…they say, everything looks like a nail.
What does this hammer thing have to do with anything ? Well, I think I caught myself loving mirrorless in general, and the NEX 7 in particular, so much, than I forgot that there are better tools for some of the work I do.
Yeah, THAT. You’ve seen literally dozens of those, of that same kiddo, same pony, same place. So same light, too. The conditions and requirements to shoot in that place do not change. We’re still talking fast AF, wide aperture lenses, full time live exposure preview a must to be able to handle metering decisions myself. There’s no bloody way I’m gonna trust a camera meter in that place. I started in S mode today and the 7 regularly was fooled by the crazy contrast in the barn. When I saw that the auto ISO picked 1600 at all times any way, I just gave up and reverted to good all Manual mode. I shot my OM 50/1.8 wide open the whole time, and still got some noisy and blurry shots. Oh, and that had to be manual focus, too. The NEX system does have a 50/1.8 AF lens but focus is so slow it could *never* tackle these shooting conditions I’m facing.
So I think I’ve done every possible thing to try to get a Sony camera to deliver top IQ for this job. I went as far as buying SLT bodies to use quality, fast, A mount zoom lenses. I re-bought a NEX 6 for it’s better high ISO performance. I got the (ever useful) LA-EA2 adapter. I adapted older manual focus lenses in various mounts. I researched and learned and edited and zone focused and whatnot.
But sometimes, as much as you love your hammer, you need a drill or a pair of pliers. Sometimes your favorite camera is just not the best TOOL for what you try to do with it. And yes, I do have a perfectly good and functional D90 sleeping in a closet. Two issues with it : first one is practical, the only lens I have left for this camera is a 4-5.6 zoom. NO way I can use it in the barn. Second one is structural, the D90 is a traditional DSLR which doesn’t offer fast AF, and maybe even not exposure simulation, in Live View mode. Meaning you have to RELY on its meter (or have a huge understanding of light and calculating powers in your brain, that I both lack) to determine exposure. Given the contrast and brutal backlighting of the place, I just won’t do it. I’ll spend more time trying to select the proper metering mode and compensating exposure like crazy than I would framing my shots and actually getting pictures.
Ok, so despite my legit enthusiasm for the LA-EA2 adapter (you’ll see what it can do in good light a bit futher down this post), I just proved myself that the NEX “system” isn’t actually one. It’s not, because it’s missing crucial lenses in its line-up, and no less vital features in the existing lenses, meaning fast AF.
So where does that leave me ? Well.. wanting a new DSLR. In ALL truth, I’ve had *zero* desire for one for the past 15 months. I’ve been totally under the spell of those addictive, sexy, cool and fun little machines we call mirrorless. But now, I have to admit that if I want to get better pics of my kid and her friends training in this beautiful old barn (and I have a feeling she’s gonna be schooling there for years), I simply have to get a more adapted TOOL for the job.
Up to a few months ago, there wasn’t even a DSLR on the market that could do what I need. None of the existing models offered fast AF in Live View mode. Then came the EOS 70D. Canon implemented a revolutionary technology and created a hybrid focusing monster than has both an OVF (optical viewfinder) and traditional super fast Phase Detect AF with 19 selectable AF points and pro focusing peformance, AND an exposure simulation mode in Live View with super fast hybrid Contrast based AF. Don’t ask me the technological minutiae, it’s Greek to me, but all I know is that from all reports, it frigging WORKS. Icing on the cake they also stuck their wonderful touch screen interface in the mix, which I had a taste of on the Panasonic GX-1, and had sworn never to do without again. Oh, this camera also happens to have been deemed the *best* DSLR to make video on the market, bar none (5D3 included). Which is very cool because while I have *no* desire to buy a camcorder, I do have every intention to shoot short clips of my kid when she starts jumping again.
So OK, the 70D has been very recently released, it’s still pretty much at introduction price a bit above 1000€. The upside is the huge amount of excellent lenses available from both Canon and third party manufacturers. The high ISO is also very usable up to insane levels like a very solid 3200, a comfortable 6400, and an even acceptable 12800 (not that I ever dream of trying that !) for web viewing.
Oh, oh, wait a minute, wasn’t I all excited just a few days ago about the upcoming Sony FF, E mount A7 ? well, I was. Notice the past tense. Even though the camera hasn’t been officially announced yet, and no actual pictures has leaked, only a vague drawing board sketch from not the most flattering angle, it looks like Sony has gone the same “EVF hump” route than Olympus did with the E-M5, and there’s a bunch of other very annoying details about the camera that are now giving me a serious case of cold feet. Yes, the 24mp body will be “affordable” (it depends for whom though, obviously…) at 1600€ (rumored) but that is without a lens. The FE lenses will be few and very expensive at launch, and the camera will need yet another adapter to focus A mount lenses. Which will most likely also be grossly overpriced. I think we’re talking 2000 for the kit, and an extra 300 or 400 for the AF adapter. I’m not spending close to 2500€ to have a ONE lens system with slowish native AF, too.
OTOH, 1000€ will buy me a brand new 70D, and I can add the excellent Tamron 28-75/2.8 for about 200€, used or even find a mint unit of the legendary 28-70/2.8L for about 500€. I already have a cheapo 50/1.8 prime, and I can add the magnificent Sigma 70-200/2.8 HSM, or the non less fantastic Canon 70-200/F4 IS, later.
On an equestrian note, Marla wanted to ride today. I gave her lesson myself, short, sweet and to the point. We practiced the three arena patterns she’s learned yet, “la volte”, ‘la diagonale”, and “le doublé”. She also did a nice littel slalom at the trot and some clean sharp turns around cones. She was intently focused and did very well. I bought her a strawberry-vanilla lollipop on the way home 😉
For the record I have to say that in good light, the NEX 7 and LA-EA2 adapter focused the old Minolta 70-210/3.5-4.5 VERY swiftly. The combo was totally up to the task. The only shots I missed were when the camera had gone in sleep mode and I suddenly pointed it at a horse and pressed the shutter. It took a half second to come to its senses. Otherwise, the AF performed very adequately. Certainly not as instantly as a 70D would (which has close to a pro grade AF module) but totally fast enough.
A word on the Minolta zoom I used today. This is (along with an old Sigma 28-105/2.8-4 I had two -equally bad- copies of), the worst piece of shit glass I ever used in my entire life. Sharpness is down to zero. The proverbial Coke bottle bottom would offer more detail. I think the guy would sold it to me (very cheap, thank God) must have had trouble with his conscience for a while afterwards. Myself have listed it for sale but nobody wants to take it off my hands. It’s almost comically bad.
Rumor has it that Sony will be officially announcing the A7 and A7r cameras on Oct 16th. Shortly after I’ll know whether a Canon 70D is in my future. Because as much as I love my NEX hammer, everything is just *not* a nail…