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


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…

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