Deconstructed photography, part one: identifying the essentials

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None of the images in this article have any clues as to the camera used, but I feel that they’re strong images nevertheless; if you’re curious you can click through to the image’s flickr hosting page and scroll down to the bottom right; EXIF data is there. Try to ask yourself first though: are there any giveaways that mean it could only have been shot with one particular format or piece of equipment?

This is the first article in a two-part series about photography today, with the ultimate objective – as always – of making a great image, but this time taking full advantage of all the technology at our disposal. After spending some time with medium format in a quest to get another one of those creative spurts brought on by a major change in equipment, I’ve pretty much made a complete U turn and am contemplating a Nikon P7700 instead. Allow me to explain; excuse the somewhat roundabout logic, but I think it will make sense once we reach the end.

We need to backtrack a bit to take into account some fundamental viewer psychology. In the increasingly huge sea of images that are being produced today, what stands out are those that look different from the rest. And for the most part, that difference is obtained by turning something up to 11, rather than nailing the fundamentals of what makes an outstanding image. Commonly seen ‘techniques’ include: oversaturation, HDR, fake cross-processing-hipstagram-effects, over-contrasty black and white conversions, ultrawide perspectives, supertele perspectives, walls of nothing but bokeh…I think you can see where this list is going. In short: if one aspect of the image has to shout to cover the deficiencies of the other portions, then this cannot be a good image in the first place because it fundamentally has those has deficiencies to begin with.

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Yet the very reason why these types of images stand out will erode as there are more of them in circulation: they will no longer look different from the rest of the pack. This brings us back to a focus on the fundamental things that make an image work; I’ve said this so many times I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody decides to engrave it on my tombstone (or perhaps I should get a tattoo of it) – light, subject, composition; then, the idea. The idea can come first and override the other three if it’s strong enough, or it can be the underlying reason for their execution. Images with all four properties will endure time and transcend the medium: a strong image in this way will still be arresting whether it was shot with an iPhone or a medium format back.

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In that case, why isn’t it the focus of every aspiring photographer to nail the fundamental structure of an image before worrying about the number of pixels or number of stops of dynamic range it has, or the maximum speed of their lens? Simply because it’s much more difficult to do so. On the other hand, photographic technology has some so far in recent times that there are few reasons why we should continue to bother with the technicalities of it all, so long as you know how to control the fundamental parameters that affect the audience’s perception of the image: in a way, it’s taking the Apple design approach to photography. We identify the fundamentals, throw away what isn’t important, and spend a lot more time focusing on what does matter. But at the same time, we avoid things that can be gimmicky or difficult to execute with the aim of providing the average photographer with a nice set of fundamental skills that will serve in the majority of situations.

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Although I suspect most photographers already shoot this way – aim, focus, compose to varying degrees of precision and consideration, perhaps compensate exposure, then shoot – a lot of them hide behind the pretence of a lot of complex-looking settings and adjustments that are seldom used outside fully automatic mode, and more often than not just confuse and get in the way when an accidental button press delivers behaviour other than expected.

What I’m saying is that perhaps we should consider the possibility that for the vast majority of situations, it’s not a bad idea to acknowledge and embrace that. Why do I need to manually set my exposure if the camera’s meter can get it right? Why does it matter what white balance is or the exact Kelvin temperature of a scene if the camera’s automatic white balance can cope? Why do we need to pick the focus point if most of the time, the camera is right, and the rest of the time, extended depth of field covers the errors? Why spend time processing RAW files individually if the JPEGs are excellent, or even better?* Let technology do the work, and forget about all of those settings that don’t matter – don’t even bother including them. Why should there be an option for dynamic range 100%, 200% and 400% when clearly we want 400% for 99% of situations? We shouldn’t even need custom functions if the camera behaves in a sensible and consistent manner.

*See my recent Fuji FinePix XF1 review.

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Since it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be approached by a camera maker and offered both a blank sheet of paper and some deep funds, we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got. And in the marketing-driven world of photographic products, we actually have to go to either extreme of the product spectrum to find what we’re looking for: a camera which has solid, reliable automatic functions, no frills, and the basics like exposure compensation and spot metering. It would be nice to have a range of perspectives easily to hand too, though for novices perhaps it’s safer to go with a fixed lens and forgo the temptation to compose with the zoom. Add a good sensor, speed and responsiveness into the mix, and we’re done. I used to be hung up about having an optical viewfinder for stability and visual nuance, but that’s changed with improvements in stabilisation systems, and even more so with increased LCD resolutions more accurately displaying focus at the sensor plane and the added flexibility to shoot from other vantages where the camera doesn’t have to be at your eye. Depth of field control is a nice to have, but not critical; it’s just another way to isolate your subject – but there are many ways of doing that, and it’s not the most pictorially powerful anyway. Too many people rely on extreme bokeh to make an image that looks different; we don’t need super-fast lenses for common applications anymore now that even small sensors are capable of delivering good results at ISO 1600**. Finally, being a pack mule for your equipment isn’t fun: the less we can get away with carrying, the better.

**In the early days of photography, photographers struggled to get more depth of field rather than less – perhaps it was a case of art imitating life (perception), art (photography) imitating art (painting). Yes, we have that additional tool, but don’t overuse it: there is such a thing as too little depth of field. Note that this is different from good/ bad quality of bokeh; another axis of variables, if you will.

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What does this mean in real terms? If you add everything up, for the majority of photographers, we’re looking at a prosumer compact, possibly with a larger sensor, possibly not. These cameras are designed to be automated; the manual controls are just put in mostly to appease the marketers and obsessive photographers who like to twiddle their aperture dials, oblivious of the fact that with a 20mm real focal length, there will be no visible difference in depth of field at f5.6 or f8 with a subject that’s 30m away, or that no matter what focusing mode you use, it’ll still be too slow to track action. I am not saying that all photographers should abandon control; if anything, the opposite. I certainly won’t be replacing my full-frame DSLR and lenses with a compact for client-critical work anytime soon, if ever. What I’m saying is that for casual photography, we should focus on mastering control of the elements that matter, which conveniently are also those that can easily be taken care of even with the most basic of cameras. For most uses, those are limited to a few critical things: light (exposure compensation), composition (perspective, positioning, focus) and subject (timing). The rest are secondary or specialised.

Compacts have some big advantages that often get overlooked:
- They’re small and discrete, easily portable and don’t attract attention;
- They cover focusing errors through extended depth of field;
- They might have limited dynamic range compared to larger sensor cameras, but that can actually be helpful from a pictorial/ artistic point of view by emphasizing contrast and differences in light;
- You can carry a lot of perspectives in a small size, without too many optical compromises – 28-200 isn’t unheard of, and I believe there’s a Canon that even covers 24-1200m (!!);
- They focus close, once again allowing perspectives that might not otherwise be possible;
- Extended depth of field + unusual perspectives = compositions not easily achievable with a larger sensored camera, e.g. highly compressed images with everything in focus
- They’re very easily positionable; lenses can be poked through holes in fences or walls, held high or low etc. – especially the swivel screen models
- Sensor and stabilizer technology has come a long way. With the D800E, I might need ISO 6400 to shoot at f8, 35mm and get enough shutter speed to handhold without shake; even with VR. Let’s assume the stabilizer advantage evens out. I could shoot at 17mm and f4 on the OM-D and have the same perspective and DOF, but I’d be using ISO 1600 for the same shutter speed; on say the Panasonic LX7, I could be at a larger aperture than f2 (unfortunately there isn’t one at this focal length) and two stops better again, at ISO 400. We’re looking at some form of equivalence here: sure, the D800E image will have more detail, but that won’t really come through in typical print or display sizes for the majority of photographers***. Perceptually, they’d look pretty similar at a 12×18″/ A3 print; I’d much rather carry the LX7, thanks.
- AF speed has come a long way – for static subjects, we’ve pretty much got as much speed as we need. For moving ones, until we get phase detection sites onto our compact sensors, they’re all equally useless and you’re going to have to find a DSLR.
- Buffer and usability isn’t really an issue anymore; it hasn’t been for compacts since about 2009. My Sony RX100 will shoot 20MP, 14-bit RAW + JPEG fine images at 10fps for 10 frames.
- Price: even the best of the compacts will cost significantly less than a midrange DSLR or mirrorless camera and a decent zoom. Again taking the example of the Sony RX100 – we’re looking at about US$700 +/-, which compares very favorably to even a Nikon D3200 and AFS 16-85/3.5-5.6 VR at approximately US$1,200 – and that doesn’t even come close to the Sony’s f1.8 wide end. And if you get bored of it, it’s not going to cost too much to trade it in for the latest and greatest. (New cameras can be a source of inspiration in themselves, but that’s another topic for another article.)

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You’ll note that I’ve excluded Micro Four Thirds and the other CSCs from this list, mainly because there are compact and good all-in-one lens solutions that make the cameras pocketable. If you don’t mind a bit more bulk and a prime lens, then these are great options too – for not much more size, you get a lot more image quality. But there’s no way you’re going to put even an E-PM2 and the smallest 14/2.5 prime lens into your pocket without risking arrest on public decency laws.

***We’re talking sufficiency here, not ultimate image quality.

Let’s boil this down a bit further: what do we really need in a compact?
- Responsiveness: everything from AF speed to menu operation and navigability, shot-to-shot speed, image review etc. Speed is the priority;
- Fast AF. I can’t emphasize this one enough;
- A fast lens: it’s much easier to make fast, decent zooms that cover a smaller image circle than a larger one; f2 or better on the wide end, and ideally something fairly close on the long end (though that will tend to be compromised as the lens’ reach increases);
- A decent range of perspectives: wide/moderate wide to moderate telephoto; enough to get a clear difference in perspective. Personally, 28-85 is fine for me, though I don’t have any complaints about a bit wider or a bit longer; compact sensors tend to be 4:3 rather than 3:2, and since the focal length posted follows the diagonal of the sensor, you’re going to need a bit more width to get the same horizontal field of view;
- A good LCD. Forget the optical finder, it’s going to be a tiny tunnel. I’d rather have a nice, bright, sharp 3″+ LCD. Bonus points for something with an antireflective coating that’s also visible in daylight, and a tilt/ swivel screen;
- RAW support, or outstanding JPEGs;
- A good image stabilisation system;
- Easily accessed exposure compensation, preferably on a separate dial;
- A sensible auto-ISO mode, ideally allowing setting of minimum shutter speed, if not linked to the focal length used;
- A solid meter, or spot metering, or preferably both;
- Fast image review, with a quick way to check critical focus;
- Finally, tactility matters. Something that feels nice to use will simply be used more often; it’s in the quality of the materials, the feel of the controls/ switches/ buttons/ knobs/ dials; the grippiness of the rubber; the solidity of the build.

In part two, we’ll consider the current candidates and field a bit of a compact camera masterclass.

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Comments

  1. All very valid points. Anne my local Leica dealer mentioned he feels the stats around buyers for him are wealthy people who want the best when it comes to the M system. Over half of those people do not realise it is (or what) a range finder. A recent blogger on Leicarumours.com was asking advice about which camera to buy (M9 v wait for M). One of his questions was “how good is the AF?”.

    Now that is someone who probably needs to delve deeper into research AND understanding more about the aspects contributing towards a solid images vs. “The gear.” In will qualify by stating this is not a criticism of that person, nor new to Leica. They have every right to buy what they want and I only wish them a lot of enjoyment.

    I personally only ever use 5 basic controls (aperture, iso, shutter speed and exp. comp and manual focus). The rest I don’t bother with. Id imagine its the same for most people.

    • Happens all the time here – many will buy the 0.95 Noct because it is billed as the ultimate 50mm – yes, if you know how to use it, and if your RF calibration is perfect. Most will either give up on it and sell it, or leave it as a shelf queen because they can never quite manage to focus it. The 50/1.4 ASPH is a much better practical choice. Here’s the big ‘but’: if you enjoy using the Noct more, and consequently shoot with it more, then the practice and simply getting out there is worth something. In the end, that’s what will make you a better photographer. But it’s important not to confuse it with the gear.

      I think most people just aim the camera, maybe turn the zoom ring, and press the button. Then playback. These days either I’m running full manual with flash for studio/ commercial work – in which case it’s aperture, shutter speed, flash power and manual focus – or spotmeter on my RX100 – then it’s zoom and AE-Lock – or full manual again on one of the film cameras, leaving aperture, shutter, focus. So in theory, you could boil it down even further.

  2. I’m really looking forward to thoughts on the 501C and how you work with it. As a preview, do you know what film you will start out with? In many ways, a compact and something like the 500 series seems like an ideal combo.

    Tsutomu

  3. Anne Wallace says:

    It just occurred to me that shooting manual and shooting using the basic automated system without bothering with electronic bells and whistles you are taking creative control in both scenarios!
    Your article reminds me to ignore media hype, the endless camera reviews detailing the 10,001 buttons and special features and focus on using my own creativity to make an image. Thanks.
    PS: asking people to guess the cameras used to create the various images was a diabolically clever way to visually illustrate your point,

    • Yes, but in a different way: one forces you to think solely about composition and light, the other forces you to consider technique, too. But yes, it’s basically stripping out all of the stuff that distracts you from the actual photography. Control of light/ DOF is definitely part of the creative process.

      • Anne Wallace says:

        With manual you are applying your technical knowledge to craft a composition that matches the vision you have preconceived obtaining. You have an idea of what you wish to compose and use your technical skill to shoot it. You need technical knowledge to achieve your vision.

        With a compact camera that handles more of the technical aspects for you, you concentrate on crafting the vision through your composition, use of light.

        Both methods require awareness of what constitutes an image of quality, both require honing a personal vision.

        I once led a photowalk for Scott Kelby’s international annual event. A young guy shows up and talks endlessly with passion about all his gear. He must have owned every lens, top of the line filter, multiple camera bodies from top manufacturers–his own personal mini B&H store.

        At the end of the walk we all reviewed shots. When it was his turn to show his work for the day, the entire group of photographers (for once) remained silent. None of us wanted to be the first to say every single shot was crap. Really. In the end people tried to gently offer a few compositional tips, suggest reviewing books by authors respected in the field of photography, and offer a few encouraging words.

        Moral: Go ahead and buy the Nikon 7700. Fabulous camera at a fraction of the cost of the Nikon D800/D800E. If you neveraster the composition or have an original perspective, you will have crisp, clear shots with a minimal expense and be happy. And if you do have the eye and knowledge to compose great shots, you will be thrilled to do so with a minimal amount of dial and button hassle, with the convenience of a small camera, and end up with dollars in your pocket to spend on travel to great locations.

        I have the D800 and am opting to purchase the 7700 for shooting in “risky” locations where a large, conspicuous DSLR ups the threat of trouble. There are good reasons to choose to shoot with this camera. I think that Ricoh opened minds and pros began investigating the notion of using these compacts. Advancement in technology moves quickly in the compact arena, whereas it can be years between releases of high end models. It pays to take a look at innovations occurring in the compact model arena. I look forward to part 2 of your series.

        • Agree on the first point. Not quite on the second point – to be able to use light properly, you do need to have some control and some understanding – e.g. high key vs. low key. Point and click only won’t quite get you there. You could of course get around this by using a spot meter or exposure compensation and AE-Lock on the shutter half press, but you won’t know that unless you’ve encountered it before…which brings us back to the necessity of going in that circle.

          There’s nothing wrong with collecting gear or enjoying cameras as objects – I freely admit to the former, and to some extent, the latter – I think it’s impossible not to if you’re a photographer; an artist has to at least like using their tools. But to be a collector does not automatically make you a photographer, and that’s the bit most people miss.

          I didn’t get the 7700 in the end – some issue with the vendor – and somewhat glad I didn’t as well, because after trying one in person, there were some control issues I didn’t like very much. We’re in complete agreement about having a stealthier camera for risky locations though – that’s where the RX100 comes into play, for me – replacing the Ricoh GR-Digital. People seem to largely ignore the Hasselblad, too – figuring it’s just another old clunky dinosaur. And that’s just fine for me.

  4. Anne Wallace says:

    Hello,
    I still argue that it is not about knowing the full technical gamut from full-frame to point-and-shoot before you fully develop a creative vision.

    Yes, you may be aware of more creative options on one level if you have the financial luxury of owning a full frame, a Leica, a medium frame, etc. in addition to consumer lower-end options. But, I side with Feeman Patterson and more recently with David DuChemin who said, “Gear is good. Vision is better.”

    If one only has access to a consumer camera but has latched on to exploring creative options and pushing oneself to keep experimenting , coupled with developing an idea/emotion to convey clearly, there is no end to possibilities.

    Perhaps you feel more “skilled” because you had that opportunity and cannot imagine reaching creative heights under the restraints of only owning a DX or an iPhone or a consumer camera. Yet, I personally have seen works of creative genius form people working under those constraints, people who did not have the luxury of cash to work otherwise, and who took the medium to new places simply because they chose to always stay open to possibilities. It would be good to research and feature digital photographers who visually demonstrate this level of creative and technical mastery as evidence we need to set aside our own experiences when gauging the creative options open to all.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion.

    • I think you’re missing the point here. I produce what I want to produce regardless of what I use, which is precisely why I want to pare it down to the basics. I don’t think there’s a point in carrying around FF gear if you can execute your creative vision with an iPhone. (Ignore printing sizes for the moment.)

      There are plenty of other sites that feature other people. I control the editorial content and quality of work posted on my site and write from the point of view of my own experiences. Given the amount of work and content I already distribute for free, I really don’t see why I should extend that to promoting others…

      • Anne Wallace says:

        I agree that you personally don’t need to promote others. I relish having the chance to see your work. With your intimate knowledge on how and why you create images and your articulate discussions, it would be a shame to see the content of your blog diluted. Sorry for not expressing myself appropriately. In general, I think it can be helpful to observe the work of innovators using iPhones and other “basic” methods as a way to keep ourselves from listening to arguments we need to spend more on better equipment before we can create quality images. I agree completely with your post.

        • No worries, one of the problems with the internet is that a lot gets lost in translation :)

          What you had in mind is what my reader flickr pool is for – somewhere where you just have high quality images to look at for inspiration or entertainment, and the rest of it – the gear, methodology, even genre – is secondary.

  5. This runs along a “great photographer can make great photos with the worst camera” line, then diverges to consider the best of the worst cameras. Why bother?

    Your theme that you should develop your facility with tombstone items (TI) first is a strong one. To focus on the TI, you are suggesting that you want to *remove* most of the technical control you have over picture taking, rather than increase it, as other developmental photography “back to basics” methods (film, manual operation, holga, large format, etc) do. Interesting.

    • Mainly flexibility and convenience. Because my objective isn’t always solely and primarily photography, but I’d still like to have the gear with me if I see something along the way. Because I’d like to explore other creative approaches to develop my overall vision, and find ways of seeing that apply to my larger format commercial work too.

      I’mm not sure what you mean by ‘tombstone items’, but my personal work currently uses both methods – I’m shooting with the RX100 and a meterless Hasselblad 501C.

      • Your “tombstone items” are the “3+1″ – light, subject, composition + idea.

        What was spurred by your writing was the interesting thought that using a “basic” camera probably doesn’t help focus the beginner on light, subject, composition or the idea. It’s really just another diversion into “more gear” and a different process.

        Successfully using a p&s, which removes most technical control, might just enforce concentration by amateurs on the more important “3+1.”

        I am not (nor do I believe Anne below) using your development as a photographer as the example.

        My primary rig is a 500cm and SWC. I hope you find the 501 fast enough in action for your uses. It’s extraordinary equipment, but slow to bring to bear on a subject. It’s like setting up an artillery piece. Focusing is very slow and deliberate and you will probably crack a smile at the mighty “kerflop” of the mirror/backdoor. (MUP is handily above the winder…) “How could this thing be the studio state-of-the-art until ~2004?”

        The beauty of the HB gear doesn’t become apparent until you get the the roll of transparencies back (all C41 film is awful) or develop B&W negs. Can’t wait to see what you do with it.

        • Ah yes.

          No, the basic camera doesn’t help the beginner at all – because it doesn’t force you to deconstruct the photographic process into its constituent parts so you can understand them. For the advanced photographer, it removes distractions – which is why I say it’s almost necessary to go through the full circle first.

          The thing is, most people don’t shoot enough to get to the end of the loop – they’re stuck in the gear collection phase, chasing acquisitions rather than learning how to use them. I’ve got one rule about gear buying now: either because you need it professionally, or because it will do something your current gear can’t – whether that might be a technical or creative liberation.

          The 501 isn’t too bad with the PM5, but yes, a bit slow with the WLF since you have to use the magnifier to check critical focus. It’s not fast, but it’s no slower than using any of my other unmetered cameras like the F2 (or even setting up for critical focus on the D800E, for that matter).

  6. I tossed the big 5D Mark II and switch to the OM-D. I enjoy the light weight and it made me shoot more. Shooting more means forcing me to be out there exploring my creativeness and my imagination. Unlike you my main source of income is not through photography so I can live without the advantages of the FF cameras. I like your idea and where you think technology is headed. Automation is good if you already know how it works. It benefits some but for others who aspire to be great at photography it is important, actually essential and critical to learn how it manually works.

    • I think there’s still benefit to be had in going through the whole circle: you need to know how things work and what you can/ can’t do in order to figure out what the workarounds are with a more limited equipment set. I wish there was another way around this, but I can’t see how. I can write about it til my keyboard wears out – but it really is something you have to experience for yourself.

  7. I couldn’t agree more. I like where you’re going with this!

  8. So Ming, are you moving on (or away) from your OMD towards using RX100 for portability and HB for manual camera of choice (apart from your DSLR paying work)? Or still open to something like the OMD and M9 (rangefinder)?

    Curious re your mention of “manual”.

    • Pretty much. I’m not ruling out the OM-D for travel/ street stuff because of its size, but I think eventually the OM-D and RX100 class cameras will converge into one.

      • So where does that leave the Leica system for you? Occasional use for personal time? Just interesting to see where it all fits.

        • I think it depends much on whether I’d pick up the new M instead of the OM-D; the latter still has a bit of weight and size advantage, especially for longer FLs. But I don’t have the answer to that seeing as I nobody has yet shot with one :)

  9. I wish you would write a book (e-book?) – I love your intelligent thoughtful writing and could read it all day. Thanks Ming. I am certainly finding that my RX100 is changing my attitudes somewhat, in a positive way…

  10. You got me on the bus one. I was sure that was your Leica M. :-)

  11. Thanks for this series. I’ve been wanting to upgrade from my phone-based camera and get something slightly more capable. I considered the Micro 4/3′s based cameras as I knew I wanted something smaller than a DSLR for travel, but then learned about the RX100.

    Having played with it in the store, I am wondering if there’s something simpler that I could be using – the Sony RX100 seems to offer too many options – and the icons on the display can be very busy. I suppose you could just it in a mostly automatic mode and ignore all the various options to apply filters, as this article suggests.

    One thing you didn’t mention, but I think an automatic-lens cover would be nice – one less thing to worry about. Unfortunately some of the other models in this class don’t have this – Panasonic LX7, Nikon P7700, Fuji X10.

    I was intrigued by the cameras that have a few more external controls, such as the Ricoh GR IV Digital (perhaps too much of a specialty item for a new photographer), Fuji XF1 (doesn’t seem like you can turn this one on very smoothly compared to an on/off switch) but then I read this part of the article:

    “These cameras are designed to be automated; the manual controls are just put in mostly to appease the marketers and obsessive photographers who like to twiddle their aperture dials, oblivious of the fact that with a 20mm real focal length, there will be no visible difference in depth of field at f5.6 or f8 with a subject that’s 30m away, or that no matter what focusing mode you use, it’ll still be too slow to track action. ”

    So, what to do?

    I also found it interesting after all this article on compact automatics, in the comments you responded with “I’m finding now that I’m increasingly much happier with a 100% manual camera – without a meter even – than these electronic ‘appliances’ the rest of the photography world seems to go nuts over.”

    In any case, looking forwards to the next article!

    • You can press the ‘DISP’ button (up arrow) to remove the clutter. Yes, automatic lens covers are nice but not a deal breaker – anybody who shoots anything with interchangeable lenses is used to not losing their lens caps :)

      What to do: buy the compact with the best lens-sensor pairing and shoot it in program mode, auto-ISO, RAW, with the spot meter. And if you must capture moving subjects, then ensure sufficient shutter speed and trap focus. Or compose with motion, I suppose.

      I wrote the article before my Hasselblad 501C arrived. That said, I should have been more specific: consumer/prosumer/pro DSLRs don’t do anything for me, but they do pay the bills. A good compact is still useful because of its portability. The manual cameras are good to make you think.

  12. Cool and interesting article, and I’m glad to hear you changed your mind, Ming! You might not remember but some time ago I asked you about upgrading from a G12 and told you I was mostly shooting using the swivel screen, and you were a tiny bit condescending about it (called it the Rollei experience :-]). My feeling is that a compact can give great results today, even with a not-super-fast lens (the G12 had a f/2.8), and the ability to use weird angles is certainly part of the fun. (An unrelated thought – having upgraded to the OM-D two months ago, I find that about 95% of my shots with it are made as if it were a compact, i.e., trying to have everything in focus and avoiding bokeh-filled shots unless they are meaningful in some very obvious way – not saying it’s good or bad, but just that the ‘compact’ way of thinking is a very strong habit.).

    The P7700 has even more dials than the G12 (six!). I was considering it as one of the options and couldn’t really think what one would use the sixth dial for…

    • Haha, well, there are benefits to a waist level finder. I just acquired a 501C, so I suppose it’s going to become a way of life for me soon.

      M43 is not really a good choice if you like bokeh; most of the time you’ll get a bit of separation, but nothing really cinematic. I’d stick to full frame for that. In any case, if you can make a strong image with everything in focus, you’ll find it much easier to compose with the additional depth of field control.

      The P7700 might have six dials, but you can’t assign functions individually; the problem then becomes one is always redundant. Why you can’t skip between images while zoomed in is one thing I find critically important for review, yet you can’t do it with this camera. (You can on all of the Nikon DSLRs, which makes the omission even more puzzling.)

  13. Anne Wallace says:

    Hello there,
    I always enjoy your posts.
    I agree that compact cameras and even cell phone cameras are of sufficient quality and have unique advantages not to be overlooked.

    I appreciate that you touched on the concept of successfully conveying an idea when photographing a subject.

    I was reading a review of “Metaskills”.
    From the review:
    “Why do we create ugliness?” [Note: this is regard to social conditions. However, we can choose to ask the same question about “snapshot” photography, the slew of images that are mere physical commodities.

    Author Marty Neumeier suggests that these problems are merely symptoms of a much larger problem–our inability to deal with interconnected, non-linear, and amorphous challenges. It’s not that our problems are too difficult, he argues, but that our skills are too basic. Success in the post-industrial era demands that we move our thinking from the static, the linear, and the step-by-step to the dynamic, the holistic, and the all-at-once.

    In this sweeping vision for personal mastery in a post-industrial era, Neumeier presents five metaskills–feeling, seeing, dreaming, making, and learning–that can help you reach your true potential. They’ll keep you two or three steps ahead of the machines, the algorithms, and the outsourcing forces of the “robot curve”. They’ll also bring you greater creativity, higher purpose, and a deeper sense of fulfillment.

    And so, one can hope by simplifying the technical, by requiring only basic skills, compact cameras can free us to focus on feeling, seeing, dreaming, making and learning. Otherwise, we simply have made it easier to shoot mechanically but will have images that are unable to touch and change the world. When we buy our next gadget, the latest innovation to help us shoot quality images with a minimum of fuss, I hope we still remember that even as “casual” photographers, the goal, as Neumeier suggests, should be to reach greater creativity, find a higher purpose and gain a deeper sense of fulfillment.

    • Thanks Anne. Yes, Neumeier is right: we need a change in mindset to get the results we’re looking for. ‘Modern’ education – not just in photography – is very much a product of the industrial revolution, and trains people to be automatons, regurgitate facts and pass exams rather than have critical thinking skills and the ability to solve problems or achieve outcomes. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule, but they’re rare. As for photography, we have the double problem of both having to first define the desired outcomes ourselves – the creative vision part – and of course the execution. I’m finding now that I’m increasingly much happier with a 100% manual camera – without a meter even – than these electronic ‘appliances’ the rest of the photography world seems to go nuts over.

  14. Lol! Get an ambigram tattoo of your 3+1 philosophy :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] None of the images in this article have any clues as to the camera used, but I feel that they’re strong images nevertheless; if you’re curious you can click through to the image’s…  [...]

  2. [...] part one, we deconstructed the essence of photography, and identified the critical qualities required for a [...]

  3. [...] I believe that my camera capabilities exceed my capabilities and that I need to focus more on getting out and about and taking pictures.  I still need to practice and try more things and I’m hoping that having the small E-PL5 with a prime lens on it in my jacket pocket or a small bag will enable me to do that.  Some may think that I have taken two steps forward and then one back with this latest choice of camera, but I’m going for more portability with a more discreet choice as part of my plan to be a better opportunistic photographer.  As Ming Thein would say, I’m going more for sufficiency than quality. [...]

  4. [...] See on Scoop.it – Steve Troletti Nature and Wildlife PhotographerNone of the images in this article have any clues as to the camera used, but I feel that they’re strong images nevertheless; if you’re curious you can click through to the image’s…See on blog.mingthein.com [...]

  5. [...] This is the first article in a two-part series about photography today, with the ultimate objective – as always – of making a great image, but this time taking full advantage of all the technology at our disposal. After spending some time with medium format in a quest to get another one of those creative spurts brought on by a major change in equipment, I’ve pretty much made a complete U turn and am contemplating a Nikon P7700 instead. Allow me to explain; excuse the somewhat roundabout logic, but I think it will make sense once we reach the end.  [...]

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