Project 52 week 52: reflections part 2

Ok, so continuing on my rather long review of this project:
Long exposures
Another really interesting area that have discovered in doing this project. I have only had a few attempts at it and am determined to get better here. I wish I lived in a place where there are waterfalls and fast flowing streams as I’d love to take some shots of them. I have to settle for what I can get at the moment:

fountain

Shooting modes
It’s only very rarely now that I venture back to ‘full auto’ and I seem to spend most of my time in Aperture Priority but spend a bit of time in Shutter Priority and full manual modes. I do find however that it is sometimes very worthwhile taking an extra shot in full-auto mode to see what the camera chooses. As a generalisation, it usually takes a better ‘normal’ shot than me but obviously doesn’t know the effect that I am looking for.
With the cameras that I use (particularly the NEX7) I find I am much better of taking control of some aspects, especially ISO (it continuously chooses ISO settings that seem way too high) and quite often, white balance (what an important discovery that was for me).

On gear
I used to have an old, entry level Canon DSLR and a Panasonic point-and-shoot. I found however, that I often left the Canon at home because it was too big to lug around on holidays etc so I looked around for quite a while and settled on a Sony NEX5. I bought it with the kit lens and 18-200 zoom lens. What a fantastic lens the 18-200 is but it is so much heavier than the Canon lenses. As I got more into photography I read lots about ‘prime’ lenses and how good they are so I ended up getting a couple of the NEX e-mount ones when they came out. I took some really nice photos with the NEX5 but was never really comfortable with it. After hearing so much about it I ended up upgrading to the NEX7 (unfortunately just a few months before the NEX6 came out) which has features in it that I would really like to have had in the NEX7 and would probably suit me better.
While there is a lot to like about the NEX7 it does seem to have some major drawbacks for me – focus being the main one. One type of photo you won’t have seen on my blog is portraits – I just cannot nail focus on portraits. If there is some contrast in the picture (typically in the background) the NEX7 will focus on that every time. I have lost count of how many really important memory (personal family, touristy) photos I have lost because of this. I am far better off taking my old Panasonic point-and-shoot for any portraits, or the really old Canon.
The NEX uses contrast detect for focus which I have come to loathe. My old Canon uses phase detect and is much faster for a start, and more reliable for portraits it would seem. The new NEX6, which I think I would prefer to have for a number of reasons, uses a hybrid of both of these mechanisms which I would guess is much better.
I also have a Fuji X100 which I think is on par with the NEX7 for image quality (even with the nice Zeiss lens that I have on the NEX7 and despite the massive difference in megapixels).
Another thing I have come to dislike is the ease of which the NEX7 can get dust on the sensor (obviously no such problem with the Fuju X100). Sensor cleaning is now, unfortunately, an all too regular part of my routine. I think the quality of the viewfinder and rear LCD on both cameras is great but the information, the way it is displayed on the Fuji and the flexibility/configuration of information beats the Sony hands down. The other thing that I like about the Fuji is the physical mechanisms to adjust aperture and shutter speed.
Using these cameras has given me a real appreciation for what I’d like in my next camera and up front would be faster, better focussing – the NEX focussing really doesn’t compare to even my old Canon. Focus peaking is great for manual lenses but you shouldn’t have to rely on it with the auto-focusing native e-mount lenses. I would say that all things considered, the NEX system is a little disappointing given the number of compromises you have to make for it. The size is great as its flexibility with legacy lenses but for the price, it just doesn’t do some mandatory things very well when compared to equivalently priced DSLRs or even some Micro four-thirds cameras.
Despite those gripes (and maybe even because of them) I have learned an awful lot about photography with the NEX system. The Fuji X100 has nowhere near the potential of the NEX but it is a lot nicer to carry around and take photos with.

Macro
Continuing the gear theme a bit, one thing that I did do was buy the 30mm NEX macro lens as macro was another area I got interested in. It takes some nice photos but is definitely the wrong lens for me. You have to get so close to the subject (about an inch away) which is impossible for insects, butterflies etc and because of the closeness, usually casts an unpleasant shadow over your subject. Not a very versatile or useful lens really – Id like to have a macro lens of a much different (maybe 80mm) focal length.

Paxette 6

More on composition
For a while I was concentrating on really ‘focussing in’ (excuse the pun) on the subject and trying to eliminate any distracting elements in the photo. I was ending up with fairly minimalistic compositions as I had realised there was a lot of distractive components in many of my photos so I ended up taking photos like this:
Zen
However one day I was out taking a photo of a bridge and just couldn’t get to the position that I really wanted and ended up with a very noisy composition. There is stuff everywhere – it was just a mangle of overgrown trees, shrubs and weeds. In colour it looked awful but in black and white looked totally different. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it but over time it has grown on me quite a bit and is quite a departure from the other photos I was taking:
the bridge

What’s next?
There are obviously a great number of areas that I haven’t had chance to explore. I was hoping to do some exploration of flash photography during this project and have played around a bit with it on the NEX7. Unfortunately for the NEX7 the hotshoe is not standard (thanks Sony!) but they did change this on the NEX6. The way the internal/pop-up flash works allows you to manually hold the flash with your finger so that it points straight up and you can do a bit of bounce flash which is an ok workaround. I am sure this was an unintentional aspect of the design, otherwise I am sure the bracket would have allowed a click into that position.
It would be nice to try some off-camera flash/lighting too.
Ultimately I really want to do some good travel photography and I guess this means two things. Firstly I would love to get the opportunity to visit some interesting places and secondly, I need to continue to explore and improve my technique, post-processing etc.
I hope to stay posting on this blog and continue to improve but will probably do so without the rigour of a ‘project 52’. There may be some other interesting photography projects that I can participate in.

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