12.01.2012

When it rains it pours. Two new cameras come into VSL studios.


I think my friends knew that this would be inevitable. I was on the fence about buying the Sony a99 until I spent a few quiet hours handling one and then I knew I had to have it. I've played with a Nikon D800 and I shot a few things with a Canon 5Dmk3 but in my humble opinion the Sony a99 is currently the best all around photographic production tool for most professionals right now. I picked one up today from the folks at Precision Camera and I couldn't be more pleased. I went right into the menus and, after having spent many months with the a77's I doubt I'll have to consult the manual for anything other than how to set up the focusing range stuff.

To Sony's credit they left all the stuff that worked well alone. The menus now seem absolutely logical to me. And just as importantly the batteries are interchangeable between my Sony a99, a77 and a57's. What a nice touch! Instead of having to wait for the battery in the box to charge I could toss a fully charged battery from the Sony drawer into the camera and get started configuring the camera to my preferences.

What led me to water and forced me to drink? With the local economy recovering I've had several large, and venerable clients come back into the fold and now we're booked up in December, right into the holidays. Several of the jobs are multi-day corporate events with lots of available light shooting and even though I am now more comfortable shooting high ISO with both the a77 and the a57 the images I've seen from the a99 are at least two stops cleaner. That, and the fact that Michael Johnston at the Online Photographer upped the blogger ante by plunking down for a Nikon D800 and some jolly lenses and you know that we really must keep up with the Johnstons. (just kidding, really!)



My first real test of the camera will be at Zachary Scott Theater this week when we do the dress rehearsal shoot for White Christmas. It should be a hell of a lot of fun.

I have also done several video projects lately and missed having manual audio level controls and a headphone output on camera. To say I am excited about the a99 is an understatement. Looking through the viewfinder is a big affirmation of my decision to go all EVF all the time.  I cannot see much difference, if any, between a good optical finder and the EVF in this camera.  I'm heading out to shoot some stuff just for fun in a few minutes so I guess this is the first in a series of rolling reviews on what is now my new flagship production camera. Thank you, Ian, for putting one aside for me.  You know me too well.

But wait, there's more.


I also picked up a Sony Nex 6 to add to my Nex 7's.  Why? I like the new interface and I like being able to choose a less dense, less noisy sensor for certain kinds of shooting and it seemed like the right thing to do while I was already in the middle of hemorrhaging money. I just happened to have an extra battery and memory card in my pocket so I had the camera strapped, lensed and fully operational before I even stepped out the door from the store. It's going to be a busy week breaking in cameras and taking test shots but I guess that's part of what I signed on for.  So far the Nex 6 is working well with images snapping in to focus and the finder showing sharp and snappy images.

I have the 19 mm Sigma on the Nex 6 and the 30mm Sigma on the Nex 7 and we'll be testing all of the permutations of those combinations in the very near future as well. So, two new Sony cameras in two days along with two lenses in two days. I guess I am officially getting over my Post Recession Trauma Disorder and getting on with my life as a photographer.   Off to shoot and look.

We'll know more soon. 









30 comments:

Vu Le, DDS said...

The A99 will flop here in the US, because most pros almost unanimously give EVF's the stink eye. And at the $2800 price point, you really, really need the pro market to embrace it. If your "alpha" customers (pun intended) won't buy it, you won't see much uptake from us hobbyists, lawyers and dentists.

We're coming up on a point (perhaps we've past it) where more megapixels brings higher processing and storage burdens without commensurate gain in image quality. D800 is 7,360 × 4,912. The A99 is 6000 x 4000. It may be a 50% increase in pixels, but it's only a 23% gain in horizontal resolution. I wonder how big of a print you have to make before the average viewer would notice the difference.

Kirk Tuck said...

I think more and more pros will "see the light" and want to shoot with EVF cameras. I'm seeing interest everywhere. It's almost though like the Nex 7 is the halo product that gets them over their irrational fears of the EVF. Sony should have led with this camera rather than the a77. I don't really think the price is so significant. For over half the first digital decade the buy in for pros was always between $5999 and $8000 for a good camera. These cameras ( including here the D800 and 5D mk 3) are much less expensive and do so much more.

From what I can see the a99 is selling briskly in a lot of different markets. Don't be too quick to count them out. Dentist and lawyers haven't always been the divining rods of marketing awareness.

I'm a firm believer in the power and production significance in both video and still imaging of the EVF. Sony is the only maker of a top flight professional camera with this option. It's a bold camera but not every buyer is stuck in a previous paradigm.

Kirk Tuck said...

Forgot to mention, we've heard that we'll be bumping up against the processing storage ceilings since the dawn of digital imaging and every 18 months our computers double their speed while the price of mass storage continues to drop. Heard it in 1995 and in 2002 and when the "huge" six million pixel sensors came out.

Remember when Bill Gates pronounced that no one would every need more than 512K of RAM in a computer? You gotta think beyond the current equation. It's always been a moving target.

Hey look!!!! A working professional photographer just bought a Sony a99. And I can assure you I am not the only one....

lsumners said...

Wanted the A99 but just could not start over on new family of lens. Will be interested as to the reason for the Nex6; love the Nex7.

Craig Yuill said...

You just spent a few grand on two new cameras. I, on the other hand, chickened out of picking up a new Nikon V1 (a different kind of EVF camera) and matching flash unit that were on sale at tremendous discounts yesterday. Together they were just a few hundred. (The V1's still on sale, the flash is at the regular price today.) It won't be for work, but rather a travel camera to use rather than my "biggish" and costly (to me) DSLR. Besides that, I'm still wondering if a compact camera with built-in zoom would be better for that purpose.

Anyways, have fun with your new cameras. I look forward to reading your experiences with them.

soboyle said...

Dang, wanted to see your take on the X-E1.

Evan Feekes said...

You should Re-try out the 25mm olympus with the nex-6! The sensor may accept it better.

Unknown said...

Bill's limit was actually 640K. I'm a very old computer geek, and wrote a lot of code for DOS.

John Flores said...

I'm a recent convert to square 1:1 shooting, which are easy to do with rear LCDs and EVFs. OVFs? Not so much. So the A99 appeals to me in a way that the D600/D800/6D don't.

And just for some geek cred, I wrote a distance learning app (the front end) in the early 90s. Worked with a guy who managed the comm. We fit a TCP/IP stack and a GUI in less than 640k.

Joey said...

Congratulations on the 99. One of my investigators received her's a couple of weeks ago and promptly dropped it on the garage floor. A dinged lens hood on the CZ 24-70 and a scrape on the body was the extent of the damage. The up side of her buying the camera was that she won't be needing to borrow my 900. The downside is that I want one now...

Kyle Batson said...

What a coincidence, Kirk. I was just in my local camera store this afternoon trying to do a serious comparison between my current OM-D, the Fuji XE-1 and the NEX-6. The OM-D is a pretty great camera, but I've not been entirely satisfied with how squishy all the buttons are. And I find myself longing (irrationally or not) for a viewfinder on the left side of the camera. I previously chose the OM-D over the NEX-7 largely because of the small eye-relief distance of the Sony making it more uncomfortable to use than I expected. The 5-axis stabilization on the OM-D is also a treat.
My initial idea was to try out the X-E1 since it's manual controls, design and lens selection appeal to me greatly. Unfortunately, the focusing speed and accuracy are still not up-to-snuff with the latest from Sony and Olympus. Indeed, once I got my hands on the NEX-6, I was really blown away by it's autofocus performance. I think the on-sensor phase-detect is doing a great job. I really didn't notice any of the constant in-and-out behavior characteristic of contrast-detect systems that I keep trying to ignore with the OM-D.
While I wasn't even really looking at the Sony system after being somewhat disappointed with the NEX-7, I've managed to surprise myself into considering replacing my m4/3 system with a nice NEX-6 with that beautiful 24mm Zeiss lens. I'm heading back to the store tomorrow, and I think I know where my money is going.

John said...

If Sony would allow a feature to turn off the sound, I would buy A99's and Nex's tomorrow - and make the $30K switch in glass. There are no moving parts in there and the camera sound is an engineered sound. I understand the reasoning and wouldn't always shoot silently, but I can't believe they have not offered an option for these cameras to shoot with zero sound! As someone who shoots in the theater, aren't you screaming for this capability??

Anonymous said...

The cameras still have moving parts with mechanical shutters and the "sound" that makes. Still probably the quietest system available. You can turn off all beebies.

Biro said...

Congratulations on the A99, Kirk. As for the NEX 6, I can see your postings over the next few weeks are going to mean trouble for me. I almost bought an NEX 6 last weekend - even going as far as to order the Sigma 19mm and 30mm primes in E-mount at the $149 each price point. But then, just as I was about to buy the NEX 6, I suddenly realized that I didn't have the money for a $1,300 total purchase with Christmas coming up. Especially since I still have a very nice Pentax kit with a K-5, a K-01 and about a dozen lenses. And the fact that my Panasonic GX1 still autofocuses faster than the NEX 6. So I put the camera down and cancelled the order for the two Sigma primes. But it doesn't mean that I won't take another crack at it in, say, the spring. And, Kirk, the next time you spend $2900 on a sony, make it the RX1.

D. Hufford said...

I am happy to read that EVFs continue to improve. I recently played with a Fuji XE-1 and the EVF on it seemed noticeably better than the VF2 for Olympus PEN cameras.

ChazL said...

. . .and it seemed like the right thing to do while I was already in the middle of hemorrhaging money.

I always thought that I was pretty good at talking myself into an extravagant purchase, but this may be the new gold standard of rationalization. :-)

Corwin said...

Grats to A99. It took much less time than I expected. :D

Looking forward to see how you like it and ofc to see photos taken with it. :)

Claire said...

AH ah !! I knew it, I knew it. You surprised me about the NEX 6 though. I have one and love it (except for the AF that stinks and that I never use). Enjoy, it's a pretty darn good camera.

Claire said...

+1 ... OTOH, maybe not. Every time Kirk gets a new camera, I want the same, lol.

Anonymous said...

I knew you'd cave. The a99 is too much of a technical breakthrough for anyone with a brain to resist.

Kirk Tuck said...

John, Only the first shutter curtain on the Sonys (Nex and Alpha) is electronic. The camera still has to run a capping shutter to end the exposure and that is a moving, physical curtain. If the shutters were fully electronic I'm sure Sony would rush to tout their "professional silent mode."

As to theater photos. I rarely ever shoot in live performances with audiences because I like moving around to get better angles and points of view. Tonight I'll be at the dress rehearsal for "White Christmas" at Zach. I'm scouting tonight and will shot the final dress rehearsal on Tues. If we have a small audience I'll use my home made sound baffler made out of neoprene (basically a ripped apart Zing camera pounch...) and I'd bet you could sit right next to me and not hear it...

I'm looking forward to using the a99 for this theater stuff. It's a good test of several attributes. Look for a blog on that shoot Weds.

David Lobato said...

Kirk, for shooting live performances, how are quiet are your cameras - acoustically? With no slapping mirrors Sonys should be less obtrusive. I photograph live music in small art spaces and during periods of low volume there are subtle expressions and artful motions. The less camera noise the better for when the ambient sound level is low.

Libby said...

I knew you would do it ;-) Although the NEX 6 is a bit of a surprise. The NEX 6 was on my consideration list for awhile so it will be interesting to see your take on it.

Sigfrid Lundberg said...

Congrats Kirk. I also expected this blog to come. It wasn't a question of if, but of when. The only thing I have been thinking of when reading your texts is when you will by the full-frame E-mount camcorder....

I have to tell everyone that there are people who leave the EVF for an optical one. I've recently acquired a new digital rangefinder camera. It works for 80% of what I'm doing. There are two reasons for this: (1) I'm an amateur ;) and (2) there isn't yet a full frame compact system camera (AKA mirrorless).

Cheers

Sigfrid

John said...

I trust your view more than the Sony rep who I spoke to recently at a show because he didn't sound very knowledgeable. But he, an actual Sony rep, said there were no actual movements and that the shutter sound was completely engineered noise because early prototype feedback suggested silent capture didn't "feel" right.

It seemed to be the case when i looked into the body beyond the stationary mirror, you could see the sensor, similar to when i look in my nikon v1.

This ability to shoot silently is really on my radar as I feel this need almost on a daily basis. Many circumstances where you can get away with the noise but you are noticed and people are very aware of the photography and that limits your shooting greatly. Silent option would really open things up.

So what is the limiting factor? Why can the Nikon V1 shoot silently and the NEX and Sony Alphas not?

thanks.

john

Kirk Tuck said...

As I (poorly) explained above, only the first curtain of the shutter process is electronic and requires no movement of any kind. All the Sony cameras require that the end curtain be mechanical for various reasons having to do with lens compatibility and other stuff beyond my ken. You encounter with the unknowledgeable Sony rep is just another drop in a tragic sea of misinformation by glib unknowitalls.

When you use the shutter in any of the Alpha cameras in its purely mechanical format you hear two distinct clicks. On closes over the sensor at the beginning of the cycle then opens again and closes again. It really does work that way.

The Nikon uses a much smaller chip and that makes it easier for some reason that is lost on me to make a purely electronic shutter. One in which the sensor itself switches on and off to make exposures without the need to be capped.

Can one of our electronics expert VSL readers offer a better explanation?

Joey said...

Kirk:
Here is my simplified understanding as to why the electronic second shutter is limited in use. Turning on the sensor is not an issue as the response time of the sensor to "turn on" is very fast.. I have not looked at any sensor data, but I'm guessing we are talking microseconds, (10 to the -6) or in millionths of a second. The time required to switch off a sensor is much longer, probably milliseconds, (10 to the -3) or in thousandths of a second. When looking at exposure times, this becomes a problem with faster shutter speeds. I.e. 1/1000 shutter speed is equal to 1 millisecond, etc. The larger and more sensitive sensors would most likely require more fall time/shutoff time. Obviously they could clock data on/off, but it seems like the issue to me.. I do own a V1 and it is completely silent 1st/2nd e shutter, and fires 60 fps, but it is a small sensor..

A good analogy would be the early LED televisions that looked great until an object moved quickly across the screen. The inability of the output to be accurately shut off resulted in "smearing" behind the moving object.

Disclaimer, I left the electronic industry over a dozen years ago, I may be totally wrong..

Regards,

Joe

DE Photography said...

I knew you'd cave! :)

I did too but just to scoop up a good deal on a D7000 and take advantage of all the people selling off perfectly good glass to move to full 35mm sensors.

But I love reading all your camera adventures and unlike every other photo blog I can think of you don't just get amorous about new ones. You back it up with art and that my friend is the road less traveled.

Bold Photography said...

I *ALMOST* bought the A99. The issue was selling off my lenses (in addition to the body) .. and there was no macro setup equivalent to what I've got now - and macro is what I do for fun these days.

That said, if you need a second shooter for any event, let me know!

Kirk Tuck said...

"too big to fail" as a camera buying rationale...