Why I’m Excited Sony Mirrrorless Cameras are Getting Great Reviews and Why I Won’t Be Getting One….Yet.
For those of you who simply can’t stand reading an entire blog, here’s the punchline: Sony’s mirrorless camera system is getting great reviews and mostly because of its performance in such a small package. Even with the latest iteration, the a7RII, there are no ground breaking features, even considering the 4k video capabilities. For me, I see it more as a replacement to my current system and not a major upgrade. For those of you interested in a more thorough explanation, read on. This is not intended to be a ‘pros and cons’ comparison of typical DLSR cameras and mirrorless cameras. There are tons of those reviews online falling on either side of the fence. This is about my personal view on the mirrorless ‘revolution’.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people are switching to Sony’s (as well as other manufacturers’) mirrorless systems – professionals, enthusiasts, and amateurs alike. Of all the reviews I have read, the most common underlying factor for the switch to mirrorless is the performance from the small size, but not that the performance was necessarily any better than a comparable DSLR. So is size that big of a deal? For some, absolutely. For me, not at all, at least not yet. Most of the reviews talked about having to lug around a lot of heavy full frame DSLR bodies and lenses and the fatigue of doing so year after year. Getting the same performance from a camera a fraction of the size and weight can be a huge plus for those looking to lighten the load, but this isn’t a new phenomenon. Point and shoot style cameras (arguably the first form of mirrorless cameras) have been around a long time and are specifically marketed to those that wish to take photos without having to carry around a huge camera. The conversation has only recently heated up because now a small camera can compete with the features and quality of a full frame DSLR with the bonus of interchangeable lenses.
As for the argument that it is lighter and easier to carry, that makes complete sense. However, I typically shoot on location and my camera is probably the smallest item I have to carry around. I have light stands, bags of equipment, tripods, backdrops, gallons of finger paint and/or gasoline, flashes, and on and on. I’m not even sure I would notice a weight difference even if I had a smaller, lighter camera. I am still very excited about photography and lugging around the required equipment is just part of the process. I do not consider myself a casual photographer. I hardly use my cellphone for photography at all. I’m either all in, or all out, so I usually carry my full camera bag or go without. I get that some people think that is exactly where the argument for a mirrorless system ‘wins’. You can now take a smaller camera into those situations where you otherwise wouldn’t, due to its size. But not really. You still need some kind of bag to protect your camera and to carry a lens or two, so you’re right back at where you started but with perhaps a slightly smaller bag.
I can honestly say that the future of digital photography is probably going down the road Sony and others are blazing. I would also venture to guess that within my lifetime mirrorless systems will probably outsell the typical DSLR system. So why not jump on the bandwagon now? Because you can go broke chasing technology. Anyone with a cellphone, which is probably everyone, knows exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, there are those that will trade in their perfectly working cell phone for a newer version and even stand in line to do so. I’m not one of those people. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If my phone isn’t performing the way I would like it to, or if the new model has a feature I’ve been waiting for, I may upgrade. Same holds true for my camera system. Size aside, a switch for me would be a small incremental step and not a huge upgrade. Additionally, I haven’t learned all I can from my current system. I’ve owned a camera of some sort or another for decades and I am far from reaching the limitations of my equipment, or imagination for that matter.
Now I know there are some people out there that already disagree with me that Sony’s lineup doesn’t bring any ground breaking features to the table. That’s fine. I’m not here to argue specs and I definitely don’t want to start a ‘fan boy’ thread on loyalties to specific brands. I’ve always been a believer that the equipment doesn’t make for better images. An experienced photographer can probably produce better images from a discontinued DSLR than a beginner can from a current top of the line mirrorless system. I’m also not convinced the same experienced photographer is going to get an image ‘that much better’ from a mirrorless system than he/she could from a current or older DSLR. If I had a lot of disposable income, I’d probably already own the Sony system, but I don’t. Therefore, I have to evaluate and weigh the benefits of what I consider a minimal upgrade given the price point, and it’s simply not there for me. There are no features on the Sony system that I absolutely need or can’t live without.
However, I am very excited to see this new mirrorless movement. It will force other companies to re-evaluate their products to stay competitive and competition always benefits the consumer in the end. It’s also a sign that serious photography is still alive and well and is far from being replaced by the plethora of cellphone cameras. Additionally, these are great times to find awesome deals on second hand equipment from those selling off their gear to make the switch to a mirrorless system.
There is no losing scenario for the serious or casual photographer. If you are drawn to the smaller systems, get your hands on one and see if it works for you. If so, buy that bad boy and create great images. If on the other hand you are still exploring your current system or have not reached any limitations with your system, save some money and keep shooting away. If you think you have reached the limits of your system but can’t afford to ditch your current setup for a new system, try adding some specialty lenses to your lineup. A new lens can rejuvenate your photography at the fraction of the cost of buying a completely new system. Either way, hats off to the mirrorless technology and innovations that will continue to follow. Perhaps one day I’ll add one to my camera bag, but not today.
We are just a few weeks away from an American tradition of celebrating our nation’s independence by blowing up a small part of it! Yup, the 4th of July! And nothing says independence better than setting off a slew of explosives. For several years now municipalities have had their own fireworks shows for local residence. Nowadays, you can find a fireworks show nearly everywhere in the city on the 4th of July. This is a perfect time to grab your camera and try some night time long exposure photography!
Equipment for fireworks photography is fairly simple. All you really need is a camera with the ability to extend the shutter length and a tripod. I typically also take along my remote wireless shutter release just to make sure I’m not shaking the camera when I take a picture. Make sure you are familiar with your camera and can quickly and easily change settings in a completely dark environment. The last thing you want to do is miss the show because you’re hunting around your camera trying to change settings.
In addition to a DSLR, I usually take a lens that has a moderately wide angle view. Most of the time my focal length is somewhere around 35mm, sometimes a little wider, sometimes a little narrower. The typical kit lens (18-55mm) is a good choice. I typically shoot fireworks in manual mode as I don’t want the camera attempting to get a perfect exposure. It will constantly attempt to make the image much brighter than it should be. Aperture setting is a little more complicated and may take a little experimenting. You want to get a good depth of field so a mid-range F-stop number is desired (F5 to F8) but you don’t want to decrease your light gathering abilities by setting it too high (such as F11+). I typically shoot around F5. I have tried a very fast lens at F2.8 but found the shallow depth of field an issue when trying to keep the entire image sharp. Plus, keep in mind you are only trying to capture the light from the fireworks and not necessarily the ambient light of the sky. I keep my ISO set to the lowest my camera will accommodate, usually ISO 50 or 100. Again, I want a dark background – black if possible.
The last setting to consider is your shutter speed. This is where a sturdy tripod is a necessity. Your shutter will be open for a significant time so hand holding your camera typically will introduce severe blurring. Experiment with different settings. A longer shutter will give more firework trails and can create some fairly interesting pictures. Shorter exposures will give more of an ‘explosion’ effect to the pictures. If you prefer the longer, softer looking images, increase your shutter speed. Keep in mind that doing so may lighten your picture more than you want. To compensate, increase your F-stop number to a higher value (from F5 to somewhere around F8 perhaps). Take a few shots and see which images you like best. I typically like the images I get at between .5 to 2 seconds. I get a little trailing but not so much that the ‘explosion’ effect is lost. Once you get the desired images you want, start shooting away.
I simply start watching the sky and press the remote button after each shot or when I think there is about to be a good display. A decent fireworks display can yield you more images than you probably anticipate. Make sure you have a good sized memory card and charged up batteries. Another piece of advice, turn off your camera’s long exposure noise reduction feature if your camera has one. This feature will attempt to reduce noise from a long exposure image. Typically this is a good thing but it takes about as long as capturing the image as it does to process and remove any noise. You will miss several good shots waiting for the camera to process each image. Besides, a 2 second exposure typically isn’t long enough to introduce the type of noise the feature is designed to remove.
This technique is also the same technique I use to capture nature’s fireworks – LIGHTNING! The only differences are that I continuously snap away with lightning as I never know when the next strike is about to happen, and I will typically shoot with a wider field of view to get more of the sky in the frame. Otherwise, the settings are just about the same. I do tend to keep the shutter speed closer to 2 to 4 seconds as well. Unlike fireworks displays, lightning takes a little more patience. You may take close to 100 pictures to later find you only really got a handful of great lightning strikes. Because of this, I will typically stack the images of the more impressive strikes into one image. Here again, using a tripod is crucial. If the storm is close, you will have a limited time to get the pictures before the heavens open up and the rain begins to fall. Be safe though! You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery. Don’t be a statistic that corroborates this saying.
Be it a lightning show or a fireworks display, take the opportunity to get your camera out and experiment. With so many different displays around town on the 4th, and some even a day or two before the 4th, try different settings for different fireworks displays. You don’t even really need a professional display to experiment. Try it when the kids are out setting their fireworks off in the street or in the yard. Year after year I would set up at a local display and capture image after image of great exploding fireworks. It’s relatively easy and I think you will be amazed at some of the images you will capture. In the end, simply have fun with your camera trying something new. See you out there!
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.