Thursday, 30 December 2010

Drama Drama Drama - and Joy!

I've been completely neglecting my blog lately. Truth be told, the reason for that is that I've been neglecting photography too. I have struggled to get motivated and inspired, and have come up with excuse after excuse as to why I haven't been shooting.

I haven't been completely rubbish, to be fair; just not very artistic. I've been to the rugby club with Ste a few times and taken some shots of the teams playing, and I've also taken some shots of my friends' babies. These sorts of shoots really pushed my little Sony a230 to its very limits in terms of digital noise though. This is an example of a night-time rugby shoot I did under floodlights:

The Sony simply couldn't produce anything I would be happy with at ISO levels of 800 or higher. This is one of many factors which led me to a big decision: it was time to upgrade my camera.

I agonised over my choice, due to budget constraints and trying to forward-plan, and eventually after researching the crap out of every camera out there, I settled on the Canon 550D. It was a big decision to jump ship to another brand, because it means the lenses I already had would not be useable and I'd have to sell those as well as the old camera.

So I whacked the 50mm lens, the Sigma zoom lens and the Sony camera with kit lens on eBay. What followed was a few weeks of frustrating hair-pulling on my part, culminating with an evening of tears swiftly followed less than 24 hours later with a day of joy. The two lenses sold pretty quickly and I got more for both than I had anticipated; £100 for the Sigma (bought for £150) and £102 for the 50mm (bought for £104).

The camera itself looked very positive to start with; the first auction was bought at the Buy It Now price of £230. Joy! But then 24 hours later an email came in from eBay; the buyer was suspicious, they had closed his account and refunded all my fees. Upon checking my spam folder I saw that he had even sent a fake PayPal email to say the funds had been paid. This was a bit of a blow and I immediately mistrusted eBay and listed the camera on the Friday Ad. Again, almost immediately a buyer emailed me saying they would take it. He lived in Bristol but was working in East Anglia so could I ship the camera for him? Sure, says I, give me the address and send the money to my PayPal account. The address comes through -- Nigeria. Forgive me but Nigeria doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to not scamming people on the internet. So that was another bust.

I advertised privately on Facebook and Twitter and through friends for a while, then got to the end of my tether just before Christmas and relisted on eBay. Luckily this time, the camera sold for £196. To say I was relieved doesn't cover it. The night before the end of the auction I had a major freakout over money and savings, and ended up crying over a plate of slightly-burned scrambled eggs at 11pm while my dear boyfriend Ste raced home from the pub to calm me down.

Anyway, it sold to a legitimate buyer who paid up straight away. While all this was going on I was shopping around hardcore, looking for a good deal on the 550D. Naturally, every Joe Bloggs who fancied a play with a DSLR had gone out and bought this model in the lead-up to Christmas. Hey, I'm not trying to be a bitch here -- the 550D has a great Auto mode and Live View so it will still be perfectly useable for all of them! Fuckers.

Anyway, in lieu of a Christmas bonus (please don't ask) my company ended up giving us each £50 of high-street vouchers. I saw that they could be used in Comet and on the Comet website the 550D was £620 so I thought I could get a pretty good price for it overall. Then the best bit of news ever: a friend of Ste's works in Comet and she could let me use her 10% discount. That would mean an additional £62 off. Amazing! I ended up paying £508 for the camera, and when you take into consideration the money I got back from the sale of the old equipment, it wasn't too big a payment.

There was a huge amount of not-in-stock drama but they ended up selling me the display model in the end. Quite unexpectedly actually, as I had gone in to pre-order one for when they were in stock. So I spent the rest of the evening alternating between delirious happiness, and confusion over the Canon menu system.

Comparing the Canon 550D to the Sony A230 is like comparing a strapping teenage boy to a slightly colicky baby. The baby is still cute and wonderful and you love it and all, but it doesn't really do what you want it to do, and if you try and push it too far it just collapses. Nonetheless I have some observations.

1) The Canon's rear LCD is astonishing. Like, to the point where I'm not 100% sure whether the remarkable difference in shot quality is due to the 18MP sensor or the rear LCD, and I haven't had a chance to download them to my laptop yet to look properly.

2) Canon's in-camera noise reduction makes me quiver with joy. I tested it last night on ISO1600 with the NR on "Strong" and on the LCD it looked really good. Again I need to get the shots onto the laptop to know for sure.

3) The menu system is going to take some getting used to. It's not bad, just different. Although I do have one legitimate criticism of the Canon in comparison to the Sony; on the Sony it was very easy to access the different metering options, whereas in the Canon this is buried among a large number of other options. On the plus side, it does give you the option to build your own custom menu which you can access very quickly.

4) DOF preview. Maybe I'm just being a retard but I can't see what it actually does, either on Live View or through the viewfinder.

5) Speaking of the viewfinder, again I was blown away. Maybe it's just that the dioptre has a wider adjustable range than the Sony but the clarity is astounding. The viewfinder is still pentamirror just like the Sony but it was much brighter and clearer and seems to have a wider frame coverage too.

6) The kit lens -- you have to turn it the opposite way to the Sony one when zooming which has already confused the hell out of me on more than one occasion.

7) The body itself -- not massively bigger than the Sony but noticeable enough for me, the feel of the grip in my hands is more substantial and quite frankly makes me feel like a million dollars when holding it.

Obviously it's going to be a while before I can change settings without staring intently at all the buttons with a frown on my face (I had memorised all the Sony buttons) but I can already tell I'm going to get a lot more out of this camera than I did the Sony. I'm going to shop around really hard for a long zoom lens and might even try a couple on the camera before buying this time. I doubt I'll be able to afford a faster lens than the Sigma I had before but as long as the high-ISO performance is as improved as I expect it to be, I don't think that will be an issue.

All in all I am delighted. I have a 50mm f/1.8 lens on order already and can't wait for it to show up. I have some reservations about the Canon version of this lens -- it only has a 5-blade aperture as opposed to the Sony's 7-blade, which means a chance of harsher pentagonal bokeh; also the minimum focus distance is 45cm as opposed to the Sony's 34cm which means I won't be able to get in as close -- but for £72 I can't really complain all that much can I?

I'm hoping this will reignite my passion and get me shooting a lot more again. I have a maternity shoot for a friend tentatively lined up for the end of January (although I would really like to get an off-camera flash before then if I can afford it) and generally speaking I have a few ideas of shots I can try at home, too.

Wish me luck guys!