Park Cameras Open day

Yesterday I visited a Park Cameras open day in Burgess Hill, Sussex where a number of camera manufacturers had representatives and equipment to sample, and there were some seminar sessions.

Sony NEX-5 Magnesium Alloy body barely larger than a compact.

I had the chance to play with the new Sony Nex3 and 5 which have APS-C sensors in a body that is unbelievably small – hardly bigger than a normal compact and much smaller than the Panasonic GF1, despite having a sensor that is twice the size. The interchangeable lenses however add considerably bulk, making these cameras requiring a small bag rather than a pocket. Both models feel comfortable in the hand, the Nex5 feeling more solid, and slightly less long but with a deeper handgrip.

Frankly these cameras are a remarkable feat of miniaturisation and remind me of the the Sony Walkmans in the 1980’s that seemed smaller than the cassette that fitted inside! There are few external controls regrettably and a very annoying menu system with lots of instructions for beginners, that get in the way of simple functions like “switch to Aperture priority , select an ISO speed etc”. From sample images I have seen of pre-production cameras, the image quality is not as good as an alpha DSLR despite having the same sensor as one of the Alphas, blurry edges and high chromatic aberration being particular issues. Two potential reasons – very small back focus distance and lens quality not being up to scratch – I noticed these were not Zeiss lenses.

I am hoping that Canon will introduce a mirrorless interchangeable – the G11 style body but with APS-C sensor and ability to use EOS mount lenses will be a best seller. And Canon know how to make a proper camera control system too. For Sony Alpha users though this is a no-brainer, as an adaptor allows the fitment of Apha lenses, though this again adds to the bulk as in is over an inch in depth.

One thought, I wonder what this segment will be called. Up till recently all the cameras have been micro four thirds cameras, with a sensor a quarter the size of a 35mm frame, then Samsung brought a model using APS-C and now Sony.

Digital Single Lens? Digital Single Lens Mirrorless, Digital Interchangeable Lens Compact?

Talking of Zeiss, I was able to test the 85mm 1.4 autofocus lens made for the Alpha on a full frame Alpha body. This produces a tiny depth of field for portraits, note the image below – taken of Park Cameras most attractive assistant! (who was unfortunate enough to walk past as I was testing!)

Zeiss / Sony Alpha mount AF 85mm 1.4

The Samsung EX1 has been on the market for a couple of weeks, but as yet Adobe does not support the Samsung RAW format for this camera (Why didn’t they make it DNG?) I shot a few images with this camera, and while I really enjoyed using it – the swivel screen, handy control wheels front and back and the build quality, I was not so impressed with the images. ISO 400 was really quite poor – noisier than Canon s90 and I discovered a bizarre fault, where consecutive images are sometimes washed out of colour.

Strange washed out images from Samsung EX1

At 400 ISO considerable chroma noise is visible even in the midtones and there are significant artifacts. A disappointing result.

Samsung EX1 400 ISO Crop - click image for 100%

I also was able to test the Canon 7D. As a 5D mk2 owner, I have been disappointed with this cameras ability to focus on fast moving subjects like aircraft and racing cars. I was keen to test the 7D’s ability in this regard with the Goodwood Festival of speed in 4 weeks. I switched the camera to multi-shot mode and follow focus (called AI Servo on Canon’s) and asked a friend (David Wilsden) to walk back and forth while I fired away. Regrettably not a single image was sharp, despite using a fast shutter speed and high ISO to ensure a reasonable aperture f5.6. So I wont be buying one of those.

The best 50mm lens on the market at the moment? You may think it is a Canon – the 50mm 1.2L or a Zeiss perhaps? As you may have read in my blog about Zeiss lenses both these designs suffer from focus shift – where focusing at f1.2 or 1.4 wide open and then shooting at say f2, the plane of focus shifts away from the camera. Solving this problem was one of the design criteria for the Sigma 50mm 1.4 which costs £379 – quite alot for a 50mm lens though much cheaper the the aforementioned Canon and Zeiss.

David took a few shots with the Sigma on the Alpha, which as a crop camera gives a 75mm short portrait lens. The eyes are sharp in both cases, and with very pleasing background blur. I’d say this lens is worth trying.

Sigma 50mm 1.4 on Sony Alpha crop camera eff. 75mm

As the Sony guys were being so helpful we also tried the 500mm mirror lens on the Alpha – giving 750mm effective. As the Alpha body has in camera image stabilisation it was possible to handhold, and this lens has autofocus – the only mirror lens made for an SLR with this convenience. Imagine trying to lift, left alone handhold a conventional lens of that focal length! It was easy to handhold and produced images that while not razor sharp were of good contrast and without a centre “hotspot” – read my mirror lens blog for more details about mirror lenses. The image below was handheld and is a crop of the centre, click on the picture and it will show you the actual pixels. Certainly worth considering if you want a long reach eg. for wildlife and you are an Alpha user.

Sony Alpha 500mm Mirror f8 Auto Focus - Centre Crop click for 100%

Finally the best part of the day was a presentation and demonstration by fashion photographer Jon Gray and Fashion model Katie Green Jon talked for 40 minutes about lighting and posing techniques and then gave a practical demonstration. He then asked for volunteers to step forward and naturally I was the first to “step into the breech”! Here is one of the images.

Katie Green - Canon 5dmk2 24-105 @ 75mm f8 1/125th

On a serious note, Katie campaigns against companies using size zero models having had bad experiences with agencies herself. Read more about this on
Katie’s Campaign website

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