Monday, June 18, 2012

NEX 7 thoughts

Dearest and most esteemed readers of my meager blog, since my last post I have been on a major gear acquisition jag with some new purchases particularly my new camera, the Sony NEX 7. This camera (I do believe) will vastly improve my photographic and video production efforts and launch me headlong on my eventual Hollywood directorial role. Uh right… Okay, delusions of grandeur aside, first a quick story… On New Year’s Eve of 2011 after a couple o’ glasses of bubbly I, uh, inadvertently grabbed the wrong quick release on my DIY fig rig, yes I was holding the rig but not the video camera which was also on a quick release plate. Oops, there went the beloved Panasonic NV-G S 400 straight to the tile floor. I frantically grabbed at it but too late. I immediately picked it up, turned it on to check it looked at the LCD viewfinder and egad everything was green! I tried recording but it worked for a few seconds and that was it. Not happy, but as luck would have it I was still able to play the mini DV tapes with it so I finished capturing the footage from the last few tapes that I still had left. I am glad we pay for homeowners insurance as after a call to our insurer they agreed to cover the accidental damage either repairing or replacing it. I took it to the local repair place and they said the CCD sensor was dislodged and broken and though it could still play they would not be able to get the parts to fix it so that it could record again thus it was a write-off. Albeit bittersweet the insurance settlement was just the thing I needed to bankroll my purchase of a Sony NEX 7 that I had been lusting after for six months or so since the day it was announced and I saw the specs. Too bad it was still not available due to unprecedented demand then the floods in Thailand in October 2011 etc.

The insurance company had an agreement with a camera dealer (Michaels in Melbourne) and set me up with a credit there to pay for a recommended replacement. I called Michaels and they were quite happy to apply that credit towards the Sony NEX 7 because I also had to put in an extra couple hundred dollars more. I was informed that I was tenth in line to get one as soon as they arrived. After less than a month’s wait, I received the call that it came in and was being shipped to me straight away. I paid them the balance and was doing the happy joy dance. When it arrived I was like a kid at Christmas as I had been wanting to replace my Nikon still camera and the video camera as well not because I am overly gadget acquisitive but the gear I had was getting way old and I waited for at least a couple of years for something like the Sony NEX 7 to come along. I already read every review hunted down other’s test footage to watch and even downloaded the manual so I was ready! I made my own silly little unboxing video on my little Kodak Zi8, which while a bit goofy as suits my character was fun to prolong my excitement.
With my camera in my hands finally, I also got on to B&H photo in the USA to order some extras to help me along. First thing was a couple of proper Sony MS Pro HG Duo HX Magic Gate 16gb cards which I chose because they had the highest transfer rate. I did my research to make sure that despite the claims of others about their cards speed, they did not use proprietary Sony transfer algorithms that made them as fast. Also, the reviews were five stars.
 Only buy these from a reputable dealer because there are fake/re-labelled ones out there. Moving on, of course, an extra battery also Sony, sorry no knock off batteries for me need I explain?
 I also ordered a Sony BBF black neoprene case, which fits it but just barely…
I wrote my little review of it on here as well.
Add to all this a couple of odd things to help my production including this cool Manfrotto shoulder brace to keep things steady at a very inexpensive price point.
I have used the shoulder brace a couple of times and it works pretty well but my wife thinks it is somewhat geeky-looking and is a bit much for everyday kind of shooting so I guess I will save it for more full blown productions. Since the Sony NEX 7 inherited the Minolta proprietary hot shoe I had to get an adaptor so I could attach my LED light panel or the Rode Video Microphone right on top of the camera. I ordered the
Uh, not the best piece of gear but it is only seventeen dollars. I had to carefully sand down the inside of the shoe part to get it to slide onto the NEX 7 hot shoe with some semblance of ease, lucky I have jewelry skills and some really small files, but its little release button is poo and often catches. My recommendation on this little gem is buying it at your own risk. Did you say Minolta hot shoe? Hmmm, I drag out my old flash unit from the 35mm days a Minolta Maxxum 3500xi flash from 1993 and popped it on the NEX 7, well I’ll be dipped in shit, the thing worked! I pointed it at the ceiling and it lit the room up like a low kiloton yield nuclear weapon!  However, I still have to see if the camera will control the exposure compensation on it though I have my doubts. It is nearly as big as the camera though. It would probably light up a night scene well but blind anyone in the vicinity. Maybe it is time to hunt for something to diffuse it. I’d welcome any recommendations.
One more accessory which I have now come to value highly is the P & C pistol grip I first saw on
and in some other videos  particularly
where it was put to some novel uses. This is a great piece of gear for only twenty-five dollars. I could have gotten a Zacuto one for a hundred… Nah.
It has now been a couple of months and I have had a chance to use all of the gear in a variety of differing configurations and put the NEX 7 through some heavy duty shooting. So far everything has worked well together here was my first test video with nothing but the camera and kit lens using only the camera’s onboard microphone shooting 1080p AVCHD 25fps (PAL).

I have been extremely pleased with the size and feel of the NEX 7 it is significantly more compact than my old Nikon Coolpix 8800, weighs less and takes some pretty stunning pictures. But I did not get this camera for mere happy snaps alone. One of the first tasks I undertook with this camera was shooting a new set of images from my artwork in RAW. I am not alone in my opinion that photographing artwork, especially large oil paintings is one of the most challenging photographic tasks you can undertake only followed by photographing jewelry (I’ll be writing about that down the line) and requires full control of the documentation process. All of your camera settings have to be done manually, the lighting has to be handled meticulously as you want to show the texture of the works and there are major issues with glare on shiny varnished paintings.  Then there is the post-processing of the raw images which also needs to be spot on and it definitely is time consuming even with a good workflow utilizing CS4 Adobe Bridge, Raw, and Photoshop. I am photographing my artwork to create the best possible images from which I then sell as giclee` prints on, therefore, the color and detail must be exact in order to print them at a fairly large size. My final files I upload to FAA are between ten to twenty megabytes in size they allow up to twenty-five though. Is all this photographic fussiness worth it? Hell yeah, I toiled for innumerable hours painting the images stroke by stroke so I know exactly what the colors should look like by the time they are ready to be uploaded as digital data as I mixed them myself on my real palette with actual paint. I did some of the photographic work inside with lights and shot some outdoors on a very cloudy day which while providing very even lighting still required careful color grading. There are advantages and disadvantages to the indoor or outdoor issue. Light on cloudy days can vary slightly, but no hassles with lights, angles, ceiling height, also paintings do not get blown off of easels when inside… The level indicator that is available for display in the viewfinder and the LCD on the camera came in very handy as well and saved me some time straightening out the images before cropping. I used the manual focus and peaking function throughout which worked fantastic especially when the focus jumps to a much more magnified image.
The NEX 7 performed well for me under these rigorous requirements, however, I had to compensate for some pincushion distortion on a number of images but that is because of the kit lens, if I had one a thousand dollar Zeiss lenses I might have eliminated that. If I had an extra thousand or so for some really good lights too that would probably help as well.
Just go to FAA and you can view some of these images yourself, hell you can even buy a print if you like my artwork. The NEX 7 has the capability to provide the level of detail necessary for copying artwork destined for print. Considering the price point of this piece of gear, I can live with it for now. As an outdoor point and shoot anything camera it has also performed well plus I can hand it off to others to shoot in Auto mode and most times get a decent image back. I have found the navigation system to be the biggest challenge. With the nearly overwhelming variety of settings it can be a bit confounding initially. The tri-navi system worked well when I shot all the artwork with manual settings even felt kinda old school and it does have a logic to it that you can apply to other parts of the menu items as well. It is going to take me some time to become totally proficient at navigating my way around the menus as there are numerous settings. I have played with some of the more “fun” types of settings which can be helpful for stylized shooting though I tend to do most of that stuff in Photoshop, though shooting video in these modes has also been a treat as well. Not sure if I would shoot anything serious with them enabled. I did try some settings recommended for a more… filmic look as found here
Though meant for the NEX 5n they also worked on the NEX 7 as well though it is pretty subtle. I will have to experiment with this some more. 

Unfortunately, the NEX 7 has no intervalometer (could be done with a firmware upgrade?) and I really wanted to do some experimenting with this feature so I had to do it manually. Here are the results.

However, doing it by pressing the shutter is a PIA, so I think I will invest in one of these devices and get serious with the time lapse photography:
Next, we are planning to shoot an interview with an aged relative in a cool documentary style. Should be a great opportunity for utilizing all the gear, I think we are ready for it.
I will post a few images here from the NEX 7 that I took at a body art Carnivale in Eumundi in May.
Oops, some (kinda) naked lady pics!