Challenge 42: The Mega Mirrorless Challenge

Night time fresh coconut ice cream related snack, ISO 8000

No, this isn’t a challenge where I go for several weeks without looking in a mirror (you could be forgiven for thinking I do that anyway…!).

To see my very sleepy intro on FB, click here.

As you may know by now, I bought myself a replacement 2nd camera: the Sony Mirrorless A7 II. 

To read more about what possessed me to do this, check out Challenge 41!

This began as a thorough 2-week test while we were on a family holiday.

Yup, I took the gamble of only taking the new mirrorless camera with me, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to properly check any of the photos until I arrived home (I didn’t take a laptop with me, and as you may have read in my previous experiments with the Sony, the viewfinder screen and main screen are quite inconsistent).

Cloudburst at ISO 12800, although I have had to heavily edit this – it was VERY grainy!!

Once home, I decided I needed to extend the challenge for another couple of weeks.

The flaw in my plan was that as we were in Thailand… with a four year old… we were mostly out and about during the day, in bright sunshine. There wasn’t a huge amount of opportunity for low-light shooting. So the Challenge has continued…

Challenge #42 was all about pushing the Sony A7 II to its limits

Concert in a dark-ish church, ISO 6400, and yes, some editing to reduce the grain!

This included photos while on holiday, at a concert in a church, in a dark hanger containing lots of aircraft, and at a big Freelance Mum event – indoors and outdoors.

Techie Details:
Camera: Sony A7 II (Mirrorless)
Lens: Sony 24-70 f4

At a networking event. Although ideally I’d have focussed on the speaker, the Sony did capture some decent catchlight in his eyes at ISO 2000.
HOW DID IT GO?

I’m much happier than I was a month ago, that’s for sure!

The most important thing for me was to understand the limits of this camera, and I think I achieved that. 

Using the Sony at Fleet Air Arm Museum pushed it to its absolute limit in terms of ISO. In a way I’m sad I didn’t take the Canon, as it would have coped admirably under these conditions, but it was an excellent way to really test the low-light abilities of the Sony. At a maxed-out ISO, it’s not great, and realistically I probably won’t push it above around ISO6400 if I can avoid it, but it was a valuable test.

The Sony performed remarkably well with this photo, and at ISO12800 I haven’t done any smoothing to reduce grain. (You can see how dark it is if you look how dilated LW’s pupils are!)

I tackled the battery-life-draining-away issue by turning off the Sony when I wasn’t using it. I used it as my second camera at an all day event, and had to change the battery just once, so was relatively pleased with that.

My plan to turn the back screen off was foiled by the fact you can’t actually program a button to flick it back on again when you want to preview and check your photos.  Instead you have to navigate a menu system… which isn’t quick!

 

The Sony does a good job at ISO 2000

I still don’t like the fact the electronic viewfinder is a bit rubbish, but I’m getting more used to it, and trusting my gut more with what settings I need to use to get the photo I want.

It’s particularly important to get exposure right in camera in low-level light – there is very little scope to adjust and compensate in post-processing with this camera.

ISO 16000, but I did have to reduce the grain quite a lot!

Adjusting the focussing point continued to be a bug-bear, and although I did find a quick way to do it, it’s all to easy to accidentally knock the camera into a different focussing mode.

Overall the Sony lacks the consistency of the Canon 5D III, and I’d avoid using it as a primary camera in most situations.

That said, the general results were pretty sound, and although grainy, if I keep the ISO down to around 6400 and below (and expose correctly in-camera), they are perfectly fine.

A fun shot from a freelancing event. The colours are good, and the image is clear.

The biggest challenge in terms of usability was switching rapidly between the Canon and the Sony in a real-world, worky-type of way. The controls are very different.

However, in the worst possible conditions (bright, direct sunlight, with darker shady bits and a fast pace with lots going on), I still coped!!

The plan is to stick with this setup: Canon 5D III as primary camera, with Sony A7 II as the secondary camera…

…At least until I can afford the rather lovely Canon 5D IV.

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Challenge 41: Festival (WITH NEW KIT!!)

To see my bright, shiny, festival-fuelled post with dubious background music, click here!

(I should caveat that with: I thought the band did a cracking job at the Jonny Cash covers, but unfortunately what I’ve inadvertently captured here doesn’t really show them in their best light!!)

So what’s this challenge all about anyway, and why on earth have I been buying more kit?

Well, I love my Canon 5D Mk III (in case you hadn’t worked that out by now….). It’s fab, handles well and produces great images. Don’t worry, that bit of kit’s going nowhere!

The problem I have really lies with my old 60D camera, which I use as a backup/second camera. It’s the one I started out with, but now comparing the images with those from the 5D… I’m just not happy. I don’t feel the high quality I expect and need is quite there.

This left me with a choice: Buy another second-hand 5D III, or try something new. 

Have I mentioned how heavy my 5D is?  (The answer is yes. Yes I have.)  According to the Canon website (I haven’t double-checked with the scales at home), the body alone is just shy of 1kg. That means if both my cameras are 5Ds, I’ll be lugging around 2kg of kit in camera-body-form alone – any my heaviest lens is just under 1.5kg.

This isn’t all that practical for weddings, christenings and other photoshoots where I always carry two cameras – and coincidentally involve the most walking/running about. (For family shoots, I always have my second camera somewhere nearby in case of emergency, but only use one camera).

Dare I go Mirrorless?

There’s been growing hype around mirrorless cameras for a few years now – I remained (and remain) skeptical – but I thought it was time to take a gamble, do a bit of research and see if I could make it work for me.

The research showed me that (a) although mirrorless cameras are much smaller than their DSLR big brothers, they are flipping expensive, and (b) there are quite a few to choose from.

In the end it did come down to a compromise between price and performance (which was inevitable, right?)

Sadly Canon don’t have a full-frame mirrorless camera on the market. They seem, for some misguided reason, to be aiming purely at entry-level sales.

So I settled for a Sony A7 II, because the III has just been released (reducing the price of the II, although I couldn’t see a massive difference in spec). There is an A7R series as well, but a quick look at the price and the image size swiftly took that out of the running.

The BIG compromise I’ve had to make is with the lens.  The best I could afford with the remaining budget was a 24-70mm f4.  Ideally, I’d have gone for the f2.8, which would serve me much better in the lower-light conditions I often shoot in. The f4 is still an excellent lens, but whether it’s up to the job or not remains to be seen. (And don’t worry, I’ll be running LOADS of testing before it gets taken out “for real”).

Ok, ok, so what about this Challenge then?

New kit needs a test run, so I headed out for our village festival – Party In The Field – in celebration of the Royal Wedding.

It was a bright, sunny day. Really difficult shooting conditions, even with a familiar camera. So it was a good place to begin!

Challenge #41 was all about giving my new mirrorless camera a run for its money in a festival environment

Techie Details:
Camera: Sony A7 II (Mirrorless)
Lens: Sony 24-70 f4

HOW DID IT GO?

I’m going to be honest, I have a few issues with this set-up and I pretty much hated my first outing with it.

A lot of these issues were to do with the fact I’m not used to Sony cameras, and needed to figure out how exactly I want to set the camera up to make it easier for me to use (like programming the 4 custom buttons, and turning that bloody back-screen off!).

What went wrong?

The battery life just drains away. I think my Canon goes into a power-save mode until you press the shutter button, so I didn’t think to keep turning the Sony off. It’s not really practical to turn it off, though, because then it’s not in a ready state. I think the biggest drain on the battery was the back-screen (mentioned above), which I barely used. So I’ll be switching THAT off for sure.

I also hated the electronic viewfinder. It’s too digital and pixellated. It also doesn’t match the preview you get on the back-screen once you’ve taken the photo, in terms of brightness and colour.

This meant that for the whole festival I had no idea how to adjust my settings correctly, or if I was getting any decent photos. Was I over-exposing or under exposing???  (There is a built-in meter, but I’ve only ever used this as a guide, and relied on checking images captured quite frequently, as the meter can be misleading).

To say I was a very grumpy sausage is an understatement.

I could see all these potentially fabulous shots, but had NO idea if I was getting them. (It was like the frustration of film all over again!).

In the end I put my skillz and experience to the test, and set shutter speed, aperture and ISO to what I thought it should be, and went with that.

My final gripe was setting the focussing point, which was a real balls-ache. I’ve since found a slightly easier way to do it, so will see how that goes next time!

What went right?

As it happens, the resulting photos were much better than I was expecting. I actually really like the results, and didn’t have much editing to do to them.

The camera itself feels solid and well-made. I was a bit concerned it would feel flimsy, but it definitely felt like pro kit, and at approximately half the weight of my Canon, I was quite happy with the handling!

It also has all the manual settings I use all the time (realistically, I wouldn’t have bought it if it hadn’t), and each has it’s own little mechanical dial, which is handy. The buttons seemed conveniently placed, and I found I was getting the hang of where everything was pretty quickly.

What happens next?

It’s too early to give my final verdict. If things don’t work out, then the plan is to sell it and buy another Canon 5D III, but I want to give the Sony a fair go first.

I’ve made a list of my niggles, and will be doing my best to address them in terms of camera set-up/use as best I can over the next week.

Then comes the Mega Test. I’ll be using the Sony extensively EVERY DAY for two weeks. Under all sorts of conditions. If I’m happy at the end of that, then it will have it’s first real run in a real photoshoot.

We shall see…

Would you like me to help you capture your special memories?! Get in touch to have a chat

Challenge #40: Reality

For my slightly squinty, very Little Whirlwinded FB Live intro video, Click Here!  (We were in SOMERSET, not Devon.  I got confused. Blame lack of sleep 😂)

The thing we all do is share photos that paint The Very Best of ourselves and of the experiences we’re having.

Here’s a good example. It’s not posed, Little Whirlwind just turned to me and smiled, but it’s a classic “Happy Moment” shot.

There are plenty of reasons for doing it, and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do (it cheers me up to see my Facebook Timeline full of the smiling, happy photos of my friends).

But I decided I wanted to challenge this trend. I wanted to take the opportunity of our First Camping Trip as a family to try to show the reality of what we were experiencing. 

 

Now, I will caveat this post with the statement that we actually did have an awesome time. Yes, there were amazing bits. Yes, there were crappy bits. But over all, as a first time camping together it certainly had a healthy dose of fab experiences.

That said, real life is made up of those fab experiences AND the normal bits in between.  And that’s what I wanted to show.

Challenge #40 was all about capturing the reality of our first time camping together as a family.

Techie Details:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk III
Lens: 50mm f1.4
 

Being outdoors all the time, and having so much to adventure and explore can be really tiring! 
HOW DID IT GO?

When I look at the photos here, by contrast to what we’re used to seeing, everyone looks almost sad. Don’t worry – they weren’t (for the most part). This is just normal life… with normal faces. 

I’ve deliberately focussed on the coffee cup, rather than Long Suffering Husbands eyes in this photo. I think the overall photo emphasises just how much that coffee was needed. (He gets more into focus the more caffeine he consumes…)

This was a surprisingly difficult challenge for me. I WANT to post the lovely, photogenic, smily photos. The Chocolate-Boxy moments. But I feel that this selection of photos tells more of a story than First Pony Ride, First Fossil Hunting Experience, Steam Train Ride, Castle Exploration and all the other big moments.

These photos speak more the to day-to-day reality. Forging Friendships. Preparing food. Just getting on with life, but in a different context.

Forging New Friendships

I could have taken any of these photos in a different way, to paint a different version of our story. I could have chosen angles so the other tents and caravans weren’t in shot, to make it look like we had loads of peace and quiet. I could have chosen the photos where everyone’s smiling. I could have left out the extra detritus around the plum wine in the photo at the top of this post. But I didn’t, and I feel I have a truer record of our trip for it.

Would you like me to help you capture your special memories?! Get in touch to have a chat

 

Ok, ok… I had to include one!!!

Challenge #39: Motion Blur

For my FB Live intro video, Click Here!

I had this spur-of-the-moment bright idea for a challenge, knowing full well I didn’t have the right equipment with me to tackle it properly!!

However, the opportunity to try to capture some nice motion-blur photos was too compelling, and I decided to give it a go.

We were away in London for the weekend, and visiting the bustling Natural History Museum, and with crowds of people and static displays, I decided to take a chance.

Challenge #39 was all about capturing the hustle and bustle of people

One way to achieve motion blur is by slowing the shutter speed right down so that movement is… well… blurred. I had no tripod or remote control on me, and couldn’t find a good place to balance the camera and set the timer going (which is a bit hit-and-miss anyway, because it’s impossible to figure out how and where people are going to move).

For the majority of things I photograph, it’s important to capture motion and movement sharply, so this was a big deviation from my usual photographic style.

Techie Details:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk III
Lens: 50mm f1.4

HOW DID IT GO?

I usually won’t drop below 1/80 sec hand-held with the 50mm lens (I keep my shutter speed much higher than this for my unwieldy 70-200mm f2.8!), and any photographer will tell you it’s a daft idea to even consider hand-holding below 1/60 sec.

So the fact I thought I’d give 1/5 sec a try is absolutely crazy.

But I’m always up for a challenge.

I haven’t tried this motion blur technique in years, and really just wanted to try it out again while the opportunity presented itself, so I rooted my elbows down on a solid surface, detached Little Whirlwind’s hands from the back of my coat/arm/leg/head, took a deep breath and held it while I released the shutter.

 

It’s clear the photos aren’t as sharp as I’d like them to be, but I was surprised with the results!  Given more time, I’d have waited and watched a bit more for people moving into the gaps.

That said, I’m now keen to give this another go (with the correct equipment)!!

Would you like me to help you capture your special memories?! Get in touch to have a chat

Challenge #38: Spring Vibes

For my Springy FB Live video (with extra added Little Whirlwind assistance),  Click Here!  (It cuts out after 30 seconds due to lack of signal, but you do get a – somewhat blurry – indication of all the primroses!)

We were off on location over the weekend – to Sunny Devon. It gave us the chance to actually get into the Springy Swing of things, because spring seems to have arrived painfully late this year.

Challenge #38 was all about capturing some Spring Vibes

These photos were all taken around the beautiful grounds of Langdon Court in Wembury.

 

Techie Details:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk III
Lens: 50mm f1.4

HOW DID IT GO?

It’s trickier than you might think to take photos on the subject of “Spring” without taking cliché shots and lots and lots of photos of flowers.

Cliché Camellia

To add to the “Try Not To Take Loads Of Photos Of Flowers” thing, there were also two groups of ducklings paddling about on the pond…and I did rather get distracted with photographing them (despite the fact I had completely the wrong lens)!

Yes, I’ll admit I struggled with this challenge!  Although the photos I took were technically fine, trying to get something a bit different proved to be very difficult.  However, it was fun to explore, and LW had a great time investigating the leaves, flowers and wildlife!

Would you like me to help you capture your special memories?! Get in touch to have a chat

Challenge #37: Something Watery, Something Springy?

For my slightly harassed FB Live video,  Click Here!

Today we had a family excursion to Beese’s Riverside Bar & Garden via boat for a lovely Sunday Lunch. But as it happens, the last thing I wanted to do was get my camera out.

Yes folks, today was definitely one of those inspirationless days. If we hadn’t already been planning to go out, I think I’d have probably stayed in bed under the covers (and I think that comes across in my FB live video).

I’ve talked before about how I cope with days when I just don’t want to get my camera out (basically, as a professional, this isn’t really an option).

Today I was determined to get out and about, and felt it was important to capture the day (it was an early birthday celebration for Long Suffering Husband). And a great way to force myself to get the camera out of the bag is to publicly set myself a challenge!

Challenge #37 was all about capturing the day – a splash of water and a dash of Spring. 

Realistically, I wanted to use my wonderful 50mm f1.4 lens today, but I knew that the tight conditions of the boat, and the potential for capturing some landscapesque photos meant that I would need my handy and flexible wide angle lens.

Techie Details:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk III
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8

HOW DID IT GO?

I didn’t take as many photos as I usually do (cf note above about lacking inspiration), but I’m glad I persevered and took some photos. I’m very happy with how they turned out, but I do notice that my photos tend to be darker (in colour and subject) when I’m in a down-cycle.

As well as the pictures in this post, I’ve captured some lovely, fun family photos. The other side-effect was that forcing myself to get my camera out and trying to get the creative juices flowing brought me out of myself a little bit and shifted my focus from internal to external. I’m sure I was better company for LSH, Little Whirlwind and LW’s Big Brother Ben because of it.

I kept the challenge quite broad (this helps when I’m just not feeling it) – along the lines of water and Spring. However, the weather really was against us and the results are definitely more Water than Spring.

I may very well try again for the Spring Vibe in my next challenge!

 

Would you like me to help you capture your special memories?! Get in touch to have a chat

Celebrating Small Businesses

Do you or your friends run a small business or society? Perhaps you’re part of a group that would benefit from some fabulous photos that really capture the essence of what you’re all about?

Well, you may be interested in a new corner of my website.
Check it out here!

The fact is we live in a society where we’re constantly bombarded with information.

A well-placed, effective picture can make us stop in our tracks and actually read, absorb and remember some of that information.

Promotional and Corporate Photography with a Difference

You may already have spotted that not all the photoshoots I do are family and wedding related.  I haven’t advertised my promo work much (most of this kind of work that comes my way is by word-of-mouth), but it’s a very fun side of what I do, and I’ve met and worked with some amazing people.

It’s Simpler Than You Think

I specialise in photographing you, your work or your group, in such a way as to capture the character – the essence – of what you do.

Bland corporate headshots this is not. There’s no awkward posing involved – you just do what you do, and I get to work!

So whether you’re looking to recruit new members, promote your event or advertise your business, why not get in touch to see how I can help?

Challenge #36: A Glow In The Dark Experience

To check out my cider-infused FB Live video,  Click Here!

This challenge is a bit upside-down because when we set out today we weren’t entirely sure what we were going to end up doing.

We found ourselves at Cheddar Gorge. The original plan had just been to pop down there for an ice cream and a potter about, but Little Whirlwind expressed an interest in exploring the caves.

Plus it was the last weekend of the Glow In The Dark Easter Egg Hunt.

And who can resist a glow in the dark Easter Egg hunt around a large network of caves?!

So I formulated my plan to test my camera and my skills to their limits by photographing without a tripod in very low level light as we were queuing up to buy the tickets.

Challenge #36 was all about capturing the magic of Cheddar Gorge caves, with no flash or tripod. 

Techie Details:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk III
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8

HOW DID IT GO?

The biggest challenge here was with the colour of the light. It’s easy for our brains to be tricked into thinking it’s darker than it really is (especially where red light is concerned).

The look of wonder on Little Whirlwind’s face made it all worthwhile! He loved the whole experience (and even stayed still long enough for me to get a photo of him with my shutter speed down at 1/80 sec!!!)

Unbelievably, despite the dimness of the caves, I found quite a few of my photos had patches that were over-exposed (particularly around the sources of light and the reflections), and photographing the glowing Easter Eggs proved to be tricky too.

The lighting here was very, very red. Even in the original photo you can’t see much detail – until I switched it to black and white! Ah, the magic of colour and lighting!

 

I kept the shutter speed right down (around 1/80 which is the lowest I’ll ever go hand-held), with an aperture of f2.8 (the most wide open this lens will go). My ISO ranged from ISO 500 (to get the detail of the glowing eggs) up to a whopping ISO 25600 in the darkest part of the cave.

On the whole I’m pleased with my results.  But there is something I’d do differently if I were to photograph here again: Although it’s important to get the exposure correct in camera in low-light situations, so next time I’d underexpose slightly.

Would you like me to help you capture your special memories?! Get in touch to have a chat

Challenge #35: The Neglected Garden – DocuStyle

To check out my FB Live video (with missing sections due to bad signal),  Click Here!

Yes, ok, this challenge is a day or so late, but as it’s a bank holiday it still counts as the weekend, right??

After a hectic and somewhat stressful weekend, Little Whirlwind decided we needed a day at home – and we didn’t disagree!  The weather was (finally) blissfully warm and conducive to Neglected Garden tackling.

We grow some of our own fruit, veg and herbs – using my tried-and-tested method of mostly hands-off gardening.

Neat and Tidy Allotment-Style Gorw-Your-Own this is not.

Basically, I don’t have time to tend to it as much as I should do, so we have a few hardy things that survive my skills – like rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries and loganberries! Each year I attempt to grow peas and beans.  Sometimes we win, sometimes the slugs win.  Tomatoes usually do well, and so did the potatoes until I gave up because we get so many in the veg box that we get delivered from Riverford.

With all the late snow we had this year, we’re very behind with the garden. So we took the opportunity to start to tack it today, and I decided to capture the process as part of today’s challenge.

 

Challenge #35 was all about taking documentary-style photos of a Family Mission To Tackle The Neglected Garden!

At this rate we’ll be planting the peas and beans in May!

I chose to use my 24-70mm lens because it’s the most flexible lens I have, and the distortion also gives the photos a more documentary-photography feel.

Techie Details:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk III
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8
Other Kit: tripod, remote control

I decided to try to get myself into some of the photos by setting the camera up on a tripod and using a remote control to trigger the timer function on the camera (so at least the photos would look less posed).

HOW DID IT GO?

Hmmm… Well, the gardening part went well and we made loads of progress.

The photography side?  Well, I’m happy with some of the moments I’ve captured (and yes, the boys did get distracted with bug hunting!!). But I didn’t get any photos of me.

I set up the tripod, and some of the photos here were taken with the remote control/tripod combo. The trouble was I couldn’t quite get the angle right to trigger the remote with me in the “right” place in the frame.

Yes, I could have moved the camera and fiddled and faffed about to get a decent shot with us all in, but to be honest I was happy pottering in the garden and spending time with my family. I knew I’d got some shots of Little Whirlwind and Long Suffering Husband that I was happy with, so I decided to put the camera away and enjoy family time.

Would you like me to help you capture your special memories?! Get in touch to have a chat

Challenge #34: A Multi-Week Eco-Type of Challenge

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the body soap and bar shampoo in the foreground could replace ALL the plastic-wrapped stuff in the background?!

This challenge is linked to THIS VERY IMPORTANT AND SUPER-INSPIRING ARTICLE!  So check it out 🙂 

It was a multi-week challenge, as it involved writing and editing the article as well as taking the photos. There are two FB Live videos, here and here (the second one’s a bit better!)

Challenge #34 is all about capturing images to illustrate an article on changes to reduce waste

And to make the whole thing seem a little bit less daunting!

Techie Details:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk III
Lens:  50mm f1.4
Other: Reflector

HOW DID IT GO?

This isn’t the kind of photography I spend most of my time doing, and I find it does take quite a long time to structure the photos so I get the image I want. (I find it much easier to capture life in-the-moment!).

All the photos are taken round the house, and although I used my reflector for a few of them, I did just use natural light coming in through the windows.

I’m pleased with the results though, and I sincerely hope that the resulting article will help you to come up with a few achievable changes to try out. 

To read the article and get inspired, click here!!