I brought home a small Sony camera - the Alpha 5100 - this week on a whim. It was a shop demonstraor and I could access the box readily. I intended it as a sideshow when I reported the larger Alpha 7 R but I am now convinced that it has a rightful place in your camera bag on its own...and also a place in photo history.
I won't go to far into that history, as it is sad, but you may care to Google up Dr. Erich Salomon and look at some of the reportage photographs that he took in the inter-war years. Conferences, celebrities, political figures. Images that are now iconic...including one of Dr. Salomon posing with an Ernemann Ermanox camera.
It was a plate camera that had an enormous, fast lens on the front and provision for discrete shutter operation. Salomon used to dress well and then slip into the salons and conference halls to catch the delegates unawares in any kind of lighting. Apparently a lot of the shooting was at waist-level with just estimation of distance and framing.
Well, it worked...but the fashion for this sort of camera has gone out. We have LCD screens, optical finders, reflex finders, and even mobile phone finders to try to do the same stealthy shooting that Salomon did - and he did them one glass plate at a time. We should be able to do better.
Some people think that they can do this with action cameras - and to some extent that is true, but the individual images from a stream of action shooting can be pretty imperfect. Once you get closer to them stopped, you see the imperfections.
This Sony Alpha 5100 is tiny - as it is a mirrorless camera it can be, but it is not so tiny as to be inconvenient to carry. I found myself using it much as Salomon might have used the Ermanox - at waist level. But with this you have the comfort of a folding LCD screen to let you glance down into, and a zoom lens that can constantly adjust its focus as you move it over the crowd. You'll use a fair bit of battery power to do this, but it will be ready for the fastest capture.
There is also provision for touch-screen shooting with focus and shutter release at once. It is the ideal way to shoot this if you are left-handed - cradle the thing in the right hand and poke the screen with a left forefinger.
All the usual Sony bells and whistles - a very comprehensive menu system, and most of the controls accessible through this. Those of you curious about the button shown on the lower right of the back panel - the one with the ? symbol...you'll have to find this one out for yourselves. I'm old enough to know not to press this sort of button on anything
The results of shooting with it were good - doesn't fire a studio flash but does have a small macro flash for itself. Great for close-ups. Also a decent automatic white balance as well. The flower shot was a quick grab as I was kneeling in an ant pile at the time.
The only cavil I have is the size of the NP-FW50 battery
...and I extend this worry to the larger full-frame Sony A7R. I realise that it is all compromise when it comes to the size of the thing in a hand grip vs the amount of chemical compounds that it contains. But it just seems that it might poop out too early for many applications.