After several years of life with the Sony Alpha 65, the moocher felt it was time for a new lens. So off to Imaging Resource to see what was happening in the digital imaging world. As I was shopping for the Alpha 65, Sony had just introduced its NEX line of cameras. The Alpha series featured a semi-transparent fixed mirror with an electronic finder. The NEX series eliminated the mirror and penta-prism. The main sensor was also the finder sensor.After reading several reviews, I concluded that the mirror-less camera had grown up and was a good choice for me. Many working pros are coming to the same conclusion, especially those shooting travel and street photography where compactness is an asset.
How to go about selecting a camera
It is really important to consider the subject matter you are imaging. Are you video logging? Are you doing macro photography of flowers? Are you photographing family indoors? Family outdoors? Offspring playing sports?
Each subject requires a different lens but you can do many of these things adequately with a “travel lens” made for walking about picture taking. These lenses have a broad focal length range on the order of 20 mm to 200 mm but are somewhat slower (f 3.5 to f5.6 or so) to keep size and cost in reason. Since most of my usage was of the walking around town or walking around the Botanical Garden, a travel lens would be a good choice. It could photograph the pets, garden wildlife, take macros of flowers, and seemed a good all around choice. Every major manufacturer offers a competent travel lens.
After identifying subject matter, identify the lenses you need. The lens choice and lens mount determines the camera families you should consider. Canon, Fuji, Leica, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony give access to different lens families and have different sensor size selections. The common sensor sizes are Micro 2/3, APS-C, and full frame (24×36 mm) in order of increasing size and equipment cost. Most professionals use the full frame sensors. Most non-professional photographers will find the Micro 2/3 and APS-C sensors suitable. Most manufacturers offer one of the compact formats and one of the full frame formats. Panasonic gives easy access to Leica lenses and Leica does some lens design work for Panasonic. Similarly, Sony gives easy access to Zeiss lenses and Zeiss does some lens design for Sony.
Canon and Nikon Pro Support
Canon and Nikon have the largest lens offerings and more third parties make lenses for these two lens mounts than for the upstarts like Fuji, Panasonic, and Sony. Canon and Nikon shine in the specialist lens area. Canon and Nikon have the 500 mm lenses favored by marine, sports and wildlife photographers. These specialist lenses can be rented for the job. These two brands also have field support operations for professional photographers including camera service and loan equipment while gear is in for service. Sony is starting a similar service for working professionals because Sony cameras are finding increasing use in professional video.
Mirror-less or Traditional?
Sony’s mirror-less cameras were an interchangeable lens version of the high end digital cameras Sony had been offering for some years. The first of these had clip on video view finders as an option. As the product matured, the electronic viewfinder was built in in the Alpha 5000 and Alpha 6000 families. The electronic viewfinder is both an advantage and a liability. The electronic finder merges camera information as an image overlay. It also shows exactly what the lens will see and is good at previewing the image about to be captured. The drawback is that it consumes battery power and makes the camera a bit slower walking. I like the composition aids that the electronic finder makes possible and the wake-up delay and reduced battery life are acceptable in my recreational application.
Fuji, Panasonic, and Sony are fearless in adopting the mirrorless technology. Canon and Nikon are putting their toes in the water not to be left out.
Image Asset Management Software
Those accustomed to using phone cameras work primarily with JPEG compressed images prepared by the camera application in the phone. To take best advantage of a real camera requires working with the camera’s raw image format. Increasingly, this is ARW format popularized by Adobe Lightroom. Working with the ARW file requires specialized software such as Adobe’s Lightroom offering or Phase One’s Capture One offering. The biggest difference between the two is the business model. Lightroom is part of Adobe’s Creative Suite and is rented by the month. Phase One Capture One is licensed in perpetuity. Capture One is more attractive as costs are fixed and known.
Sony and Phase One have an arrangement to make a Sony specific version of Capture One available at a reduced price in 2 versions, a free version having only the basic raw file editors and a paid version ($100) that includes Capture One’s color editor (a major differentiating feature). The paid version is the full Capture One editor with the non-Sony file format handlers removed but the full lens correction library included. It is possible to purchase the Capture One Sony Pro version for less than a year’s cost for Adobe CS photographer’s package.
Fore me, I found Adobe’s business model annoying and the reputation of Flash and Acrobat put me off so I jumped at the chance to move to Capture One at no cost. Capture One is the real deal and Sony is wise to offer it rather than the free image manager bundled by other manufacturers. Sony Capture One is downloaded by taking a link from the Sony website over to a landing page on the Capture One website.
The travel lens is the right choice. Its increased focal length range works well taking snaps of the dogs indoors or out and I took the squirrel photo at 200 mm and cropped it severely (maybe 10% of the frame) yet it remains sharp.
This is an available light image of Missy in the lounge taken in the lounge at 100 MM. Exposure is 1/100 second at f 6.3 at ISO 12800! Yet it is still noise free and sharp.
The crop comes in a bit closer to give a feel for the noise at elevated ISO. Definitely usable. Look at the black areas in her ear and eye. Still good at this magnification.