If only humans weren't so big. When I was on set at Northlandz to go behind the scenes of Sony's Separate Together experiments, I kept wishing I could climb into Bruce Zaccagnino's enormous yet tiny model train landscape and walk around it like one of the tiny figurines that make up the tableaux.
So I was excited to learn that, although I wouldn't be transformed into an ant-sized explorer, Sony had my desires covered. The company brought in a team of photographers, in addition to miniature photographer Matthew Albanese, who shot the experiments, to turn three Northlandz train-scapes into an immersive streetview-style world, that you can experience for yourself at Separate—Together.com. Want to feel like you're riding one of the trains through the tunnels and towns of Northlandz? Of course you do — and really, with a camera this small and portable, they'd be crazy not to strap it to a train. (I was ready to do it if no one else was going to.)
The making of Separate—Together.com involved shooting precise panoramas of each section of the museum. I can only imagine what a challenge this would be with a DSLR; when you're working on a miniature scale, you need a camera small enough to fit into tight spaces — not to mention the video shot from the train, which would be impossible with a big camera. Because the QX100 lens camera is so small, the photography team could easily attach it onto one of Bruce's flatbed model trains.
The fact that the Sony QX100 can be remotely controlled from a phone makes shooting in general — and especially in a situation like the one at Northlandz — so much easier. I watched the photographers moving through the land like giant dinosaurs towering above the miniatures. Any wrong move could result in hours' worth of Bruce's love and labor being destroyed, — but because they could control the shot from a safe spot, we didn't have to hold our breath wondering if one of the delicate bridges might get crushed, or the town hall pulverized.
I had the chance to talk to Matthew Albanese, the photographer behind the Separate Together photographic experiments, about the QX series and what shooting at Northlandz was like for him. Within minutes of seeing him work, I knew why Sony selected Matthew to capture the teeny tiny splendor of Northlandz with the QX100 lens-style camera — his specialty is shooting and lighting small subjects, and his mastery is undeniable (you can read more about his process here).
Q: Tell us about yourself as a photographer — you do miniature photography?
Matthew Albanese: Yes, I'm a photographer that specializes in creating miniature tabletop dioramas out of everyday materials, and I photograph and light them to look incredibly realistic. So, stuff like ostrich feathers or coffee or paprika, or steel wool as a tornado — stuff like that. The good thing about this camera is how well it functions in low light, which is important, especially for what I do because I use really unusual lighting scenarios. This camera responds very, very well to that.
Q: You said you make tabletop miniatures typically, but at Northlandz you're trying to showcase miniatures within this vastly large place. Did the QX100 help you with that?
M.A.: The fact that it's so small is perfect for me because I can really get inside of the action of this world. There's a lot of these little nooks and crannies in this place that I can just plant the camera down into. It's also really great that it's operating through Wi-Fi, so I can just operate the camera through my smartphone. I can see everything that I'm doing and manage everything that I need to at the touch of a button.
Q: In your everyday shooting, how do you think this camera would affect or change the way that you take photographs?
M.A.: It does have a lot of the functionality of a DSLR, so what's great is that it effectively turns your smartphone into a larger format camera in a sense. Instead of carrying a clunky camera and a phone, you have this compact thing that you just clip onto your phone, and it becomes one cohesive piece. It feels like a camera, it looks like a camera, with all kinds of control, and the best part is that if you don't know photography very well, this camera has excellent automatic capabilities.
Q: Does it feel strange to be so detached from the lens?
M.A.: It's funny because I'm so used to texting, and I'm used to Facebook and always using my phone, it seems pretty natural to just be able to use my camera [through my phone]. Also, with my professional camera, I shoot through Wi-Fi quite often. It's very useful. If I'm in a tight spot, I don't have to move and go around and hit the camera and go back. I can just sit there with my iPad and tap it, and make an adjustment and tap it. I think [the QX cameras' Wi-Fi abilities] are a really good way to fuse the mobile world with photography.
Lisbeth Ortega is a writer based out of San Francisco. She was head editor at Photojojo from 2010 to 2013. Her speciality is cameras, mobile photography, and tech. She waits years to develop film.