New Camera Diaries, London Fashion Week Edition*
London Fashion Week
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Last week I wrote about my experience at New York Fashion Week, only it wasn’t a present/past tense recall as much as it my still getting over the shock of having been gifted a Sony A7Rii by Adorama and sharing photos I took from the camera in one of those, Here, look what I did! sort of recaps. Longtime readers of Lord Ashbury know that this isn’t really how I like to present collections of images, mostly because as a photographer I believe in the anonymous (as opposed to self) approach at information, but also because my readers know that my mind is way too technical. So before we get to the image, please forgive me while I back up to before New York Fashion Week even began for just a brief moment and set the table properly. My apologies, this is about to get somewhat nerdy…
So, Sony is the only digital camera system I have ever known. In late 2011, I bought the A65 and took it to my first fashion week in September 2012. This is no exaggeration–I was the very first photographer at fashion week to shoot exclusively with a Sony camera. The reaction I received from almost every other photographer was somewhere in between disdain, amusement and full-on curiosity. The question I received more than any other that season was, “Why Canon or Nikon?” The answer: I was all set to buy a Nikon–I believe it was the 5100–and then I attended a Sony demonstration and played with the Sony and knew it was the camera for me after the first test picture I took. Sometimes it’s that easy. Moving up to a full-frame in February 2013 was a revelation given how much attention I spent to detail in the editing process of my photos. The Sony A99 wasn’t perfect, most notably because it was significantly slower than same-tier Canon and Nikon cameras. Throughout the next two years though, both Canon and Nikon would release more cameras that were even faster and with better optical performance. Sony? Well, they made this nifty camera called the A7 in the fall of 2013 that a lot of people seemed to like, however it wasn’t compatible with my camera mount, and it was unclear on whether or not it was actually better than the A99. No problem, I thought, I would just wait until Sony made an A99ii.
But a funny thing happened; over the next two years, while there was no A99ii in sight, Sony would make five predecessor cameras to the A7. During this time, the hype machine really picked up and Sony’s full line of cameras were fast becoming the de facto consumer camera for photo. Professional film and video people on the other hand, gave their word of truth to a specific model, the A7S (and A7Sii). Their small size, technical advancements and super high light tolerance made them the best video cameras on the market. But many professional photographers balked; while there was no question that the little cameras took superior images to just about every other camera on the market in its class, there were serious questions about whether or not the mirrorless wonders were robust enough for high volume and physically demanding work. At that point in my career, I was shooting multiple fashion shows and people on the street every day, sometimes upwards of 1,500 images or more per day. My A99 was big, heavy, a tank basically; I’d taken around 200,000 images with that camera and did not question its toughness (remember this*). So I sat and I waited for Sony to announce the A99ii instead of moving over to the mirrorless system, because that would’ve required a wholesale investment. The A99ii was released at the end of 2016 and at the time of writing this, still hasn’t arrived to my house on account of being back-ordered. The question resides: Should I have made the switch to the Sony A7Rii earlier? The short answer: Maybe.
(Read more below)
Given that the Sony A7Rii is about a year and a half old, there’s really no point in me hashing out all the technical specifications — if you know Sony, you know what this camera boasts, and if you don’t, there are hundreds of really great photo sites and blogs that did all of this work many months ago. What is of great interest, however, is how the experience of shooting on this little guy stacks up against the larger SLR/pro-type camera. The A7Rii body on its own is exceptionally light in comparison to the A99. It’s the kind of light that I could through in my backpack and forget it’s even there. But (and I must stress), that as a professional shooter, light is irrelevant if the full setup isn’t right. When Adorama asked me what I’d need to make the new camera hum like my other Sonys, I explained to them that I typically used three different prime lenses for my work: the Zeiss 85mm/f1.4, Sigma ART 35mm/f1.4 and an old legacy Minolta 28mm/f2.8 lens, the latter of which, admittedly is just OK. For the new camera they agreed to send me the Sony G Master 85mm/f1.4 and the Zeiss 35mm/f1.4. (I would buy the Zeiss 25mm/f2 on my own, I needed an upgrade on that lens anyway and it would not have been fair of me to ask Adorama to replace it for a better lens, so I didn’t.) The 85mm and 35mm lenses are not light, and in fact, the 85mm G Master weighs something like 3 pounds on its own, which is just ridiculous.
Quick not so dumb tangent: Because when I handle cameras it can sometimes be for an entire day, muscles and joints in my back, shoulders and wrist can sometimes get fairly sore. One thing you can do when selecting cameras and components is to think a lot about weight distribution, as it directly affects your body’s ergonomics. I don’t do shoulder straps (but I do not suggest that you try this at home or on your travels unless you have great insurance!), and prefer to simply hold the camera in my hand. If the camera body is heavier than the camera, this is fine. If the lens you’re using is heavier than your camera, it’s a good idea to find a way to re-distribute the weight. Consider adding a battery grip to your camera body; not only will it add weight to your camera body, it will also give you double (and sometimes triple) the shooting power throughout the day. How does adding weight to your camera help ergonomics, you ask? Imagine your wrist being held together by two parallel rubber bands. If your lens is heavier than the camera body, the weight is outside the area of your grip, therefore one rubber band will get pulled more than the other. With equal weight distribution on the other hand, both rubber bands are pulled against the same amount of gravital force. What’s stronger, resistance against one or two rubber bands? Which will last longer, one rubber band being pulled or two? The struggle is real. End tangent.
The weight of the camera is significant to note. With the grip and Zeiss 35mm/1.4 added, the camera feels barely lighter than my old A99 with Sigma 35mm setup. The A99, being the much bigger camera, has a huge and deep grip that, for my rather large hands, makes it a machine that I’m so confident I’ll never drop, ever. Once in New York during winter I slipped on some ice and used the camera to break my fall. It did, successfully, and the camera walked away with a couple of scuffs. Which is why I call it a tank. With the 85mm G Master on the other hand, this camera is suddenly very heavy and almost unsafe for its size — I would say that if you’re going to have the G Master, you almost certainly must have the batter grip as well. For my hands, the grip on the A7Rii camera body is barely adequate; the camera isn’t going to fall out of my hands, but I have to be constantly mindful while holding it. The battery grip on the other hand as a deeper hold, and I much prefer holding the camera by the battery grip when it’s not in use.
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There is one piece of spec information that I’ll throw out, and that is that the camera shoots at 5 frames per second (fps). Coming from the A99, that camera supposedly shoot at 6 fps. Both are light years slower than pro Canon and Nikon cameras. To be honest, I cannot tell the difference between 6 and 5fps… but what I can tell you is that the slower 5fps on the A7Rii at least feels more functional. It seems to have a much higher buffer threshold–or rather, it has a higher volume point. Put another way (and let me be clear, I’m not testing this in a lab), on my faster memory card, the A99 fires off maybe 8 or 9 frames @ 6fps before it must pause to write all of the collected data to the memory card when shooting in full RAW mode. On the A7Rii, it feels like 12 total frames, and what’s more, the writing cycle feels shorter. So that means the camera can write more frames and refresh faster. Comparing apples to apples within Sony, this is REALLY great, especially during a fashion show where models are walking out one after another rather quickly. If we’re comparing apples to oranges, however, neither of those cameras can compete with something like a Nikon D5 that has a 200 frame buffer. So really, when you’re buying into Sony, you’re giving up speed, and a lot of it. Depending on what kind of photography you do, this can either be no big deal or a very, very big deal. So how fast is the Sony burst mode in regular people terms? It’s fast enough to capture people moving at a regular pace, that’s about it. (This isn’t to be confused with the actual shutter speed, which is lightening quick 1/8000 at max speed). So the camera can catch the fast moving object you can present, it just can’t do it at exceptional intervals. For sports and active wildlife shooting, this is probably not for you.
The good news is that Lord Ashbury isn’t about either of those things. In terms of photographing people specifically, the camera is a real gem. The resolution alone is the most impressive thing I’ve enjoyed in digital photography, and the images I can get out of it are the most satisfying end result aside from my film Pentax 67 camera. With two batteries in the grip and all of the bells and whistles turned off in the camera (GPS, Wifi, etc), I can shoot somewhere around 1,000-1,200 photos on one charge. On one hand, this isn’t great. But to be fair, if you’re not shooting sports or wildlife, you’ve really got to be going HAM to exceed that many photos in a day. Two batteries in the clip, for 98% of non-sports photographers, is actually enough to get through the day. If you’re shooting weddings on the other hand, I would venture to say that you need at minimum 4 batteries, but 6 if you don’t want to rely on the rather slow charging time that the included charger gives you.
(For your information: Sony makes different chargers for this battery type; for maximum cycling speed, this is the charger you want.)
As for the lenses themselves, I’m still feeling my way around them, as they feel very different from my 85mm and 35mm counterparts on my bigger Sony. The good news is that this gives me something to think about for next time.
So after all of that, you’re probably thinking, What about your experience in London? To be honest, this was my experience in London! Going out every day using the new camera with this in the front of my mind, comparing it to my old Sony camera in the back of my mind. That I love London Fashion Week the most out of all of the fashion weeks, I suppose it’s a bit of a bummer that I didn’t muse more on this… but at the end of the day what matters are the photos, right?