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Thread: a900 as a walkabout camera

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    Senior Member nostatic's Avatar
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    a900 as a walkabout camera

    For those with the a900, how viable is it for use as a walkabout/street camera? I'm at a bit of a crossroads with my "better" system. I am perfectly happy with my DLux4 for casual carry, and have had good luck with my previous DLux3 printing rather large. But sometimes I want/need more resolution, be it for cropping or crop and print large (24x36 or maybe bigger). The thing that I like about my Pentax K20d is the relatively small size and weight, especially with some of the ltd prime lenses. Having a 43/1.8 that weight all of 155g on the fairly small body is great for carrying around town or indoors, and it is fairly unobtrusive.

    That said, while I like some of the results I get, I could always use more. There are times when I need to do a radical crop to get what I saw (often when I'm using a small prime and have limited walking tele capabilities). At that point the K20d file starts to give out, and my breath isn't taken away. Well, unless I'm holding my breath. But that is another issue.

    The thing that scares me is that I find my 50-135* lens on the K20d to be at the edge of "walkabout" comfort. And that is 685g. The Zeiss 24-70 is 995g. Now part of that may be offset if the a900 body has better balance and a little bigger grip (the K20d is a tad too short to fit my whole hand). I need to try and spend some time with one in a store, but there is no substitute for real user experience.

    Also, I tend to shoot very low light. The Pentax files are fine for my taste at 1600 and even up to 2000. I don't mind some noise, as it usually fits the mood. I know that going D700 would get me significantly better low light performance, but I do like the look of the Pentax files, and feel like the Sony may be closer to my tastes.

    Any guidance (or push) down the slippery slope appreciated.

  2. #2
    gtmerideth
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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Nostatic,

    I have both the A900 and the K20D and they are pretty much opposite if you limit the discussion to DSLR's. The compact qualities of the Pentax are very distant from the Sony. The A900 body is not excessively heavy but it is large. It's a full frame body. The Sony alpha lenses are also quite large. But that all being said, I use mine on the street but with a 70-300 zoom so I'm away from the subject. The Minolta legacy lenses, of which there are millions, could provide many choices for smaller glass while maintaing AF. M42 mount lenses
    give a huge number of opportunities but in stop down, manual focus mode only.

    Pleased to answer any questions.

    gary merideth

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    Senior Member nostatic's Avatar
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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Hi Gary,

    Well, you certainly will have the data. How do you compare the iq between the two? And what lenses do you normally use on the K20d? I have a couple of ltd primes (35, 43, 77) that I swap around, and also have the 50-135* which is quite an amazing zoom. One thing I find with the K20d body is that it is a tad short (I can't get all my fingers on it) and the countour for your top finger isn't quite big enough. From that perspective the a900 is attractive though I have to handle one again. I tend to carry in my right hand with the camera at my hip as I walk around rather than around my neck or other option. As such a grip that fits my hand and decent balance are big plusses.

    Do you find that you use the a900 and K20d for different things, or are you migrating from Pentax to Sony, or ?

    -todd

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    HI Todd
    Dammit, I just posted a long reply . . . and lost it!

    I don't have the pentax, so I'm not going to be able to do a lot of comparison. Still, I've had the A900 since early October, so I've had some time to get used to it, and I do have observations with reference to the Nikon:.

    The A900 with the Zeiss 24-70 is theoretically around the same size as the D700/nikkor . . . but the A900 is lighter than the Nikon, and the Zeiss lens, although FAT is a great deal shorter than the Nikkor. This means that I can get the A900 with the Zeiss, and with the excellent sony 70-300 G lens into a Billingham Small Hadley bag - with either lens on the camera. Something which simply wasn't possible with the Nikon equivalents. The whole thing 'feels' more compact. FWIW I walk about with the camera in my right hand, the grip is quite wide, and the camera handles beautifully for me.

    You should take bad reports about high ISO with a serious pinch of salt. Principally because the camera has fantastic highlight detail - this means that over-exposing by 1 stop in low light gives you plenty of dynamic range and very little noise. Using this I find that 1600 is COMPLETELY ok, and 3200 fine in black and white. The grain is good looking as well. worth remembering that most comparisons are at 100% (which is a smaller area of the A900 frame).

    The three user settings on the top dial are fantastic for walk around shooting. Unlike most other makers equivalents, they're immediately accessible, and they override everything (including the AF button etc). I have them set up in degrees of automation, it's so easy to slip from one to another in a hurry.

    Focusing is reasonably quick, and fantastically accurate (I get far far fewer oof shots than I had with the D3/D700).

    As far as IQ is concerned, I can't compare it to the Pentax, but it stomps on any other camera I have - there is a really wonderful tonal subtlety which is especially evident in late evening light, and the highlight rolloff is nothing short of astounding. Add that to a rather light AA filter (whatever dpreview may say) which gives a great per-pixel sharpness.

    I think it's a wonderful camera . . . . .there are some RAW files converted to DNG here:

    A900 RAW files

    If you're interested (the .ORF files are for someone else).

    Just this guy you know

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    Senior Subscriber Member Steen's Avatar
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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    I don't have the A900.
    But I believe the most important thing is to choose the glass we really want to shoot and decide the camera bodies from there. Lenses are here to stay while camera bodies come and go, rapidly. Soon Pentax and all the rest of the manufacturers will probably also use some of the >20 MP 24x36mm sensors on the market.
    Today my choice would be the Sony Alpha system because of the ZA autofocus lenses.
    What holds me back from switching from my manual focus ZF lenses is that I want to see if Leica comes out with a competitively priced autofocus R system within the next couple of years.
    How about a lightweight EVIL system for walkabout and then go with the Sony/Zeiss ZA system for dedicated photo tasks ?
    At least that's what I would do if I were to choose today.
    Don't get me wrong, I actually do like to focus manually. It's just that I think it takes an extremely good viewfinder specifically designed for manual focus to work well.

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Jono, thanks for the info. I knew you'd be good for a push down the slope ;-)

    I'm not too worried about hi iso, as I'm quite happy with the output of the Pentax at 1600. I am not a product or commercial photographer so I really don't worry about noise as long as it looks decent. The shorter lens is helpful relative to the Nikon because frankly that seems to be a bigger issue for balance and obtrusiveness.

    Steen, I agree about AF. The way I shoot, I absolutely need it. I often won't even look through the viewfinder, instead holding the camera in some angle where it isn't viable. While I can guess, and AF will sometimes pick wrong, with decent AF I can usually get the shot.

    The glass is important, and that is one reason I went to Pentax and have stayed there so far. For whatever reason the Nikon stuff just doesn't send me. Probably more my personality disorder of wanted to be a bit different. And while I love Canon for videocams, I just can't warm up to their dSLRs. There is something a bit clinical about both brands. What I appreciate about this forum is that people actually will understand that sentiment, and realize that shooting isn't about the spec sheet. I guess I'll have to go mess with one...

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    Senior Member nostatic's Avatar
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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by jonoslack View Post
    A900 RAW files

    If you're interested (the .ORF files are for someone else).
    ARRGHHH!!! You made me look...

    I saw an iso 3200 shot that looked fine to me. And the 6400 could be used in a pinch. But the low iso are just ridiculous. It is funny because I like to print at a decent size (24x36") and it looks like those files would be gorgeous. When I use the loupe in Aperture and compare to the Pentax files, while the Pentax does well for an APS, you certainly can see the difference. The level of detail and subtlety is quite stunning.

    ARRGGHH....and I had just about talked myself out of it.

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    Subscriber Member mwalker's Avatar
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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    I just bought a a900 and I agree with everything Jono has said....however it will not replace my M8 for street shooting or when I need to pack light. The a900 is a large camera like all full frame dslr's. However when you need a dslr it will give you that Leica look that I couldn't achieve with the Nikon d700 which I sold.
    Mike

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    For street shooting, I have gotten good results with my DLux3 (past) and now DLux4. The hot ticket though would seem to be to add a G1 for street and use the a900 for "hi rez" stuff (at least in my financially challenged world).

    *sigh* more money out the door...but I'd like to buy a system that will be stable for awhile and that takes my breath away while still being reasonably portable. FF certainly seems to be the future for that realm at least for the next 5-10 years, so little reason to throw more money at ASP-optimized glass.

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by nostatic View Post
    The glass is important, and that is one reason I went to Pentax and have stayed there so far. For whatever reason the Nikon stuff just doesn't send me. Probably more my personality disorder of wanted to be a bit different. And while I love Canon for videocams, I just can't warm up to their dSLRs. There is something a bit clinical about both brands. What I appreciate about this forum is that people actually will understand that sentiment, and realize that shooting isn't about the spec sheet. I guess I'll have to go mess with one...
    OH! I understand that okay. I've been back to Nikon 3 times now . . . and then gone away again. I like to think that the files are just . . . ordinarily accomplished, whereas those from the M8 and A900 are idiosyncratic, but with a touch of brilliance. But maybe it's just that Nikon is a club I don't really like to be a member of (Canon is worse . . . I don't buy fords either - more fool me!). How many people here (like me) use Macs instead of PC's . . . and I write software for windows too!

    Mind you, I never thought I'd be seen dead with a SONY camera . . . but when my dealer thrust one into my hands and told me to go and play, it was rather a revelation - not just the IQ, but the 'feel' of it. One does like to be a bit different.

    Anyway, I'm glad the raw files were interesting at least. I think possibly Sony should pay me for those!

    Good luck with your decision.

    Just this guy you know

  11. #11
    gtmerideth
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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Jono has the best amount of experience among us and his comments are
    right on the mark.

    The image quality difference is three things. The larger the print the Pentax
    will fall apart sooner that the Sony. Additionally, using the ZA lenses gives a greater micro contrast 3D image and finally the real estate or pixel total
    offers advantages of the increase in captured detail and of course, cropping.

    The viewfinder size of the Sony is also a real pleasure.

    I shoot my 20D with ZK lenses. The 100/2, the 50/1.4 and 28/2 and they are fine but I prefer the A900 results. More detail, better rendition of subtle colors. So, the picture I would paint is that there are several advantages using the Sony A900 but the 20D will produce very satisfying results.

    I have a hand strap on the A900 so I don't have the unit around my neck. Actually, out of fear of fracturing my sternum. Ha.

    Last, I wanted to keep the 20D and the ZK glass for comparison. Eventually,
    I'm sure I will sell it all. However, as we all know,the current market works much better for buyers than sellers.

    Good luck in your decision making,
    gary merideth

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by nostatic View Post
    For street shooting, I have gotten good results with my DLux3 (past) and now DLux4. The hot ticket though would seem to be to add a G1 for street and use the a900 for "hi rez" stuff (at least in my financially challenged world).

    *sigh* more money out the door...but I'd like to buy a system that will be stable for awhile and that takes my breath away while still being reasonably portable. FF certainly seems to be the future for that realm at least for the next 5-10 years, so little reason to throw more money at ASP-optimized glass.
    Nostatic

    Before you pull the plug on a large DSLR (of any make) you ought to read the thread 4/3rds to see the results from the G1. You can have the tiny kit lens or the long range 45-200 zoom which is smaller than some primes out there. I find the results very impressive and the only real negative was Jack's regard EVF blackout for higher speed shooting. While definitely not in the league of a Nikon when it comes to high ISO shooting the results at IS) 1600 looked pretty darned good to me

    Anyway, food for thought

    Woody

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by woodyspedden View Post
    Nostatic

    Before you pull the plug on a large DSLR (of any make) you ought to read the thread 4/3rds to see the results from the G1. You can have the tiny kit lens or the long range 45-200 zoom which is smaller than some primes out there. I find the results very impressive and the only real negative was Jack's regard EVF blackout for higher speed shooting. While definitely not in the league of a Nikon when it comes to high ISO shooting the results at IS) 1600 looked pretty darned good to me

    Anyway, food for thought

    Woody
    Woody, I just bought my g/f a G1 for xmas, and yesterday gave her the 45-200 (yes, I'm a nice guy, and no, I won't be your boyfriend ). I was immediately impressed with the 14-55 kit lens, and in fact made a post to that effect on one of the Pentax forums remarking that it outdid my K20d/31ltd (the "holy lord" of current Pentax lenses) on a few indoor snaps (mostly where the Pentax struggled with focus). Man, did I get pilloried for that, but the proof was in the shots, as pedestrian as they were. While I'm sure if I'd tried hard I could have gotten a better shot from the Pentax, a couple of casual snaps yielded superior results from the Panny. And sometimes, casual snaps are all you can manage.

    That said, the reality is that there is no way the kit lens can regularly perform especially well under some of my typical low light conditions. That is one thing good about the Pentax 43/1.9 and 77/1.8 ltds. And there is no getting around physics when it comes to printing large. I'm thinking that the ultimate setup is a good p&s (DLux4 in my case, but GRD2/GX100-200 is another choice), a G1 for longer reach walkabout, and something like the a900 when I want to try to be Burtynsky without the MF setup

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by nostatic View Post
    I'm thinking that the ultimate setup is a good p&s (DLux4 in my case, but GRD2/GX100-200 is another choice), a G1 for longer reach walkabout, and something like the a900 when I want to try to be Burtynsky without the MF setup
    Shhhhhh - I'm trying to persuade myself NOT to buy a DLux4, I really am!

    Just this guy you know

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by jonoslack View Post
    Shhhhhh - I'm trying to persuade myself NOT to buy a DLux4, I really am!
    oh, let me be of assistance. While I miss the longer end relative to the DLux3, the low light performance can be astonishing. Having 24/f2 available is quite nice, as is 60/f2.8 at the long end. It also takes decent HD video as well. With the current (?) $150 rebate and a now 3 year warranty, it is a more reasonable deal compared to the LX3 (though the Panny is still a chunk cheaper). I also really like being able to change from 16x9 to 3x2 to 4x3 at the flick of a switch. Only other downside is that Aperture doesn't support the raw files yet. I broke down and bought Raw Developer for that. I'll post a few photos later tonight.

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by nostatic View Post
    Only other downside is that Aperture doesn't support the raw files yet. I broke down and bought Raw Developer for that. I'll post a few photos later tonight.
    HI Todd
    This is what really worries me - same issue with the G1, with the RAW files holding correction information for the lenses - there seems to be an issue which I wonder about. LR and ACR now support the G1 files - but they cannot be converted to a standard DNG file (only a huge linear file - which Aperture won't read anyway).
    Apple have just issued an update to the RAW processing, with a number of new cameras . . . but neither the Leica or new panasonic cameras. Makes you wonder doesn't it.

    Might be worth a new thread I guess, but I'm not quite sure which forum it should go in.

    I'll look forward to your pictures though!

    Just this guy you know

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Interesting thread. I've been in the camera store twice this past weekend and almost pulled the trigger on the E30 twice, but like nostatic getting a G1 and a bigger camera later if I need it seems like a better route. m4/3s and 4/3s are just too similar.

    Macworld starts today, so maybe some Aperture announcements? Probably not, it's still hasn't even been out a year. The whole corrections in the raw file and Aperture not supporting it yet kinds of turns me off though. Apple might take a while to get around to that and who knows when DNG files will support it.

    I'm enjoying your comments quite a bit. It's making me think quite a bit too.
    Charles - flickr

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by cjlacz View Post

    Macworld starts today, so maybe some Aperture announcements? Probably not, it's still hasn't even been out a year. The whole corrections in the raw file and Aperture not supporting it yet kinds of turns me off though. Apple might take a while to get around to that and who knows when DNG files will support it.
    Hmm - well, Aperture has been out for much longer than a year. It also has excellent DNG support . . . . and it will support DNG files from the G1 if they are created with any lens except the Panasonic kit lenses. The reason it doesn't support these is that the Adobe DNG converter automatically converts these to LINEAR (i.e. processed) DNG files, and THAT is what Aperture does not read. (the reason the ADobe converter does this is to preserve the specific lens correction details in the RAW file).

    Apple are slower than Adobe at supporting new cameras, but they do, usually get there okay. I'm just a little worried because of the lens correction information in the files.

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Having lens correction information in the raw files seems like a good thing to me. It means I only have to deal with lens correction in post processing if the information is not there, otherwise the converter takes care of this chore for me.
    V/r John

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Quote Originally Posted by barjohn View Post
    Having lens correction information in the raw files seems like a good thing to me. It means I only have to deal with lens correction in post processing if the information is not there, otherwise the converter takes care of this chore for me.
    Hmmm - not if it means that nobody supports the raw file except the application supplied by the manufacturer. In the case of the new panasonic and leica cameras, full support doesn't exist for DNG conversions, or for Aperture, and in the converters that do deal with it, they don't don't all do the lens correction.

    Added to which, it removes the necessity for the lens design to be good. It certainly seems to be the case that some new lenses are designed on the basis that distortion will be corrected in the jpg files, with information in the RAW file.

    If you have a workflow based around a particular application (be that Aperture or LR or C1) then it's not welcome to have cameras which need other converters to get things right.

    Just this guy you know

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Just a few thoughts about "walkaround" from someone who has neither the Sony, nor the Pentax nor the Panasonic:

    As long as I have the camera in my hand, taking photos, I never think about the size of the thing (but then I don't think much, and sometimes I forget what focal length I'm using, and get surprised when looking through the viewfinder finding myself in a different world than expected ). Seen from that point of view, I think that the A900 with a large lens, like the 135/1.8, would be as functional as a K20D with a pancake or the G1 with a tiny zoom.

    What is bothersome however, is when I don't take photos, being transported from one place to another, moving around in shops (and public toilets, try turning around in a toilet booth with a Nikkor 80-200 AF-S over your shoulder) or finding space for the camera on top of a restaurant table.

    Although I have never owned a Pentax, since they started on their Limited series of lenses, I've looked upon them as the ideal walkaround alternative to Leica, at least in the digital world, and unless you want to use zooms. The G1 changes the rules quite a bit of course, but that doesn't make the Pentax less attractive, and it's the only game in town if you want fast, compact, image stabilised lenses with autofocus.

    The solution? Never sell a camera. I realised that too late, the day after I sold my Rolleiflex 4x4, and I've lived by it ever since. Having too many cameras may seem like a waste of space and money, but have you ever heard about a carpenter complaining that he has too many hammers?

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    Re: a900 as a walkabout camera

    Yeah, I've decided that I'm certainly not going to sell the Pentax for the Sony. The small primes are just too nice. Plus I just picked up a Voigtlander 58/1.4 and while I'm spoiled by AF on the other lenses, the Cosina/Zeiss glass is fabulous. Actually, that lens is making me ponder adding the Sony simply to be able to shoot AF Zeiss glass.

    Hmm, DLux4, K20d w/small primes, a900 w/28-70/2.8. That might work

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