Jana. In the city. Dead of Summer.
It's pretty rare for me to shoot stuff in full sun. But sometimes you've got to try new stuff just to see what your camera will do. This image started life as a file from a Canon 5Dmk2 camera and an 85mm 1.8 lens. I shot it in the raw format and I tried to see just how much detail I could capture in the highlight areas on Jana's forehead and nose. The real trick is to keep the highlight detail without plunging everything else in to the abyss of blocky shadows. Some of it is careful metering but a lot of it is the wonderful dynamic range in some of the cameras we've had the pleasure to have owned. The Canon 5Dmk2 was one of the those cameras.
But lately I've had equal success with the Sony a77. It's all in how you use the cameras. And how much you know about their personalities. And to really know the personality of your camera you have to take it out on a series of "dates" and play with all the buttons.
I've shot the Sony a77 at ISO 3200 in the theatre and found it a bit noisy for my taste when I blow up the files. But I've also shot a number of studio and full sunlight projects with the camera at ISO 50 and it's amazingly good there. In fact, it's exciting at ISO 50. Why? Because the dynamic range is something to write home about. How did I know it would happen like that? Because I took the camera out and shot people in the full sun and tested it.
I'd never met Jana before but I wanted to have a real person to shoot so I looked around on a model site, got in touch with her and arranged to meet her and one of her friends at a downtown coffee shop. We spent a couple hours walking around downtown talking, shooting film and getting to know each other's aesthetic tastes. After that we shot together again for one of my book projects.
I've found that shooting test charts and boring set ups in studios is a flawed way to really understand a camera's potential. You have to shoot what you'd normally want to shoot with the camera to really understand it.
All cameras are flawed in one way or another. The denizens of the web forums would have you believe that some cameras are holy because of their high ISO performances alone. Others are fixated with mega-loads of mega-pixels. I'm partial to the way cameras feel in my hands and how they operate. But I guess the real point is that only you can assess whether the amalgam of parts and design and science that make up a particular camera connect with you.
If you read enough on the web you'll either ultimately be wildly confused or you'll end up chosing a consensus camera and never even touching or considering the camera that might be the "Goldilocks" camera for you. Not too big, not too small, not to loud, not too ugly. Just right.
I've just about finished testing every single parameter of the Sony a77 camera and next week I'm going to do the exercise of writing a full on review of the camera and a couple of my favorite lenses. It's a flawed camera. But no more so, in my estimation, than the Canon 5D mk2, the Nikon D700 and any number of other cameras I've worked with.
In a nutshell there are three reasons I still like the Sony a77 and haven't traded my two copies away for whatever the camera of the moment is: 1. The camera has a very wide dynamic range, is very noise free and has wonderful tonality at ISO 50. And, according to DXO's measurements it really is 50. Not an electronically pulled 100. 2. Once you've mastered using a good EVF on your camera for stills and especially for video you will never want to go backwards, even if the camera has some quirks. And 3. I've come to respect and use some of the weirdo features I never, ever thought I'd touch. I like the Multi-Frame noise reduction setting. I humbly admit I like the built-in HDR capabilities (but I try hard to make the effects invisible). I like the built-in electronic +1.4 and +2.0 teleconverter button. That means I can keep the 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 on the front and push a button to get closer for a tight portrait.
The bottom line is that my a77 is more fun than previous cameras I've owned. And the wonderful 50 ISO helps me work wider with studio flash and helps me get images with a look that's fairly unique among inexpensive DSLR's. What I get is limited depth of field with high sharpness, wider dynamic range and incredible detail. And for most of what I shoot that always trumps being able to shoot sports by candlelight. In fact, with the exception of set up sports shots for advertising and the kid's swim team in full Texas sun, I never shoot sports and don't understand why that and BIF ( which stands for "birds in flight" and is another aspect of photography I have absolutely no interest in) capabilities in a camera seem to make so much difference to the other hundreds of thousands of camera buyers who also don't shoot those things. If you do you might want a different camera....
But to be honest my perspective was built up over years and years of shooting and making money with big medium format cameras on tripods with slow, sharp, grainless film. After showing a portfolio to people who potentially will pay for my work I've confirmed that real art directors still value the same things they valued in the film days. To paraphrase: They want their images sharp and technically perfect. They know how to degrade them in post. They can grunge up a beautiful shot but it's ten times harder to take a grungy file and make it sharp again.
Will your camera do what you want it to do? The only way to really know is to test. Don't trust my opinions or Thom Hogan's or DPReview's. Trust your hands and your eyes and the output onto your screen or prints of images that you like to shoot. That's all that counts.