6

sonySide

“The Sony Alpha 6000 is what you would get if you threw the NEX-6 and the NEX-7 into a boiling pot and sprinkled the fragrant mixture with the latest and tastiest hot sauce,” says Jon Devo, technical writer.

Sony’s Alpha 6000 model came out in 2014 so it’s 2 years old, making way for newer models now. I bought mine earlier this year, prior to my US trip, because I’m just tired (and lazy) traveling with the bulky Nikon DSLR.

What I wanted in my next camera:

  • Takes very good pictures (obviously).
  • Supports interchangeable lenses.
  • Excellent and reliable auto-focus.
  • Takes crisp pictures in dim light settings (food pictures in restaurants).
  • Not outrageously expensive.
  • Fits into a normal-sized handbag.

Sony Alpha 6000 meets all those requirements! I will not be doing an in-depth technical review because a) you can easily find those online, and b) I do not possess the knowledge and expertise to do a technical review. I better leave that to the experts. What I’m going to share is my personal experience after using the camera for 6 months.

A Quick Look at the Specs:

Image Credit: Imaging Resource

The Sony a6000 weighs just 343 grams (including the battery and SD card!) and, as you can see, it easily fits in the palm of your hand. I held it for the first time in a shop in Mall of the Emirates and was surprised at how small and light weight it was. After having had used a big DSLR for sometime now, it initially felt weird holding something so small. Now, I refuse to travel or dine with a massive camera.

Some of its main features include:

  • 24.3-megapixel sensor
  • 11 fps continuous shooting with subject-tracking (very helpful for shooting restless subjects!)
  • 0.06 sec autofocus time (that’s fast!)
  • Full HD movie shooting
  • 3-inch tilting LCD
  • Built-in flash

I still can’t get over how light weight this camera is, specially after spending years traveling and shooting with my Nikon DSLR. It’s small enough so that I don’t feel conscious taking pictures in a restaurant. And I notice that passersby don’t give me the looks when I’m out on the street taking pictures because the camera is small and looks quite harmless. “Oh, just another tourist taking random pictures,” they think. These days, I feel like being a hijabi in a non-Muslim country taking pictures out on the street with a bulky camera and a huge lens looks quite suspicious.

Price: $600+ for body and kit lens.

Landscape Photography

These pictures have been cropped. No other editing was done.

DSC01821

DSC03189

DSC00450

DSC03238

From an Aircraft’s Window

DSC00224

This happened when the aircraft was flying somewhere over Canada and the temperature recorded outside the window was -50°C and lower. Now, when I focused on the view outside, placing my lens close to the window to ignore the ice crystals, this is what I got …

DSC00229

The quality of the picture makes you think the aircraft window was clean and spotless. Ha!

Pictures Taken At Dusk

DSC00350

The picture above was taken swiftly as I was crossing the road and Masood was asking me to hurry up before the light turned red. Also, it was beginning to get cold and he wanted to seek refuge in the nearest coffee shop. I’m amazed at the details the camera managed to capture!

DSC00356

DSC02718

Night Photography, Handheld.

In an ideal world, one uses a tripod to take crisp pictures at night. For me, it’s just another thing that will increase the weight of my bag so I hadn’t bothered with it. I do, however, make use of other means—a short pillar, the back of a bench, or a low wall, a windowsill, a fence, or the husband’s shoulder while I ask him hold his breath for a few seconds—to stabilize the camera.

The following pictures are shot while the camera was handheld and settings were set to night mode.

DSC00675

DSC02728

DSC01682

Food Photography

DSC01722

DSC01686

DSC00239

I’m delighted to announce that this camera makes an excellent companion to any person who won’t eat his or her food without shooting it first! As a food blogger, I’m so happy with the results of the Sony Alpha 6000.

Up Close and Personal 

DSC00246

See how it gives a nice, subtle bokeh too?

DSC00488

DSC00487

DSC00471

The Sony Alpha 6000

sonyFront

Bouncing off the cool, wintery sunshine off its sturdy body. Photo taken with Masood’s iPhone. We were in Coit Tower, San Francisco, so early in the morning that the place was still closed. We wandered about the area and got pleasantly surprised with the amazing views of the city!

I rarely make videos because I feel like editing them takes a lifetime. So I can not remark on the video-making capabilities of this camera except that when I made a short clip of Masood drinking coffee in Dubai Mall, the image and voice quality came out nice and clear.

All pictures were taken using the standard kit lens that came with the camera. I was so tempted to purchase a good lens prior to my trip but decided I could do without the additional expense (the lens costs as much as the camera!) – for now. Yes, the kit lens won’t be as sharp or quick to use compared to a good glass, but it is a solid starting lens.

DSC03147

It’s crazy to think that a $600 camera, let alone a mirrorless camera, can shoot up to 11 frames per second but the Sony Alpha 6000 can! And it’s quite amazing.

Also, the Sony A6000 produces natural-looking colors that are easy to work with in post-processing. Shoot using the right settings—with the options of manual and auto—and you won’t need to edit them beyond a tweak or two.

If you already own Nikon speed lights, you can use them or a number of other third party flashes and flash triggers on the A6000, which is great. There is a built-in pop-up flash that I like to use as fill-flash when photographing a close subject against a bright background.

Another feature that I love is the tilting LCD screen with the capability to tilt up and down, which is very useful when photographing at different angles. I initially assumed this feature wasn’t all that impressive, however, I found myself using it more than I thought I would, especially when shooting from low vantage points, such as having the camera near the ground. I can now simply tilt the screen and look directly down on it from above, frame my shot and capture the photo.

DSC00386

Now, the Sony A6000 does not have any weather sealing but the camera has been doing quite well in harsh conditions. I’ve taken pictures in very windy conditions, during a heavy snowfall in Chicago, in the gloomy weather of New England, and in the heat of the Oman, and the camera did not disappoint. It kept taking superb pictures.

Regarding its overall responsiveness, I remember some reviewers complain about lags when you turn on the camera, but I personally have not encountered any serious lags or delays. Nothing that would bother me, anyway.

The Sony Alpha 6000 is available in silver or black. Those who own the silver camera said that when the color scratches off after heavy usage, black color shows from underneath it, making the camera look old and worn out. So I chose black.

Did I tell you that it can connect to a wifi so that transferring photos over your phone or tablet is a breeze?

One of the few trade offs to moving to a mirrorless system is the fact that not only are the camera bodies and lenses smaller and lighter but the batteries are as well. Plus, mirrorless cameras have all electronic parts (electronic viewfinder, for example) and you get what I mean. I bought an extra battery on the trip, but never really got around to using it. I was able to make it through 3oo something shots per battery. Of course, the batter life also depends on other factors such as temperature, image review times and how long you leave the LCD screen on between shots.

DSC00594

PS: Hope this review helps!

PPS: I have purchased this camera and am not, although I wouldn’t mind much if I were, affiliated with Sony or have received the camera for review.

Posted in Chicago, Salalah, San Francisco | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments
0

 

DSC00646

The good Yelp reviews caught my attention. Masood and I were in San Francisco for ten days and were craving good, Indian/Pakistani food. Not the mild, sweet tomato-based curries of upscale restaurant, but the authentic flavors of home.

We were shopping along Market Street and walked to this restaurant (about 1 mile or 1.6 km) on O’Farrell Street.

DSC00636

Nothing fancy. More like a hole-in-the-wall type of place. There were a few comments about sanitation by some reviewers which made me extra conscious of my surroundings when I stepped into the restaurant. But it wasn’t bad. At this restaurant, the kitchen area is exposed to the dining area so you see everything. This also meant being welcomed by the familiar, earthy aroma of whole spices being roasted and the fragrance of freshly-baked naan wafting from the kitchen the moment you enter the restaurant.

What We Ordered

DSC00639

DSC00642

Lahori Choley ($7.99)

Garbanzo beans cooked in a special blend of tomatoes and onions.

DSC00643

Seekh Kabab ($6.99)

Ground lamb mixed with herbs and spices, grilled on skewers.

We also ordered garlic naan, which we absolutely loved. The food tastes delicious! The flavors are spot-on. The heat is just right.

Self Service.

You do everything yourself, besides cooking the food and doing the dishes.

You walk in, approach the counter, order your food, pick up your own silverware, pour your own water, and choose a table to sit at. This makes it cheaper and it would be up to you to leave a tip or not. After the meal, you pay up front. The staff is friendly and would gladly give you good recommendations to help you determine your meal.

DSC00635

I definitely recommend this place to anyone craving for good Indian/Pakistani food in San Francisco. We’d dined at a couple of fancy places but just felt like wasting our $$$ on desi food modified to please the non-desi palate.

Lahore Karahi
(415) 567-8603 | 612 O’Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Halal | No Alcohol | Accepts Credit Card | Street Parking

Posted in San Francisco | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
1

DSC00729

We were on a train five months ago. Was it really just five months ago? Wow, it feels like it’s been a year at least! It was an incredible 2+ days of train travel from Emeryville, California to Chicago, Illinois, aboard Amtrak’s legendary California Zephyr.

I did some research about how to take pictures from trains and they’ve proven to be very helpful, so I’m going to share them with you. These are the tips that have worked for me.

Be aware of the guidelines on photography and video recording.

That’s the first rule! Amtrak has a detailed guideline that I found very helpful. Every country or city may have their own laws regarding photography, so read about them to be on the safe side.

Don’t use flash.

DSC00765

Whether you are using the latest digital SLR or your smartphone, please, turn the flash off. STAT. You’re shooting for the scenery, right? Besides, flash can only reach a metre or so, so what’s the point?

Try to get a good spot to shoot from on the correct side of the train.

DSC01036

Research ahead of your trip to find out which side of the train the great scenery is going to appear. Aboard California Zephyr, they make an announcement to tell you if there’s a good view or important scenery coming up. They also tell you which side of the train window to look out of so you don’t miss a thing!

Look to shoot from an open window, whenever possible.

DSC01500

None of the California Zephyr’s windows have the capability to open so this wasn’t an option for me. However, if you are in India, for example, you can shoot from an open window and get very good pictures. Just make sure that you and your camera are safe at all times.

Move as close to the glass as possible.

Train windows pose real problems. Not only do they reflect light back from the carriage, but also they are often dirty and smudgy. But since you can’t get rid of the glass, you’re going to have to work with it. How? Get your lens as close to the glass as possible. Right up against it. Here’s what happens if you don’t …

DSC01347

DSC01351

See the annoying reflection on the glass? Now, look at these pictures taken with the lens right up against the glass …

DSC01348

DSC01355

But do remember that the train is vibrating, so take that into consideration when pressing your lens onto the glass so the picture doesn’t get blurry.

Also, try to shoot on the side of the train with sun behind you during the day. This helps minimize the reflection on the glass.

I also used some wet wipes to clean the inside of the window. My bedroom was on the upper level of the train, making it was impossible to reach the window from outside otherwise I would definitely had cleaned the outside of the window as well!

Go behind the curtain.

DSC00786

While researching online, I found one person recommending a piece of black fabric about a 12×12 inches with a hole cut in the middle for the lens to pop through and suction cups to attach to the glass – to minimize reflection on the glass. Another suggested a “lens skirt”.

All you need to do is pull the window curtain (assuming there’s one, of course) behind you so that it blocks the reflection on the window. I did this a lot to get good pictures.

DSC00805

I noticed, while checking pictures directly from the camera from behind the curtain, that some of the pictures had a mysterious blue light in them. I had the curtain behind me plus all the lights in the room were switched off, so where was this coming from?

It turned out to be the light from the phone charger, which was plugged right next to the curtains.

Shutter speed: The faster the better. 

DSC01238

Set your camera to shutter priority mode and don’t be shy with the wheel. Play with different shutter speeds and see which setting gives the best results.

If you are taking a picture of something that is passing you by at 50 km/h, anything slower than 1/500 seconds will most probably produce a blurry picture.

Most photographers say a good rule of thumb is a shutter speed of 1/2000 for crisp scenery shots.

The brighter the better.

DSC01154

High shutter speeds need good light conditions. The more light you have outside, the better your pictures are likely to be. Take as much as photos as possible during the day. With the window’s glass in the way, I started getting lots of noise in the pictures an hour or more before dusk. I suppose the Golden Hour is different when you’re in the train.

DSC01211

Photo bursts

If your camera can shoot several pictures per second, be sure to use this function. Remember, your targets are passing by at high speed and you could miss a great shot by a split second. I also used AF (Auto Focus) Mode.

These happened when I was capturing one frame at a time …

Exhibit A: While trying to frame and capture a beautiful scenery, a tree trunk appeared. 

DSC00795

Exhibit B: The moment I pressed the button to capture a picture of a beautiful lake, the train went into a tunnel. 

DSC00877

Shoot RAW.

DSC00878

Best format for post-processing. With RAW format, you’ll be able to recover slightly blown out highlights and/or bring back detail in the shadows.

Leave the ISO on automatic.

That’s what I did. I shot at shutter-priority mode and left the ISO settings on auto.

DSC00919

Plus Point: A telephoto lens (70-300mm).

I didn’t have one but if you do, you’ll get better pictures of objects that are far away. Thing is, when you’re in a train, almost everything outside is far away. For example, we passed by a huge farm with lots of beautiful horses but they were so far I couldn’t get a decent shot. This was the best I could do with what I had …

DSC00931 copy

The most I can do is crop the picture …

DSC00931

Post-processing: Don’t go overboard!

I use PhotoScape, a free and easy to use photo editing software. I mostly play with the contrast, brightness, sharpness, and saturation. And the crop feature, too.

DSC01505

You can browse the internet and find a ton of technical information and tips as well, but if you’re like me, you’re likely to forget all that. There are talks about using a polarizer, adjusting the exposure compensation, putting your lens at a certain angle against the glass while taking pictures, using wide angle lenses, and whatnot.

It doesn’t matter how fancy and latest your camera is if you do not know how to use it beyond “auto” settings; you’re better off taking pictures with your smartphone. Study the manual of your camera, use it before embarking on that trip, and familiarize yourself with its various settings and modes.

DSC00907

Remember to be courteous at all times and don’t get in anyone’s way.

Keep an eye on your valuables!

Most importantly, don’t forget to put that camera down once in a while to enjoy the scenery! Have a safe trip!

 

 

 

Posted in Chicago, San Francisco | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment