With all the recent blog posts and photographs from my Sony NEX-5, it may seem like I don’t use my Canon 7D anymore. Untrue. I still use and appreciate my large DSLR. While it’s true that I’ve used the NEX-5 a bit more since its new and fun, there is certainly a place in my tool chest for my large and powerful camera. I’ve been on two downtown photowalks recently and I took both my Canon 7D and the NEX-5 cameras. I use them for different purposes and generally I can switch between them adequately. The Sony is the camera I have fun with and shoot in a less structured, possibly more creative way. The Canon is my more serious, faster, higher quality camera. Because of its larger size and design, I believe my photographs are a bit more structured, less free-form with the larger 7D.
There are clear, obvious times I use my 7D. When I want to take high quality portraits, I have really nice lenses to do this. When I take my fast action sports shots, the 7D is clearly superior to the NEX-5. And finally, my “serious” landscapes, cityscapes and HDRs are still done on my 7D. The auto-bracketting works better for HDR and I have the nice Sigma 10-20mm lens to get a super-wide photograph. But I recently realized that there is another area were the 7D excels over say a smaller camera such as the NEX-5 and its only slightly related to image quality. About a week and half ago, I went downtown about an hour or so early, before the scheduled photowalk rendezvous time, to take some photographs of the Santa pub crawl. 2010 is the second annual Austin Santa pub crawl where a large group of people drink on 6th street dressed in Santa and other Christmas garb. I headed downtown with my gear in tow to hopefully get some fun Santa shots. The photographs on this page were taken on the same night as the images on my previous blog post, Street Photography with the Sony NEX-5. While I opined in that blog post that for street photography, a small camera such as a NEX-5, is a perfect candid picture-taking device, I would argue that the Canon 7D is a better camera for these Santa Pub images. Why is this? Well its all a matter of perception. For street photography, you want a small un-intrusive camera to blend in. I would argue that in these social settings, a big camera has the benefit of looking professional.
So I had my 7D, which is a fairly large DSLR — not quite as big as a Canon 1D or a Nikon D3 but it certainly looks more substantial than an smaller Canon Rebel series. I also had my 430EX external flash attached with an extra softbox mounted to the flash head. Altogether, the camera and attachments looked pretty big and “professional” to the partying Santas. After I got over my initial shyness, I found that many people were really open to having their photographs taken. In fact, many people posed in large groups and requested to have their photographs taken with this professional setup. If I used my Sony NEX-5, I think the dynamic will be quite different. I’m sure they will still be alright with having their picture taken but I’m not sure if they would come up and explicitly request a photograph. Of course this is all perception since I’m equally professional or non-professional with either camera. However its good to know that at certain events, having that big camera is a plus. I also experienced a similar situation when I shot at some music venues during the big SXSW (South by Southwest) music event that happens in Austin every March. Moving beyond people’s perception, there were certainly nice advantages of using a 7D over my NEX-5 for these kind of events. I have a powerful external flash that would run rings around the tiny accessory flash that comes with the NEX. I also have a faster focusing and overall faster camera to fire off many shots as I like in these social gatherings.
My Thought Process
There is not a lot of artistic merit to these photographs. They are candid event photographs that you find at wedding receptions and other dark, social situations. I’m happy with my softbox flash attachment. I think that its softened the direct flash shot a bit. Certainly off camera flash with a large softbox or umbrella would be nicer but I’m generally satisfied with what I got from this simple on camera flash setup.
Image 1 is, I believe, the most photographically interesting image because of the shallower depth of field (DOF). I brought my small 35mm f2 lens so that I could do shallow DOF flash photographs. These usually only work with single person portraits since the shallow DOF can only sharply focus on one person at a time. Having a group image with only one person in focus usually does not work too well. I like how in this first image, the face is in sharp focus and the rest of the body falls out of focus. I purposely stood on a chair to get this top down point of view.
Images 3 and 4 used a large aperture for a group shot but this worked since I was farther away from the subjects. The large aperture allowed me to use lower ISOs increase image quality. I did not use the softbox for image 4, so I dialed down the flash compensation to get a less harsh look.
Images 2 and 5 were taken indoors and close to the group of people so the aperture size was decreased. The ISO was bumped up high to get a faster shutter speed in a darker indoor location.
For group shots, I think a zoom lens with image stabilization will work a lot better. Generally, when I go to take event type photos, I use a lens with image stabilization which allows me to decrease the aperture size without increasing the ISO as much. This maximizes image quality. Since this Santa pub crawl was a fun, non-serious event, I decided to play around with a different lens. Make sure to click on an image to see a larger view.
All of the photographs were taken in RAW with the Canon 7D with the 35mm f2 lens.. There were post processed using Aperture 3. I used an external flash with a soft box attached which might have slightly softened the direct flash.
Image 1: f2.5, 1/50 sec, -1 2/3 exposure compensation, +2/3 flash compensation, ISO 1600
Image 2: f5.6, 1/10 sec, -1 2/3 exposure compensation, +1/3 flash compensation, ISO 2500
Image 3: f2, 1/100 sec, -1 2/3 exposure compensation, +1/3 flash compensation, ISO 1600
Image 4: f2, 1/20 sec, -1 exposure compensation, -1 flash compensation, ISO 800
Image 5: f3.5, 1/25 sec, -2 exposure compensation, +1/3 flash compensation, ISO 2000