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 😉 )
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 quite 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.
That’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.
In 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).
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 ?
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 : 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.
So “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.