Austin, Texas Photographer Continues on Crazy Quest to Shoot Professional Assignments on a One Inch Sensor Camera. Self Destructive or ......

This the Sony RX10 mk2. It is the most capable all around camera I have used. I take it on assignments along with the Sony RX10 mk3; the second most capable camera I have used.

Yeah, yeah, professionals and serious amateurs only use full frame cameras for their work....

Oh Bullsh@t. There's a wide range of work that could be handled by just about any camera currently on the market. The real secret in most assignments is getting the light right. That's generally followed by making sure your composition is good and balanced. That's followed by... etc. etc. But unless the camera is broken the chances are that just about anything you are using that was produced after 2010 is probably more than up to the task of getting the actual images you need. Double-especially if your primary target is the web. 

I know that if I want massive clicks I can write about the Fuji XT-2 or the Canon 5D mk4 and compare them with some Nikon cameras and some Zeiss lenses and we can keep the protest fires going all day long. But what if I just want to get some work done in a very efficient way for clients who have real businesses and actually write checks for the jobs we produce for them? It quickly becomes obvious that "photography" in the service of commerce is the result of a whole system and not just the camera and one of the magical lenses. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the blog here but I am a huge fan of the Sony RX10 series of one inch sensor cameras. Earlier this year I produced a corporate video what was shot with an RX10 mk3 as our main camera and the RX10 mk2 as our B-roll camera. The video looked great. And sounded great. We shot it all in 4K (UHD) and the cameras never gave us a moment of doubt; even shooting under dicey circumstances.

A couple of months back I posted a blog about using the long reach of the RX10 mk3 to document the dress rehearsal of the play, Mary Poppins, for Zach Theatre. I supplied images in the blog post that were taken from a fairly impressive distance from the stage but which still filled the frames with bright, sharp images of individual characters and small groupings. The camera handled focus and relatively high ISO in a competent manner and it was a great way of working since I could photograph silently while capturing a wide (24mm equivalent) establishing shot of the stage and then push right in for a waist up character shot with the long (600mm equivalent) end of the lens. 

As I continue to use these cameras I get more and more comfortable with their capabilities. A week and a half ago I decided to stop being so precious about making portraits (headshots) and put down my full frame camera in deference to making a portrait of a doctor, for a large medical practice, with the RX10 mk2. I just finished retouching the client selection today and I was very, very pleased with the results. I am sure they will be as well. 

The one thing that remained vexing about shooting portraits with a small sensor camera was the seeming inability to drop the background out of focus enough to make the image aesthetically satisfying. With the new and more powerful selection tools in PhotoShop Ccxx I've experimented with a number of ways to select the portrait subject, inverse the selection, contract the selection, feather it and then apply gaussian blurs to mimic the traditional look. What I have devised is a very flexible and controllable method (for me) to emulate the style we've done with bigger cameras for years. One more barrier removed. 

And for those of you who eschew the idea of using software to fine tune headshot files I would say that your camera and lenses are already doing so much correction already that what's a bit more pixel  nudging in the service of making a picture and making a buck?

But why bother to make portraits with the small sensor camera if you own big ones already? Well, the RX10's generous depth of field and face detection AF pretty much ensures that you will never again sit down to post process and realize that your expensive camera missed focusing on your subject's eyes once again. The files are small enough to be manageable while big enough to bring the same level of quality into play. The lens on the front of any of these cameras is so flexible. Unlike using primes I can fine tune focal lengths to get exactly what I want and unlike a full frame camera sporting a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens (to match the convenience of the smaller cameras) I don't have to worry about the whole tripod mounted assembly drooping toward the floor as I switch to a vertical orientation. Ignore the last point if your big, fat zoom lens comes with a tripod collar. 

The mitigating factor in mostly equalizing the quality between the one inch sensor and the full frame sensor is the fact that, in the studio, you have the ability to use as much lighting power as you want and can always work at ISO 100. At ISO 100, with perfect exposure and nuts on white balance, the smaller sensor cameras are able to produce an amazing level of quality. More than good enough for a 16x20 inch portrait print retouched in the same way as a full frame file.

But the most recent experience that compelled me to write this piece this morning was a session with a private collector of artifacts who hired me for several days to document his collection for a book project. We needed to document hundreds of pieces with great efficiency which was made more difficult since the objects ranged from five feet long (on the long side) to some that were as small as an inch across. We would need to shoot almost directly overhead from the objects with the camera mounted on a tripod with a horizontal arm. 

We used high output LED fixtures in medium sized soft boxes as our primary light sources. With Live View you get to work fully in a "what you see is what you get" mode. No chimping. 

I ran a field video monitor off the HDMI tap on the camera so the client and I could see the live view image without having to miraculously float above the camera to see our subjects and compositions. The 8 inch monitor was small and light enough so that we could move it around as required. I could grab the monitor and watch it as I adjusted the camera's zoom from a perch on a step ladder. I could watch the screen as I shifted the focusing point to any position on the camera screen. We could watch the electronic level for the camera and check the histogram as we shot. But most importantly, the client could hold the monitor in one hand, create wonderful combinations and collages of artifacts, and check his compositional work as he went. 

We were working at ISO 100, between f5.6 and f8, and with shutter speed hovering in the quarter second to eighth second range. The camera was set to do a five second self timer and we could trigger the camera to start the exposure with an IR remote. Alternately, the shutter button on the RX10 series of cameras is actually tapped for use with a conventional, traditional cable release! Amazing but true. 

Working with a custom white balance and consistent exposures we took ample advantage of the capacious depth of field provided by the combination of focal lengths and sensor size. We were able to keep combinations of objects in sharp focus with ease. 

While I had both the RX10 mk2 and mk3 with me we mostly used the mk2 because it is easier to focus down into the macro range and the 200mm long end was ample for our working distances. 

We often hear grousing about the Sony NPW-50 batteries but I was very impressed with the stamina of the batteries we used. We started shooting at 8 am and finished each day around 4 pm, and on each day we used only two batteries. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. For a live view set up with consistent feed into an external monitor I think this is impressive performance. Well on par with more conventional DSLRs, when they are used in a live view mode. 

So, here we are in the future. Now. I'll toss out idea that our embrace of "ultimate" quality cameras is meaningless for many of the day-to-day jobs that photographers are hired to do. Give me a convenient and flexible camera any day of the week and I'll work efficiently with it. I am consistently amazed that we are able to produce work that is easily technically better than we could have six or seven years ago with equipment that cost five times less than one of these little bridge cameras. 

None of this really matters if you do this for fun instead of money but this blog is really about the working life of a photographer, not the idea of having endless financial resources, and days in which to make one perfect photograph. There is a time value to production that is part of the mix of work. If all cameras in the bag satisfy the technical quality parameters required by the job then why oh why would I not want to choose the most efficient working tool possible? In many cases that tool is decidedly not the biggest, most expensive and highest resolution camera on the market. In fact, I would say that the smaller, lighter more flexible tool trumps the bigger tools more often than not. It does so by reducing the frictions of production in meaningful ways.  

I am now ready to hear your arguments vis-a-vis my occupational sanity....

A different point of view about value? Read this: http://animal-dynamics.com/cameras-vs-houses-sony-rx10ii/  Thanks to blog reader, Richard.