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Stop just short of infinity


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Stop just short of infinity

8 May 2021 7:35AM   Views : 540 Unique : 330


I’ve built a good few of these blogs around what you might call ‘interesting cameras’ – the sort of thing that you may have seen once in a large secondhand window, or perhaps an eccentric friend had one once. (I am that eccentric friend: and it was me that caused it to leave the display window down the side of that shop…) Here’s one more to add to the list…

It is seven or eight years old, and it was one of those weird and eccentric things – back when Sony were a second-string manufacturer of cameras, although they made sensors for a large number of better-known companies, including Nikon and Pentax. They’d started playing with full-frame mirrorless, years before anyone else thought of it, and even more weirdly, they used the megasensor they had produced for the Nikon D800 in one of the two versions.

An insightful salesman in Jessops told me that Sony could afford to bring out new models simply as a testbed for sensors and ideas – the real profits came from sensor sales elsewhere. So they were, effectively, Beta-testing with early adopters. Even though I accepted this, and had decided that I wanted to have consistent delivery from my cameras, I bought a secondhand Alpha 7R a few months after getting my Alpha 7: the sheer quality attracted me.


They wouldn’t get away with it now. Perceived value is a very strong idea in consumer goods, and even the most basic consumer-grade devices must have heft and feel like a million dollars. Making one of the most expensive bodies in your range slightly plastickly and stripped back is not good marketing. And the downsides didn’t stop there…

All the DSLRs and translucent-mirror cameras in the Sony range had image stabilised sensors, but the first-generation Alpha 7 bodies didn’t, and the Sony range was notably short of IS lenses. The initial offerings of native E-mount glass were a weird mix of the truly lamentable (the kit zoom had IS, but not much else going for it) and the fabulously costly Zeiss optics. I suspect that most of us shelled out a couple of hundred quid extra for an adaptor to allow us to use older Sony and Minolta lenses.

That adaptor’s an interesting thing in itself. Effectively, it’s got the AF mechanism from an Alpha 900 DSLR in it, offering a 9-point AF array, fed through a translucent mirror, and coupled to an electric motor to focus the lenses. By the standards of 2013, the performance wasn’t impressive – but it was a cheaper way in than the Zeiss stuff… And the system grew on you, slowly.

Meanwhile, things were developing elsewhere. The fact that there was no mirror box meant that the lens mount was far closer to the sensor than in anything else on the market, and the space meant that it was possible to put an adaptor in the gap that would allow absolutely any electronic DSLR lens to sit on the front of a Sony. Metabones were very happy to sell Canon and Nikon users clever little devices that let their owners upgrade their sensors – remember that at the time, 22mp was Canon’s limit – and cut weight massively.


Just like Volkswagen Passats, successive generations of Alpha 7s have put on weight and features (does anyone remember the earliest Passat? A lovely, well-made and functional car, but with rather basic features, modest performance and a rather tinny feel?) The original bodies actually look small compared with the latest generation, and while there aren’t a lot on the market, I don’t think the rarity is driving the price up.

For landscape and studio work, where high ISO performance (mediocre) and fast AF don’t matter, an original 7R simply offers stunning resolution and sharpness. As with any camera, you learn to work around the slightly random ergonomics, and I’m finding that I can us mine as a works horse and backup to the more modern cousins that occupy my photographic front line. And if you’re on a tight budget but need that massive quality, maybe you’ll see one around. Take a serious look – you may be delighted with the results.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
8 May 2021 7:41AM
And the title of the blog? Courtesy of Martin Gardener's Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions, where the author's columns from Scientific American were collected. He was writing about the way that numbers can be special - say, the lowest prime, or square. This led to the suggestion that there might be boring numbers, which were unexceptional in any way: and thus to the concept that some number or other might be the lowest number that had no special features, which in itself made it notable. The next number without special characteristics would thus be the second-lowest...

A reader of the original column had suggested stopping the process of rendering unexceptional numbers special just short of infinity, for the sake of interest...
PaulCox Avatar
8 May 2021 10:26AM
QI XL, did numbers this week, and had some interesting numbers, and some fantastic facts, Paul.
whatriveristhis Avatar
8 May 2021 10:37AM
How is it possible to stop " just short of infinity" ? At what point does 'not-infinity' become 'infinity.'?
– Discuss.

( Note: I accept this might be difficult for those who consider that English has difficulty with abstract concepts Wink )
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
8 May 2021 1:53PM
My maths never reached very high levels - but I suspect that the phrase was coined with tongue firmly in cheek...

I think Natalie Haynes has brought the difficulty of ever getting anywhere from Greek philosophy to a modern audience. But that's a concept with more relevance to French philosophers than English photographers...
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
8 May 2021 2:07PM

Quote:English has difficulty with abstract concepts

That's why I did better at maths and physics Smile
whatriveristhis Avatar
8 May 2021 3:06PM

Quote:English has difficulty with abstract concepts

That's why I did better at maths and physics Smile

Isn't maths abstract?
Acancarter Avatar
8 May 2021 6:56PM
If you stop short of infinity, there is still an infinite way to go to infinity, and you would not know if you ever got there, so we can expect - even anticipate - an infinite number of enhancements, improvements and models to come! Bring it on! Unfortunately, (maybe fortunately) we have finite lives….

There are just one or two laws of Physics that might limit us…. Signal to noise, resolution…but computational photography and new stuff like ‘meta materials’ will challenge this … (a meta material can have a negative refractive index and potentially enable resolution well below the diffraction limit…)….
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
8 May 2021 9:21PM
A photographer needs to be able to count to 36, plus a couple...
whatriveristhis Avatar
9 May 2021 12:11AM

Quote:A photographer needs to be able to count to 36, plus a couple...

Didn't know you could get SD cards that small...
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
10 May 2021 3:48PM

Digital cameras do adding up and taking away. Film cameras demand a little more of the user...

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