Colby is a photographer, photo educator and author based out of Eastern Pennsylvania. Specializing in landscape, travel and humanitarian photography, his body of work spans the four corners of the globe.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week, you have probably heard about the “new” Social Network VERO – True Social which has risen overnight in popularity with photographers all over the globe. Spend a few minutes browsing your streams on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and you would be hard pressed not see atleast one person telling you to sign up.
But what is Vero? Do we all really need yet another social platform? And why has it all of a sudden becoming popular? In this article, I will take a look at all these questions as well as give you a quick walk through of the platform, how it works and give you some insight on how to make the most of your time on the network!
What Is Vero?
When you first login to Vero it is very obvious that it is a Social Network, with similar core principles to the likes of Instagram or Facebook. It is a place to connect, engage, share and communicate with others. However regardless of its new found fame within the online photography community, it is actually not new. It launched in 2015 and has been slowly building up its network since then.
Vero – True Story - YouTube
So what makes it any different then all of the other networks you are probably already on? In truth…a lot. While it looks and functions in many ways like Instagram, it is very much its own beast.
One of the biggest differences between Vero and nearly every other social platform is that the network doesn’t use any algorithms to determine what & when you will see things. This means that in theory, you will always see the content being shared from those you have chosen to follow or that you have connected with on the network.
For many of us, this is a pretty big deal. I have worked hard to build up a large following on Instagram of 240,000 users. With the recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm, the organic reach of my posts and my IG Stories have dropped by more then 25% in the last 21 days. Not only is this annoying, but it has business and revenue ramifications for someone like myself that makes a living as a photographer. Considering that I am already almost getting more interactions on my posts here on Vero than I do via my Facebook Business page (700 followers vs 124,000 followers), you can see why this has many photographers excited.
One of the biggest marketing pitches for Vero is the fact that you will never see Ads on the network. For many people, Instagram and Facebook have been ruined by the constant stream of Ads popping up in their feeds. While I can appreciate this mindset, I would be lying if I said that my various different photography companies haven’t benefited from running ads on those platforms. However with that being said, as a user and content creator, it is a breath of fresh air to let the content being share speak for itself for a change.
You Don’t Have to Crop Your Images
A big complaint for many photographers on Instagram is that the network forces you to crop many if not all of your images to conform to the network’s standards. For vertical images, you have to upload (or crop an image) into the 4:5 ratio. It is also recommended that you upload or crop horizontal images into the square 1:1 ratio rather then their full size since it takes up more screen real-estate. With Vero this isn’t an issue. Full sized images are uploaded and displayed beautifully on the network.
Another feature I feel most users overlook is that with Vero, they have built in the ability for you to make purchases right from within the network. This to me has some pretty big benefits, especially as a content creator. While I don’t feel this feature is fully fleshed out just yet, I do like the idea of being able to let my followers purchase presets or video tutorials from me right through the network, eliminating one more “barrier for entry” in the process of finding paying customers.
First Million Users Are Free (For Life)
Once you realize that you won’t see any Ads on Vero, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Vero would have to make money some other way. Enter the idea of a “Subscription Model”. Instead of surviving on Ad revenue like Instagram or Facebook, Vero plans on introducing a paid subscription model for the network once it reaches 1 million users. While controversial to the current status quo, this is really the only possible route a network can go if it wants to stay ad, and arguably algorithm free.
How much it will cost is pure speculation at this moment, but I imagine it will be pretty nominal if they hope to ever reach the same heights as a platform such as Instagram when it comes to a user base. All this being said, as long as you sign up now, you will NEVER have to pay a thing. You are automatically grandfathered into a free account as long as you get on the network before they cross that one million user threshold.
Why Does Vero Matter?
While the online Social Networking scene is very crowded and competitive, the reality is that most of us are not happy with what is currently being offered. When was the last time you were excited to log into Facebook? Can you remember a time when you enjoyed the changes Instagram made to its network? What about the last time you thought 500px did a good job of highlighting exceptional work?
While there has certainly been a number of networks pop up and try to make a name for themselves with the photography community (Google+, Ello, 500px), the height of our current dissatisfaction with all our choices might just be enough to reward a unique and different approach to Social Media such as we have with Vero.
With all this being said, it doesn’t hurt that Vero’s is a pretty great looking network. Not only is the UI beautiful and seamless but images look great on the platform as well. I have yet to see any gradation or loss of image quality with my images, something common on both IG and FB because of how aggressive those networks are with compressing our images down to their smallest files sizes possible.
How Do You Sign Up?
Once you have decided that you want to give Vero a shot, the signup process is pretty straight forward. Because Vero is currently a “mobile only” platform, you will need to start by downloading the Android or IOS Vero app HERE.
Once you have installed the app and opened it for the first time, you will be greeted with the Log In / Sign Up screen. Select Sign Up and then fill out your Full Name, Email and Password. Next you will be asked to enter your phone number. This will stay private and not be shared to anyone on the network.
So why does Vero want your phone number to sign up? The answer is three fold. First they want to be able to authenticate your account. Phone numbers are much more difficult to fake then an email address. Second, just like with What’s App, anyone that knows you personally enough to have you in their phones contact list will easily be able to find you on the network and connect with you. And lastly, even if you decide to turn off “Connection Requests”, people that have your number can still try to reach out. This gives you some protection from getting requests from people you don’t know while still giving you an option to connect with those you know personally or professionally.
Once you have verified your phone number, you are essentially ready to get started on the network by fully filling out your profile.
How Does It Work?
Now that you have signed up for Vero, you might need a quick crash course in how the network works…
Navigating through any new social platform can be a challenge, so lets take a look how Vero is laid out within the mobile app. These screenshots are taken from the latest Android version (As of February 25th, 2018), but I believe both IOS and Android are on parity in terms of features and the general look/feel of the platform.
When you first open the app, you will be greeted with your “Main Feed”. This, like other social platforms, is where you will see a stream of posts from those you are either connected to or choose to follow (more on that later). Here you can like an image or a post by either double tapping it or hitting the heart in the upper right hand corner. Click on the users Avatar or any of the included Hashtags, and you will be taken to those respective pages within Vero.
At the top of this screen, you will find a navigation bar with five different icons. First on the list is the Discovery page (Magnifying Glass). Here you can discover all sorts of content from other users on the Network. You can search the platform for users or content, find out what is popular or check out who they recommend you follow. Next you will see your User Dashboard (a person inside a circle). There you can edit your bio, take a closer look at your Connections and Followers, look at a stream of your own posts, see who has requested to connect with you and look at the apps settings.
Next you will see the Collections icon (Box with lines above it). Here you fill find an easy way to compartmentalize both the content you share as well as what has been shared with you. You can organize things by photo, video, location, movie and much more. Next you have the Notifications icon (Bell) where you will see a list of all of your most recent notifications. Lastly we have the Chat section of the app (Quote Boxes). This is where all of your private and group chats will live within the app. Currently it looks like you can only send text and photos between users, but I would guess sharing videos and other content might come down the line.
Connecting With Other Users
One of the most important distinctions to understand on any social platform is how Users can connect and engage with each other. Similar to other social networks, Vero gives you the ability to either make a “Connection” or “Follow” another user. So what is the difference?
When you “Connect” with another Vero user, you are establishing a two-way relationship. You can share content with them and they can share content with you. Additionally, within that Connection, you have the ability to classify those contacts into three distinct classes: A Close Friend, Friend or Acquaintance. This simply gives you the ability to choose who you want to share content with at any given time, such as sharing a private photo with just your close friends on the network.
In a similar fashion, you can also “Follow” someone on the network. This means that you’re are interested in what they have to share on the network, but that you might not know them personally. Anything they post will appear in your stream, but your content will not appear in theirs. Regardless, if someone Follows you or you make a Connection, that person will see the work you share on the network itself.
A pretty sweet hidden feature within Vero is the ability to select the kind of content you want to see from the people you follow on the network. For example, if you follow another photographer and want to see only see images from them, you can ask Vero to only show you photos from that user and avoid any of their music or movie recommendations. You can access this feature by going to that user’s profile, clicking on the three dots found just below their profile photo (on the right side) and selecting “Filter Posts”.
Now that you are ready to share content on Vero, there are a few things that you should know.
First, unlike other social platforms, Vero gives you the ability to create a post wrapped around a number of different kinds of content: Photo, Video, Link, Music, Movie/TV, Book and Place. Since most of you reading this are photographers, I will walk you through sharing an image.
Once you have clicked on the create post button (+ sign at the bottom of most screens), you will be taken to a screen where you can select the kind of content you wish to share. Click on the “Camera” icon to share an image. After selecting your image, you can now write your post caption as well as attach a location to it. Vero uses FourSquare for this service. If you need to alter your image, you do have a few editing tools available to you by hitting the “Edit” button below your image. When you are ready, click on the “Next” button in the top right-hand corner. Now you get to choose who you want to share this image with. Here you can select one of the categories you have classified your connections into: “Close Friends”, “Friends”, “Acquaintances” or Followers. The number of people that can see your post will appear just below your selection.
Additionally, you can choose to just share it with just one person or a small handful of individuals if you click on the “Private” button and then choose which users to share with. Sharing on Facebook & Instagram are also options of you have connected those accounts to your Vero profile.
How Can I Grow An Audience?
One of the biggest reasons most of us are on Social Media to begin with is because we want to be able to connect, engage and share our content with others. This doesn’t work out so well when we struggle to build a following. I think this is one of the main reasons why Facebook and Instagram have left so many photographers frustrated these days.
So when it comes to Vero, how do you build an audience?
Get In Early
Right now Vero is pretty popular within certain photography communities, which means there are benefits to getting on the network now. Just like Instagram users that signed up on Day 1, there is a benefit of simply being active on the network early, especially if the network really takes off.
Invite Others From Your Current Networks
One of the quickest ways to grow a small following off the bat is to try to bring people to Vero that you have already established relationships with from other platforms. Post about it on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and maybe even your newsletter. As more people find out about it Vero, the network will continue to grow, so you might as well take advantage of the connections you have already worked hard to build else where.
The use of hashtags on Vero is one of the best ways to get your work seen by more people on the platform. From my understanding, when you post an image to everyone you are connected and you use hashtags, Vero will allow your image to show up when people do hashtag searches on the network. This will give you a higher probably of having your content discovered by people interested in the kind of content you are sharing. I don’t recommend you over do it though, 4-8 hashtags should be more then enough as long as you keep them on point!
Who Should You Follow?
Anytime you first land on a new network, things can be a little daunting. No one likes to look at their profile for the first time and see “no followers’ or browse through their feed and see no content. So with that in mind, I have compiled a small list of photographers that I find to be pretty active on the network so far. Within Vero simply search for these names…
and of course me… Colby Brown
This list should give you a few people to follow that have already standing building their own following. Many of their posts are already getting a good amount of interactions, providing the opportunity for you to engage with both these users and those already engaging with them. The more you interact with people, the more you will get out of this (or any) social platform.
There is no telling if Vero is going to take off and be the next Instagram or fade out after a couple month or years down the road. When it comes to social media, people can be very finicky to say the least. While they complain about FB or IG, they often don’t give new networks a true chance, after all change isn’t easy for everyone.
In addition to that, Vero isn’t perfect. In the last few days with the influx of new users, servers have been going in and out and the app (which is still in BETA) has crashed a few times. All that being said, I am still pretty excited about the potential I see here. The Vero app experience is a beautiful one that allows our images to be displayed in all their glory. The idea of a subscription based social platform is one many (although not all) have been asking for for years after being put off by the constant stream of ads, algorithms and negativity found on most social platforms today. I am not sure if Vero will be the next big thing, but I am willing to give it a chance to find out!
Where Can We Find You?
I would love to hear from all of you. Are you on Vero? If so, how can other people find you? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to share a little about yourself as well, so other Vero users can get an idea of what to expect if they decide to follow you on the network!
When it comes to purchasing a new camera, most of us are incredibly excited to jump right in and start using our new creative tool…but that process can also be frustrating. Learning all of the new camera menus, features and functionality can be challenging, especially if you are coming from a completely different camera brand. With the release of Sony’s latest flag ship full frame mirrorless camera, the highly sought after a7R III, many of you might find yourself in a similar situation.
Even Sony shooters might be a little surprised with all the new changes to the brand new menu system, differences in button layout and new features that make the a7R III one of the best cameras I have ever used. Fortunately for many of you, I have put together this extensive guide to getting the most of your brand new a7R III. As a Sony Artisan, I was fortunate to be able to take an a7R III with me to Myanmar prior to its release, where I was able to pour over the camera menus, dive into the new features and fully customize my own Mark III. While my full in-depth review won’t be available for another week or so, this mini-guide should drastically help reduce the learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to make the most out of what will probably be Camera of the Year in 2017.
Additionally, if you haven’t picked up a Sony a7R III yet, be sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post as I will be giving one away one Instagram soon!
Enjoy the guide!
After unboxing your a7R III for the first time & charging the camera battery, I know many of you are probably pretty eager to start shooting right away. I know I was! But before we do that, there are a number of basic settings on the camera that we need to adjust first. While the following 11 settings aren’t game-changing when it comes to your your a7R III experience, they are important never the less!
Set Your Time & Area
When you first turn on your camera, you will be greeted with an option to set the system language right off the bat. After choosing whatever option suits you best, it is now time to set the Area/Date/Time. While many photographers set this up initially, they don’t think much about it afterward. This can quickly become an issue if you use multiple camera bodies like I do and especially if you travel to different time zones. Making sure that you correctly adjust the area/time zone for each of your cameras every time you travel will help to make sure that your images line up correctly in whatever photo editing/organization programs you use such as Adobe Lightroom or On1 Photo RAW 2018.
After initially setting up your camera, you can find the Date/Time Setup in the “Area Settings” options in the Toolbox Menu Tab on page 5.
Selecting RAW or JPEG
Aside from choosing the language and setting the date and time of your camera, the very first thing most photographers do is make sure they are shooting in the right image file format. By default, most digital cameras are set to shoot in JPEG. Personally (and professionally), I prefer to shoot in RAW so that I have access to all of the image data that the incredible sensor inside the a7R III is capable of capturing.
It is, however, important to note that you also can choose the RAW file type with the a7R III: Compressed or Uncompressed. The default RAW file type is Compressed, which is essentially a smaller RAW file size (40mb vs 80mb) that is considered “Lossy” as Sony’s algorithms have helped to shrink down the RAW image file size. It does this by removing what Sony considers as unnecessary or redundant image data while still providing a RAW image that can be fully edited to your heart’s content. The uncompressed file type has had no algorithms run through it, providing pure RAW image data. The distinction between the two options are negligible in 95% of shooting situations, however, if you shoot in many high contrast situations, such as Astro/night photography, I recommend that you use the Uncompressed RAW file type.
Both of these settings can be found in the Camera Menu Tab (1) on Page 1.
Turn Off Long Exposure NR, High ISO NR & Auto DRO
While Sony typically does a great job of providing useful features and settings in its cameras, I generally prefer to handle things such as Noise Reduction and Expanded Dynamic Range on my own through post-processing. This is why I generally turn off Long Exposure Noise Reduction, High ISO NR (JPEG only) and Auto DRO (which artificially increases dynamic range). Each of these settings are on by default with the a7R III. However, if you aren’t as familiar with processing techniques that deal with noise or expanding dynamic range, you might want to subjectively leave some of these settings on.
These settings can be found in the Camera Menu Tab (1) on Page 2 & 14 respectively.
Set Color Space to AdobeRGB
By default, the a7R III is set to shoot in the sRGB color space, which is the most universally used & accepted color space for the vast majority of the internet and nearly all mobile devices. That being said, it isn’t a very large Color Profile, meaning that it doesn’t capture any many variances of different colors as other Color Profiles out there. For example, if you do a lot of printing, you will want to use the AdobeRGB Color Profile instead as it contains a larger spectrum of possible colors to capture. While this isn’t a big deal if you are shooting in the RAW file format, it is one less thing that you might have to change in the digital darkroom.
This setting can be found in the Camera Menu Tab (1) on Page 2.
Setup Auto Bracketing
If you are a landscape or travel photographer that likes to have the ability to shoot bracketed images (multiple images of the same exact scene with different exposures) to help capture a much wider dynamic range of image data, you will want to make some minor adjustments to your Bracketing Settings and Drive Modes. As usual with bracketed images, it is always recommended that you use a tripod.
First, within the “Bracket Settings” menu option, you will want to change “Selftimer during Brkt” from “Off” to “2 Sec”.
Next, within the “Drive Mode” menu you will want to scroll down until you see “BRK C – .3EV3” and then press right on the rear Control Wheel until you see “BKK C – 2.0EV3”. This setting allows you to shoot a 3 image bracket with 2 stops of exposure difference between each image, which is my go-to when it comes to Auto Bracketing. By setting the self-timer to 2 seconds and using this mode, the a7R III will take all three images in quick succession of each other.
These settings can be found in the Camera Menu Tab (1) on Page 3 or via a Custom Button you assign the Drive mode to.
Change Peaking Settings
If you find yourself shooting in Manual Focus modes often, one of the handiest features found in the a7R III might be “Focus Peaking”. As you dial the MF ring on your lens, a color overlay will appear over your image as things become sharp, making it easy to know when you are close to getting tac sharp results.
For the best results, I highly recommend that you change the “Peaking Settings” to the following options: Peaking Display: On – Peaking Level: Mid – Peaking Color: Red These settings can be found in the Camera Menu Tab (1) on Page 13.
Turn On Grid Lines
While the Horizon Leveling tool can be extremely handy to use with the a7R III when you are on a tripod, I find it harder to use when shooting handheld. A simple solution to help give you some guiding lines can be found by adding Grid Lines to your displays.
The “Rule of 3rds Grid” is the one I use most often as it not only helps me level my horizons when shooting on the go, but it can also help me with subject placement when I am shooting on the run. This setting can be found in the Camera Menu Tab (2) on Page 6.
Turn Off Audio Signals
One of the most annoying sounds to come out of any digital camera these days are the audio beeps to let you know when you are either shooting or when you use a shutter delay. While it might not bother you personally when you are alone, you might find other photographers giving you the stink eye if you all line up to shoot a beautiful sunset and your camera happens to be the one making all the noise. Simply select the “Off” option in the “Audio Signals” option found in the Camera Menu Tab (2) on Page 9 to fix this.
Turn Off Auto Brightness for Viewfinder
In one of the more surprising settings found in the a7R III, Sony has left “Viewfinder Brightness” to “Auto” by default. This means that the brightness of the Viewfinder can change based on the outside lighting conditions. Personally, I found this to be problematic because one of the benefits of a mirror-less camera is the fact that the Rear LCD and the Viewfinder generally show you exactly what your exposure is going to look like (outside of low light situations). With this setting set to Auto, I found that occasionally a scene appeared brighter when viewed through my viewfinder then what my RAW image file actually looked like when I began to process it.
The solution is to switch Viewfinder Brightness into manual mode and leave it on the default brightness. At least this way, you have a much better indicator of the kind of exposure results you can expect with your images when using the Viewfinder. This setting can be found in the Tool Box Menu on Page 1.
*The setting is greyed out in the screenshot above because I had an external monitor attached to the camera to capture these screenshots
Set ISO Auto & Minimum SS with Auto ISO
Another handy features found on the a7R III have to do with Auto ISO. When you find yourself shooting in Manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority modes (in both Stills & Movie modes), you have the option to set your camera to Auto ISO, so that the camera choose your ISO setting for you. This can be handy when shooting in an environment with changing lighting situations, such as street photography.
But if you really want to take advantage of this feature, you will want to also set your “ISO AUTO Min. SS”. To engage this feature, you need to be using the Aperture Priority camera mode (The “A” icon found on the top camera mode dial). Once in the mode, you have the ability to set the minimum shutter speed you are willing to let your camera shoot at before the Auto ISO feature engages. How does this work? Let’s say you are shooting in Aperture Priority mode while you are walking around your hometown. Light is changing on your subjects as you walk up and down your street. By setting your “ISO AUTO Min. SS” to 1/125th of a second, you are telling your camera that if your shutter speed doesn’t drop below 1/125th of a second, your ISO should stay at 100. However, if your scene all of a sudden becomes too dark, your camera will pump up the ISO to maintain that minimum shutter speed, making sure that your shutter speed never drops so low that your images become blurry in the process.
Both of these settings can be found in the Camera Menu Tab (1) on Page 9.
New to the a7R III
While the a7R III might seem pretty familiar, especially for those coming from the a7R II, there are a number of new features that you will want to configure and learn how to use to really get the most out of this camera. Here are some of my favorites!
Determine your Multi SD Card Workflow
One of the most sought-after feature requests from Sony mirror-less camera users has been multi SD card support. Now you not only have it with the incredible a9 but also the a7R III. But that begs the question of what kind of workflow system do you want when it comes to having the ability to write to two different SD cards? For many of you, you will probably want to make sure that anything that is captured to Card 1 (the faster UHS II slot) automatically gets copied to Card 2. You also have the ability to separate RAW/JPEG or photos/videos or just copy photos (or movies) to your backup slot. Long story short, the options are endless!
However, if you are like me and you have never had an SD card go bad, there is no point in making two copies of your SD cards when you are out shooting. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. If you set “Prioritize Rec. Media” to Slot 1, set “Recording Mode” to Standard and turn on “Auto Switch Media”, you won’t have to worry about switching to a new card when you run out of space in the middle of a shoot. This happens to me often when out in the field and nothing is more frustrating than having the perfect moment pass you by because your primary card was full.
These settings can be found in the Toolbox Menu Tab on Page 6 under “Rec. Media Setting”.
Enjoy True Back Button Focus
When it comes to ergonomics and button layout, one of best things the a7R III inherited from the a9 is the dedicated focus button on the rear of the camera. The idea of back button focus is fairly straightforward. The Shutter Release button on the top of the camera is configured to solely be responsible for taking an image while a button on the rear of the camera is dedicated to achieving focus. By separating these two functionalities, the idea is that you are able to react in a much quicker manner to capture the moment at the exact right time, rather than accidentally refocus your shot by pressing your shutter button halfway down by accident. While I have always customized a button on my Sony mirrorless cameras to have this feature with previous models, the addition of a large dedicated button for back button focus is a welcomed change.
The ‘AF-ON” button is correctly configured by default, but we do need to adjust the “Shutter Release” button so that it too no longer controls your autofocus system. To do this, jump into the Camera Menu Tab (1) and find Page 6. Adjust “AF w/ shutter” to “Off”.
Take Advantage of the New Eye AF Technology
One of the most powerful and often under-rated features found in nearly all Sony mirrorless cameras is known as Eye AF. Essentially it works by quickly changing the cameras AF system to search for and track human eyes, although it doesn’t work very well with animals. The system will continuously track the eye, even as your subject moves around your frame, allowing you to have a much higher chance at nailing tac-sharp eyes with your subjects. While Eye AF has been in Sony’s cameras for a few years, the a7R III has received some pretty incredible upgrades, including the ability to track eyes even when they are closed. Having used this feature in Myanmar earlier this month, I can say that the results blew my mind!
So how do you take advantage of this feature? The key is to customize one of your camera’s buttons to allow you to easily engage it. By default, the center button found in the middle of your rear control wheel is set for Eye AF, but I don’t feel that is a very natural place for you to access it. Two better choices would be either the Auto Exposure Lock Button (AEL) or a press down on the rear joystick as they are both in close proximity to the rear “AF-ON” button that you might already be using for back button focus. However, if those don’t work, you might want to look into using the “Focus Hold” button found on the side of many Sony lenses. This is most likely the button that most of you never knew what it did…let alone that you could customize it’s functionality.
I have an entire section of this blog post dedicated to fully customizing your a7R III buttons and menu systems, so be sure to check it out to learn how to customize this functionality with your own a7R III.
Enable Touch Screen Support
The a7R III marks the first Sony in the a7 series of cameras to have received Touch Screen support, thanks to all of the requests from photographers out there. It joins the likes of the a9 and a6500 within the Sony camera lineup and while the feature is limited to helping you achieve a specific focus point in both Still and Video modes (sorry no menu support at this time), the functionality is actually off by default with the RIII.
To enable Touch Screen Support, head to the Tool Box Camera Menu and make your way to Page 2. At the bottom of the screen, you will find “Touch Operation”. Change it from “Off” to “On”.
Adjustable Spot Metering Point
Another new feature to the a7R series is the ability to force the cameras light meter to read from an adjustable focus point rather than just the center of your image when you use the “Spot Metering Mode”. Mix this setting with the “Touch Screen” support I mentioned above and you have a handy way of capturing very specific spectrums of light in a scene, such as rays of light piercing through a cloud or the glow of a candle on a wall or face.
To enable this setting, jump to the Camera Menu Tab (1) and move to page 10. There you will find “Spot Metering Point” at the top of the menu and select “Focus Point Link”.
Articulating Rear LCD Trick
One of my favorite features found on many Sony mirrorless cameras is the rear articulating LCD screen. It gives you a lot of flexibility when you are using your camera at odd angles or perspectives (both high and low), which can be extremely helpful in a pinch. However, one often annoying aspect of this setup is the Proximity Sensor found just above the Viewfinder. As you move your face close to the rear camera, the sensor picks up on this and automatically switches the display to the Viewfinder. This in and of itself is generally a good thing, unless you are trying to use the rear LCD screen and you find the Proximity Sensor simply too sensitive, causing..
While Sony has been working hard to continously put out impressive lenses over the last few years, one of the most requested pieces of glass has been a fast ultra wide, especially for landscape and astro photographers. So when the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM was accounced back in May, it wasn’t really suprising to see just how excited everyone was that this lens was finally coming out. Even though the Sony 16-35 f/4 FE has been incredibly popular, it was also the only show in town for a long time when it came to native Sony wide angle zoom lenses and it is also just an f/4 lens, much like the impressive Sony 12-24 f/4 G that I reviewed last week.
Sony a7R II w/ Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM in Vesturhorn, Iceland
Fortunately, Sony was kind enough to lend me a copy of this lens to bring with me to Iceland this Summer where I was leading a series of Photography Workshops. This gave me some time to really test this lens in situations and environments that are much more coducive to where I typically work on a regular basis around the world each year. While studio tests might be important for some photographers, I always am much more interested in how a camera or lens performs out in the real world.
When it comes to my reviews, I am always as open and transparant as I can be. I am happy to share my thoughts and opinions and I will always include evidicent to back up my claims. In this review, you not will you find high resolution images throughout, but RAW files for you to play with are located near the end of the review. All in all, this is a good thing because releasing the lens under the GM line, Sony is setting the bar pretty high when it comes to build quality, sharpness, IQ and resoloving power. So with all that being said…lets dive right in!
Specs for the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM
E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22
Minimum Focus Distance: .92 ft (0.28 m)
Filter Diameter 82mm
Angle of View (35mm): 107° – 63°
Angle of View (APS-C): 83° – 44°
Two Extra-Low Dispersion Elements
Three Aspherical and Two XA Elements
Nano AR Coating and Fluorine Coating
Direct Drive Super Sonic Wave AF Motors
Focus Hold Button; AF/MF Switch
Dust and Moisture-Resistant Construction
Eleven-Blade Circular Diaphragm
Dimensions (DXL): 3-1/2″ x 4-7/8″ (88.5 x 121.6 mm)
Weight: 680 g
One of the first things you notice about the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM is how solid the lens itself feels. The rubberized focus/zoom rings feel good to the touch and the rest of the exterior is what you have probably come to expect from Sony’s GM line of top end glass. Polished, well built and essentially what a $2198 lens should feel like.
When you pick up the lens, you will notice that it does have a little bit of heft to it, which is understandable since it is a full frame f/2.8 lens. However when you consider the 16-35 f/4 FE is only 162g lighter and less than an inch shorter, the 16-35 f/2.8 still seems like a fairly compact and portable lens. I can easily fit it into the same space/slot in my camera backpack as the f/4 FE version.
Side by Side: Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM vs Sony 16-35 f/4 FE
When it comes to weather sealing, the new GM 16-35 f/2.8 is a bit more robust then its predecessor thanks to it’s improved dust and moisture-sealed design. While Sony is very careful in how it talks about weather sealing, I can tell you from experience that I had this lens (and my a7R II) litterally soaking wet to the point that it was dripping with water multiple times while in Iceland this summer and I didn’t have a single issue. No condensation ever entered the camera or lens/glass elements. I often work in fairly remote and challenging locations around the globe, so weather sealing is actually a pretty big deal for the work I do.
The Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM drenched with water after being behind a waterfall in Iceland
While there is certainly more I want to talk about when it comes to the specs/features of this lens, I will save it for those specific sections of this review…
Image Quality (IQ)
As obvious as it sounds, one of the most important aspects of a lens is simply the quality of image details that it can capture. While I have specific sections in this review that cover lens flare, COMA and corner sharpness, I want to talk a little about the general image quality you can expect to get out of the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM.
This section is pretty self explanitory. When you focus on an area within a given scene with this lens, how sharp are the results? In reality, this also has a decent amount to do with your Camera’s sensor, but for this review, lets simply take a look at how sharp this lens truly is.
After shooting thousands of images with this lens I can testify that it is an incredibly sharp lens. Details look crisp, contrast is great and there is no denying how impressive the sharpness, especially when used in tandem with the Sony a7R II. While the above images are good indicators, take a look at the full RAW files I provided for you at the end of this review if you really want to dive into the details a bit.
When it comes to wide angle lenses, a common issue (especially at the widest mm length) is generallly both distortion & vignetting. Distoration is essentially the enlarging of the size of elements in your image when you photograph at certain mm lengths or at certain angles. Vignetting on the other had is the natural darkening of your frame edges as light begins to fall off, both common problems with very wide angle lenses. So how does the 16-35 GM handle these challenges?
As you can see, there is just about zero distortion found in the corners of this image. All of the frame edges look good and any elongatting is extremely minimal. While I do see a touch of vignetting or light dropping off aroudn the edges, it too is minimal, which is a testimate to the quality of the design of this lens. Fortunately, both of these should be completely zeroed out by applying a Len Profile to these images, which we will now talk about.
If you happen to use post processing programs such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One or On1 Photo RAW (to name a few), you are probably aware of lens profiles. These profiles are specific to each lens and essentially allow you to automattically make a number of adjustments to your images to help correct for distortion and light drop off (a common isse with many wide angle lenses). Let’s take a look at what Adobe Lightroom’s lens profile looks like for the Sony 16-25 f/2.8 GM, since it is arguably the most popular post processing application in the world currently.
With Lens Profiles Applied in LR
As a landscape photographer it is hard not to underscore the importance of using filters when it comes to creating dynamic images. While the tools found in the digital darkroom have come along way over the years, there are still a number of effects that are created by filters that are extremely difficult or downright impossible to replicate during post processing. Two of the most important filters that I recommend every landscape photographer have in their gear bag are a Circular Polorizer and a Neautral Density Filter. While the CPL (Circular Polarizer) can help you cut or enhance reflected light, a ND (Neautral Density) filter helps you slow down your shutter speed by putting a darkend filter in front of your lens. When you combine these filters, the results can certainly be impressive with the right kind of scene!
ISO 100 | f/11 | 2.5 Secs – CPL + 6x ND Filter
ISO 100 | f/9 | .6 Secs – CPL + 3x ND Filter
ISO 100 | f/10 | .5 Secs – CPL + 2x ND
With the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM, you have an 82mm lens opening. This is important to know if you every plan on buying filters. While some photographers prefer circular filters, I have simply had too many bad experience where they got stuck on my lens while amazing light was fading. These days I use a slide filter kit made by Formatt Hitech because of how color neautral they are.
Using my Formatt Hitech Filter kit at Aldeyjarfoss in Northern Iceland
For those just getting into filters or for those looking to switch systems, I have partnered with Format Hitech to create the Colby Brown Signature Edition Landscape Filter Kit. It in you will find a built in CPL (polarizer), a 6-stop Firecrest ND, a 2 stop soft GND (Graduaded Neautral Density) and a 2 stop RGND (Reverse Graduated Neautral Density Filter). The kit itself comes with adapters to fit 67mm, 72mm, 77mm and 82mm lenses.
The Colby Brown Signature Edition Landscape Filter Kit by Formatt Hitech
With my setup, it is important to know that at 16mm on the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM, I do get a little vignetting from the filter holder itself. This comes down to physics and the space needed for the holder to be able to hold a built in CPL plus two filter guides (allowing you use two slide filters at once). However once I move to 17mm, vignetting completely disappears.
While the general IQ coming from the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM is truly impressive, what about the fringes of your frame? How many times have you heard a photographer talk about “cornern to corner” sharpness. The idea is fairly simple. While the focal point of an image will always been the sharpest part of your shot, high quality lenses minimize the sharpness dropoff that typically appears along the frame edges and corners of your images. So how is the 16-35 GM?
16mm (click to enlarge)
When we look closely the corners of these images, a few things become a bit more obvious. First, at 16mm the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM is an incredible sharpe lens…corner to corner. That being said, at every f/stop things aren’t perfectly equal. While f/2.8 looks pretty dang good, the sweet spot for this lens appears to be around f/8 or f/11 as things get noticablly sharper at that point. At f/16 things still look good, but you can see that sharpness starts to drop off and even more so at f/22 which shouldn’t really be a suprise.
What about Additional MM lengths?
While I have plenty of images taken at various different focal lengths and at different exposures, I didn’t manage to get the same type of controlled test as I did at 16mm. That said, I will be completing this part of the review in the next day or 2 and I will update this review accordingly. In the mean time, you can take a look at Lens Rentals recent blog post that covers alot when it comes to testing just how sharp this lens truly is.
For many landscape and travel photographers, the practice of capturing sunstars is highly saught after. To do this, you generally have to stop down you f/stop to f/16, allowing the aperture blades in your lens to get close enough to create the sunstar as light moves through your lens and onto your camera’s sensor. The quality of the sunstar all comes down to the lens itself. The quality of the glass elements used to create the lens, the kind of coating used on lens and the kind/number of aperture blades can dictate the shape and look of the star itself.
With the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM we have an 11-blade circular aperture, which not only helps to create on of the best sunstars I have ever seen, but also produce very nice bokeh, which is often more important with portrait photography. In addition, Sony’s Nano AR Coating on this lens seem to complete cut out any lens flare (random unwanted reflected light that can appear when directly facing a light source…such as the sun).
Sunstar Test of the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM lens at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
As you can see, the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM has an incredible sunstar. In fact, it is one of the best sunstars I think I have seen on a 16-35. The crisp nature of the star points mixed with the sheer number of points themselves makes me very happy with these results.
In terms of reflected light, roughly 10% of the time I would catch a small piece of flare appearing between a few of the sunstar points. This certainly wasn’t in every image as I shot directly into the light, but it was visible when you zoom in close to 200% every once in a while.
When it comes to photographing at night, the lens of choice for most photographers is usually a fast ultra wide angle lens. No matter if we are talking about a city skyline, the milky way or the northern lights, an f/2.8 wide angle lens is generally a pretty solid bet. At f/2.8, your aperture is open a considerable amount wider than at f/4…allowing more light into your cameras sensor, which allows you to use a lower ISO and in turn, have less noise in your images. In fact, I had more questions about how the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM performed at night than anything else when people found out I had early access to this lens.
ISO 2500 | f/2.8 | 15 Seconds at 16mm
So aside from being an increadly sharp f/2.8 lens that opens up to 16mm, How good is the 16-35 f/2.8 GM at night? To answer that question, we have to see how well it handles two fairly important elements…COMA & Astigmatism.
Easily one of the most talked about issues with lenses for night photography is known as COMA. If you spend any time diving into the dark alleys of online photography message boards, you will see this term pop up alot. According to the Lonely Spec, “coma occurs when light from a single source entering at the edge of the lens is not projected at the same size as light entering the center of the lens”. This can appear in your images of the..
While most of the attention Sony gets these days is directed towards their innovative cameras and sensors, they have consistently been pushing out great glass at a slow but steady pace over the last few years. On May 17th, 2017 Sony announced the 12-24 f/4 G ultra-wide angle lens, filling a highly requested hole in their lens lineup. As a Sony Artisan, I happened to be at the launch event in Santa Barbara, California and was given some time to play around with it for an afternoon. But to be honest, it left me with more questions then answers. As a landscape photographer, how close could I truely get to my foreground subjects? What about corner sharpness? COMA? Distortion?
Fast forward a month later and Sony was kind enough to loan me a 12-24 f/4 G to take to Iceland where I was working for a month on a number of projects while also leading a few photo workshops. While there will be plenty of photographers that will drag this lens through MTF charts and dim lit studios with tiny rulers hanging on the wall, the only test I really care about happens out in the real world…in places & situations that I would typically find myself working regardless of what new lens was being released
Throughout this review you will find plenty of physical evidence backing up my thoughts and opions. Nearly every image provided has been uploaded in high resolution and I have even provided a number of RAW files at the end of the review for you to download and explore on your own. With all that being said, let’s get started…
E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
Bulbous Front Lens Glass Element
Aperture Range: f/4 to f/22
Angle of View: 122 – 84
Minimum Focus Distance (28cm)
Four Aspherical Elements
One Super ED and Three ED Elements
Nano AR Coating
Dust and Moisture-Resistant Construction
Seven-Bladed Rounded Diaphragm
Dimensions (DxL): 3.43″ x 4.62″ (87 x 117.4 mm)
Weight: 1.24 lb (565 g)
Price: $1,698 USD
One of the first things I noticed about the 12-24 f/4 G lens is how solid it feels in my hand. It weighs just 565g, which is 47g more then the popular Sony 16-35 f/4 FE. Holding it in my hand I don’t feel as if it is top or bottom heavy, but rather much of the weight seems balanced in the center of the lens itself. For an ultra-wide, this lens is also pretty small, standing at nearly 4.62″ tall.
Easily the most noticable aspect of the lens is the front of the lens. Like many ultra-wide lenses, the Sony 12-24 has a bulbous glass element, meaning that it protrudes from the front of the lens. This makes it difficult (although not impossible) to use filters with this lens. While this might be a little dissapointing to some landscape photographers, Sony has atleast made good use of Nano AR coating on the lens itself, helping to reduce surface reflections, flare and ghosting in most situations.
For those of us that work out in the elements, this lens has a few nice features that you might appreciate. First, it has a dust and moisture-sealed design. I tested this lens in Iceland and in multiple situations, often times finding it litterally dripping with water. No water or condensation got into the lens or my Sony a7R II. Additionally, the focus and zoom rings on the lens are rubberized, rather then metal which can make a big difference when working in very cold environments.
My Sony a7R II w/ the Sony 12-24 f/4 G lens behind the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall in Iceland
How Wide is 12mm?
When it comes to wide angle lenses, the most popular or common option out there is typically a 16-35, no matter if you shoot Canon, Nikon or Sony. But if that is the case, why would you need an ultra-wide angle lens? The truth is that you can fit a lot in the 4mm difference betwen 12mm and 16mm, which I think is also its biggest challenge. It took me a few days to step outside of the mindset I often had as a 16-35 lens shooter. I had to think creatively and force myself to use a lens this wide, often not realizing it was perfect for a given scene until after I had already taken the image.
Below you will see a series of images paired together. First will be an image taken with a Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM lens followed by an image taken with the Sony 12-24 f/4 G lens, all taken with the Sony a7R II.
Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM – ISO 100 | f/11 | 1/5th Sec
Sony 12-24 f/4 G – ISO 100 | f/11 | 1/40th Sec
Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM – ISO 100 | f/11 | 13 Seconds
Sony 12-24 f/4G – ISO 50 | f/16 | 1.6 Sec
Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM – ISO 100 | f/10 | 3.2 Sec
Sony 12-24 f/4G – ISO 50 | f/16 | 1/8 Sec
As you can see, there is a pretty big difference between shooting at 12mm and 16-18mm. In alot of situations, that extra angle of view can make a pretty big difference when it comes to the perspective of a photo. But with that being said, if you look at the image exposure data in the captions above, you should also notice something. I was limited in what shutter speeds I could choose from when I shot with the 12-24. This is because I couldn’t use filters with this lens, so I had to drop my ISO down from my native ISO of 100 down to 50 and in most cases pump my f/stop up to 16 as well. This was the only way I could slow down my shutter speed long enough to get some flow in the above waterfall images. While I am happy with these images, there will be times when I prefer the silky smooth look that I captured with the 16-35 f/2.8 GM lens along with my Formatt Hitech Filters.
While I have dedicated portions of this review to corner sharpness, COMA and lens flares, I want to take a quick moment to talk about the general IQ (Image Quality) that you can expect from this lens. I want to look at image sharpness, light dropoff around the edges and see how it handles lens profiles in Adobe Lightroom. All of the images below were taken with a Sony a7R II. *At the end of this review, you will also find a number of RAW files for you to dive into.
When it comes to Image Quality, most photographers focus the majority of their energy looking at how sharp an image is. While some of this falls on the camera’s sensor, alot of it comes down to the lens itself and the quality of its design. With the 12-24 f/4 G, I was actually very suprised at how sharp the lens is, especially when paired with a Sony a7R II. Details were always clean and crisp, not only on my focus point, but in general found throughout my images. This combination also didn’t seem to have any trouble auto focusing in low/dim light situations. In the end, both the sharpness and quality of contrast of this lens left me wanting to to reach for it more and more as I traveled around Iceland.
Sony 12-24 f/4 G – ISO 100 | f/16 | 2.5 Sec
Light Dropoff/Edge Distortion
Anytime you use an ultra-wide angle lens, you have to pay special attention to your frame edges, especially when shooting at the extremes of the lens. With the 12-24 I found my self shooting at 12mm about 80% of the time while on this trip. This was not only because I enjoyed the challenge of finding subjects that demanded this extreme angle of view, but also because I was so pleased with how the lens performed around the edges. While there is certainly a touch of edge distortion & stretching, the quality of details found along the edges was impressive. I rarely saw any smearing or loss in texture detail as you can see in the 100% zoom of the image below. As for light falloff, there is certainly a noticable amount, but noting that can’t be corrected during post.
Sony 12-24 f/4 G – ISO 100 | f/11 | 2.5 Sec
Lens Profile for the 12-24 f/4 G
Not to long after the this lens was released, Adobe pushed out an update for both Adobe Lightroom and ACR (Adobe Camera RAW). Both applications included the new lens profiles for this lens. As you can see from the images below, applying this lens profile will help you combat any light dropoff as well as help correct for any minor distortion or warping around the edges. While each image might still require a little fine tuning with this lens profile, the results are pretty good right out of the gate.
No Lens Proile
With Lens Profile Applied in LR
When it comes to lenses these days, one of the most important (or atleast sought after) aspects of a lens is determining how sharp the corners are. This is even more apparent with ultra-wide angle lenses because the angle of view is so much wider, allowing the lens to pull in so much more of a scene. If a lens has a poor design or uses sub par glass elements, you might see the corners of your images turn out soft or in many cases, looking like mushed details. While this is more apparent in cheaper lenses, many camera/lens manufacturers have put out expensive lenses that offer subpar results. So how did the Sony 12-24 f/4 G perform? Lets find out!
Corner Sharpness Test with Sony a7R II w/ Sony 12-24 f/4 G at 12mm – South Iceland
ISO 100 | f/4 | 1/125 Sec @ 12mm
ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/30 Sec @ 12mm
ISO 100 | f/11 | 1/15 Sec @ 12mm
ISO 100 | f/16 | 1/8 Sec @ 12mm
ISO 100 | f/22 | 1/4th Sec @ 12mm
When you click and zoom into the above images, you get a clear idea of how sharp the corners are with this lens. While f/4 and f/22 look pretty good for a 12mm lens, I do notice a some smearing at the extreme edges. The corners as a whole are also not as sharp as they are at other f/stops. I think the bread and butter for this lens is between f/8 and f/11, which seems to offer excellent corner sharpness. At f/16 you start to see things drop off again if you zoom in past 100%, but not by a significant amount. All in all, considering how wide this lens is, I am very happy with the corners at 12mm, especially if I use the sweet spot of the lens!
What about other mm lengths?
While I didn’t conduct the same extensive test 24mm, I did shoot it at 16mm and looking at the results below, you can see that corner sharpness at all f/stops only gets better the more you zoom in. The sweet spot is still around f/11, but sharpness has improved in the corners at all f/stops.
Sony a72 II w/ 12-24 f/4 G @ 16mm
ISO 100 | f/4 | 1/100 Sec – 16mm
ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/25 Sec – 16mm
ISO 100 | f/11 | 1/13 Sec – 16mm
ISO 100 | f/16 | 1/6 Sec – 16mm
ISO 100 | f/22 | 1/3 Sec – 16mm
Two other important elements of a wide angle lens are how well they can both produce sunstars and handle flare or reflected light. For those that might not know, a sunstar is a star like shape that appears over a bright light source, such as the sun or certain kinds of street lights. To get this effect, you often have to stop down your f/stop to around f/16 in order for the aparture blades of your lens to get close enough to create the star like shape. It can also help to allow your lightsource to nearly clip the edge of another object, such as the rocks along the horizon line in the image below. Along with this test, it is good to get an idea of how well a lens can handle flare, or reflected light, that can cause unwanted colored shapes to appear in your image when you are pointing the lens directly at a light sourse, such as the sun in this case.
Sony a7R II w/ Sony 12-24 f/4 G – ISO 400 | f/16 | 1/6 Sec
As you can see, the Sony 12-24 f/4 G actually create a very pleasing sunstar. While it isn’t as tac sharp as the new Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM (Review Coming Soon), it is one of the better sunstars I have seen from an ultra-wide…and it is much more pleasing to the eye than the Sony 16-35 f/4 FE lens. As for flare, I am pretty happy with the results. In the image above, you can see tiny flare reflections located just below the sunstar itself. While it isn’t perfect, it does do a good job of mitigating flare for an ultra-wide angle lens with a bulbous front glass element.
Good for Astro Photography?
While many photographers will prefer to use faster glass (f/2.8 or faster) for night photography, the ultra-wide angle of view of the 12-24 f/4 G lens helps make it a contender for situations such as photographing the milky way. Afterall, the wider you go, the more night sky you can bring into your frame. In fact, this was one of the most asked question I recieved from photographers when they heard I was reviewing this lens.
Sony a7R II w/ Sony 12-24 f/4 G – ISO 2500 | f/4 | 20 Secs – 12mm
So how do you test a lens to see how good it is for astro photography? For many of us,..
At the Facebook Developers Conference this year (2016), something pretty significant was announced. Facebook for the first time was opening up the APIs for its incredibly popular Facebook Live Video to work on cameras besides our mobile phones. As a photographer and photo educator, this was pretty big news as the idea of live streaming from my desktop to Facebook has been on my mind for a while! After a little digging and some help from a friend and colleague (Brian Matiash), it was quickly apparent that I had all the tools I needed, including having a verified Facebook Page.
Fast forward to yesterday and for the first time I was able to stream both a live photo editing session and an extensive Question & Answer series with my 115,000 followers on Facebook (Colby Brown Photography). So far the response has been incredible with thousands of people watching live and the video itself reaching over 100k people in the first few hours it was up on my stream. Needless to say, you can count on many more of these moving forward.
The image that I edited was from the Jokulsarlon region of South Iceland, taken last year. In editing this image I used Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop as well as Color Efex Pro 4, part of the Nik Collection by Google, which is now 100% FREE. Enjoy the following Before & After versions of the photo.
Aside from the full 1hr long photo editing session where I not only edited this image live but explained what I was doing and why, I also answered a ton of questions from those fortunate enough to be their live. I talked about my start as a photographer, which artists inspire me, photography filters and the business side of the industry to name a few. This video is long and I got cut off by Facebook at the end, but I hope you enjoy it!
*fast forward to the 2:00 mark to start the video
If you enjoyed this video and you want to see more, be sure to follow Colby Brown Photography on Facebook and subscribe to my Facebook Live Notifications. In the future, I will not only do more live editing sessions but offer prize giveaways, give presentations and even review cameras and lenses. More is on the way!
If you have any questions about Facebook Live or the image I edited, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!