Sony slams out new products. Seemingly laughing in the face of an industry slowdown.

We all know that everything is changing quickly in the camera biz. But even knowing that the pace at which Sony is launching product is a bit breathtaking. It seems like the a6300 just came out in late Spring and here, just a few months later, is the launch of the new Sony a6500. Same basic body style, same sensor, same rear display, same EVF but with a brand new price. What does $500 more dollars really buy you?

There are two main features that will either drive you to embrace this updated model or leave you smugly satisfied with the a6300 you already have in your hands. The first one is legitimate, it's the five axis image stabilization that they coerced out of Olympus. The advertising propaganda states that it will give us up to five stops slower, handholdable shutter speeds. Okay, as a photographer who likes using lots of non-stabilized, non-Sony lenses on my a6300 I can see this as a big plus. The second headline feature is the inclusion of......a touch screen with which to move and adjust focusing points.

For me touch screens fall into the category of features that may be mandatory for other people but seem like some much fluff to me. Into that category falls GPS, Panoramic modes, wi-fi, and "sports mode!!!!"  Maybe wonderful stuff for fiddly amateurs but extra stuff to be mis-set or go wrong for fast working professionals. But maybe working stiffs are not the target market for this camera. Heck maybe we are no longer a big enough market for camera makers to give a rat's ass about anyway.

I guess I'm a Luddite about some of this stuff but I'm trying hard to evolve an embrace "progress."

I read an analysis of the camera industry this week and it showed an overall decline (rapid, huge) in sales of interchangeable lens cameras. A lot of the bleeding came from Nikon. Things were flat or down for other lines. Some don't sell enough cameras world wide to be anything more than a speed bump. But I think it points to massive changes in what people look for in a camera. Changes in what constitutes a good, standalone, image making machine. If you can look past the form factor of Sony's a6x000 series you'll find cameras that are head-to-head competitive with the APS-C cameras being offered by Nikon and Canon. In all cases the Sony's are better 4K video machines. In most cases the newer two Sony's are as fast to auto focus as their competitors and, at least in the case of the cameras from Nikon, the sensors are as close as identical. What this all boils down to is whether or not you want to transition from a "traditional" design implementation of "classic" DSLR to a much smaller sized body which also features an EVF.

As you can tell, I've made my choices and most of them were at least somewhat driven by the inclusion of EVFs in the feature set.

The a6500 was just announced today and the indicated price for the USA market is $1,400, with is actually only $200 more than the a6300 was at its launch. Given Sony's recent inventory practices it seems like the a6500 is not a replacement for the a6300 but a new product tier with added features. Just as the a6000 is still in the line up I think the a6300 will also be regarded as current product for quite some time. This is actually nice. A consumer can choose the level of features as well as the build quality that serves their needs and/or their points of pricing pain.

Bottom level (a6000) delivers good performance, a similar (but not identical) 24 megapixel sensor. Lower video specs, a mostly plastic body and a slower frame rate. It's still a very serviceable image maker.

The middle level (a6300) gives you 4K video, a 24 megapixel, BSI sensor with copper tech, a faster imaging processor, a mostly metal body, the addition of picture profiles and S-Log for video. It lacks a touch screen and Image Stabilization.

The top tier (a6500) gives you some new (slow motion) video features, shares the sensor tech, shares the fast phase detect AF with 400+ sensors, increases the buffer dramatically, adds in a touch screen and state of the art Image Stabilization in much the same body.

I was interested in the a6500 when I first read of the announcement. I thought the improved video specs and the improved (faster) image process would be great for video but then I did some more research on the Sony website. The one feature that would have driven me toward a serious consideration of the camera would have been a headphone jack. It's absent on the two lower models and, sadly, also missing from the newest camera.

Given that the imaging pipeline is nearly identical to the a6300 the only real feature the a6500 would buy me would be the image stabilization. Since the whole a6X000 is a secondary system for me I'm not in a hurry to toss down more cash to acquire one. In time I'll probably sell off the a6000 and, if I'm using the system often enough, I'll consider replacing it with the new camera.

If I were starting fresh I think I would definitely go with the newer camera. If all the basic functions operate the same way the a6300 does I think it would be worth the extra cash to have a faster buffer and the I.S.

It's interesting to watch. Bigger cameras were always equated with better image quality in the film days. It's a prejudice that's driven the digital camera market along for quite some time now. But between the amazing Olympus products in micro four thirds and the some product line we're seeing equivalent image quality in each sensor size category, when comparing output (and handling) with bigger, more traditional cameras.

It seems as though Sony and others are driving us to reconsider what a good camera looks and feels like going forward. There might always be an argument for a bigger camera when used with bigger and faster lenses but maybe we'll just change the ergonomics of how we handle the lenses and cameras as unified package. Certainly, smaller cameras with fewer moving parts will be more reliable and portable. Now, if the haptics are friendly enough we'll probably see a tidal shift in the design of the actual packages.

It's fun to watch Sony's evolution on this line of cameras from the Nex models (loved the Nex-7 body, hated the menu) to the a6000 all the way to the a6500. These cameras must be resonating with the marketplace as Sony earlier this year bragged that the a6000 was the best selling, interchangeable lens camera in mirrorless digital. The market speaks.

I'm including an Amazon link for the a6300. It's here now and is a great intro to the Sony ILC systems. It's how I got roped in in the first place...

Imminent Travel. This time just for fun.

In Texas leaves are either green or desiccated brown. Up North? It's like rainbow on the ground.

One week left before I head to Saratoga Springs, NY. I will not be working for a client. I will not be teaching a workshop about "understanding shutter speed" or "how to insert your camera battery." In fact, all I will be doing is visiting my kiddo at college, hanging out with a photographer friend in town and (hopefully) enjoying the Fall color. It's a yearly event. Parents come to visit their children, eat a few meals in the dining hall, see some student performances, the faculty art show and a brief reception with the faculty. I'm sure the parents with more prodigious net worth are invited to the chancellor's house to have drinks and to learn about "opportunities to financially support the institution" but I'm sure the bursar's office has culled us out of that corral. 

I am looking forward to eating fried chicken at Hattie's with friends and swilling way too much coffee at Uncommon Grounds. I hope it gets cold enough in the evenings to comfortably wear a warm jacket and sturdy shoes. And, from now until late Wednesday night next week, I'll be mired in the process of deciding which single camera and lens I will drag along with me. Right now my money is on the A7ii and the 50mm f1.8 but the announcement of new cameras from Sony has me sidetracked. I keep looking at the a6300 with new appreciation, and I like what I've shot recently with the 18-105mm f4.0. But then I'd also want to carry along the Sigma 30mm f1.4 for a bit of speed and then we start down a slippery slope...   What do you carry with you on non-photography centric family trips? I can't bear to only take my phone...  

A house on Broadway. Heading toward campus.

The Case Center on the Skidmore College Campus.

Northeastern version of a cowboy?

The universal beverage. Crossing all language barriers. 

Just a few more images from our dress rehearsal shoot from Zach Theatre's production of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

In the week since I shot this work for Zach Theatre the marketing staff at the theater has done an incredible job leveraging social media to ramp up interest in the production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. American Theater Magazine is using one of my shots on the masthead of their website and on their Facebook page while the number of people who've commented on the images at Zach's Facebook page is enormous. They've used some of our rehearsal photos to make a web video, others to make printed and web delivered post cards, and they aren't slowing down. It's wonderful for an advertising photographer to see images I've shot go viral within our theater community, and all the way to various outlets out-of-state. The whipped creme and cherry for me is that I get a photo credit on each image and every use. From the public relations use in traditional newspapers to the edge of the posters. Seeing a credit is standard for editorial photographers but less frequent in advertising materials. Thank you! Zach Theatre for acknowledging my contribution!

After the high energy of the Priscilla rehearsals and performances you'd think I'd be ready to move on to something else but I'm heading back tonight (without a camera) to see the Champagne Opening from a different vantage point: As an actual audience member, unencumbered by the need to hold a camera in front of my face. I want to see the whole arc of the production, just sitting in a comfy seat next to my date (the wonderful Belinda).  

Since documenting Priscilla I've braved the Austin City Limits Music Festival traffic to come back over to Zach and photograph last Saturday's dress rehearsal for a children's play on the Nowland Stage, next door. It was a very well done production of Charlotte's Web. I used the same two Sony cameras but made one lens change. I got much use from the Sony a6300 + 18-105mm f4.0 G but I switched out the lens on the A7Rii, using the Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 instead of the 70-200mm f4.0. The reason? The smaller theater is much more intimate and I can stand right at the edge of the stage to shoot. It's heaven. I'd forgotten just how great a feeling of depth is conveyed when getting close to an actor with a wider angle and seeing the forced perspective with the background. It feels so much more three dimensional than shooting further back with longer lenses. 

Since the Austin City Limits Festival closes most of the roads around the theater area and floods the surrounding streets with car traffic I actually packed my cameras and lenses into a small, moss green, Tenba backpack and hiked from the edge of our neighborhood to the theater. Right through the middle of the music loving hordes crowding the street (closed to cars) in front of the music venue. From the end of Rollingwood Drive to the front door of the studio it's a half hour walk at a brisk pace. I was already warmed up and ready to go when I got to the auditorium. And I didn't have to search endlessly for (non-existent) parking...

While the main stage at Zach (the new Topfer Theatre) uses a mix of mostly LED and some gelled tungsten lights and the smaller theater is still all tungsten I had to make allowances for the differences in color temperature and also lighting intensity. In the big theater I'm generally setting white balances around 4400K while in the smaller theater it's more in the range of 2900K to 3300K. It's also about one full stop darker, on average, for a stage wash in the smaller theater. 

So tonight I'm an audience member but tomorrow evening I'll be shooting for another great theater here in Austin, Texas. It's Esther's Follies. It's a famous troupe that's been down on Sixth Street for as long as I can remember. They are masters of comedy and political satire. Heck, they'll satire just about anything, and Texas politicians give them a rich potpourri of targets at which to aim. I've done a number of "set-up" shoots for them over the years. Set-up shoots are when you come to rehearsal and they stage a grouping and "look" for the more popular or highly visual skits. In these instances you have the ability to shoot the "peak" moment over and over again until you (photographer) get exactly what you want. It's different than shooting dress rehearsals or shows with full audiences. This will be my first project for Esther's Follies with a full audience in the house.

Tomorrow night I'll head to Esther's Follies early enough to capture images of people getting ready, getting into costumes and make-up, and then I'll find a spot that gives me an unimpeded view of the stage and spend the rest of the evening shooting the live show. I have the idea that I'll be using fast primes in the dressing rooms and versatile zooms from my fixed position during the show. Nice to shoot theater in a different space and with a different cast and crew. 

If you live in Austin you owe it to yourself to get out and see some of the incredible stuff that's going on with our local entertainment industry. Sure, you can go to a big show like ACL but that's like the McDonalds of entertainment. Places like Zach Theatre and Esther's Follies are more like fine dining. It's a deeper, richer and more Austin-based experience. And you don't have to sit in a field, in the dirt.