How long have I been going to Comic-Con in San Diego? Once upon a time–back in an era called the 20th century–I toted a film camera along and couldn’t even see my pictures until I’d gotten home and visited a photo lab. Then I began taking a pocketable digital camera. And in recent years, I ditched the point-and-shoot and simply snapped pictures of my visit with my iPhone.
This year, however, I went to the show with a real camera: Sony’s NEX-F3, which I borrowed from the company. This $600 model is a serious photographic instrument that has a 16-megapixel sensor and takes removable lenses from Sony’s E series (it comes with a 18-55mm one). I was positive it would take nicer photos than a phone camera, but I was curious about the overall experience: Would I be glad I had it along, or would it feel like too much camera for the job at hand?
I was particularly interested in this experiment because the smartphone I’m using these days–the Galaxy Nexus–has a camera that’s merely okay. It’s nowhere near as impressive as the ones in the iPhone 4S, Samsung’s Galaxy S III and HTC’s One phones. Camera phones such as those ones aren’t going to make powerful models such as this Sony obsolete, but they surely threaten the market for more basic point-and-shoots.
With its zoom lens on, this Sony isn’t a pocket-sized camera, although you might be able to jam it into a roomy coat pocket. But compared to a conventional SLR, it is pleasingly compact and lightweight: I tucked it into the bag I used to carry my iPad and didn’t feel burdened by the additional bulk. By contrast, my Nikon D90 SLR is a terrific camera, but I never, ever forget that I’m carrying it. (Then again, the D90 has an optical viewfinder and its battery seems to last for months; the NEX-F3 doesn’t have a viewfinder, and I found I needed to charge it every night.)
Comic-Con is both a wonderful place to take photos and a terrible place to take photos. On the plus side, the San Diego Convention Center’s 1.1 million square feet are packed to the bursting point with interesting stuff to shoot–especially people dressed as characters from comic books and movies.
But the show floor is so dense with attendees, most of whom are scurrying about on their way to something, that it doesn’t lend itself to composing and shooting perfect pictures. There’s usually something–or several somethings–in the way. If you stand still on the floor and ask a costumed somebody to do the same, you block traffic. I don’t like it when Comic-Con photographers prevent me from getting where I want to go, so I certainly didn’t want to become one of those guys.
So rather than using the NEX-F3 carefully and methodically, I used it in a devil-may-care fashion. Rather than screeching to a halt and requesting that costume-wearers strike a pose, I just snapped photos on the fly. (One of the nice things about Comic-Con: If someone is wearing a costume, you can assume that he or she won’t be offended if you take a picture.)
The camera turned out to be better-suited to this sort of usage than I expected. For one thing, it’s a good one-handed camera, thanks in part to its trim size and weight. The body has a sizable grip, and you can safely press the shutter button with the same fingers you’re using to grasp the camera’s oversized grip.
And the NEX-F3 is fast: I was able to pull it out of my bag, turn it on, focus and capture an image in less time than it would have taken to wriggle the Galaxy Nexus out of my pocket, turn it on, launch the camera app and take a picture.
Oftentimes, though, I just left the NEX-F3 switched on and gripped it in my right hand as if it were a bionic photo-capturing appendage. Whenever I saw something I liked, I’d just raise my arm, shoot a picture and continue on. The photos I got conveyed the cacophony and diversity of Comic-Con better than more artful ones would have.
I found that it was a cinch to raise my arm like a periscope and shoot downwards at something that was a few yards away, especially since the NEX-F3 has a pull-out LCD which lets you adjust its angle. That helped minimize the number of shots that were dominated by the backs of random heads.
After spending so much time in recent years taking photos with phones and avoiding their grainy digital zoom feature at all costs, I’d also forgotten just how useful it is to have a good zoom lens, like the one which comes with the NEX-F3. With a phone, it’s tough to take a picture of something unless it’s right in front of you; with the Sony, I shot interesting stuff that was going on an aisle or two away.
In short, I had fun with this camera. I took more pictures, and better ones, than I would have if I’d only had the Galaxy Nexus with me. I was glad I had it along.
But I was also reminded of how disconnected all cameras that aren’t camera phones are. With the Galaxy Nexus, the iPhone 4S or any other smartphone, my instinct, once I’ve taken a nice photo, is to share it as quickly as possible–usually via Instagram or Twitter. A few times during the show, I did just that–and I got feedback from folks who saw and liked the photos nearly as quickly.
Since I couldn’t effortlessly zap the photos I took with the NEX-F3 across the Internet, I let them pile up on the memory card until I had some time to deal with them. That, in part, is why I’m writing about this experiment more than a week after Comic-Con ended.
But I do like the pictures I got, and I still want to share them. In fact, here are a few right now. (Click to see bigger versions.)