Standing at a crossroads. And why A37 is good… but not enough.

Sometimes in your life you come across a turning point. Nothing dramatic in this case, but my take on photography and cameras is evolving, and I’m trying to sort my wants and needs out to stay on the right track.

Last night I was lucky enough to be offered an assistant/2nd shooter position by a photographer I admire, for a fantastic assignment in a very special place. It was an amazing experience from all viewpoints : photographic and personal, and I had a blast while learning so many things and gathering so much information and thoughts about the professional practice of photography that my brains still hurt this morning (and no, I didn’t share the clients freeflowing Dom Perignon ๐Ÿ˜‰ )


So while I’ve been nearly all mirrorless and small cameras for well over 18 months now, I’ve suddenly realized how much I’d been missing by leaving bigger, DSLR style cameras aside. There’s a lot of size/weight gain to be made by getting rid of the mirror and the associated bulk and exposure gamble, but there’s also quiteย  a bit to lose. Those claiming DSLRs are dead should just take on any little real world assignment in less than perfect studio lighting conditions, and they’d be in for a major reality check.

Granted, I’m not gonna turn pro overnight just because I helped carrying a bunch of tripods and hand held a couple of flashguns wirelessly triggered by the hired photog’s unit. That’d be incredibly foolish to think so. Heck, I don’t even *want* to become a pro photographer, the trade has become way too crowded and complex and competitive for me to even consider it, not to mention all the possible events I’d genuinely love to shoot (horse jumping, dog training contests, etc) happen on week-ends only and pretty much ring the death of any normal family life. But getting a glimpse of a pro’s must-have and must do was pretty eye opening (along with being great fun). Short version, I’m in the market for a new DSLR, or similar anyway.

A900-01That’s the beast of a camera I got to shoot last night. That’s the stripped down, gripless version I chose to pair with a modest (albeit wickedly good) 50mm macro lens. I like to travel light and 50mm is my “natural”, intuitive focal lentgh for portraits and just walking around. Why is this camera specific ? Besides being heavy and solid enough to be used as a weapon, it sports a 24MP Full Frame sensor (like a good old 24×36 film camera). No crop factor, no frills, just down to earth, old school optical goodness.

BurkeJob-01Here’s my mentor and boss for the night, Fred, making his careful gear selection, in a back room of a proeminently famous French castle.

MarlaJuin13-77In the meantime I’ve bee, playing a bit further with the little A37 camera (even though it’s too small and dumbed down for me and already listed for sale, no harm shooting it until it has a buyer). I even put it to good use at the VIP party we shot last night and it did the job fairly well. However, if the sensor is good, too many corners have been cut by Sony in build and material quality to suit my needs, so I’m moving up the ladder to a better specified model, the A57. Will have it in two days. I’m also getting rid of the Tamron 17-50/2.8 that is too wide, too cheapo feeling, and way to loud for me (hearing that thing AF is akin to cruel and unusual punishment).

BurkeJob-08PMGroup of wealthy American lovers of the arts and history, having a private celebration party in one of France’s major monuments. NEX 7, available light, ISO 1600, manual focus @F2.

So where does it leave me with my needs (and wants) for photographic gear now ? Is the NEX, which proved vastly inedaquate (not in output as you can see above, but in features and general performance) still pertinent to my current photographic mood ? Is my love for bigger and more responsive and reliable cams returning ?

MarlaJuin13-76Typical example of how a shot can be failed and successful at the same time. A37 and Tamron 17-50 @2.8.

Well, the NEX is a question mark right now. I’ve been truly loving this cam to pieces this past year, so I can’t quite see myself ditching it all the sudden. However, several things come into play :ย 1) I’m sick and tired (and I mean *very*) of waiting for Sony to release solid, useful, yet reasonably affordable lenses for this system. Sure Sigma and Tamron have done a good job at providing valuable alternatives, but not in the range I want/need. If I am to build a system around ANY camera, it needs a few good primes at above all one GOOD, FAST, standard zoom. I’m not a wide angle person at all, give me a 24-70/2.8 lens and I’m peach. No such lens exists for NEX, and I have the sad and deep impression (or is it deeply sad ?) that it won’t see the light of day before a loooong time (if ever).
2) I’m equally wary of the non improving AF performance on this system. When you’re with any non static subject, AF is LAME. If you ever consider having a serious assigment, be it once a year, you do NOT want that for your camera. Period.
3) I intend to keep a NEX body no matter what, as I have old legacy lenses that I want to keep on using, and some mounts won’t adapt (or at least not well) on another camera. BUT, that doesn’t mean I have to keep the top dawg, a.k.a. the NEX 7. I could sell it, make a cool profit since I got an insane deal buying it, and re-invest in the newly released little 3N and still enjoy my beautiful oldies. My NEX would then become a typical P&S substitute, with P&S attributes (shooting from the LCD). I only need an EVF in my “serious” camera.

BurkeJob-04So “who” would then take that spot ? Well, let’s cut the chase : I want an A99. Fiercely. Except it’s way too expensive right now, so I’ll let the dust settle around its awesomeness for a few months, maybe even a year, before I take the plunge. I can, however, familiarize myself with the SLT line and make sure Sony is the brand/technology/glass offering I want to go with, by buying a mid-level body for now. That’s about to happen with the A57. Now I need a couple of good, fast and sharp lenses to really experiment with it, and I should be set.

One last word about what I learned assisting a pro (though I intend to do a longer post solely on this). The most important thing for an event photographer is a positive, relaxed attitude and total self confidence that he can get the job done, whatever happens. With this state of mind you’ll invent light where there is none, you will shed your foolish and snobbish conceptions about “that won’t be good enough” or “I only shoot jpeg because I conscious to always get it right in camera”. You’ll learned that brutal flash lit pictures can be gently massaged back to acceptability, and always better than no pictures at all. You’ll have reasonable expectations and use every tool, hardware or software, available to achieve satisfying output. And last, you’ll build a rapport with your client that will cast an even more positive light upon your work.

About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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6 Responses to Standing at a crossroads. And why A37 is good… but not enough.

  1. Brilliant. You learn, I learn from you ๐Ÿ™‚ I wholeheartedly agree with your NEX perspective, the evolutionary process is just too slow, the offerings to sparse to match the brilliance the 7 could show. The Alphas pick up the slack here and the A99 Is top of the food chain. I want one too….can’t you tell?

  2. PaulD says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for the last 6 months ever since I saw your post on a NEX forum regarding bounce flash with a Nex-5n and a reflective card. In the time since then, you have sold/replaced your NEX-7 at least a couple of times – during one of these times you bought (and quickly resold) a NEX-C3. The newer 3n doesnt appear to have moved on that much from the C3 (at least with the F3 you get a built in flash AND the option to fit an EVF at a later date). I think if you downgrade the NEX-7 that you will end up re-buying another one again ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Also, I was wondering why you were investing in Sony’s SLT cameras when you already have a (very good) Nikon D90.

    • marla2008 says:

      Paul, first let me say I’m flattered and humbled to have you visiting the blog for that long, thank you for that.
      You make extremely valid points, and your questions are perfectly relevant. Regarding investing in SLT the answer is very simple : full time live view exposure simulation. I discovered it when I first went mirrorless, and it was the main appeal for me to get rid of the mirror, beside size and bulk. As much as I love my D90 (and it remains an amazingly capable camera for its age, a feat in the digital realm), I need to rely on its metering, check results on the LCD (“chimp” in geek photog’ talk), and compensate exposure accordingly for the next frame, praying fervently that lighting conditions don’t change even ever so slightly so my next picture is properly exposed. The SLT technology allows me to shoot Manual at all times and never get a misexposed picture again ! Asides from that, I feel that Sony is the company that is taking the most risks and making the greatest innovation in digital imagery today. Now, about the NEX 7, I’ve truly reached the end of my patience about AF speed and lens selection. As I said do want to keep a NEX for extreme portability and using my legacies, but it doesn’t need to have all bells and whistles. The little 3N, that I find devilishly sexy, will do just fine.

  3. Laurent says:

    Do you think manual focusing on the 3N will be good enough ?

  4. I’ve had my A900 for nearly 5 years now ( I got my hands on one of the first into the UK back in Autumn 2008 ) It is just such a superb camera. Apart from being virtually indestructible, it has never let me down once in all those year.

    A change in personal circumstances means that it will stay with me now for longer than I had intended, as the A99 is just outside my wallets current capabilities. All I can say is that to be stuck with that one, well its a pure joy.

    Great article you’ve composed, and your last paragraph is spot on ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good luck!

    • marla2008 says:

      I had the opportunity to buy one today (A900) but I’ve become addicted to the Live View and EVF in the current SLTs… I’ll post more about my Alpha adventures in a bit. Thanks for stopping by !

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