On Event Photography and Trad DSLR’s versus Mirrorless

In my previous post, I published some pictures from a dress rehearsal for the opera Oberto, produced by Tryptych Concert and Opera. This was a challenging assignment for several reasons:

  • the lighting was very moody (i.e. dark)
  • to add to the atmosphere, a misting machine was used at points during the production
  • the singers were in constant movement
  • singers don’t like cameras under their noses during a dress rehearsal – they want to concentrate on their role.
  • Flash is strictly verboten
Here's a challenge - try photographing in the dark with mist for special effect

Here’s a challenge – try photographing in the dark with mist for special effect

I took a couple of camera systems to the shoot:

  • a Sony Nex-7 along with an assortment of lenses, including the Sigma 30mm, the Sony 50mm and the kit zoom
  • my good old Canon 5d Mark II with the 24-105 zoom, the nifty fifty and my 70-300L zoom

Like the rest of the photography world, I’ve been following the announcement of the Sony A7r with great interest (if not lust) and have been seriously contemplating chucking the Canon system and going all-Sony, all mirrorless. As a test, I decided to try photographing this challenging assignment with the Sony Nex-7 and the 50mm prime (a 75mm equivalent lens) to see if a mirrorless camera with electronic viewfinder could cut it. This combination lasted about 2 minutes! It became immediately apparent that the Sony just couldn’t focus fast enough to make this assignment work.

Out came the trusty 5d mark II and the 70-300 lens. At the wide end, this allowed me to get most of the stage in from the back row and I could zoom in to capture the emotion of the singers with ease. The 70-300 L is a tack sharp lens with tremendous anti-shake capability, so I just needed to crank the ISO up to 3200 to get a shutter speed that would effectively stop the action with the lens wide open at around F5 or so. To be sure, I set the focus to track the action and shot multiple frames so that I’d have at least one in focus. Auto focus was just about instantaneous and was never a worry. Out of 1,000 images or so, there were very few that were rejected because they were out of focus or blurred from the action.

The results were as you saw them on the previous post. The pictures are pretty sharp and I was able to get the shots I wanted, including several composites with one singer in sharp focus and another blurred in the background.

Read it and weep mirrorless fans. The A7r may still be a good bet for landscape work and street photography (assuming we ever get good lenses for it), but for dependability in highly stressful situations, a traditional digital DSLR is still a better bet. I think I’ll have to keep the 5d Mk II for a little while longer.

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