My love/hate relationship with Sony cameras is a secret to no long-term reader of this website. In spite of excruciating customer support (long ago) baffling quality control and ergonomics (some time ago) and colour science that’s subjectively not my cup of tea (up to recently) the mother ship keeps calling me back. Here’s the reasoning behind my latest relapse.
I need to answer (if only to myself) these three questions :
And the answers to these questions can probably help many others questioning the future of their photography in ways similar to mine.
Yes, video. No, I’m not stopping photography, on the contrary. No DS isn’t jumping ship to join the vlogging bandwagon.
For all its flaws, the Hasselblad X1D feels like THE camera to end all cameras to me. It’s now old, in industry terms. It was born slow and never got faster through aging. Multiple firmware updates exist that I never bothered to install. New kids on the block have shown up with twice the resolution, pixel shift, IBIS and more. I honestly couldn’t care less (although IBIS would be great. Please Hasselblad, could we get 3 stops of real-life stabilisation?) Frankly, unless a larger sensor comes along or an update of the X1D gets IBIS, I don’t see myself changing. Ever. Nothing thus far has come close to the shooting pleasure of the X1D or even nibbled at the feet of the X1D’s image quality, pixel count be damned.
Slow photography is my things and the X1D is it for me for the foreseeable future.
Photography, on the other hand …
As an industry, it’s become a bit boring. More more more more more is the cult mantra. Keep it.
As a hobby, it’s as fun as ever. But I feel like my abilites have hit a plateau that’s not going to be easy to lift off from. I’m good enough at it to not benefit from much of the tuition available at human prices out there. And, far more relevant, my lifestyle puts a strict limit on how much exploration of new places / new techniques are realistically open for investigation to me.
As a storytelling tool, it has definite limits, as discussed in a previous series of posts. And this is the strongest motivator for this change of pace. The three photographs above are nice. The first I find very nice (in spite of the camera’s fugly highlight management). To make it extraordinay would require a level of commitment that’s just not realistic for me today. I can’t be there earlier in the morning. I can’t set up a tripod or filters. I can’t wait for the right moment. I can’t spend 12 hours post-processing it. It is what it is.
But, most of all, to me at least, these photographs are questions that beg answers. What is this place? What are those sticks? Who are the people living off it? What do they do? Photography alone can inspire, evoke, educate, but doesn’t answer those questions in the same way as a film documentary could. Hence the draw, for me.
While some photographers have the ability to comb a place like this in search of the perfect angle and perfect light, will return as many times as it takes, and will eventually produce that one extraordinary photograph that hangs on a wall and you could look at for hours, that’s not my ability, or my goal. In each of these photographs, I see an open question that nothing is answering. That’s nice in a way, as you can look around for clues, scan the photographs a bit and try to assemble the pieces for yourself. That is the basis of photographic storytelling, after all. But I want to go further in that storytelling direction and explore longform content.
Is that compatible with my current lifestyle and my vacation-based run (literally) and gun habits? Absolutely not. Will I succeed? Probably not. And, this time next year, you might read a classified for my camera and a DS post titled “WHAT was I thinking?” 😉 😉 😉 But I’ll never know if I don’t try. [Update: waiting a year wasn’t necessary, see below]
Step 2. Sony.
They say that understanding paradoxes elevates your mind. Well I’ll be a flippin’ genius if I ever understand my attraction to Sony. Techie stuff does nothing for me. I don’t even have a TV. Streaming music is not even a future consideration. Crushed trees and ink still support 95% of my book reading.
Sony’s core reason for existing is to bring very high tech to the masses. Often at the expense of aspects that luddites such as me crave. So why on Earth would a good 50% of all my electronic goods purchases in the past be Sony, with the hundreds of other brands out there battling for the minority rest?
But a wild guess would be that Sony – through their technology – sell enabling. Sony is an empowering brand. And dreamers like me see a Sony product, imagine what they could do with it, and go for it. And some succeed. A win win, wouldn’t you say?
Consider the recent a1 camera – not what I bought – for example. In spite of the aggressively mediocre photographs delivered by some of the early ambassadors, this appears to be delivering an extraordinary shooting envelope to the (wealthy) masses. Put the price aside. For a pro, that camera is only expensive if she’s going to sell it 18 months after. Keep it for 10 years and it’s waaaaaaay cheaper than the daily Starbucks. The a1 will basically photograph and film more stuff in more conditions than anything else affordable before it. Your kid’s pillow fight at grandma’s. Charging rhinos. A Jupiter satellite eclipsing another. Murmurations. The extatic expression of the bride after her first married kiss. Easy.
It’s not for me. To my eyes, the best wildlife photographer out there is Nick Brandt. He uses large rolls of film and adapted lenses. His burst rate is one frame per hour. And to my worldview, the human mind will always be behind the most memorable photographs, not burst rates. Nick Brandt’s photographs are extraordinary because of the slow process, the infusion of meaning in every shot. But to other photographers with other priorities and internal stories, the a1 is a dream come true. To each his own. And Sony, for all my bad experiences, excel at delivering dream machines to carefully defined personas.
Which brings me to the Sony FX6 and why it stole my heart, in spite of warning from those who know better.
The FX6 is Sony’s entry level cinema camera. This places it in a more modular range than hybrid cameras such as the Canon R5, the Pana GH5, the Sony a7S iii, … This modularity makes it less convenient and more expensive, but able to deal with more varied filming scenarios (and I will be using it for corporate work as well). I very seriously considered the Canon C70 as a cheaper and more highly recommended alternative. The C70 is utterly brilliant and apparently significantly better for the solo operator.
But this is what sold me the FX6:
Also, Sony’s colour science has progressed in leaps in bounds in recent years. And I’ve been assured that the Cine Line reliability is much better than what older hybrids shocked me with. So there. Done deal. It should get here in March and I should be proficient by end of March. I’m not specifying the year. [Update: And it turns out I shouldn’t even have specified the delivery date]
As mentioned above, this is not a switch to video but a search for complementarity to my photography hobby. The FX6 won’t follow me on vacation. No time to use it well. No reason to spoil the fun of those around me. It will be a tool for documenting things closer to home, with a very specific idea in mind (stay tuned for discussions about that idea).
Is this a doomed project? Major success as a filmmaker isn’t the most likely outcome 😉 Having to start from scratch at over fifty in a world crowded with incredibly creative young guns doesn’t stack the odds on my side 😉 But that’s beside the point. Learning new skills is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling activities we can undertake. And although many shy away from it, this psychological trait is common to all of us. I firmly intend to enjoy myself very much while trying 🙂
In the throes of darkest self-doubt, my mind came up with this idea, which will be my starting point : document what is behind the photographs I make, what appealed to me that the still image cannot reveal, what the bigger picture is and why a location in particular is a photographic hunting ground for me. After that? No idea 😉 What would you like to see in video, on this website?
The nasty update: work and other private life events have thrown a spanner in my carefully crafted plan. I had to cancel my order a few days after placing it. Shoutout to the amazing carl and Jordan at proav.co.uk who patiently guided me through my choices over weeks then accepted my cancellation without so much as a blink. As they say in my mother land “ce n’est qu’un au revoir”.
I’ll be reordering the camera in a few weeks time and would love to hear from you before that. What are your thoughts on video as a complement to photography? If you had a video camera yourself, what would you use it for?
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