Quid, Me Anxius Sum?

Quid, Me Anxius Sum?

Some camera reviewers would  have me believe this.

I presently shoot with a Fuji and while most reviewer are positive about these cameras. Then they go on to say they are not up to the standards of professional use. What ever that is?  In fact it is not just the Fuji they diss, it is almost every camera that is not the flagship of a hand full of elite camera companies.

I could get all in a rage and ague point by point with these gear head geek reviewers, but what is the point.

Instead, lets examine American statistics as a metric. In America there are roughy 283 million people that take pictures on a regular bases.  On average they take slightly under 400 images a year. In fact most user their phones to snap those memorable moment.  The number that elect to use a dedicated camera is much smaller, roughly  38 million people.  Now 38 million is still a very large market but how does it compare to the Professional market?  There are 124,900 professional photographer in the United States ( United States Department of Labour) that make on average $31,710 annually with a growth rate at 3% (slower than average). So if you crunch the numbers the professional photographers makes up 0.34% of the total dedicated camera market.

Professionals buy, or should buy, equipment basted on a business strategy.  The rest of us should buy based on our desires and or financial needs.

Today’s cameras are so feature rich they would make the elite photographer of the past drool with envy.  The reason our  pictures are not as good as Addams, Breton, Capra is not because of poor equipment. If you really really want to improve you camera’s performance then take a course in basic photography. Learn about light and how to expose.  Learn now to compose.  Learn the mechanics of your camera and  how to shoot 100% Manually.  Learn about focusing, zone focusing, and  DOF. You can still shoot all you average stuff in Auto-Mode but lean how to take full control of your camera for those complex situations.

Most cameras take good pictures, that is a given, so buy a camera that feels right in you hands and makes you happy to own it.  Forget what the pro buy as they don’t pay your bills. As far as reviewers go, to paraphrase a quote “Reviewers are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

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SOC ISO 3200, f/1.2, 1/40 second, 56mm lens

SOC ISO 3200, f/1.2, 1/40 second, 56mm lens

So how good are the new digital cameras in low light?

Yesterday Nova Scotia had a storm last night and there were some power outages. We were at the farm preparing for a peaceful meal and the power went out. Luckily the stove was gas. My friend Louis was checking the sauce and I lifted my camera, an  X-T1. He joked “What is the point you can’t even see me?” In fact he was just about right as the only light came from two partially hidden, by pots, gas burners. All I had were those delicious faint blue lights that gives heat. The camera was completely set for Automatic and shot a quick one and we all laughed. The first version is take straight out of the camera and the second one is after a one button push (Auto) in Lightroom. Yes, the image is soft and grainy but the ISO was 3200 and the camera was hand held at 1/40 of a second considering all in all a very impressive results.

 In my film days I cold get an image but never ever could I get one this good, and I was very skilled in the darkroom.

Same image but with Lightroom Auto button clicked.

Auto adjusted in Lightroom

xf_56mm

 

Today, I let wants take over needs.

For those that know me know I prefer prime lenses. I have always needed a three lenses and never anymore than three,  although I have had many more they were just luxury. Most of the time I use a standard lens.   I do shoot lots of portraits so I have alway had  a mild telephoto lens.  Finally I do require a not to aggressive wide angle lens to get a bit closer, and have a bit more DOF.  Those three lenses, have formed the photographic tools I come to rely on.

When I bought my Fuji I did get exactly that but because cost was a consideration so I made compromises on my selections. Today I decided that I was in a position to treat myself and get the premium lenses.  Was it need? No, it was want and I did have enough so I could afford them.

 

xf_23mm

 

 

 

 

sillywalk_main

A lens is a product of a very complex piece of engineering science and every effort has been made to make it simple to use. When you select a desired Aperture and then match it to the appropriate Shutter and ISO combination and you will get a well exposed image.

While this sounds very easy the aperture selected  has a profound impact on the image you get.   At f/2.8 the focusing is much more critical and there can be lots of out of focus areas in you image helping to create and isolated subject.  At f/16 the focus is broader and your background can blend with you subject and helps to create more story telling image.

Now to up the complexity choosing different focal also have a great effect on your final image.  Wide angle lenses have a broad depth of field and there is an apparent distortion between closer objects looking bigger than more distant objects.  On the other hand  telephoto lens have a much shallower depth of field and objects in foreground and background become flattened.

In the hands of a competent photographer these become creative tool. The photographer decides what degree of of isolation they want and selects an appropriate focus length.  Move to get the right composition.  Then  select an appropriate aperture to fine tune the selectivity. This thought process works exactly the same wether you use primes and zooms.

The problem with zooms is that people, new to the art form, or those that get lazy and forget the rules, frame the composition using the zoom and lose all the other creative controls.

So how much extra work do you have to do by zooming with your feet?  If you have a zoom that is in the range of 18 mm to 50mm and you want to take a portrait image that fills the frame then the difference is less than  30 inches between the two extremes. What is that, one giant step?

Using prime lenses force you to zoom with your feet and therefore frees you up to become more creative.

Those new to photograph will benefit from the discipline leaned by using  a prime.  An entry level prime is, faster, sharper, lighter, captures more light and is often cheaper than kit zoom.  Do yourself a favour and tell the camera sales person you would rather have an entry level prime that a kit zoom, please and thank you.

Oh still not convince!  You think you might miss a shot by giving up a zoom?  Nope you just get a different shot.  Don’t believe me ask Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Photography is knowing  where to stand and when to press the shutter.

photography-101

For almost 15 years I taught photography and almost all of my students passed the course but failed to become good photographers.  The funny thing is I tell them how to succeed on the very first day of my courses.

So what are the secret rules to becoming a good photographer?

Photography is a wonderful marriage between technology and art so it  shouldn’t comes as any surprise one must become comfortable in both the art and the mechanics of photography.

Mechanics

The mechanical aspect is the easiest part and so many fret over it.  The very first thing is to simplify the process. Buy one camera and one lens and  and really get to know how to use this before you acquire more equipment.  If you look back through history you will find many of the greatest photographers use the barest of equipment.  They learn how to use there equipment until it becomes second nature.

Never ever confuse wants with needs.  While you may  justify  a purchase of a new lens by tell your partner you need it you should search deep down and ask yourself  ‘is it want or need’. For the most part a new lens will not get you a better picture it will just get you a different picture.

Once you settle on your camera you have to learn to become so familiar with exposure and focus until it becomes second nature.  Exposure is a achieved  through a relationship between Shutter speed, Aperture setting and ISO.  The quality of the focus is based on the lens you have and the Aperture you select.  While both concepts can be learned very quickly with a few minutes of reading the trick is making them become second nature.  For this you have to do more than take pictures you have to be aware of the setting of each picture you take.  Once you do this you stop taking pictures and you start making pictures. The camera is the photographers paint brush it is just a tool you have to become very comfortable with.

Art

Art is the hard part because there is are Royal Road to achieving it only comes from work. First you study then you practice then you study some more and practice some more and on and on it goes.

The source of study is a tricky part.  Mostly you should avoid studying popular photographers and study masters.  While there are many great photographers out there, when you are new, it is very hard to separate the bullshit from the buckwheat.  The good thing is you can learn shape, texture, form and colour by studying of traditional art.  The masters are called masters for a reason, drink in their knowledge.

What you learn you must put into practice. The trick is the practice shouldn’t be mindless but well thought out and this can be a problem.  I would ask students to submit three images based on a theme and for the most part they go out and take three image and submit them and learned nothing from the exercise.  What should be done is to work the theme, take hundreds of image, examine them, reject the weak embrace the strong, become so comfortable with the theme that it becomes a tool that can be relied on. If your project is to study ‘shape’ then making  hundreds of well thought out images will not make you and expert on ‘shape’ but it will help you become aware off ‘shape’. Study is a life long process. At first is seems like work but after a while your images will improve and the process will becomes a reward onto itself.

So what are the secret rules to becoming a good photographer!

  1. Simplify
  2. Study
  3. Practice
  4. Repeat the process

If you do this you will not be making pictures like the ‘photographer of the day’ but you will be make pictures that are unique to yourself and that is art.

St Cuthbert's Outside

I miss film, I miss it a lot; well maybe not enough to go back and start using it again.  I had over a forty year period owned four 35mm film cameras. They weren’t sequential I always had two at once. Stepping into the present I have had seven digital cameras mostly always sequential.

The first two only shot JPEG so I shot JPEG and always found the images a tad lacking. My next four shot both JPEG and RAW and the Raw was so much better I shot only RAW.  Then along came my Fuji X-T1 and the JPEG was  exceptional.  In fact is so good for every day images it is really hard to get better results with  Fuji’s RAW files format.  For those not so every day images, those hard to get 15%, those pesky dynamic range challenges there is the 14 bit Fuji RAW to the rescue.

So how do I shoot or to be exact how do I decide if I should shoot RAW or JPEG?  For an old film shooter, like me, it is a very easy decision. Using my film experience helps me make decisions. Every thing I did for a personal nature, be it my kids first step, or a family vacation I shot using Slide Film. JPEG is the Slide Film of the 21st century. For commercial work, work that required critical extraction of all that film could render I chose Negative Film.  RAW is the Negative Film of the Digital age.

The final rule of thumb if you are in a situation and you don’t know which way to go then shoot in RAW as you always err to the ‘film’ with the greatest latitude.

The good thing about digital cameras is you don’t have to carry two bodies to have these choices.  A flip of a switch and you go from JPEG to RAW.

The image at the top was in JPEG the one  at the bottom in RAW.

 

St Cuthbert's Inside

DSCF9570

 

Cameras are constantly evolving and now that they are more electronic than mechanical they are changing at light speed.  Fuji to keep up with the market, satisfy their customers and to keep their stockholders happy have introduced an new camera, The X-T2 as the replacement of their ver successful X-T1. By all metrics it is a super camera.

The question for me, because I have the X-T1 is it a future upgrade?  My initial reaction is like Toad of Toad Hall, “I want, I want, I want!”  But I do try to weigh thing out facts and not let my head be rule my heart so here are some of my thoughts.

I am told I received the first X-T1 in all of Nova Scotia so I have had a good deal of time to explore its virtues and its flaws. I originally bought it as I like that all the controls are old school.  For many years I had been forces to use the PASM dial system as that seems to be the way of the “future” for many camera manufactures.  While it is not a bad system it is not one I ever embraced.  I am the type of photographer that can tell you my camera settings without looking at my camera.  The biggest surprise with the Fuji X-T1 is the manual focusing, it is way better than any camera I have ever owned.  So along with shooting in Manual, I focus manually, individually, by zone or Hyper-focus methods.  All errors them become my problem and not the cameras.  To say I am happy with my X-T1 is an understatement, I love it.

Now Fuji has announced the X-T2 and the specs are better in every way so it should be a shoe in.  But! I don’t  use any of the auto controls in my present camera so any improvement there is of no value to me.  I don’t shoot video, I suck at videos,  why would I want to embarrass myself in shooting sucky videos? I don’t think I have ever used the tilting screen?  So it boils down to three things that wold be of interest to me a wider ISO range, a 1/8000 mechanical shutter and a larger sensor. Well I will also talk about three other features that may interest me. So let me look at my Lightroom and see how I have used the X-T1.

I generally shoot as low and ISO as I can and 90% of my images are shot under ISO 400 I have shot a few very images at ISO 6400 so maybe 12000 could be an option but not likely.

I was very surprised to find that I have not taken one image above 1/1000 of a second?  So 1/8000 would just be an extra bragging spot on the dial.

To a point more MP are better  and I do believe, with present technology,  24 MP is a good stopping point on a C sensor. In fact I drool over this new feature. While it is 50% more pixels it is only a bit over  20% increase in resolution(it is by the square not by linear measurements).  The absolute finest resolution film gave just reached the resolution of a 16MP camera and there are very few films that could claim that.  So 24MP takes you to new frontier as far as film comparison goes.  The down sides as I see it are; I seldom print, when I print I generally print at 8×10 although I have made some 16×20  the 16MP X-T1 is up to that job.  I have a stand alone  copy of Light room and if I move to the new sensor I have to upgrade.  Files are larger so will I need a new  computer and new storage?  Yes I do shoot RAW, I paid for a camera that delivers RAW why would I not want to get my moneys worth. People tell me but with 24m MP I’ll have extra cropping ability and I say, “I paid for those pixels I am going to get my moneys worth I‘ll crop in camera.” Then I think  that is a lot of money for extra pixels.  But oh my god 24 MP is a hard siren to resist!!!!

Now the two extras.  “Neopan 100 Acros”  film simulation is a sweet plus. The ability to add a custom menu would really make my life much easier on the X-T1. I think if Fuji were nice they could add both these into a software update for the 16 mp Cameras. The due memory cards is an interesting feature but i have never used a camera that carried two film canisters so is it really an advantage?

I left out many new feature.  They are all great improvements but non of them click my box and because this is my take on the X-T2 I don’t have to include them.

So the bottom line.  The X-T2 looks like an excellent camera and for any person wants a brilliant camera that is not linked to the PASM dial system this is killer camera.  To those that are looking for an upgrade it will all be about how you shoot it is a not compelling camera for me.    Now the X-Pro X2 may be a whole new chapter for me, it has 24 MP and an extra view finder option.

Note, the image above was shot the night before last I posted it as a friend said “My X-T1  is great but it will not focus under low light”  Elbow braced at, 1/15 second, f1/4 at ISO 800 manual focus, I took 20 shot as I couldn’t predict the dance of the flames,  all are in focus; manual focusing works.