Saturday, 20 December 2014

He's making a list, and checking it twice...

It's that time of year....

As I have stated before, one of the reasons for writing this blog was to prove (to myself as much as anyone) that the quality of photography is more than just a function of how much money you can spend on equipment or locations. Instead it is more about making the best use of what you have around you and utilising the equipment to hand with imagination and skill.

However even I must admit I am not immune to camera envy. 

So as we run up to Christmas, I thought it would be a good opportunity to play camera fantasy football and think about if I won the lottery tomorrow (ignoring the basic requirement that I would actually have to buy a ticket) what camera I would get if I had the chance. (You never know maybe I've been a really good boy this year and Santa will look down fondly on me [unlikely - Ed.])

The cameras

As I have said in previous blogs, I am a Sony user.

Now the reason I bought Sony is largely lost in the mists of time put it is partly because it gave me good price per buck at the time, but over the years I have come to appreciate it's strengths (and bemoan it's weaknesses).

For example I really like the EVF (even though I think Sony could do far more with it). Many photographers say it will never be as good or as clear as the OVF. While this may be true (and they are getting better all the time), the ability to provide the information such as histograms via the eye piece, makes up for this and more. It would be something I would sorely miss on a purely optical viewfinder.

Also I like the fact I am getting live-view all the time, allowing me to see how the photo I will get in real time. In consequence, there is no need for me to constantly switch between back screen and live view. All the information is there at my eye level, so taking much of the guess work out of photography.

One of the biggest advantages is that I can use the camera almost totally without needing to wear glasses. My eyesight is not bad, but it is not as good as in my youth. I now have to wear glasses when reading,  but because I can see everything via the EVF, I can generally leave my glasses in my pocket. 

Sony has also done some interesting things in the camera sphere recently. Don't get me wrong, Nikon and Canon are fantastic camera marques, with a great history, but you wonder whether that very history is stopping them progressing.

Now dyed in the wool Nikon and Canon users may disagree with this, but I'm not the only one who thinks maybe having won the battle of the DSLR's, they are losing the next battle ground, that of mirrorless cameras.

Sony on the other hand has less to lose by shaking up the DSLR market, and they have produced some great mirrorless full frame cameras recently . The A7 range seem almost too good. Small to hold with high resolution, they have a lot to recommend themselves to photographers.

However Sony still seem to be trying to work out, what is best specification, using the same basic camera shape and configuring it for a number of different uses.

Firstly we have the A7R, with its insane number of pixels, Then the A7 with fewer pixels, but faster focusing  and frame rate.

However the most intriguing of all is the A7S. While in modern term it has a measly 12 Megapixels, each one of them is used to trap more light giving it unbelievable low light performance. The A7S fixes two things that I find irritating in cameras. Firstly, the need to use a flash in low light situations and secondly the noise the shutter makes. Because of the limited pixel count, the A7S has the option of using a full electronic shutter, which is totally silent. This is a great camera for any indoor work where you wish to be discreet, or at night when you need maximum low light performance.

Also people should not be put off by the number of pixels either. 12MP is pretty great for most situations and the photos don't seem to suffer .

The low light performance is insane, with a 3 stop performance difference against say the Nikon D810. What that means in practice(apart from the ability to take photo's virtually at night)  is that you can increase your shutter speed or uses lens with smaller maximum apertures and still get great shots.

One of the perceived weaknesses of Sony is the number of available lenses available. Sony have addressed this by offering adaptors meaning a Canon, Nikon, Leica etc user can transfer their whole lens collection to the A7 camera.

So if I had the choice, which one would I buy. Like I said, the A7S intrigues me, but in reality it is designed for video photographers where the reduced resolution is not an issue. The A7R is a great landscape camera, but not general purpose enough.

So that leaves the A7....

Except it doesn't.

Sony recently announced the A7 MkII. This combines all the good bits of the A7 (full frame, contrast and phase detection) with 5 axis optical stabilization, so improving focusing and low light performance in one step. If I had a choice this would be the camera I would get. Any one want to lend me £1600?

Also I would throw in in a Sony A6000 just for those days when a full frame mirrorless is just too bulky.

Oh darn it,  because it's Christmas, lets just throw in a A7S just for those dark winter days when a maximum  25600 ISO is just not enough.

The lenses

Of course a camera is no use without decent lens. At present I have a small range of lens, from a 50mm pancake, to a 70-300,mm zoom. However there are some significant gaps in my inventory. For example for wildlife 300mm is just the minimum, but really we need 400 or even 600mm lenses. A lens like the 150-600mm Tamron would be great, but is £1000. Even nicer is the Sony SAL70400G 70-400mm with it's F4 aperture, but now we are talking close to £2000. However until the inheritance comes in. I may just have to look at getting a 1.6x teleconverter.

At the other end, a wide angle lens would be great for landscape work. Something like the Tamron SP AF 10-24mm f / 3.5-4.5 DI II Zoom Lens would be a steal at £400 (hah!)

Of course we are not even touching the surface when it comes to lenses. If you go to the Sony Gold series lens you can end up paying upwards of £1000.

And herein lies a problem.

The A-series lenses are not compatible with the new mirrorless full-frame cameras. OK they offer an adaptor, but that means you are being treated like Canon and Nikon user, rather than a loyal  Somny user.

The truth is the success Sony has achieved with the mirror less range has put the present DSLR range in doubt. For example when I bought my camera, there was a clear upgrade path from the A37 to the A57 - to the A65 to the A99. Now there are is only the the A55 and A77 II. The A55 is entry range and the A77 is high end, so there is no clear upgrade path.

Put it another way, when I was younger I used to listen to Chris De Burgh. His songs were quirky and had good tunes. Then he got to number one with Lady in Red and spent the rest of his career writing slushy love sonnets. Sony having found professional success with there full frame cameras mirrorless range, but they haven't been showing us much love recently to us A-Series users, providing no clear strategy on where they are going in that arena

Something Else

Something else I've always had a hankering to try is infra-red. Now almost all DSLR's can see infra-red, but filters are put in place to remove that light from the sensor. But you can get your camera converted to allow it to capture that wavelength. The images produced are surreal and almost other-worldly I would love to give it a go. I also have a theory that Sony A-Series cameras are the perfect camera for this sort of conversion, because they have permanent live view due to the SLT. So when one day I do upgrade, I would seriously consider changing my present camera to shoot infra-red.

Anyway it just leaves me to wish you all a great Christmas, have fun with your photography and a happy photographing new year

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