Week 6, 2015: Taking pictures in backlit conditions, APS-C mirrorless cameras from Sony and Samsung

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 6, 2015

Q. I am an avid birdwatcher and photographer. I use a Canon 7D and have been trying to get pictures of purple martins in flight, but all I get is a silhouette of a bird against the sky. What causes this, and how can I correct it?

-Paul Staudenmaier, Cranberry Township, PA

A. The problem is backlighting. Your camera’s exposure meter looks at the whole scene, averages everything and sets the exposure. There is a lot of sky and a little bit of bird in the scene, so you get a properly-exposed sky and a dark bird.

The easiest way to correct this is with the camera’s exposure compensation setting. This will bump up the exposure by a preset amount above what the camera is reading. The exposure compensation function looks like a +/- sign. I’d suggest starting with +1.3 as a start. To get an idea of the effect you can take pictures of something small that is silhouetted against the sky, like a tree branch. Review the picture on the camera screen and zoom up on the branch to see if there is any more detail, and adjust as necessary.

Your camera has a spot meter that measures light on a very small area. This would be the ideal and most precise way to set the exposure, but is unlikely you could keep the spot on a moving bird. You could use the manual mode and use the spot meter on a branch or something similar, as I described before, and check your exposures with the screen.

Q. You do not write much about the Sony APS-C mirrorless system, though I know in the past you said you owned one. Why do you not prefer this system over Micro Four Thirds, given the bigger sensor?

-Dan K., Chevy Chase, MD

A. I sold my NEX-5 system a few years ago. While they are fine cameras and I have nothing but praise for the photo and video quality, as a complete system I found it lacking and it did not fit my needs and tastes. Micro Four Thirds has largely closed the gap in image quality with APS-C except in very low light, and there are many more cameras and lenses available for the Micro Four Thirds system.

The Sony mirrorless system to go for is the top-of-the-line A system. It features a full-frame sensor, amazing optics, and the newest models have the 5-axis image stabilization system developed by Olympus. It is a bit expensive, but worth it!

I encourage you to check out Samsung if you must have an APS-C sensor. They make nice cameras and I seem to enjoy using them more than I did the Sony system. The lenses are excellent and they have some intriguing new entries at the top of the market, such as the NX1 camera which can shoot 4k video, and some fast, pro-grade lenses.

Last year I wrote about the interchangeable lens Samsung NX2000 and NX3000 cameras, which provide excellent image quality and shooting performance along with a full feature set, including WiFi. I recently spent some time with the 20.3-megapixel Samsung NX30 and found it to be an excellent addition to the system. It has an SLR form factor and is very solidly made, has excellent image quality, though video quality is a bit behind the competition. It can be purchased online with lens for $606. www.samsung.com