I shot 1200+ shots today with three different Sony cameras, and in three different sensor formats. So, what was I thinking? And how did it all turn out?

Top three images shot with the Sony RX10iii (my current favorite camera).

One of my favorite clients gets a couple hundred volunteers together and does a full day of work for good causes around Austin. I think that's pretty cool. They help paint school libraries, donate money for new books and then come help label and shelve them; rebuild playgrounds, read to kids and even put on a bit of live theatre in elementary schools. The coolest thing is that they are providing the kids they serve with examples of actual community involvement by grown-ups.

They hired me this year to go out with various groups of volunteers and document the work they are doing, and the fun they are having. We started the day at corporate H.Q. where the volunteers prepared materials they would need to bring along for their projects. A number of people headed to the in-house video studio to be recorded reading books for kids who are might be hospitalized or otherwise unable to attend readings in libraries. Fueled with breakfast tacos and fresh coffee the volunteers were launched out into Austin and I followed along like an eager puppy to see what I might be able to photograph. (Can you tell I thought this was a fun project?).

Being in one of my experimental moods I brought along three different cameras. They were various, new Sony models (at least new to me), including: The A7R2 with its 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens, the a6300 with its 18-105mm f4.0 Sony G lens, and the redoubtable Sony RX10iii with its insane 24-600mm (equivalent) permanently attached (I hope) lens. If I could effectively juggle all three cameras I certainly would have a good shot a understanding where the quality differences and handling differences might come into play.

I also brought along a mess of batteries and an inexpensive, USB, battery charging battery (I'm at a loss of what to call these batteries that are made to charge other batteries...). I wanted to shoot everything with the RX10iii because I am partial to that genre of encapsulated cameras but my first location, in a dark conference center, called for an exposure of 1/60th of a second, f4.0 at ISO 6400. I may live in a little fantasy world about the one inch sensor cameras but I'm not delusional enough to think that they are up to delivering amazingly good image quality at those lofty ISOs. I took twenty or so frames and then defaulted to the A7R2 and the a6300; both of which are high ISO champs. My brief spell of good judgement was confirmed a few minutes ago (I am deep into post processing as I write this...) when I looked at the first images from the RX10iii. They look great fitting into the window on Lightroom, on my monitor but a quick boost to 1:1 (100%) tells the story: Mannequin-style-water-color flesh on my main subjects. But sharp mannequin-style-water-color flesh!

The files from the A7R2 are clearly from the other side of the tracks. At 6400 they look about as good as my old Nikon D2Xs looked at ISO200... or maybe even just a bit better. 

I pulled out the RX10iii for all the outdoor shooting I did which was mostly in weak sunlight. We've had cloud cover and haze for the last few days which is icky weather to live in but does wonders for preserving the appearance of tremendous dynamic range in image files...

I pressed the a6300 into service for the times when I wanted a bit more reach than the 24-70mm would give me on the full frame camera. Once I got a taste for the wider focal length range of the APS-C format 18-105mm G lens I couldn't resist trying it out on the A7R2, also in APS-C crop mode. That's very nice handling combination. You get the benefits of the great sensor as well as the flexibility of the wide ranging lens. 

The first big test for the A7R2 was a group shot of 200+ people. The building we started out in has an atrium and a staircase that leads from the bottom floor up one level. I put as many people on the stairs as I could and shot down from the second floor railing. The artificial lighting and light through the frosted ceiling of the four story atrium was very nice and I shot, handheld, without supplemental lighting, with the 24mm end of the Zeiss zoom set at f6.3.  Luck was with me as the angle of the stairs and the distances between everything worked out almost as though I had used a tilt lens or the front tilt of a view camera. Every face was in focus and perfectly delineated. It was the easiest group shot I believe I have ever shot. The focus and exposure, as computed by the camera, were optimal. 

The rest of the day was spent coming in and out of poorly lit schools and using the cameras at what I used to consider to be the limits of camera performance. But in every situation the cameras performed well and my integration with the cameras was also good. 

I've learned a few things. Across all three cameras I need to do a better job programming the custom buttons and the function settings. I've been setting up the function menu to have all the video controls I wanted at the ready only to find that I would prefer a whole different set of function menu and custom button settings for still use. I'll be making a few cards which I will laminate. Each will have a list of the functions I want on the menus, and where to find them on the deeper menu, so I can grab a camera out of the drawer and, in five minutes, have the camera set up for the kind of assignment I anticipate when I head out the door.  I generally always want ISO, WB, Quality, AF mode, DRO and a few other things on the still menu while zebras, peaking, audio levels and picture profiles are must have stuff for the video function menu.

I learned that low battery levels cause me low level anxiety. But my Kmashi 10,000 mAh USB charger unit (that battery powered USB power supply thing I talked about) is a crazy good cure for people who worry excessively about batteries being charged. I noticed the power level drop on my a63000 after a morning of shooting. The level had dropped to 30%. On my journey between locations, with a stop for lunch, I plugged the charger into the camera. By the time I hit my one p.m. the battery was back to 100%. I got into the habit of putting a camera I'd been using on the charger device when I selected a new camera to use. You could probably shoot for days without having to actually find a wall socket.

Here is a link for this device, it's too cheap not have: Kmashi Battery Pack/USB Charger.

While the files from the a6300 are really, really good my favorite camera to shoot with was the RX10iii. I like it better than the a6300 because the body has enough space for my hands and it's wonderful to shoot with a system in which the zoom lens goes on forever and ever and is at its sharpest when used wide open.

My second favorite was the A7R2 because it's a rock solid body and however I use the camera; whether in M. Jpeg or full on RAW the files look great. The a6300 should be the Goldilocks camera but it's too small to be comfortable handling. Surprisingly, I'm not getting along as well with the placement of the viewfinder window as I thought I would and, you're stuck with files that could have been a little bit technically better with the bigger camera or stuck with handling that's not as good as the smaller sensor camera. Really a compromise. The one thing it does very well though is to focus like a crazy laser. That, and great evaluative metering.

My favorite lens for the day was the Zeiss 24-70mm. Whatever the reviews might say, the reality is that the lens is very sharp, even wide open, on the A7R2.

After 1,200+ files running across my systems today I can speak to one thing: The only way to really understand the strengths and weaknesses of a system is to use it for eight hours a day and process the files for a couple hours a day, and do this for weeks at a time. When you end up a couple of months down the road you will really know a camera system in a way that no camera reviewer who has a camera on loan for two weeks ever will. Just like dating it takes time to get to know something so intertwined with your eye, your hands and your thought processes. 


Don Parsons said...

Bravo! to them.

Kudos to you.

How well does the follow focus work on the RX? Would it track an airplane, say, flying by you or taking off from a runway? :-)


Kepano said...

I rented an a6300 for a job a couple weeks ago and used the 18-105 that came with my FS5. Your experience matches my own. Great all-around performer. AF, for the first time I have experienced on mirrorless, is what I'd consider acceptable (minus the lack of a dedicated AF point joystick).

The Zeiss 24/1.8 E mount and 55/1.8 FE mount on a pair of a6300s would get me close to a full frame 35mm/85mm prime combo in a compact package.