isolation and bokeh.

Lower priced honorable mentions.

My SIGMA 105mm f/1.4 Art smaller size, weight, and cost alternative would have been the far better performing than it has a right to Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE. It absolutely killed it for Harlem stranger portraits during a NYC photo walk last year. And if you catch one on sale they can be had for a fraction of the price of the SIGMA.

Rokinon/Samyang 75mm F1.8 Auto Focus Compact Full Frame Lens
GORDON PARKS PHOTOGRAPHERS COLLECTIVE HARLEM AND SOHO-VILLAGE PHOTO WALK

My Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master smaller size, weight, and cost alternative would have been the, redeemed by firmware and newer camera bodies, Sony FE 50mm f/1.8.

Sony 50mm x 2
Sony FE 50mm f/1.8

Well, that is about it. Thank you for playing along as I unpacked the events of a wonderful day capturing images of a wonderful couple with two wonderful assistants.

Happy capturing.

-ELW

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