The State of the Art in Architectural Photography: The Power of Mirrorless Cameras

May 17th, 2016 by Allen

I have a confession. I am a tech nerd. In particular, I love geeking out over the latest photography toys.  Excuse me, “tools”.  I’m a firm believer that technology makes our lives better, and that has certainly been true for me as a photographer.  One of the latest and arguably greatest technologies that has matured in the digital era is the mirrorless camera.  In this post I’ll briefly cover a few reasons why I enjoy using a mirrorless camera over a DSLR.  But first, let me give you a little background.

As a Canon owner and frequent user of Nikons, I have always been conflicted about which system was the best.  Canon has a great, and I mean AMAZING, 17mm Tilt Shift lens but Nikon has an amazing sensor in the D800/810.  There was never a best of both worlds until now.  After much fence-sitting, I finally replaced my aging Canon with a Sony A7R2.  Why?  Because it’s incredible!!!  Okay, I’m gushing a bit and that’s not really a practical answer so here are my top 3 reasons why I love, and you will love, the new Sony cameras.  (Including the A72, without the “R”)

Sensor Quality and Dynamic Range:  The Sony mirrorless cameras have incredible sensors.  With these sensors you can create a photograph from a single underexposed capture that has very minimal shadow noise.   This can be especially helpful to you if you’re photographing a scene where there is a huge range of contrast and you don’t want to get into a lot of Photoshop layering or HDR work.

The dynamic range of the sensor allows me to create a great image from a single underexposed capture that has very minimal shadow noise.  The photos below illustrate this point.  The before is significantly underexposed on purpose in order to maintain highlight detail.  Because of the dynamic range of the camera sensor, I was able to take that one shot and brighten it with Adobe Camera Raw, without losing the details in the highlights of the sky and while gaining details in the fountain and the trees in the foreground.  The result is a photograph that is rich throughout a range of tones from black to white.

Allen Russ Photography RAW Format Before Fountain Landscape

Before: This is the image straight out of the camera.  I intentionally underexposed to maintain detail in the sky and background.

Landscape Architecture Photograph by Allen Russ - Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia

After: The final image after brightening the exposure of the image in Adobe Camera Raw.

Versatility and Lens Options:  The second selling point for me is it’s versatility.  I can use my Canon lenses on it!  Yay!  Through the use of a Metabones adapter, I can use virtually any lens I want.  Including my Canon 17mm Tilt Shift.  What this means for you as an architect is that if you have a special project that you want to photograph properly, you can rent a tilt shift lens and an adapter.  What does this get you?  Look here.  (A note on buying camera lenses: Figuring out the best lens is a personalized decision and should be based on a number of factors, typically the most important being the kind of architecture you are photographing the most. If you have questions on what lens is the best fit for your work, feel free to shoot me an email at allen@photographingspaces.com.  I’m happy to help you figure it out.)

 

Affordability: The third point for me is the price.  Sort of.  While the Sony A7R2 costs as much as a Nikon D810, the versatility of the system is invaluable to me.  Additionally, the “lesser” Sony cameras like the A72 are equally as powerful and feature rich.  With a camera like the A72 you sacrifice some megapixels but at 24mp, you will have more than enough resolution for publication quality images.  One other alternative is to look at used versions of the earlier Sony A7R series camera.  They are not as feature rich but the sensors rival the quality found in the Nikon D800.  In fact, Sony manufactured the sensors for the D800 so you’re essentially getting a D800 in a cheaper smaller body.  Sites like KEH.com and BHphoto.com have extensive testing and rating systems for buying used equipment so there’s less risk these days in buying used. 

I, along with the team of Hoachlander Davis Photography, am excited to share more with you more about how you can use mirrorless cameras in photographing your own work at the upcoming AIA convention in Philadelphia on May 19th.

More information about our workshop can be viewed here.  

– Allen

 

 

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