Tasmanian branch of the Australian Light Horse regiment.
I am on record as a dedicated prime lens user. Not only a prime lens user, but certainly a strong advocate of prime lenses over zooms.
There are a couple of times where this perspective is forced to be flexible, such as scenic work using a tripod, where moving your feet is irrelevant, or fast handling moving situations when working for a client, but generally speaking if given a choice I would take one or two prime lenses over a zoom every time.
Lately I have found myself using not only a zoom, but a “superzoom” and happily enough due to it’s subjective quality, but what changes have I made to accommodate this in my work method?
A prime forces me to pre-visualise my compositional options, often deliberately selecting a lens intending for it to force me into a well practiced thought process. I am even known to go for a photo walk with only one lens, to sharpen my eye to the possibilities (not limits) it will offer.
The zoom has the expected, reverse effect of letting me see a “thought” image, then zoom to accommodate it. This worries me a little as the process seems to be a little easy/lazy. The compositional challenge of making the subject fit my minds eye within strict limits and succeeding is exhilarating. The ease of zooming to suit visual stimulus is less fulfilling, even a little hollow. I feel I have missed a step or let my lizard brain follow the easiest path.
Added to this is the lenses limited aperture range (a very good f4, but nothing like a useful f2 or 2.8). Limited depth of field and placed focus is half of my compositional tool box. Limiting this is by far more restricting than limited focal lengths. On the week end I took over 1000 images of a medieval festival with two zooms. The thing that stood out to me most was the repetition of the images. Just a few with very shallow depth (not just achieved using a long lens) would have added depth to the work.
As a contradiction to the above, I did not use the wide angle end of the lens more than twice the whole day, using the 100mm end most often. It seems the habit I have is to get in tighter. This feels right.
The zoom was purchased with the dual purposes of landscape work and general pro work, adding some missing focal lengths at the same time. If I use it too much for general shooting I can see my skill set changing. Oh the lure of the lazy zoom!
The basic import settings I use for the EM5 mk1’s do not suit the newer cameras. The EM1 in particular needs almost no adjustment at all to it’s base RAW files on import. I add a tiny bit of Blue channel saturation in the camera calibration settings, a bit of added white and reduced black channel and just a smidge of colour vibrance to taste. That is it.
Any further post is in the form of a little mild brush work for added “snap”.
Medieval festival Sheffield (Tasmania). An ideal chance to try out the tracking focus of the Mk2.
The other thing to put to the test is the focussing speed on the budget 75-300. Can this lens cut it, or will it give me an excuse to re buy the 40-150 f2.8?
It is quite a change going from no focus tracking at all to very good performance. The only real issue was over use. 16gb card filled in an hour!
The Em1’s tracking was impressive, but not as impressive as the riding. He repeated this with a sabre straight after.
Not forgetting that the lens is better both stopped down a little and at shorter focal lengths. The above is about 170mm (340mm equiv), and it has pleasant Bokeh.
Excuse to spend more money? Probably, just to get the added separation the f2.8 offers to help clean up backgrounds.
After looking at the equation logically, I will not be repeating the exercise with the 40-150mm. All of it’s focal lengths except for 150mm are covered by either faster aperture primes (45/75) or a similar performing pro zoom (1 stop slower but better IS up to 100mm) and those that are not are covered by the capable, cheap and proven zoom in it’s best range.
My ideal would be a 200 f2.8 or similar (patents have been lodged for a 200mm 3.2 which would do). This would give me more speed and reach rather than effectively a 150 f2.8 prime with added versatility.
Having lots of fun with the Em1 and that brilliant 12-100. I found out after the fact that C-AF is not best suited for still subject shooting, but still nailed a few interesting images.
My boss asked me where I thought the industry is going, especially the future of Nikon and Canon in mirrorless. I answered quickly at the time, but after a chance to think on it, I can be more succinct.
I believe that in the short term, the adventurous, the troubled, the unsatisfied, the frustrated and the adventurous have already moved on. Olympus/Panasonic, Sony and Fuji have all taken a reasonable share of an ever growing pie, leaving the resolute SLR users to their favoured tools. The lower level consumer is at the whim of the local market, some pushing SLR’s, others not. This is the level I find most troubling from a salesman’s perspective. Who is better serviced by a what-you-see-is-what-you-get camera than a new or occasional user, yet the bulk of the selling market is still fixated on putting a traditional SLR in their hands.
Nikon and Canon now have to swing their SLR faithful over to ideas their customers have already rejected/been suspicious of (or even oblivious of), by showcasing the very features they have been fighting against for the last five years (and contradicting with their own Live View developments) and this with the weight of the two biggest sensor makers (Sony and Panasonic) innovating further all the time. Just another example of “Film is better” or Auto focus is just a gimmick” thinking?
This is by far the tougher road. Apart from possible customer resentment of being abandoned (again*), or forced to adopt a new direction, they have also inherited the slower to change, more deeply invested or less adventurous. Maybe the transition will be easier than I suspect, maybe not. The point where the thinking and language changes will be critical. If they go too hard, they may alienate their core business, but the longer they delay, the greater the chance of loosing more of this same core to their opposition. Maybe they should do as those that came before them have and listen to their customers.
*(I still remember the FD to EOS change and the shift film to digital and lets not talk about 4/3 to M4/3 and Sony mirrored to translucent mirror to mirrorless shift in lightning time).
Could they have done things differently? Probably not.
The incentive for them to change the way we think would have been about as realistic as an Arab oil sheik pushing solar power down our throats in the 1990’s. They had a huge stake in the status quo, looking down at the “lesser” brands desperately trying to eke out a living with as much care or awareness as a Cape buffalo notices a tick-eating bird on it’s back.
Where will we be in 2-3 years?
Canikon will be expanding their mirrorless range at the expense of their mirrored and their language will inevitably change. All of their years of dominance will be diluted by mixed messages and unsettling changes. The early adopting mirrorless brands will start to look like old hands, gaining back much of their lost strength from the film era.
The big two may start to look less dominant and less exciting or they may adapt well and keep their majority share. Both brands have created problems for themselves (Nikon more than Canon) by fluffing their early attempts at consumer level mirrorless, so this will need a fix (cheaper full frame, or gradual replacement of low end cameras up).
Those annoyed enough by the change will probably take the opportunity to switch to the opposite brand (as they do every so often) or may look sideways at the brands that have a 4-6 generation jump on the big two.
The SLR may be starting to look a little “over ripe” or even quaintly “old school” as reduced size, improved optics and the other technical benefits of mirrorless design begin to appeal more. The “D” designation will increasingly be replaced by “M”. The only thing that will retard this would be the reluctance for Canikon to change entry level consumer thinking, at their peril.
Talk of performance with lens “X” on camera “Y” with adapter “Q” will become more common, although many will still resist adapters as the preferred alternative (maybe Nikon or Canon could have stayed with the same depth to their cameras, as this is not the primary point or benefit of mirrorless and designed mirrorless specific lenses with the added benefit of protruding rear elements where needed?).
In 4-5 years?
As the majority of the market are led down a clearer and fully accepted pathway, even the most reluctant will gave switched over (look how far mirrorless has come in such a short time with only the fringe players as champions).
Mirrorless was really nothing more than a fledgling oddball six years ago. In another five years, we will look back and wonder what took us so long to see the light as even this technology becomes old school.
Possibly the one camera, pick your lens from any stable kit will start to be semi-normal, maybe even desirable. Camera to lens adapters may be part of life for many* rather than a necessary evil.
The fight against this trend, with the promise of improvements allowed by dedicated mirrorless lens designs, will start to make many slightly older SLR lenses less attractive and pressure will mount to upgrade. This will be a new golden age for the lens designer. Conversely, older legacy lenses from as far back as the 60’s will find ever more welcoming homes as the “look” of an image will become more important than just it’s measurable quality (which we have plenty of already).
*Serious shooters will be able to hunt down the exact combination of glass they prefer without having to commit to just one brand or run multiple cameras. We may even see the return of the “Adapt-all” style mount system Tamron offered years ago. To a certain extent, I feel this will homogenise the marked, with only the top dogs in each category accepted by the internet aware. This is already happening to some extent, but will be much easier to apply.
At the same time, I feel photographic equipment will continue to shift to;
The general purpose phone, limited in potential only by physical dimensions and technology will be augmented by options such as “free hand” or add-on cameras and accessories using WiFi as a direct development of Go Pro/Drone thinking. The compact camera will disappear completely.
A dynamic, super compact to mini SLR/video hybrid camera type based on a 1” or slightly bigger 4/3 sensor (The Nikon V/J and Pentax Q style cameras would have fit in here well, but were released out of their time). This will be the enthusiasts camera.
Serious shooters, will get their super SLR/medium format cameras with a flexible outlook on sensor size with higher and higher resolution and extreme video. These will be driven by old perceptions of bigger being better, meeting state of the art technology and cheaper manufacture. The limits of lens design will be stretched (maybe even changed to non glass types), as will the very shape of photography, with 16k+ video making many forms of still photography effectively irrelevant (as well as focus, ISO, dynamic range and stability). Mass editing will become an art form as information gathering goes to stratospheric heights.
Pentax, the inventor of the mirrored SLR will possibly be the last to offer one, completing the cycle.
In 10 years?
The SLR style camera will be as much a foot note as film cameras are now. Technology will have moved on in ways not even guessed at by most of us (organic sensors, ISO irrelevance and fully electronic, global shutters, flat cameras) and mirrorless will be just one natural part of an ever changing environment. Much of the terminology we are using will be gone such as Crop/Full Frame, Video camera, Mirrorless, digital etc. as cameras become multi capable and ever more varied.
Hybrid tablet/phone/cameras/camera controllers will rule, but in what form(s) I can only guess.
Can’t wait to see, although I am a little sad the age of the photographer is coming to a close.
How did this happen I ask myself. Happy enough with enough, I suddenly have a “full noise” kit.
Fast, furious and tough. Fully pro in look, feel and performance. This is the camera/lens combo Olympus needed to make, a no excuses workhorse with the heart of a racing thoroughbred.
The balance (literally and figuratively) of the 12-100 and camera with grip is sublime. Not one for big and bulky cameras, I will forgive this combo it’s heft for what it delivers.
Chasing bees in the back garden, cars in the street and birds on the back fence it performed flawlessly and the lens range, which is wider than my usual core kit, settles my coverage jitters (it provides a true wide angle and a good one).
What I love (already);
The gentle, almost intuitive shutter release and shutter smoothness. It almost feels like it is in electronic shutter mode, with a fake noise added.
The button placement and many small, ergonomic improvements like the cards (2!) going in facing the user (never got used to the face-away loading of the other cameras).
The feeling of being bullet proof. This refers to battery power, focussing, stabiliser, lens range and general performance and of course durability. My EM5 mk1’s have proven to be rugged and long lasting, providing 300k+ files over six years between them. Using that logic, the EM1 mk2 should be utterly reliable and long lived (should I touch wood here?).
The feel and balance.
Not a videographer, but the C4K video!
Only that I will not use it much as I should.
some dead pixels (mapped out) early on, but I have seen that before in other new cameras until they settle down.
That annoying “wobble” that most Olympus zoom lenses have when they extend. I know it is normal, but I just do not like it.
The Old New (or new old?)
Very much the same imaging performance except for effectively zero focus tracking, this is the gentle touch, the “love” camera with an old school feel.
Ideal for portraiture and general street shooting and when the bigger camera is over kill.
What I love after a year of use;
The off-centre viewing for better interaction with portrait subjects.
The image quality and near silent operation (same options of course with the EM1 except for the size and form factor).
Manual focus, without peaking, and the fast primes. It just works.
The difference it provides to the bigger camera.
Not in love with the “flappy” mechanical shutter sound.
The EM5 mk1’s?
I will be using these for hack images around the house and for travelling. I know it beggars belief that I would not take the premium cameras traveling, but almost every image I have taken in Japan has been with the older cameras and they owe me nothing financially or creatively, indeed the look of Japan for me is very much intertwined with the early 16mp sensor. Travelling with the peace of mind that old, slightly worn and well loved cameras provide is a real bonus. Stressing about new, expensive and larger cameras can add an unneeded stress to travel. I just do not want to be that guy.
Part of me is curious also to to see how long they will last.
Just a couple of images I missed from the other day. They are all hand held snaps with the Pen F.
I arrived at work today a little unsettled. I like the 12-100, but still struggle with the idea of having a lump of a zoom lens in the kit, no matter how good.
As fate would have it, a 12mm f2 Olympus prime appeared as if out of nowhere (the one that got away?). This lens is a rarity in the shop as most people want the 12-40, 12-100 or 7-14 which are all a match for it in performance, especially across the frame and are comparatively good value in comparison.
I grabbed a camera and took a couple of quick test shots. Unfortunately, the light was very different to the other day, greeting me with very strong contrast and deep saturation as well as a different angle of shadow. Basically perfect photographic conditions, but I think I got enough to know.
The 12mm looks to be much the same in the centre, but a little weaker on the edges (a little better than the bulk of the other lenses the other day at 12mm). The lens has always had a shadow over it for me, with some reviewers such as Ctein reporting some variation lens for lens and some other odd behaviour. The odd behaviour Ctein noticed was a strange “wobbly” blur in the outer frame creating almost the impression of a double image with fine details. This is likely due to an aspherical element doing good things, but showing a little transition point that cannot be corrected.
One odd thing I noticed with this lens and going against common belief, was no discernible CA. Just could not see any. It may have been the day, but none, anywhere? Keep in mind that the 12mm is over half the price of the zoom, so it should be stronger generally, not having to be a swiss army knife lens. The zoom, even accounting for the softer light, matched the prime and was a touch better on the edges and corners (more normally behaving slight sharpness drop off), but did have some minor CA.
Prime on the left, beautiful day accepted. Really hard to tell in different light, but the zoom needed less minor processing for sharpness (it did need a bit of CA correction). The prime however did sharpen up well enough I felt for a 12x16” print. Would this matter in the reality?
Prime first again and the sign is well lit in that shot. I think the zoom has the edge again considering it shows similar detail without the benefit of the more contrasty light. You can nearly make out the writing. If the conditions were reversed, I would bet the zoom would retain even more detail as it seems to have excellent flare control.
Why bother testing it after all I have written about my thought processes to this point?
Indeed, why bother posting this at all?
The reality is, I don’t like zooms. The 12mm would be useful as a travel/street lens and do duty as a landscape lens more proportionately for my landscape needs. It is a vastly smaller lens although I do have to consider the clutch of other primes needed to do the job (15/25/45). The zoom adds versatility and some other performance benefits, but would it be a single task tool, one which I am still struggling to justify? Realistically, perfect framing capabilities aside, I could take any 2-3 of the tiny 12, 30, 25 and 45mm lenses in a super small hiking outfit.
All focal lengths are well served by solid, proven primes except maybe a small compromise at the 12mm end edge to edge. The 15, 25 and 45 have no noticeable advantage over the zoom, but loose nothing either.
The zoom is probably not much bigger overall, but would always be the heavier and bulkier single option. Would I take it to Japan as a wide angle option?
Another issue is the $200+ of filters I have to get. The smaller prime shares the same filter thread (46mm) as most of my other lenses and I have those as well as stepping rings for the less used filters.
Finally, the zoom may need a heavier tripod or at least larger head to work successfully, where the small prime will sit perfectly on the smaller ones I have already.
It would be fiddly. It would possibly be less successful overall and it will definitely be less flexible in the field for landscapes (but add options for travel), but it may be better suited for me. For the cost of the zoom I would also get the Leica 15mm, providing a stable semi-wide between the 12 and the 25. This methodical way of working, using a selection of fixed lenses and taking what comes is normal practice for most seasoned landscape shooters, but I have a genuine option of a premium zoom.
I suppose what it comes down to is, can I justify a big, expensive zoom just for specific tasks and run a separate preferred kit for all else?
Apparently we have some “installation artist” spiders around.
I have never successfully used the High res mode in the Pen F. When I have tried it, the timing was poor and my preparation non existent.
Turns out I have set the C2 mode on the camera to High Def with all the trimmings, probably out of disappointment with previous results, then promptly forgot about it.
Not a replacement for a higher res camera due to the short time it needs to create the file, the mode does have some benefits and in many ways makes me work much the same way I did with slow speed film on a “full frame” camera. Because the sensor’s native resolution is 20mp, it seems the demands put on lens is lower, the sensor apparently runs a little less noisily and moire is also less of an issue (all based on my pretty flawed memory of past review glancings).
I am going to use the 50mp JPEG version, because using the RAW requires another step that I am not going to bother with, but the JPEG’s out of the Pen have impressed enough, to make them a real option.
And even closer in on the best focus point of the HR image (385x596 pixels)
Interesting. The initial impression of a real gain in quality, looks to be diminished when comparing the JPEG to RAW files.
Will I use it?
Probably not. I am more than happy with the electronic shutter-20mp-RAW-new lens combo for my high end landscapes and the tripod used looks to be enough. My style will be mono or colour semi-abstracts and urban landscape, not so much super high res traditional landscapes that require such close examination. Gentle manipulation of the RAW files is not the same look as the added resolution, but the JPEG files are not as smooth as the RAW ones, which I prefer.
I could use the RAW option, but the though of an added step, massive files and processing time is not appealing.
Non HR modes also allow me to realistically use more useful things like HDR/Bracketing and stitching.
The combination of zoom framing and stabiliser helped to get this shot quickly and efficiently.
Sporting the new 12-100, the testing has begun.
All of the images were taken this morning on my walk with the Pen F in JPEG/RAW. The images are a mix of JPEG and RAW images, edited as stated, otherwise nothing done to them.
The lens is big, but tight and solid feeling. It is not for me going to be a walk around lens, but rather a lens to cover everything my preferred primes cannot do.
I know I have trust issues, so bear with me.
First up a shot that shows the highlight retention the lens has a good reputation for. This extends your effective shooting range as you do not have to allow for so much highlight blow out. The Pen F sensor is good here to, but the lens adds a level of highlight detail retention that allowed in turn, some shadow recovery. First the original JPEG, then processed and finally the RAW file with slightly better mid to highlight tones and detail.
This time the sun is just off access to the top of the frame. To my eye, the white flowers at the top are mostly glare and flare, but the lens controlled them well. A little recovery brush work in the second image gave me full recovery of any lost detail.
This means I can control not only the magnification and perspective of an image, but also use nearly any angle to the sun.
Most reviews give the lens very consistent results through the range except some drop off in the corners/edges at 100mm f4. I must admit to being a little concerned that my copy was a little off on the right side also so I have obsessed a little when testing. After a couple of missed focus and out of DOF heart flutters, it looks to be fine, even better than many.
Bokeh has been rated as good to excellent, but like all zoom lenses, especially wide range ones, there will be good and bad combinations. Bokeh is such a subjective thing and it has many variables. Adding the variable of a zoom makes trying to come to grips with it nearly impossible.
Above is a simple front/back focus bokeh test.
The image quality os close enough to the feeling I get from my primes, on par with the two pro zooms I had previously. The handling is good (nothing I notice when using it), but I am concerned my tripod stocks may need a more substantial option as the lens is (front)heavy enough on the camera to feel possibly less steady than my previous setups.
Do I have what I wanted?
A better macro option? Yes. Stronger magnification and better working distance.
A better landscape option? Yes. The lens has the handling characteristics I was after and is optically sound and shows the right “characteristics” for landscape work.
A better mid range telephoto AF option? Yes. It is possibly in the same league as my 40-150 pro.
A better (state of the art) OIF option? Potentially, but I need to do a firmware upgrade first.
Over in the technical essays section I have exhaustively covered my recent thinking on landscape photography and it’s very different needs to street/portraiture and travel.
My thoughts on zoom lenses would be clear to any long time readers of this blog. I don’t generally like them on a number of levels.
Lazy framing. There are a lot of forces at work when composing an image. We have to be aware of them to avoid becoming a slave to the limitations of our technology. Auto focus, eye level viewing and zooming all tend to distract the photographer from more important compositional considerations such as timing, angle, perspective and interaction.
Sticking a big zoom up to your face may seem to be true “immersion” in the subject, but are you thinking of angles, are you missing shots while micro managing framing and is the intimidating contraption in front of your face creating a barrier between you and your subject?
A small prime can be used intuitively. The user becomes used the angle of view, the lens offers, pre-visualising the end product before the image is made because they do not have to guess an enormous amount of possible framing options. yes you can pre select a focal length on the barrel and use the zoom like a prime, but who does. The forced limitations of the prime lens makes you learn it rather than the zoom coming to your demands. This is how we learn to frame, use perspective and become flexible (less distracted) in our photography.
Inconsistency. Generally a zoom lens will have good and bad points. Anything with variations will vary. Makes sense, but it can be hard to swallow when you get unexpectedly bad results out of the blue right next a good image at a slightly different focal length and aperture taken seconds before.
Prime lenses have generally even and predictable temperaments. If they have weaknesses, they are often part of the design choice, not the necessary evil of compromising some of the range for the betterment of the whole.
Bokeh can be an important part of lens choice. A zoom lens can have good, even great Bokeh, but like other performance parameters, it will vary though the zoom range, making it useful only on a case by case basis, not predictably, so not creatively.
Speed. Zooms can be and are getting ever faster in maximum aperture. The Canon 24-70 f2 coming for the new mirrorless range is a “next step” lens for zoom users. The humble 50mm f1.8 offers the same or better shallow DOF and light gathering for 1/10th the price and weight (or less) and in a low profile option. It will always be the way that lens speed will be easier to obtain with a prime lens. As zooms get better/faster, primes do to. As a micro 4/3 user, I can use any aperture available in a practical way. My f1.8 is the full frame users f2.8, so too-shallow-to-use DOF is never an issue and wider choices are employed often. Slow zooms for me are generally of little use.
Here is the contradiction.
My ideal landscape lens can be;
Big and heavy. I will be moving slowly, interacting with inanimate objects and I will appreciate a little lens bulk for added stability when shooting on a tripod in windy conditions.
A zoom. The practical value of 100% useable framing is far more appealing than sifting through a clutch of primes to find a “near enough” focal length, then cropping away precious pixels later. Add to this the constant changing of expensive filters every time you change lenses and primes loose their gloss quickly in field conditions.
A good to average lens. I will not be using high stress wide apertures, but the more useful and usually better middle apertures. Most lenses, even cheap kit ones are good enough at f5.6-11.
A slow lens because speed (see above) is not an issue.
The ideal for me at the moment is the 12-100 f4 Pro Olympus.
It is according, to my fairly sloppy, lets call it “field conditions” testing, better than or equal to most of it’s competition, especially across the frame which is important for landscapes. The only two lenses that gave it a run were the Olympus 45mm that I own and the Panasonic 15mm Leica, which tied for quality, but had a nice smooth look (could have been the ever changing light). The 15mm was limiting in range (I already have a decent 17mm), so it was never really a contender. The 100% framing with reliable cross frame performance are a boon. Most reviewers put the lens roughly equal to the 12-40 (some higher, some lower), which is near enough for me.
It has for me the ideal range. Never a big fan of super wide angle lenses, a 24-200 equivalent range is perfect and my 75-300 is a good enough extension when needed giving me an excellent 24-450 and decent 450-600 range.
It has a better than average macro focus. I seldom shoot true macro, but often take detail images.
It is fast enough to be useful and importantly is still good at f8-11 (f16-32 equiv), which can be the starting point of diffraction limitation on M43 lenses. It also has a brilliant stabiliser, which will get those fleeting images tripod users sometimes miss.
It is weather sealed, although my Pen F is not. The back up camera is an OMD body for really bad weather and the plan is to upgrade to an EM5 mk3 next year some time, switching the Pen to street use.
The Bokeh is rated as generally equal to or better than the 12-40, which will be better than the 40-150 pro. Not a big consideration, but if it is good it will be used.
Seems a no brainer and my wife is happy to turn a blind eye to the cost. Perfect.
Now I just have to justify it by using it.
Some images defy logical explanation, but still work on some level.
Sloping oddly, flawed compositionally, colour bland and basically pointless. It still talked to me (maybe only me) on some level. Maybe you literally had to be there.
last week the camera industry reached a turning point.
Was it a momentous as pre canned 35mm film or auto focus being used for the first time? Maybe, but it is efinately as momentous as the introduction of the mirrored SLR 60 odd years ago.
It is the beginning of the end of the mirrored SLR.
Big statement? No not really, only common sense.
The mirror in the SLR camera was a huge leap forward for the film camera. For the first time, the photographer could frame accurately, using the same view the film had, with the intimacy and immediacy of right way up and “real” looking viewing, not a funny little off-set window or back to front-upside down, ground glass view all of the other cameras forced on us.
The PENTAprism and refleX mirror (see what I did there?) was indeed a great idea. Thanks to these developments cameras became both more likeable and more practical. The thing we need to remember is the mirror was a need of the film era. You cannot see through film, so you have to see around it. This need has changed.
All was not perfect though as the mirror forced a series of compromises;
What you see is not necessarily what you get. Only well travelled old hands could accurately guess exposure compensation and motion blurring through years of experience. The rest of us had to be saved by good labs, tolerant (not always) films, luck or just had to get used to binning our mistakes.
The what-you-see-is-what-you-get, live time view mirrorless cameras offer is obviously the preferred way of viewing the world photographically. Why would you look that logical and creative gift horse in the mouth?
Lens design was compromised. The fact is a lens maker is happier if the light path to the sensor/film plane is unobstructed and the distance from lens formula to said image plane is of their choosing. Shoving an unwanted inch of mirror into that space forced a rethink of many lens designs (although long lenses became doable).
It is no coincidence that the crop of super fast (f0.95 or f1) lenses dating back to the 60’s with Leica, Contax, Canon and other mirrorless range finder camera makers, nearly disappeared until resurfacing again in the last 6 years with the advent of, again, in a new form, mirrorless cameras. The new Canon “R” is I think a safe, pedestrian camera entry, but have a look at their first of it’s type full frame f2 zoom and improved f1 prime lenses. The same goes for Nikon’s “Z” cameras and “S” lenses with their pending 0.95 offering.
Form Factor and operation. The mirror is a fragile, hard to make, noisy and vibration prone bit of mechanical wizardry. My enemy through my early years was mirror vibration. Most serious high resolution photographers got around this by using cameras that had no mirror, suffering from all of the other issues these forced on them instead.
Mirrorless cameras can be smaller, less fragile, cheaper to build and more design flexible. They can be specifically designed to task and the introduction of electronic shutters has led to a “next level” quality expectation (See; Sony A7r mk1 compared to the mk3 shutter vibration issues).
Lens calibration, always denied by the manufacturers until the digital age gave us the tools to prove what we suspected, has always been a minor to major issue for many. Forcing a camera to use one light path light for focus, but a different (direct) light path to take the image adds a huge variable into the mix. Last week I spent a morning with a client’s two full frame DSLR cameras and pro lens, trying to get to the bottom of some genuinely limiting focussing issues. The culprit turned out to be a zoom lens that needed -10 micron adjustment on one camera and a little less on the other! Add to this the very real likelihood that a lens could be fine at one focussing distance and off at another and you have a recipe for frustration. This was one factor that drove me out of SLR’s.
A camera that focusses off it’s sensor, be it mirrorless or an SLR in live view cannot be out of calibration. The image on the sensor simply is or is not in focus regardless of camera or lens manufacturing tolerances.
Focussing. After 30 years, manual focussing was at a pretty high stage of technical development. Bright, clear and accurate laser matte or split screens (My F1n with laser mat screen-perfection).
Then auto focus arrived and manual focus had to take a back seat, as over the next 20 or so years AF went from unfairly dominant to actually tenable. I think we lost something there and the industry was as much at fault as we the users. Lenses dropped or down graded the MF ring (just look at Canons first 13 “ugly duckling” EOS lenses). SLR screens also became “AF calibrated”, making them near useless for manual focus with fast lenses, unless you could fit an optional MF screen, often at the expense of AF performance!
Focussing cannot read minds, but our slavish adherence to AF and it’s short comings has made many (some, most?) photographers “framing lazy”. For some, it is just easier to accept what the camera could find easily than fight it. If you take a look at a lot of older photographers work, they use the whole frame instinctively. One of the first things we address when teaching is focus control. In the early courses the simple statement “now focus on the tree in the foreground” was often met by “what if my camera likes the bigger tree behind?” and don’t get me started on the difficulties of shooting through something.
Canon offered the eye control idea and thumb toggle controls became ever more useful, but nothing (except maybe a more mature eye control technology?) could choose your preferred point of focus nearly as well as you could want.
Live view or mirrorless cameras (MLV) offer a variety of focussing options that are getting us ever closer to true “intuitive” focussing. Subject face/eye detection so sensitive you can specify which eye, touch focus-and-shoot and live-touch screen focus are just a few ideas that have been developed over a surprisingly short time. MLV focussing has gone from compact camera speeds to fastest available in only a few short camera generations and the technical possibilities, unlike phase detection based mirror focus, are virtually unlimited. Just look at the focus point and processor upgrade the Fuji XT3 has over the very capable and relatively new XT2, then go back a few years to the X100!
Eye focus (your eye not the subject’s), subject selective or even non DOF limited focussing are all likely as processors and sensor technology get ever better.
Even manual focus (irony warning!) is back with a vengeance.
Video. Simply not possible with a mirror down, so a mirrorless necessity rather than a benefit.
There is no doubt that Canon and Nikon entering the fray has legitimised the mirrorless movement, making it a road map to the future rather than just a philosophical argument between a school of hungry sharks and a pair of bloated, slow to change whales. Further evidence of this is the urgency they have both shown to gain legitimacy with full and solid release schedules and a brutal cutting out of their previous efforts (who would want to turn up dressed as the EOS M1 or Nikon V series at the “mirrorless is now” party).
The early adopters have a generational edge and have carved out good names for themselves making the camera market vibrant and alive again rather than a bland and slow moving two horse race. I adopted mirrorless over five years ago and accepted at that time the limitations that meant (I tried 4 brands, sticking with the only one that met my needs at the time), but what I gained still out weighed the negatives.
I think we are now at the stage where any serious shooter needs to think hard before they jump into a multi thousand dollar DSLR system and those that are committed should look hard at both paths when next purchasing.
Lets see if the future proves me wrong.
Recently, I have come “back to the fold”. I am now associated again with the camera shop (yep bricks and mortar, going strong) in both a sales and training capacity.
The sales side is still feeling a bit alien to me. Odd as I have 35 years retail and more recently 10 years at the same camera shop, but it is amazing how quickly you can loose your knowledge edge when dealing with a vast and ever changing flow of gear. The area most surprising is in lenses, especially for ranges I have little interest in (SLR’s), as I love lenses and have been in the past a walking data bank on the subject. It will come, but I will have to apply my self.
The more exciting news (for me) is in the training/teaching/event management side.
Over the last three or four months I have been rolling out an ever changing range of camera and photo technique courses (some of the support materiel is in the tutorial page). My learning curve has been steep, but affirming. The things I have learned about teaching after a 3 year break, have helped me as much as my students. It is amazing how core concepts can slip into habit, sometimes bad habits, until you have to face them directly, explaining them to someone else in a clear and logical manor.
My intention in our basic course and when doing a 1:1 session with someone is to talk about the “triangle” of exposure, ISO and Shutter speed. Their relation and relevance and their creative or trouble shooting options. What I have found or been reminded of though is when someone is new to serious SLR or mirrorless photography, the controls of the average camera are ridiculously over thought.
Here are a few things that I have (re) learned lately;
1. Control of focus is fundamental to controlling depth of field and depth of field is fundamental to creative control of photgraphic images. Auto focus cameras, SLR’s especially are good at getting focus somewhere in the frame, but generally poor at placing it where you actually want it.
One of the reasons I really like mirrorless cameras (or high functioning live view on SLR’s) is, they can detect faces/eyes automatically and accurately and offer touch focus. This fixes a lot of the common problems associated with focus accuracy for amateur photographers as friends and family are often their subjects.
The user is bamboozled by a huge range of options and odd terminology, both in the coverage and continuity of focus. Autofocus in a camera cannot mind-read, it just a tool to be controlled (although Canon’s eye control focus of the 90’s came close and Olympus’s thumb touch control on cameras like the Pen F also has potential), making humble manual focus and depth control still the best form for creative space* photographers.
One of the most common issues we come across in the shop when new photographers upgrade is in controlling focus. They go from a simple, centre biased 7-9 point focus system and a slow aperture lens in a camera like a 700D Canon, that generally did what they had learned to expect, to a 50+ point system in a 5D3 flickering, seemingly randomly across the screen, but often not where they want/need with their new shallow depth of field f2.8 zoom.
The first thing I have learned to do for the bulk of subjects is get the user to set “centre spot, single point, single shot focus” so they can actually control what they are shooting at.
The opposite (wide area, continuous tracking) is used only when we are talking about action shooting, where specific point accuracy is less important than general accuracy.
2. Exposure Compensation is one of the single most useful controls on any camera. No camera will get metering right all of the time and no camera will ever understand your creative needs or preferences.
Another reason I prefer mirrorless cameras or SLR’s in live view is the “what you see is what you get” exposure preview. Being able to get a pre shot preview of an image gives everyone the same level of exposure control that a national Geographic field photographer has learned over 20+ years of experience and opens up a lot of creative options. Believe me when I say, it takes years of experience, experimentation and close observation to be able to accurately guesstimate the exposure compensation an image needs through an SLR view finder!
It is rarely talked about and is shut out on most automatic settings, so most photographers come to it in a slow and round about way, but if learned early it fixes most exposure error issues that come up regularly and gives the photographer a better feeling of creative control.
3. Fast lenses. The humble “nifty fifty” though often poorly identified and even more poorly explained is sold in most three lens kits, then usually lost in the bottom of the bag or worse the wardrobe.
The fact of the matter is depth of field is the most creative of all photographic controls and the (lens) aperture control is the primary, easiest and most accessible (although not the only) way of controlling it.
The other side of wider apertures is they let in more light. On average sixteen times more light (4 “f” stops) than a kit zoom at it’s widest aperture setting.
The average kit lens only offers you half of the possible aperture settings available. This means half as many creative controls and none of the wide or shallow ones and has much less light gathering power for low light shooting.
Landscape shooters rejoice. You are covered by the aperture range of f5.6 to f22, but portraitists, sport/action, low light and abstract/artistic photographers who want f1.8 to f2.8 apertures as a creative or low light option are well screwed by the limited aperture choices available.
How hard is it to get this fixed? A $200 dollar 35 or 50mm f1.8 lens and some small understanding of how to use it and the problem is solved. Think about that for a moment. Probably the cheapest accessory after a basic camera bag can double your creative and trouble shooting options.
There are more and I will talk about them in later posts, but these three have become the ones I have had to pay the most attention to. Teaching often reminds you that things you do automatically, can be overlooked when showing others and that was the case here. Strangely, when I am selling a camera, I have usually been good at reminding myself to not take any customer knowledge for granted, explaining things in a clear and logical way , but I lost that thinking when teaching.
Learn by teaching.
* Creative Space photographers are one who use the entire frame to compose an image, often placing the subject off centre or even in the corners.
I have been doing some fresh work with a familiar subject (a volunteer project, for enjoyment and to help out at my wife's school).
At first I thought I would miss the 40-150 F2.8, but as I was working something struck me. Almost all of the images hanging in the school, be they on signs or in brochures, were taken with my original kit, before I "went pro" with the f2.8 lenses.
The bulk of the work, even indoors is with the 45, 75 and 75-300 slow zoom (!). There was only one image, taken as a "freshener" for an already established project, that was taken with either of the newer lenses.
The true lure of the big lens is the lightning fast AF, that made even my older EM5's perform admirably for indoor sports.
What I don't miss are the weight, the sometime weird Bokeh and the feeling I need to do something worthy to justify it.
I think I like this simply because the one clearly marked, undamaged side is so well positioned against the mess. A bit like one perfect leaf fallen on a mat of rotten ones.
This image stirs in me memories of Italy. Even though I have not been there in a long time, an image hangs on the wall, much loved by my wife (loathed by me for it's technical deficiencies), taken in Rome in similar light with similar composition and colour.
I see more in common between the two from a purely photographic sense than I see differences.