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Part V; Fundamental Changes

As I write this, it is amazing to me that I have been shooting with my current Sony system now for 10 years! It seems like only yesterday that I made the momentous complete switch to a new system and brand.

Fundamental Changes – 2007 to Today

Cameras.        During the foregoing time period, I owned a handful of small, “Point & Shoot” digital cameras. At first, it was the only affordable alternative, and for some of our personal use (travel, family events, etc.) was convenient to be able to shoot digitally, and then upload, send, and post images. We started with a Canon < 2megapixel model we ordered on QVC. It didn’t have a viewfinder and I always found that awkward. We used it some, but it wasn’t my personal cup of tea. Not sure what ever happened to it.

Nikon Coolpix 5000

  • Nikon Coolpix E5000.  In 2001, I purchased a Nikon model that was more suited to my liking, the Nikon Coolpix E5000. With a 5 megapixel sensor, a 28-85mm equivalent lens, a viewfinder, and raw capability, I was able to do a lot of what I was trying to do with digital capture. And, as you can see from the image although it was smaller than an SLR body, it was substantial, and had somewhat familiar controls for a Nikon SLR-user. All non-DSLR digital cameras back then had an unfortunate “lag” from the time you depressed the shutter and the actual capture. This was frustrating, though I did learn to capture action by using the burst mode and starting before I thought it would happen and continuing until after. With a very small sensor, there were also some limits to the image quality, and significant noise in low light conditions or high ISO images. I traded this one in when I bought the D100 DSLR.
  • Canon G12.  During the time I was shooting DSLR equipment, I wanted a small camera for convenience, daily carry, and travel. But I was only interested in one that would meet certain demanding standards: namely, high image quality files and raw capture/save capability. My research indicated that in the point and shoot line, the one camera that continued to stand out was the Canon G series. In 2012, I purchased a 10 megapixel G12, and shot that for a number of years. But as the DSLR lineup – and my personal ability to own them – got better, the point and shoot cameras were relegated to only occasional use. What they did have was the convenience of small size. The G-series were truly pocketable cameras. And that, we will see, drove my next phase of gear in a huge way.Both the Coolpix and the G12 had electronic viewfinders. Unlike the old 35mm viewfinder cameras that folks like Alfred Steiglitz made famous, the electronic viewfinders were electronically “linked” to the lens, so that it mimicked the look of an SLR “through-the-lens” viewfinder. Sort of. The were grainy, black-and white-ish, and not really a great representation of the scene. But the still beat – in my view – the LCD screens on the backs of consumer point and shoot cameras (a feature that these days comes on all cameras, including DSLRs). They weren’t great and they didn’t give the user experience the DSLR did. But technology marches on.

Canon G12

  • Sony NEX-6 – The Segue.     By 2013, we had begun to do a fair amount of travel. When it was a “dedicated” photo trip, lugging a bunch of gear seemed to be part of the mystique of the experience. And other items were held to the minimum necessary. It was a given that we would be checking bags. Most often those trips were with my buddy, Rich and involved just the two of us and our gear.

    Sony NEX-6

But my wife and I had also begun to take more extended trips, including some cruises, and some trips to faraway places. Sometimes it would be just us, and other times, we would join friends and/or family. Lugging photographic equipment (and even finding time to shoot in the best light) became a challenge. And even when we did travel, lugging the DSLR body and zoom lens around started to become a bit of drudgery. And because I was with a group and traveling more socially, so to speak, the shooting was less planned, the excursions less photography dedicated, and the time to focus on shooting curtailed. So I started thinking about alternatives. I needed something small, portable and relatively non-intrusive, while at the same time, rendering the image quality and giving me the setup flexibility I was used to.

I “met” pro shooter Ray Laskowitz years back on the old Nikon Professional Message board sponsored at AOL. Ray was always generous with advice, very knowledgeable about his craft and the equipment surrounding it, and very factual in his approach. We remained friends over the years, long after the AOL boards became nostalgic history. We e-mailed from time to time, and I was expressing my thinking about a “lighter” travel rig. I had “stumbled” upon the Sony NEX “mirrorless” interchangeable lens cameras, and in particular the NEX-6 and 7 models. When I raised that with Ray, he told me had had been shooting with a couple of the NEX-7 models for some time and was very impressed. He encouraged me – for numerous reasons – to give the “small camera” a try. At the time, I owned Nikon’s estimable D7000 (arguably the best and most popular APS DSLR they ever made). The image quality, even in low light situations was excellent. The APS sensor in the NEX-6 was said to be the very same sensor as the D7000 sensor (or very close). So I traded the D7000 in for a used NEX. That camera was my first introduction to mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras; and to Sony. I was dually (see what I did there?) impressed. In fact, I can say it is one of the few cameras I have owned, that I truly regret not keeping. It sold me on Sony and what they were doing in the photographic world.

Japanese Maple Leaves
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The NEX-6 generally sold as a kit with a Sony 15-50mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens. It was frequently discounted by writers and critiques as not a very good quality lens. I found it to be of very good quality and very versatile. And it was small! The entire rig was reminiscent of the old viewfinder cameras. Two other things got me excited about my new find. First, the new electronic viewfinders were (are) amazing. They are full color, and it is virtually indistinguishable from looking through the through-the-lens prism viewfinders I had grown so used to. And, because they were fully electronic, they could be programmed to work in what we might call “real time.” As you change the exposure solution (shutter speed or aperture) the viewfinder can actually darken and lighten, simulating what the exposure might really look like. I have now grown so accustomed to these electronic viewfinders, that when I pick up a DSLR, it often confuses me as I make changes and nothing seems to happen. The second think was that Sony entered into a partnership with the acclaimed Zeiss Optical Company. This meant that they were manufacturing lenses with Zeiss specs, under Zeiss supervision, and also that Zeiss was manufacturing lenses that were designed to mount on Sony Cameras. The 24mm f2.8 Zeiss lens I shot on this camera had the most amazing bokeh of any lens I have ever owned. The Japanese Maple was in my front yard and I took this image with the NEX-6 – Zeiss 24mm combo shortly after rain one morning. The daylilies were also shot in my front yard with this combo. Keep in mind that on the APS sensor, the 24mm appears more like a 35mm in terms of 35mm film/sensor size.

Sony NEX-6; Sony-Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens

  • Sony A7 ILCE.  I probably should have been satisfied with the NEX-6. But I was hung up on the thought that I “needed” so-called “full frame.” So I shot with my Nikon D800 for a while as my primary camera. Having the pro Nikkor lenses was also partly a motivator. But I remember doing some side-by-side comparison shots at one point and not being able to say the Nikkor pro lens was any better than the Zeiss. I may have had my own bias by then, but I preferred the Zeiss look. But wanting the “full frame” for image quality, I waited until Sony introduced the first “full frame” mirrorless camera, the A7. I took a leap of faith, and traded my entire bag of Nikon gear in for the A7, the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4 zoom, and the Sony 70-200 f4 zoom. The entire setup is smaller and lighter. In 20/20 hindsight, I gave up an awful lot in those two stops of aperture – not so much in versatility – but in the loss of the really nice blurred backgrounds the wider apertures provide. And in 20/20 hindsight, I was also amazed at just what great bokeh a quite wide angle lens on a much smaller sensor size produced in the APS-matched 24mm Zeiss. Those extra stops of aperture on the wide end are truly enviable. I have never been able to reproduce that with my current gear (even with a 50mm 1.8 Sony lens on the A7 – its just not Zeiss optics). I am not saying I regretted the change. I did like the smaller, lighter setup, and the A7 (now a pretty old model) is a quality piece of equipment.But my buddy, Rich, a couple years later, asked about making the same switch and I told him for our shooting styles, I wouldn’t do it again. He had an identical setup to mine at that point (a D800, the same two pro Nikkor lenses, as well as my old Tokina ATX-AF 300 f2.8 and a nice Sigma 24-70 zoom).  This reflection was particularly in light of another shooting change I made shortly after buying the A7.

Sony A7

Over time, I have come to feel that in today’s world, with my presentation needs, I really didn’t need “full frame.” And, at the same time, the quality of every part of digital technology continues to improve. But APS would have been fine, and if I could turn back time, I would have kept the NEX-6 and concentrated on lenses.

Sony RX100-iv

  • Sony RX100.    I carried the A7, with the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 on the next 2 or 3 major trips we took. It packs nicely as the footprint is substantially smaller than the D800 and Nikkor 24-70. It is also much lighter. But not enough that it still seemed like an anchor much of the time. I started looking at the point and shoot cameras again. And they had come a long way. by 2015, Sony was, into its 4th iteration of its RX100 camera. Measuring 4″ x 2.25″ x 1.75,” it is a truly pocketable camera. It extreme quality build gives it some heft, but it is still a far cry from the bigger cameras. It sports a Zeiss f1.8-2.8 lens with optical image stabilization and a 24-70 35mm equivalent zoom. The smallish sensor was newly designed to improve the size of the exposure surface and reduce noise. It is fully capable of raw capture, as well as pretty much everything the A7 can do.  So, 24-70. Zeiss. Raw. Less than half the size body and miniscule lens. See where I am going with this?Of course, image quality would be the biggest test. Again, I sought Ray Laskowitz’s advice. Again, perhaps not coincidentally, he laughingly told me how he had just come home the day before to find a box for him holding the RX100. He had no hesitancy about the quality issues – so of course, I bought one. And never looked back. I have an Epson inkjet professional printer capable of making gorgeous 13″ x 19″ prints (longer in landscape with roll paper). I took a similar flower image to one above, and printed it on my inkjet, side by side with a print made from an A7 “full frame” file. I couldn’t see the difference. In a few weeks, I would be making the trip of a lifetime; to Japan for my son’s wedding. We spent 3 days in Kyoto and the balance in Tokyo, and I took just the RX100 and a small tripod. During the entire week I can think of only one instance where I wish I had my longer lens. The image quality on this little camera is amazing. On family travel, I haven’t carried any other camera since, and that includes a couple trips to Europe.I am not ready to fully give up the bigger gear, and still carry and use it on dedicated photo outings. So, you will see here and on my SmugMug site, that my primary camera is the A7, with the RX100 as my backup/travel camera. It has made my luggage needs much smaller and lighter. And, if the economics supported it, I wouldn’t hesitate to move to the NEX-6 or equivalent, along with some of the lenses, as my primary camera. My buddy, Rich did exactly that last year.

Lenses.  Lenses and size drove my current equipment lineup.  Though I have had the good fortune to have a couple really nice lenses in the lineup over the years, until I finally moved up to the Nikkor “pro” zooms, lenses had always been a bit of a compromise in my bag. The closest I came was probably the Tokina 300mm f2.8, which was arguably as good as the Nikkor equivalent. Piece for piece, high quality optics are the most expensive component of the system. And the larger the medium, the more costly it is to produce high quality optics with wide apertures. It is more difficult and expensive to produce a 35mm lens than the equivalent Point & Shoot size or even the equivalent APS size.

That all changed with the NEX-6. I had read and heard about two legendary optics: Leica and Zeiss. I wasn’t necessarily a believer. But I was able to purchase the 24mm Zeiss lens used for a pretty good price and after some research, wanted to give it a try. Even on the smaller sensor, it is/was amazing. I can say without a doubt that it was my favorite of any lens I have ever owned. It got lots of use, along with the 15-50 “kit” lens. Sadly, I no longer have it.

Sigma made a couple lenses for the Sony E-mount (the NEX mounting system) that were really inexpensive and some of the sharpest lenses ever made. At one time, B&H had a BOGO deal on the two of them – a 30mm f2.8 and a 19mm f2.8 and I picked them both up for $199. Needless to say, I had some fun shooting with the NEX-6 lens combinations.

When I bought the A7, I traded the Nikkor gear. I matched up as close as I could at that time, with the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 and the Sony 70-200. In terms of build quality, They are both as nice as any Nikon I ever owned. They both AF quickly and quietly. They are marginally smaller than the Nikkors. But they are also 2 stops slower which helps account for the size. As small and compact as the A7 body seems, the good lenses are all disappointingly large and heavy. For working photography, I have liked them fine and believe they render good, sharp images.

One of the “draws” of the Sony camera was the fact that Zeiss has a continued comittment to make their own proprietary lenses in the Sony mount (E for APS and EE for “full frame). There are a couple Zeiss lenses out there that I might like to own some day. But I just paid off all my mortgages and car loans, and am not sure I want to mortgage the house. As was historically the case, the Zeiss lenses are expensive! Time will tell.

I did purchase – more recently – two lenses. Each had a specific purpose. The first was a Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens. It is fully mechanical and was purchased primarily to engage in some night time photography – particularly of stars and the Milky Way. I have not really dedicated the time and effort to that yet, but it is on my “to do” list.

The second, was the Sony 50mm f1.8 lens. That was done specifically to try to achieve some of the bokeh effect I had been able to create with some of my prior gear. Again that one needs some sorting out and use. Stay tuned on that one.

Medium.  This is an area where nothing really changed. Digital is obviously here to stay, and the change will come in capture technology and quality. Today, we are seeing iPhone images that probably weren’t possible with my D100. That is technology. That is good, in my view.

Doodads. The same factors that influence my gear changes effected this area. I happily shot with the Induro Carbon Fiber tripod for a few years. It was very rigid, light, and easy to use. My body height needed that length it offered. But it was really a bit of a travel hassle. Even in my checked bag, It would only fit with the head removed (not a huge deal). But for the type of travel I was becoming accustomed to, it was just too bulky. And with the RX100, it was massive overkill. With a smaller camera, in general, I was able to get by with a smaller tripod. And there were times and places I just could not go with the big legs.

Around 2010 – 2011, I began searching for a very small tripod that I could use in a pinch on any of my equipment. I ultimately found a carbon fiber legset with a very small ball head and a reasonable price tag. For a short time, I used an aluminum tripod from a company (owned by Induro) called MeFoto. It was – ironically – slightly larger than the carbon fiber model I now have – and not quite firm enough to do the job. I ultimately gave this to my daughter.  The model I purchased is the Sirui T-025. It is perfect for the RX100, and I have used it on a rig as big as my Nikon D700 full DSLR with a fairly heavy 28-300 lens, to shoot the San Francisco skyline on a windy night on Alcatraz (sounds like a song). The link is to my 2012 blog describing this great little tool. The folded length of this little ultralight gem is under 12 inches. Of course it is not going to extend up to my full 6’1″ of height. Life has its compromises. 🙂

Years back my decision was Bogen vs. Gitzo. Today there are 100’s of brands of carbon fiber tripods available and many of them are quality-built at reasonable prices. I was impress with the build and price point of the Sirui equipment, and so, in 2014, purchased a larger Sirui to replace the Induro. I was looking for a smaller folded size and was able to move to a slighlty smaller and lighter build model, because of the size and weight of equipment I was supporting. Many of these new tripod have a design in which the legs fold back over the main part of the tripod, making their folded height smaller. My regular tripod is the Sirui M3204X. There are 4 leg sections, which does compromise the stiffness a bit (though I often only use part of the lowest section). But it also makes for a shorter folded length. With the same folding design as my smaller model, this one is under 21 inches (with the ballhead attached). I changed my head recently, which may require removal for packing, but the 21 inch tripod legs will actually fit in a carry on bag (though I am not necessarily likely to do that). If you can sense a pattern here, I am trying to go smaller whenever possible.

Bogen Tripod with 3-way head

My first Bogen tripod had a 3-way adjusting head on it. Until ballheads became popular, that was the common configuration. That head itself weighed more than my bigger Sirui tripod. With long handles for adjustment, it was cumbersome, and of course it sported that clunky Bogen quick-release setup. The primary reason I moved to ball heads was to acquire the dovetail quick release system. But I always missed the 3 way head. For my kind of shooting, when I am using a tripod, I am almost always shooting stills. I usually have plenty of time to make adjustments. The ballheads have two drawbacks that annoyed and occasionally frustrated me. First, any vertical and horizontal adjustments were made completely by hand. There is no indexing mechanism and it can be difficult to make very small adjustments. Second, unless it was a fairly large and very well constructed head, ballheads are susceptible to “ball drop.” In the best case, it meant you would work hard to get your composition, tighten it down, and it would still move a fraction – especially with a heavy lens. In the worst case, if you didn’t get it tightened down, the entire lens could slam down against a leg (of course, possible with a 3 way also – but less likely in my experience).

Ball Head with Arca Swiss type QR

Three way heads are much more positive. This is especially true with geared heads. I have always coveted a geared head. But until very recently there were two alternatives. One was ungodly expensive (Arca Swiss manufactured – $1,100 to 1,500), or Manfrotto (Bogen) with its quirky QR mechanism. The only way I could see around that was to “Rube Goldberg” a dovetail mount on a Manfrotto, and I wasn’t really ready to try that. Too bad, because the Manfrotto Jr. model looks very well built and comes quite reasonable (the Manfrotto is about #450.00 and the Jr. about $200). I find it surprising that it took this long to see an Arca Swiss mount geared head come on the market. But over that last year or so the Benro company (same parent company as Induro/MeFoto), finally release a very nice, cast magnesium, dovetail mount 3-way geared head at a $200 price point. Of course, I now have one :-).

Benro Arca-Swiss compatible 3-way tripod head

Finally, in the past couple years, I have been fiddling with electronics (Flash/controllers/remote controllers)

 

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My Photographic Gear Evolution – Part I

Recently, talking here about my original motivation, and my admission to being a “gearhead,” got me thinking about my personal “evolution” of photographic tools. I started to write “a” blog about it. Readers here know that I am not known for brevity, and nearly always break a sort of rule of blogging, which is to regularly and continuously post short, punchy material. Mine has always been more like a journal. Which means its long, among other things (and maybe boring and hard to hold the readers’ attention 🙂 ). Anyway, it became apparent that I could not do 40+ years in a single blog. So I broke this up into a 5-part (still very long) series. I hope you find it at least mildly interesting. Some of my older friends might have some parallel experiences.

The early years – 1977 – 1980

I won’t count the Kodak Baby Brownie, and various “Instamatic” cameras I used as a kid. The real attention to “gear” came in 1977, when I was about 20. It did start with a desire to make better images. My earliest inspiration was a college math teacher, who used a Nikon SLR (single lens reflex) camera. I was a broke college student with no budget for cameras – but I did remember that my dad had a couple boxes of gear in the big closet back home. So when I went home for Christmas, I went rummaging around, and ended up taking his “Asahiflex” SLR camera (which he hadn’t used for many years) back to college with me.

Asahiflex SLR Camera

Cameras.        The Asahiflex was my first camera capable of adjusting settings to achieve a desired result, rather than just pointing and shooting. As I have noted in my About Me section here, this was a camera that had absolutely zero “automatic” features. It had no built-in light metering capability, so I carried a handheld light meter. The lenses did not automatically stop down to the aperture selected. Rather, you focused and composed with them wide open, and then when ready to shoot, turned a lens ring down against the selected f-stop (if you forgot, you wasted a frame). And perhaps ultimately importantly to me, the viewfinder was a waist-level finder. This meant the use of the camera was more painstaking, and less convenient (there was an optical viewfinder, but in practice, I did not find it particularly useful)

None of this was a bad thing. In fact, if I ever taught a beginner class, I would like to have one of them for demonstration purposes. Manufactured by Asahi Optical Company, it was, I believe, the predecessor to the relatively famous and innovative Pentax Spotmatic SLR Cameras. Badged as “Asahiflex” in Asia, it was also sold through Sears and Robucks under the “Tower” brand name. My dad bought his in Okinawa. Lacking a lot of the built-ins, it was small, portable and a very well-built camera.

As I talked with and worked with other photographers, and spent times in camera shops (yes, they had those in most decent sized cities in the U.S. back in those days), I developed some envy for a more “automatic” experience. Of course, the meaning of that word would change by light years in just a very few, short, normal years. I liked the idea of having the light meter built into the camera, and the automatic “stop down” of the aperture. And, more than anything, I was drawn to the “through the lens” viewfinder.

Canon TX

Within months of my shooting with the Asahi, I purchased an entry-level Canon TX. Ironically, it was the only Canon SLR I would ever own, and likewise, the Asahi, the only “Pentax” I would ever own. There was really no strong motivation for my brand selection. There seemed to be 4 “players” out there (GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors J ). Kidding – but similar: Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Minolta. The biggest influence in my purchase was my local shop. They were a Canon dealer and that is what they pushed. I was pretty new at the gear thing, and we didn’t really have the access to the entire world market we do today. I kept the Asahi for many years, until sometime in the 2000’s my dad gave me permission to sell it to a collector (of course, to “finance” another gear purchase).

58mm Asahi Lens

135mm Asahi Lens

Lenses.            I had two “Takumar” lenses (a 58mm and a 135mm) with the Asahiflex. They were very high quality optics. Screw mount and and beautiful solid stainless steel construction, they were very small, but quite heavy. The 135 still brings in the $200 – 250 range on eBay. I am not certain why dad chose the 58mm as his “normal” lens. They did produce a 50mm, but strangely, it had a maximum aperture of f3.5, as opposed to f2.4 on the 58mm.

The Canon TX “kit” I bought came with a “normal” (50mm) f2.8 lens. Canon and Nikon have always been known for their optics, and the 50mm lens is perhaps one of the easiest to make and the most consistent quality optic. I worked mostly with that 50mm lens. But I immediately missed the 135mm lens. So, I found myself often shooting with both cameras in the early days. When I look at my archives, I am not certain I have a single image made with the Asahi, and a have perhaps a handful made with the Canon. That is a shame, but somehow, over life, they were lost (I didn’t have a very good archiving system in the early years).

Medium.         For anyone who just began photography in the 2000’s, “film” may seem like a whimsical, historical artifact. It was, perhaps cumbersome, having to buy it, load it into the camera, have it developed (which could be perceived as a messy, non-environmentally friendly process), and then sort through it and store. But in 1979, film is what we had. And an added plus, they came in these cool and useful little canisters. In the earliest years, they were aluminum, with a screw top. I wish I had a couple today.

Kodachrome 25 ASA Film

The “personal computer” (“PC”), was still a novelty that few could afford. My experience was with a mainframe computer that had “dumb” terminals (a keyboard and black and white tube monitor), in a different room than the computer (which was the size of a small station-wagon). We “coded” in computer language like “BASIC,” and FORTRAN, and saved our work on cassette tapes. The internet had not yet become available to the general public. There was really no “digital” photography.

In the early years, there was a limited variety. Film could be shot on a “reversal” type medium, designed to expose the “negative” of what would eventually be displayed (ironically, by a second “exposure” process), in print, and could be black and white or color. My earliest memories of color film was pretty drab. And there was one primary vendor – Kodak. Fujifilm, Agfa, and a couple others produced film, but Kodak was the clear market leader.

I learned from my first mentor, that color “positive,” or transparency film, was the preferred medium of outdoor and nature shooters, which was where my interests seemed to lean. Early on, I established an affinity for one of Kodak’s two most popular offerings, (Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome 64). I shot K-25 almost exclusively in the early years. Kodachrome 25 had an ISO (actually more popularly, ASA – at least stateside) of 25, which meant there was not a huge degree of versatility in shooting and light conditions. There were other transparency films, but Kodachrome seemed to me to have the most pleasing and natural look. So it is what I shot.

Doodads.        When I write, I usually have the online thesaurus open, because I try to find some other words, to keep from being overly repetitive. I found “doodads,” a word I haven’t heard in eons. I like it, so I’ll use it here. The first point, though, is that they really aren’t “doodads” at all. In most cases the accessories we often acquire as a second (or later) thought, are useful necessities – or close. My most common accessory was a polarizing filter – which is something I still value today. I had a kind of rickety old tripod, too. I was too learn, much later, however, that this was perhaps the most important tool, other than the camera, lens and medium, in a photographer’s bag.

Next . . . . . “The Nikon Years”

Big News in Mirrorless

During the past 30 days or so, both of the big camera companies, Nikon and Canon have announced their entry into the full frame, mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MIL) market.  I wondered it this was ever going to happen!  Without getting into the “white hat vs. black hat,” “Ford vs. Chevy” discussion, suffice it to say that there are a number of other players in the market, all of whom make some very estimable camera gear.  But it is difficult to argue that, over the past 30-40 years, Canon and Nikon have been the market leaders.  Consequently, when they do something, it usually get noticed.

I intuitively knew that the industry would eventually move away from the popular and ubiquitous DSLR, to the smaller MIL

I got “married” to Nikon in 1980, and we had a happy relationship until sometime in 2013.  I think by then, that I intuitively knew that the industry would eventually move away from the popular and ubiquitous Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), to the smaller MIL.  In 2013, after hanging around and watching Nikon, it became apparent that they had no intention of making a serious entry into the MIL marketplace.  Their eventual contestant, the Nikon 1,  offered no compatibility with the existing Nikkor lens line, and a sensor significantly smaller than the competitors and only slighly larger than the typical “point & shoot” (P&S) equipped sensor.  Disappointing for Nikon loyalists.

The NEX series by Sony, first introduced in 2010, signaled a commitment on their part to the MIL camera market.  The earliest DSLR consumer and “prosumer” cameras were equipped with a sensor smaller than the 35mm film cross-section which was the benchmark of Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras that were the most popular film cameras in use at the time, popularly known as “APS” sensors (eventually, technology allowed for affordable and useable sensors equivalent to the 35mm film cross-section.  These became know as “full frame.”  Cost and technology were factors.  The NEX line was one of only a couple mirrorless cameras that offered the APS sensor.  It was still a bit of an unknown at the time and what attracted me to Sony was the sensor that was the same as the one in my Nikon APS backup camera, along with Sony’s partnership with Zeiss lenses.

The “mirrorless” camera, of course, is not a new phenomena.  Rangefinder cameras were widely used by film shooters, even in the light of the popularity the SLR (single lens reflex) camera gained when it later hit the scene.  I was an SLR user.  Like the many other users, I liked the “what you see is what you get” view through the viewfinder (even though in most cases, it wasn’t 100 percent of what the lens actually captured).  But what really made/makes the new digital “rangefinder” cameras stand out, is the new electronic viewfinder (EVF).  Early copies were just not very good.  Today, I actually prefer the EVF.  One of the things I like is its ability to mimic the look through the lens as you stop down or open up, making your view brighter or dimmer (my Sony can override that if you find it disconcerting, but I have grown to really like it).

I know there are a lot of challenges to adding a new technology to very successful existing lines.  Lens mounts, lenses, and focusing technology are among them.  But given the inexorable growth of this camera platform, I have been surprised at the apparently sluggish progress both of the big guys have taken to this.  The recently announced entries by both of them come nearly 10 years later than the first popularly used MIL cameras!  I have thoroughly enjoyed the past 8 years of carrying much smaller, lighter gear in the meantime.

For those who waited patiently for Nikon or Canon, there may be a reward

For those who waited patiently for Nikon or Canon, there may be a reward.  Both of these bodies spec out pretty impressively.  For Nikon, this is only the second physically “new” mount they have designed for any of their interchangeable lenses (the only other one being the Nikon 1 mount).  By that, I mean that even though there have been changes over the years, every Nikkor lens is capable of being physically mounted on every Nikon interchangeable lens body (except for the Nikon 1).  Nikon has already also announce several new lenses (three of which, I believe, will be available yet in 2019) for its Entry, the Nikon Z series (currently, 6 and 7).

I am not sure what offerings Canon has – or will have for their new EOS R.  But both companies have adapters for their “legacy” SLR/DSLR lenses.  Again, in the case of Nikon, that should mean virtually any Nikon mount lens should mount on the Z series with this adaptor.  Of course, there is certain to be limits on functionality, depending on the age of the lens.  Not being familiar with Canon, I am not certain, but I am guessing there will be more limitations on which lenses will mount and which won’t.  But you should be able to use your professional glass on either of these models.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a workable thing.  I could see having one or more of the new lenses for a “travel” outfit, but still being able to use the pro glass for situations where you would be carrying the bigger equipment anyway.  For me, its too late.  I am perfectly happy in my new relationship with Sony.  For now.  🙂

Book Review: “Outdoor Flash Photography,” by John Gerlach and Barbara Eddy

Suggested

What this book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective, editing

Catching Up …..

Wow.  My last post was at the beginning of May, 2 full months ago. I guess I have fallen into one of those “lulls.” Nothing new and notable on the shooting front, and nothing much unique to say.

Over the winter, I played around with B&W and “painting.” I read several books on those subjects, and reviewed a couple of them. More recently, something got me realizing that I needed to renew my acquaintance with supplemental and artificial light; and particularly, flash – the stroboscopic variety.

New Gear and Flash …..

Several years ago, I made a monumental (for me, anyway) change in my “gear.” Having been “married” to Nikon for nearly 40 years, I made a complete changeover to Sony mirrorless cameras. The primary reason for my changeover was not creative or technical. It was convenience; and in particular, size and weight. Along the way, I discovered some creative and technical advantages. These are not really attributable to brand, but to “new” and to features. Every manufacturer seems to have certain areas they do better than anyone else. If only I could build my own ala carte camera.

One thing Nikon did better than anyone else (in my view) and Sony seems to do worse than anyone else (again, in my view) is flash. I got spoiled with Nikon’s creative flash system. You see, flash involves math, and there is very little about math that is either appealing or comes naturally to me :-). Nikon took the math out of it and let me not have to “think” about it. Maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.

A detractor for many of us is cost. Brand-dedicated flash units are ungodly expensive. As much as a good lens. And sometimes you want to use multiple units – as much, or more than the camera!  And, flash units are complex, and befuddling: right?

I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”

During my 40+ years of shooting, I have shot 98% natural light. I have, for sure, used flash (I even remember those big, blue, “lightbulbs” that bayoneted into a reflector on my Asahiflex, popped once and ejected – hot!). But I think it is time for me to start expanding my shooting, to include supplemental lighting.

So, I started reading. Always my go-to. And I learned that there are less expensive, after-market units out there (some good/some not so good).  Sure, they have compromises. My friend, Kerry Leibowitz, once said to me in an e-mail exchange, “everything about photography is a compromise. .. Everything.” So I am good with that. For 1/4 the cost (or less), I was able to find a Sony-compatible flash to play with.  Maybe I will review it at some point (after I understand more about it 🙂 ).

There is a lot out there to read. I am a book person. Hence, the review. But before I do, let me recommend the website, strobist. There is a huge amount of information, free for the reader, here. I have just begun to dig into it, but some would say it is all you need.  Me? I am still a book guy. I like to read and highlight and flag, and go back from time to time. I already had Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Flash Photography,” so I started there (I highly recommend two other Peterson books: “Understanding Exposure” and “Learning to See Creatively“).

There is some really good material.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version

So, The Book …..

Wanting to dig deeper, I started researching on Amazon. I have long known of John Gerlach, and his workshops, and the bulk of the reviews liked his book “Outdoor Flash Photography.” I had read some of his other books over the years, and was familiar with him, as he originally lived in my “backyard;” the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As many readers know, I have spent some time up there and my “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” is a guide to many of the wonderful shooting opportunities there. So I bought the book.

“Suggested” …..

This book is in my “suggested” category (meaning, I don’t necessarily believe every shooter should have or read this, but I have it, or have owned it, and found some useful material there). But what makes this a “suggested” book rather than a “recommended” book is largely editorial style, unfortunately. There is some really good material in there.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version.

As I looked at the different offerings, and the editorial reviews, I was struck at how often the description said something like, “demystifies” flash, or “contains unique material, not found anywhere else.” This book suggests that there is something unique about “outdoor flash photography,” and that there is no other resource out there that covers these topics.  But my research and experience demonstrates otherwise. To be sure, many, if not most of the resources out there have a heavy concentration on portraiture and even sometimes studio lighting techniques. But my conclusion is that there are some basic lighting principles that really apply to photography in general, and they are not that unique from genre to genre.

I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops

Need For Objective Professional Editing

Readers here know I am good at digression.  But I want to say something here, to put my “critical” (“Critical: expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work ….“) comments in context.  I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”  And you only need to go to their website to see that their imagery is first class, and their workshops well-attended and widely praised.  I had the fortune of bumping into one of their workshops a couple years ago, while shooting fall colors and researching locations for my own Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and introduced myself to John.  He is a very nice man, with an undoubted bank of technical and locational knowledge.  One thing that really impressed me:  neither he nor Barbara had cameras in-hand.  It was their workshop and they were there to be a resource to the attendees.  I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops!  I also studied nearly everything their own “mentors” (the late, Larry West, and John Shaw – both former Michigan residents themselves ) wrote and know the authors’ pedigree is estimable. Knowing this, I was mildly disappointed in this product.

What I was looking for was more of a hands-on, practical, experience-based text. How is “outdoor flash photography” different from “flash photography?” This book partially hits that mark, but it is a difficult path to get there! What the book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective editing. The term I would use to describe the current text is: “rambling.”

I would describe the author’s (while both John and Barbara are listed as authors, it is clearly primarily written in John’s voice) style as conversational.  Too conversational. It feels like maybe a day in the field, or in the lecture facility with John speaking. This style probably works well in person (he is said to be engaging and entertaining).  It doesn’t work in written form. As anyone reading here knows, I am all for an informal written presentation. But in written communication (especially instruction), there needs to be a certain level of formality, structure and organization. This book lacks that structure – in a way that makes it difficult to stay with it. Here are some specifics:

Style – The “conversational” style, as noted above, is off-putting. Sentences throughout the book are replete with misplaced modifiers, which I suspect is a matter of conversational usage, but is jarring when repeatedly read. This doesn’t affect the technical presentation of information, but it certainly makes it less effective. The frequent attempts at humor fall flat. Again, they probably work well as one-liners in an oral presentation, but they come across as borderline lame in a more formal, written text.

And words and phrases……..  I have always been a firm believer that good, strong writing and clear communication means simple, direct writing. It is good to vary word choice from time to time to make the writing less repetitive and more interesting (I use a Thesaurus frequently, when I feel that I have been repeating a single word too much). But the use of “big” words, or flowery phrases does not automatically make writing better or more interesting. Sometimes it is just best to say the word that applies in common usage – direct and simple. I have to believe that an objective, professional editor would eliminate the majority of these issues, and create a more straightforward, informative and readable text.

Relevance – Too often, the author wanders “off the reservation,” getting into totally irrelevant commentary which, while perhaps anecdotally interesting, takes us away from the subject matter of the book – flash photography. While some of it may have nominal relevance, a quick reference to it and “move on,” would be, in my view, much more effective. There is too much “Cannon vs. Nikon” philosophy, for example (I appreciate that these authors each use one of these systems, as do perhaps the majority of their audience, and surely there is some relevance to how these makers handle flash issues – but again, “just the facts ma’am” and then move on would be a good thing here). 🙂

Organization – The book is divided into 14 chapters. Respectfully, I do not believe there are 14 separate chapters of material here. I am not sure about publishing requirements and standards, never having personally done more than my own eBooks (which may not be models of clarity either). I have written enough to know that organization is not always an easy path, and there are always choices about how, where and when to present materials. But I truly believe this book could be condensed down to no more than 5 chapters. What we instead find here is a lot of needless (and I think, confusing) repetition.  In an effort to distinguish terminology and techniques, the author ends up repeating the same materials under different topics. The implication is that there is something different, and yet, there really isn’t (a great example is the segue from “fill flash,” “main flash” and “balanced flash.” After 3 long, repetitive chapters, it really boils down (and is implied, in my reading, by the book) that they are not really different categories. They are just applications of the flash fundamental that every flash exposure is composed of two exposures, one being the ambient light exposure and the other being the flash exposure. The rest is just understanding the relationships of the light sources, and how the technology in the units and cameras handle it.

There are many Positives …..

Having been critical, I have to say there are many positives to take away from this book. It is why I “suggest” it. I believe it is worth the work to slog through it and try to distill the very good information that is in there. I will go back and re-read, and take personal notes on this information and hopefully add it to my own kind of “field guide.” Here are some items I think are worthwhile information/tips from my first reading of the book:

  • The author gives one of the better explanations of how the strobe flash works, including flash duration, that I have read.
  • There are a couple comments regarding the use of flash when shooting waterfalls that I had not previously considered – particularly the ability to “freeze” water droplets while maintaining the “silky” look of the main waterfall in the image.  You can be sure I am going to experiment with that.
  • While most experienced users are aware of this, his explanation of how TTL in the flash unit relates to automatic and manual control of the camera was helpful.  He re-inforces why those of us who rely on “automatic” modes, because we don’t know better (or in my case, because we have become lazy), don’t get the results we expect.
  • There are some helpful tips on the placement of flash (particularly in close subjects) to maximize color and texture.

I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list

The Takeaway …..

The paperback cost just under $27.00.  Today, that is a rather modest cost for a full, published, hard copy book. So I certainly didn’t feel put off or cheated by the purchase. And there was enough in it for me to keep it rather then send it back. But it would not go on my list of “must own under any circumstances” books.

What I think might be a dynamite re-work of this book would be to have some heavy editing, drilling down to the relevant, useful information in the book, perhaps adding some more practical and experiential information, into a shorter and perhaps smaller format (think “field guide”). I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list.

Suggested

Your Perfect Camera

An old photographer friend and I used to discuss how we would build our dream camera body. He is a Canon user (and a Democrat; but I have long forgiven him for both) and I am a Nikon user. We could never agree, though, on whether it should be named a Nicanon, or a Canikon.

Though our discussions date back to the days of Kodachrome and Velvia, the “gear” part of the discussion would probably still be relevant today. One of the really cool things about buying a desktop computer from the manufacturer today it the degree to which you can customize your computer for your own needs. Our thinking was that a camera body could be offered much the same way Gateway or Dell offered their computers back in those days. A base “motherboard” today would translate into the sensor/processor combination. The base computer would translate into the maximum shutter speed and ISO ranges. Pretty much the rest, would be ala carte.

It’s fun to think about. I know what my ideal camera body would have. I would spend the $ on the (physically) largest sensor (not necessarily the most megapixels) I could get with a Nikon mount to fit all my current lenses (even if the sensor was larger than the proverbial 35mm I would give up the length factor—but unfortunately, it would probably cause vignetting problems, so the probably the current, D800 sensor would be the best I could hope for in today’s technology. I would have it housed in a D700/D800 style body, with a 100% viewfinder, and, if possible 100-8000 ISO range.

The rest would be my ala carte picks:

  • Mechanical, front access remote socket wired to accept the trusty, reliable and ubiquitous MC-35 remote release
  • DOF Preview Button on the bottom right of the lens mount (where it is on the D700)
  • Manual, AF-Priority, and S-Priority settings (no others; especially no “canned” shooting modes. Ugh!)
  • Raw and HIGH (only) Jpeg Setting, with a way to turn off the Jpeg setting so it cannot be accidentally accessed (no other “fine” or other size jpeg settings)
  • Mirror Up function
  • AF back button
  • Extra “Function” buttons (at least 2 would be nice)
  • User 1 and User 2 settings on the main dial (ala the D7000)
  • AF mode settings dial (ala the D7000)
  • Front and Rear Function Dials

I have no need for many of the other “bells and whistles” on the current body offerings. I don’t shoot video. I think it’s incredible that they have made such strides forward in video (I know some videographers who think it rivals dedicated video cameras). But it should be an ala carte item. I don’t use it; don’t want to use it, and most importantly, I certainly don’t want to pay for it. Nikon’s announcement of the new D600 is a great example. It was rumored that it was going to be in the $1500 retail range. I was set to pre-order. The actual, $2000 price tag gives me pause. I cannot help but wonder if they offered it without the HD video capability, which is prominently listed in the specifications, would it then have been able to hit the $1500 (or even less) price range?

Likewise, I have yet to see the utility of “live view” at least in terms of justifying the cost and of having it “clog” the controls and complicate the menu system. I appreciate that some are using it to their advantage. That’s why I like the ala carte idea.

I have always marveled at the fact that, in a so-called, pro-level body, the manufacturers would clog up the works with all of the “dumbed-down” features of P&S and consumer-level DSLR bodies, like “scene modes,” “action modes,” and the like. And automatic exposure modes seem to me to totally defeat the purpose of a higher-end tool like the “prosumer” and professional grade models offered by the manufacturers. I would specify only manual, aperture and shutter priority modes.

My thought would be for a stripped down, simple menu system with fewer controls that control only what we want and need as photographers.

Do-able? I don’t know. We would have to ask engineering. They would probably say no (which doesn’t necessarily mean it cannot be done, LOL). I don’t expect we will ever see it. I have no idea what it would do to manufacturing and marketing costs. And it would be difficult to accomplish through current distribution chains in which the vast majority of cameras sell through third party retailers and not direct from the manufacturer. But it’s fun to think about. What would be your ideal “modular” camera?

Size Matters!

Certainly, a hackneyed, old phrase, but in matters of digital photography, it is a fact. The size I am referring to is the digital sensor, but not megapixels; physical size. There are a fair number of parallels to the film-based systems we used before the so-called, “digital revolution.” But with digital sensors, there is a significant difference; technology. Very much like the computer industry, by the time the latest and greatest sensor hits the market, it is already “old technology” (there were major technological advances in film, too, over time, but they happened in a matter of years, rather than months).  This is a very technical subject that many others out on the net explain in technical and engineering details that I cannot begin to match.  This is a layman’s perspective.

The consumer camera began to drive new technology advances

The first digital cameras were adaptations of 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera bodies that were used to build digital imaging tools (today referred to as a Digital SLR; or DSLR). They had very small imaging sensors (significantly, smaller than the rectangular cross-section of a single 35mm film frame), and were capable of producing only around 1.2 megapixel (MP) images. They cost $20,000 to $25,000; not within the budget of most photo-enthusiasts.

Digital image-making brought a new phenomenon to the camera manufacturing industry. Suddenly, the consumer camera (we often refer to them as “point and shoot” or “P&S”), began to drive new technology advances which often first appeared in the consumer P&S cameras, only to be put into the higher-end “pro” cameras later.

Sensor Sizes Compared

How does this all relate to sensor size? The P&S cameras have a much smaller image sensor in them than the DSLR cameras and the newer Medium Format digital cameras that are now available on the market. I currently routinely carry and use 3 different cameras: a Canon G12 P&S, a Nikon D7000 “DX” sensor camera, and a Nikon D700 “FX” sensor camera.  As the illustration shows, there is a pretty remarkable difference in sensor sizes (if you would like to do your own comparison, I used this really cool tool to make this illustration). Especially when we can upload and view all three of these at relatively the same viewing size on our computer monitors, and—within reason—make similar-sized print images from all three. But there is a notable difference in the quality of these images.

Why did the original cameras not have a sensor identical to the 35mm film cross-section that those bodies were designed for? The answer is simple; technology and cost. The technology that continues to “knock our socks off” today was the most limiting factor back in the late 1980’s. The cost to manufacture even a 1.2 megapixel small physical sensor was prohibitive. A 35mm size sensor cost as much as 20 times the cost to manufacture the smaller sensors. And while over time manufacturers rapidly designed and manufactured sensors holding many more photo-sites (hence, more megapixel capture capability), the cost to manufacture larger physical sensors remained expensive. This explains why the cost of the so-called “full-frame” DSLR is still substantially higher that a higher megapixel DSLR with the smaller sensor.

Why weren’t the original sensors identical to the 35mm frame size?

Megapixel Wars.  For the first 10 to 12 years after the introduction of the consumer-affordable DSLRs, there was a huge emphasis—and indeed a “race”—for more and more megapixels. Megapixels translated in many people’s minds into higher quality. There is some truth to this, but it is only part of the story.   When I talk about “size” here, I really mean the physical size of the sensor, more than the number of megapixels.  As Thom Hogan recently noted in his D800 review, the megapixel increases are linear, not geometric.  In other words, the 36 megapixel sensor in the D800 does not create images 3 times larger than the D700’s 12 megapixel sensor (in fact, Hogan estimates that the increase from the D700 to the D800’s image sizes are about 70%).  The arguably more important part of the story is the quality of those megapixels.

My first DSLR was the Nikon D100; a 6 megapixel camera. My “upgrade” to the D200 was 10 megapixels. My current “pro” model D700 is a 12 megapixel camera; while my “backup” D7000 is a 16 megapixel camera. Logically, it would seem that the progression from D100 to D7000 kept getting me to the best sensor. But that is not the case.  The older, 12 Megapixel D700 sensor still yields a much higher “quality” image than the 16 Megapixel D7000 sensor.

You might think that the progression from D100 to D7000 kept getting me to the best sensor. But that is not the case

At the time I bought the D100, there were point and shoot cameras available with higher than 6 megapixel counts. But I could still produce a cleaner, better quality image with the D100 that could be printed larger (I have 13 x 19 prints of images made on the D100 that are indistinguishable at that size from prints made from D700 12 megapixel images). Nikon’s newest “entry-model” consumer DSLR is the D3200, which is a whopping 24 megapixels (only the pro D800 beats it with 36 megapixels – the largest megapixel DLSR available at this writing). One would think it should make “better” images than the only 12 megapixel D700. But it cannot even come close!

The primary reason for this is size. You can readily see the difference in the image sensor sizes of my 3 current cameras. And the number of photo-sites that are packed onto the sensor and the size of the photo-sites make a huge difference in the quality of the image produced. This is most obvious in the low frequency (shadows and low light) side of the digital photographic equation.

Cruise Dock; Port Everglades, FL
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Noise.    When a sensor captures light it is converting light to electrical signals and certain “stray” signals can produce a grain-like pattern or effect in an image that is referred to as noise. This noise is largely created by low frequency signals (often the product of low-light conditions), but also by heat and other anomalies in the electronic processor. A small sensor, with many photo-sites packed onto it can create more degrading noise than a larger sensor. It can generate and accumulate more heat because it has less area to dissipate the heat energy. At the same time, the larger photo-sites are capable of capturing more and better detail, yielding a better quality digital image. These higher quality “raw” images, in turn, yield much better files to work with in the post processing stages. The image here, taken at the Princess Cruise Terminal in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in the early morning hours, demonstrates this. The noise is simply un-manageable. The same shot, taken with the D700 would have been salvageable.

G12                                         D7000                                         D700

Angle of View.    Another controversial area over the years has been the concept often referred to as “crop factor,” or “magnification factor.” When manufacturers began making digital interchangeable-lens camera bodies, they simply adapted the current, 35mm SLR body. While one might wonder why they didn’t just design and build a new “digital” body, the most obvious answer is probably again based on economics. It was probably much less costly to adapt the 35mm SLR body. And, it meant not having to create a completely new lens mount and require all of us to buy a whole new series of lenses. They had a ready-made consumer, just waiting to purchase the DSLR and use their existing lenses.  The composite above is shots from the same tripod position, taken a 140 mm on all three cameras, at their maximum aperture.  The G12 is obviously with its built-in lens.  The Nikon is with a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom.

The “crop factor” / “magnification” debate doesn’t really matter

The first sensors were significantly smaller in cross section than the 35mm film frame. The SLR lenses were designed for the larger 35mm cross-section. So, the sensors only used some of the inner part of the lens circle, effectively “cropping” the outer part. The effect of this was to create a narrower angle of view. The appearance is a “telephoto effect.” The practical effect was that you lost your wider angle and “gained” a longer view on all of your lenses, by a factor of 1.3 or 1.5. Because these sensors were similar to the size of the (largely failed) Nikon Pronea APS film camera, they came to be known as “APS” size sensors (Nikon has since denominated their “APS” sized sensor as a “DX” sensor).

There is no such thing as a “full frame” camera

There has been a considerable amount of debate and even “flame wars” on the internet over this concept. It really doesn’t matter. The debate is, for practical shooting, silly. The reality is that if you have a wide angle lens, on an APS sensor, it just won’t view or capture as wide. Conversely, if you have a longer lens, you get a longer angle of view on the entire sensor, effectively increasing the “telephoto” effect of the lens. Depending on your intended use, this can be a good thing or a bad thing (I actually made my recent backup decision to buy an APS size sensor partly on the premise that it would give me slightly more length for certain wildlife shooting).

Likewise, the controversy over whether a camera is or is not “full frame” is non-productive. But I’ll weigh in anyway :-). There is simply no such thing as a “full-frame” camera. I know that might draw some debate, but it is just a reference point. To a lifelong 35mm shooter, “full frame” means 35 mm (24mm x 36mm). But to a Medium Format or View Camera user, that’ hardly “full.” Indeed a View Camera 8 x 12 sheet of film makes a so-called “full frame” 35mm look like what it really is: a Postage Stamp! Again, it’s a reference point. To my way of thinking, the larger the better.

But there are practical considerations. When I bought my 6 megapixel APS frame D100, I carried a couple 2G flash cards around. With my 12 megapixel “full frame” (Nikon refers to their 35mm size frame as “FX”) D700, I use 8G cards. With the new D800 36 megapixel FX sensor, I don’t even know how large the cards would have to be. And with each of these increases in file size, an equal increase in hard drive storage and computer processing power (memory) is needed. At some point, it may become overkill. When Nikon announced their Flagship D4, at “only” 16 megapixels (same as the D7000 consumer body), many of us thought it might signal the end of the megapixel wars). But they have since released the D800 FX 36 megapixel body. Interestingly, the D800 is the “entry-level pro” camera and the D4 is the flagship pro body at a significantly higher price point (suggesting that a lot of working pro’s don’t consider the megapixel issue significant anymore at 16 megapixels). I cannot personally see a need for more than double the capacity of my D700 which creates some splendid digital images, in low light conditions.

It is difficult or impossible to get those pleasing out of focus effects on a point and shoot camera

Canon G12; 140mm; f4.5

Depth of Field.    Interestingly, sensor size also affects depth of field. This is analogous to the film reference above (as was the comment about “full frame, Medium and Large Format). It relates to the field of view and image size geometry. I am not capable of explaining the science, here and will leave it to more capable persons. But as a general rule, the smaller the sensor, the greater the depth of field for a given lens focal length. This explains why it is difficult or impossible to get those pleasing out of focus effects on a point and shoot camera.  As you an see, the G12 image, which is shot at its longest focal length and its widest aperture, still captures the background in reasonably sharp focus.  On the D700, everything is blurred except the main subject (of course a big part of that is the wider aperture).

Nikon D700; 140mm; f2.8

In the end, it is still first and foremost, about quality! When the consumer affordable DSLRs first came on the market, there was an immediate hue and cry for a “full frame” (i.e., 35mm size) sensor. The main reason, I believe, was because those of us used to using 35mm didn’t like the change required when thinking about and using our existing lens arsenals. I bought an 18mm lens and it solved my concern. Over time, the camera lens manufacturers have answered the call by designing lenses specifically for the APS sensor size. This has created some of its own issues, as we now have 35mm size sensors available. A “DX” lens on my “FX” D700 will have a big black vignette circle in the viewfinder, but will simply crop the image to the DX format. It just means we have to plan and think about what and how we are shooting.

My primary criteria for purchasing a camera will always be its sensor quality

When the D700 came out, I immediately decided to buy it. The sensor size really had absolutely nothing to do with it. I had “moved on” to the smaller sensor / lens combinations and had a bag of lenses that worked well for me. Buying the D700 made me have to re-think that and it was, frankly, in the short run, a nuisance to do so. Eventually I have sorted that all out. But my primary criteria for purchasing the D700 – and it will probably always be my primary consideration in purchasing any camera, was sensor image quality. And there is just no question on my mind that the camera I have in the bag that yields the highest quality image, is the one with the biggest sensor.

For lots more than you ever wanted to know about sensors, sensor size, and electronics, see Wikipedia and this DPreview page.

Book Review: Magic Lantern Guide to Canon G12

I am adding Book Reviews to the “Equipment” category. I have often referenced my considerable library of photo books and frequently reference and recommend particular books. Like all my equipment reviews, book reviews will by my opinion and obviously, subjective. I hope readers can use the information here to make better decisions about a book. All of the books reviewed here can be seen and purchased at my Amazon Store which is in the lower left marginal column on the blog. I get credit as an Amazon Associate if you “click through” my store when you order. I certainly appreciate any help I can get in that regard. As always, thanks for reading and following here!

RECOMMENDED

Magic Lantern Guide to G12 by Peter Burian

In February, I have the good fortune of taking a week-long Caribbean Cruise. For the first time in many years, I plan to carry only a point and shoot camera. I am not going to have any of my DSLR gear with me. I have worried that I will feel naked and inadequate with the big gear, but I am going to face my fears. 🙂 Anticipating that, I purchased a Canon Powershot G12, knowing I needed (wanted) some “pro” features even in a “casual” point and shoot (see, “My Review of Canon’s G12“). Thinking that since it is all I am going to have with me, I decided I needed to learn some of the details of the camera. Like so many electronics manuals, Canon’s G12 manual leaves a bit to be desired. So I headed to my local bookstore to find a third party guide. I settled on The Magic Lantern Guides series book on the G12.

We each “learn” in our own way. Some of us learn better by reading, some by listening, and others by a “hands-on” approach. My own tendency over the years has been to do my own reading and research, occasionally augmented by listening at seminars, watching video, and sometime-hands on learning. So, not surprisingly, my bookcase contains several feet of books on photography.

Similarly, teachers teach differently. In my experience, this means that it is rare that you will find one written resource that will have all the answers on a particular topic. No place is this more true than the so-called “manual” that comes with photographic gear. Because of this, writers and publishers have maintained a niche, producing third-party “manuals.” These tend to be a little more in-depth, and written in a more conversational style.

The book does exactly what I expect a Magic Lantern Guide to do

Over the past 20 years, I have found the “Magic Lantern Guides” series to be uniformly well-written and informative. So, when I purchase a new item (or sometimes when I am contemplating purchasing) of photographic equipment, I naturally look for the corresponding Magic Lantern Guide.

Canadian pro, Peter Burian has been an “internet friend” for many years. Peter is a working pro, teacher and writer for several photography magazines (including the Canadian publication, PhotoLife, where he is a regular contributor) and for the BetterPhoto.com online photography school. He has written the National Geographic Photography Field Guide, several Magic Lantern Guides. Peter has given me valuable advice on more than one occasion, both personally and in his numerous writings. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Peter authored the Magic Lantern Guide for the G12.

The book does exactly what I expect a Magic Lantern Guide to do. It clarifies and elucidates what is not very well done in the pdf manual that ships with the G12. Peter first gives us a comprehensive overview of the camera features. He then gives us his version of the “quickstart” section of the manual. So for those “hands-on” folks who want to fire up the camera and start shooting, he has that well covered.

One point that could be made more clearly is that many of the “cool” features and menu choices of the camera do not work when shooting in the raw mode

The balance of the books goes progressively into greater detail, covering the camera’s numerous shooting modes first, then the functions and how they are activated for each mode (the function button on the back of the camera allows you to set essential functions in each mode right on the back screen without switching to the more detailed menu system), and finally, covering the detailed menu system for camera settings. The book finishes by covering the camera’s flash capabilities, accessories, and bundled image editing software. Peter’s style is clear, conversational, and easy to read and understand.

One point that could be made more clearly is that many of the features and menu choices of the camera do not work when shooting in the raw mode. Granted, this is a “point and shoot” camera. But it is not an “everyman’s” P&S; it is in many ways, a pro-style camera, with pro-style features. I suspect that that means that many of us who are serious DSLR users and carry the G12 as a backup/casual/convenience camera will be shooting with the raw setting. Many of the “cool” features of the camera are limited to shooting jpeg files. The book doesn’t always make this clear, when discussing settings.

That these features do not work when shooting raw makes sense if you understand the nature of raw vs. jpeg. Raw files are essentially the electronic information captured by the camera’s sensor in its “raw”state. Raw files must be “interpreted” by software after they are transferred from camera to computer. Jpegs are rendered in the camera from the raw file data, using the camera’s onboard processor. For many reasons, some of us would rather use our more powerful and versatile computer software than rely on the arguably limited software in the camera over which we have only rudimentary and pre-conceived control (see, “Why You Should Shoot Raw“). So, things like changing the aspect ratio (which is essentially telling the camera to make an in-camera crop of the raw image—delivered at the sensor’s native size—and render it as a jpeg) just don’t work. I suppose it’s a fair argument to say that when you get to that level as a photographer, you really don’t need to use, or know about the “gimmicks” in the camera. Still, I would make that more clear.

I recommend this book as a good addition and perhaps carrying companion for any G12 owner

The book is nicely illustrated throughout, with images taken primarily by Peter, with the G12. His thorough familiarity with the Canon camera systems shows through the book. And perhaps best of all, the price is very reasonable! I recommend this book as a good addition and perhaps carrying companion for any G12 owner.

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