Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Compact System Cameras: Beginner or Professional?

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin - Shot on the Sony NEX 3.

The NEX proves a bit easier to pack than its bigger brother.
You may have noticed over the past year or two the rise in popularity of Micro 4/3rds or Compact System Cameras (CSC's). The recent release of the Nikon 1 leaves just Canon left to add their product to the market, with Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic having quite a head start. Earlier this year I purchased the Sony NEX 3 with 16mm lens so that I could carry a camera around with me without compromising quality or any manual control. Not long after purchase I went off to Dublin for a few days, so I thought that it would be a great chance to test out the NEX and see just how well it could live up to my more bulky Sony Alpha DSLR.

If you've ever flown anywhere you'll be aware of the strict regulations regarding luggage, so its important to be able to fit everything into your bag. As you can see from the picture opposite packing my DSLR took up a large portion of my bag whilst the NEX simply fitted in on top. Being the first time I'd visited Dublin, and not having much time before hand to test the NEX's abilities, I decided that I would take both cameras with me, and by the end of the trip decide whether or not the NEX could be a suitable replacement for future endeavours.

As we arrived in Dublin early in the day, we had quite a wait before we could check into our hotel. This was the first chance for the NEX to shine, as it was inconvenient to get the DSLR in and out of my bag until I had unpacked. The NEX however was easier to access and lightweight enough to sling around my shoulder whilst carrying my bag without causing any difficulties. After a quick breakfast in Temple Bar where I snapped this shot of a bicycle chained up to a tree, we headed to Kilmainham Gaol, the location for films such as 'The Italian Job', and 'In The Name Of The Father'.

It was a great place to test a camera as there were many areas with low light levels, and a nice mixture of narrow, dimly lit corridors and open spaces. The first image, taken outside the gaol, was one of my favourites. Using the NEX's full manual controls, I was able to focus on the 'KILMAINHAM GAOL' slab in the foreground and slightly defocus the background whilst still retaining enough detail to see the building. To any photographer, this is a common practice, but to be able to perform this on such a compact device is one of the the real selling points of the compact system cameras.

Since the gaol is such an old building, it has plenty of tight corridors which get little natural light, something that meant most of the tour group were firing away with their not exactly flattering on camera flashes that come built in to almost every compact camera. Whilst the NEX does come with a flash that can be fitted to the top of the camera, I didn't need to use it. This brings me onto my favourite part of CSC's, their sensors. Whichever brand you buy into, you can be assured of a much larger sensor than that of a compact camera, although the Sony NEX range boasts the largest sensor as they are all fitted with APS-C sized sensors, the same size as in many of their DSLR's. This allows them to operate at higher ISO speeds before the noise levels deteriorate below an acceptable level, and therefore makes them useful in situations like this, allowing me to capture the dark hallways of the gaol much more naturally, and with a more aesthetically pleasing outcome.

I also found that it coped very well when faced with high contrast scenarios like in the image below. Whilst the windows in the ceiling are over-exposed, the walls are exposed correctly, there is enough shadow area to make the image interesting without loosing all the detail on the stairs and walkways.

We were also lucky enough to be blessed with some lovely weather, so I got a few colour shots to see how they would hold up with the bright sun light. The image to the left is of the Guinness factory, and I think it did a great job of coping with the sky, metal, and stone, without the need to use any HDR settings, either in camera or in Photoshop. The same can be said for the photo below, which I took of Laura whilst we went for a walk along the river.

As we had visited several tourist spots, we spent some time taking in the culture in the best way I know how, wandering the streets with a camera. As a self-professed 'culture junkie' there's only so much tourism I can handle before needing to get out and experience some real life. This also gave me a chance to test out the NEX with a bit of street photography. Dublin is such a vibrant city, especially in the evening, so it was a great pleasure to simply walk its streets and photograph its people. Temple Bar was my favourite areas, with some of the best pubs I've ever visited, (even if they are some of the most expensive,) and so many people on the streets in such high spirits, and never more than a few steps out of earshot of some live music.

Once again I had found something that the NEX excelled at. Having chosen the 16mm 'pancake' lens when I bought the camera, it is very small and unobtrusive, making it easier to walk around without being noticed. It also means you have to get closer to your subject, although many street photographers already do that. It can also be equipped with other lenses, if you'd prefer to put a little more distance between you and your subject. All the companies currently making CSC's offer a few different lenses, with plans to release more in the future, and there are a variety of lens adapters available allowing you to make use of your existing collection of glass.

If you're familiar with the inner workings of a SLR camera, then you'll know that when you compose your image, you are looking at the image coming through the lens, bounced up to the viewfinder via a mirror in front of either the film or sensor. To take the photo the mirror must flip up to allow exposure, and this is what makes the classic camera noise. CSC's do away with this mirror, rendering the image you use to compose your shot straight from the sensor. This removes the time it takes to move the mirror, and the accompanying noise, making candid shooting far easier. I was able to take shots like these without anyone noticing, and then simply move on.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised with just how well the NEX performed over the three days I spent in Dublin. It was charged before I left, and survived until I got home, even with extensive use. I carried it everywhere and barely felt the need to get my DSLR out. All of the images in this post were taken on the NEX and only received basic editing in Adobe Lightroom. Whilst I would never do away with my DSLR for a professional job, I can safely say that next time you travel somewhere and are strapped for space, a good quality CSC is a more than suitable replacement for your DSLR.

No comments:

Post a Comment