11.06.2012

picking through the piles of trash images to find the ones you always intended to like.


Every artist seems to accrue stuff over time that they don't really want anymore but can't seem to part with. I have an office space that's about five hundred square feet. It always feels full of stuff. And by extension my brain seems to always have a subroutine running to keep track, in a general way, of where most of the stuff resides. But here's the deal: There's a lot of stuff I just don't want to keep track of anymore. And when it comes to film and files I feel even more constrained by the  two extremes; purging everything or preserving stuff for posterity.

Posterity is all about ego. Purging is all about compulsion. Is there some healthy middle ground?

I wouldn't know, I'm not a mental health care professional. But I do know this; up until last week there were boxes full of slides I hadn't looked through since I bought this space 16 years ago and moved all the stuff in. That's all changed. I pulled a big garbage can in from the side of the house and started by pulling out the first bankers box filled with the polyester sleeves that protect, in groups of 20, decades of color slides. On Sunday I filled half a 50 gallon container with slides that I came to realize that I'll never need or want to touch again. A lot of nothing special.

Today we purged another twenty or thirty pounds of non-virtual imaging. But in the role of a stalwart steward of my own version of culture, I held up each sleeve of slides in front of a lightbox and took a quick look at the little rectangles. I pulled out all the images of my spouse and put them into a new set of sleeves. Ditto with any image of Ben or my direct family members. Chalk that up to nostalgia. Family guy. Family history custodian.

The ones that got chunked are client files, street shots that never worked out. Shots of the Eiffel Tower and all sorts of monuments that are, frankly, better as postcards that someone else has shot. As each box gets emptied it gets recycled and my office space gets another three or four cubic feet of space that I'm dedicated to not filling up.

I have a couple more days of editing and purging in order to bring down the clutter to a manageable amount. Then I'm going through shelf after shelf of CDs and DVDs. So many headshots of people from the last 12 years. People who worked for companies that no longer exist. Probably a fair number of people who no longer physically exist. And mostly they are images that will never be printed or shared again.

But the fun part of all this (besides the self delivered gift of increasing space and less clutter) is finding little gems that pepper the archival sheets. The one above is a color copy slide of a hand colored print of Renee Zellweger. We'd been out shooting on the railroad tracks on the east side of town. We started the day goofing around and shooting negatives that we earmarked for an earlier version of Hipstergram filters that was called, cross processing. We actually shot the film in a certain way and then processed it in the wrong kind of developer. By the time we got to this image I was bored with the cross processing experiment and more interested in shooting some black and white.

One of my friends asked me what might be behind this sudden desire to get rid of stuff. I thought for a long time about this and I think I know. I just turned 57 and I remember talking to an older photographer many years ago. He was in the process of winnowing down his collection of images as well. He divided his rationalization of the initiative into two parts. In the first place not all of the images I've shot are great. Not good. Not even mediocre. If I die before I trash them they become part of my legacy as a photographer. That would be embarrassing. Very embarrassing. I'd love to distill all the stuff I've shot down to about 100 nice images. That's a manageable project and, while I doubt anyone but a handful of friends and family will remember the work I've done a week after my website goes dark and my blog runs dry, it still assuages my ego and insinuates that I am leaving something behind.

But in a more honest assessment I don't think there are more than 100 great images in the collection and having to make my kid and my spouse go through 200,000 images in order to find the few is cruel and preventable. Left with an unmanageable collection they would be trapped with trying to decide what I would have wanted to do with all this stuff and the (smarter and better) desire to get on with their own lives.

Maybe we have a moral responsibility to clean up after our selves and create a bit of order going forward. At least that's my rational.

If you scratch a little deeper I think I'm just trying to make space for a whole new wave....


Kissing the last days of Summer goodbye with a yellow flowered dress and a floppy straw hat.


We spent a few days up around Fredericksburg, Tx. and around Enchanted Rock shooting a fashion spread for a magazine. We were taking a short break on an ancient front porch attached to a grand, old, Texas wooden ranch house. I looked over and saw my model's look of quiet (tired) repose and I pulled up my camera in order to catch not just her youthful beauty but also the warm and unhurried feel of the day. It was near the end of September and still in the mid 90's. We were all warm but not glistening. I was drawn to the line of the young woman's jaw, the tranquility of her expression and the little wisp of dark hair sweeping down in front of her ear under her light colored straw hat.

Not lighting trickery here. Just the open shade. No post production elbow grease here just a curve adjustment in the scanning and a tiny bit of sharpening in Snapseed. No Promethean camera here, just an older Leica SL2 and an older, used 90mm Summicron. Fuji ISO 100 slide film.

What's trending in photography?



I think the first step is to admit that most of the stuff we do is nothing special and that we do it to fill the time in a pleasant way. But is that enough?

The last ten years have seen incredibly dynamic growth, excitement and change in photography. At its very best, at the top of the craft, artists have successfully thrown out decades of convention, antiquated thinking and the safety of old rules in order to transform the art. At the other end of the spectrum never before has there been a greater quantity of the same poorly seen and poorly executed work foisted on the world's visual markets.

Collectively, we've spent the last ten years breaking away from the constrictions of film photography only to, in most cases, end up re-applying the same tired conventions in the new medium.

The single most pressing questions I hear when I meet other photographers for coffee and conversation are variations of these: "I have all this gear but I need some inspiration. I'm looking for the right subject matter. I'm bored just shooting. I feel like I'm totally prepared but I don't know what I want to shoot. How do you decide what to shoot?" And, after we talk for a while the conversation floats back to firm ground: "which camera body? Which lens?"

It's time for a new re-invention of photography.

Most of the progress we've made falls into two areas. We've spent a lot of time getting digital to be reliable and of equal quality with the film technologies that we had used for decades before. While digital can be noiseless we are only now conquering the dynamic range issues and characteristic curves that make and made film so alluring. In fact, most of us would have continued to shoot film if not for the stark differences in perceived operating costs. So now digital starts to decisively pull away in terms of technical quality. Cameras like the Nikon D800 and the Sony a99 are delivering very high resolutions combined with wide dynamic ranges and low noise. Equally importantly they are doing it without the bulk and slow operating performance of medium format imaging platforms with which they now compete.

The second area of progress is post production and digital manipulation. I've been using Photoshop since the year it was invented and clearly remember the first iterations which had no options for layers, or even undo. You worked and saved and worked and saved. Now all can be changed with the wave of a hand, the click of an action or the magic of the right plug-in. You can pretty much make any image anything you want. Its very ease seems to impel us to use and abuse it. Coupled with this kind of post processing control is the maturation of ink jet printers which allows us to print to just about any size with high quality, archival keeping qualities and in-house control.

But have we  really moved the art and wonder of photography forward? I would say "yes" for a very small number of practitioners who use the medium as a spring board for their ideas. I would say most of us are stuck firmly in the aesthetic realm of the 1970's and 1980's. We just make it all faster, in greater quantity, and print it bigger (if it gets printed at all...).

One of the first culprits is the pressure of group think that aggressively postulates and then rewards the idea that the only thing which matters in terms of labeling photography as "good" or "bad" is the technical quality of execution. Is the image sharp? Is the image noise free? Does the image encompass a wide enough range of tones? But rarely do we, as a culture, relate to the idea behind the image. What was the artist trying to say with their perfect image? What concept did they put forward that will add to and change our collective thought processes? How will the image move the needle and set the stage for a new way of looking at our lives and our cultures?

The fact is that most of the flood of images we endure is highly imitative and self-conscious. It's more in the realm of proving technical mastery than anything else. At some point a compulsive adherence to even the idea of technical quality as a major qualifier of acceptance is destructive to the art. Not to mention the reality that our eagerness to show off our techniques tends to make us content agnostic.

But how did we get to this place? How did we develop photography into a religion that worships almost entirely at the alter of objective parameter measurement and metric analysis? Why do we copy so many (self fabricated) star photographers (who themselves seem obsessed with teaching technique) on the web? Why is DXO Mark so popular in our photo lives? Why is it important to so many people that their camera or lens be able to squeeze out a tenth of a percent more something than a competitor's camera? Are images of our acne endowed but beloved teens made better and more endearing when rendered clinicially sharp? Do images of our weathered and worn spouses become more alive when rendered by a machine with more or better pixels? Are snapshots of kittens and puppies more enduring because we can now blow up the images and see texture on each follicle of kitty fur?

I would say that, with the help of ad agencies and camera makers, along with the mind boggling explosion of blogs and photo sharing sites, that we've effectively reprogrammed the brains of three generations, and mutated our thought processes to the point where the analysis of the tools trumps anything that can actually be done (creatively) with the tools.

I think most bloggers start out trying to generate a mix of art, experience and gear. They quickly find that every time they talk about gear, or review a favorite lens or camera, their number spike like crazy and every time they post something heartfelt and about the art of photography their blog readership drops faster than a plutonium feather through a vacuum. Their blogs evolve into something they never anticipated. What started as a behind the scenes  showcase ends up as an educational blog with a credit card gateway. What started as a technical sharing site morphs into a  running ad campaign for workshops that teach how to. Never why to.

Let's face it. Most photographers have a financial incentive in running a blog. They wiggle around until they find a selling proposition that works for them and then they optimize. If you find the greatest payoff in click throughs and ad sales comes from gear reviews and the glorification of technique then it just makes sense to steer more in that direction. Which steers everyone into a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a technical culture the person with the corner on facts is king of commerce. And so it goes.  Even my favorite non Kirk Tuck blog seems to be larding in more "interesting" lenses and cameras than every before.

My point in all of this is simple. As a culture it's pretty obvious that we're fixated on process and gear and largely ignoring aesthetics and concept. We are dumbing ourselves down in that we absorb and regurgitate stylistic "differentiators" (fancy borders? different filters?) that have no relevance to messaging, thoughtful content and point of view. Adding destructive filters to a banal documentation doesn't elevate the banal documentation into a different realm. Especially when so many others are using the exact same filters on exactly the same kind of banal documentations. Madness. Paint by numbers. Stand here and use f5.6.

If we all become completely invested in the process only, with no point of view and no reason other than our own short term (imagined) pleasure, then the vast majority of images created in our lifetime will have less real reason to exist that toilet paper.

I've always preached the idea that constant practice makes one a better photographer, and perhaps there is validity to this on a commercial level or in the practice of street photography where, at least, you're being out on the street increases the chances that you'll find something worthwhile at which to point your camera. But I'm re-thinking my whole hypothesis. I think we shoot and share too much.  And it's mostly done without regard to challenging ourselves as artists with inquisitive brains. I'm guilty as heck of shooting stuff not because it's the way I see a subject but because it proves or provides a technical point I want to make in conjunction with my writing.

So, what do I hope for? Now that the megapixel race seems less important and now that the web based experts have have taught everyone on the planet how to use small flashes indoors and out, how to shoot people on skateboards and bikes, how to shoot women in halter tops and high heels,  and now that everyone seems to be settling in with their favorite PhotoShop celebrity post processing, I'm hoping that some strong, disruptive and highly creative artists come forward into our collective space to actually challenge us to try and make some art that has balls and a voice. I'm looking for the equivalents of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon who shook up the world's perceptions about photography in the 1950's and 1960's, even in the 1990s. I'm looking for a William Frank who can bring new energy to shooting in the streets. I'm looking for someone like Bill Brandt who re-invented portraits in the first half of the 20th century.  Where is the current generation's Diane Arbus? I'm equally welcoming to painters like David Hockney crossing over to do some unique camera work as well.

For that matter where are the peers and counterparts to Gary Crewdson and Alex Gursky? Why the insistence on only emulating the easy targets?  Is it just harder for people to be found in the clutter? Has the signal to noise ratio dropped below 1:1? Have we just let our aesthetic sensibilities atrophy to such a level that we can no longer even recognize something that has a real message? Or did we never care in the first place?

There are so many big themes in the world: The collapse of economies, the collapse of cultures and countries,  the denial of jobs for a generation of college graduates, the collision of western culture and middle eastern cultures, the clash of religions, the changing domestic roles of men and women in relationships, the ascendancy of women as income earners and learners and how that will effect sexual politics, how we'll redefine beauty as people become larger and obese, and how we envision the future. Love, Hate, Wonder.  Big themes that are just there for the taking. Big referents on which to hang our artistic visions. Or something as simple as a new distillation of what it means to possess beauty.

I would love for teachers to come along and, instead of showing us where to hook up the flash trigger or how to meter fill flash in sunlight, would push us to dig down and understand that we have a voice and a point of view and it's at least as valid as anything else out there. And it's that which we should be sharing and discussing rather than creating another image of a kitten, or a filtered landscape meant to impress everyone else on a discussion forum about how sharp our newest lens is.

I would love to see galleries spring up that are filled with transformative work instead of imitative work. I'd love to see photographic prints that are sharp with vision instead of just sharp as a litmus test.

I've caught myself, in my own little world here, heading out to create images to use in the blog that are quick and functional instead of good and personal. I am as guilty as everyone else because, at the center of our art is that nasty little secret that it's now easy to show off technically. Newbies are entranced by flash in daylight or narrow depth of field or mixed color temperature mastery. But we seem to have forgotten that these are just the tools we should be using to create messages; they are not the actual message.

The state of photography today? We've never had more effective tools and we've never (collectively) used them in a more mundane and safe way.  We're paralyzed by our need to perfect things instead of getting inside our own heads and understanding what we want our photographs to say. We've burned through the value of workshops as they related to construction techniques of building a visual house but we forgot to include an education about how to create the idea of the house. We have the construction company ready and equipment with all the tools and materials but we forgot to include an architect. We forgot that building well is also about building to a design. To a concept.

We built the photo equivalent a super collider but we have no idea what we're looking for or how to get started. At the risk of unleashing a whole new wave of workshops I'll say this very frankly: There is no value to a workshop that only teaches you how. The new value is the workshop that teaches you why or prods you to connect with a voice deep inside of you that needs to sing out.

Gone are the days when it was cool just to be able to show up and make a workmanlike image. We can do that with a phone and pulse now. The real magic will be learning to tell the stories of our hearts in our pictures. And to give them the power to move people because of what they say and not exclusively because of how they say it.

The workshop or online class I want would teach me how to connect to my own subconscious and learn what it is that has the most value to me as a person. As a member of our civilization and as an interpreter. The best workshop experience I ever had was one on creativity given by Ian Summers. No cameras. No photography. But some meditation and a lot of exercises that helped me get clear on what held me back as an artist and how to change my own perceptions. How to become clearer about what I love to see and how I love to see it.

The blogs and forums?  They filled a void for people who wanted current, hard information and needed a source.  But they didn't layer in relevance.

The next big trend? Might be wishful thinking on my part but wouldn't it be cool if we all slowed down and took a chunk to time to understand what drives us to do our art and our hobby and how we can bring the best of ourselves to the process instead of mindless repetition and duplication? And instead of working to sheer quantity wouldn't it be great to distill down our work to a group of incredible images that take your breathe away rather than an unending stack that leaves you tired and out of breathe?

In the end art matters more than technology. It's art that becomes the critical source of our history of civilization. Art and literature. And we have the tools to effect our own renaissance if we are only brave enough to connect with what we do intellectually, intuitively and emotionally.

It's not enough to be sharp and well exposed anymore. It's time to put our better brains to work.

Less an object of reason and technology. More an object of power and emotion.

"Show me something I've never seen before."

Canon versus Nikon? Not here.


People are, by nature, contentious. Love to argue. Love to be right. That's the basis of all the binary arguments. Nikon versus Canon. Democrat versus Republican. Each side clings to the idea that they are irreproachably right and the other side is delusional. Even though I know who is right and I am as political as everyone else out there it is a major point of pride here at the Visual Science Lab that we have had no politically charged blog entries and no nasty comment/squabbles.  And that's not going to change today.

I hope everyone votes. I hope my guy wins because I think I know best. But you've got to love the process and the passion.

To our extra-American readers I presume that the billion dollar election marathon looks crazy. I mean, how many really cool cameras could you buy with that kind of money? But it's always been a bit crazy it's just that our whole circus is much better broadcast these days. The correct way to look at all the expenditures is to see it as a big economic stimulus for the media and advertising industries. I'm sure it adds some percentage to our GDP.

So, which camera company is better? Canon or Nikon? The real answer? Neither! Sony will trounce them all......(kidding).

Have fun out there. Today we make some more history. Take a camera with you. We might as well document it.

11.04.2012

Pedi-cab on Congress Ave.


Just a grab shot while walking along Congress Ave. yesterday with a Sony a77 camera set to black and white, and a 70mm Sigma 2.8 macro lens clamped onto the front. I enjoy using the a77 as a black and white camera because the image preview that I see, real time, in the finder, shows me exactly how the image will render when I push the button. I like that. Much better than looking at a color image, trying to imagine it in 2-D and then trying to imagine how it will look after the monochrome filtering.

Also, I think the Sony does well with the skin tones in black and white.

11.02.2012

restaurant patron.

Leica M6 .85 ttl,  3rd gen. 50mm Summicron. Tri-X.  @Asti Trattoria in Hyde Park

11.01.2012

A good, solid beginner's book about photographic lighting.


I'm a sucker for good lighting books and I hate poorly done lighting books.  One of my favorites is nearly all theory. It's called Light, Science and Magic, and every photographer deserves to have a copy on his or her book shelf. In the last four years the marketplace for lighting books has been flooded by a torrent of books; some good and some beyond mediocre. But a good, hands-on, intro book is a nice thing to have. Syl Arena's has written a nice, small book for people who are just now getting ready to stick their toes into the water of photographic lighting as it exists beyond the little, nasty flash that's built into your camera. He's written a book that will help you take your first steps toward working at photography independent of existing light.

The book is published by the same group that published Nicole S. Young's book about food, Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, that I reviewed about a month ago so I expected to find the book very richly illustrated with example photos. The book is NOT aimed at people who've been through all of the Strobist.com routine and it's not aimed at professionals out to improve their technique and their understanding of lighting but it IS aimed squarely at someone who might have picked up a camera, gotten bitten by the the enthusiasm bug of photography and is now ready to add a flash and get started figuring out how to use one, two and three flashes off their camera. 

The book discusses the quality of light, color temperatures, the direction of light and all the relevant basics. He then goes on to teach the rudiments of lighting a portrait, working with flashes outside in the sunlight and how to trigger everything. I was first exposed to Syl Arena's writing when he came out with his first book, Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlights. I bought that book because I was using Canon flashes and I wanted to make sure I knew all the tricks, shortcuts and operational nuances of the brand. What I found in that book was a very meaty and in-depth "how to" book that was fairly well written and quite comprehensive. I loaned the book to a long time Canon "pro" photographer and have never been successful in getting it back. But I remember that it was quite useful to me.

When Syl came out with the latest book, priced at under $15 in paperback, I was intrigued enough to buy it. I wanted to see how different it would be from my first two books. Well, not much has really changed in lighting but the gear continues to evolve and Syl does a good job incorporating the latest triggers, flashes and techniques into the book.

If it sounds like I'm hedging on giving it a full recommendation, I am not. It's just that so many people who read VSL daily have advanced beyond the need for an introductory book. And I don't want anyone to think that this is a lighting revelation of biblical proportions. If you haven't messed with light and you are interested in getting up to speed with battery powered flashes then this book has my hearty and enthusiastic recommendation. The writing is informal and flows well, the information is rock solid and the example photographs clearly illustrate his points.

If you just bought your Profoto flash system upgrade to the Alien Bees you've been using for a few years you probably won't get as much out of it. But that's just the variable nature of experience in photography.

If you do decide to buy it go for the paper back version. It's not much more money than the e-book and I think basic books are great in paper because you can take them anywhere you go and whip through them to the parts you need now. Besides, we might be the last generation that has the choice of buying on paper. 

Just thought you'd like to know about this one. I read it in my hotel room in Abilene and it kept me interested enough to stay away from HBO and CNN...



Nex 7. Travel camera.


I'm back from Abilene, Texas with a few observations about gear. I worked with my Sony a77 cameras but I toured with my Nex 7 camera. In the next few days I'll see if I can get permission from my client to post some of the advertising images we created on Halloween day (the images had nothing to do with Halloween....) but for now I'm posting just three random snap shots that I took in between the "working" photography.

Abilene, Texas was a surprise to me. I expected a run down Texas town and I found a vibrant and well maintained city that bubbled with art and restoration. The cultural high point of my working visit to the city was, emphatically, the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in the center of downtown. The current show is work by the illustrator, Raúl Colón, and it was amazing. His illustrations, largely for children's books were a revelation for me. I'd seen his work before in print but when you can see the large originals you can really see the genius of the work. It's a show worth driving four hours to see.  The show right before the Colón show was the original art for the Dr. Suess book, The Lorax. 

The other treat for me was the ongoing reveal of really wonderful, old brick buildings that had been languishing under a 1970's, misguided application of industrial stucco. Many of the downtown buildings are in the west Texas style, above.

We did five advertising shots yesterday and for each of them I used the Sony a77 cameras, Sony lenses and the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS flash system with two heads. My "go to" lens for the Sony cameras is the 16-50mm f2.8. The more I use it the more impressed I am with it. For work related material I shoot in raw and then use the correction profiles in Lightroom or camera raw. Once corrected the images are almost perfectly rectilinear and very detailed.  Since I was able (actually wanted) to light everything I shot for the job I was able to leave the fast but heavy 70-200mm 2.8 lens at home and make due with the slower but equally sharp (and dirt cheap) Sony 55-200 DT lens. I also packed three primes, all Sony lenses: the 35mm, 50mm and 85mm's. I used the 50 inside the fuselage of a stripped jet but the other single focal length lenses stayed in the bag.

All the commercial shots were done in RAW and for the most part I just left the camera in the manual focus mode and blew up the preview images to fine focus.  All but one of the shots were done locked down on a sturdy tripod. I even brought along two sandbags for the exterior lighting set ups.

But the camera I enjoyed using the most throughout the day was the Nex7 with the silver bodied 50mm f1.8 DT lens on the front. In fact, I am so happy with the fifty that I didn't bother to bring along any other Nex lenses, nor did I bring an adapter that would have allowed me to use the DT lenses. If an image didn't work at my short telephoto point of view I just ignored the scene and walked on to the next bright, shiny scene that caught my eye.

I have found one situation in which the EVF of the Sony a77 is not optimal and I'll share it with you in case you find yourself in a similar situation. One of our shots for the project was to photograph four people positioned around the end of a conference table just in front of two huge, beautiful windows. We needed to light the interior for a group shot but the art director and I also wanted to be able to get a good exposure on  the old brick buildings we could see through the windows,  just across the street. They were in full sunlight. At ISO 100 the best exposure for the buildings was 1/250th of a second f7.1.  I knew I wouldn't have a problem getting the same exposure with the Elinchrom Ranger flash but the ambient light in the conference room was down around 1/8th of  second at f7.1 (at 100 ISO).  

If I set the camera at the correct shooting exposure (1/250th at f7.1) the scene in the finder showed the detail out of the windows correctly but the interior of the conference room was totally dark. My four subjects were nothing more than silhouettes. Yikes! That's a tough focusing and comping situation.

To make it work I used the lower light exposure setting (1/8th second, f7.1) to comp the scene and to fine focus. The group was stationary so I really didn't worry about them moving out of focus. Once I had the scene comped I switched to the daylight exposure and stopped looking through the camera (or at the LDC) and, instead, just looked directly at the subjects as I shot. I knew from seeing the image review that we nailed everything but it is different than using an optical finder wherein your eye could automatically compensate for the brightness difference. This is a restriction of the electronic viewing technology that will not be easily solved. It's the same when doing dusk shots outdoors with flash. The workaround is to switch back and forth between the exposure settings until you are certain you have everything nailed down and then lock into the shooting exposure and go forward. Again, not optimal but the only real drawback I've found in my extensive use of the EVFs.



The battery life for both the Nex7 and the a77 cameras keeps increasing. It may be that the batteries need to be broken in and perhaps that happens over time. Another answer may be that I've streamlined the way I use the cameras and have become more efficient in the way I use the cameras. I got nearly 800 exposures from one  battery in the a77 I used for all the shooting and I'm still working off the same battery I put in the Nex 7 nearly a week ago (about 650 exposures).

I didn't run into any other photographers or people toting cameras during my short stay in Abilene but, of course, plenty of people were toting iPhones and Android phones and snapping documentation with them. No one mentioned or asked about my choice of commercial or recreational cameras at all.

If someone is looking for a nice, west Texas town in order to sample the modern, small city, Texas lifestyle I'll be quick to recommend Abilene. Here are the things I liked best about the city:

1. Everyone I met was warm, welcoming and non-pretentious (no extraneous hipsters).

2. There is no car traffic of which to speak.  Yes, people were driving around in cars but even during rush hour there was no grid lock, no long lines, no crowded intersections. Austin is the 7th worse city in the USA for traffic and lost productivity due to traffic. What a wonderful alternate universe four hours to the north....

3. There is a community focus on the arts; especially the visual arts. 

4. A small number of chain restaurants for city the size of Abilene and a wealth of well done and well loved local eateries. Every place I tried had the combination I like: Good food and good, friendly service.

5. I like the restoration of old buildings all over the downtown area.

6. And I like this sculpture of the horse with red eyes.......just because I do.



The two days I spent in Abilene were productive and without stress. The drive back through the hill country was sweet. And the cherry on the ice cream sundae that this assignment represented was the ability to switch back and forth through the shooting day between my "work" cameras and my "play" camera. The play camera wins hands down. It's just the right everything. More to come.

Anybody out there from San Angelo? That's my next foray. I've heard great stuff about the art's community there and I want to head up and check it out. Might even convince Belinda to go with me. Go west Texas!!!

10.30.2012

My final, exhaustive, fawning, cynical, exuberant review of the Sony Nex-7.




When I shot with the Olympus Pen cameras I always liked the form factor but I always wished for more substantial image files. More dynamic range, more detail, and more richness. Now I understand that the OMD will satisfy those parameters to a much greater degree than my previous Pen cameras but the OMD came out after I'd already switched to Sony DSLT cameras and I decided to take a chance and test the best of Sony Nex cameras, the Nex 7.

Since there are some who might be new to my reviewing style let me state at the outset that I'm not going to give you resolution charts and I won't be trotting out a flawed understanding of physics and Nyquist frequencies. My comparisons to other cameras will be based on my personal, hands on experiences with the other cameras, not anecdotal story telling. I'm not necessarily recommending this camera or the lenses I use with it as the sole basis of your inventory with which to launch your professional imaging career. I have other cameras that I use for work and, while this one is a great imager it's not my first choice for long and busy assignments for reasons other than its imaging quality capabilities. You don't have to like what I like, in fact I prefer that everyone shun the Nex 7 so I can buy a couple more used ones. Finally, all the stuff I'm talking about in this review was purchased at retail from a local "bricks and mortar" camera store. I received absolutely nothing from Sony in return for writing this independent review, nor do I expect to get anything after the review is launched. Sorry my little paranoid friends, no quid pro quo here. I'll still have an itchy back when I've written the last word.

I'll confess at the outset that there was a learning curve that almost led me to returning the camera but after a couple of weeks pounding through the menu again and again the camera started winning me over.  For those unfamiliar with the Sony Nex 7 let me take a second a flesh out a description. It's a small, mirrorless camera with a fairly substantial grip for your right hand. Most of the camera body is quite thin and, coming from beefier cameras (even the Olympus Pens are thicker) it took me a while to come to grips, emotionally, with the idea that such a small camera could have a powerful sensor and could be stuffed full of high speed imaging processors.  

The Nex 7, like most mirror-less cameras, has a very short distance from the lens flange on the body to the imaging sensor. DSLR's (cameras with mirrors) have lenses designed for them that project the images back toward the sensor over a greater distance so that the mirror can take up space in between. Since the distance is much less in mirror-less cameras it's very easy to make adapters to use all manner of lenses originally designed for mirrored cameras. In fact, part of the popularity of the mirror-less cameras is their easy ability to accept just about any cool lens you can find that was designed for traditional mirrored cameras. 

If you own Sony DSLT cameras such as the a99, the a77, the a57, etc. you can buy a Sony adapter that will preserve the full exposure automation of the lenses while using them on the Nex 7 body. One adapter, the LAEA-2 will even give you faster, phase detection autofocus when you use it in conjunction with Sony's excellent line of DT and Alpha DSLR lenses. So, quick re-cap: mirror-less gives you the chance to use lots of really cool lenses that were designed for 35mm, conventional digital SLR cameras, Leica rangefinders and even medium format cameras, with the right adapters.

One of my early and prevailing gripes about lots of mirror-less cameras was the lack of a real viewfinder. The original Olympus Pen and a number of the Panasonic G series cameras came without integrated finders. You could use an optical finder dedicated to a single focal length or you could, in some cases, buy electronic viewfinders but most people seemed to make due with what is derisively known as "stinky-baby-diaper" hold. SBD is a learned operating flaw in which the camera operator holds the camera out at arm's length (in order to see to focus and compose) and jabs at the shutter button with his or her arms positioned to transfer the maximum amount of camera movement and shake at the moment of exposure. People learn to do this out of necessity with their cellphones and some younger proto-photographers seem unaware that there are better holding techniques available with "real cameras"  if only they had the use of a viewfinder of some sort.

In critiquing poor camera holds I am not trying to be clever or irrationally perjorative. The handheld camera is much more stable when it sits in the center of at least three anchor points. In the case of the traditional hold with the camera held up to the eye, the bend of the arms takes pressure off your shoulder muscles, each hand provides one point of a human tripod and the camera, pressed against your forehead/eye socket provides a third point of stabilization. A stabilized camera is better at resisting movement and is held with more stability which makes critical composition much easier. I think so many people use such poor technique that myriad cameras are dismissed as deficient when, in fact, it's mostly operator failure.

The Nex 7 has the state of the current art EVF. The little HD TV that lives inside the finder is lit up by LED and is 2.4 million pixels worth of information.  Yes, I think we all understand that it's not the same as an optical finder in terms of instantaneous response time and unlimited dynamic range but I would like to gently remind one and all that neither does the sensor in any camera have the same attributes as an optical finder and the EVF gives you a preview of the image in front of your camera that will much more correctly track the performance of that sensor. So, in fact, you are getting much more accurate preview imaging most of the time.


I've given in to the dark side. I have only a few film cameras left and they have optical viewfinders, everything else in my studio is now replete with an inboard EVF and I love them. When I go back to a direct, optical finder I feel cheated because I am unable to "pre-chimp" and unable to see the effects of filters, color shifts, contrast settings and so much more. In fact, I'm certain that it's only a matter of a few years until nearly all cameras come complete with electronic viewfinders. Not only for economic reasons but also because, once they become familiar, there's so much more and better information that can be used to take better photographs. To sum up, I am very happy with the new generation of Sony EVF's and plan on using EVF cameras extensively in the future. If you think you are not a candidate for this new technology borrow a Sony Nex 7 or Nex 6 or one of the DSLTs and try it out for a week. I predict that you'll fall in love with the extensive amount of information at your fingertips and the pre-visualization aid of seeing clearly the effects of your settings on the images you shoot.

So much for viewing. Let's talk about taking. 


Many people concentrate on the small size of the camera body and that is part of the charm for most. I think the charming characteristics of the Nex 7 are threefold for me. First, the 24 megapixel sensor is a game changer. When I use good technique, as opposed to random, handheld, insouciant shooting I come away with files that have enormous detail and wonderful tonality. How good is the sensor? Well, noted equipment guy, Michael Reichmann on Luminous-Landscape.com tested the Nex-7 against the Leica M9 and found the Nex-7 resolved a bit more detail. He questioned, given the strikingly similar moire patterns in the test images, whether or not the Sony Nex 7 really does have and anti-aliasing filter or if it's just a really weak one. That puts the Nex-7 in pretty rarified stratum as the Leica M9 is one of those milestone cameras when it comes to sharpness, resolution and great image files.

Many people hand hold a Nex-7 with an older legacy lens attached, get a less than stellar file and rush to blame the camera. Done correctly, with lenses like the Sony 50mm 1.8, the files are quite detailed and well rendered. Another benefit of the sensor and its implementation is the wide dynamic range measured by DXO Mark. For years the begging mantra was "give us less noise in the high ISO's." Well that seems to have been replaced with, "All I really need is great dynamic range." And so far this sensor and this camera delivers just that. So, the 24 megapixel sensor is still the highpoint for detail in the APS-C universe and it's a powerful lure. 

The second lure into the gravitation field of the Nex-7 is the ability to use an incredible range of lenses inside and outside the mirrorless universe.  It seems to be the go to camera for Leica M series lens junkies and for good reason. The newest ASPH Leica lenses perform well on this platform. I've experimented with the latest 50mm Summicron and I was impressed by the performance of the combo even at f2. I routinely use the camera with several of my favorite, older  Olympus Pen FT lenses with the 60mm 1.5 being my all time favorite.

I use the entire range of my Sony lenses for the Alpha DSLT cameras and I have never been displeased by the results. If anything the greater distance from the sensor to the mounting flange of the bigger lenses seems to give the camera some optical breathing room that makes the sensor seem even better.

The third charming characteristic will cause howls of disagreement in some circles so I guess it's subjective but I would say that the high resolution LED electronic viewfinder (EVF) is the third ingredient in the total package for me. The camera shares the attributes I've come to love about the a77 cameras: You get to "pre-chimp" everything you shoot. The amount of information presented in the finder makes the creation of most available light images remarkably straight forward. It's clean and clear and present.

So, here we have a package onto which we can graft something optically fantastic, like the Leica 35mm 1.4 ASPH, pre-chimp to our hearts' delight and burn into a state of the art sensor. What's not to like?

At the outset of the review I mentioned that I was initially stumped and dismayed by the menu. But that could easily be that I've become mentally overwhelmed by a decade of wildly different menus and wildly different interfaces across a whole panoply of digital cameras. Some far better than others. I like the menus in my a77s because they are linear and one dimensional. By that I mean that nothing extends in a vertical column that I must scroll down to see and they are linear in the sense that I can march across from left to right (the way I read) and access menus divided by somewhat coherent themes.  Not so with the Nex-7. When I accessed the menus I was confronted by six colorful and nonsensical icons. Okay, the mode icon was pretty self explanatory but the other five?  The setting menu is a good example. You go there to look for the card formatting menu but you have to go through a rotation of too many items to get there. I lose "format" geography on a regular basis. Not good if one is trying to work fast.

I'm still hazy on how to set different strengths of HDR (probably a Godsend since I'm then not tempted to use it...). I'm better with DRO but not by much.

But here's the honest reality, most of us who work with our cameras regularly probably go back and forth between two modes at the most and once we program our favorite settings into a camera we don't bounce around willy-nilly changing stuff.  I work in two ways. When I'm lazy I put the camera in "A," stop the lens down to f5.6 and use center set AF-s. That's it. I don't even use the AEL button, I use one of the Tri-Navi dials to "ride" the exposure compensation button at will. All the while pre-chimping the scenes in front of my camera and making allowances for the way I like to see stuff.

When I get serious I put the camera into the "M" mode and both the Tri-Navi dials come alive with real purpose. One controls shutter speeds while the other controls apertures. One thumb makes all the magic happen. That, and the ability to monitor so much through the EVF. I like the exposure scales along the bottom of the finder and I like being able to scroll quickly (via the DISP button) to histograms and levels, etc. In this mode I also take advantage of a little talked about Nex-7 button that actually puts me into the company of a generation of Nikon DSLR and SLR shooters. This button is just under the left most Tri-Navi dial and it is really a button inside a switch. The switch lets you choose whether the button in the center is for (AEL) exposure lock or whether the button will let you choose whether you are manually focusing or auto focusing. I always set it up as the focusing control button. And you can take it one step further and set it up to toggle between the two settings.

This is almost the same (but better!) as what my heavy duty Nikon using friends swear by. The set up their pro cameras so that the shutter button is separated from the focusing action. The focusing control is "re-mapped" to a button on the back of the camera which falls under most people's right thumbs. Hold down the button and the camera auto focuses. Let go of the button and it locks in place wherever you left it last. Focus lock with no slippage. At some point it's become second nature of my peers.

But as I mentioned I think Sony makes this control even better by letting you toggle it. You use the shutter button to AF and then hit the button on the back to toggle into manual focus. Boom. Now your focus is locked where you wanted it. Need to focus again? Hit the button again to toggle back to AF. Simple and as sure footed as a mountain goat.

There are many menu settings that I thought I would never touch which I now use routinely. When I walk around on cloudy days I switch to shooting Jpegs so I can select the black and white setting in the creative controls. When I shoot color Jpegs I find some of the creative controls to be aesthetically pleasing, like "clear" which increased contrast while making files slightly more high key and a bit "colder" feeling. But at the same time it makes them seem more crisp and delineated.

I stumbled onto one setting called "autumn leaves" and found it added a nice, warm vibrance to the few landscape images I try, in vain, to capture. I've actually used the "soft skin" setting on a few portraits and have been happy with the effect. My subject's appreciated the "assist" as well.

But the controls I use a lot are the ones that have to do with noise and dynamic range.  I like using the DRO (dynamic range optimization) control and I can generally see the results right in the finder. The control works by opening up the shadow areas. Since the Sony sensors trade off some shadow noise for resolution and dynamic range it doesn't make a lot of sense to use the DRO settings in conjunction with higher ISOs. DRO works best in situations like architectural interiors, landscapes and some still life work where you would normally be working on a tripod or at least with lower ISOs. I also use DRO in the Nex7 and the a77's when I'm shooting in bright daylight where shadows can go very deep. In almost all of these situations I'm consciously choosing to use ISO 100 or 200 for optimum quality.

It's easy for critics of the camera to pick one up, with the DRO automatic setting engaged, blaze away at ISO 3200 and then harp on noise in the shadows. The wise user understands that optimizing images by lifting shadow information (raising gain in shadow areas) is always a trade off. It's a good tradeoff in lower ISO regions when confronted with scenes that contain both bright highlights and deep shadows.  A bad tradeoff where noise is already in play.

For the most part I use my Nex 7 the way I used to use all cameras. I find it very quick and very easy to use when all controls are set to manual. With focus peaking engaged it's quick to focus and with manual exposure controls you can pan across a scene and not have shifts in exposure that are based on the changing reflectivity of the scene. With the two controls up top to give me thumb tip control of exposure settings the operation is faster than the lay out of typical DSLR cameras.

When you use manual focusing with Sony lenses in addition to getting a really great feature with focus peaking you also find that touching the focusing ring of the lens magnifies the focusing area and lets you really fine focus. Stop rotating the barrel of the lens and you go back to a full frame view.

The Nex-7 comes with a well implemented set of movie making tools including the ability to shoot at 60 fps in 1080i or 1080p. The video looks good and works well for short takes. There are reports that the camera heats up quickly during longer (over five minute) takes so this is not a substitute for people who like to video record events, speeches, etc. And there's the divide between users. Documentation video was never really the implicit design intention for this type of camera. I'm convinced the designers were looking to artists who would be making programming like two minute short programs for web use and presentations. People who use editing and create moving art. If you fall into the camp that uses video to document your kid's soccer game from beginning to end, or you are routinely being hired to record speech after speech at a dental conference this is definitely not the all purpose tool you'll want to press into service. Most of those uses are much better served by traditional video cameras.

When I pull video from the 7 into Final Cut Pro X I can do really nice things with it but it's always good to remember that all the video in still cameras intended for the consumer market is already "baked" when it comes out of the camera. That means all the settings and color are built in just like a jpeg file so your editing options when it comes to correction, tonality and sharpness are limited.  Most film makers have learned that "ugly video in camera means better video in post." What is meant by that also applies to still imaging with Jpegs. 

Experienced film makers set the controls on their cameras to reduce sharpness, contrast and saturation during the filming process. While the output from the cameras is not pretty it's also much easier to manipulate in editing. It's always easier and more effective to add contrast that to try and reduce it. It's much easier to move the sharpness up in post production but almost impossible to get rid of sharpening halos generated by in camera sharpening.  And, lower saturation looks better just about everywhere. But again, adding saturation is much easier than taking it away. I have my Sony Nex 7 set to "neutral" in the creative controls when shooting video and then I go into the neutral setting and customize it by reducing both contrast and saturation to minus one. It's much easier to end up with great files that way when you have control over post production in video.

The camera has a standard 3.5 mm stereo microphone input and the audio is good. My gripe is the same as I have with the bigger cameras in the Sony line up (excluding the new a99); there's no manual control of sound levels. This means you either get to trust that Sony did a good/great job with auto level controls or you satisfy your need for control by adding an outboard microphone mixer that can add a carrier signal to neutralize the ALC or you go one step further and just record your sound on a separate digital audio recorder and marry the sound track back to your footage in post.  I like working with the Nex in a total manual fashion when I do video but normally I reach for the a77 or a57 to do video since the cameras are larger and I can use in body IS for handheld work with any lens I choose to use.  So, the wrap up the video section: Yes, you can do very nice HD video recordings (and at a higher frame rate than most competitors) and you will have lots of control over the look and focus. The audio is good but not controllable. The run times are shorter than you might expect because of camera heating issues. This is not the camera you want to use to do a long interview in a west Texas desert in August.


There is a built in flash but I can't tell you much about it because I've never used it. Everyone who loves the Nex cameras has the same complaint when it comes to flash: The crazy people at Sony kept the proprietary shoe mount from the Konica Minolta cameras that are the ancestors of most Sony cameras. Sony cameras are the only ones that use this satanic connection point. That means you can't directly mount a standard flash to the shoe, or a standard radio trigger directly to the shoe. It also means you can't use a dedicated Sony flash on any other brand of camera.  So this is a major issue for all the people who like to attach flashes directly to their cameras.  

My bigger Sony a77's have a safety valve for professional photographers: there is a standard PC socket under one of the flaps on the side of the camera that will allow you to connect a flash with a standard sync cord. Just in case. Not so with the Nex 7. You'll have to Go Sony or get yourself an adapter. I've found an adapter I like that converts the Sony shoe into a standard, single post hot shoe that works universally with all standard flashes and triggers. It also adds a PC socket on the side for old schoolers how like to bang away with cable attached flashes. Finally, the accessory adapter gives you a place to slide in a Rode Microphone for run and gun video work. The adapters I've found are about $10 each and I ordered six from the supplier through Amazon so I'd always have one close at hand. I have three in my Think Tank Airport Security case and three in the equipment drawer. I'll probably order a couple more just in case.

Now that I've laid in a supply Sony has capitulated and started designed cameras like the Nex 6 with a hot shoe that can work with standard flashes and standard accessories. Just my luck.


While the Nex 7 uses slower (but potentially more accurate) contrast detection autofocus I haven't had much problem focusing in even dim light. You'll have trouble with large, flat areas that don't have detail to focus upon but faces and day to day objects are no real problem. Likewise, the focus is not fast enough to follow focus in sports or with fast moving children so if that's your speciality you can stop reading and go find a camera with phase detection AF. If you are a Nex 7 owner and the combination of features makes you loathe to use or even own other cameras you can always purchase Sony's LEAE-2 adapter. It gives your camera the ability to use Sony's Alpha lenses for the DSLTs, including all the Zeiss glass and long, fast lenses and it gives you phase detection AF that's as fast as that in the a77, a65 and a57 cameras. The downside is that you'll gain a translucent mirror within the adapter that will rob you of one third to one half of a stop. Some people also believe that it robs a tiny percentage of potential sharpness in the files as well. (Unless you are on a tripod and shooting under optimum conditions I don't think you will be able to see any difference in quality with or without the mirror. Just my opinion).

The way I like to use the camera when I'm trying to work faster than the contrast detection AF will allow is to use the camera in manual focusing mode and depend on the focus peaking. I used to be pretty good at fast focusing in the days of manual cameras and this is no different. It just takes a bit of practice.

No review would be complete without a discussion of battery life. At least no review of a camera with limited battery life. I assume that the new batteries in cameras like the Canon 1DX and the Nikon D4 are so stout that one rarely even thinks about battery power in those camps...

If you shoot with a Sony Nex 7 you should get used to carrying around at least one extra battery that you'll more than likely use during the course of your day. While the conservative specs rate the battery at about 400 to 450 shots that doesn't really take into consideration the amount of overall time that the finder or LCD stay on and that's where the real battery drain happens. The batteries also drain quicker in RAW than in Jpeg because the processors are working harder. Worst case scenario? Constant video use.  If I use the camera in a studio setting and I'm banging through series of portraits I can generally get 700 or 800 shots before I exhaust a battery. Walking around shooting randomly is different because you're holding the camera in a "ready state" for most of the time.

Easy fix. I found several alternate sources of batteries for the Sony. One is from Maximal Power and the other is Wasabi Power. Both of the aftermarket batteries fit well and provide at least as much power, with full power remaining indications, just like the Sony batteries. I have four batteries in all. Two Sonys, two Wasabi Power batteries and I use them interchangeably. I think expensive manufacturer's batteries are very pricey. The Sony branded batteries are nearly $50 each while the Wasabi's are something like $12 each. I've used them now for several months and have no complaints. I have a small, soft case that I drop into the bottom of my camera bag or jacket pocket with three extra batteries. That means I'm ready for the unexpected.

So, lets talk about image quality. In short, I think the Sony Nex 7 sensor is the best sensor in all of the 24 megapixel and under sensors in the APS-C or "cropped" size. I have the same sensor in the a77 and I think Sony uses different filters in front of the sensor because, with the right lenses, it seems sharper overall. Since I do have a nerdy, tech-y side I confess to having put both cameras on stout tripods and shooting them with the same lenses (via an adapter in the case of the Nex-7) and found the smaller camera to be slightly better overall.

The one trade off that I've accepted that may be different for other users is where that intersection of sensor capabilities crosses paths and creates a ven diagram of appropriate sweetness which will be different for every user. I like working with lower ISOs when I know I can wring more visual goodness out of a file that way. I'm more likely to reach for faster lenses and use them closer to wide open than I am to jack up the gain via the ISO setting. The Nex 7 sensor gives and takes. At ISO 100 it gives you the kind of dynamic range that we begged for two years ago. Really amazing dynamic range in RAW files. But dynamic range in all cameras is at the optimum wide open and then drops in a steady slope as ISO increases. I am fearless with the Nex 7 in RAW all the way up to ISO 800. Then the calculus changes and I start to change mental gears, embrace some shadow noise and think of the camera as workable to 3200. But all the way up I lose the dynamic range that was, for a while, everyone's holy grail. 

You can shoot at 3200 and be fairly happy with the results if you do good post processing noise reduction. But all of a sudden you've changed the aesthetic parameters of the camera. Not every camera does everything well. The Canon 5D mk2 outperforms this camera by a mile at 3200 and 6400 but candle hold a candle to it at 100. It all depends on what you like to shoot and how you like to shoot it.

Studio portraits with ample light? The Nex is fabulous. Exterior landscapes? Dynamic range king.  Street Photography? Loads of detail and wonderful tonalities. Reportage at night in poorly lit spaces? Not so great.


Here's the real adaptation proposition for me: This is a camera that can do amazingly high resolution photography but which is small and light to carry around. Here is a camera that can do wonderful street photography but it appears unthreatening and inconsequential.  Here is a camera that can do something your Canon or Nikon can not do, it can have one of the world's greatest Leica M optics mounted on the front and out perform even Leica's own camera for sharpness and detail. And all for around a thousand U.S. dollars.

The cons of the camera have been discussed since it's arrival but it's only fair to hit them again:

1. Slow review of taken images. (just fixed in a firmware update).

2. People often hit the movie button by accident and wasted time filming unwanted video (just fixed in a firmware update).

3. Some image quality issues with wide angle lenses. ( I personally haven't been affected by this but it has also been addressed in the firmware update).

4. Slow to focus. 

5. Not enough dedicated Nex lenses. (true. but the ability to use so many other lenses is great and it's only a matter of time before more and more lenses make their way onto the market. )

6. Fiddly and fanciful menu. (guilty).

7.  Movie length limited by overheating after five to seven minutes.

8. Short battery life. (the only way around that is a bigger camera...).

9. High ISO not as good as some competitors. (Sorry but that's a trade off...).

And here, to my mind, are the pluses:

1. The best and most useful EVF on the market.

2. The ability to use some of the very best lenses in the world today, with adapters.

3. A small, agile and well designed form factor that easy to carry all day long.

4.  A high quality video implementation (where IQ is considered).

5. One of the best sensors on the market for sharpness, sheer resolution, rich color and tonality and high dynamic range. 

6. Excellent controls for aperture preferred and manual use.

7. Very useful and well implemented focus peaking for precise and quick manual focus.

8.  Electronic first shutter for fast response and lower noise. Also lower shutter wear.


final assessment: There is no such thing as the ultimate camera or the ultimate system if you live in the real world where price, performance, usability and flexibility all mix with parameters like imaging performance. Buying and using cameras and cameras systems is as much a process of compromise and consensus as most politics. And everyone will have a different combination of features they enjoy and quirks that annoy them so there is no point to even trying to find a "winning" combination. If I lived in a world of diminished or non existent expectations I suspect I'd be happy to have any camera that works well. Regardless of its quirks, appearance or lineage.

I live in a different world that straddles several different considerations. On one hand I earn most of my living making images that I can license to end users. I am a photographer. I will continue to work as one until the market either dissolves or changes so much that what I do becomes unrecognizable or untenable. As such I handle lots of different assignments and work, with a range of tools, under different pressures and expectations than does a hobbyist.  And yet I am a hobbyist at heart. After a long week of assignments I can think of nothing more fun and fulfilling than to walk through a city with a camera in my hand, looking for something visually titillating to shoot and share.

I've worked with cameras as large as single sheet, eight inch by ten inch view cameras and everything smaller. For most of the 1980's and 1990's it was the medium format film camera and since the late 1990's every permutation of digital camera. And now, in 2012, the lines between professional and amateur cameras (and photographers) are inexorably blurring. There are no more hard and fast guidelines as to what works for work and what works for pleasure. And so we're constantly experimenting to see what works for what.

While I know I can get great files out of smaller cameras I also know that bigger batteries and bigger platforms with faster focusing can be an aid to getting quality work done on long days with fidgety subjects. That's why I used Canons big cameras and Nikons big camera in the past. But over time there's a process of distillation that I can feel happening and the Sony Nex 7 was the first ultimate shot across the collective bow.  Here is a camera that, as far as IQ is concerned, can hold it's own against nearly anything out in the market today. I'll assume that the full frame cameras with their bigger pixels hold modest advantages in overall quality but only at the margins of performance. 

By the margins of performance I mean the areas I'm not normally required to shoot. The biggest difference between "pro" full frame cameras and cameras with smaller sensors will be seen in the image quality as the ISO increases. Or the ability to create images with just the slightest sliver of sharp focus while still taking advantage of normal angles of view. But most of us shoot how we drive. We get in and go from point "A" to point "B".  We may want the performance of a Porsche or Ferrari but the reality is that we wouldn't want to drive either of those cars down the freeway at rush hour. Just wouldn't. And all the performance would be meaningless.

As a professional I've seen the vast majority of imaging work head toward the web. It's the great technical equalizer of images and in a way that's good because it means you have to have a concept and a unique point of mental focus to make images that stand out. Just being ridiculously sharp or technically perfect is essentially filtered out by the monitors the images are viewed on and the compression of web experience.  But what it really means is that in my profession I have more choices I am able to bring to bear in projects.

The Nex 7 was the shot across the bow because it basically says, "here we are, ready to go high resolution with gusto. Here was are ready to use premium glass. Here we are for $1200."  The value proposition is good. The joy of using the camera is palpable. Used correctly, in most situations it can challenge much more expensive and bulky cameras in the final display.

The bottom line for me is this: I like working with the Nex 7 and get images that are better than any I got from Canon 7D's, 60D's and other cameras in the same price range. It feels good to use. I like the EVF. It has its share of quirks and I'll work around them. It won't be my last camera but it will be the one I take out today and shoot for myself and it may be the one I shoot portraits with in Abilene Texas tomorrow. It's a good tool and it's been made better by the latest firmware.

It's quirky and a bit eccentric. That makes it a good fit for me.  

If you buy one go ahead and get the kit lens, rumors of it's mediocrity are vastly overstated (and it looks good on the camera). But whatever you do be sure to grab the Sony Nex 50mm 1.8 because it's really great. Choosing between a  Nex 6 and a  Nex 7? You're on your own. The 16 megapixel sensor in the 6 is supposed to be really good and the dials are more conventional. I've made my choice and I'll stick with the 7 for now. I'm used to the way it operates and that's half the happiness when it comes to using your camera well.