camera tech

Vintage car races with the Sony RX10 III

I am quite the car nut, so when I had the chance to watch vintage car racing at Watkins Glen race track in upstate New York, I cleared out my calendar. Naturally, I would bring a camera - but I did not make the obvious choice of a pro-level DSLR with a gaggle of lenses. Instead, I chose the decidedly consumer-level Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III, an all-in-one superzoom camera.

Wait a minute ... am I claiming that a consumer-level "bridge" camera can compare against a DSLR? I'll post some images at the bottom of this article, but consider the biggest reason for choosing the Sony:

Sony vs Nikon.jpg

The Sony, on the left, weighs 2.2 lbs. The Nikon kit, comprising a prosumer-level D7200 body, 16-80 mm lens, and 80-400 mm lens, weighs over 6 lbs. The big zoom alone is 3.5 lbs. (Had I chosen a full-frame camera, the weight difference would have been even greater.) Plus - and this is a big factor, in my opinion - I can access the Sony's entire zoom range by toggling one switch, instead of having to swap lenses.

(By the way, I don't own any of this stuff. I rent cameras and lenses from Lensrentals.com.)

So how did the RX10 III stack up? Pretty decently, I'd say.

Image quality was surprisingly good. I shot JPGs, no RAWs, and was happy with the colors. I set exposure compensation to -1/3 or -2/3 EV and also used zebra to monitor my exposure. (More cameras should offer zebra in their live view. Hello, Fujifilm?) I set ISO and white balance to Auto. Otherwise, the images are straight out of the camera other than slight boosts to brightness in Lightroom.

Autofocus could not quite keep with the fast-moving cars. I tried a few AF modes, but had the best luck with single-shot mode using a center focus point. On continuous focus, the RX10 III has an annoying habit of racking out to the near distances instead of infinity when it loses focus. I didn't have time to experiment with tracking or other AF features.

I've used other Sony cameras before and am aware of their quirky menus. The RX10 III is no different. Things like EVF settings are scattered across different pages in a haphazard way. I changed a few settings, like assigning the custom buttons (ISO mapped to C1 and drive mode to C2), and that was enough for me.

Bottom line: no, I would not choose the RX10 III for a sport-specific assignment. But for pleasure, the Sony did quite well and I'm happy with the pictures. Here's the Flickr gallery, complete with camera metadata for all your viewing pleasure.

Postscript: Wouldn't you know it - Sony just announced the Cyber-shot RX10 IV, with improvements to the AF. Can't wait to try this out.

SVRA Watkins Glen 2017

Model, lens, and lighting test

For this shoot, I rented Fujifilm's 56 mm f/1.2 lens. This lens has gathered quite a reputation: it's supposedly endowed with an unbeatable combination of build quality, sharpness, and sublime creaminess in the out-of-focus areas. I just had to find out for myself.

Paired with my old but trusty Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera, I shot three models in a studio. I used a 3-light setup. The key light was set above the model and was either pointed directly at the model's face or bounced off a white umbrella. The hair light was set slightly behind the model, gelled blue, and flagged so as to not shine into the lens. The background was painted white, and I lit it with a red-gelled strobe. Finally, I set a silver bounce at the model's waist level to fill in the shadows under her chin. Exposure was around f/5.6 at ISO 200. I shot JPGs, and set white balance off my X-Rite ColorChecker Passport.

These are straight JPGs from the camera, with no more than a 1/3-stop adjustment to exposure. All i can say is "Wow!" The images from this camera/lens combo are simply divine, and I'm very tempted to make this lens a permanent part of my toolkit.

Testing models and equipment

Outdoors on a cold, wintry day with the fabulous Sarah Moore. It was windy and freezing in Old Town, Alexandria VA and Sarah was nursing a cold, but she wanted to try this outfit. What a pro - she gutted it out and never complained.

Old Town is overflowing with brick buildings and other interesting facades. There are some warehouses just around the corner from Chadwicks, and that is where we found this especially nice shade of green.

Equipment notes: Fujifilm X-Pro1 with 35 mm f/1.4 lens. Beautiful lens, beautiful colors, but focusing speed is a tad leisurely. But that's not necessarily a bad thing: it slows down the pace and makes the process much more deliberate.

Vienna and Prague

Just returned from a 2-week trip to Vienna and Prague. Decided to be brave and daring and took only this camera ---

IMG_0888.JPG

The Olympus XA is a film camera from the 1980's. It's small, obviously, and can easily fit in a pants pocket, as long as you're not wearing tight jeans. It has very few of the "creature comforts" of modern cameras: you have to focus by yourself, decide what aperture to use (the camera then chooses the shutter speed), and - most shocking of all - you can't instantly review the shot you've just taken.

It's also tough. I accidentally dropped it on the floor of a shop (a camera store, of all ironies). The back popped open and I lost a few frames of film. I just shut the back and kept on shooting.

I shot 6 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 (plus half a roll of Fujicolor 200 that was already in the camera). I love how Portra renders skin tones and browns and yellows, and its color and grain were a really good match for the Olympus. True, I mis-focused a few shots and had some problems with a sticky shutter release, but I'm very happy with the results. (Click on each images to enlarge.)

The true tools of the trade

Many photographers love to geek out about the best lens or the latest camera, but working photographers depend on less-glamorous tools to get the job done. Like lipstick in a woman's purse, I always carry these in my camera bag:

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport.  Absolutely essential for ensuring correct and consistent color. You can't just wing it by eye nor with the camera's "Auto White Balance." 

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. Absolutely essential for ensuring correct and consistent color. You can't just wing it by eye nor with the camera's "Auto White Balance." 

Reflector disk.  This is one of those foldable gizmos that opens up into a 3' reflector. With a double-sided removable cover, I get white, silver, black, and gold. Take the cover off and the disk becomes a translucent light softener.

Reflector disk. This is one of those foldable gizmos that opens up into a 3' reflector. With a double-sided removable cover, I get white, silver, black, and gold. Take the cover off and the disk becomes a translucent light softener.

Gossen Luna-Star exposure meter.  Yes, it's ancient. Yes, it's less important now that digital cameras let you instantly review the shot. But it does read ambient and flash exposure, and it's really useful for setting up multiple lights. 

Gossen Luna-Star exposure meter. Yes, it's ancient. Yes, it's less important now that digital cameras let you instantly review the shot. But it does read ambient and flash exposure, and it's really useful for setting up multiple lights. 

Rogue Strobe Gels.  These are colored gels that you place over your flash. Ever see a photo shot in nice warm afternoon sun that's been spoiled by the cold blue light from a strobe? Colored gels fix that problem. 

Rogue Strobe Gels. These are colored gels that you place over your flash. Ever see a photo shot in nice warm afternoon sun that's been spoiled by the cold blue light from a strobe? Colored gels fix that problem.