your best & worst photography purchases of 2014

Looking back every year, I’m sure you too are happy with some of your purchases you made in photography, whether gear or software or website related. Purchases that you love and made a difference to you as a photographer. But similarly there are also those purchases you regret. What was I thinking? I should’ve done my homework?

In the past I’ve bought some spur-of-the-moment bad decisions. It is especially easy to get swept away at photography trade shows. But I’ve gotten better at it, especially unnecessary software purchases. So I am actually happy with most of my purchases this year. Here’s my list of best & worst purchases, with even a few “meh” purchases listed.

Better yet, add yours to the list of Best / Worst Photo related purchases, by posting in the comments section. To make it interesting, there will be this book to be won as a prize. I will randomly pick one entry via a random number generator to win this book. Entries close Sunday 21st Dec.

How to Photograph Weddings

Behind the scenes with 25 leading pros to learn lighting posing and more. Names such as Jerry Ghionis, Jim Garner, Dave & Quin Cheung, Brett Florens, Huy Nguyen, Ken Sklute, and myself included.

Inspired by Fashion. Stories, not Pictures. Connection is the Key. Two grooms. Big Groups. A Sense of Humor.

These are some of the themes which are explored in the 58 chapter entries, covering a diverse range of topics which go beyond the technical, to also cover style and approach.

my best photography purchases for 2014

Profoto B1 500 W/s portable flash

The one most exciting bit of photo gear that I bought this year, was the Profoto B1 500 W/s portable flash (vendor). Especially now that the capability of high-speed flash sync has been added, it really is a game-changer. The B1 is so easy to set up and use, that it has replaced all the times where I would’ve used speedlights, except for on-camera bounce flash situations (obviously).

 

 

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens

I was only ever “sort of” happy with my Nikon 50mm f/1.4G … I felt it was an improvement on previous versions of 50mm lenses, but I never felt excited about it. It is my least used lens, aside from the fish-eye. Then the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens hit the market, and it looks and feels like quality. Its optical performance also surpassed that of the Nikon.  Check my review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens to see how it stacks up.

Nikon 24mm f/3.5 PCE Tilt-shift lens

I bought this tilt-shift lens specifically for a timelapse photography project of commercial properties. Optically it is just crazy-sharp. The controls to lock the movements, are not as good as the Canon’s unfortunately, and a little fidgety. Annoying. But optically this lens is perfect, and for architectural photography, the tilt-shift controls are essential.

Along with that time-lapse project, I also bought new tripods which made a huge difference, as mentioned in that linked article.

 

Westcott eye-lighter reflector

I first tried the Eye-lighter (vendor), at an After Dark photography convention, and was intrigued by the curved reflection it gave in the subject’s eyes. An interesting sparkle that also helped shape the eye. More than that, it was a flexible way to add fill-light in the studio. When I got to try out the Westcott Eyelighter in my studio, I was even more impressed. Check the article on using the Westcott Eyelighter in the studio for headshots.

 

iMac 32GB quad-core 3.5 GHz computer

At the start of 2014, I upgraded my main computer, an iMac, to an even better / faster iMac. I went to the Apple Store, and bought the iMac on the bottom-right-hand corner of the options – maxed out RAM, maxed out everything. I even got the 1Tb SSD drive, opting out of a Fusion Drive.

All those interstitial moments we lose when images load or save – those moments add up into a lot of lost time. I wonder how much of our lives are wasted waiting during those tiny tiny moments where we wait for a computer to respond. Time that we spend doing nothing … just waiting. I really wanted speed, and this computer is fast! An essential purchase.

 

Nikon D810

On top of my regular D4 bodies, I wanted / needed a good back-up camera. But it also needed to offer me more than my D4 bodies do. While a D610 or D750 would be a fine back-up camera to those beasts, I really wanted a camera that offered me more and offered me different. I settled on the Nikon D810 (vendor) for its high resolution, and for its fantastic image quality. I was taken aback when I realized that the D810 images are even sharper than the D4 images!

 

things that I touched and really loved, but didn’t buy

Fuji X-T1 and Fuji 56mm f/1.2

The Fuji X-T1 and Fuji 56mm f/1.2 make a very sexy combo! The idea of having a walk-about camera with an effective 85mm lens, was very tempting. A portrait lens on a camera that I can easily take with me anywhere, sounded just perfect, but do I really need more cameras right now!?

Nikon D4S

I had the Nikon D4S camera (vendor) for review purposes, and played with it over the course of a month, and loved it to the point that I was about to pull the trigger on it and just buy it. Check my Nikon D4S AF performance review. It is an impressive update on an already impressive camera. But it’s a lot of $$$ and the review of their high-ISO performance was not compelling enough for me to upgrade my D4 cameras, and I decided have a lot more to do still with my D4 bodies.

 

photo related stuff that left me indifferent, or where under-whelming

.photography top-level domains

This year new top-level domains were made available, for example: .photography
I bought a few domains, but mostly to protect current websites and domain names, such as tangents.photography … but whether these top-level domains are going to be important regarding SEO, we will have to see.

Singh-Ray variable ND filter

I bought this for the time-lapse projects, but the way the Singh-Ray ND filters (vendor) work, made them unusable for that project and other shoots. With two polarizers that are rotated, this ND filter creates an X-pattern of dark areas when used with a wide-angle lens. For me, its usefulness is severely limited, and I still have this, mint, and completely unused except for the one test. Disappointing. I should’ve done my homework first, I guess.

 

worst photo-related purchases

Fuji TSL-X100 teleconverter

The Fuji TSL-X100 teleconverter (vendor) is a lens screws onto the front of the for the Fuji X100 cameras, turning the effective 35mm lens into an effective 50mm lens. It sounded like a good idea, and I was hoping it would give me a tighter lens if I needed it, but the optical quality was so poor that I returned the lens for a refund. The image was soft wide-open, and showed purple fringing – entirely reducing the sharpness of the X100 lens.

advertising on Facebook

My love/hate view of Facebook continues. I’ve tried advertising on Facebook a few times, and every time feel completely unimpressed – like I had just fed a slot machine in Vegas, watching money disappear with no results. I know there are some photographers who have great success on Facebook, but it doesn’t work for me. Maybe I just need lessons in Facebook-ing.

Nikon SD-9 battery pack

I like the Nikon SD-9 battery pack (vendor) and recommend it … but I also have to continually replace them. Over the past 3 years I have had to replace four of them – they had died. The worst part is that the repair is a few dollars less than buying a new one, so I have to buy new ones.

I know there are alternative brands to the Nikon here, but I like the Nikon showing the battery pack is actually working, via the two red LEDs that brighten when the flash is recycled. Otherwise, how is one to know the battery pack is actually working? So I keep coming back to the SD-9, filled with some resentment.

 

your turn!

Let us know what photo-related goodies you bought this year which you loved, and those you didn’t. There’s a book prize to be won.

The post best & worst photography purchases of 2014 appeared first on Tangents.



For much of 2014, I have been on the road for Lynda.com, producing the series, The Traveling Photographer. The latest episode, on London, has just posted. London is an amazing city, and I think this episode is our best to date.

Hard to believe it, but we have now logged over 50,000 miles on this journey. In addition to Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris and London, we have just finished filming the New York City segment, which will be published soon.

For more information about the entire series, see this earlier post.



For much of 2014, I have been on the road for Lynda.com, producing the series, The Traveling Photographer. The latest episode, on London, has just posted. London is an amazing city, and I think this episode is our best to date.

Hard to believe it, but we have now logged over 50,000 miles on this journey. In addition to Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris and London, we have just finished filming the New York City segment, which will be published soon.

For more information about the entire series, see this earlier post.

Ben. 1996.

Pity the children of photographers. They get more exposure than most rock stars. At least locally. Back in 1996 Belinda and I decided to do a Christmas card to send to friends and clients (the distinctions are sometimes vague). We headed into the big, commercial studio I maintained at the time. It was just east of the IH-35 freeway and was absolutely cavernous (but I nearly succeeded in filling it up with many different cameras and lighting instruments....). 

When we got everything set up we started to explore just how well a 15 month old could take direction. You know, "So, turn left and give me an innocent little expression and then bring your hands up and show me Blue Steel or Le Tigre (Zoolander references).  We didn't have wings on him but they magically appeared in the film we got back from the lab.....

We didn't write down what cameras and lenses we used or how we lit it and we certainly didn't have time to do the standard behind the scenes video. But we loved the way the final image turned out. 

I'm trying to think up a good card for this year but all I have to work with this week is Studio Dog; the boy is still away at college. I wonder if Studio Dog can balance on the top of a Christmas tree and wear a Santa hat. Not for a long time, just a few minutes.....



I get asked ( a lot ) about what camera a person should buy. If the person seems to be looking for an easy camera with which to document their family life, their kids and their vacations I generally always recommend whatever the cheapest Canon Rebel package currently available at Costco or someplace like that. I could tell most people until I'm blue in the face about mirror less or ultra high resolution or fancy rangefinder design but if they are looking for just a step up from their phone they are pretty much destined to buy the Rebel no matter what I tell them. 

For most people a Rebel outfit with two kit zooms is just the right kit with just the right price. It's a big step up from a cellphone and a 55-200mm is a surprisingly good focal length range, coupled with an APS-C sensor, to cover most of the buyer's outdoor, kid sports needs. The big benefit is that it's a brand they've heard of and when they head out to the soccer field about 80% of the other parents also have Rebels and they can happily group source their panicky technical questions. And, optimistically, they can learn together. Those are easy camera questions to answer. 

But in the last few weeks I've consulted with three other kinds of users and I've offered three different sets of advice. I got a call from a college student I know. Friend of the family. Against all advice he'd like to make a career as a photographer and video "artist." He's been through a bunch of classes, banged his way around with the family Canon Rebel and is now ready to get into the biz. He anticipates shooting stuff like products, portraits, landscapes and architecture and he wants to do it right. He's got some financial backing from his parents as well. I suggested that he get a Nikon D750 along with the 24-120mm VR lens and also a 14-24mm lens. This will get him started and the full frame camera with good video controls is pretty much a universal tool of the industry. I might be comfortable shooting with smaller formats but I can pretty much guarantee that he's going to need the psychological boost of bringing an "A" game camera system to all his early assignments. It's the old "talisman of power" thing where the "magic" of the camera conveys competence to its owner. I could have recommended the Canon 5D mk3 instead but the Nikon is more of a running start right now. Give Canon time to get the new sensors in play and then it would probably be a coin toss. 

This person took my advice and I've heard back from him. He is happy as were his first three, real clients. But this would have been the wrong advice for another person who came to me to see what I would recommend for a good travel system. Now, I have travelled with big, medium format cameras on several personal, international shooting trips and I wouldn't trade the big negatives I got from those trips for anything but times have changed. Airplane seats are smaller, there are no longer porters everywhere and we're all moving a lot faster. Add to that the fact that no one wants to pay for film and processing anymore.

The person asking for advice is an accomplished amateur photographer whose last camera purchase was a Nikon D2Xs. She just didn't feel like she could handle the big body, the two enormous f2.8 zooms she'd been carrying any longer and she was ready to ditch the tripod too and get something that could be reasonably handheld. We talked about mirror-free cameras and she liked the idea. Then we narrowed it down to Fuji versus Olympus and we made a trip over to the camera store to handle them both. She loved the EM-5 and the EM-10 and she ended up with an EM-10 and a single 12-40mm f2.8 zoom lens. I counseled her to load up on some after market Wasabi Power batteries and now she's set. Early feedback is that after helping her make her first plunge into the (onerous) menu she's thrilled with what she is getting from the camera system and it fits in her purse. She was pretty amazed at how far the high ISO performance has come in cameras since the days of the D2X. She never went above ISO 400 with that camera and I wouldn't have advised it either. Now she's got the auto ISO set to cap at 1600 and she feels like she's rediscovering the joy of shooting. Also, after years of only taking the "boat anchor" out when she anticipated shooting seriously, the new camera and lens follow her everywhere. Like a puppy. 

Finally I had a long, long telephone call with a fellow photographer and long time friend who shoots in NYC. He's doing portraits kind of the way I do them. He's been shooting there since the 1990's and he was complaining because the town has almost as many people constantly trying to break into the business in the city as NYC has rats. Everywhere he turns all his competitors are using one of the same two cameras: The Nikon D800 ( or some version thereof ) or a Canon 5Dmk3. They use the same 70-200mm zoom lenses and everyone seems to own or rent Profoto Strobes. He wanted my take on how he should differentiate. I told him about a mutual friend here who shoots only architecture. Very high end architecture. When his market got flooded with the same cameras and a whole raft of beginners who were shooting without lights and saving their images with desperate HDR he realized that he needed to rise above the pack and market himself as the top (and most expensive) of the photo artists in his field. Part of his branding was to cast off the ubiquitous camera choices (Nikon or Canon with 24mm TS lens) and take it all up an notch. 

He dropped serious money into the Hasselblad system and then discovered the Leica medium format system and transitioned into that. Now he's shooting his platinum level, $20 million dollar residential projects and his high rise commercial projects with a couple of the Leica S2 bodies and a case full of very, very costly but incredibly good glass. Clients really can see the difference, especially when the photographer starts whipping out detailed 20 by 30 inch prints. I figured my portrait photographer friend in NYC could undertake the same basic strategy. 

We talked about the Pentax 645Z and he jumped in. He only needs two lens, a normal for full length stuff and a 140 or 150mm for headshot style portraits. He's raised his rates and is busier than he's ever been. The camera was not much more money than the Canon 1DS Mk3 he bought nearly five years ago and he's been able to source some used lenses to soften the blow but to the clients the important message is that he's shooting bigger files on a bigger sensor than 90% of the competition and he can deliver images with less depth of field and more snap. 


gratuitous image from Fall in Saratoga Springs to sparkle up the middle of the article.


In the end I gave out three totally different suggestions for three totally different kinds of artists. Too often I think the magazines and websites that shill for the camera makers assume that everyone needs the same stuff. That everyone is chasing the highest degree of weather proofing in their cameras bodies, that everyone craves being able to shoot at ISO 100,000, that everyone needs 12 frames per second frame rates and tracking focus that locks on like a demented badger and won't let go even if the hummingbird you are trying to track in continuous AF buzzes chaotically through an obstacle course. But really? Everyone does photography in a different way and they each are looking for a different solutions that aligns best with where they are in their imaging journey. 

It would be sad if everyone shot with the same camera because in this art endeavor the tools really do nudge us in certain directions. When everyone uses the same kinds of tools everyone gets nudged in the same direction. When you make a truly universal camera I think you make a camera that really no one loves. Viva choice.


When I go into the studio to photograph a person I'm rarely looking for the "big grin" of the "happy face" shot. When I have the luxury of doing so I like to settle in with the person and try to find a point at which they stop role playing, let their defenses down and become real humans. It's hard to do in the work arena because the people we tend to photograph for big companies are on tight schedules and have agendas they have to follow. The most satisfying sessions for me take hours. I recently photographed a commissioned portrait for a real estate agent. She intends to use her final, selected images from the shoot for a wide range of professional applications and also on the social media sites she uses. In that session we ended up spending an hour and a half and going through three costume changes. I didn't mind because she was into my particular style and I was having fun.

Lately, the sessions that have worked best start with tea or coffee in the kitchen of my house. We might sit at the dining room table for a few minutes and just get to know each other. I always seem to ask directly, "What do you want to get out of this shoot?"  It's an honest question and it helps me know that we're either on the same page to start with or that I may have to compromise and do things in a way she'll appreciate and then also do a separate layer of work that I want.

When I think about photographing beautiful women the stories about two great photographers come to mind. The first is from an interview with Richard Avedon in which he says (and I am paraphrasing here...) that his best work comes when, during the session, he falls in love with the model. He goes on to say that when the session is over the spell is broken and life goes on but he strongly implied that there needs to be an emotional bond during the session that creates the impetus to make the person in front of the camera look amazing. I think this is true. The words might be wrong and the idea of falling in love may just be a clumsy attempt to verbalize a feeling or a thought that is about the nature of attraction more than anything else.

Occasionally I'll think that someone is not very attractive or engaging until they sit under the lights and face the camera and the dance between the photographer and model or portrait subject begins. There is a give and take in the conversation and in the best sessions almost an unspoken agreement to find a level of intimate sharing that unlocks emotions that are different from a routine session. But at the same time the interplay is different than a sexual attraction in that the conversation and collaboration is the vital ingredient rather than anything prurient.

I've seen many glamor shots that, while well crafted technically, are devoid of any sort of correspondence between the model and the photographer, as though the thing missing is some sort of real, human connection. Almost as though a person uncomfortable with intellectual intimacy compensated by trying to leverage the most titillating poses and exposures into the shots instead of taking time to find the interesting aspects of the holistic person. And these kinds of images are hardly ever compelling or interesting on any satisfying level.

The second photographer whose portraits I have always loved, is Irving Penn. He was the subject of an article by anthropologist, Lionel Tiger, who sat for a portrait done by the photographer. Irving Penn, via the article by Tiger about his experiences sitting for him, expressed very plainly that he felt a good portrait was the result of a certain intimacy between sitter and photographer. He was adamant that after his assistants had gotten the lights exactly right and had loaded enough film for a long session they must leave the shooting room at his studio and allow him to be alone with his subject. That audience reduction eliminated a lot of the self censoring that naturally occurs when a person splits his attention with two or more people of differing levels and interests. It also keeps people from looking beyond the camera to seek the tacit approval of the other spectators in the room.

Having been photographed before by a number of more traditional photographers Tiger expected to the session to be short and sweet. A bit of "look over here, turn your head, smile" and then we're done. But that's not the way Irving Penn conducted his editorial portrait sessions. He set up his camera and did not linger behind it. He seemed immune from technical concerns and engaged Lionel Tiger at length in a discussions about anthropology, art, music and culture. Occasionally Penn would trip the shutter.

Tiger pulled out all the routine "tricks" of a sitter trying posed pose after posed pose but eventually he tired of trying and a sort of sleepiness came over him at which point Penn, alerted to the falling of his subject's social "shield" began photographing in earnest. And those are the images that were used from the session. Essentially he needed privacy, time and shared conversation to move past the rote face, the clichéd pose, and into a series of expressions and manifestations that were a more genuine portrait of his sitter.

I learned early on in my career that people will rush you through a process whenever they can but I also learned from watching brilliant photographers that the ones who made photographs or portraits that I cared about made themselves immune to the coercion to rush through processes. They insisted on taking as much time as the art allowed. In anything I've done that is at all good the secret ingredient has always been my penchant to push back on the arbitrary clock and bring people to understand that time is part of the process. That and being bored. A portrait is a shared moment between two people. Three or more is a crowd.

The image above started life as a big raw file from a 24 megapixel sensor. It was shot in color as most digital images are. While the color version is good and useful I've spent the better part of an hour playing with black and white tonalities. Not because there is a single "right" answer but because the playing is part of a process of constant learning that informs our work going forward. Play. It's good for the brain.


Belinda in Verona.

I mentioned buying Tri-X and shooting "old school" in a blog yesterday. Yes, to the kinder-digi, shooting Tri-X means shooting with actual (not virtual) film. One of our readers wrote into the comments and bemoaned the lack of processing options, etc. in their town and opined that he hoped my darkroom was still functional. I thought I'd just outline my process for playing with film for the pure fun of it (as opposed to doing it for money as part of a commissioned "look"). 

If you don't have a film camera sitting around don't worry, you can pick them up from the used market all day long for under $250. And that's for something really good like a Nikon F2 with a 50mm hanging off the front. Everyone should have one good film user around even if it's just a souvenir of a different time.

Starting at the beginning I must council you that in the realm of black and white films Tri-X is the ultimate and most perfect black and white film ever created by the hands of man. Well, there are a few others that are close but.....you know what I mean. Don't pussyfoot around with lesser varieties of black and white film. I did go through a protracted Agfa APX 25 phase but that was another lifetime. 

Here in Austin we can walk through the front door of Precision Camera and one of the happy, courteous and knowledgeable salespeople will be happy to get you a fresh rolls (or ten or twenty) for the price of a large, fancy coffee at Starbucks (about $5).  Once you've got it loaded into your camera of choice you'll thank me for steering you away from the esoteric slow films and toward the ISO 400 king of black and white specifically because we've been trained via digital to shoot at higher ISOs and finally, here's a real reason to make that choice. 

I know that no lens is perfect and most of my older cameras have strange meters so I shoot my film as though it was really ISO 250 and meter with a handheld meter. If you are shooting outside the light doesn't change that quickly and the meter reading is valid until the light changes. You might find your exposures are more consistent without the constant intervention of new, smartypants metering in our current generation of smartypants cameras because they are not infallible and are prone to subject failure induced mis-metering. 

Next step is to shoot happily until the film runs out. Sooner or later it always does, unless you've loaded it incorrectly and it does go on forever and forever because it never got started. Many tyros have shot hundreds of frames on a roll only to discover that the film was never traversing the film plane correctly....

After I've shot my 36 frames of Tri-X is could find some tanks, mix some chemicals and take my chances with my agitation techniques or I can drop it off for same day processing at my favorite, local lab, Holland Photo on South Lamar Blvd. I can get the film back sleeved or I can ask them to leave it as a long roll and also to scan it and give me decent res files of everything on the roll. They will also make nice contact sheets for me which is almost a lost art. 

At that point I hit the next three way decision intersection: Print at home or scan individual frames myself or have the master printers at Holland Photo make prints for me. Or (sneaky) I can take advantage of Holland Photo's black and white rental darkroom and go back in and print my own stuff under a real enlarger. It's not that expensive and satisfies the need to get your hands wet (although I think they much prefer people to use tongs....). 

So, scan, print, have prints made, whatever. In Austin all things are still possible. Kind of like living in Photo-Camelot. And, having done a number of jobs in NYC and using the premier pro labs there for B&W I'll stick my neck out and declare that they've got nothing on Holland Photo!

Well, there it is. A happy black and white workflow. Now, just dig in and learn the Zone System and you'll have the entire adventure wired up. If you live in some hell hole with no film dealers and no black and white lab you can always use the ones we have here, you'll just have to do some shipping.
But it's a fun city and you might even want to hand deliver your film, spend a day snapping around town and then come back to the lab the next day and print your own stuff. You could have a self-guided B&W workshop all by yourself and probably at a good savings to boot.



Fadya.

I know that people who don't photograph for a living, as a rule, photograph exactly what they are interested in and in a fashion they want to explore. When you start photographing for clients the scope of aesthetic flexibility shrinks quite a bit. Many times the potential to explore a subject or a portrait session is limited by the preconceptions of the person with the checkbook. The old saw is that they are coming to us for our vision or our sensibilities, and that is part of the equation, but for the most part the clients show up because we have a track record and they are reasonably assured that they'll get what they need nearly every time with get up to bat. Might not be an artistic "home run" every time but it's generally at least a single.

That means experimenting with new styles (or old, favorite styles) is something that professional photographers need to do for themselves. Clients tend to want the deep shadows filled in. They want compositions that reflect popular culture and design stereotypes and they especially want everyone in nearly ever image to be deliriously happy. But they can be sold something closer to the styles that we want to shoot in if we remember the cardinal rule of being a client: They don't know what's possible until they see an exact example. (A riff on the common phrase: "I'll know it when I see it."

This puts the ball firmly in our side of the court. If we want clients to hire us to shoot something cool or personal or even just a bit nuanced we have to show them what we can do and what we have done. The only way for them to warm up with new ideas and styles is to let them get cozy with work that works.

I think about this a lot because many corporate portraits conform to pervasive styles. Why, well it's driven by client's desires to run with the herd, to be part of the tribe, to not go too far outside of what's commonly accepted by their peer groups in order to ensconce themselves safely as members of the group so they can enjoy the economic bounty of acceptance. 

Personally I like it when a portrait does more. I like playing with all kinds of light and lots of different poses and expressions. Especially honest expressions. 

About a month or so ago Fadya called me and asked if I was in the mood to play around in the studio and make some new images. I was thrilled. It was a time in which I was using new lights and pushing them to see what I could do with them. I was using a new camera as well. We had fun, shot a lot of images and got caught up on social news and what not. I was very happy with our collaboration and displayed some of the images here on the blog. 

Now I find myself discussing the chance of using the images in an ad that would run in national media. It's really wonderful when doing the work you love creates a direct connection to new opportunity. Keeps me wanting to shoot my own work during my downtime from client work. And that's a good thing.




You caught me. You know me so well. It had to happen sometime. You know what I'm talking about, I woke up this morning and I just had to have a full frame camera. That big ole 35mm frame that confers so much on a photographer. And you could tell what with my flirtations about Nikon and what not which direction I'd head in. I mean, it was like a trail of bread crumbs, right? First the dalliance with the D7100 and then the manic acquisition of two D7000s in short order. It was only a matter of time before Photography's most fickle practitioner reached out and grabbed up a working, big, sexy full frame Nikon. 

I've got the camera set up just the way I want it. I've got an AIs 60mm lens on the front and I've got the internal mechanism set to shoot monochrome (or black and white) at 400 ISO. I takes a little bit of getting used to, I mean the positioning of the controls and the very, very, very understated menus, but I seem to be getting the hang of it. The weird thing is that the body I picked up, while huge and very heavy, seems to be following the new Leica-trend in terms of minimizing features in favor of unimpeded operation. This unusual full framer does have three metering modes but it doesn't have any special AF point distribution modes. As best I can tell it's limited to only using the center focusing point. The finder doesn't light up in red like a Christmas tree when I half press the shutter button. It does seem to snap into sharp focus with gusto! 

I've also been over every square inch looking for picture looks or profiles but I can't find any at all. Then there is the relief of not having the stupid features resident on so many competing cameras. Things that clutter the mind and suck on batteries with reckless enthusiasm. Crap like GPS (who, besides cartographers actually uses that frivolous feature? And you really depend on it? Sure.) The camera maker kindly resisted efforts to include wi-fi, bluetooth or AM radio as well. Which is good because I understand that the model I have chosen requires a ridiculous amount of post processing before  the files are usable. Nothing you can pop up on Facebook that lets you tell all your friends, "I am standing in front of the middle urinal at the south Costco and things are coming out fine..."

While I loves me the EVFs there's no option for that here. Just an OVF but a pretty nice one. It's usable for interior and exterior shooting and does a good job conveying bokeh if I squint just right. Excuse me for just a minute but I need to look at the manual again because I can't figure out how to switch back to sRGB.... Oh, right, there's no color management on this camera. But it's heavy enough to anchor a small boat. And when it first came out the magazine reviewers fell all over themselves to praise its operation. 

What is today's usable camera? See attached.


I woke up this morning with a strange desire to shoot some Tri-X black and white film in a camera that's really just no fucking nonsense. I guess it's a reaction to shooting and processing well over 20,000 digital frames over the last two months and just being bone tired of remembering to switch color balances, switch to uncompressed raw from Jpeg when switching from a web assignment to a magazine assignment mis-remembering whether or not I turned off the I.S. when I put the camera on the tripod and the frustration of hitting the video button when sticking my camera back in the bag only to find an hour of so of very dark video resident on the now full memory card after lunch.

I know, I know; I'll soon (probably mid-afternoon) chaff at carrying this primordial beast around all day without sherpas. I know that the digital revolution has hacked away at my once great attention span and by 4 or 5 today I'll be so anxious to see what I've shot and so ready to blog about it.... But I guess this is another one of those ill-fated, Zen-Like, self imposed exercises where we try to re-learn patience, humility and focused thrift. 

Call it a day off with an old friend. 


A review from a reader:

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cure for a Sluggish Pulse June 24, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I recall reading “The Exorcist” one night (back when it first came out – the early 70’s), and I just could not put it down. Page after page, tension mounting, my heart racing, I pushed through to the end. At about 3 AM!

“The Lisbon Portfolio” got to me the same way. I began reading on the plane from Philly to Dallas. (To about 20%, according to the Kindle reader app’s little gray note on each page.) We were visiting with some of my wife’s family, but there were periods when I had time to myself, so I’d open the Nexus tablet and plow on. All were amused by my periodic “percent complete” reports. I finished it by the end of the second day.

If you have followed Kirk Tuck’s Visual Science Lab blog for any length of time, you can get a sense of who the man is. And I think Kirk Tuck is “The Lisbon Portfolio” protagonist Henry White. But, Henry White is not Kirk Tuck, even though they both hail from Austin, Texas. Not unless Kirk has been keeping his NSA and CIA adventures a secret from us. Just today (Monday), Kirk describes his gig at the RLM Math Conference in Denver, and it could easily have been a passage out of the book, as Henry Smith describes how he plans to shoot the Global Data Systems (GDS) 4-day international conference in Lisbon. He even brings in references to his Leica cameras. (Hint: a film Leica plays a significant role in an exciting scene in the book.)

Having spent the last several decades in the Corporate IT world, I could relate to his depictions of the GDS annual sales conference, aka “the dog and pony show,” intended to entice current and would-be customers to take the chance on the next (buggy) software release. More interesting to me is the depiction of GDS itself, (which seems to conflate both IBM and Ross Perot’s EDS), as the kind of amoral and controlling transnational corporation ably portrayed in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic “Red Mars,” “Green Mars,” “Blue Mars” trilogy. The minor notes also ring true; for example, GDS’s ability to remotely access the hardware it sells, and reconfigure it on the fly. I can attest that that’s not fiction.

This is one of those stories where I wish I had taken notes of each new character as the plot-line moved forward. Good guys, bad guys (and gals), who they work for, or against, or both at the same time. And an increasing body count. The timeline jumps back and forth, with rapid scene changes typical of an action movie. The narrative flow reminds me of Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.”

Do I recommend it? You only get one guess. And remember to look up from the page every so often to catch your breath.

Good job, Kirk!

lighting and design in photography: (de)-constructing an image

For me, Design in photography relates to the way an image is constructed at the time of shooting. Composition and content. Lighting. Every element which forms part of a successful and eye-catching photograph. Some of the elements in the photograph are pre-visualized, some of it a kind of serendipity that is then expanded on at the time. Some of it might only be understood afterwards in looking at the photograph. My latest book, Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography, looks at exactly that thought-process throughout the 60 chapters in the book.

Several of the articles on Tangents look at that thought-process during a photo-shoot, working towards a successful image. For example:
– progression of an idea in a photo session (cosplayer: Ger Tysk)
– photo-shoot with a model: the progression of an idea  (model: Nicole)

With that idea in mind – the design of a photograph – let’s step through the image at the top.

This photograph of our model Olive, isn’t a composite. It is pretty much SOOC (straight out of camera), aside from removing a car and a few people in the background. Oh, and bumping up the Contrast and nudging the Saturation. And retouching skin. I guess it isn’t really that SOOC at this point. But it isn’t a composite. It was shot like this. The cobble-stones looked like that – aglow.

That lack of shadow adds a sense of mystery. It all looks a bit surreal. The reason why Olive looks like she is floating in the air, is that she was jumping. We did several takes to try and get her at her most relaxed in mid-air. With her feet off the ground, there is no immediate tell-tale shadow behind her. The bright sun on the cobble stones also eliminate her shadow completely. There is also no shadow in front of her, since it is outside of the frame.  So she really looks like she is incongruously suspended in the air.

Now, the lack of shadow wasn’t planned before-hand, but it was most definitely noticed when we started shooting a few test frames. So we continued with the idea.

camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used

  • 1/200 @ f/4 @ 100 ISO … with off-camera flash

 

Working with the Profoto B1 portable flash (vendor), I was limited to maximum flash sync speed. The camera I used was the Nikon D750 (vendor), which is limited to 1/200 so to make sure that I don’t get movement blur, I timed several images at the peak of her jump. You can see how her necklace is floating now. That’s an essential nugget here – timing the shot at the peak of the action which in this case means the least movement and the least blur. In fact, this and several other images are crisply sharp even at that relatively slow shutter speed for action.

Ideally, I would’ve loved to have her right arm and hand visible, but this is difficult to control especially when the main instruction is to look relaxed … and she is intent on not breaking an ankle while jumping in high heels on cobble stones.

I was low on the ground, so I could be sure to have the sun behind her when she was at peak jump. This gave rim-light and that glow in the sky behind her. The same motive for the glow of the cobble-stones – I wanted her centered against that.

Regarding composition – I pay attention to the background and foreground, and balance within the frame. This is the motif behind photography composition for me – frame, don’t just aim. But for all that, the composition here is quite centered. I am very fine with central compositions. If that is what works, that is what works.

 

  • 1/200 @ f/4 @ 200 ISO … with off-camera flash

Another photograph taken in the same spot. I specifically wanted to highlight Olive with the off-camera lighting. The narrow Profoto 1’×3′ softbox (vendor)helps with that, containing the light so it doesn’t spread too wide.

If you take note of the camera settings, you’ll notice that a perhaps surprisingly wide aperture was used in such bright light. The f/11 bright light was pulled down by three stops, using the B+W 3-stop ND Filter (vendor). This gave me f/4 which helps with the separation between my subject and the background. With the image at the top, shot at 24mm, the f/4 aperture doesn’t give as noticeably shallow depth-of-field. But with this second image where Olive is leaning against the car, the lens was zoomed to 35mm and the DoF is now shallow enough to give some separation.

 

summary

Here I wanted to show some of the thought-process, and some of the elements – purposeful and inadvertent – that played a role in creating these images.

And yes, this is the same location, where I shot the lead image for the review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens. And the same car.

If you’d like to order my new book, Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography, you can do so via that Amazon link. Or you can order it from Barnes & Noble or any favorite local book store. You can also order an autographed copy directly from me. If you’d like an autographed copy, I still have two copies left of my book, Off-Camera Flash, and six copies of Direction & Quality of Light

 

related articles

The post lighting and design: (de)-constructing a photograph appeared first on Tangents.

Unique Photo – NJ camera show – Dec 12, 13, 14

Unique Photothe largest photo store in NJ – is hosting one of the regular camera shows next weekend, December 12, 13 & 14. Along with the display of gear, there will be a host of talks and seminars where photographers can learn.

Check their check website for more details about the camera show. And follow them via their Facebook page

I’ve been invited to do a series of three different presentations at this camera show. For two of these presentations there will be models you can photograph. For the Saturday event, bring your speed light along and we’ll play with getting the best from your on-camera bounce flash. For Sunday’s event, we’re going to look at the basics of off-camera flash to get you started. This presentation is for those who have been too intimidated to try. Here’s your chance!

Here are the dates, times and topics. Click on the links to book a spot.


Friday, 2:00pm – 4:00pm
Dynamic lighting for on-location portraits
(This is a seminar presentation with a slideshow; no shooting; no models.)

When shooting on location, we don’t always have the luxury of ideal settings and conditions. So we have to make it work!

Practical steps to develop and achieve consistency with your on-location portrait photography, when facing difficult scenarios. We’ll discuss real-world practical building blocks you can use to help you when challenged by tough lighting scenarios.  Refine your technique and also define your own style in portrait photography. No vague feel-good fluff here, but actual info you can use.

By looking at the thought-process in how we set up an on-location shoot, we’ll look at posing and specifically the lighting, whether available light, or additional lighting. We will look at all the factors that have to come together for a successful portrait and a consistent style.

The material for this presentation is based on my latest book, Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography

 

Saturday, 12:00pm – 2:00pm
studio quality light from your on-camera bounce flash 
(We will start with a slideshow to explain a few things, but will photograph models to put this in practice.)

We will cover the on-location techniques where we can approach studio quality lighting, using just our on-camera flash as bounce flash.

This will be a practical demonstration, so bring your camera and your flash. We’ll photograph two models.

 

Sunday, 2:30pm – 4:00pm
off-Camera lighting on location … where do we even start?
(We start with a slideshow to explain a few things, but will photograph models to put this in practice.)<

This topic – balancing flash and ambient exposure – seems to one that many newer photographers struggle with. The big hurdle seems to be the basic starting point – how do you decide on the exposure for each? With this on-location session, we’ll make sure every photographer who is struggling with the essentials will have a clear grasp of where to start with their camera and flash settings on future shoots.

This will be a practical demonstration, so bring your camera and your flash. We’ll photograph two models.

The post Unique Photo – NJ camera show appeared first on Tangents.


One of the frustrating things about making photographs on commissions for clients (as opposed to making them for myself and trying to license the usage rights afterwards to clients) is that in most cases we are required to keep them out of circulation at least until our commissioning clients have used them for the initial rights license we've negotiated. In the industry they call this an embargo. But what it means to me is that I've done a zillion photographic portrait sessions recently that I'd love to show off except the fact that they haven't wended their way through all of the processes and found their way to client websites, magazine ads or posters---just yet. 

This means talking a lot about portraits when showing them would be more fun and enlightening. But there's not a lot I can do about it. Today I shot a portrait that worked out really well. I was commissioned by a magazine in Chicago to make a portrait of an executive from the big computer maker/cloud services provider here in central Texas. The image will be used on the front cover of the magazine sometime in the first quarter of 2015. We started talking about the assignment about ten days ago but I didn't hear back on the shooting date until yesterday morning. I got a brief e-mail from the art director who was hoping we could do something the very next day. Today. I put some post processing aside and said, "yes."

The portrait needed to be an environmental one so I headed out to the corporate campus, scouted a location and waited to meet my subject. I lit the entire shoot with one light. It was an inexpensive Yongnuo electronic flash firing into a 72 inch white umbrella. The rest of the lighting was supplied via the back lit graphics that covered every square inch of the walls at our location, augmented by pillar of corrected fluorescent lights in the center of the room. I was a bit miffed because in using the outer AF sensors of the Nikon D7100 with a 24-85mm zoom lens the camera hunted like Hemmingway. It was all over the place. I was embarrassed for the camera because I can think of three or four m4:3rd cameras that would have handled the situation with ease. 

We were in an out of the location in less than an hour and I pause to remember one of our first shoots in that location about 15 years ago using enormous Profoto strobe packs, soft boxes and medium format film cameras. Every set up was time intensive and I'm going to bet we got seven or eight good set ups in a day back then. We did four set ups in an hour today; from the unzipping of the camera case to the tossing of the bags back into the car and driving away. So different. And such a clear contrast when you've worked in the same particular location over such a span of years. 

After I got back to the studio I edited (meaning "delete unusable or crappy shots") the take, did some post processing (color correction and contrast correction) and then output a gallery of images to put up on Smugmug.com for the magazine art director. But this weekend has barely begun.

As soon as I put the gallery up I got busy unpacking and repacking. We're booked again tomorrow on a full day shoot at an elementary school to photograph kid models, an iPhone product, and app. My favorite assistant was already booked on another adventure so I'm working with someone new. We'll head over to the location right after my early morning swim practice and shoot with the same collections of Nikon cameras (I'm almost temporarily over them... and already flirting with doing the next shoot with m4:3 cameras again) and lenses. The ones that have all been auto focus fine tuned and exposure tuned. Hope it sticks.

I'm packing three of the 72 inch umbrellas with which I hope to create walls of light where needed or to supplement big banks of windows, where possible. I'll take along an assortment of other lights like some LED panels and batteries for some smaller interiors. Probably a couple of bigger strobes in case we need to push some light from the outside through some windows or onto the playgrounds. 

On Sunday I'll be editing and then globally post processing the edited images for initial delivery to the advertising agency that's handling this job. And I hope to be very efficient in my computer work because I need to repack for an assignment early Monday morning. We'll be going into the offices of a large, national real estate company in order to make a series of group photographs of their various executive teams. Same cameras but for this job a selection of four or five 400 watt second monolights and various modifiers (a mix of umbrellas and soft boxes). I hope to have the shooting and furniture moving part of that job done by 10:30 am so I can meet up with an creative director from a different agency to go and call on a new manufacturing client. We've gotten approval on a day long project photographing their key people in environmental set ups, as well as some lifestyle-y images of their employee's craft work, but I always like to meet the new clients first when I can and do a thorough scouting of the facility we'll be shooting in. I can't always arrange it but when I can it makes great sense and informs the gear selection and packing that I'll need to do. 

Midweek is post production, delivery and billing along with a collection of random head shots and portraits and then Saturday and Sunday in Charlotte, NC. (Hate those over night turn arounds) to make one or two portraits before getting back into the studio Sunday night to recharge batteries and repack for a shoot with 12 to 15 people in Johnson City, Texas first thing Monday morning. And it continues like this right up until the week before Christmas. But it's fun. When you are shooting portraits all the time you fall into a nice rhythm and if you want to challenge yourself it's as easy as changing to different camera or lighting gear or trying something you've never done before. If it works then you are an artist. If it doesn't work we'll hope that you are smart enough to back yourself up with some normal safety shots. But the portrait process builds in its own sense of continuity and fluidity that makes the work fun.

And this is a long, rambling one sided conversation that I guess is my way of saying, "Wow. We're busy and it's sidetracking me from doing the blogging as regularly as I'd like. Sorry. And it's also keeping me from doing the much needed marketing for the novel. To which I'd like to circle back. But hey, there are only so many hours and with dog walking and swimming being the alpha priorities, well, something else has to give. 

Speaking of the novel....
If you've finished reading the novel and you enjoyed it please consider leaving a review for me at Amazon.com. Every review is wonderful marketing. Except the bad reviews. But if you read it and didn't like it you are probably way too busy---what with the holidays and all--- to trouble yourself with writing a review. Just saying.   








These were all taken one afternoon with the D7000 and the funky, cool Nikon 25-50mm f4 manual focus lens from a previous century. I love the look.


I know it's the Holiday Season and as an American blogger I have almost a sacred duty to inflame your lust for a new camera, lens or costly accessory so you will order said unit and I will have a bit more cash in my Christmas stocking from Amazon.com via their affiliate program (which, incidentally, costs you nothing extra...) but---I'm just not in the mood to be mercantile right now because I'm not feeling that it's really that important to buy any of the new gear that's out there  today when there is so much surplus "last season" stuff out there that is almost as good as the new stuff....or maybe better. 

I'm going off on a tangent right now that has very little to do with science and perhaps more to do with the emotion of seeing instead of the quantification side of judging things. As an example it's pretty much a given that on most computer screens (where the vast majority of people ingest and enjoy photographs) a sharp image from a lower megapixel camera will look better than a massive and much higher resolution camera file. Try it yourself with any of the cameras you own and you'll find it's true. Now, if you are using the cameras to produce mondo sized printed posters you'll definitely decide that bigger is better so newer is better. But honestly, how many of us even get around to printing the majority of our images?  If you are truthful you'll admit that mostly you share your images at about 2000 pixels on the long side, right? So while those with a scientific bent can show us that the bigger, newer sensor is quantitatively much better and can equal the on-screen look of the less populated sensor through the process of downsampling or binning it's really just theoretical for our every day use.

Why am I hesitant to rush out and buy a newer, bigger, more specification-glorious camera right now? Well, maybe it's because I'm coming to realize that for my uses those cameras might not be the best choice. The reason I have a photo of the Kodak DCS 760 at the head of the blog today is to serve as a reminder that some of the most wonderful digital portraits I ever took were done with this camera and that I often reverted back to it long after having "upgraded" to cameras like the D2x, etc. because I LIKED THE LOOK OF THE FILES BETTER. I didn't measure anything or go to DXO to get their considered opinion, instead I used a very complex method I learned long ago: I looked at the images. The slow, noisy, CCD sensor in the DCS 760 ( a whopping six megs) made skin tones look wonderful and had a feeling of depth that I don't usually see in the cameras we rush to buy today. 

Several times in the last ten years I upgraded cameras NOT because I needed better image quality but because I needed other unrelated features to make my jobs out in the field more flexible and accurate. I traded up from one camera that had a small, low res, uncalibrated LCD screen on the back to one that had a much bigger screen because it was easier to see (an more accurately) what I might end up with when I brought the images back into the studio to post process them. I upgraded to prevent nasty surprises.

Early on I had a Nikon D100 camera. It was a very nicely done camera. In time Nikon came out with a camera that had more resolution and a better screen but the biggest reason I felt compelled to upgrade was the fact that the weakest point of the D100 had nothing to do with the quality of the files but with the paucity of the buffer. If you shot raw you would get four images and then you would need to pause while the camera processed the files and wrote to the card. It was tedious. I am a garrulous and promiscuous shooter and the small buffer really cramped my style. But in terms of image quality both my D100 and my D2H were better photograph making machines than the D200 ever was, no matter how quickly it was able to whip its mediocre constructs through its internal process. (Can you tell that I loathed that camera? God it was awful. A real example of checking off the marketing boxes with tedious engineering).

Recently I jumped down another silly rabbit hole. I had a client give me a job the parameters of which I thought would be outside the performance envelope of the micro four thirds cameras I was trying to press into service for nearly everything. I did some quick research on the sharpest, highest resolution cameras I could buy that would also be cost effective and have a system that would be (for a portrait photographer) relatively easy financially to slide into. For better or worse the Nikon D7100 was the choice I made. If you need very sharp, very high resolution files I can recommend the camera with very few caveats. It's actually my idea of the best APS-C working camera out there right now.

Well, since the Summer I have used it pretty extensively (but please note that I shoot a lot and also constantly rotate other cameras into the mix as well), so much so that I decided I should have a back up camera of those times when its feature set suggested its use out on a remote location. You gotta have a back up, right? So I went back to my research and after researching every recent Nikon camera body I settled on a used D7000 for my back up. The first one I tried had some massive back focus problems so I returned it, waited a while and then found another one at a decent price. I immediately tested it and then AF fine-tuned all the AF lenses I intended to use on it. Then I took it out for a series of walks to check out the overall performance of the machine. It was nice. It focused as quickly as all of my current cameras. It handled low light levels at least as well as all of my current cameras, including the three year newer D7100. I came to trust that camera as a working tool.

Recently I shot an evening event for the Texas Appleseed Foundation at the Four Seasons Hotel here in Austin. Most of the images would be used on the web and repurposed as five by seven inch prints for attendee/donor gifts. I decided to use the D7000 as my primary "grip and grin" camera for the event mostly because it's largest Jpeg file was just right. A good intersection of high image quality but not so much information as to bloat the files. I used it with flash and the flash was modified by a Rogue bounce apparatus. I stuck an 85mm lens on the D7100 and used it for about 20 % of the shots. When I started to compare the files in post production I found that I preferred the color and tonality of the portraits from the D7000 every single time. 

That led me to start using the D7000 as the primary camera and keeping the D7100 camera as the back up. And that interested me. Was there something about the ever increasing resolution and dynamic range of the ever newer sensors that, while measuring better, is aesthetically at odds at least with my perceptions of what is good? To discover more I called a friend who sometimes sits as a model for me and we made a bunch of tests. Same lens, same light. 

It's hard to quantify the actual differences but I'd say that the D7100 works sheer force. By that I mean it relies for its impressions of sharpness and quality on endless assemblages of endless dots. But it feels a bit muddier than the D7000. The files feel almost to thick for me. The D7000 feels more open and crisp. As I say, it's hard to put into logical words but the D7000 feels more like it's making images to me where the D7100 feels like a lot of the little dots are just wasted filler that ends up giving you more detail as you increase file size but also makes the files seem frizzly and less substantial as you increase on screen magnification. It may just be that my lenses aren't up to the challenge but..... it's all in the way the image looks not in the way it measures.

I also talked to a friend who is in the fashion industry and who shoots with a large assortment of cameras. He shot with Olympus EM-5 cameras among many others and, upon announcement he rushed out and bought an EM-1. He says the EM-1 is a much better handling camera but that he much prefers the colors and especially the handling of flesh tones from the sensor in the EM-5 cameras. I had wondered if my experience with the Nikons was nikon-limited until I heard from him. With this new information (and four EM-5's in the drawer) I decided to borrow an EM-1 and compare for myself. What I found tracked what I saw on the Nikons as well as on the Olympus cameras. The older model had a palette and overall rendering that I preferred. 

But now, in late 2014, the reasons I might have reflexively upgraded in years past are no longer nearly as valid. The finders aren't worlds better. (yes, the EM-1 has a much better EVF) they are better but not in a "make it or break it" way. The buffers are pretty much invisible to me on all four of the camera under discussion. So I have to ask myself, "is the upgrade actually to downgrade?"

In the same way many people thought that the Olympus e1 and a few other 4:3 cameras that used Kodak's CCD imagers rendered a much more pleasant image than the following generation of cameras that used CMOS sensors. Again, the newer cameras measured better  but whether the holistic image was superior is one of those subjective questions that can probably only be answered by the users.  There are non-camera analogies all over the place. The handling of mature generation rear wheel drive cars versus the early generations of front wheel drive cars. The look of finely tweaked tube computer monitors versus the first few generations of flat screens. Old Coke v. New Coke. But what I am seeing in comparing the Nikon cameras really has nothing to do with CCD versus CMOS because both cameras use CMOS imagers and both are imbued with the same color profiles by their makers. What I think we are seeing is an unintended artifact of a more highly populated sensor versus a more loosely populated sensor. And it may be that some people will prefer one over the other while others won't. And there will be a third contingent that sees no differences at all. But we don't care about that group...

So, where did I finally fall in on all of this? I decided that I liked shooting most stuff with the D7000 better than the D7100. I like the look of the files. 16 megapixels is more than enough resolution for everything I shoot and when I want to go over the top I can always trot out the D7100 and put it on a tripod and lock up the mirror. Smaller files means I am more often disposed to shoot raw files or, when already shooting raw files I am more likely to go "platinum level" and shoot them at 14bits instead of 12. I know I won't run out of card space nearly as quickly. 

I liked the D7000 so much I bought one more this week on Amazon. It was new in the box with free delivery for a whopping $525. While that's a bit beyond my "pocket change" category it's a minute price to pay for a back up camera that contains a sensor I like but which will almost certainly be discontinued in all new cameras. And what artists like most is choice. My wife is familiar with the way I think. My belief is that when you find something you really like you may as well buy a second copy because you can be certain that the more you enjoy whatever the product is the more likely it will be quickly and unceremoniously discontinued and replaced with some similar product that, for a myriad of reasons, you will like much less. This is why finding a shirt that looks fantastic and fits perfectly is a logical situation for duplication. If you don't feel that way about your current camera you may not be using the camera that's perfect for you. Or you may be one of those people who believe that all things just get better and better. Tell that to the owners of classic 1966 Lincoln Continental, complete with suicide doors. They'll laugh you out of the garage.


There are always trade-offs. You gain some things in a new camera and you lose stuff. Some of it is handling. Some of it is ephemeral and personal and some of it is subjectively aesthetic = the difference between accuracy and "pleasing" in the rendition of the files. This seems to be the year that I discovered cameras I loved just as they hit the sweetest part of the price curve which means in a few months they'll be gone forever and available only in the used market. Caveat Emptor. And, Be Prepared.

One little non-gear ad: It's for the Kindle version of the novel. 


I've been looking back over 2014 and trying to remember all of the great camera launches and I'm coming up with a tiny handful that I think were exciting, interesting or even sensible. There was a lot of rehashing this year with massive doses of marketing spin on re-does of already workable product.

The big news at the high end was the introduction of the Nikon D810 and for people who feel that they need this kind of camera it must have been tremendous news because the used shelves at camera dealers across the country are creaking under the sheer quantity of lightly used D800s that have been traded in. There are also pages of them in the used listings on Amazon. I guess we never realized just how mediocre the D800 was until it was replaced by the significantly improved D810. I think the new camera has a slightly faster frame rate... New spinning rims don't really qualify as a huge paradigm shift so...

We could turn our focus to the other widely touted Nikon product, the D750. Kudos to Nikon for finally cleaning up the D600-610 train wreck. Apparently the new camera doesn't deposit slime on the sensor and has ........ some.......other new features. Like a new price. Which is more. It's interesting to me that their DX flagship, the aging (and price falling) D7100 has little touches like 1/8000th of a second shutter while the new camera only gets to 1/4000th. I know, I know, it's the holy full frame and no evil cam be spoken about full frame. But really, a slower shutter mechanism? Well, at least the video codec got a little better. And as a holiday gift to Nikonians everywhere Nikon kept the same battery they've been using in most of their better cameras since the introduction of the D7000 in 2010. It's an EN-EL 15 and it's an workhorse battery made even more attractive by the sheer number of third party aftermarket batteries that can be had. Don't get me wrong, I've played with the D750 and we would have killed for this camera back in 2004, 2008 or thereabouts. But it's an evolutionary step, just one generation out of the primordial sensor muck goo, and while a great and useful tool it's no big news for 2014.

But I don't want to just pick on Nikon. They are struggling like every other camera maker to deal with an issue Sony recently identified: That there will be half the market for interchangeable lens cameras in the next few years than there is now. Wow! A fifty percent decline in overall product shipped and purchased. I don't care how big your market share is, when the whole market takes a 50% haircut everyone is going to get hurt. Big time. Thom Hogan is postulating that we'll return to a market that looks like the 1990's pre-digital camera market with wider spacing between fewer new products, less ongoing R&D and longer product life cycles. That and a big drop in the total number of camera makers....

But since I've mentioned Sony let's talk for a second about their contributions to the pot in 2014. The best thing they did this year was the introduction of the A7s. That's the new A series camera with the full frame, 12 megapixel sensor that can shoot in the dark. It's the darling of videographers who like to shoot New York Production style (DP walks into any room, looks at available light, any light fluorescents, etc. and says, "We're lit.").

While the body style is the same as the A7 and A7R the guts are great and the sensor is a move in the right direction for many styles of photography because the camera can basically see in the dark. Nice. But very much a niche product and not one that entry level pros can buy as an "all around solution."

So, one more camera and not a lot of cool lenses. Not too exciting (unless you are a documentary filmmaker) in terms of product announcements. Oh, I almost forgot, they did introduce an upgrade to the A77 but they haven't made enough noise about keeping that "A" mount system alive and that makes it too scary for most people to buy in...even if they want to make a change to their equipment status quo.

You could make a case for the delightful RX100iii as a wonderful new camera but it's really just another upgrade to a camera that should have had an EVF on it since model year one. Say what you will about composing on a rear screen but I think if you've stooped to that level for all of your camera interactions you might as well just get a smartphone and a little porkpie hat to wear while you are shooting with it. The RX100iii was an easy camera to recommend until the Panasonic LX100 came along. The difference has little to do with spec sheet image quality and everything to do with handling. The Sony is just a bit too small and feels weird to hold. Not so the LX100 which is much more a "shooter's camera." But the same basic principles unite them both: Fast zoom, great imaging sensor, nice EVFs. The downside with all these cameras is that so much lens correction is done "under the hood" in software and the pickier among us can see the issues in corners and other odd places. While both these products are really good and well worth it for people who like the point and shoots they don't strike me as a stand out camera.

Much in the way the Canon 7Dii isn't any reason to throw a parade or break out Champagne. I'm sure it's a solid body and, though Nikonians and small sensor fans are quick to point out the antiquated provenance of the sensor I am sure that it's actually a very good sensor and in the hands of a fine photographer the images from this camera will look great. But the camera really just checks the upgrade boxes and in a way that's unsatisfying for Canon diehards who are looking over the fence at that juicy 28 megapixel BSI sensor in the Samsung NX1.

And since I've brought it up I'm going to say that, on paper, the Samsung NX1 looks like my first Stand Out camera of the year. It's fun to write this because I have left the Samsung Imagelogger program, given away most of my Samsung inventory and am in no way connected with the company or their public relations firm. The cord has been cut! No free NX1's are in transit (although I intend to review one in late December).  And this is important because what I'm going to say is going to cause some debate. I think the Samsung NX1 is a very disruptive entry into a market at a time when the biggest players are like ocean liners adrift in a storm with limited power to the screws. This is the next shot across the bow in the same way I called mirror less a shot across the bow two years ago.

The big problem for Samsung is the general malaise of the industry. The prevalent talking points this year tended to be about the industry's eminent demise (misstated) and that's a hard emotional space into which one company can successfully sell to people who already have some kind of loyalty to an existing vendor. If you are convinced that the markets are shrinking why trade up (or laterally)?

I haven't handled one yet but I'm not sure the camera itself is such a breakthrough as much as that the individual components of the camera are scary for their competitors. That starts with the high density BSI chip which effectively challenges the Sony quasi-monopoly and probably has rational Canon DX users drooling.  While 24 to 28 megapixels is probably meaningless when combined with the optical prowess of most lenses it does show a different way forward. It would be interesting (to say the least) if Canon were to start sourcing sensors from Samsung while waiting for the rumored Canon semi-conductor fab to come on-line and a small, cynical part of me assumes that Samsung really doesn't care too much about making a profit in cameras but see cameras like the NX1 as a great "proof of concept" and confirmation of completion for their semi-conductor line. "See the copper technology lower heat and increase efficiency in our new sensor! Imagine the same technology hard at work in---your robotic manufacturing equipment!!!" 

The second part of the mix that's related and cool in a geeky way is their imaging processor which is a leap forward (as far as manufacturing geometries and throughput) in speed and information processing from Nikon's Expeed4 and whatever Canon has cobbled together. According to my savants in the industry the Samsung chip is a generation ahead (at least) of the tech in competitor's cameras. Not that it matters for much other than frame rate and lots of video information crunching.

If this were all Samsung brought to the table and I were Canon/Nikon/Sony I wouldn't necessarily worry but the kids at Samsung also brought good optical stuff along for the ride. The two pro zooms, the 16-50 mm and the 50-150 mm f2.8 are by all accounts very, very good. These are exactly the kinds of lenses missing from Nikon's DX line (fast and useful) and more to the point it is exactly lenses like these that Sony should have had at the launch of the better Nex cameras and the launch of the A7 series. While Samsung will undoubtably flesh out the line these two lenses are exactly what APS-C users have been screaming for from Nikon and Canon. Sony should have known better in their product launches. You can't deliver the bread and no meat if you call yourself a sandwich shop.

Will Samsung's NX1 succeed? Maybe. There's such a reticence for photographers to change horses. Even when a product line is demonstrably better. I am sure of one thing, Samsung will have the dominant market share in Korea!

But if we move on to other cameras that Stand Out we have to include the XT-1 from Fuji. In my estimation it's the high point of Fuji's current camera line and checks the two important boxes I see as vital in the mirror less space: it has a really, really good EVF and it's backed up with a line of great lenses. People love the Fuji sensors and rave about the Jpegs but I've got to say that good sensors have been around making waves since the introduction of the 16 megapixel APS-C Sony sensor delivered in the Nikon D7000, Pentax K cameras and a host of other cropped sensor offerings. No, for me it's all about the EVF, the lenses and the body design = the physical interface. That's what Fuji got right. It gets my Stand Out classification not on technical merit or even image quality (which, as a system, is marvelous), it's disruptive feature is beautiful design. Wonderfully executed design. And I am firmly convinced that as technology becomes more and more transparent homogenous all product makers will eventually turn to good design as vital differentiators between brands. You can see it already in Apple's products. You might hate them because you like to build your own systems your garage but a huge number of people are drawn to their computers in no small part because of the physical designs.

Same with the XT-1. If I were shooting the way we shot in the 1970's I'd snap up a couple and three lenses and never look back. But our reality is more complicated and the requests of the clients a bit deeper.

Which brings me to either the stand out product of the year or the white flag of surrender of part of the industry. Which part? Medium format digital.

Which product? That would be the 645 Pentax camera. In the past few years I've had three different medium format camera companies send me their MF digital cameras and back to evaluate and use. If you have a specific use for them and have clients who can pay to help amortize the investment they can be very, very good. But---outside of studio still life shooters, high end architectural photographers and people who shoot high end fashion these cameras tend to be more of a theoretical rather than a practical need. So as long as prices were stratospheric there were few takers world wide. Imagine that with eight billion or so people in the world the global market for these cameras is probably less than 1,000 per year. Add in various collectors and hedge fund managers and maybe the number goes, in a good year, to something close to 2,000.  There must be a sustainable market though since three companies seem to be hanging in there. Well, make it four if you consider Pentax.

Without a doubt the Pentax 645Z is disrupting the MF marketing with a vengeance. Consider that all the players used to use different imagers and most of the imagers were CCD based with attendant high ISO noise issues and short battery lives. Most systems, fully configured but without lenses started somewhere near $20,000 and went up from there. Early on I test a Leaf AFi7 with 40 megapixel back and an esoteric 180mm Schneider lens and at the time the insured value of the package was a bit over $40,000. If you are billing in the $5-10K day rate range and your rep is negotiating good usage fees from international ad clients then I guess it's just another drop in the bucket of production costs. But for the rest of us that represents real money. I could use that forty thousand bucks to do a really nice postcard marketing campaign and still have enough left over to buy myself a nice car.

So it seems pretty obvious that, pre-Pentax 645Z, only a tiny percentage of users troubled themselves with MF. But then the pervasive disrupter called Sony stepped in (again and again) and dropped a 50+ megapixel, CMOS sensor onto the big camera landscape and it was a like a bomb landed. Why? Because they dropped a fully operation and ready to shoot camera system into the mix for about $8,000. And sadly for all the competitors everyone needed  to move to the same sensor. Why? Because it was all around better and also cheaper than the various options then in use. No one could compete if the bottom of the market camera had the best noise handling characteristics, better battery life and all the other benefits that drove CCD sensors out of our interchangeable lens consumer cameras. Why buy a Phase One system for say $25,000 if you could have the same on sensor performance for $8,000. After all, it is the same processor.

So, in league with Sony we should have seen Pentax's 645Z as the major disruptor of both the medium format market but also the high end 35mm based market as well. But from what I can see the explosion never happened. And most experts thinks it's for two reasons. First, the high end market wants backs that can be changed out. The way the MF market has worked is by allowing generous upgrades of backs as newer, better ones became available. Can't do that with the Pentax. It's a closed system. And then the second barrier is that the reason to use a camera with a bigger sensor is to gain the advantage of a different look caused by a much stepper focus fall off as the result of the big sensor. But the rub is that the MF sensor in all these cameras really isn't that much bigger than the full frame 35mm sensors. Yes, they are about 50% bigger but in the days of film the difference was much more obvious. The difference between 35mm and a square Hasselblad frame was more like 400%.

Photographers sense that they are loosing flexibility and paying a premium for a sensor that, while super high in resolution, is not different enough from the optical performance of something like a Nikon D810 or even a Canon 5D3 or Sony A7r. As the MF cameras got cheaper the rank and file cameras got that much better and narrowed the margin in a number of areas. I think the sole impact of the Pentax will be to drive down prices in the MF market and, with shrinking margins, will drive weaker players (Hasselblad?) all the way out of business.

I mentioned the Fuji XT-1 and the Samsung NX1 as "stand out" products for this year, and I'll give a nod to the Sony A7 for its delectable sensor but I'm going to nominate the Panasonic GH4 as my top choice for cameras that made a difference. I know it was introduced in 2013 but for real people in real markets it was only possible to get our hands on a copy in the first quarter of 2014. This camera totally legitimizes the m4:3 format/family with thoroughly professional handling, battery life and image quality while blowing by all the competitors with a first class implementation of 4K video. But the biggest difference from the other player is that they are actively using firmware to add big, substantial features to the camera right now, almost a year after first availability. Not fixes for stuff they rushed out the door (hello Samsung with a new firmware update the week the camera launched).

The GH4 represents a mature m4:3 product with benefits to a huge segment of users who want to or must be able to produce good, clean video well and still have a camera that comes within a gnat's eyelash of competing the the better APS-C cameras on the market. That no one has come along to challenge them toe to toe (No, the A7s doesn't count if you have to add a couple thousand bucks of aftermarket accessories to make it fully functional) speaks volumes for just how far ahead of the pack the Panasonic product was on debut. While it's hardly the sexiest of the gear circulating around the market this year it's the one that innovated where we could use it best.

So, why didn't I make any big camera purchases this year? Why haven't I rushed out to buy the Sony A7s to shoot in the dark? Why no Fuji XT-1 or Samsung NX1? It's an interesting question. I spent most of the year learning to love the m4:3 cameras all over again and other than the GH4 nothing new came along in that category. I did spend some time and very little money amassing a fun collection of Olympus OMD em-5s in a variety of configurations. But the biggest reason I'm a bit reticent right now to jump on any ballparks is my recent investigation into the aesthetic differences between different generations of sensors. Read my next post to learn more.

Of course this is all based on the way I use stuff and you may have a different take on the industry, line-by-line. That's what the comment section is for.

A reminder: The Lisbon Portfolio, my action/adventure story of intrepid photographer, Henry White, is currently on sale for the meager and insubstantial sum of $3.99. It will be available at that price as a Kindle book on Amazon until the beginning of 2015. Get your copy before they run out. When you get to the book's page you'll see that you can also get a printed copy (not on sale). It's your choice...




I've been looking back over 2014 and trying to remember all of the great camera launches and I'm coming up with a tiny handful that I think were exciting, interesting or even sensible. There was a lot of rehashing this year with massive doses of marketing spin on re-does of already workable product.

The big news at the high end was the introduction of the Nikon D810 and for people who feel that they need this kind of camera it must have been tremendous news because the used shelves at camera dealers across the country are creaking under the sheer quantity of lightly used D800s that have been traded in. There are also pages of them in the used listings on Amazon. I guess we never realized just how mediocre the D800 was until it was replaced by the significantly improved D810. I think the new camera has a slightly faster frame rate... New spinning rims don't really qualify as a huge paradigm shift so...

We could turn our focus to the other widely touted Nikon product, the D750. Kudos to Nikon for finally cleaning up the D600-610 train wreck. Apparently the new camera doesn't deposit slime on the sensor and has ........ some.......other new features. Like a new price. Which is more. It's interesting to me that their DX flagship, the aging (and price falling) D7100 has little touches like 1/8000th of a second shutter while the new camera only gets to 1/4000th. I know, I know, it's the holy full frame and no evil cam be spoken about full frame. But really, a slower shutter mechanism? Well, at least the video codec got a little better. And as a holiday gift to Nikonians everywhere Nikon kept the same battery they've been using in most of their better cameras since the introduction of the D7000 in 2010. It's an EN-EL 15 and it's an workhorse battery made even more attractive by the sheer number of third party aftermarket batteries that can be had. Don't get me wrong, I've played with the D750 and we would have killed for this camera back in 2004, 2008 or thereabouts. But it's an evolutionary step, just one generation out of the primordial sensor muck goo, and while a great and useful tool it's no big news for 2014.

But I don't want to just pick on Nikon. They are struggling like every other camera maker to deal with an issue Sony recently identified: That there will be half the market for interchangeable lens cameras in the next few years than there is now. Wow! A fifty percent decline in overall product shipped and purchased. I don't care how big your market share is, when the whole market takes a 50% haircut everyone is going to get hurt. Big time. Thom Hogan is postulating that we'll return to a market that looks like the 1990's pre-digital camera market with wider spacing between fewer new products, less ongoing R&D and longer product life cycles. That and a big drop in the total number of camera makers....

But since I've mentioned Sony let's talk for a second about their contributions to the pot in 2014. The best thing they did this year was the introduction of the A7s. That's the new A series camera with the full frame, 12 megapixel sensor that can shoot in the dark. It's the darling of videographers who like to shoot New York Production style (DP walks into any room, looks at available light, any light fluorescents, etc. and says, "We're lit.").

While the body style is the same as the A7 and A7R the guts are great and the sensor is a move in the right direction for many styles of photography because the camera can basically see in the dark. Nice. But very much a niche product and not one that entry level pros can buy as an "all around solution."

So, one more camera and not a lot of cool lenses. Not too exciting (unless you are a documentary filmmaker) in terms of product announcements. Oh, I almost forgot, they did introduce an upgrade to the A77 but they haven't made enough noise about keeping that "A" mount system alive and that makes it too scary for most people to buy in...even if they want to make a change to their equipment status quo.

You could make a case for the delightful RX100iii as a wonderful new camera but it's really just another upgrade to a camera that should have had an EVF on it since model year one. Say what you will about composing on a rear screen but I think if you've stooped to that level for all of your camera interactions you might as well just get a smartphone and a little porkpie hat to wear while you are shooting with it. The RX100iii was an easy camera to recommend until the Panasonic LX100 came along. The difference has little to do with spec sheet image quality and everything to do with handling. The Sony is just a bit too small and feels weird to hold. Not so the LX100 which is much more a "shooter's camera." But the same basic principles unite them both: Fast zoom, great imaging sensor, nice EVFs. The downside with all these cameras is that so much lens correction is done "under the hood" in software and the pickier among us can see the issues in corners and other odd places. While both these products are really good and well worth it for people who like the point and shoots they don't strike me as a stand out camera.

Much in the way the Canon 7Dii isn't any reason to throw a parade or break out Champagne. I'm sure it's a solid body and, though Nikonians and small sensor fans are quick to point out the antiquated provenance of the sensor I am sure that it's actually a very good sensor and in the hands of a fine photographer the images from this camera will look great. But the camera really just checks the upgrade boxes and in a way that's unsatisfying for Canon diehards who are looking over the fence at that juicy 28 megapixel BSI sensor in the Samsung NX1.

And since I've brought it up I'm going to say that, on paper, the Samsung NX1 looks like my first Stand Out camera of the year. It's fun to write this because I have left the Samsung Imagelogger program, given away most of my Samsung inventory and am in no way connected with the company or their public relations firm. The cord has been cut! No free NX1's are in transit (although I intend to review one in late December).  And this is important because what I'm going to say is going to cause some debate. I think the Samsung NX1 is a very disruptive entry into a market at a time when the biggest players are like ocean liners adrift in a storm with limited power to the screws. This is the next shot across the bow in the same way I called mirror less a shot across the bow two years ago.

The big problem for Samsung is the general malaise of the industry. The prevalent talking points this year tended to be about the industry's eminent demise (misstated) and that's a hard emotional space into which one company can successfully sell to people who already have some kind of loyalty to an existing vendor. If you are convinced that the markets are shrinking why trade up (or laterally)?

I haven't handled one yet but I'm not sure the camera itself is such a breakthrough as much as that the individual components of the camera are scary for their competitors. That starts with the high density BSI chip which effectively challenges the Sony quasi-monopoly and probably has rational Canon DX users drooling.  While 24 to 28 megapixels is probably meaningless when combined with the optical prowess of most lenses it does show a different way forward. It would be interesting (to say the least) if Canon were to start sourcing sensors from Samsung while waiting for the rumored Canon semi-conductor fab to come on-line and a small, cynical part of me assumes that Samsung really doesn't care too much about making a profit in cameras but see cameras like the NX1 as a great "proof of concept" and confirmation of completion for their semi-conductor line. "See the copper technology lower heat and increase efficiency in our new sensor! Imagine the same technology hard at work in---your robotic manufacturing equipment!!!" 

The second part of the mix that's related and cool in a geeky way is their imaging processor which is a leap forward (as far as manufacturing geometries and throughput) in speed and information processing from Nikon's Expeed4 and whatever Canon has cobbled together. According to my savants in the industry the Samsung chip is a generation ahead (at least) of the tech in competitor's cameras. Not that it matters for much other than frame rate and lots of video information crunching.

If this were all Samsung brought to the table and I were Canon/Nikon/Sony I wouldn't necessarily worry but the kids at Samsung also brought good optical stuff along for the ride. The two pro zooms, the 16-50 mm and the 50-150 mm f2.8 are by all accounts very, very good. These are exactly the kinds of lenses missing from Nikon's DX line (fast and useful) and more to the point it is exactly lenses like these that Sony should have had at the launch of the better Nex cameras and the launch of the A7 series. While Samsung will undoubtably flesh out the line these two lenses are exactly what APS-C users have been screaming for from Nikon and Canon. Sony should have known better in their product launches. You can't deliver the bread and no meat if you call yourself a sandwich shop.

Will Samsung's NX1 succeed? Maybe. There's such a reticence for photographers to change horses. Even when a product line is demonstrably better. I am sure of one thing, Samsung will have the dominant market share in Korea!

But if we move on to other cameras that Stand Out we have to include the XT-1 from Fuji. In my estimation it's the high point of Fuji's current camera line and checks the two important boxes I see as vital in the mirror less space: it has a really, really good EVF and it's backed up with a line of great lenses. People love the Fuji sensors and rave about the Jpegs but I've got to say that good sensors have been around making waves since the introduction of the 16 megapixel APS-C Sony sensor delivered in the Nikon D7000, Pentax K cameras and a host of other cropped sensor offerings. No, for me it's all about the EVF, the lenses and the body design = the physical interface. That's what Fuji got right. It gets my Stand Out classification not on technical merit or even image quality (which, as a system, is marvelous), it's disruptive feature is beautiful design. Wonderfully executed design. And I am firmly convinced that as technology becomes more and more transparent homogenous all product makers will eventually turn to good design as vital differentiators between brands. You can see it already in Apple's products. You might hate them because you like to build your own systems your garage but a huge number of people are drawn to their computers in no small part because of the physical designs.

Same with the XT-1. If I were shooting the way we shot in the 1970's I'd snap up a couple and three lenses and never look back. But our reality is more complicated and the requests of the clients a bit deeper.

Which brings me to either the stand out product of the year or the white flag of surrender of part of the industry. Which part? Medium format digital.

Which product? That would be the 645 Pentax camera. In the past few years I've had three different medium format camera companies send me their MF digital cameras and back to evaluate and use. If you have a specific use for them and have clients who can pay to help amortize the investment they can be very, very good. But---outside of studio still life shooters, high end architectural photographers and people who shoot high end fashion these cameras tend to be more of a theoretical rather than a practical need. So as long as prices were stratospheric there were few takers world wide. Imagine that with eight billion or so people in the world the global market for these cameras is probably less than 1,000 per year. Add in various collectors and hedge fund managers and maybe the number goes, in a good year, to something close to 2,000.  There must be a sustainable market though since three companies seem to be hanging in there. Well, make it four if you consider Pentax.

Without a doubt the Pentax 645Z is disrupting the MF marketing with a vengeance. Consider that all the players used to use different imagers and most of the imagers were CCD based with attendant high ISO noise issues and short battery lives. Most systems, fully configured but without lenses started somewhere near $20,000 and went up from there. Early on I test a Leaf AFi7 with 40 megapixel back and an esoteric 180mm Schneider lens and at the time the insured value of the package was a bit over $40,000. If you are billing in the $5-10K day rate range and your rep is negotiating good usage fees from international ad clients then I guess it's just another drop in the bucket of production costs. But for the rest of us that represents real money. I could use that forty thousand bucks to do a really nice postcard marketing campaign and still have enough left over to buy myself a nice car.

So it seems pretty obvious that, pre-Pentax 645Z, only a tiny percentage of users troubled themselves with MF. But then the pervasive disrupter called Sony stepped in (again and again) and dropped a 50+ megapixel, CMOS sensor onto the big camera landscape and it was a like a bomb landed. Why? Because they dropped a fully operation and ready to shoot camera system into the mix for about $8,000. And sadly for all the competitors everyone needed  to move to the same sensor. Why? Because it was all around better and also cheaper than the various options then in use. No one could compete if the bottom of the market camera had the best noise handling characteristics, better battery life and all the other benefits that drove CCD sensors out of our interchangeable lens consumer cameras. Why buy a Phase One system for say $25,000 if you could have the same on sensor performance for $8,000. After all, it is the same processor.

So, in league with Sony we should have seen Pentax's 645Z as the major disruptor of both the medium format market but also the high end 35mm based market as well. But from what I can see the explosion never happened. And most experts thinks it's for two reasons. First, the high end market wants backs that can be changed out. The way the MF market has worked is by allowing generous upgrades of backs as newer, better ones became available. Can't do that with the Pentax. It's a closed system. And then the second barrier is that the reason to use a camera with a bigger sensor is to gain the advantage of a different look caused by a much stepper focus fall off as the result of the big sensor. But the rub is that the MF sensor in all these cameras really isn't that much bigger than the full frame 35mm sensors. Yes, they are about 50% bigger but in the days of film the difference was much more obvious. The difference between 35mm and a square Hasselblad frame was more like 400%.

Photographers sense that they are loosing flexibility and paying a premium for a sensor that, while super high in resolution, is not different enough from the optical performance of something like a Nikon D810 or even a Canon 5D3 or Sony A7r. As the MF cameras got cheaper the rank and file cameras got that much better and narrowed the margin in a number of areas. I think the sole impact of the Pentax will be to drive down prices in the MF market and, with shrinking margins, will drive weaker players (Hasselblad?) all the way out of business.

I mentioned the Fuji XT-1 and the Samsung NX1 as "stand out" products for this year, and I'll give a nod to the Sony A7 for its delectable sensor but I'm going to nominate the Panasonic GH4 as my top choice for cameras that made a difference. I know it was introduced in 2013 but for real people in real markets it was only possible to get our hands on a copy in the first quarter of 2014. This camera totally legitimizes the m4:3 format/family with thoroughly professional handling, battery life and image quality while blowing by all the competitors with a first class implementation of 4K video. But the biggest difference from the other player is that they are actively using firmware to add big, substantial features to the camera right now, almost a year after first availability. Not fixes for stuff they rushed out the door (hello Samsung with a new firmware update the week the camera launched).

The GH4 represents a mature m4:3 product with benefits to a huge segment of users who want to or must be able to produce good, clean video well and still have a camera that comes within a gnat's eyelash of competing the the better APS-C cameras on the market. That no one has come along to challenge them toe to toe (No, the A7s doesn't count if you have to add a couple thousand bucks of aftermarket accessories to make it fully functional) speaks volumes for just how far ahead of the pack the Panasonic product was on debut. While it's hardly the sexiest of the gear circulating around the market this year it's the one that innovated where we could use it best.

So, why didn't I make any big camera purchases this year? Why haven't I rushed out to buy the Sony A7s to shoot in the dark? Why no Fuji XT-1 or Samsung NX1? It's an interesting question. I spent most of the year learning to love the m4:3 cameras all over again and other than the GH4 nothing new came along in that category. I did spend some time and very little money amassing a fun collection of Olympus OMD em-5s in a variety of configurations. But the biggest reason I'm a bit reticent right now to jump on any ballparks is my recent investigation into the aesthetic differences between different generations of sensors. Read my next post to learn more.

Of course this is all based on the way I use stuff and you may have a different take on the industry, line-by-line. That's what the comment section is for.

A reminder: The Lisbon Portfolio, my action/adventure story of intrepid photographer, Henry White, is currently on sale for the meager and insubstantial sum of $3.99. It will be available at that price as a Kindle book on Amazon until the beginning of 2015. Get your copy before they run out. When you get to the book's page you'll see that you can also get a printed copy (not on sale). It's your choice...




« Previous Entries