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The Michigan UP eBook is Finally Here!

Bookbaby_Cover_BlogFor the regular visitors here you have undoubtedly seen the sidebar banner: “Andy’s E-BOOK — Photography Travel Guides” with links to the Vermont eBook and reference to the in-progress, Michigan U.P. eBook. Anyone who has clicked the latter link has seen the disappointing excuse that it is coming soon (which has been there since sometime in 2012 not very “soon”:-) ). Those who go way back may recall that I originally offered both these books as PDF files back prior to the publication of the Vermont e-book in 2010. Circumstances after that made it impractical to offer the PDF files anymore.

The reality is that writing an eBook is a lot of work

But in spite of my best intentions, the Michigan UP project languished. Conversion to an ebook meant essentially re-writing the existing material, and substantially expanding it. And for anyone who hasn’t tried this, the reality is that writing a book is a lot of work (even when it is a “labor of love”). This one was no exception and many hours were spent getting it ready to submit for eBook publication. I needed help and some inspiration, and my co-author, Kerry Leibowitz came along at the right time. He had a lot of experience in the U.P., and we talked back and forth about our trips and shooting successes up there over the years. Over the years, Kerry made a number of helpful editorial comments and observations and I ultimately asked him if he would consider co-writing the book with me.

As is not unusual in our electronic age, Kerry and I have been acquaintances, crossing paths on a couple different photography “boards,” for a few years now, and yet, have never had the opportunity of a face to face meeting (though I believe it is just a matter of time before that happens). Some of you are sure to know him, and his work, but if you don’t, I encourage you to take a few minutes to follow the link here and go look at his imagery, and his blog. You will see that he is a very talented and knowledgeable photographer, and you will see just how fortunate that I am that Kerry agreed to co-write this book with me. With as much time on the ground in the UP as I have, Kerry’s addition to the book will be immediately obvious to the reader. And, we believe that our different approaches and the varied UP locations we have visited, conspire to create a more comprehensive and informational book.

The book is a reference guide for photographers to find photo-worthy places in the UP

Anyone who has photographed up there understands that it would not be possible to chronicle all the different places in the UP that are “photo-worthy” and this book does not claim to do that. Rather, it is an informational work (primarily) for photographers who want to make a trip to the UP and need to do some research on the possibilities, and more importantly, reasonably detailed directions for how to get there, and in many instances, when to get there.

We have included driving directions, approximate mileage in many instances, general-area GPS-coordinates (where they make sense), and our individual observations about the locations.

Available on Kindle from Amazon now, and other major e-platforms (iBook, Nook, Kobo and others) at major outlets like Amazon, the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble in the next few days; Kerry and I are very excited to offer the First Edition of “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” You can order this book by going to my link in the upper left corner of this blog page (really – there is a book and the link works now:-) ). While you are there, take a look at the Vermont eBook, too. I plan a major update and 2nd Edition in the coming months.

Thanks for reading and for your support!

Missing in Action (and Some R&R)

Clearwater Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I haven’t posted for a couple weeks.  That happens at certain times of the year.  This is one of those times.  We have traditionally taken a Caribbean Cruise during this period of Winter.  This year, we took a break from cruising, but spent the time allotted for that enjoying our Florida home and surrounds, with some of our cruising friends.

When I think of Clearwater (which is essentially where we are), I think of the cleanest, whitest, sandiest beaches around.  We have spent time on different parts of the Atlantic Coast and while the beaches there are wonderful, Clearwater Beach looks like it was filled with the “play sand” you buy at Home Depot!  When I land in Florida, my first impulse it to take my shoes off and change to flip flops.  And when I hit the beach, my first impulse is to take them off, and bury my feet in the sand.

Clearwater Beach FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Beach FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

When I hit the beach, my first impulse is to remove the flip flops and bury my feet in the sand

But you can’t spend all your time on the beach.  There has to be time for good food and drink.  I have lived in so-called “middle-America” for over 30 years.  While my city has treated me admirably and I have known a great many wonderful friends, raised a family, and had a very good career there, one of my disappointments has been that for whatever reason, these communities do not support a large variety of great independent eating establishments.  The chains are the rule.  So one of my “vices” over the years has been to seek out nice restaurants and unique food opportunities when I visit areas that have them.  Well, we seem to have hit the mother lode in the Tampa-St. Pete area.  We have found a number of very nice restaurants, and there is a substantial Greek and substantial Cuban population in the area, which means some incredible food.  I have not yet eaten in a chain restaurant in the 3 years we have been in the Clearwater area.  And I really don’t intend to.

Palm Pavillion Clearwater Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Palm Pavillion
Clearwater Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

One of our favorites–The Palm Pavillion–is literally “on the beach” in Clearwater Beach and you can sit outside and see the beach-goers.  The food is good too, and it has become a favorite lunch destination.

Our community is actually Palm Harbor (home of the Innisbrook Golf Resorts, among other things).  We are bracketed to the north with Tarpon Springs, a great Greek community with Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Festival, and the nationally famous Sponge Docks.  It is a quaint little tourist destination, but the food is great.  I nice place to walk around in the sun (which shines often in Florida).  To the South, is Dunedin, an equally quaint, tourist destination, but with a very “local” feel and presence.  There are many residents of the area that frequent the downtown, which features several very good restaurants featuring Italian, barbeque, authentic Mexican, and more.  Dunedin has also become a destination for craft beer afficionados, with at least 4 local brew pubs and a couple very nice independent bars which specialize in wines and craft beer.  It is a welcoming and great place to walk or bike.  The Pinellas County Rail Trail runs right through the middle of Dunedin and it is usually well-populated with walkers and riders.  In addition to these more well-known attractions, the little downtown areas of Palm Harbor and Ozona have some really fine local bar/restaurant establishments and one 5-star restaurant (Ozona Blue).

Dunedin Restaurant Dunedin FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Dunedin Restaurant
Dunedin FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

We are fortunate to have a home in Palm Harbor which allows us to comfortably sit on our lanai and enjoy the sunshine, spirits and the occasional cigar:-), and our friends helped us enjoy that setting.  My great friend, Paul helped me open and sample this “bucket list” bourbon.  Very smooth, but not a bunch of character, in my own opinion.  But the bottle is pretty cool.

Willett Pot Still Bourbon Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Willett Pot Still Bourbon
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Couple things.  I don’t think I carried the camera, or turned it on the whole 2 week period!  All of the images here were made with my Blackberry “Priv” Camera.  I have blogged here about “going small” with my gear.  I am pretty impressed with the capability of this “smartphone camera.”  But fear not.  I have no intentions of ditching the Sony Gear.  These were basically just snapshots.  But I was glad to see the resolution allowed me to fine-tune these images in my post-processing software.

The eBook is Coming!

Second, an announcement and a tease.  Those who know me well know that I wrote an e-Book on photographing Vermont Fall Foliage which is available on the major e-book sellers like iBooks, Amazon, B&N, etc.   They also know that I have been working (for over 4 years) on an e-Book on photographing the Michigan Upper Peninsula (for those “in the know,” “The UP”).  Both of these books grew out of my notes of shooting locations and eventually, PDF files that I made available.  Well, after many fits and starts, and the addition of a co-writer, that UP e-book is at the publisher and I expect it to be available on the same outlets very soon!  So stay tuned for the major announcement.

Clearwater Sunset Clearwater, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Sunset
Clearwater, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Like all vacations, this one had to come to an end.  The Florida Gulf is famous for its sunsets.  What better parting image (again, made on my “smart” phone), than a Clearwater sunset?

best regards,

 

Do You Have a Carry Permit?

I know you thought this was going to be about handguns.  Sorry.  I have occasionally engaged in deceptive titles to get you to click in.  And I am talking about “carrying,” so I hope you will  read on.  I  have spent (and you can read in numerous places elsewhere) a considerable amount of time talking about my personal shift to smaller, lighter, more travel-worthy gear. I have spent little time talking about how I transport my gear.

Millions of dollars have been expended in the photo bag industry – by manufacturers and designers alike. Names like Lowepro, Domke, Tenba, Tamrac, Think Tank, Crumpler, Case Logic, and many more, flock the internet. In those ever diminishing instances where you can find a retail photography shop, they take up substantial floor space (and I suspect are a drain for the shop-owners because of their inventory cost). Every photographer I know has a collection of old bags (including me, unfortunately) from the venerable messenger-style bag, to photo backpacks, slingbags, and rolling photo duffel bags. Some of us have several different bags we actively use for different purposes. But I’ll bet most of us also have several bags in a closet somewhere that haven’t been used for years.

There are basically two configurations; shoulder bags and backpacks

I am going to espouse an unconventional view here, but here is my personal take on some of the bags out there:

Some General Observations

Special purpose photo bags are designed to be used, essentially, solely to house and carry photo equipment. There have been many designs over the years, but there appear to me to be two basic configurations; shoulder bags, and backpacks. Most bags are a variation on one of these. The interiors of all the bags incorporate a system of padded dividers, often with Velcro edges to “customize” them.

Too Much Bulk. One of my “issues” over the years is that the padding creates a great amount of bulk in these bags, making them uniformly bigger than necessary. Of course, sellers and designers will point out that the padding is necessary to protect the hundreds of dollars’ worth of gear being transported. But I am not sure I agree. Maybe it is, if you are going to check a bag on the airlines, or ship it. But then you should probably have a specialized container for that. Most of us are not going to check our valuable cameras and lenses. Nope. No way. We are going to carry them on.

For the most part my own carry style, described below, gives me more than enough padding and protection for my gear. I am always cognizant that I am “carrying” (to borrow a concept from the gun folks), and am probably more careful about banging around, when I have the gear with me. In the field, I carry towels in case of rain or wet conditions, and they can be used, where appropriate, to pad and protect gear. You can also pack clothing items in and around them.

Too Limiting. Another issue for me is that most of the customizable divider systems don’t set up the way I would want my gear organized.

Not Limiting Enough. Fundamentally inconsistent, right?:-) By “too limiting,” I meant in terms of design. By “not limiting enough,” I am making reference to my comment above about what we think we need in the field. My carry style makes me think clearly and carefully about what I really need in the field to make good images. Because most of these bags are big, and because we can, these “designed” photo bags often motivate us to cram them full of all of our gear.

Shoulder and Messenger Bags

My Tamrac wide messenger bag serves as a storage bag and works well for shooting out of my car, when I am home-based. It is the only dedicated “camera bag” I own.

But it doesn’t carry well, or travel well. My experience with a shoulder style bag that is large enough to carry all of the camera gear you think you are going to need in the field, is going to be heavy on the shoulder, and unwieldy to carry in the field.

Backpacks

There was a time when I thought photo backpacks were going to be my solution to carrying in the field. They weren’t, and I ended up giving my LowePro photo backpack away. Then there was a time when I thought the combo backpack-travel case was going to be a good idea for me. It wasn’t, and I have a nice Think Tank Airport Express bag that takes up space in my basement (like so many similar items, I cannot get a fraction of what I paid for it, even though it is in like new condition, and I am too stubborn to let one of the reseller buy it for pennies and then make a profit on it). I looked at the slingbags and concluded they were really not that much more functional (for me) than a backpack. For travel, there are even roller backpack and duffel style bags these days. But since I will always carry on my expensive camera and lenses, this just makes them even more bulky and heavy.

For me, backpack style bags aren’t convenient to use in the field. If you want something out of them, you essentially have to take them down, set them on the ground (or on something), rummage through them, and put them back up. And, because they are made for our camera gear, most of us have a tendency to load them with everything we think we might need in the field. That makes them heavy, and therefore difficult to put on each time you have to do so.

I have, more recently looked at some of the smaller, messenger style shoulder bags. I think that if I was doing street shooting and wanted to be inconspicuous, I might use one of the newer style ones that are made not to look like a camera bag on the outside. But I probably won’t.

My two essential carry accessories: a vest and cargo pants or shorts

My Personal “Carry” Solution

This is my personal criteria. I want a simple, accessible, light and comfortable carry solution. I don’t want a dead weight either on my back or my shoulder. I want to be able to have quick and convenient access to the gear I need at all times. I would like my in-field accessories and gear to pack easily and lightly. That translates, for me, to two essential items: a vest, and cargo pants or shorts.

The Vest. I have made numerous references in my blog, my website and occasionally in these blog posts, about my “dorky” vest. And make no mistake, they are dorky. When I see someone walking around with one of those “travel vests,” even though I acknowledge their great functionality, I think they look dorky. But they are functional.

One of the best features of a vest is that it distributes the weight of your gear around your body. There is simply not the fatigue that I have experienced when carrying a heavy bag. And secondly, as I referenced above, it has made me think (and choose my vest accordingly) about what I really need to carry in the field. I try to carry only the things I am going to use. Over years of carrying everything in a heavy bag, I have enough empirical evidence to know that there are many items I own that I won’t use while out hiking around, and some that I rarely enough use that I don’t really need the bulk. Which all might beg the question: “if you don’t use it why do you have it in the first place?” And that is a topic for another blog.:-)

I don’t wear mine for travel; I pack it. I only wear it when I am actively in the field. I might wear it on the street, but probably not. These days I travel a lot out of the U.S. and pickpocketing is the norm in many of the overseas cities I have visited. I would think wearing a vest in one of those places would be much like wearing a placard that says “tourist; lots of pockets to pick.” I am not sure what the pro shooters who travel in these cities do. I have gone to such small gear for 99% of these excursions that I am able to do without any outer form of carry. My weapon of choice has been my Sony RX100iv, and it really doesn’t need much carry space.  When I travel, I pack my gear in one of several different kinds of standard luggage, including a messenger style carry-on, or a small, nondescript carry on bag.  The larger gear, including tripod and accessories that I don’t think will be stolen, or I can live without, will get checked in a standard luggage rolling duffel bag.

But the majority of my shooting other than travel and cities, involves dedicated trips and primarily outdoor and nature shooting. I carry more (and larger) gear in those circumstances.

So I use a vest; but not a “photo” vest. You can find and purchase a dedicated “photo vest.” Much like the bags described above, they are generally somebody’s idea of the ideal carry solution for all photographers. Problem is, we aren’t all the same. We don’t all shoot the same way, and we don’t all carry the same gear. Most of them are woefully overpriced, while being under-functional (if I can use that word).

I have learned by trial and error that the best vest for me has a limited number of small pockets and several large pockets. The large pockets work well for lenses and larger accessories. The small pockets work for small accessories, with a caveat. Too many pockets means working from the vest will become inconvenient and confusing. You need to be able to quickly access the item and remember where it is.

I have two vests that are both generic and fit the above criteria. Once was purchased years ago at a Woolrich (ironically, it is cotton) outlet store for $24.00. The second one (my reason for purchase was lighter, more modern and breathable fabric) was purchased at an Eddie Bauer outlet store for $35.00. The dedicated vests start at around $85 and can be found for upwards of $300, and aren’t as functional.

Cargo Pants/Shorts. Use of these for photography “carry” was pretty much an afterthought. Everyone who has used them knows the utility of cargo pocket clothing. My own use of them developed from a desire for convenient travel clothing. These days, I travel using the modern-day nylon and similar dry-tech type fabric for pants, shorts and shirts. I have a closet full of Columbia and North Face clothing that is made from these lightweight, breathable, and washable fabrics. They are comfortable, look reasonably presentable, can be hand-washed and hung to dry overnight, and are great for packing and travel. They are extremely lightweight. For cooler situations, it is easy to layer underneath them.

But the additional advantage to the photographer is that the ones that have the cargo style pockets are an additional place to stash gear and work from.

Something to remember is that this is a blog; indeed my blog. So I am not suggesting here that my way is right and yours is wrong. But I do get to express my opinion here. I also recognize that there is a reason for chocolate milk and white milk. So do what works for you and helps you get out and shoot. But it is worth giving some thought to what you carry and why.

Thanks for reading………….

Photography is Hard

These days, it seems like every time I log onto an internet site (especially Facebook), I see “8 Simple Steps to make your Photographs Awesome,” or “Follow These Simple Guidelines to Become a Pro Photographer,” or “Learn to Shoot Like the Pros” articles. Some of the folks writing these articles are good photographers.  Some of them (maybe most) are selling their site-based “lessons,” U-Tube videos, and the like. And there are lots of shooters who are self-proclaimed “experts” (I may be one:-) ).  Unfortunately, in many cases, their own work belies the claimed “expertise.”   So don’t kid yourself.  Photography is not simple, and it is not easy.  If it was, everybody would be Ansel Adams.

Photography is a mix of technical knowledge, artistic vision, and “perspiration.”

Photography is a mix of technical knowledge, artistic vision, and “perspiration.” The pros I know work at it. They work hard.  They practice their craft daily.  And like all of us hobbyists, they sometimes struggle to find inspiration for their work.

I am not suggesting that there aren’t aspects of photography that are simple enough concepts.  There certainly are.  The technical aspects of photography are not difficult to teach or to learn. The intrinsic aspects are.  They can be learned (though I sometimes wonder if the artistic aspect is something some of us have and some of us don’t – maybe that left-brain, right brain — and in my case, no-brain thing:-) ).  But like anything done well, it is going to take some work and a lot of practice.  So sure, go on out an buy a “nice” camera, subscribe to those on-line “lessons,” and have fun.  But don;t be fooled into thinking that is going to make success “easy.”

The technical aspects of photography are not difficult to teach or to learn

I read an article yesterday which struck the chord that inspired me to write on this particular topic. It was something like “The [pick a number] most common excuses photographers make for not shooting; and the cure,” or something similar. One excuse was, “there is nothing to shoot where I live.”  The author’s response was that this excuse was absurd; that photography was about “storytelling;” and there is always a “story.”  I don’t totally disagree (there’s a “but” in there—obviously :-)). There is always a story. But is the story always worth “telling?” Spend some time in flat, brown, suburban, “middle America” for a while and tell me all about “storytelling.” Not that there aren’t stories. But altogether too often, they have already been told, or aren’t interesting enough to be told. So the challenge is finding a new perspective for the story. And while that is definitely possible, it isn’t “simple.” It requires effort and sometimes a little good luck.  A lot of times these website claims are illustrated with a pretty flower closeup, or a macro image.  That’s great, and they are a wonderful, backyard subject to use to learn all about composition, depth of field, exposure, etc.  But you can only do so many close-up flower photographs before they become “been there – done that.”

There is always a story. But is the story always worth “telling?”

One of my pro friends often says (and he is quoting another, famous, photographer when he says it) that in order to make great photographs, you have to stand in front of great subjects (or something like that). There is a lot of merit to seeking out and traveling to great photographic venues.  Or at least new photographic venues.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean to discourage finding and seeking imagery in your proverbial “backyard.”  For some of us who don’t have the luxury to travel to great places to photograph, it may be the only thing we have.  Just don’t give me the “rah, rah” pep talk that I should carry the camera out into my neighborhood and I will find great photographic images. Maybe I will. But maybe I won’t. I do think, however, that there is a lot to be said about never being far from your camera, and always being vigilant for the photo-op. But there is no “magic” there. Work at it and practice, practice, practice (and this is the same formula a pro golfer, a lawyer, an actor and an engineer must use – perhaps the only exception is the modern politician:-) ).

Photoshop is Not Evil!

I don’t rant much here.  But, it’s my blog, and I’ll rant if I want to:-)

I  just recently read something on Facebook that struck a raw nerve. It was titled “The best 100 photographs ever taken without Photoshop.” NEWS FLASH:  You don’t “take” photos with Photoshop. For most of us, Photoshop is nothing more than a post-processing development tool for our images.  And by “Photoshop,” most of these inane commentaries really mean post-processing software (so, Lightroom, PhaseOne, OnOne, Nik, “The GIMP” and others, you are all in the same basket).  When I say “Photoshop” in this article, lets agree that I mean post-processing software.

NEWS FLASH:  You Don’t take photos with Photoshop

The silly title of this Facebook post is like saying, back in the days of film, “the 100 best prints made without a darkroom.”

There isn’t any doubt that post-processing software can be used in an abusive way – as could the old wet darkroom. But am I the only one that is tired of the shrill howls of the would-be “purists” who cry foul any time anyone uses Photoshop to in any way change the image that came straight out of the camera? Did we pass a law in the U.S. that forbids changing or “working” images out of the camera? And is there some new moral “standard” (set, of course, by the shrill criers) for what is “natural?”

Photoshop is not some evil software that has overtaken the photographic world and destroyed all good photography.  C’mon, folks. Lighten up. My imagery (even my nature imagery) is predominantly artistic. I have yet to shoot new footage, evidence photography or something purporting to be an exact replication of what “was.” And, I submit, even those endeavors are probably less “accurate” than supposed.

No matter what we do, there are factors in photography that distort reality

And it is a matter of digital “science” that in most cases, the images render by the in-camera computer needs at least some post processing to make an image presentable.  And that processing can be done without altering the so-called integrity of the image.  But what if I go further with my artistic image?  Why is there so much angst about this from so many people?

I’ll trust the viewer to make her own conclusions about believability

No matter what we do, there are factors in photography that distort reality.  At a bare minimum, perspective and lens focal length are significant factors. But unless I am submitting my photograph as evidence in the courtroom, or as support of a news article, who really cares? If a shot is “believable,” it is worthy. And I’ll trust the viewer to make her own conclusions about believability.

Some Thoughts on Photoshop and “The Cloud”

I am, for many things, a creature of habit. I learn or develop a way of doing things, and pretty much always do it that way. Sometimes that is a good thing. Some “process” ensures consistency and often protects against important omissions. In my post-processing, I have tried to develop a process which involves the same steps in the same order every time. I have tried to establish a “best practices” process and follow it consistently.

But sometimes habit is a bad thing. This is especially true in the digital world, where those “best practices” are constantly evolving as newer technology surfaces. Keeping up can be a time-consuming task, and a technique learned or a process established may be adhered to for a long time before I embrace something new.

“Best Practices” are constantly evolving

In June of 2103, following what has really become the current software model, Adobe moved to its “Creative Cloud” (CC). For those who haven’t figured it out (welcome to the 21st century:-) ), this means that after CS6, subscribers no longer own the complete program, resident on their local hard drives. Instead, Adobe licenses software to be installed on the drive that accesses the program from the internet. The “cloud,” of course, is a euphemistic, marketing-driven name for a remote hard drive that is continuously connected to the internet.  So now, the Photoshop software is on a remote drive somewhere — their hard drive; not yours.  The software that is installed on our devices through the CC licensing process just gives us the ability to log into and “read” their software (a very elementary explanation — I don’t have the digital “chops” to do better than that).

One major issue for many of us is that we like control. We want to own the software, and set it up the way we want — on our own hard drive.  We want to control the cost to us (no annual subscription – just our “one-time cost of acquisition). And, we want the ability to tell Adobe to “take a hike,” but still own our version of Photoshop. Those are valid concerns. Many of my friends who I have spoken with about CC had said that they probably would never need or use a more advanced version than CS6 and they would just keep that up-to-date.

For me, there seemed to be two problems. First, the annual subscription cost seemed a little steep. Second, and more importantly, I was (and still am) concerned that if I decided to stop the subscription, I would have no access to my PS files and no way to “work” them. My current “fix” for the latter issue is that I still have CS6 and if I had to, could work with it. On the subscription costs, their current model actually seems reasonable to me – particularly when I go back and look at what I generally paid to upgrade every couple years or so.

So why move to CC?

One reason is their “real-time” updates.  I am probably misusing the term “real-time,” here a bit. It is not like the Adobe developers are constantly tweaking and adding to the software so there are “improvements” every time you open a new session (though perhaps they are to some extent). But when they add new things to it, you get a notification and then you just upgrade. To be sure, you are paying for the upgrades with the annual subscription, but but once you get beyond that part, the process is pretty painless.

But wait; there’s more.:-). The “upgrade” process above does not really answer the biggest objection most of the folks I have talked to have. They just don’t see the need to upgrade constantly. Many only upgraded every other time or less often (and before they shifted to the cloud-based only program, Adobe started making that more difficult).  And the argument: “what more can Adobe add for photographic post processing that we really need beyond CS6?” still loomed pretty strongly. There is certainly an economic incentive to Adobe (and other providers) to have us constantly upgrade. In fact, it may be the price of progress.

In 2014, I subscribed to CC, thinking I would try it and could always drop the subscription.  At the time of this writing, I still have CS6 fully installed on my machine, but it hasn’t been used in months now. I may be getting just comfortable enough to uninstall it.

You have to re-install all of your Photoshop Add-ins

Time and life got in the way, and I didn’t really start using CC until sometime in the Spring of 2015. One reason was the work involved in re-installing all my add-in softwares.  You will have to re-install them (like Nik and OnOne). And of course, there would be a (small) learning curve. But once I started using it, I have been doing so exclusively.  Here are just a couple items I have found useful in my own workflow.

Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)

Perhaps the biggest improvement in my view has been the constant upgrades to Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). We have, of course, had very much enhanced ability to make significant image adjustments in ACR since its process versions 2010 and 2012 (which are available in CS6). I only very rarely make image settings (like levels and curves and color correction) in Photoshop anymore, as they are so much better when made in ACR. But while Adobe is continuing to upgrade ACR for use with CS6, there are some new options in the CC version that I do not believe are available to non-CC users.

Manual Lens Corrections. This one is a bit of a misnomer in my view, as it is really perspective corrections which can be made as raw adjustments. I have begun using it, especially for my wide-angle, buildings and structures shots from my travel photography. When you are moving rapidly and often shooting handheld, it is pretty difficult to make the adjustments often necessary for good architectural shots, so this is a great tool. It has slider adjustments for leveling, for tilting both vertically and horizontally, among other things. It is designed with the lens correction data in the database in mind.

There is also a more sophisticated vignette control here.

Like it or not, Photoshop CC is here to stay

Radial Targeted Adjustment. There are a number of other new features, including the continually improving targeted image adjustments interface. They have added a “radial” targeted adjustment tool, which works somewhat similarly to the Nik control points (though perhaps not yet as sophisticated).
Sharpening and Noise Reduction. Again, much of this is available in the CS6 (and perhaps earlier) version. I don’t currently do any of my noise detection and removal or my pre-sharpening in ACR. I am not sure whether I am missing the boat here, or on solid ground, but I have been using the Nik add-in software to do both of these. I may experiment with the sharpening again, but probably will rely on Nik to do my noise control.  I am sure there will be more to come, as users demand it and technology supports it.

Photoshop CC

One really cool feature that is new to CC’s latest version is the ability to convert any layer to a smart object. Working with a smart object on an image you may plan to do a lot of work on is a good idea, because you can go back and re-do or adjust changes. This is particularly true for the more complicated adjustment layer process that the Nik software (and, I presume, OnOne) uses. Once you press the “done” button in those programs, you cannot go back and rework the layer – unless it is a smart object. Previously, when I wanted to do this, I would open the image from ACR as a smart object. But I found this cumbersome – largely because it seemed like the process was processor consumptive and make work slower. So often, I am lazy and don’t open smart objects. Now, if I decide I want to go back into, say, a Viveza layer, I can simply convert that layer to a smart layer and it works just great – after I have opened the image in Photoshop.

Photoshop CC now also allows you to add a layer as an ACR layer, providing some of the ACR adjustments (though at this time, I am not sure why you would do that instead of just originally opening the image in ACR).

We all have our own approaches and favorite software, tools and techniques for post-processing.  These are just a few of the things I have learned and am using.  Like it or not, I am afraid CC is here to stay and for the time being, I have embraced it.  I will try to come back here from time to time when I learn something new that might be of interest to other photographers.

The Sony RX100iv; An in-depth Review

Recommended

Sony RX100iv

Sony RX100iv

The RX100iv, is not a casual user’s camera – it is a serious photographer’s tool. That’s not to say a number of P&Sers won’t buy, and effectively use it. But if you are going to set it on the “auto,” or “scene” setting and shoot away, and/or posting images only online, you will be wasting 90% of the camera’s potential; and leaving a lot of money on the table.

My “path” to the RX100

Some of you may have read about my “saga” of equipment during the past couple years. For those who haven’t, I ‘ll briefly recap, as I believe it puts this review in perspective.  I started photography, shooting slide film with an all-manual, SLR back in 1976. I have since, advanced through a number of iterations of SLR and eventually DSLR cameras (“upgrades”?), have studied photography, and made a pretty serious run at it as a hobby. For most of my shooting time, I have been a Nikon owner (which is not a black vs. white commentary, but perhaps shows a level of seriousness), shooting their very good cameras and lenses, including a number of “pro” designated lenses and bodies.

The RX100iv is not a casual user’s camera

Sometime during late 2012 and early 2013, I decided to trade my “backup” Nikon D7000 for one of Sony’s “MILS” (mirrorless interchangeable lens) cameras. The series was the “NEX” line (now re-badged as the “Alpha” x000 series), and was often found in stores like Best Buy and Staples, in the lowered-numbered iterations. The higher numbered NEX-6 and 7, though, were formidable cameras, with viewfinders and all of the “bells and whistles” you find on the modern higher-end DSLR cameras.

Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

The NEX-6 incorporated the identical APS sensor to the one in the D7000 and was a very compact form factor. I thought it would work nicely for a carry-around camera. It did – and more. In fact, it became my primary travel camera. It was light, small, inconspicuous, and easy to use (reminiscent of the Nikon-1 that was marketed for Nikon by Ashton Kutcher for a few years). I fell in love with smaller and lighter, but still felt “married” to the concept of carrying a “full-frame” sensor camera for my landscape imagery.”

I thought the NEX6 would work nicely for a carry-around camera — It did that, and more

Other than the limitation of the APS sensor size, the one “knock” on these cameras was the lack of “good” lenses. That was not my own experience. Not only did some of the Sony lenses perform very well, but Sigma made a pair of very cheap lenses that were extremely small, sharp and affordable. But the real draw was Carl Zeiss. Sony and Zeiss have developed a partnership and lenses are now manufactured for by Sony with Zeiss specs (and badged Sony/Zeiss). Zeiss also has manufactured lenses for the Sony line of camera, on its own. The best of these lenses were prime, very fast (f1.8 – 2.8 range) and rendered some wonderful, contrasty images with great bokeh.

Then, Sony announced its Full Frame a7 series and for me the rest was history. A chunky body which reminds of a very small SLR, and still relatively large lenses, this combo is still smaller and lighter than my older Nikon SLR, and the advances in technology are pretty great. My primary camera is the a7. My “backup” and walk-around was the NEX-6.

Sony RX100iv

But I am always looking at “new and improved.” And small is good. My a7 default rig is the a7 plus a Carl Zeiss f4 24-70 zoom lens.  The quality I get from this out fit is certainly second to none.  But it is still big and heavy compared to some of the more “portable” choices out there.  I am not sure where or how it captured my attention, but sometime during this past winter, I “noticed” the fourth generation of this little camera, the RX100iv. At the time, I didn’t know about the prior generations (i and ii did not have the same lens and had smaller sensors and less features, and iii had the same lens, but still not the advanced sensor of the iv).

Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

What first grabbed my attention was the built-in Carl Zeiss f1.8-2.8 zoom lens. I wondered how it might compare to other Zeiss offerings for Sony. DPreview, and other resources, said: “favorably.” Then I began to look at the other features of the camera. Sony is (in my mind) a developing camera company (as compared with, for example, Canon and Nikon). In that sense, as their mirrorless offerings began to take hold, they changed and “fiddled” with their menu system. For a while, each new offering had a different or changed system, which was annoying. When moving from camera to camera, being familiar with the consistent approach of a system is very useful. The NEX system was very different from the a7 (I believe the newer generation alpha 6000 – of the NEX series incorporates Sony’s newer, current, menu system). The RX100 has an almost identical menu interface to the a7.

Small is good

Note that the lens, a Carl Zeiss f1.8 24-70 zoom was first installed on the iii version of this camera. From what I can see, the primary differences between version iii and iv are the “stacked sensor” (more later), an electronic shutter, more resolution (3840 x 2160 vs. the iii’s 1920 x 1080), faster continuous drive (essentially, a non-issue for this type of camera in my opinion), and a negative, shorter battery life. Many of the improvements seem to favor videographers. I haven’t gone there at all, so I cannot comment on this camera as a video tool.  But the RX100iii is about $150 less than the iv.  This might be a factor for some with a budget in mind.  I would think you would get a pretty good camera in the RX100iii.

About the same time I was looking, my mentor from NOLA e-mailed me that he had acquired one of these cameras and he was duly impressed. I decided it was time to make another “leap of faith.” I boxed up the NEX-6, some lenses, etc., and made an essentially even “trade” for the RX100iv. My thinking was that if I was disappointed, I could still get back to the a6000 without a 2nd mortgage. I did do a “preliminary” review on this camera shortly after I acquired it, promising a more in depth review.

Barcelona, Spain Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

This is a “serious” camera, with all the controls resident in a “serious” DSLR camera; a Carl Zeiss lens; and the ability to capture images in raw format. At $950.00 it is a high price point for the P&S world, but it is not really a P&S camera under the hood. It certainly can serve as a backup (and maybe even a primary camera) for general photography at a “professional” quality level.  I have now carried it (nearly exclusively) on two out-of-country trips (Japan and the Mediterranean), and shot over 2,000 images with it. I think I can make some “hands-on” observations now:

Form Factor

Size. There is no getting around it; this is a P&S sized camera. The body on this diminutive camera is a mere 4” long x 2 ¼ high by 1” deep. The “lens bump” on the front adds an addition 5/8 inch, being the only thing keeping it from being a true miniature pocket camera. But pocketable it is! I have carried it in my shirt pocket, my front pants pocket, or in the cargo pocket when available. It would be a tight fit in jeans, but in looser fitting pants (I wear Columbia pants in the field), it fits well.

One thing that clearly distinguishes it from the field is its weight. Mine weighs 10.7 ounces, which equals a fair amount of “heft” — but not uncomfortably so, in my view.  It appears to be all or mostly metal construction and built for durability. It feels good in the hand (though I did purchase Sony’s additional stick-on hand grip for the lower right part of the body). My hands are medium-large and it gives me a feeling of added security when carrying the camera in my right hand. It is a matter of preference. I think you could do fine with out).

The RX100iv is a P&S camera in physical form only!

It’s Inconspicous. To me this is very exciting and important. Here is a camera that is tiny enough to pack anywhere and carry and has the potential to make near-DSLR quality images.  In addition to the fact that it is very small and light (maybe even the difference between an extra carry-on or not for airline travel); it is also very inconspicuous. When shooting with a group of photographers in a National Park, that is probably not much of a factor. But in travel situations, cities, and faster moving groups, it becomes a pretty big deal. I am generally able to move around and shoot as I wish, and I am just “another tourist.” People do not instinctively “freeze up” when they see it (if they see it). This is a phenomenon I never appreciated until my pro friend and mentor suggested that it would be an advantage (in fact, he has a funny story where a shooter with all the “big dog” gear, kind of disdainfully tried to “shoe” him away so she could get her shot – having no idea that this guy is a life-long pro, trained photojournalist, who has shot international music acts, books, and sells substantial stock photos, and likely could have taught her a thing or two about phography).

Barcelona, Spain Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Image Quality

In the final analysis, any serious photographer (at least in my own view) should be choosing her or his tools based on one primary feature: image quality. Perhaps said another way, a camera with all the bells and whistles which produces poor image quality, is a non-starter.  While my remarks below may read to some as at least mildly critical, I want to emphasize that overall, I find this to be a fine camera, worthy of carry, and I plan to keep and use it as a “workhorse” for a long time to come.

Mad River Warren, Vermont Sony a7 Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Mad River
Warren, Vermont
Sony a7
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

“Image Quality” is a Relative Term

I believe “image quality” is a relative term. If I am making poster sized, fine art, landscape prints, my “need” for IQ might be different than if I am going to post online. I don’t have unrealistic expectations (at least not currently) of using the RX100 for this kind of image (edit:  I drafted this before actually making some prints.  I have made a couple 13″ x 19″ prints now on my Epson Printer that rival anything I have made from larger sensor cameras). But I do want to be able to make a large print if I make an image I like well enough. When I first got the camera, I made some closeup flower images and printed one on my Epson printer at 13” x 19” and was impressed with the print – IQ. Enough so, that I opted to carry only this body on my trip to Japan.

Mad River Warren, Vermont Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Mad River
Warren, Vermont
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

In September, I packed both cameras, and carried the a7 on one shore excursion.  Learning that I essentially had all the same focal length and exposure solution ability, I decided to leave the a7 aboard the ship and carry the RX100 for the balance of the trip.  Nearly all my Mediterranean images were made with the RX100.  While in Vermont in October, on a photo-specific trip, I carried the RX100iv into the field and made a few side-by-side comparison images.  I have posted a couple of them here, for comparison (and whatever else you may want to do with them – subject, of course, to copyright:-) )

Robert Frost Cabin Vermont Sony a7 Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Robert Frost Cabin Vermont
Sony a7
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Overall Quality. I will leave the technical stuff to DPreview, Wilhelm Imaging Research, and the pixel peepers on line. My reviews are always intended to be more empirical, hands-on, “will this work for you,” kind of judgments. In that respect, the answer is a qualified “yes.” On a scale of Poor to Excellent, I would judge the IQ rendered by this sensor as good, leaning toward the “excellent” range on the scale. It is not as good as, for example, the Zeiss 24mm f1.8 prime lens on my NEX-6 was. But it is close enough for the intended use. Most of the imagery made by me with this type of body does not call for closeups, bokeh, etc. I am shooting cityscapes, buildings, etc., and when conditions warrant, shooting around f8 at low (100 – 125) ISO ranges.

Mad River Warren, Vermont Sony a7 Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Mad River
Warren, Vermont
Sony a7
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

I should note that I capture raw images 99.99% of the time.  I set my in-camera settings to be totally neutral on every digital body I own.  When I first purchased the RX100iv, Adobe had not yet released an ACR version that would render the raw capture files from this camera.  So in the beginning, I set it to shoot both raw and Jpeg images, so I could see and work with them in Photoshop.  I did briefly use Capture One to render the raw images, but the new workflow was more than I wanted to learn, so I was glad that Adobe shortly upgraded ACR to include the newest Sony raw file format.

Barcelona, Spain Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Anyway, I cannot really comment on any of the settings for jpegs in the camera.  The jpegs I used seemed clean, sharp, contrasty, had good dynamic range, and seemed true to exposure settings I made.

Sharpness. I will give this camera an A- / – B+ for critical sharpness. As most readers probably already know, with digital capture, sharpness can be affected by a combination of factors. Aside from the human factors (shake, shutter speed, etc.), the two that primarily affect sharpness in digital capture are the lens and the anti-aliasing filter on the sensor. I don’t know which combination here affects the imagery the most, but I have been mildly disappointed here. It is rarely an issue, but occasionally I have seen a lack of sharpness in some images. I use AF almost exclusively and I am aware that it could be my specific copy of the camera. It is also a zoom lens. I may just have too high expectations after shooting with the a7 and the NEX-6/Zeiss prime combination, but it is a Sony-Zeiss designed lens and I expected more.  I am not saying it is unacceptable by any stretch.  It is, to me, comparable to the results I used to get with my Nikon D200 and the 28-200 f3.5-5.6 zoom lens.  I can (and will) certainly live with it (and as you see, my “grade” is really not that bad).

Sensor. Sensor size will always influence IQ, in my view. The larger the sensor (with other technical factors being correctly done – and nobody does it better than Sony) — the better the potential IQ.  Larger sensors tend to have less noise issues and capture more detail and dynamic range. Lots of reasons for this – I’ll let the experts explain it. Sony has done something interesting with this camera. At one inch, the sensor is significantly larger than most P&S camera sensors, but still small than APS. On the iv generation, they have introduced their “stacked sensor” technology. This has moved some of the essential “computing” technology off of the primary capture sensor to another stacked chip. I cannot begin to explain this, but they do a pretty clear job in the DPreview piece on this camera.

Bokeh. One of the challenges to small camera construction is that sensors are smaller, physical lens apertures are smaller, and this affects bokeh. It is much easier to get smooth, creamy, out of focus backgrounds with a wide-open (f1.8 or 2.8) on a full frame or larger sensor with a big lens. I had hoped that the ultra-small lens at f1.8 would get close to the larger a7 – f4 Zeiss 24-70 combo. Not quite. For those really impressive closeup shots, I am probably going to stay with my full frame camera. But for most purposes, this isn’t an issue. The general shooting I have done has rendered very nice imagery.  The daffodil shot below is exemplary of what the RX100iv is capable of.

Daffodil Sony RX00iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Daffodil
Sony RX00iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

IQ Conclusion. These comments aren’t meant to discourage a potential acquisition of this camera. For several years, I shot with a Nikon DSLR APS sensor camera and their “consumer” 80-200 zoom lens. I have many very good images from that combination. The IQ from the Sony RX100iv easily matches that IQ. Don’t let any comment above stop you from acquiring this camera. The numerous images I have put on my website should convince you that there is huge “bang for the buck” in this camera. One other thing I didn’t mention – the quality and sharpness appears to be very consistently good throughout the entire range of the zoom lens.

Usability and Controls

Have I mentioned that this camera is Small? For some, this might be a factor. But in this day of cell phone cameras, I doubt it will be anything but an advantage for most of us. I love the portability. This camera fits in a pocket, a purse (or “man bag”), a small backpack pocket, or a briefcase. This means you will carry it and if you carry it, you will use it.

This camera fits in a pocket, a purse, or a “man bag”

Viewfinder. I grew up in a viewfinder world. Starting with waist-level finders and quickly graduating to wysiwyg, pentaprism finders, my first 30 years of photography involved seeing through the viewfinder. Though I occasionally find the LCD screen useful, I “see” photographically when I have a view finder. So for me, a viewfinder is a must have option.

Sony has done this very cleverly. There is a pop-up viewfinder. It is a bit cumbersome, but you get used to it quickly. When you pop it up, it turns on the camera, and the default is that when you retract it, it turns the camera back off, though that can be turned off in the menu system (this was a complaint in the iii iteration and I understand that a firmware upgrade has now given iii owners the option to turn it off too).  In order to recess back into the housing, Sony has engineered a pull out/pushback part to this finder.  In order to retract it back into the camera, you must push it back. I haven’t had any issue with this, but it might be possible to break it by trying to force it down without pushing the optical part back in.  This is probably the camera’s weakest point, mechanically.  I have always been pretty careful with my gear (when you spend big dollars it makes you more careful:-) ). When you pop it up, if you bring it to your eye without pulling it out, you will get a blurry view. This is probably the camera’s weakest mechanical link.  For RXiii users (and the default behavior for the RXiv), when you clicked the viewfinder back into the body, it shut the camera down.  I read some complaints that Sony didn’t make this a user changeable feature.  Apparently, they listened, and the RXiv can be set to either shut down or stay on (and there may be a firmware upgrade that adds this feature for RXiii users).

Barcelona, Spain Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

There is a slider adjustment on the viewfinder to focus the finder. It is one of my “niggles” with the design/construction. This slider moves easily in use, and I find myself having to constantly re-adjust it. I wish there were some kind of click stop for it.

The viewfinder is, like all of the Sony MILS viewfinders, an electronic finder. This used to be a negative feature on digital P&S and mirrorless cameras. They looked like a grainy, B&W video cam screen and weren’t well integrated with the lens. Sony has not only fixed that, but in my opinion, has actually improved on the pentaprism viewfinder found in SLR/DSLR cameras. One really cool feature (when turned on in the menu system), is a kind of “real time” exposure view. As you adjust aperture and/or shutter speed, you can see the image in the viewfinder darken and lighten. Focus integration is instant. This is a very nicely integrated piece of technology by Sony. On my recent trip to the Mediterranean, I picked up my travel companion’s Nikon DSLR to take an image of them as a couple and immediately noticed that the viewfinder wasn’t changing as I made adjustments. I have grown to like this feature on all my Sony cameras.

Controls. The controls are similar to the a7, but a bit less handy for the traditional dial style camera. There is one dial on top which changes the shooting mode. I generally leave it on A mode (occasionally on M). I would like to see that dial dedicated to something more useful, like changing aperture or shutter speed.

Lens Ring. The RX100 has a nice, knurled lens ring. That ring can be set to use as a focusing ring for MF, a zoom ring (I use the electronic zoom on the shutter button) or – depending on which shooting mode you are using, to change aperture (A and M), or shutter speed (S). Another “niggle” I have with Sony is that this knurled ring (while smooth in use) turns too easily at the touch, and I find myself having to re-set my set aperture more often than I would like. I have gotten into the habit of checking that as I bring the camera up to my eye. But to my way of thinking, I shouldn’t need to be worrying about that. Settings should be, well, “set,” until I change them. Maybe more damping, or even a click stop might serve this well.

Rocker Dial. There is the traditional “joy-stick” rocker-dial on the back which makes other settings in those modes. It is generally well placed and damped and I haven’t had any issue with accidentally changing things with it when shooting (it is possible, if you carry the camera at your waist one-handed with your right hand, to move that dial, however).

There are also dedicated and programmable function buttons. The Sony menu system has begun to be more consistent, and it is very similar to the system on my a7 (and on the alpha x000 series).  A review of that is beyond the scope of this review and others have done it well already.

LCD Screen. The RX100iv has a very nice, articulating, 3” diagonal LDC screen. It is hi resolution and reasonably useable even in sunny conditions (though I rarely use it). I recommend only 4 accessories for this camera. One of them is a screen protector. This camera is going to get scratched up, particularly if you pocket it. The screen protector is a worthwhile investment (the other two are a small arca swiss plate for tripod use, a remote trigger, and the hand-grip, whose mileage may vary).

Flash. The RX100iv has a popup flash. Like most P&S flashes, it has limited utility and strength, as well as being mounted on the body, causing the probability of red-eye. I have not looked into the use of external flashes, or whether it is even feasible (other than remotely triggered flashes).

Tripod Use. Those who know me know I have preached and preached (and then preached some more) about the virtues of a good tripod. I carry 2; both carbon fiber and both fairly expensive (not to brag, but to point out that for the perceived utility of this accessory, really good ones are just darn expensive). There is a tripod socket on the body. I have a very small arca-swiss type dovetail plate with a small ridge on it that grips the back of the body to resist twisting. I have used the camera on a tripod and obtained results I could not have otherwise. The image of Tokyo Tower, at night, was taken from a tripod, through a hotel window.  It would be impossible to do this handheld.

Tokyo Tower Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Tokyo Tower
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Remotes. One disappointment for me has been Sony’s implementation of remote triggering. On the a7, I cannot use a wired remote without removing my L-plate, which essentially defeats the purpose of having an L-plate in the first place. I have had to resort to a wireless remote. They are quirky, and I struggle with getting it not to try to re-focus. But I have figured out the workaround.  Now, I find that I cannot use the wireless remote on my RX100. So I carry the wired remote for that and the wireless for the a7. So much for consistency within brand.  But these issues are minor, in light of the overall utility of this very small, very estimable camera.

Battery Life

In three words: not very good. But there is good news. The batteries are quite small (much smaller than DSLR batteries), and aftermarket versions seem to be just as good as the OEM battery. So I just carry extras and keep them charged. Won’t quite get a day’s shooting in on one battery (the way I shoot).

Things I would like to see in a newer software version: a battery and card “warning.” I know they are already there visually, but only if you have that screen turned on. If you are in the heat of things, its disconcerting to find the “decisive moment” and get the message “battery exhausted” or “card full,” and have your camera rendered essentially useless.

Another thing that I have found disconcerting is that the battery “meter” on the back screen of the camera is not particularly accurate.  Recently, I took my cam to an event and when I checked, the meter told me my battery was at least 75%.  When I went to use it, I got barely 2 shots before it was down to nothing and “exhausted.”  One think I have learned about these batteries.  If you leave them in the camera for an extended period, they will be exhausted, regardless of what the “meter” says.  Always start out with a freshly charged battery.

“Bells and Whistles”

My working gestalt when it comes to cameras is that they are a tool.  At its heart, this may be as good a small “tool” as I have ever owned.  The essential part of the camera is a pretty simple mechanism:  it gives us the ability to expose on a sensor, and the ability to control the variables of that exposure.  All of the other stuff is “bells and whistles.”  We have come to take AF (autofocus) for granted, and as my eyes continue to age, I find it a necessity.  I like the ability to set the camera to Aperture Priority or Shutter Speed Priority, but that is really just a convenience from the essential setting — manual.  And you really cannot effective use AP or SP unless you understand how to use Manual Exposure.

At its heart, this may be as good a small “tool” as I have ever owned

Like all modern digital cameras (and I really wish we had a choice to exclude much it what comes next), this camera is packed with bells and whistles for the less experienced or less sophisticated user (that’s my own view anyway).  And in my opinion, if you come within this latter category, the RX100iv is way too much camera for you!  It has the (apparently) requisite “Auto” and “Program Auto” settings, and within the menu, a myriad of “scene” settings.  For the life of me, I don’t see what a serious shooter would ever do with those settings and thus – would rather have them gone, have a simpler menu, and more effective use of the dials. :-).

These cameras all seem to have in-body HDR and Panoramic Settings.  Interesting, but essentially useless to me (and many other shooters) because they default to — and only work in — jpeg mode.  To my way of thinking, all advance cameras are bloated with this stuff in my oh, so humble opinion.:-)

Panoramic; Florence, Italy Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Panoramic; Florence, Italy
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

I was intrigued with the panoramic feature, and during our trips had 3 or 4 opportunities to capture a panoramic shot.  Since we never had time for me to set up a tripod and take the series of raw images necessary to stitch together in Photoshop later, I tried the in-camera feature, knowing I would have jpeg captures to work with.  It is basically disappointing.  First, it is set up only to take the image in “landscape” mode.  When stitching panos, most of us take our series in “portrait” format in order to have more top and bottom to crop and work with when perspective correcting.  Second, the in-camera perspective correction is almost non-existent.  My images have a pronounce curvature, and would take some pretty series surgery to fix.  Not anything I am willing to spend a bunch of time on.  I have found some very limited usefulness for that here (illustrations in my blog in very small image sizes).  If I am going to shoot a panoramic that I really want as a “keeper,” I will be taking a series of portrait-orientation shots and stitching them in PS.

Accessories

As much of a gadget guy as I am, I have learned that the old saying, “less is more,” is apt here.  The less you have to carry, adjust, attach, care for and think about, the more you can focus on your goal of making pictures.  On this camera, I have kept it to a minimum of 4 items.  I put the extra grip (it is very small, like the camera, and doesn’t interfere in any way with the camera – including pocketability) on mine.  That will be largely a matter of personal choice.  I have an arca swiss style plate for my tripod head, and a wired remote for tripod shooting.  I put a screen saver on the LCD.

There are other accessories (for example, I purchased a kit to install a polarizing filter.  It seems pretty “Rube Goldberg” to me and I doubt that I will use it).   There are add-on “telephoto” and wide angle attachments.  But the beauty of this little camera is that it is simple to use, yet has all the capability serious shooters will want to make creative images — without any accessories.

Conclusion

It pays to remember, here, what a very good friend of mine once said about equipment.  Every single piece of photographic equipment out there is a compromise.  There are minor things I miss about the NEX-6.  That wonderful f1.8 Zeiss lens is the biggest thing.  The ability to interchange lenses might be another.  While in Japan, I can identify two specific instances where I would have liked to pop a telephoto on.  But only two out of several hundred images is not bad, in my view — and an acceptable compromise.  There are – for sure – going to be times when “more camera” (i.e., a full frame or larger sensor and interchangeable lenses) is going to be warranted.

But I have now taken over 2,000 images with my RX100iv.  I am pretty well satisfied that it was a great choice for a general purpose and travel camera.  I think that if you are an experienced and serious photographer who travels or has a use for a smaller format camera — this is one you should look very hard at.

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