16 February 2019

What to do with In Focus next?

The original decision to keep the "blog" on my website vs having it hosted elsewhere was an easy one. Unfortunately, I've never given good thought to the structure of the pages and how I would deal with individual months or years.

Since it would appear that I have reached the maximum single page length, I must now decide how to proceed with updating the structure of the pages for archiving.

It's my aim to make that happen sooner than later because I have a bunch of things I would like to include here.

Stay tuned!  Or, as Arnold said, "I'll be back."

1 December 2018

Keep it going no matter how dark it gets (and Merry Christmas!)

As winter descends upon the northern hemisphere, it’s easy to be pushed indoors by the weather if not the general lack of light. Being from a desert region with lots of sun, winter at 53 degrees north is not something I deal with very well. From November to about April, there are plenty of days where I enter my job in total darkness and leave in total darkness. Days off aren’t much better with as little as six hours of daylight available.

But, winter does bring with it some opportunities that may have gone unnoticed during days of bright light. Outdoors, the Holiday Season brings with it interesting combinations of natural and man-made lighting that can make for some interesting compositions.

Ho There, Sony a3000 + Minolta MD 50 @ f/1.7

The use of ultra-high ISO can help, too. Of course, high ISO tends to limit the quality of the output, but this is most noticeable with color images. Darkness and gray days are great for black and white photography and the grain that accompanies high-ISO photos is much less offensive without color.

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Nearing Extinction, Sony a3000 + Minolta MD 50 @ f/1.7

Experiment with artificial lighting. Even the most basic flash systems can be used to generate some interesting effects with a variety of subjects.

Purple Haze, Pentax K-30 + Sigma 24 mm and a couple of off-camera strobes

Above all, keep it going. Photography can be a year-round pursuit even when the sun has gone into hiding. Winter is no reason to leave your camera alone in the dark.

Dusted, Pentax K-5 + Sigma 18-300 mm

Merry Christmas!

20 October 2018

Travel and photography – striking the right balance

The drive to travel to distant places is something that many of us share, but what each of us intends (expects) to get out of the experience is often quite different. When I travel, I always want to bring back the destination’s general character, unique details and, as often as possible, the wild elements completely disconnected from humanity (even in urban settings).

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Startled Bear with Apron, Freising, Germany

To participate in the act of photography is part of my reason for travel, but it is not the sole reason. I have always been an eager photographer, but I have not always been a travel photographer who is engaged with the place I am visiting. It has taken me years to get to the core of what it is I like to capture during my travels and what it is that anyone else might find intriguing in my photographs. Telling a travel story with my images can be rewarding, but it is certainly not easy. I think I am definitely a “better” travel photographer now than I was just five years ago, but that is only because I now better fulfill my own ideal of what travel photography is and what I want it to be. Others, I’m sure, would disagree with my assessment; it’s personal and sometimes not transferable.

Guardian of the Steps, Ancona, Italy

Traveling with expectation of photography is a great thing, but I think it’s also important to remember that experiencing a place, a culture, or an event cannot be solely through a viewfinder, if at all. Putting the camera down and spending some quality time just taking in the scene before me is vital for me to come away from a distant place without feeling like I have just gone there to make a catalog of the place or event. I want to feel, not just look, and I want it to linger well after I have returned to whatever place I might call home.

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I'm a Lumberjack and I'm OK, Pine, Arizona

To those who have a severe case of wanderlust and are also snap-happy, I encourage you to explore your own reasons for both travel and photography in detail and to think of ways to bring both of these out in your images. I am certain that such introspection will only make you enjoy both travel and photography even more.

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An Evening at Koko, Falconara Marittima, Italy

1 September 2018

Canon’s mirrorless counterpoint

Not surprisingly, Canon is expected to announce its mirrorless counterpoint to the Nikon Z system in the coming week. Rumors about Canon’s upcoming full-frame mirrorless body have been flying for some time, but we now seem to have some decent leaked images and some speculative specifications to ponder.

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It's coming; the speculative Canon R. Image modified from https://www.sonyrumors.co/

The images show a concept similar to the Nikon Z – a full-size, DSLR-like grip, a compact top LCD, and a host of control dials and buttons all on a significantly smaller (than a 5D) overall body package. Importantly, the images above also suggest that Canon will be including a fully-articulated rear screen in their design which is something that I really would have liked to have seen included on the current batch of Sony and Nikon mirrorless bodies. The fully-articulated screen is just soooooooo much more useful than the pop-out style LCDs. On the other hand, the three-lug bayonet mount looks pretty much the same as a current Canon EF-mount, so it will be interesting to see how the specs of that particular component compare to the Sony and Nikon bodies.

If the lens announcement really turns out to include seven new lenses for immediate or near-immediate availability, then the Canon R system will probably win the “early-adopter” game simply by providing the wide-aperture telephoto lenses that professionals need for sports photography. I have no doubt that such long, bright telephotos will be a hit. Nikon has such lenses on their roadmap, but they are expected to be a year or more out. It will also be interesting to see how effective Canon's R to EF adapter(s) will work on existing lenses.

27 August 2018

Now you’ve gone and done it, Nikon

The photography world watched for months to see what Nikon was going to bring to the table in the mirrorless realm. With the official launch of the Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras and their companion Z-mount system, we can finally get a detailed look at what Nikon was doing behind closed doors for the past couple of years (at least).

Image: Gordon Laing, https://www.cameralabs.com/ (modified)

Compared to the latest mirrorless offerings from Sony, as well as Nikon’s own DSLRs, it appears at first glance that waiting a bit to be second to enter the ‘full frame’ mirrorless market may have helped Nikon knock most of the rough edges off of the Z6 and Z7. The ambitious lens release schedule Nikon has announced is pretty impressive, too, with so many lenses in the new Z-mount expected to be produced by Nikon in such a short period of time. Critics rightfully note, however, that to employ the Z-series cameras immediately, photographers will have to rely on using the available F to Z mount adapter and use existing lens options.

As hoped, Nikon has addressed one of the major physical limitations of the Sony system by enlarging the throat of its new Z-mount system to allow more breathing room for both the in-body stabilization system as well as ultra-fast lenses. It will be very interesting to watch how eager third-party lens manufacturers are to get on board with the Z-mount system and if Nikon plays nice with Sigma, Tamron, Tokina and others. I doubt, however, that Nikon will be as forthcoming with technical details of the Z-mount as Sony has been regarding their E-mount system. The most prevalent opinion seems to be that Nikon will continue to keep the details of its new mount under wraps which will force the third-party manufacturers to continue to reverse-engineer the interface to produce their products.

We can only hope that Nikon’s new system proves to be as versatile and comprehensive as we photographers would like it to be. What is perhaps most important about the release of the Z7 and Z6 is not really these specific cameras and how they perform, but rather their combined pressure on the design of cameras to come and the technologies that will go into them.

Bravo Nikon.

22 July 2018

Thinking about the why and the who-for

I discovered the work of Texas-based photographer and film maker, Ted Forbes, almost by accident. Admittedly, I am not a YouTube frequenter or subscriber to any particular “channel”, but a series of links led me to Forbes’ work. Forbes has an extensive history of working with and inside photography. He produces The Art of Photography – a video series that I can highly recommend as a gateway to some fantastic photographers and their incredible work. Unlike a lot of the photography-oriented material that is extremely popular on the web, Forbes’ emphasis is much less on the equipment and much more on the history, technique and artistry of photography (although he does run some great pieces on equipment too).

A while back, I watched this video posted by Forbes. It was a great thing to see because it brought me face-to-face with a number of concepts that have been bouncing around inside my head for years with respect to my own personal motivations for being a photographer and participating in photography.

Columbus from the Inside, Granada, Spain

Sony Nex-6 with kit lens

Why do I participate in photography? In addition to my own personal gratification, resulting largely from the empirical elements of travel, of observing, of experiencing and of feeling, while photographing what I photograph, I occasionally get to connect with others through my images. My good friend, Max Heeres, recently looked through images I made during my time in Andalusia and afterwards said he felt like he (loosely quoted, here) "had been on a trip” to Spain “and wanted to go back”. Sometimes it’s cursory, but sometimes it leads to lengthy conversation and opportunities for creative expansion with other people, places or things.

Does anybody really care about my photography – or yours for that matter? It’s worth asking yourself. Maybe it's irrelevant whether or not anyone else cares about your photography unless you have to earn a paycheck directly from it. In my opinion, being a contract photographer is a very, very different thing than being a self-motivated, somewhat-creative photographer. The freedom that accompanies not being directly tethered to a cash reward can be a tremendous motivator on its own if there is something deeper to be gained. My photography matters as long as it’s an endeavor that has some internal, personal impact. Yours does, too, if that is the case.

My own feeling is that photography is best served in lots that either tell a story of convey complex ideas or emotions. Projects are important to keep photography on the rails as a relevant part of humanity. I have undertaken projects that have pushed me to tell a story, most notably my books about Co. Galway and some of my monochrome work, and that has really helped me to take a good, hard look at the relevance of what I have produced.

Does my (or your) photography really matter? Frankly, I think we should be asking ourselves if our photographs have any personal meaning before moving on to the rest of the world.

29 April 2018

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2018

It was surprising to me that I felt so eager to participate in this year’s Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Part of my motivation was the coverage given to the event by some of the photography sites I frequent. Since I began my own blog with my very first experiments with pinhole photography, I suppose it is only fitting that I include my entry to the 2018 WPPD participant gallery taken on this very day.

Shell Game, Pentax K-5 and COMA 0.25 mm pinhole

I’m still in search of my mojo with respect to pinhole photography. In the past year, I've only been compelled to experiment with pinholes a couple of times. I definitely have an appreciation for it, but I don’t really think I will gain any momentum in the area of pinhole photography unless I move it away from digital.

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Primitive by Primitive, K-5 and 0.25 mm pinhole

27 March 2018

Finding maximum value for money in an unexpected product

On two occasions, I have purchased used cameras solely to get at the lenses attached to them. Both of these camera and lens combinations were truly bargains, but the Sony α3000 body is probably the single most unexpected value I have yet ended up with. I picked up the α3000 for $50 (after deducting the resale value of the lens it was wearing at the time), an OEM battery and strap included.

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Sony's α3000 wearing Sigma's 30 mm DN Art lens

Despite being four years old and having just over 4000 shutter actuations, my α3000 looked like it had never seen the light of day when I bought it. Somebody had taken very good care of this camera. Expecting not to like it (at all) and simply give it to someone as a “starter” camera, I reluctantly began rotating lenses and snapping some pics. My immediate reaction after viewing the result was, “Hey, this isn’t nearly as bad as most of the reviews made it out to be.” Things only got better from there.

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α3000 with Minolta MD 70-210 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 200 mm and f/8

The α3000 is truly a “plastic fantastic” camera. The α3000’s overall fit and finish is utilitarian at best. But the body parts that really count, like the lens mount (made of metal), the controls and the tripod mount (also metal), are pretty solid. Sony made some strange engineering choices to fit the internal organs of an α5000 mirrorless camera into the body of a traditional DSLR and to sell it at the rock-bottom debut price. For example, the position of the sensor is well forward of where a traditional DSLR’s sensor would be (since it has the E-mount’s sensor-to-flange spacing) and that does give the camera a bit of a front-heavy feel with some lenses. For the most part, though, the α3000 works pretty well. It is true that the electronic viewfinder isn’t great. The EVF included with the older NEX-6 absolutely spanks the one in included inside the α3000, but it’s good enough for most uses. Shutting off all of the “newbie” popups in the menu system makes the camera function essentially as an α5000 with a viewfinder. Anyone used to Sony’s Nex or Alpha menus will find it easy to just pick it up and use it straight away. The shutter does not have an electronic first curtain option, however.

α3000 with Sigma MD-mount 28-70 mm UC lens @ ~50 mm and f/10

With native Sony glass, it’s a fine enough camera and can take advantage of Sony’s in-camera lens correction. Autofocus is very responsive and fast. With Sigma’s diminutive 30 mm, f/2.8 DN Art lens in E-mount, however, the α3000 totally rocks. This is truly the most capable $200 combo with autofocus I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The Sigma 30 mm is sharp from wide open and it makes the most of the α3000’s 20M pixel sensor. Moving on to various examples of adapted, manual focus glass, the α3000 is surprisingly at home with them. I’ve tried the α3000 with pedestrian lenses like the Minolta MD-mount version of Sigma’s ubiquitous 28-70 mm, f/3.5-4.5 UC zoom from the early nineties and they worked very well. I’ve also slapped a Pentax-mount Sigma 12-24 mm EX and a number of Pentax’s own prime lenses onto the α3000 with extremely good results.

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α3000 with Sigma 30 mm DN Art @ f/2.8

If you happen to find an α3000 up for sale on the cheap, consider giving it a try. No, it’s not a finely-crafted photographic instrument, but it is a capable and fun camera to experiment with.

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B&W straight from the α3000, Sigma 30 mm DN Art lens @ f/3.5

1 February 2018

Celebrating the "cliche" moments of life

To paraphrase a certain photographer, photos of sunsets and sunrises are just so...incredibly...cliche.



Personally, I don't think Catherine Opie can comprehend the pure drama of the sun's disappearing and reappearing acts. How can one possibly say that the colors, warmth, and sheer energy of something as important to all of life on this planet are simply..."meh"? 

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Cliche, 1 Feb 2018, Lumix LF1. Dawn from my front porch.

I certainly cannot agree with Catherine Opie!

My sunrise/sunset images and those of many, many photographers, may not be "cutting edge" photography with the ability to grab headlines and shock viewers, but they are truly celebrations of life and all that we as beings on this piece of rock floating across space can be thankful for.

31 December 2017

Going completely gray in 2018?

Contemplating the year ahead, my thoughts are seemingly wrapped up in shades of gray. No, not Fifty Shades of Grey.

On this very gray and stormy NYE, I ruminate about the year ahead. Could I spend an entire year on black and white photography and nothing more?

Maybe it’s just the weather?

Some gray on gray action; Connemara National Park, Co. Galway, Ireland

I should probably add that I have been reading a lot lately about photographers who spent their entire careers capturing monochromatic images nearly exclusively (obviously, some of this was by necessity as color film wasn’t yet available). These enormously-gifted photographers - the most famous of the lot would be the likes of Elliott Erwitt and David Hurn - have been so absolutely attuned to their subjects that a medium without color simply drove them to get immediately to the very essence of their vision without any added complication.

Can I do that, too? For a year solid? Could I do that and concentrate on one focal length as well (a la Cartier-Bresson)? Could I just ditch digital altogether and do black and white film and a single focal length and just run with it?

No. Probably not.

The harsh light of reality shines brightly (and, it's in color).

Happy New Year Everybody!

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10 December 2017

Saving Pentax from Pentax (and Merry Christmas!)

(Note: This article is copyrighted - it may not be reproduced elsewhere without express permission!)

Few names stir as many fond memories of photographic history and innovation as does Pentax. A sizeable contribution to the dawn of truly modern SLR design, and the historic adoption of the 35mm SLR by amateurs and professionals, can certainly be credited to Asahi Pentax and the widespread use of both the M42 and Pentax K bayonet mounts on a variety of their own bodies and knockoffs from once-big names (Chinon, Porst, Vivitar, Miranda) and once-big retailers (like Sears).

Pentax entered the digital photography world (just prior to the era of Hoya’s Pentax ownership) with some very interesting and useful designs, but nothing that the “pro” could really use. Under Hoya (and then Ricoh), and with the launch of the K-7, K-5 (I, II, and IIs), and K-3 (I and II) APS-C bodies and finally – finally! – the full-frame (FF) K-1, it appeared that Pentax’s image would climb to become a more pro-oriented one. In hindsight, perhaps it was all a bit too late and certainly has not been helped by the seemingly unclear aspirations of Pentax’s newest owner, Ricoh.

Ricoh has failed to gain any significant market traction among professional photographers with the K-1 despite good reviews. Pros aren’t buying the K-1 and the reasons why are plentiful. Perhaps number one is a general distrust of the future of Ricoh-Pentax. Second is the range of what’s not available to the Pentax user. Nikon and Canon users are awash in pure momentum and the vast array of available bodies, lenses, accessories and support that they have to choose from is staggering (if a bit dull). Legacy full-frame lenses are available for the K-1, but with the downturn in interest from third-party lens makers (Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina, primarily) in offering any new AF glass for Pentax, it’s looking more and more like Pentax for Pentax is going to be the only choice in the not-so-distant future. Accessories (flash systems, especially) are much the same.

I came to realize that we are entering a post-DSLR era about a year ago when I auditioned a mirrorless camera (MC) solely out of curiosity. I ended up buying an E-mount, APS-C MC body and from the first day I had it I was hooked. Primarily, my interest in MCs has been promoted by the E-mount’s ability to accommodate nearly every lens I own on the body with extremely good results even with cheap adapters. It’s simply great and I didn’t expect to like it quite so much.

Having been a Pentax user for about a decade, I now have an internal battle raging between my desire to support what I regard as a great brand with truly interesting products and the desire to move to something decidedly more “modern”. Eventually, I want to buy into the full-frame world for two main reasons; light gathering (especially for low-light landscape and interior photography) and depth of field (or lack thereof). And, I’d like that FF camera to be 1) small-ish and 2) capable of using both current and obsolete glass. That means I probably won’t be buying a FF camera with a mirror box and that also means I won’t be buying a Pentax (or, at this point, a Canon or a Nikon, either).

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the world of pro photography cannot deny the gravity of the Sony A7 and A9 cameras and their FE-mount. With these cameras came excitement that truly raised the bar. How much excitement? Enough to drive Sony into the #2 camera-selling position to beat out even Nikon, that’s how much. Sony’s cameras still have menu quirks, funky ergonomics and some algorithm issues (notably “star-eating” and detail noise in some of the RAW files), but pros are still picking up the Sony A7/A9 and saying, “yeah, this is good.” That has, in my opinion, also created the drive for the likes of Hasselblad and Fuji to build their latest mirrorless medium format cameras, too.

To stay in the game, Pentax (Ricoh) has to make some tough choices and has to make them fast. Does Ricoh want Pentax to become another truly-niche product (like the absurd status icon Leica has become), or does it want Pentax to grow through honest innovation? In my eyes, the only way forward for Pentax is to build a mirrorless design from the ground up that doesn’t suck like the K-01 did. To be fair, the K-01 was a fine camera in many respects, but the Fisher Price-inspired exterior design and the lack of a viewfinder were just too much compromise for anyone who could see the underlying usefulness of the rest of the camera’s features.

My proposition to Pentax is this (are you listening Ricoh?): make a full-frame MC with a design ethos like that of the Sigma SD bodies (but without, the inclusion of a permanent, deep-registration mount and the PIA Foveon sensor) and the design ethos of the Sony A7/A9 series and Pentax will once again prosper. I can hear the complaints about this idea from the Pentax purists already, but I will finish this by adding a couple of additional items that would help push the camera forward and that could tame the traditionalists’ fears.

First, I will point out that the union between Olympus and Panasonic at the M4/3 mount has only been good for both parties. Pentax can learn from that. And, before I go on, I will admit that it is true that there are a host of engineering reasons why, on paper, the Sony FE-mount is flawed (including the ultra-short flange-to-sensor space and the small throat diameter operating in combination), but it hasn’t stopped Sony from working around these limitations.

Perhaps Pentax should partner with Sony, who makes all of the current Pentax bodies’ sensors, to use the FE-mount in their mirrorless, full-frame design? Yes, Sony will gain a competitor for A7/A9 sales, but it will also instantly gain a new market in which to sell Sony and Zeiss FE lenses with the sale of the first Pentax FE-mount body. On top of that, Pentax would only need to initially spend for R&D on basic lens offerings for the launch (a pair of high performance wide and tele zooms with the Pentax name on them) and the rest could follow later. (Added on 30 Dec 2017: maybe Pentax needs to wait and see what Nikon is going to offer in the mirrorless real during 2018...?)

Next, to make this all happen, Pentax would need to make sure that there is a solid (as in physically solid and with very good to excellent performance) adapter by which their new mirrorless offering will enable the use of nearly all K-mount glass, AF and manual alike.

A properly-engineered Pentax mirrorless camera is the way forward. Do this one thing right, Pentax, and you will keep me and many others as loyal customers and you will also gain significant interest from non-Pentax photographers. Fail to do this one thing, and I’m afraid you will cease to exist.

Merry Christmas!

1 November 2017

Bargain Fifties - definitely worthy of a place in any photographer's bag

Enough has been said elsewhere about why everyone should have at least one fast 50 mm in their collection of lenses, so I won’t labor that point here. Even modern nifty fifties can be had for about $100 brand new. Take, for instance, the Pentax DA 50 f/1.8 – a lens that performs far, far better than its plastic build would suggest.

Pink Fury, Pentax DA 50, f/1.8

Just Locals, Pentax DA 50, f/2.8

But what about truly cheap options? We’re talking about lenses dating as far back as the 1950s that cost as little as $10 in very good, gently-used condition. Consider the Cosinon-S 50 mm, f/2.0 lens for a moment. My copy is a pawn shop find in K-mount. No, it’s not a piece of highly-refined, cutting-edge-of-the-day glass, but it is completely functional.

Irish Graveyard #300, Cosinon-S, f/2

For the price, it’s a difficult lens to fault too much. Bokeh is decent for a simple lens with the design elements it has.  At f/2, it’s a useable lens.

At f/2.8, it’s even better.

Exposed Ribs, Cosinon-S, f/2.8

Another excellent bargain is the M42 version of the Soviet Industar 50-2 f/3.5.

Color Busk, Industar 50-2, f/5.6

While not a fast lens, its diminutive size and decent sharpness even wide open makes it a worthwhile lens to experiment with. NOS examples of the Industar 50-2 can still be purchased from eastern Europe and the Russian Federation. Gently used copies can be had for about $20. Throw in an inexpensive M42 to (insert your favorite camera fitting here) adapter, and you’ve got a great little bit of glass for the price of two margaritas.

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7 October 2017

Manual Lenses on Mirrorless

Being a long-time Pentax user, I’ve had the luxury of being able to tack just about any M42 or K-mount lens on any Pentax camera body. That’s been grand, but using some of my old manual-focus glass with the OVF and without a focusing screen optimized for manual focus has been tough.

Last year, I took the plunge and decided to try out a Sony E-mount camera. I’m really glad I did, but mostly because it’s such a joy to use with manual focus lenses. Most recent DSLRs have focus peaking in live view, but mirrorless cameras have focus peaking on demand without having to switch to live view. It’s not perfect (mostly with the widest apertures), but for me it’s vastly more accurate to focus with focus peaking via an EVF than it is with an un-assisted OVF.

With the mirrorless camera, “lens rolling” has been a blast and there’s definitely been some unexpected surprises along the way. One of my favorite lenses to use on the E-mount camera is a lens that’s typically hated by Pentax users; the Pentax F 35-80 f/4-5.6. Even though it’s capable of only full-manual operation via an adapter, the results are surprising good and the lens is an easy-to-carry 50-120 mm equivalent with great general portrait and macro results. Here's a selection of the results using the NEX-6 with a few different lenses designed for other systems.

Sing Along, NEX-6 with Pentax F 35-80 @ 80 mm

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Parked at the Bridge, NEX-6 with Pentax A 50 f/1.7 @ f/1.7

Foxglove Tip, NEX-6 with Pentax A 50 and 32 mm extension tube

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Boat Tail, NEX-6 with MD-mount Sigma UC 28-70 f/3.5-5.6

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