Out Of My System

I think I’ve gotten the Sony thing(s) out of my system. At least for now. Last night, I spent a little more time with the Sony a55 and a580 cameras at my favorite local camera store, Penn Camera. I found both cameras to be exceptionally well laid out, with menus and controls that made sense and did pretty much exactly what I expected they’d do. Without cracking the book, I was able to poke at just about anything I wanted to. Nice job, Sony.

The a55 I found to be exactly what I expected it to be — exactly what the old Minolta DiMage A2 really wanted to be when it grew up. Given how much I enjoyed my old A2, and given the really cool new features that Sony has added, I should have been completely ready to ditch all my Canon gear and plunk down the bucks to bring it home.

The a580 was a nice, “traditional” DSLR that was comfortable to use and included many of the nifty features included in the a55, with the exception of an in-built GPS and the translucent mirror (we used to call them pellicle mirrors, back in the day when Arca and Canon first brought them out) that allows continues autofocus even when the shutter is open. In short, another camera I should have been ready to ditch Canon for.

But, I wasn’t.

There are three functions that attracted me to the Sony cameras: subjective image quality, auto HDR and auto panorama.

  • Subjective image quality — some time ago, I got on this kick about how an image ought to “feel.” It was on my old blog, and I’ve rambled on about it on flickr now and again. I want images that have a film-like appeal. So, this thing I call Subjective Image Quality is more than just pixels and bit depth and what-not. There’s a certain warm, comfortable, organic quality to a film image, and many of the wonderful new DSLRs just ain’t got it; they leave me cold. But the Sony’s make beautiful feeling images. When I view them, I get the impression that I’m looking at a high-quality chrome. There’s depth. There’s warmth. There’s character.
  • Auto HDR — Those of you who’ve followed my rants and ramblings about HDR vs. Tone Mapping on various forums and blogs know how particular I am about what an HDR image ought to look like. The Sonys do it in camera, and it looks the way I like it, from what I’ve seen.
  • Auto Panorama — Yeah, this is mostly a gimmick. But, I’ve got a use for good-quality panoramic images, and if I could do it in a single click and a swing it would make my life far easier.

While HDR and panoramas are things that I currently can and do with software, achieving the look and feel of film is not such an easy task. Sure, there is a lot that can be done with in-camera settings and post processing, but that seems to be only a part of the equation. At this point, with the exception of Sony, I’ve not found a camera manufacturer that gets it “right” in camera.

Canon did make a camera that “got it right.” It was the EOS 5D, and I had the opportunity to shoot one during most of the month of December (although I really only had time to do anything serious over Christmas — a walk-about in the snow with my father on Christmas night).

Yes, the 5D is now over 5 years old. The sensor is a measly 12.8 megapixels (even my EOS Rebel T1i has higher resolution), the ISO only tops out a 1600 (3200 with ISO “expansion” enabled), and the image processor is the 2nd generation DIGIC II. But, the images just feel good. Better still, I have several excellent lenses on hand already that will work just fine with the full-frame Canon. A switch to Sony would require new bodies, lenses and flashes — again, which is something that the Minister of Finance would certainly not condone.

I figure that Canon will eventually come out with an DX-sensor camera with the “missing” features from my current Rebel T1i. In the mean time, I’ll be starting to sell off some un-used equipment to raise funds to buy a good, used 5D (and maybe some nice prime lenses — shooting that 50mm lens was darned fun!).

The example images in this post were shot with available light at ISO1250, in shutter priority mode, hand-held at 1/30th of a second. The only lens I took out with me was a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 USM II. Very gentle post processing was with Apple’s Aperture, Topaz Adjust 4 and Topaz Infocus.

I should probably mention that I’ve also handled the Canon EOS 60D and the EOS Rebel T2i. Both were very nice cameras, and I liked them. But, with the T1i and a 40D still in hand and doing really good jobs of doing what they do (I really like the T1i for daily use), I’ve little need to make an incremental upgrade there. But, buying a full-frame camera, even an older one, does make a little more sense.