"Tru" A One Man Play About Truman Capote.

a99 with 70-200mm

I photographed a dress rehearsal of Tru at Zachary Scott Theatre last night. Jaston Williams, of Greater Tuna fame, played Truman Capote. It's a role that Jaston did here in Austin eleven years ago. I took three cameras and three lenses to make photographs for marketing and public relations: the Sony Nex-6, Nex-7 and a99 cameras. The Nex-6 had the 50mm 1.8 OSS lens, the Nex-7 had the 18-55mm kit lens, and the a99 had the 70-200mm lens. The majority of the images were done with the a99 and the 70-200mm but I noticed when post processing the files this morning that I preferred the look of the Nex-6 files the best. 

Nex-6 with 50mm

All three cameras were set to ISO 1600 and in post the 6 just looked a bit better. A bit higher contrast, richer coloration and an overall bite that the other two systems didn't quite match. I have a few theories about this. The first is the difference in lenses. The 50mm 1.8 Sony lens for the Nex is a great performer, especially stopped down just a bit to f2.8. Since it's a prime lens with fewer elements and a simpler design it can be optimized to do its one thing very well. And it does.
The 70-200mm encourages me to use it at longer focal lengths and, even with good in body image stabilization there's almost certainly more shake. And what shake is there is magnified both by the longer focal lengths and the bigger sensor frame.  The Nex-7 relied on the kit lens and while it's good stopped down I was already wide open at the long end at f5.6, which meant about two shutter speeds slower than the 50mm lens and one and a third shutter speeds slower than the a99.

In truth the real differentiator for me is the way each of the cameras handled noise at 1600. At 100% you can see the effects of the noise reduction on both the a99 and the Nex-7 files. A furry-ness and a lack of snappy edge detail. You wouldn't see it in prints or in normal work but it's there.  And the newest generation of cameras (regardless of their DXO ratings) seem to have the same signature as you look to 100%. Even the D800 files I've pixel peeped look great at normal magnifications and then show the same furry-ness with diminished edge accutance.

The sensor in the Nex-6 holds on tighter to the "edge effect" that makes our brains think, "Sharp."
There's a case to be made for both engineering decisions but I seem to like the Nex-6 solution in these circumstances.

Nex-6 with 50mm.

Nex 6 with 50mm

 a99 with 70-200mm

All three of the cameras worked well, focused quickly and accurately and delivered images which the client will like and use. But my observations are still there. To my eye the ISO 1600 performance of the a99 and the Nex-6, when equalized for size differences, are for the most part equivalent. Does that mean the a99 is a "major fail"?  Or, does that mean the Nex-6 is a "major win"?

As I use all three cameras together and separately, on all kinds of jobs, I'm getting more and more set in my opinions about them.  To wit; the a99 is a very neutral camera. It does what it's supposed to do without idiosyncrasies and without any showboating. But what it gains in competency it loses in personality. While the finder is bright and detailed and the files easily malleable and very high quality. It's not an "exciting" camera. Where it shines is locking in focus quickly, showing accurate images in the evf for quicker work and in, well----overall competence.

Like the a77 before it, the a99 is a remarkably good low ISO camera. It loves ISO 100. Just loves the hell out of it. And it loves ISO 50. Shoot in controlled light, in the studio or wherever the natural light is thick and beautiful and you'll get stunningly detailed files with amazing color. But the camera more of less disappears from your consciousness. In theory that's a great thing. Less between you and your subject. But in reality I like to have a companion along with me in the form of a camera that's like-able and fun to be around.

That's the Nex-6

Both have their place in my inventory but each serves a much different function. The a99 is my insurance policy that let's me know I'll always be able to pull out a great image in just about any circumstances and that the files will pass the professional taste test. It's never the camera I choose first for my own personal work or for just walking around.

That honor is split between the 6 and the 7.  The 7 is the first choice for those days when I'm channelling my hard edges/lots of detail/rich color/low ISO personality while the Nex-6 is the one I go for when I get into my black and white/Tri-X/available light/scruffy artist/Okay, give me some color too kind of moods.

Next time I shoot a theater production like this one I'm planning to bring two Nex 6's, one with the 50mm and the other with the 70-200mm on an LAEA-1 adapter. I'll focus the big lens manually and rely on focus peaking. Should be a fun way to do a head to head comparison of just the lenses.

How was the play? It's great. I'm a Truman Capote fan and Jaston does a great job capturing the character and making the drama both funny and poignant. I wrote somewhere else that this is the perfect show to take your friends who are whimsically cynical. The Zach Scott presentation is done "in the round" which makes it challenging for me. I'm always seeing great expressions but always in the wrong spot to get the shot....

Since the Truman character was a heavy drinker the actor nearly always has a drink in his hand during the play. On the way home I had the biggest urge to make a mixed drink. Subliminal advertising at work...

blog note: Hey! Reader. Consider leaving a comment. I like the feedback. Thanks, Kirk


Wolfgang Lonien said...

Sounds - and looks - like a good set of cameras you have there. I like the a99 photos a lot, it surely would have been interesting if you could have gotten that close with the 50mm on that Nex-6. My favorite lens at the moment? The Oly 45mm on the Pen... just awesome for portraits. I seem to be a 85-105mm guy when it comes to people.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Wolfgang, I think that's always the trade off, how to be closer with a wider lens. I may try and get Jaston to come into the studio and try to shoot some variations with the different lenses on the same camera. We've got the adapters I might as well use them...


Dick -Photographer said...

As usual, great writing, photography and information. I follow you daily! Hope to meet you someday!

Racecar said...

Sounds as if you're more partial to the NEX-6 than the a99. This makes me want to try out one of those NEX-6s to see for myself. And it harkens back to a previous blog which likened cameras to relationships: is the NEX-6 a short, and heated affair, and the a99 more like a long-term relationship? I wonder.

mshafik said...

Dropping by to say hello, I hear you when you want comments, I miss comments on my posts, and here I do the same mistake all day long on everyone else's posts.

Glad you like the NEX-6, and the 50mm on crop is attractive for close shooting, you know I sold all the big stuff, just recieved the OM-D a couple of days ago, and I am very happy with the 25 1.4 Panasonic, and the 45 1.8 Olympus. I didn't imagine m4/3 was this tiny, and this is also my first EVF, I am really warming up to the idea, add to that face recognition and auto focusing on the near eye, and you have an amazing tool, until now, I haven't used any other focusing method, and you can count the eyelashes in all the portraits I took. Brilliant.

Burdette Parks said...

Great to see the images of Jaston. I worked with he and Joe years ago when Tuna was just getting started - did a composite of all the characters that would have been SO much easier with Photoshop. I'm keeping an eye on what your reactions are to the NEX 6. I have a 5n and am considering adding the 6.

Kirk Tuck said...

Love the face recognition and "closest eye" in the Oly cameras. It's genius. Thanks for the comment.

Kirk Tuck said...

The Nex 6 is winning my mindshare now that I've conquered the menu. Great image quality.

Anonymous said...

Since you get a dress rehearsal invite I guess you don't have to worry about shutter noise and LCD's flashing away! I own and enjoy the NEX-6 but have to keep a Fuji X10 for all of the (school) plays that I attend. The little Fuji has decent enough high ISO and crucially all sounds and screens can be turned of completely, so I can snap away on show night with impunity!

I really think Sony have raised the bar with the NEX-6, it's so very nearly my perfect camera, but (as always) I still have a wish list;
1) Please someone make a £400 24mm f2 AF lens for NEX (I could buy an entire X100 for the price of the Zeiss)
2) Please Sony create a USB tethering solution for my studio shoots (I could then sell my Canon SLR kit)
3) Oh and let me have 1/2000th flash sync...

Kirk I really enjoy your blog by the way, your sense of irony must surely come from English ancestry!

waardij said...

You have me confused. you mention noise reduction and then in the same context DxO. the later is RAW, are you saying the a99 and d800 do noise reduction on RAW? never noticed that myself (not on a99 and nex-7).

Kirk Tuck said...

The soft edged "furry" look of the files when viewed at 100% is endemic to the high density sensor and is there in both Jpegs and Raws. I'm not inferring that the RAW files are or aren't processed. In the earlier generations of digital cameras with less sensor density it seemed that at 100% the edges were more clearly and cleaned defined...again, only speaking of the effect at 100%.

Huw Morgan said...

Hi Kirk,

I have a couple of comments:
- putting the kit lens on the Nex 7 was a bit of a handicapper. I'd like to see the results from the Sigma 30mm on the Nex 7 compared to the others. While I like the Sony 50mm too, the Sigma 30 gives remarkable results and I think you mentioned that you have one.
- Like many pros, you seem to go to a job with multiple bodies instead of changing lenses during the shoot. This would imply that Sigma is going in the right direction with its Merrill series where it is releasing camera/lens combos that are optimized for the focal length. Do you think this is an emerging trend that other manufacturers might copy?

Thanks for the daily posts - it's terrific lunchtime reading.


Mark said...

Hi Kirk,

I am a working photographer in Australia. I've been shooting for 19 years now, when I did my Uni degree it was B&W darkrooms. I have the usual cameras 5D2 & 7D, L lenses and all the gear that goes with them. When I started my business it was colour transparency, how times have changed. Interesting through, its still all about the image, when I am shooting there is always an amateur photographer who wants to talk cameras, I always indulge. But I also, say that a camera is just a box that lets light into the film/senor. The photographer is the one controlling that light. I think that we have hit a plateau when it come to sensor image quality most cameras can now shoot at 1600 or even 3200 ISO the detail and images quality is so much better than we ever had from film, some would say that the romance of film is gone, I probably agree to a point. Although, I do love digital.

One of the great things about the web is that we (photographers) are able to chat around the world. I look forward to reading your blog every couple of days. It's interesting that there seems to be a trend to the mirrorless camera, its fine to gab a small mirrorless and go shooting on the weekend but for a shoot you are getting paid for, I don't think so. At least that is what I thought. I bought a little Sony RX100 for my wife, she complains that she never gets to use it. It is such a great little camera, its responsive and the image quality is bloody fantastic, I just returned home from a beach holiday over Xmas, and the images are unreal. I am thinking if the images are so good with this camera they must be outstanding with the NEX 6, and your images above are great. I do architecture and environmental portraiture, clients will often ask me to do there events, or their weddings so I need the gear that will get the job done, I am thinking that the NEX 6 could slot into my system quite easily.

I like reading your blog because you just tell it like it is, I like hearing about the real world situations, and I am interested that you will use the NEX 6 on a job, mind you you also, got the main shots with the full frame. I am realising that maybe, the NEX 6 could be a weekend and maybe a camera for out door events, weddings and back up camera. I am doing such an event in two weeks, Australia day our National Day. I have to walk around all day, covering the event. At this point I have to carry both canon cameras and lenses, speedlites, I feel tired already.

I guess I am at a point where I need to update my cameras, I could just go and buy the 5D3 and move on with my life, or I could go and buy the NEX 6 with the aim to build that system up over the years, and I expect that Sony will bring out some sort of FF NEX soon. In the mean time I could just keep the other two canons, lets face it the images quality is still great from the canon cameras.

That was a bit of a long commentary, once you get started its hard to stop. I am just thinking out aloud. I'd be interested to see what you or anyone thinks of my rambling, as I am sure there are others out there in the same situation. After all that, thanks for writing your blog, its nice to see how someone else does the job of photographer, and what a great job it is.


Unknown said...

First and foremost great pictures regardless of which camera you used. It looks like Jaston Williams does a fantastic job and makes me want to see the play. I've already done a search to see if it's playing anywhere in northern CA anytime this year but no luck so far. But again, it's the pictures that really got me energized.


waardij said...

What you are describing here is something that might stop the trend of resolution to go up. we do not look at the results anymore, but at 100%, on screen. when you had a 100Mp ff camera, and it was a really good sensor, it would beat anything we have today, with any lens, comparing print's. But if you would look at 100%, the result would be horrible. Most lenses have little or no contrast left at such high resolution. But it would be the lens, determining the result.
If you would look at the output of the nex-7 or a99 at 50% (still 6Mp), the results would be better as what came out of 6Mp camera's in the day's they where the thing. I think we should look more at the results, and be less fixated with looking at a screen, at a ridiculous size. I mean this in general, since I am sure that for you, as a working photographer, in the end of the day it is the result that counts.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hmmmmm. Let me think about this for a while and do some tests. If the real world is the litmus test then let's do our tests that way. More to follow.

Huw Morgan said...

Hi Mark,

I was in the same situation a few months ago. I'm a landscape/urban photographer and had a full Canon kit. My 5dmkII died in a rainstorm in Wales, so I had this golden opportunity to sell all my Canon lenses and make a break for a Sony system. However, like you, I was very happy with the quality of the full-frame Canon system and its L lenses. The weight was an issue, but only for urban photography.

I also had a Fuji X100, but was fed up with its quirks, so I sold it and bought a Nex-7 to see if it worked as advertised. Slowly, I've started to build up my Sony lenses, using primes from Sigma and Sony. The good news is that there are great lenses out there that don't cost a lot. The 30mm Sigma is my main lens for walking around and I use the Sigma 19mm for wide angle shots and the Sony 50mm for portraits and medium telephoto shots.

The Sony has been a delight. The full kit fits in a small knapsack and the camera is just a joy to use. The images are sharp and vivid. The camera feels great in the hand and the EVF is a godsend. It allows you to get perfect exposure every time. When you have the histogram in the viewfinder, there really is no excuse for clipped highlights! The shutter has a very nice "snick" sound, much more discreet than the Canon mirror slap.

However, I've still got my Canon kit and I did buy another (used) 5dmkII. When the sun is rising or setting and there is only a limited time period to get the shot, I automatically go for the sure thing. The Canon falls to hand and I know the controls so well that it's instinctive.

As time goes on, I'm going to take more and more shots with the Sony and I'm thinking of buying a back-up Nex-6. A couple of my least-used Canon lenses are up for sale. I can't yet bring myself to do a "Kirk Tuck" where I sell all my Canon gear overnight.

I'd encourage you to buy a Nex-6 or 7 and get your feet wet. It's a fine system.


Mark Farrelly said...

Hi Huw,

Thanks for the reply. I think I will take your advise, as I finished typing the post the other day, I realised I had answered my own question. I'll buy the NEX 6 and as you have done I will build the Sony system up. Their is endless chatter on the net about a NEX FF so i think that your advise is great thanks.

The camera I have is the Sony RX100, great little pocket rocket. So the NEX system must be good, going by that camera. I think Sony are really making wave in the industry. Anyway, thanks again.