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PAX Australia 2013 Photos and the Sony RX100 II

RX100 II

I really enjoy film photography, but there are certain aspects which make me pine for something a little more 21st century.

Take ISO and noise performance, for example. With film, you load a roll of film, and that’s your ISO set for the next 36 shots. You can’t chop and change ISOs whenever you want, and you can all but forget shooting at an ISO above 800 as it gets pretty grainy at high film speeds.

On the other hand, digital cameras let you change the ISO whenever you want, and with advances in sensor technology and noise-reduction algorithms, noise is less of a concern than it is with film. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to shoot at ISO 12800, but the very fact you can is a feat in and of itself.

I’ve been eyeing off a great compact camera for a little while now, and the only thing that has really caught my eye has been the Sony RX100. It’s perhaps a smidgen pricier than what you might normally pay for a good compact camera, but it does have semi-good reason to be: it has a large sensor paired with some decent optics, which usually translates to decent photos. When I say it has a “large sensor”, it’s big, but in relative terms: it’s still smaller than the sensor in your DSLR, and smaller still than the sensor used in the four-thirds system, but it’s one of the biggest sensors available in what can still be called a compact camera. The RX100 is the pocketable, every-day carry size I’ve been looking for.

Sensor size aside, I’ve wanted to play with an RX100 for a little while now, and PAX was a great opportunity to give one a good workout. Then Sony announced and released its successor-of-sorts, the RX100 II. There’s not even that much different between the two models: a back-side illuminated sensor for even better low-light performance, Wi-Fi and NFC, and a display that tilts, but it still makes sense to get the updated model, right?

Long story short, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one in time for PAX as the release dates meant that I was cutting it fine. But one phone call later, I secured a RX100 II to call my own. And just in time for PAX Australia!

I used the RX100 to take all the pictures you see below. There’s not that much to say about the camera itself, but there are a few points worth mentioning.

While the camera does have an auto-ISO option, it seems to favour slower shutter speeds instead of using higher ISOs. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but there’s no option to set a minimum shutter speed, meaning you can get motion blur if you’re not careful. Because of this, I felt as if I had to shoot the majority of my photos in shutter priority to avoid motion blur in photos.

Low-light and noise performance is excellent, as expected. If you’re a pixel-peeper like me, you’ll probably find it’s a fraction soft in the details, but that’s par for the course for any compact camera. I’m generally pretty happy with the images I took during PAX (they’re certainly better than what my iPhone 5 managed to do), but I’d really only consider them “happy snaps” as opposed to images I would deliver to a client. Read into that what you will. That said, the photos turned out totally fine when resized down, and provided you’re not peeping at the pixels of the full-size images, they’re more than adequate for web usage.

I’ll let the photos do the talking in just a moment, but shooting with the RX100 II at PAX made me wonder how I might have fared with a DSLR. There are obvious size and convenience advantages to a compact, of course, but the photos I took just seemed to reiterate the fact that the DSLR is the workhorse, the one that gets the job done. I hardly use my DSLR these days unless I need to produce extremely high quality images, but I’m consistently impressed by the photos it takes, whenever I’ve done everything I can to make the photo as good as it can possibly be (focus and exposure, in that order).

Taking photos of cosplayers was way more fun than it should have been. Having to ask people for photos took a little getting used to at first (street shooters, represent), but it was cool since it meant they looking into the camera — well, most of the time, anyway. There was heaps of great cosplay on display, but half the time I had issues recognising who people were cosplaying as. Either I need to be exposed to more games or their interpretations of certain characters was just too far off the mark for me. And besides, people in Melbourne dress so weirdly anyway it was hard to tell if they were cosplaying or whether they were just hipsters, but I digress.

The lighting was generally terrible in the expo hall and even worse in the theaters, but here are a few shots I gathered during my time at PAX. There’s probably a million things I missed capturing due to just taking it all in, and I’d love to do PAX with a more serious camera and focus on photography, but hey, I think I did OK.

Photos from PAX Aus 2013 after the jump

PAX Australia 2013

PAX Aus Logo

“Hmm, where to start?”

Among many others, that was a phrase that I uttered during my time on a panel about gaming on the Mac at PAX Australia. It was in response to a question from a fellow panelist about what kind of games I’m playing on the iPad, but now that I think about it, it’s strangely applicable to whatever I want to say about PAX Australia, too.

I procrastinated writing a thing about PAX Aus over on MacTalk because I couldn’t really make my mind up about what to write about. After I was able to procrastinate no more and did eventually write something, I posted it on Twitter with the comment that it was really hard to write. It was, but only because there were so many different narratives about PAX Aus that deciding on just one was the hard part.

There were a number of different angles I could have covered PAX from, with titles such as “the booth babes controversy”, “welcome home”, “PAX Australia and the rise of indies”, “boycotting PAX and Penny Arcade”, “what do you get when you create content just for the content, not to pay bills”, and last but not least, “out of context quotes from Mike and Jerry”.

As you can see, there were any number of different narratives I could have talked about when writing a retrospective about PAX Aus, but I chose the one I did and ran with that. That being said, there are still a few topics that weren’t discussed to my satisfaction, so I’d like to touch on a few other things which grabbed my attention during my time at PAX Aus, starting with panels.

Skippy Theater at PAX Aus 2013

Panels at PAX Australia were, for the most part, excellent. We’ll get to the queues in a minute, but being able to hear intelligent people talk about intelligent topics was kind of great — it didn’t matter if they were the Lead Writer or Lead Editor from BioWare, or if they were the freelance games journalists, or even just yours truly, hearing people talk about stuff that they had a vested interest in was fantastic.

I had originally planned to see more panels than I did, but thanks to the insane queues I had to reconsider what I really wanted to see and what I was only kind of interested in. On the first day I saw the Gaming on the Mac panel (saw, was a panelist on1, same thing), along with “BioWare Goes Down Under”.

The BioWare panel was interesting as there were more people who were into Dragon Age than I thought there would be, even though fans of Mass Effect still beat them numbers-wise. I think I queued for around 45 minutes for the BioWare panel, and after that, it was straight into the Xbox One keynote in the massive main theatre. The atmosphere of the Xbox One presentation was particularly great – heaps of people all hyped for a next-gen console, live Kinect demos, and even though I posted snarky comments on Twitter throughout the whole thing, it was still worth seeing the Xbox One in Australia for the first time.

XBone Keynote at PAX Aus

On the second day I kicked things off with the Make a Strip panel, where Mike and Jerry (Gabe and Tycho) were on-stage making a strip live and in colour. It was pretty great seeing the whole thing come together like it did, and there was a great Q&A session after which saw Mike and Jerry eat a Vegemite sandwich with all the results you might expect (you kind of had to be there, I guess). I had planned to see the Good Game panel, but because it was in one of the satellite theatres, it kind of meant the queue was already full 90 minutes before their presentation was even scheduled to start. Kind of bummed I missed out on that, but I still finished off the day with a panel from Australia’s largest games dev studio, the Firemonkeys (Real Racing, Flight Control, that kind of thing). It was eye-opening to see them talk a little about their relationship with EA, the games publishing giant that people often blame for the worse decisions relating to their titles (as discussed in the panel). I wanted to ask them about Real Racing 3 and in-app purchases, but didn’t really want to seem like “that guy”.

To be fair, this was the queue to get into PAX on the second day, not a queue for a panel

To be fair, this was the queue to get into PAX on the second day, not a queue for a panel

The final day came along and by now queues and I were old friends, which was good, because I ended up doing so for an hour for the “are videogame reviews failing to change with the times” panel, which featured editors and reviewers from a few big-names — PC PowerPlay, Hyper, and others. Writing game reviews is something I’m tangentially interested in, so I thought it was going to be an interesting panel. Sadly, while some interesting topics and points of view were brought up, I walked away feeling disappointed — towards the end the panel degenerated into a “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument between people asking questions and the panelists, and failed to address some of the bigger issues surrounding video game reviews.

I was pretty far up the back for the Make A Strip panel, but it was still great

I was pretty far up the back for the Make A Strip panel, but it was still great

It was during that last panel that they brought up the topic of not wanting to attach a numerical score to reviews. They held up the shield of “but our readers want it”, and I guess that’s the response you give when you live and die by your readership, but I would have liked to have seen the debate if they approached the subject from the angle of “if we care about our readers (which we do), then how does removing scores make for better reviews?”

Also on the list of bullets dodged by the panelists: “where do written video game reviews stand in the context of “Let’s Play”s on YouTube?” And since all of the panelists were in print media, “how does print media fare in the increasingly online age, where people expect videos of actual gameplay, not just words deconstructing the game mechanics?”

After the controversy of the videogame reviews panel, it was nice to end PAX with something a little lighter, namely the final round of the Omegathon (giant Jenga!) and the short and sweet closing ceremony that ended rather abruptly with Mike and Jerry dropping the mics and walking off stage.

I dislike calling out panels that didn’t answer the tough questions because I know my own panel wasn’t perfect in this regard either — we missed a few topics I would have liked to cover a little more, such as the rise of indie development, Kickstarter, and how those have affected gaming on the Mac, but at the end of the day, all the preparation in the world might not have satisfied those who were in attendance. Either way, this being the first PAX Aus and all, I’m sure panels will get better — bigger venues, shorter queues, and even more intelligent discussion.

There’s a few other topics I want to talk about (gaming culture, the whole Penny Arcade aspect of things, etc), but those might have to wait for another time.

  1. There’s a recording of our panel available over at Reckoner, if you’re interested in having a listen.