85mm – the first lens that could change your portrait photography
If that hat seems familiar, yes, Elle was the model in the series of photographs for the Nikon Df review article. For some of the sequences of photos that we shot, I used the 85mm lens, wide open. This had the effect of just melting the background. You can pretty much shoot anywhere, and make the background look good and non-intrusive.
While a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens can be even more effective in controlling the background, the shorter focal length, an 85mm lens can make this somewhat easier in some respects. Specifically, it’s a smaller lens and less intrusive when you photograph portraits. It’s less “threatening” to the person you’re photographing, and easier to carry around.
Just how well can you blur the background when shooting wide open with an 85mm prime lens? Compare the photo above with the pull-back shot, taken with an iPhone from the same spot …
The pull-back shot should tell you the entire story of just how the 85mm lens works its magic! That’s exactly where we stood for the shot above. I was using the traffic lights to create some pleasant colored effects in the background. Yes, you really can shoot pretty much anywhere when you use a wide open aperture, whether f/1.8 or f/1.4 or f/1.2
We just used available light here. No flash. With the slowly setting sun, we had lovely soft light falling on Elle.
The faster lenses are a bit more spendy than the f/1.8 optics, but the change in depth-of-field is incremental. You’d get a very similar effect at f/1.8 so if your budget is limited the f/1.8 optics are excellent choices too. In fact, I’d say the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (B&H) is arguably their best lens for the best price. Similarly, the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (B&H) too is an optical gem at an affordable price.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM – B&H / Amazon USA • UK
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX for Canon – B&H / Amazon USA • UK
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G – B&H / Amazon USA • UK
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G – B&H / Amazon USA • UK
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX HSM for Nikon – B&H / Amazon USA • UK
Photographers with crop-sensor cameras will of course wonder if a 50mm f/1.4 will give similar results. Since the crop will force a different perspective for the same composition, effectively giving that longer focal length’s field of view, you’d get a similar effect with shallow depth-of-field. While I think every photographer should have a 50mm lens in their bag somewhere, the 85mm on a crop sensor camera will be even more awesome in giving that shallow DoF.
The pull-back shot will explain the background here. That orange safety netting. With the super-shallow DoF, the netting merely becomes an interesting background, and not an ugly intrusive background. (Excuse the image softness in the pull-back shot. Somehow, I didn’t keep the camera still for this one.)
The 85mm prime might seem like an overlap lens if you already have a 70-200mm zoom, and to an extent it is, but the 85mm is so much easier to work with. It is lighter and smaller. The 85mm also allows a more direct way of working with your subject, without the massive lens getting between you and your subject.
Even in studio setups, this lens can help by lending its specific qualities to your images with its very shallow DoF.
This example is from the article on portrait lighting setup in limited space / home studio. The model’s eyes are half the impact with this photo. The way the super-sharper areas gently slide into the pleasantly soft areas, really helps accentuate those sharply focused areas, and draw your attention in.
If you currently only have a kit lens or a zoom with a slow max aperture, and you’re longing for a lens that gives this kind of selectively focused impact, then the 85mm prime is your best choice as a step up. Careful use of this lens will really help elevate your portrait photography.
promotion by PhotoWhoa - Lensbaby Muse: The Ultimate Creative Effects Lens
PhotoWhoa is offering another solid discount discount: The Lensbaby Muse is available at $120. (This is around $20 to $30 less than I’ve seen it elsewhere.) The Lensbaby Muse is a one of a kind, extraordinary device that will allow you to take images you never thought possible. Basically, you’re able to create stunning focus effects straight out of your camera. Effects that aren’t possible with any other lens.
Here’s a short video that shows you the amazing imagery possible with the Lensbaby Muse.
lensbaby options and kits, available from Amazon and B&H
Lensbaby Muse Special Effects Lens (Nikon) - Amazon / B&H
It's important to balance work and play. Especially when your work is play. The relentless people in life are painful to be around and the lazy ones are worse. Business and pleasure should be like two sides of a sinusoidal wavelength on a graph. A symmetrical balance of achievement and fun. Too much of one dulls the senses. Too much of the other dulls the thrill.
We shoot for fun. We shoot for business. And then we do other stuff like read books and take naps. Swim and go out for lunches. Too much of anything affects the balance. Too many obligations affect the balance. Not enough fun is just as bad.
So, when I think about photography I wonder how to maintain the balance and resist the temptation to overindulge. How much gear is too much and how much is too little. How long to hang on to tradition and when is it time to create new traditions. A life in balance is smoother, easier, more efficient and more effective. I think it's a more comfortable way to live. A life in the arts should alway have room for something mundane and necessary to balance out those feelings of intensity that come bundled with creativity. For every super model shoot done with priceless cameras there should be a balance of rinsing the dinner dishes and doing the taxes. One side is fun while the other side keeps everything in the right perspective.
And don't forget to make mistakes now and then. They can lead you in very interesting directions.
The anachronistically retro styling of the Nikon Df (B&H), along with the digital trappings, really makes this the steampunk D4. Especially so since it has the same top-notch sensor as the Nikon D4 (B&H).
If you have used a film camera, and specifically one of the F-series cameras, this camera will catch your eye. It’s obvious that Nikon is aiming at the same sector of photographers who found the Fuji X100s (B&H) so appealing. That vintage look and styling definitely brings a certain cool factor into play. I bought the original Fuji X100, and then the Fuji X100s partly because it looked sexy. It looked like a fun and eye-catching camera, that also happens to be a serious machine.
Now we have the Nikon Df, and it takes all your Nikon lenses and accessories. Perfect for those photographers who would find this styling interesting, and already have an array of gear. I really think this camera is meant for the connoisseur – someone who wants a camera that is stylish looking, and a superb image-making tool.
Yup, it’s all quite interesting. But let’s have a look at how the Nikon Df (B&H) performs and handles in actual use. At the same time we’ll see how it stacks up against the bigger super-awesome Nikon D4 (B&H)
When you look at the rear of the camera, it should look very familiar to any Nikon DLSR owner. The controls and buttons are placed in a consistent manner. This means that anyone who tries the Nikon Df for the first time, should have an easy time figuring the camera out.
Nothing there that you can see on the back needs explanation. As you may notice, the metering modes have moved to the back. I would guess that that is because it is a relatively modern addition to cameras, and wouldn’t fit or make sense on the top deck.
The view of the top deck is where the basic settings are revealed.
On the left-hand side, you have the ISO setting (via a dial that locks into place), and the Exposure Compensation dial (which also locks into place.) Both these dials are easily adjusted. They have a soft ratchety sound when you change settings. The ISO can be changes from L1 (50 ISO) all the way to crazy-high ISO settings, past 12,800 ISO. (No, I haven’t ventured there yet with my D4.)
One negative for me about the ISO there, is that you can’t see the ISO setting from the exterior of the camera when you’re shooting in the dark. You have to change custom function d3 so that the display in the viewfinder shows your ISO (instead of Frames Remaining), and then you can see your ISO in your viewfinder. This makes most sense to me, especially since the frame counter is visible on the top LCD display.
That brings us to the right-hand side of the top deck.
There is the obvious shutter speed dial. Typical of the older generation film cameras, the shutter speed is in full stop indents. If you need 1/3-rd stop indents (and this really does make sense with digital), then you can lock the shutter dial to the 1/3 Step setting. Now you can adjust your shutter speed via the rear dial, just like any other Nikon DSLR. The shutter dial has a loud ratchety sound. Sadly, nowhere near as slick as the Fuji X100s controls.
The large knurled knob on the front of the camera (right next to the Df logo), is the aperture dial. This dial is not as smooth as it might be, or as I would’ve preferred it. It too makes a loud ratchety sound, unless you use two fingertips on it to rotate the dial.
As an aside, I never quite did adapt back to Nikon’s layout after shooting with Canon cameras for several years, so I use custom function f7 to change main & sub dials’ function around. Now the shutter speed is adjusted with the large knurled knob on the front, and the rear dial is the aperture dial. This is just preference, and is typical of how everyone can customize modern cameras to their own taste.
There is also the Drive settings, with the usual selection of options from Single to Continuous High, Mirror Up and Self-Timer. There is also the Q setting, where the camera is quieter with the mirror return being delayed. To my ear, this setting doesn’t help all that much to dampen the impact of the sound in quiet surroundings.
On that topic – the Nikon Df shutter is quieter than the gatling-gun loudness of the Nikon D4. That’s a bonus.
The exposure mode dial needs to be lifted and locked into place to change exposure modes. That’s fine by me, since I rarely stray from Manual Exposure Mode.
Then there is the small info panel, showing you the shutter speed and aperture and frame counter.
That’s pretty much it, and it all makes sense.
specifications of the Nikon Df
16.3 Mp sensor, same as the Nikon D4 sensor
EXPEED 3 image processor, same as the D610; D800 and D4 (and related cameras)
native ISO range: 100 – 12,800, which is further expandable to ISO 204800
Multi-CAM 4800 Autofocus Sensor, with 39 AF points. (Similar to D610)
exposure metering via the intelligent Scene Recognition System with 3D Color Matrix Metering II
Viewfinder Magnification Approx. 0.7x
Diopter Adjustment – 3 to +1 m
Display Screen 3.2″ Rear Screen LCD (921,000) – similar to Nikon D4
ISO range: 100-12800 (Extended Mode: 50-204800)
Shutter speed range: 30 – 1/4000 sec
external flash is connected via hot-shoe or PC Terminal
max flash sync speed is 1/200
Note that even though the max flash sync speed is a 1/3rd stop slower than that of the D4 and D800 cameras, this doesn’t have as much effect on flash range as you’d expect. More about that in this related article:
No video. Yup, no video mode at all. This will tie in well with photographers who insist they don’t want or need video, and just want a more pure picture-making machine. But there is a Live-View mode, so I suppose it might be technically possible for some enterprising photographers to record the Live-View feed via the HDMI cable? Even then, using a DSLR with video capability would be easier.
With no video mode, this also means no Time-lapse mode.
There is no Battery Info in the Set-Up Menu.
Flash Exposure Compensation adjustment is missing from the exterior of the camera. I found this one of the flaws of the D2x / D3 / D3s cameras – you couldn’t adjust FEC from the camera body. You could with the D700 and other bodies. It was only with the D4 that the FEC could be controlled directly from the body, instead of reaching for the back of the speedlight.
No second card slot. This could be a serious omission for professional use.
the Nikon Df – what’s new? (aside from the obvious)
The Retouch Menu has some extra effects – Fisheye; Color Outline; Color Sketch; Miniature effect; Selective Color.
That’s it really. Not much new was added. With the camera being a stripped down, more lean stills-only camera, it wouldn’t make sense to swing the other way and add a host of other features.
initial reaction (from others) to the Nikon Df
The strikingly handsome look of this camera (for this day and age), set off unprecedented reaction amongst photographers on the internet. There was immediate interest in this camera which looks so unique sexy. News about the sensor quality obviously meant this was a serious camera.
Yet, there was also the (expected) negative reaction somehow. Without the camera even hitting the streets, there were howls of outrage. “Worst camera that Nikon ever made.” “This camera is a joke.” “Over-priced.” Even F-stoppers got in on the act with the hyperbolic, “the Nikon Df represents everything wrong with photography.” Wanting to own a (very capable) camera because it looks interesting, is seen as a negative? Somehow you can’t be a capable photographer and a camera enthusiast.
So much abuse even before anyone as much as held the camera. But that is what is wrong with photographers (on the internet) – it has somehow become cool to be critical and cold. But enough of this little soapbox – back to the camera. It is beautiful. But how does it handle?
ergonomics – how does the Nikon Df handle?
This section could also be called: the Nikon Df vs Nikon D4. My main system is based around the D4 bodies, and I am very used to them, and love their ergonomics for the most part. The one thing that is a major flaw with the D4 (and previous versions), is that the Quality and WB buttons are right next to each other. Yes, you think you’re adjusting the WB, but instead, with a slip of the thumb, you’re changing from RAW to Small JPG. But I digress .. back to the Nikon Df.
Right off, I have to admit to being ambivalent about the ergonomics of the Nikon Df. Nikon cameras have rapidly developed from the F3 to the F4 and the fantastic F5 … which then became the basis for the D1x; D2x; D3; D4 progression. Each incarnation improved in some ways on the previous generation … right up to the point now where we have the very sleek Nikon D4 (B&H) as their top camera.
Similarly, the top Nikon bodies such as the D800 (B&H) and D610 (B&H) have excellent ergonomics, shaping the box-with-a-lens structure as best possible to the human hand. Controls fall just right under your finger-tips.
And now we have the Nikon Df (B&H), a throwback to a previous era. It looks great, but the handling is clunky. You have to reach with your fingers for the shutter dial at the top … unless of course you wisely settled for the 1/3 Step setting, and use the front and rear dials. Being so accustomed to modern cameras, I found the Nikon Df slightly awkward to use when shooting.
The Auto-Focus is solid. No complaints there. For everyday photography, you wouldn’t notice a difference compared to the D4. You certainly have enough AF modes to choose from.
One thing I should note – I have large hands. And as they say about men with large hands – we need large cameras. With a smaller camera, most of the weight of the camera and lens is borne by my fore- and middle-fingers. So the (smaller) camera hinges against the center of the palm of my hand. This means my camera-holding hand quickly starts to cramp. I really do need a larger camera like the D3 / D4 / Canon 1D series, because then the grip of the camera hinges against the edge of my hand, and there’s less torque that 4 fingers now have to deal with. This is a huge factor for me in choosing a larger camera, or a grip for a smaller camera.
The Nikon Df is a small camera. (5.6 x 4.3 x 2.6″) It is smaller than the Nikon D610 (B&H). So for me, it would be an uncomfortable camera to use for extended periods. For professional work, I need the size of the Nikon D4 (B&H) or similar sized cameras.
the Nikon Df as picture making tool
I took numerous photos with the Nikon Df, getting a feel for the camera, and testing it out. The image quality is superb. Just as good as my Nikon D4. Stellar!
Since no one really wants to see series of test shots of my garden and random objects in and around my house, I met up with Elle for a late afternoon photo session. This and the photo at the top were taken about an hour before the sun went down. Shooting towards the sun, we had this lovely open available light. This next image and the top image were taken in the same place.
Aside from slight skin retouching, these are the out-of-camera JPGs.
And here is the pull-back shot. Trees and a car-park and a road. But by using the tight compression of a 70-200mm lens at 200mm focal length, you can be very selective about the background. You can also shift slightly and change the lighting, by letting the sun just barely peek past the person you’re photographing.
This next image was photographed in front of a convenience store where we stopped along the way. Elle is lit up by the fluorescent lights in front of the shop and the display signs and some of the lights in the car park. I shot rapid sequences here to make sure that I did get a few images where the skin tones were good and the lighting even. (Fluorescent lights tend to show a cycling variation in light, changing intensity and color.)
The background consists of cars moving past in the street behind us, as well as lights from the cars being parked in the parking lot. The red light to her left, is my own car, where I had the emergency lights switched on to help give color to the background. The pull-back shot is revealing.
Elle holding the Nikon Df that I used to photograph her. (I took this shot with a D4 I had with me, specifically for pull-back shots.) Yes, she really stood there for the image above. With an 85mm lens used wide-open, the background will melt away into a lovely blur. You can make pretty much any place be an awesome background with this lens.
If you’d like a less expensive option, the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (B&H) is a superb lens too. You’d get a very similar effect at f/1.8
RAW files – comparison between the Nikon Df and Nikon D4
As soon as Adobe releases the updated Camera RAW that will allow us to view and edit the RAW files in Bridge and Lightroom, I’ll upload RAW files at various ISO settings, so that you can download and compare for yourself.
custom function settings of the Df – my preferences
custom function c2 – Standby Timer
Change the camera to not switch the display off in an annoyingly short time. 1 Minute should be better.
custom function c4 – Monitor off delay
Similary, set longer times for the camera to keep the image up on the LCD, and the various displays up.
custom function d3 - ISO display
Let the display in the viewfinder show your ISO (instead of Frames Remaining)
custom function d9 - LCD illumination.
This setting is very handy on the other Nikon bodies. When you touch any button, the LCD displays light up so you can see your settings. With the Nikon Df, it is less crucial, but still nice not to have to reach for the button that lights up the top LCD display.
custom function f2 - OK button
Change the Playback mode to show the enlarged image when you hit the OK button.
custom function f4 - Assign Fn button
I like this button to disable the flash.
Whether I would heartily recommend this camera, really depends on your intention with the camera, and what you expect from this camera. In a sense I am ambivalent about this camera. The image quality is truly first-class. Best of the DSLR herd, along with the Nikon D4 and Canon 1Dx. That in itself sets it apart from the vast majority of cameras.
In terms of handling, I do think the vintage styling makes the camera more clunky to handle and control than it needed to be.
The smaller body would be difficult for me to use for extended periods. Conversely though, this means it would be a great walk-about camera.
On a side-note, this camera shows again that there’s a gap in Nikon’s line-up – I do believe there’s a need (and a market) for a true successor to the D700, and a direct competitor to the Canon 5D mark III. A D700x with a D4 sensor. That would please a lot of people.
As it is, Nikon Df (B&H) is priced on the same level as the 36 megapixel Nikon D800 (B&H). Different cameras for different needs and tastes. Ultimately though,the Nikon Df doesn’t touch the Nikon D4 when it comes to being a responsive camera where the controls fall right under your fingers and everything is easily accessible. But then, you can buy two Nikon Df bodies for less than the price of a single Nikon D4 (B&H).
But it could similarly be argued that buying three Nikon D610 (B&H) bodies for the price of one Nikon D4 (B&H), would be a better strategy in terms of having back-up.
Since the Nikon Df brings such excellent image quality at a relatively reasonable price, this might make a great back-up camera to the D4. The completely different layout to the controls would slow me down thought, since I like working with cameras which are exactly the same – then I don’t have to think about placement of controls.
As mentioned at the start, I do believe this camera is meant to appeal to the connoisseur – someone who would love to use and own a beautiful retro-styled camera, with a top-class sensor. This camera is meant to look good! And why shouldn’t we proudly show and use the cameras we are using. And no, I have never taped up my camera to be all ninja-stealth. I don’t intend to ever.
So would I recommend this camera? Yes, maybe, perhaps. There’s that ambivalence again. This really is a camera that you’d best try out in a camera store and see if it appeals to you, and feels good in your hands. It will certainly look great in your hands – and your images too.
I was on a private road and I stopped the car and put it in "park" before I even touched my camera!
(clarification suggested by my attorney.....)
I photographed at a law firm yesterday and I had a blast. I did fun portraits with everything from available light to massive strobes. We did non conventional group shots. I fought with my mild acrophobia and leaned over the railing on the 28th floor patio in order to take some skyline shots. It was an enthusiastic day. And then I came home, downloaded files, charged batteries and got ready to do it all over again. But in a totally different venue.
Where yesterday was about a group of fun, kinetic and interesting attorneys, right in the middle of the pulsing coolness of downtown Austin, the stuff I shot today was rural and calm.
Yesterday I shot with Sony a99's and Rokinon Cine lenses and I lit up everything with the big Elinchrom Ranger RX AS power packs (strobes). Today I shot with a Panasonic GH3 and the new lens, the 12-50mm. Yes, you are allowed to go back and forth between systems...
I packed two GH3s, one G6 and eight lenses. I used the new 12-50mm lens exclusively. Loved it. Everything was on a tripod. Every shot was RAW+Large Jpeg (just in case of worse case...) but I didn't worry because you may have noticed that I tested the lens for a couple days after I bought it but before I used it on a paying job with a client.
I hauled along four Elinchrom moonlights and a case full of umbrellas and stands. I had a nice, calm day of shooting interior and exterior photographs for a shelter magazine that covers early American life.
I loaded up the car last night. Yes, I live in a safe neighborhood, unless you consider the coyotes. I got up this morning---early, zapped some French toast that Belinda made me last night, filled a travel mug with coffee from the Keurig and got dressed. I munched and swigged coffee while I got Ben up for early cross country practice. He didn't want to get up but I was already envying him the workout because I had to skip my swim.
We cruised to the school at first light and I dumped him out of the car and then headed west on Hwy 290, through Johnson City and onward to Fredericksburg, Texas and points west. I followed my instructions perfectly and punched into the gate about ten minutes before nine. I was at a ranch about 8.5 miles from the edge of Fredericksburg. As I drove in the half mile to the main house I went past herds of cattle and herds of goats and sheep. Reminded me that I live in Texas.
I was greeted by the owner of the house and her faithful dog. I unloaded three cases of gear and got to work with the GH3 and the 12-50mm trash lens. The point of the assignment was to capture a the interior of a fully restored 17th century log cabin, lovingly transported piece by piece to this Texas ranch and decorated with historic and authentic Christmas decorations. I started in the kitchen with two umbrella lights. Why was I using studio flash? Because the house is covered with windows and I wanted to maintain detail outside ( f8 @ 1/160th of a second) and still have the interior show normally. Can't really do that yet with continuous lighting. Well, at least not continuous lighting that's either budget-able or cool to operate.
I spent all day working the house. I used Raw+Jpegs as a life jacket because, as you know, I am a newbie in this system. I tried the HDR settings and I also experimented with the automatic dynamic range settings. I did custom white balances and sometimes I just dialed in the color temperatures I knew were right.
The home owner/rancher was wonderful and even made me lunch. By wonderful I mean that she was warm and welcoming and, after introducing me to the house, she went off to read a novel and let me work through by myself.
By three in the afternoon I'd covered everything I could think of, inside and out. I packed up the lights and the stands and umbrellas and dumped them into the car. I played with the dog for while and I played six degrees of separation with the home owner. Yes, I went to high school with her physician.
We chatted for a bit while I rubbed behind her dog's ears. Then I put the cameras in the old, beige Domke bag and headed out toward the highway. On the homeowner's suggestion I stopped for coffee at the Java Ranch on Main St. in Fredericksburg for a coffee and it was good. Then I headed back to Austin.
When I finally made it through rush hour traffic, greeted the kid and kissed the wife I found a cardboard box on the dining room table. The folks at Samsung sent me a final production copy of the Galaxy NX camera. Another source sent along a package with a lens hood for the Olympus 12-50mm lens (just after the nick of time....). I've got the Samsung battery charging and I did promise to give the production model a try out. I'll only write about it if they improved the stuff I bitched about and made it a fun shooting camera.
Belinda ran off to a school meeting about college finance and the kid and I had a quiet dinner and talked about our "work" days. He went to school---I shot pictures. We both did pretty well.
I just downloaded all 227 files from today and looked at random shots. The lens, on a tripod, is pretty darn good. The camera is great. Aperture is a wonderful software programs for tweaking and the files looked pretty darn good with a little bit of sharpening and a bit more mid-range contrast. Yeah, you can do decent work with pretty much everything on the market these days...
Tomorrow? A swim just in front of the arctic blast coming through. Then lunch with a friend/client at the Indian Restaurant and the rest of the day spent in the studio post processing the last two jobs. When the boy gets home we'll order a big pizza and share the day. In the later evening I'll finish editing a TV spot for the Theatre.
I'm spending Friday swimming in the cold and then charging batteries and stuff and testing a few new flashes for the Pana/Oly gear. On Saturday I've got a full day of photographing the parade, ground breaking and grand opening of the new Austin Children's Museum. It's called: The Thinkery. I haven't decided on cameras yet but I'm having the urge to take them all. And since the weather is threatening temps in the lower 30's, a 20 mile per hour wind and sleet or freezing rain I'll also take a couple pairs of gloves and my "Indiana Jones" hat with the wide brim. Life is continually exciting.
So......this is what this photographer's life is all about this week. Good jobs, good clients and checks clogging up my mailbox. Nice. Lots for which to be thankful. Hope your year is ending well too...
The camera above is an Alpa 9D. It's an indestructible, handmade, Swiss camera from the late 1960's or early 1970's. If there is plastic on the camera I've never been able to find it. Everything is steel or some sort of magic Swiss alloy. It was built on the premise that we'd always be using film and that while film might change and lenses might get better the basic box would never change and precision shutter speeds would always be precision shutter speeds. And that's why these cameras were very, very expensive. They were expensive because we expected that they may last for thirty, forty or fifty years. That's what your money bought.
But why do we give a sh*t about indestructibility now? Why do people pass over the very, very good visual performance of Nikon D800s and Canon 5D mk111 cameras to (over)pay for D4s and 1DX cameras? You may be able to strafe them with machine guns or drop them from your Apache attack helicopter and have some sort of reasonable (but irrational) belief that they will survive intact but the reality is that almost every camera out in the market will be tossed into the trash can because its sensor has become obsolete long before any of them blow a gasket or disintegrate. Since a tiny, tiny slice of professional photographers make any sort of money shooting sports it certainly can't be pragmatism that motivates buyers. I think it's more a matter of ego or talisman worship.
I haven't bought a "Professional" camera body in quite a while. The last one I bought, brand new, was a Nikon D2Xs which I had for..........all of eighteen months. And I re-sold it because Nikon came out with a raft of much cheaper cameras that materially out performed the D2Xs in image quality. And hey, as a commercial photographer I rarely needed to take my cameras out in the rain or drop kick them into some rigorous service. And I rarely struck the camera vigorously with ball peen hammers....
Now I'm getting into the habit of buying cutting edge consumer cameras that deliver great images in more or less temporal packages. Stuff that will fall apart if you beat the hell out of it. But you know what? Everyone I know who buys D4s, 1DXs, and all the other "indestructible" cameras out there sticks them into padded cases and then inside additionally padded, wheeled cases. The cameras are coddled like babies. And why wouldn't they be? The owners paid a premium to own them....
I talked to a camera repair professional who works on all brands and all models. Guess what? In the current digital age the cameras with the lowest shutter counts, which he evaluates as trade-ins for a retail chain, are the "pro" cameras. The cameras most used? The mid-tier cameras. Cameras that deliver between 85 and 105% of the visual performance of the pro cameras at fractional prices.
The new paradigm? Buy the cameras that work well for you and just anticipate that they'll be gone in two years. Need rugged? Buy three cheap ones at $600 each ($1800) and pocket the rest of the money you would have spent on a D4. Or you can use that other $3200 dollars to buy some really nice lenses.
The Alpa 9D is like a rugged, aging biker who would look at the current crop of "pro" cameras as a bunch of "flash in the pan" poseurs. The whole rationalization of ruggedized cameras is so bogus in the digital age. I'd rather think of my cameras like laptop computers....if they lasted two years I'd be happy. If they lasted four years I'd be ecstatic. The lenses are a whole other story.
Go figure. Need a weather proof camera? Have you tried spraying your cheap Canon Rebel with some ScotchGuard? Have you heard about ZipLoc (tm) plastic bags? Indestructible? A super premium for weatherproof? Get over it....
Ahhhh. Reviews on the web. Reviews on the lens review sites. Hmmmm. No. As most of you know I'm not much inclined to use wider angle lenses except out of necessity. Like those times that the paying client wants just a bit more in the frame. Or occasions when I want to make the client's 400 square foot "factory" look---interesting.
Well I recently accepted an assignment to go to Fredericksburg, Texas and photograph a house for a national shelter magazine. Of course I decided to shoot the whole assignment on micro four thirds because, well.....I'm not sure why. It just seems like the fun thing to do. Then I thought back over thirty years of assignments for shelter magazines and remembered that many of the establishing shots we did depended on wider angle lenses. 90mm on my old Linhof 4x5. The 38mm Biogon on my Hasselblad Superwide, etc. and I realized that the widest optic I had for the new Panasonic GH3's (and that darling G6) was the 14-42 kit lens. Well, that just wouldn't cut it. So I started to go through my options. I could buy a Panasonic 7-14mm but that's a lot of cash for something I rarely want to use. I could save a few bucks by getting the Olympus 12mm f2 but, again, lots of cash. I started looking around at the other options. After all, this m4:3rd system is supposed to be powerful when it comes to the sheer amount of lenses available, right?
Well, I did find one option that was much cheaper and would give me the 12mm I was looking for but there were a few issues.....it must be the most maligned zoom lens on webdom today. Every site I went to for reviews talked about the vicious vignetting, the mediocre sharpness and the woefully dark aperture at the long end. I came away thinking the lens would make edge lines curvier than a Slinky at the wide end, with blackened corners from vignetting while the long end would be like there was a number 10 soft focus filter permanently attached. And all through the reviews I was given to believe that the 1/3 smaller f-stop would making viewing images at the long end of the zoom like looking through a beefy neutral density filter. I vacillated for a day and looked around for more bargains. Finally, I found the lens in question, used, for a little over $200 and thought, "I've made more stupid gambles so...why not?"
It thought this was pretty good for a handheld twilight shot at 12mm but I thought the
image stabilization was a big help....until I realized that neither the lens nor the
camera (G6) has image stabilization....
Not finding too much problem with flare...
see the full 12mm frame below. This is a crop...
Start your pixel peeping engines!!!
And the Panasonic G6 even corrected the geometry of the lens...wide open at 12mm.
Confused that I might have gotten too sharp a version.....
Nearly wide open @ 12mm. Still looking for the vignetting...
50mm wide open at f6.3
Some topical holiday imagery from a scouting trip today.
Well, the lens in question is an Olympus 12-50mm, f3.5 to f6.3. I bought it assuming the reviews would be right and I'd be left with a lens that was, um, at least weatherproof. But now that I've gotten to know it a little better I'll be happy to shoot with it. Seems sharp at both ends and in the middle. The rival camera companies (Panasonic vs. Olympus) seem to have worked out some sort of truce that allows them to correct each other's lenses for geometry, vignetting and chromatic aberrations. And what I'm left with is a lens that's more than adequate for my intended use at a very agreeable price. Plus I have a 20 stop image stabilization device I'm just aching to try with this lens. It's called a tripod....
The lens is goofy. It has a motorized zoom. But you can turn it off and zoom it with your finders. It has a button on the side that doesn't do anything on Panasonic cameras and it's long and skinny and plastic. If you can get over those things it is actually a nice lens for general photography in good light. My quest is (for now) over. Almost forgot: it also kinda does macro.
That's my review of the Olympus 12-50mm lens. It's been Tuck Tested and found to be more than acceptable.
Gosh. Every time I point out what I think is happening in our markets and our art I get notes of concern from sensitive readers who think I've become morose or depressed. I'm sorry if my attempts at discourse are so ragged as to leave so much wiggle room when it comes divining to my emotional health. I'm generally giggling hysterically as I'm typing because my fingertips are incredibly sensitive!!!
eeyore's birthday party. 2013.
I get that life is in constant flux and undergoing chaos theory-style change and there's nothing I could do about it anyway. In short retrospect I think I'm making the continual journey into the unknown without too much fuss. I'm comfortable with the idea that even change is going through a non-linear, non-reccuring metamorphosis. Really.....comfortable.....I've even got my fur lined Crocs on under my desk...
In both the film days and the digital days I've come to grips with the idea that making good images is pretty easy but making images that are really good (images I like for more than a week) is insanely difficult and I'm happy when I get one out of about 1,000 that works.
eeyore's birthday party. 2013.
I guess other people are more reticent about writing down ideas that come to them without weeks or months of turning the idea over and over again in order to be certain of its validity, its veracity. But nothing is certain and my style is to write about the things I ponder as I'm thinking of them so that what I write is fresh and, to me, topical. After all, why would you want to mull over stale thoughts?
For example, a few days ago I saw a video about Richard Avedon. As a subset of the the things I took away from the video was the way the cameras he chose to use for various projects effected the work he was doing on those projects. And who can deny that there are extreme technical and stylistic differences between his medium format images, done in the studio in the 1950's and 1960's, and the work done for In the American West project, which was done with an 8x10 inch camera on various available light locations?
I tried to write about those differences in tools and how that relates to our work today. The boundaries of working with readily available digital tools more or less re-enforce working with much smaller formats. It's a fact that the unawareness of available tools imposes a limitation on the scope of our collective vision. It would be nice to have available----for the people whose vision skews that way---inexpensive larger formats in digital so we could replicate the OPTICAL look of the larger formats (not the grain or color or etc., etc.).
I made these statements not in an attempt to trawl for some sort of remorseful empathy or sympathy but only as a statement of fact. It would be nice to work with a traditional Hasselblad with a full 6 by 6 cm digital sensor on the back. At an accessible price. I'm looking for the visual differences that the physics of size makes, not technology!
But not having these particular tools doesn't plunge me into a funk. I'm generally quite happy to play with the full range of what's available. My discourse on the subject was meant to be along the line of "New Coke" versus "Old Coke" with the underlying hope that the camera marketers would read my blog and mark another check in a box on some marketing study form that has a box which reads, "Study subject would like bigger sensors!" I also wanted to remind readers that the boundaries of our craft are bigger than those that we see offered to us every day by the leading camera vendors.
It's important to remember, when reading, that not everyone has the same shooting style or requirements and many have styles that do a great job leveraging the smaller sensors and the tools (lenses) available for smaller framed cameras. The photos on Robin Wong's great blog always comes to mind.....
One commenter applauded me for acknowledging my own hypocrisy but I don't think it's as much hypocrisy as it is being stuck between two conflicting paradigms that represent the best of past and present. Every person vacillates between known and unknown, tried and untried. I'm sure that if the reader was privy to the continuity of my thoughts he would see my more carefully and continually crafted rationalizations for my pendular swings of allegiance and would recognize them as contiguous parts of a saner continuum.
After all, most photographers I knew (commercial photographers) in the glorious days of film had three systems that they used interchangeably: 35mm, 120 and 4x5. Each had it's place in the rotation and in logic. No one begrudged them the choice then and no one required an unflagging dedication to one format or the other.
My happiness or unhappiness is scarcely ever affected by my access to various camera formats. My temporary and evanescent sadness was only for the thought that we should have.......more. But "always more" seems to be the penultimate thought of American culture and I am, after all, an American Photographer.
eeyore's birthday party. 2013.
Yes, I want a large sensor medium format digital camera! Yes, I'm having a blast shooting with a Panasonic G6 this week. Go figure.
I was watching a video program from PBS about Richard Avedon a few nights ago and it made me sad. Not sad for the person (Avedon--who passed away a few years ago) or the people in our industry but sad for just how much good stuff we've (as an industry) been willing to let go of in the thoughtless pursuit of the "free" practice of digital photography. And how complicit we've all been in our own artistic decline. I am as guilty as the rest of you. If you still shoot larger formats than 35mm you are excused from this discussion and from automatic inclusion amongst the collective guilty.
Let me explain what I mean before the fire breathing forum experts go into spiteful overdrive.
Regardless of whether we work in digital or film photography there are certain aesthetic manifestations resulting from the use of different sized imaging sensors, or different film sizes, just as there are obviously different effects that come from using different focal lengths of lenses to achieve the same angles of view across formats. Newer technologies in sensors might yield less noise or higher perceived resolution but all the new advancement(?) comes at the expense of a truly diverse range of tools. And the ones that have mostly gone away are the larger formats. The same formats that made most of the amazing images from the last century. Six by six. Six by seven. Six by nine. True, in camera large format panos. 4x5 inch and bigger.
When discussing different styles of cameras most people aren't well educated enough to get very far beyond counting the number of pixels on a chip. Most don't understand that there are many visual differences between the constitution of different kinds of sensors and most don't understand the very idea of movable (non-parallel camera movements) lens and film planes. But the biggest issue is that we all chose to ignore the obvious visual differences that come from the inter-relationship of sensor size and focal length/angle of view.
We're like happy ants toiling in the tiny garden of m4:3, APS-C and good ole fashion small format 35mm frame sizes. We've completely tossed away medium format, wouldn't know what to do with 4x5 inch sheet film and are probably depressingly unaware that once film could be readily had in 8 by 10 inch sheets---and larger. And we're equally unaware that many, many practitioners of the recently past era didn't use the larger sizes to get more "megapixels" they worked in the larger formats because the larger formats gave the artists different looks. They delivered images that looked unique by format----not just stylistically but fundamentally. Down at the level of physics. If you could make a snap shot with an 11x14 inch view camera it wouldn't look like a 35mm camera used in the same spot with a lens having the same angle of view. It would look totally different. The much, much longer focal length of the lens (for the same angle of view) used at the same subject to camera distance would have yielded a totally different depth of field in which sharp focus would fall off at a much steeper rate. These were the days of giants in the field of photography. The gear and the people.
In the days before ignorance and indifference (and the mass market driving relentlessly toward low operational costs as a top priority) people chose particular cameras in order to create a certain look. It may, for some, have been the enormous amount of information contained in a large format frame. This almost infinite availability of information allowed for incredibly smooth transitions between tones but it was a smoothness that depended on layers and layers of overlapping information rather than the current smoothness that's generally a result of software blurring of images that are already at the fringes of thinly stretched information. People only really chose "hand cameras" for expediency. For fast operation.
We've also lost the ability to appreciate and utilize the true effects of a lens or film plane tilted off a parallel axis which allows an artist to decide where the plane of sharpness will go in the translation of three dimensions into two. The digital effects in post processing are just an echo of the true potential of this effect. And in still life photography we are losing the look and the effect of a totally sharp image, taken up close and with a normal or longer focal length lens. Since we're now mostly limited to a front tilt at the most we've come to depend of the forced perspective of stopped down wide angle lenses made for 35mm sensor sizes to create fully sharp table top images instead of the fully flexible front and rear shifts and tilts of their much more powerful (and flexible) camera ancestors. Flexibility which allowed a deep focus with longer focal lengths.
To watch Avedon work his magic with an 8x10 view camera or even a twin lens Rolleiflex is an exercise for me in regret for a lost time when people had the balls to spend real money on their vision and to do it in a way that defied ALL compromise.
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting and two tasting experiences come to mind for me. First, I remember as though it was yesterday walking into the Amon Carter Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas to see the opening of Avedon's show: In the American West. I'd bought the book the minute it came out but nothing could have prepared me for the enormous prints hanging in the museum. Some were printed eight feet by ten feet and mounted on metal. You could have walked in, cut out an 8x10 inch section and realized that even that small crop had more tone and detail and depth than any print I've seen in the digital age. The show was mesmerizing as much for the subject matter as the uncompromising attention to every visual nuance. Every detail that could have been massaged and mastered had been. It was amazing work. If you've just seen it in a magazine then you haven't really seen it.
No one has come close in all the digital age to the sheer quality of construction and presentation of the that show. No one.
But it wasn't about the loss of an uncompromising vision in a lone outlier like Avedon that makes me sad. There were other fine artists like Sandy Skoglund whose large format documentations of her own installations were flawlessly captured. And of course, there were Avedon's peers, like Irving Penn and even Ansel Adams whose command of the medium and the message is unequalled today.
The second experience was the viewing of the recent Arnold Newman show at the Humanities Research Center at UT. While Newman occasionally worked with a 35mm camera later in his career his most memorable and most celebrated work came mostly from 4x5 inch view cameras. But his intention in using these cameras and the 20 square inches of film surface they delivered was not given over to grandiose enlargement. It was really all about the relationship of the lens to the format and the visual effects that they gave. The images have a grounding and a definite visual language that's mostly missing from today's quite literal work. It's almost like we've abdicated working with specialist tools and embraced a universe where we are all the plumbers and electricians of photography working with the same tools. You see it over and over again in articles and interviews. It's generally the (un)holy trinity of zooms. The 14-24mm, the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm lenses. No real divergence. Few are even adapting the use of prime focal lengths anymore as people move with the herd out of fears of client or peer rejection. ( And look: I have a 28-70mm and a 70-200mm as well. My fears are just as palpable...).
And why? The great mass of people (the ones who drive markets) will nearly always race to the easiest value proposition. The easy to handle, easy to use tool that has no tag-along costs (film, additional focal lengths, specialty equipment). They drive the market and the marketers have learned that supplying the smaller niches gets you burned, financially. Yes, there are people doing great commercial work with the cutting edge medium format systems but by and large those same cameras are mostly being wielded by other than the potentially gifted artists of our/your generation. They are being pressed into mostly mundane and derivative service by groups of established people who came from other occupations for whom making big images is a passionate hobby. And, because of the sheer cost to enter it's become a hobby of exclusion and, to some extent snobbery. They are generally reprising exactly the work that they grew up with. Or the work they learned to do from the workshop masters. But at least they are keeping our choices alive (if only on life support) and continuing to nudge us with images that show off the optical properties we've banished from mainstream photographic consciousness.
In the days of film an artist who understood the advantages of those flexible and interesting tools could buy a second hand view camera and a few lenses and film holders for less than a thousand bucks. He could master the art with older but still capable tools. And I knew many, many people working as artists in the field who would buy and process film but not know where any additional money was going to come from for food and rent. They had a sequential matrix of priorities that defined their dedication to their art. It wasn't an afterthought or a comfortable diversion. It was as important as food and shelter.
You could enter the ranks of medium format shooters back then with as little investment as a $100 Seagull twin lens camera. You could find 8x10 cameras for a song. But now people assume that owning digital means that the hobby is cost limited. The art is in the final production. The clever post processing slight of hand. An echo of the power which camera from divergent cameras....
There is an unwillingness, in the age of all digital snaps are free for people to step up to the plate and take advantage of tools that will differentiate their vision----because that comes at a cost.
I'm not pointing fingers. I'm as guilty as the next person. I used to use the larger formats. I convinced myself that clients had been trained by my peers and the wisdom of the web not to expect digital imaging to have hard costs for materials, and I convinced myself that client's expectations had changed and required me to supply them with immediate visual gratification. I bought the 35mm equivalents. I've dabbled in the tinier formats. I've rejected the $20,000+ medium format cameras as commercially untenable. And I've watched my vision fray and melt into the same tepid and homogenous cultural stew pot as everyone else's.
Yes, yes. We all have a vested interest in believing that it's all about the artists. The idea that a great artist doesn't care about the camera. The insane idea that Avedon could have done his work with an Olympus OMD em1 and done the same kind of art. But we all know it's self-serving bullshit. We know our portrait work could be better in larger formats. We are keenly aware that landscapes would be much more captivating if they came in the form of large format images, ala Elliot Porter. Even our fashion work would be elevated with different tools like the ones used by Peter Lindbergh or Nick Knight.
But in the end we're too cheap, or lazy, or comfortable, or paralyzed by financial fright to work with the very tools that might free us...or empower us. And that's why watching the Richard Avedon video saddened me. Not because we can't do great work but because we categorically refuse to make the investments in time, money and aesthetically articulated gear to realize our own visions. We hope that we can delivery ten tons of steel on the roof of a Prius because we don't really want to buy the right truck... We accept the limits offered by camera makers because it's too painful to do otherwise.
And so we're stuck with trillions of images that all look more or less the same. The subject matter might be different from image to image but the tools create a relentless pressure to conform to their boundaries. And the boundaries inform the aesthetic. And now the art looks like so much mass produced machine vision that nobody really cares anymore. And maybe that's why we're all fascinated by the equipment of the week instead....... At least some of it is meritoriously executed industrial design.
If you are not a regular reader you might not understand that this is an opinion, not a statement of objective fact. If you don't like the opinion that's okay. But it doesn't mean it's not absolutely correct from a certain point of view...
No doubt about it. Canon and Nikon have spent decades making really good photographic products. And Kodak spent 100 years making better and better films. But in the case of the camera manufacturers it looks like the long term spoils will go to the camera companies that succeeded in creating the defacto open standards as they apply to lens mounts.
I've written for nearly five years now about the critical benefits of the EVFs with their instant and credible feedback loop for photography and we are now seeing that the tipping point has been reached and the trend makers in our industry are consistently reaching for the cameras that give them instant and effective live view on a full time basis. This delivers lots of benefits for most photographers with very few detractions.
Traditional mirrored DSLRs can be used in live view modes but those modes are still archaic, first gen. manifestations of real time live view that cripple the shooting and handling performance of the cameras. And, in every instance the operator must use the rear LCD screen to compose, focus and shoot with instead of being able to make use of a high resolution EVF. The traditional DSLR is quickly becoming synonymous with the idea of a hampered photographic experience because it can only be used in live view mode in a very basic and very unsatisfying way. One only has to try to shoot moving action with a DSLR in live view mode with his back to the sun in order to see, vividly, the limitations.
So the thing that mirror less cameras really brought to the table and the reason I use them in my work is not the smaller size and bulk of the systems but the fact that they have the most advanced and informative viewing system of all the tools available by dint of having a fully functional, real time feedback system. I'm found, over the years, that once you embrace the joy of "pre-chimping" a scene with a great feedback loop construct you'll never willingly go back to the optical finder with its inherent lack of information and immediacy.
For me, the size difference of the competing systems is a remotely secondary parameter in choosing between the different cameras.
But that's the draw for me and for generations of photographers who grew up dependent and happy with eye level viewing methods. That doesn't really speak to the reasons that many more people are embracing the mirror-less, compact cameras that are advancing in the market (with the exception of north America). No, I think an enormous number of ardent amateurs, semi-pros and wild artists are drawn toward the mirror less options because the shorter film plane to lens flange distance allow for easy adaptation of millions and millions of existing DSLR lenses that can work remarkably well on these cameras. In many (most?) instances you'll lose some niceties like auto focus and advanced program modes but you'll gain an almost infinite range of optical options, many of which have been available at bargain prices. It's the first really open standard lens mounting opportunity of the digital age!
I imagine that buyers of the Sony A7 variants will buy them as much for their ability to (with adapters) accept the best lenses from every competing system. With the purchase of just two adapters you'll have the run of the entire Canon and Nikon lens catalogs. Think the Nikon 105 DC lens is the best portrait lens ever made for full frame 35mm cameras? You are only one adapter away from using it on an A7. But do you also need a nice, 17mm tilt and shift lens? Of course you can adapt Canon's one of a kind 17mm T/S lens with ease. Have you held onto a bag full of Leica R or M lenses? With the right adapter you'll be able to re-integrate (what many believe to be) the world's greatest glass with the addition of an inexpensive adapter.
The same applies to the micro four thirds cameras. Just about every optic made for photography in the past 50 years can be pretty well adapted to the Olympus or Panasonic cameras. In many cases the adapter rings can be as cheap as $25.
Having two systems that represent open lens standards effectively eliminates the one barrier to system entry that makes people so loathe to change to better cameras as technology evolves. The closed standards of traditional DSLR lens mounts held people with big investments in "glass" into systems that may have been leapfrogged by competitors who created better camera bodies.
I remember in the middle of the first decade of professional digital photography that many of use were locked into Nikon because that was a system we'd shot for years and years. In one sense we wanted to be locked in because the lenses were, in many cases, demonstrably better than competitive lenses in the same ranges. But we were stuck with the D2H and then the D2X APS-C cameras as our only real choices for camera bodies. The D2X at 12 megapixels was Nikon's highest resolution camera and everyone who ever owned one would tell you that you really couldn't shoot the machine effectively above 400 ISO because the noise quickly became unmanageable.
At the same time Canon was launching full frame cameras with more and more resolution and the ability to shoot at much higher ISO's without the unwanted Jackson Pollack Effect. Many of us would have loved to have incorporated a Canon body into our systems and to have been able to use one effectively with the lenses we knew, loved and had depreciated.
And then Nikon flipped the tables and came out with their D3, D3s and D3X cameras and I can only imagine that the Canon shooters would have loved to slap some of their better glass onto the Nikon, full frame cameras----mostly to take advantage of a wildly successful generation of fast, high ISO shooting tools but also, in the case of the sports photographers, to take advantage of a much more reliable focusing sports camera. And in fact many did switch over time from both sides of the aisles.
The introduction of the Sony Nex 7 offered a delicious taste of freedom for Leica M users who could, for the first time, get great files from their investment in M lenses, albeit with a cropped frame. The Sony A7's will mean that the M users (and the few R users) will get to use their lens investments on a full frame camera with equally good imaging performance but at a quarter the price of the Leica M body.
If you are not operating in the lofty heights of Leica lenses the micro four thirds offers so many choices that it must be embarrassing for their more traditional rivals. And the idea that I can buy a Panasonic GH3 because I want the great video performance and then I can buy a OMD EM-1 for the image stabilization and possible improvement in jpeg images SOOC but still keep to one line of lenses is equally seductive. For my Panasonic system I can opt to cherry pick each companies line of lenses. Say the Panasonic 7 to 14mm for the shorter focal lengths, the Olympus 17mm 1.8 for a quick PJ lens, the wildly good Pana/Leica 25mm lens for everyday wear, the high performance Olympus 45mm 1.8 for discreet portrait work, the 35-100 f2.8 from Panansonic for stage work and so on.
If Olympus comes out with a better video body then....adios Panasonic but without the usual disruption and financial loss of having to re-rationalize the lens collection. It all seems so logical. Wide open standards so you can optimize your systems for the way you shoot. That trumps the arguments about size and price and puts the focus on the stuff that focuses....
Nikonians love Nikons and Apple Computer users love their Macs. But the reality is that the market rewards companies that offer products which feature open standards. And that means millions of people are trying Android systems or buying Linux machines, using Java and opting for open standards even within Microsoft OS environments. And for good reason....the consumer gets to choose the best "apps" for their use. And they get to hang on to their investments as they upgrade their platforms.
It's not about mirror less cameras, per se. It's more about open standards in the most expensive aspect of the hobby/vocation, the collection of good lenses. Just as it's not about camera size as much as it is about the convenience of use that comes from EVFs and more mature and useful visual feedback loops. Feedback loops that don't require iterative test shots.
It's only a matter of time before Canon and Nikon follow Sony, Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic into mirror less cameras. They will make short film flange to sensor plane cameras if for no other reason than to compete in the open systems market. It's all about the most efficient ecosystems, even if that's harder for consumers to articulate in surveys. And it's all changing right now.
Occasionally a member of my family will ask a logical question like : "You already have two Panasonic GH3's, why in the world would you go out and buy a G6 ?????" And I'm not really sure they want the literal answer as much as they want to voice their incredulity at my spendthrift ways. But no one asked this time even though the box was sitting right there on the front step Weds. night when we came home from dinner at David Garrido's fun restaurant. Maybe it was the afterglow of great Margaritas and pork tacos or the joyful, spicy fried oysters that Garrido's is famous for...but no one even batted an eye. If they had asked I had my answer ready. "It's all about the focus peaking!!!" I was going to say. And now I am disappointed that no one did ask because I'm excited about it and I really wanted to share....
The G6 is less a replacement for a big, interchangeable lens DLSR and more a dramatic upgrade to all those fixed lens, smaller sensor cameras like the Canon G series or Panasonic's own LX-7. At least that's what I thought before I started using one. Now I'm thinking that it's a great, light, cheap and resourceful machine for all but the most demanding types of photography.
For a whoppingly small $500 I got a camera that features: A very decent 16 megapixel sensor. An extremely lightweight camera body that has enough square inch-age to feel just right in my hands. A very competent and useful electronic viewfinder. A more detailed movie making mode. with much more detail, than the $3,000 Sony body which I bought mostly for its video capabilities. A camera with a full positionable LCD screen. A camera with a highly logical and useful touch screen. A camera with a 3.5mm mic input. A camera that uses all sorts of micro four thirds lenses and is adaptable to just about every lens on the market today. A camera with a conventional hot shoe. An absolutely silent electronic shutter mode (silent, not even a demure click). And, the main event...... a camera with focus peaking.
When you mix all of this together along, with a very capable, new formulation zoom lens that gives me a 28 to 84mm equivalent (35mm FF) range, complete with in lens image stabilization it pretty much seems like the bargain of the season to me. If you already have a big Nikon or Canon or Sony and you want a smaller camera with big performance that you can take anywhere without feeling like you're dragging a chubby brick around with you this might be the one. And the image quality is much closer to your big camera (almost embarrassingly so) than it is to your favorite cellphone.
But the thing that cinched the deal for me (in addition to the price drop....) was the brilliant (at this price point) inclusion of focus peaking. I like using the GH3's and their one button magnification allows for quick and easy fine focusing with manual focus lenses from across the catalogs, but there is something quicker and more fluid about seeing the image quickly shimmer into sharpness in the EVF of this little camera. A discreet cyan shimmer outlines in focus details and that tells you without multi-step interpretation that you'll be in focus.
Here's why it's important to me: I bought the GH3s to do video and commercial work and in my testing I came to realize that my collection of Pen FT manual focus, half frame, prime lenses from Olympus's past were not just "usable" on these cameras---many were actually superb. Now, most of the time when I work I have ample time to fine tune manual focus and it's easy enough to push a function button and pop up a part of the frame in the GH3 LCD or EVF to 5X or 8X and make precise adjustments. And when we're shooting video it's pretty much the same thing. Plus, we mark the focus on the distance ring of the lens or on a focus follow device and then mark any other focus points we intend to transition to before we start rolling. Then we can effect focus without even looking at a screen. But---when you are walking down the street, see a gorgeous Austin girl whose face is covered with a Darth Maul tattoo, and whose pink hair appears to be on fire, and you've just got nanoseconds to make the shot before she fades from view ---the focus peaking is a magic feature. Bring the camera to your eye and, if you haven't forgotten your manual focus techniques, the focus peaking will help you nail the shot faster than AF and with more certainty. And it automatically holds the focus where you set it, shot after shot. I first started using this feature in the Sony Alpha cameras and became addicted to the quickness and to the ease with which I could nail focus on manual focusing optics like the Rokinon Cines lenses.
Now, one of the reasons I feel like a cat in a swimming pool when I pick up a traditional OVF camera is the paucity of good viewing feedback. Yes, the scene is like looking through a window into an optically imaged chunk of the real world but you won't know until you chimp whether you paid attention to proper exposure, color balance or even fine focusing. The traditional OVF is to the EVF what the plastic finder on a Holga (even clearer than an optical finder because all you are looking through is air....) to an OVF on a current DSLR. It's like an aspirin compared to morphine.
And now, in this small, inexpensive camera I get one more layer of feedback and control: I know where the focus lies.
If you can live with 16 megapixels on a sensor that's a generation older than the one in the GX7 you'd pretty much think that the G6 is the ultimate, affordable, portable pro camera body (no, it's not weather proof or alloy-ishly rugged) but there is one little gotcha that disappointed me. There is no constant preview in manual setting. And what that means is that no matter what exposure you have set in manual the camera will still pipe an image into the viewfinder that it presumes is correct for viewing. Your exposure combination of 1/4000th at f11 indoors at ISO 160 will probably give you a black or almost black frame but the camera will stupidly and heroically try to give you a perky and bright image in the finder for your compositional pleasure. Much to your control oriented chagrin.
I'm not happy with that missing feature since I use it all the time on the GH3 but I've decided that I'll work around it and work in "A" mode instead. I'll go to "M" if I need to but I'll be chimping and watching the meter like a hungry dog watches the beef sizzling on the BBQ grill. But for day to day fun stuff the Aperture mode is just right for me.
And there's one more thing that makes the A mode even easier. There's a little toggle/slider switch on the top of the camera. It was put there when Panasonic and Olympus started making lenses with motorized zooms for shooting video. I don't have any motorized zooms so rather than letting that darling little control go to waste I repurposed the button and made it the exposure compensation toggle switch. Push right for plus compensation. Push left for negative compensation. When it's neutral a bigger +/- graphic pops up in the finder and you know you're in the null zone. Once learned it's a priceless control. No more pushing in on a button and moving a dial or diving into a menu. One dedicated button, logically connected with visual feedback, that makes automatic mode shooting nearly as virtuous as manual exposure settings. Sure, go ahead and toss in a live histogram if you are uncomfortable making a totally visual confirmation of good exposure.
Of course none of these little niceties would matter if the camera didn't perform. If it didn't deliver the files you commanded it to. And I have been impressed at what I've gotten from it. The image ago was shot on Thanksgiving. The camera was handheld and the ISO was 3200. I looked at 100% and I could see very tight, fine black noise in the petals of the flowers but for the most part the file was competitive with the files I've been getting out of cameras four and five times the price of this one. The image above was done with the type II kit lens, wide open and I think it's great.
OMG! Is this unprocessed file exhibiting "Olympus Colors?"
Sadly, the pool was closed yesterday and it's closed again today so we had two days of enforced non-swimming to get through. Couple that with three hours of driving and two big meals yesterday and you'll understand why I was up and out of the house early this morning. I wanted to get in two hours of brisk walking before getting into the office to construct this vital blog post and to shore up arrangements for three fun shoots next week. I tossed the kit lens into the center console of the super high performance studio car (stock Honda CRV) clamped the Olympus Pen FT 60mm f1.5 lens onto the new camera (which, if you price out separately from the kit lens equals a $300 to $350 camera body...) and headed downtown for a wild walk and a moving morning of manual focusing. I tried to use the lens in its sweetest sweet spot at around f4 but every once and a while I'd hit the shutter speed ceiling of 1/4000th of a second and have to stop down to f5.6.
For a lens that is as old and experienced as this one (the 60mm f1.5) I am continually amazed at how well it delivers images, both in bright light and on the edges of light. It resolves plenty of detail and its only concession to modernity is a slight lack of contrast. But that is one parameter that's easily and transparently resolvable in post processing. This lens, on the G6 and the GH3's is quickly becoming a favorite portrait lens for me because of its combination of resolution without the biting contrast of today's better lenses....
Another point I'd like to make about the Jpeg files I was getting out of the G6 today: If you read the forums, and especially the Olympus forums, you'd be forgiven for believing that Olympus is the only camera company on the face of the globe that understands how to get good color, in Jpeg formats, out of current camera sensors. We hear constantly about the legendary Olympus blue and about the perfect blend of thick, rich colors. It almost sounds like Ricardo Montelban's description of the "rich, Corinthian Leather...." used on the Chrysler car seats of the old days. Well, I'm pretty convinced by the color palette that Panasonic is supplying in both the GH3 and the G6. And they also provide fine tuning controls that, with a tiny bit of effort, can pretty much mimic the color profile of most other cameras. Get your color balance right and most cameras can deliver very accurate color these days. Don't want "accurate"? Then we open up a whole can of worms. Tweak the blues and add a little contrast and you're pretty much in the Oly ballpark.
But camera ownership shouldn't be about us versus them, especially when it comes to m4:3. Why? because it's all in the family. With the interchangeability of lenses you get to live in the context of an interesting paradigm: You buy the stuff that's more or less permanent (lenses) and hold them for a longer term. You can then mix and match the bodies to get exactly the look you want----and it's okay to have more than one brand of body in the toolbox. In my world it's also okay to own multiple tool boxes and have more than one lens system.
From my experiences shooting this morning I would also call attention to the metering of the G6. It is very accurate. The highlights in the image above were hanging on by their fingernails but the camera took the file right up to the edge without loosing control of the highlight detail. I've found that the camera is pretty uniform in exposure and rarely underexposes either. Again, I've owned plenty of much more expensive cameras whose proclivity for routine (and cowardly) underexposure to protect highlights was so over done it was almost embarrassing. Yes, Nikon, I'm looking at you!
The journey of a thousand miles begins not with the first step but with the proper tying of one's shoelaces.
And sometimes a rock is just.......a hat on a giraffe.
Cranes Dancing. Sometimes we experiment with the "mono" mode in the cameras.
Bottom line? I wish the camera had "constant preview" as in the GH3. Other than that I think this is a perfect, carry everywhere, interchangeable lens, EVF-supercharged, wonderful camera. For less than $500? Amazingly good.
A great photo book (whether lighting or otherwise) is an amazing value. You get to rent someone else's brain for the price of a good dinner. And depending on who's brain you're renting and what you do with the info, the return on investment can be hundreds or even thousands of time what you invested.
Now more than ever, it is a wonderful time to be a lighting photographer. I have long maintained a book list on Strobist, but it has gotten out of date. Today I am correcting that with a tight, "without reservation" list of books that I can absolutely recommend for photographers who want to learn.
The list includes just five books on lighting, a book on the interpersonal aspects of photography and a massive, magnum opus that is not even out yet. (But I've seen it!)
It was a cold (for Austin) night this past Tues. I was commissioned to shoot the dress rehearsal for the Zach Theatre rendition of, A Christmas Story, and I was in an experimental frame of mind. I've been using the Panasonic GH3s for a lot of different stuff but I hadn't yet plumbed the depths of high ISO performance with the smaller sensor camera and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to compare the Sony a99, the Sony a850 and the Panasonic GH3 cameras. On the other hand I always like to throw in a few wild cards and, since I have few high speed Panasonic lenses I reaching into an ancient bag of tricks and used some older, Olympus Pen FT manual focus half frame lenses for the smaller camera.
I'll dispense with the suspense and let you know right now that the Sony a850 was the loser at the high ISO stakes game. While it's a great ISO 160-200 studio camera it's not even a contender when we start ratcheting up the sensitivity boosters and head for darker regions. The 850 is a beach camera. It loves light so much it's got to be the George Hamilton of cameras. Even with an f2.8 on the front the noise reduction over ISO 800 just wipes out the detail like a cheap, vaseline covered UV filter.
The clear winner for sharpness, clean files and high detail with good color----under stage light conditions----at ISO 3200 was the Sony a99. Hands down. I used it mostly with the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G lens and the combo was doubly effective. While not many people have used the 70-200mm (think of the relative size of Sony's market compared to N and C.....) I'm here to tell you that even wide open it's a sharp and effective lens. I used it mostly at f3.5, just to give it some extra advantage.
But the interesting combination of the evening, for me at any rate, was the performance of the GH3 coupled with an ancient and unstabilized Olympus 150mm f4. It's a 45 year old, single coated lens, hand held by a nervous coffee drinker at the end of long day and it still pulled out some fun images. When you scroll down you'll see a series of images done in a 4:3 format. Those are the GH3 images. Most of them are done with the ancient telephoto. A few were done with the 60mm 1.5. I had to make allowances, not for the camera (which performed flawlessly) but for the older lens systems. It's not that they aren't capable of good performance but they lag behind the big Sony lens in overall contrast and ultra-fine contrast and so need a helping hand; which I gave them in the mid-contrast range.
I like to see comparisons like this because, even though I am comparing apples to watermelons, I can see imaging differences between the lenses that help me understand some of the stylistic considerations from decade to decade. People's styles evolved from their use of different tools. In an age where high contrast lenses can produce an endless number of sharp and "correct" photographs the coloration, contrast range and general "look" of the older lenses lends its own character to the images produced. The images from the older lenses look smoother and in some sense more three dimensional to me. In a sense they seem more "expressive" of the fictional time frame of the play...
Much as I love using the a850 for luscious portrait work I've resigned myself to retire it from theater duty. It's just not the right tool for the stage. And, in the company of the EVF-enabled cameras, it showed off the weakness of the OVF. It takes more time to meter and check and meter and check than it does to just look at the (95% accurate) EVF in the a99 or GH3 and shoot, shoot, shoot. The visual feedback is immediate and ongoing and it makes for a much quicker handling package in changing light. After using the EVF for tens of thousands of images in the last year and a half I can say that most of the corrections I make while shooting are done in real time and without conscious thought. The visually cued corrections have become part of the muscle memory of my shooting. And my hit rate is much higher for it.
These images are from the first dress rehearsal and from what I remember of the play (as divorced from what I remember about shooting the play) it was pretty well polished and I had more than a few "laugh out loud" moments. In fact, I left the theater with the idea that I'd bring back the family for one performance and perhaps a group of friends for another performance. It's really a good, nostalgic, heartwarming and funny production.
There was one strange moment in the evening though. You'll have to understand that I've been shooting images at dress rehearsals for the theatre for twenty years now. I've sat through hundreds of productions and shot well over 100,000 images for the theater. But this has never happened to me before.....
I came in a half an hour early. A section of seven seats had been reserved for me and the theatre staff had placed signs on each of the chairs that read, "Reserved for Staff Photographer." I spread out my four shooting cameras and two bags over a number of the seats and I went through the preparations that I usually go through. We had a small, invited audience. These are friends and family of the theater who do not pay for their tickets. The ushers and staff were informed that the staff photographer would be taking images during the entire show.
Everything went swimmingly for the first act. Then, during the intermission, a very solemn man with a Zach Theatre volunteer name badge came walking down my row and got up very close to me. He stood so that his face was about 18 inches from mine and he said, "You CAN NOT take photographs during the show. You have to PUT THOSE CAMERAS AWAY and not take them out again!!!!" I thought he was kidding. His affect was quite stern and when I laughed he inferred that not complying would result in my.......removal from the theater.
I reached into the pocket of my camera bag and pulled out my official Zach Theatre name badge which very clearly states upon it: "STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER." On seeing the badge the official mumbled something about how photographers usually shot from the sides..... I had to correct him and let him know that, since I'd been the photographer at EVER show we've done in the new theatre I could assure him that ALL the dress rehearsal images have all been done in exactly the same way.
It was so wacky. But I get it. Some people in the audiences feel endlessly entitled. The cellphone is sometimes too great a temptation for some and occasionally an audience member tries to take a surreptitious cellphone image during a peak moment in the action only to be laid bare by the white LED flash that they never seem to anticipate.....
The two images above are from the GH3 coupled with the 150 Olympus lens at ISO 1600. It's a totally different look and feel from the Sony. Next time out I'll take friend, Frank up on his offer and do a real comparison. Camera to camera. f2.8 lens to f2.8 lens and we'll see how they both handle the world at ISO 1600. I have a feeling it will be closer than Sony fans will want to admit.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and don't try sticking your tongue on a metal lamppost.
If you get bored after too much turkey and too many political arguments with
the in-laws, don't forget that Craftsy.com is offering a portrait
course for free by yours truly. It's probably even better after a glass
photographers … so you think P on your camera stands for Professional?
I know, I know .. it’s a funny comment that P stands for professional. But somehow it always irks me to the extent that I just can’t suppress my reply. Maybe it’s the purposeful dumbing-down making it seem okay not to want to know more and continually improve. Maybe that’s what gets to me. Still, I think my reply is more cute.
This post got a lot of reaction on Facebook … mostly good, with most people seeing it as humorous. However, some people chose to be offended. There will always be those too.
But if we could have a serious moment and look closely at what I actually said there – I didn’t dismiss shooting in Program mode. I do so at times when the situation warrants. My comment really is a response to the easy and dismissive platitude that is “P is for Professional”. And you may well reply that that in itself is meant as a joke – however, I do think that at some level it perpetuates the “I don’t have to even really bother” mindset.
So if you shoot in Program mode or Aperture Priority when necessary … we don’t really have issues here. It wasn’t directed at you. Breathe.