A question of sensor size

IMG_2438
The contenders.

Conventional wisdom states that the bigger the sensor, the better. The bigger the pixels, the better. All things equal, that’s true; however, 10-micron pixels would mean very low resolution compacts, and medium format digital doesn’t sell in sufficient volumes to justify the same sort of R&D spend that consumer or even midrange pro gear would get. I admit I’d always been curious to see just how much the technological improvements from generation to generation offset pixel pitch etc.; some time ago, I did a comparison of the Leica S2 against the then-new Nikon D800E. Today, we go one step further to see exactly what kind of gap exists between the various grades of equipment. Spoiler: it’s not as wide as you might imagine in some areas.

Important note: We’re not strictly comparing like with like (the CFV’s sensor architecture is many generations behind the D800E), and although the test is as scientific as I can make it – tripod use, mirror lockup etc., the priority is always to make it as realistic a comparison as possible. This means the cameras were shot with the settings I’d usually choose, and some processing is necessary, because I’d never use untouched files; however, where such processing was done, it was done as fairly as possible for all cameras – I’ll explain more in detail as we go along. Please look at the linked images to go along with the commentary.
sensor sizes
Relative sensor sizes. If the Hasselblad had the same pixel pitch as the Canon, it’d have a mind-boggling 1.07 billion pixels.

Introduction

In the mix today are five cameras with sensor sizes ranging from jumbo (49.1x37mm) to minuscule (4.8×3.6mm effective) and spanning several generations of technology. The oldest – mid-2009 – is also the largest; the Hasselblad CFV-39 medium format digital back uses a Kodak CCD with 6.8 micron pixels. The sensor has no AA filter, but also no microlenses; this means purple fringing is kept to a minimum, but light-gathering efficiency suffers as a result. The CFV consistently required about a stop more light than the other cameras to achieve the same histogram exposure. The Nikon D800E has perhaps the best full-frame sensor going at the moment; it’s a CMOS known for incredible dynamic range and a very low noise floor. The OM-D’s 15MP Sony CMOS’ strength is color reproduction, though I suspect that’s as much due to Olympus’ algorithms as the sensor; curiously, it has nearly the same pixel pitch as the D800E – though in practice, tends to be about a stop noisier at the pixel level. The Fuji uses a proprietary EXR-CMOS sensor (not the X-Trans array) – whose RAW output ACR still can’t seem to get right, so I shot JPEG for this test – as befits how I’d normally use this camera. Finally, we have the slightly oddball Canon: though the sensor is a 1/2.5″, 16MP type, the design of the camera’s optics – part extending barrel, part internal lateral movement with a 90deg light path change via a prism to keep the camera 19mm thick and still offer a 28-330mm optical zoom – meant that it only uses the central 10MP portion, for a very, very small effective sensor size. If you’re wondering why these particular cameras, well, it’s what I have to hand at the moment. I’d have liked to add the RX100 and D7100 for two more intermediate sensor sizes, but I currently don’t own either.

I’m looking at a few things: firstly, dynamic range; secondly, resolving power; and finally, the slightly less exact science of tonal reproduction, color accuracy and tonality on monochrome conversion. The highest possible shot discipline was used for each camera – optimum apertures (f16 for the Hasselblad, f8 for the Nikon, f5.6 for the OM-D and XF1, and whatever the Canon chose – it doesn’t have aperture priority); mirror lockup/ timer where applicable and finally lockdown on my usual massive Gitzo 5-series studio tripod White balance was matched by using the eyedropper tool on the same grey area.

Dynamic range

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Test scene.

What looks like a fairly flat scene is actually a torture test: the D800e’s spot meter made the difference between the brightest and darkest portions to be around 9 stops. It’s backlit and fairly harsh tropical sun.

DR test
Overall comparison with histograms; click here for a larger version.

Exposure was adjusted via on-board histogram to try and make the highlights just clip directly over the sun; the smaller sensor cameras had problems with this as there appeared to be some leakage/ blooming into adjacent areas. No recovery was used in ACR. The histograms tell more of the story than the overview image; it’s clear that the larger sensors are doing the best here, with the CFV having dynamic range to spare on both sides of the histogram, and the D800E matching it in the shadows. Surprisingly, the OM-D is not far behind the D800E, despite yielding a slightly brighter image overall. Our two smaller-sensored cameras did surprisingly well considering that dynamic range correlates almost directly with electron well size and physical pixel pitch. The histograms don’t tell the whole story, though – the way the cameras render the clouds is telling; there’s little highlight separation left in all the cameras except the CFV and curiously, the XF1.

nose floor test
Noise floor. Click here for a larger version.

These results are more like we’d expect: generally, the larger the pixels, the lower the shadow read noise. Older technology – the CFV’s CCD – offsets that advantage somewhat. Unquestionably, the D800E has the cleanest shadows and also the most accurate color; the CFV is showing traces of chroma noise and a slightly cyanotic cast. The OM-D is clearly noisier than the D800E, but still maintains good color; the compacts, on the other hand, are a mushy mess with almost all detail lost to noise and then poorly applied noise reduction algorithms. A clear win for CMOS and newer technology here.

Resolving power and acuity

relative print size
Test scene, viewed at identical magnification for all cameras. If pixels were equal and the Hasselblad image was printed to 60×45″, which it can do easily, the Canon should be able to make 30×22″…in reality, I think 22×16″ is about the limit for the Canon.

If all pixels were of equal quality, and you printed each file at the same DPI level, this would be the difference in maximum size – you need to go to the CFV from the Canon to double your print in height and width. No surprises there. However, there’s a catch: due to AA filters, lens quality, pixel size etc – pixels are nowhere near equal. Lenses used – in an attempt to match FOV as closely as possible – the Zeiss CF T* 120/4 Makro-Planar on the Hasselblad; the Nikon 85/2.8 PCE on the D800E, and the Olympus 45/1.8 on the OM-D. No choice of lens on the two compacts, obviously.

resolution test 1
Click here for 100% crops

This crop makes it pretty clear that at a pixel level, the CFV wipes the floor with the other cameras (note: no sharpening was applied post-capture; the XF1 and Canon both have default JPEG sharpening that can’t be turned off completely). Just look at the trees and the texture in the side of the building. The D800E comes reasonably close, but doesn’t quite make it – there’s a bit of clarity missing in comparison, as though there’s a very thin veil over the image. Look at the side of the building. It’s not the lens or camera, though; this is consistent with the other 35,000+ images I’ve shot with the camera, and as good as anything I’ve ever seen out of it. The OM-D comes surprisingly close to the D800E at the pixel level; actually, not that much of a surprise since their pixels are reasonably close in size. Our two compacts are lagging despite rather enthusiastic automatic JPEG sharpening. Once again: it’s clear that pixel size still matters, even when we remove the anti-aliasing filter from the equation. The scientific explanation for this is that perceived sharpness is dependent on edge acuity; and edge acuity is dependent on signal-to-noise ratio. The bigger the pixels, the better the signal-to-noise ratio.

resolution test 2
Click here for 100% crops

The difference is even more stark in the second crop when there are clear high-frequency, fine-detail structures – just look at the text…

Highlight tonality

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Test scene.

Here we start getting into difficult territory: firstly, it’s necessary to explain the processing performed. This is meant to represent a realistic scenario: I wouldn’t use an image without optimizing it first, but even after Photoshop, there are some tonal properties that cannot be added if they weren’t originally present – such as microcontrast and the character of tonal response in particular zones. What I did was open all images in ACR; set white balance off the grey card you see peeking in the lower right corner, and maximize the tonal range used by adjusting exposure and auto-levels to ensure the full tonal output range was being used. Dynamic range of all cameras was sufficient not to clip any highlights or shadows in this scene. It’s important to note that tonal and dynamic range presentation is also impacted by the bit depth of the camera: the more bits, the more output ‘buckets’ you have to allocate tones. The Hasselblad is a 16 bit (though using 15) camera; the OM-D and D800E are 14-bit, and the Fuji and Canon both limited to 8 bits due to JPEG output.

relative tonality
Click here for a larger version.

Look carefully at the petals: which appear to have the most texture to you? This is microcontrast; I suppose it’s analogous to the ability to display subtle tonal gradations at a high frequency. It’s partly a lens property (in that it requires resolution of fine detail structures) and partially a sensor one – even if the lens can resolve the detail, the sensor must have the available tonal range to record subtle luminance/ color changes. These changes are what we perceive as texture or dimensionality. In my eyes, the CFV wins here by a relatively small margin. The D800E and OM-D are tied for second, with the Fuji surprisingly close; its sensor seems to protect the highlights at the expense of the shadows – even the Canon has more detail in the leaves. The Canon’s output just looks waxy – it’s a combination of a lack of resolving power AND a lack of tonal range, but very typical for consumer-grade output. Interestingly, none of the cameras quite get the color right – but if I had to pick, I’d give it to the Olympus by a hair; the CFV is too cyanotic, the D800E too yellow, the Fuji too dark, and the Canon seems to be struggling with gamut – not surprising as its output is SRGB-only. Note that none of the these cameras are running my custom profiles; they were all converted with ACR defaults.

color rendition
Second color sample. Click here for larger. Nothing much changes in terms of observations, but they are a lot closer here – the colors being closer to core gamut for all cameras.

Something almost all cameras struggle with are the reds: this is typically due to near-IR spectrum pollution of the red channel, which then causes the camera to record more than what’s in the visible spectrum, resulting in oversaturation and clipping. Modern cameras tend to be much less prone to this, largely thanks to improvements in the filter pack in front of the sensor.

red saturation
Red saturation. Click here for larger.

All of the cameras do a pretty good job, with the exception of the Fuji. It’s clipped to full 255/0/0 in several areas, and little detail remains in others. (The vase has a pebbled surface texture best represented by the D800E’s swatch.) Here, the CFV shows the age of its technology: tonal gradation and color aren’t as accurate as the D800E, and it doesn’t have as much shadow detail in that channel either, even though it has larger pixels. The OM-D is quite close to the D800E, and the Canon is doing a surprisingly good job considering how small the pixels are – it might well have the strongest IR cut filter of the bunch.

Black and white conversion potential

bw tonality
Click here for larger.

Black and white tonality is something I talk about quite a lot, but perhaps one of the most difficult things to define accurately. I suppose it correlates best with three other properties – dynamic range, native tonal response, and microcontrast. You need wide dynamic range for a natural-looking image with smooth shadow and highlight transitions; the native tonal response of the sensor must be biased in such a way as to create highlight and shadow ‘ramps’ to help smooth the transition to pure white or pure black; especially important since you no longer have the distraction of color and partial saturation to temper the impression of a harsh cutoff. The best place to see this is the petals themselves: do they look curved, textured and three-dimensional, or ‘folded’? Microcontrast is the ability to reproduce low contrast, high-frequency detail structures – like the wall or petal texture.

In my mind, there’s no question the CFV wins here; CCDs have a bit of an advantage over CMOS sensors as their tonal map is definitely nonlinear; CMOS sensors tend to be. That said, there’s really not a lot in it, and if you have a poor monitor calibration or a bad print, you may well see zero difference between the CFV and the Canon! The Nikon remains a hair better than the Olympus because of its greater dynamic range; some of the petals in the Olympus swatch are starting to look flat. Surprisingly, the XF1 appears to be holding its own with the Olympus; whatever Fuji have done to their sensor, it appears to be very highlight-biased; there is very little shadow information whatsoever. Finally, we have the Canon: it gives you black and white, literally. There is no room for grey.

Conclusion

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I’m surprised not that the largest sensor with the biggest pixels wins in most categories, but that the results are so close at all; small sensors have really become quite good. (In fact, I suspect that if I’d had an RX100 handy, it’d probably be quite close to the OM-D despite having pixels similar in size to the Fuji.) The reality is that at moderate print sizes – removing resolution from the equation – differences in exposure and processing choices from one photographer to the next can well erase or even reverse the differences we see here. What this comparison does not take into account is that the compacts and the CFV must be shot at base ISO to achieve the best results, with considerable compromises above this; the D800E and OM-D will happily go to ISO 1600 without much penalty – making them significantly more versatile cameras. They also have more malleable RAW files – the D800E’s files especially seem to be very resilient and forgiving of exposure errors. The Hasselblad, by comparison, is perhaps the most unforgiving camera I’ve ever shot with – it offers very, very little latitude for correction.

The only conclusion I can come to is that under ideal circumstances, most users may not see that much difference in climbing the diminishing returns curve; certainly not enough to justify the added hassle and expense. In real terms, the Canon can be had for $130 or so; the Fuji $400; the OM-D with a couple of good primes, $1500+/-; the D800E body is $3,300, and probably another $1000 for lenses, and don’t even ask about the Hasselblad – the current CFV-50 (50MP) model is a whopping $17,000 – and that’s just for the back, with no camera and no lenses. Is it six times better than the D800E? No. Is the Fuji 2.5x as good as the Canon? Possibly. The OM-D is still enough of an improvement over the two compacts, and surprisingly close to the D800E on a pixel level. But unless you have physically very large output requirements – it’s tough to recommend upping the investment. Don’t forget, it doesn’t stop at the direct hardware: you need to consider adequate tripod support, computing power, storage, carrying, etc…it never ends.

That said, I find the Hasselblad perhaps the most rewarding of the five: when you get it right, no correction is necessary. The above sunset was almost straight out of camera; it’s the first time I’ve been able to correctly capture the tones and overall feeling at the time. (JPEG/ web compression reduces the overall impact significantly compared to the 16-bit TIFF on my calibrated monitor, though.) Interestingly, no other camera I’ve used has been able to do this – including the D800E. I can only chalk it down to all of those little differences adding up. MT

The equipment used in this review is available via the following links: Hasselblad CFV-50 (B&H); Nikon D800E (B&H, Amazon); Olympus OM-D (B&H, Amazon); Fuji XF1 (B&H, Amazon); Canon 520 HS (B&H, Amazon).

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. It is nice to see the comparison of cameras and also the explanations of tonality, etc. Very informative article.

  2. This is a great article, thank you. How do you think the M9 or M240 would have done? Testing says not as good as the 800E but interesting because of the nice optics available.

    • My experience with the M9 says below the D600 in terms of technical parameters, but more pleasing tonality. The M 240 would be between D600 and D800E.

  3. Tom Liles says:

    The sunset: gorgeous.

    Excellent article Ming. Shame the GR couldn’t make it to you in time—would’ve been nice to see its performance on the tonality section [& with/without the newer ACR profiles].

    By the by, I couldn’t get the red vase detail photo to work; just get a message that the image is unavailable [from the "here" link; not clicking on the photo itself, which as with the others, hits your private Flickr page]

  4. This is a very good explaination. I’m left without questions and critisims; just a honest heart-felt metaphorical pat on the back. Nicely done. I dread the thought of carrying all those cameras and a 5 series tripod onto a location. I hope you had a roller or a sherpa to help you carry that.

    In the meantime, i’ve missed a few articles, so i’ll have to go back and read them.

  5. You’re sure the Olympus has 14 bit? I thought it was twelve…

    • I was told 14, but the Oly folks weren’t that sure either. For whatever reason this data is frequently kept secret…

    • The OMD has 12 bits per pixel which is the same as for instance D3200. While the FF cameras D700 and D800 have 14 bits per pixel – actually 12 or 14 bits are selectable in the menu for RAW. For Nikon it looks like the higher end APS-C cameras (including the Coolpix A) and all the Nikon FF cameras have 14 bits per pixel.

      • The Nikons also do some compression – supposedly lossless.

        Are you sure about the OM-D? I keep getting conflicting information, including from Olympus themselves…nobody seems to know for sure if it’s 12 or 14 bit. The color rendition certainly seems more in line with my 14 bit cameras than the 12-bit ones.

        • The Nikon FF cameras have a choice of “Lossless compressed”, “Compressed” and “Uncompressed” which can be found in the Shooting menu under NEF (RAW) recording. Not sure if the Nikon high end APS-C cameras have these options, but the Coolpix A does not.

          There are many sources on the Internet that states that the OMD is 12 bit, among those DxoMark which I suppose is reliable.

          • I believe the Coolpix A is lossless compressed 14bit, judging from the file sizes.

            You may be right on the OM-D, but what gives me pause is a) conflicting responses from Olympus directly, b) the tonal range being greater than any other 12-bit camera I’ve used and c) the file sizes are more like 14bit compressed…

            • Well, for me it is not that important if it is 12 or 14 bit as long as the output is more than satisfactory. The D3200 for instance is also 12 bit, but output can be fantastic, probably due to the very high dynamic range and colour depth.

              • True. Interestingly, the D3100 (and others using the same sensor, like the NEX-5) all had terrible color – pronounced nonlinear cyan shifts meant that it was nearly impossible to get the color right…

  6. Another very interesting article Ming which puts these matters in perspective. But my experience, for what it’s worth, is that the full frame cameras pretty much always outperform the smaller sensor cameras by a margin that is always noticeable (and therefore irritating). I think this is the reason I am never truly happy going out with a ‘lesser’ camera. My wife has the Sony RX100 and whilst the files are good there is always some background noise even at ISO 100 (viewed at 100%) and therefore for me it is not good enough. The D800E for me is just about perfect (except for size) closely followed by my RX1 the files from which are frankly astonishing – a true stealth camera.

    • All things equal – like sensor architecture – you’d see the difference anyway. But given that FF tends to be at the forefront of manufacturers’ development efforts, the differences get even more skewed…

      It’s also worth remembering that some of the support architecture on-chip for each photosite is the same size regardless of pixel pitch/ photosite diameter, so the smaller you get, the more you start to feel the pinch – e.g. a 1um square area occupied by other semiconductors is 25% of a 2x2um pixel, but just 4% of a 5x5um one. In going up a size, your light gathering ability goes from 3um2 to 24um2 – a factor of eight; this despite total photosite area increasing by 6.25x.

    • I’m with you on this one. I’m a perfectionist, and the wrong kind (the inflexible one) at that. The first thing I noticed when I upgraded from crop to full frame was how clean the files were. Since then, my full frame setup is the only one I want to be using, except I don’t want to be carrying the weight and I don’t like the attention it acquires out in public.
      I really, really, really want to like the E-M5 but I don’t think the perfectionist in me could ever be happy with it. :( The noise floor image here confirms it, I would always know it would produce noisier images than the D800 and it would irritate the heck out of me, to the extent that I wouldn’t be using it other than for stuff I didn’t care about, but then what’s the point?
      On a side note, why does everyone call it the OM-D? Doesn’t that simply mean it’s a digital edition of an OM model? And what will you call it when there’s both an E-M5 and E-M6? :) I mean, what camera would you refer to if you simply said the Olympus PEN? ;)

      Yeah, I’ve got issues. Instead of spending money on gear, I should probably see a shrink. ;)

      • Simple though: if you’re not carrying it, you’re not shooting :)

        Actually, you might want to try the Sigma DP-series…

        • How’s this for a paradox? Somehow it’s better to not carry and not be shooting, than it is to be carrying sub-optimal gear (compared to my best) and get the shot, but with lower technical qualities than it could have had. I think this is due to the fact that the shot I didn’t take is just a memory that will fade, but the “low quality” shot is evidence that will forever remind me it could have been better.

          As I’ve said elsewhere, I know I’m rubbish so I think it stems from that, the technical quality is all I have. I think, though, that if I could evolve to mostly having strong compositions and strong images, I would care less for the gear and the technical qualities of the image. And at that point, I’d be all over a mirror-less of some sort. :)

          As for the Sigmas, I’ve seen some spectacular sharp images from them, to such a degree that it looks unnatural. Though I don’t know if that is due to over-sharpening in post, or if it’s the result from the camera. As it stands, I think they have a certain digital look I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. Also, don’t they have some color issues? I vaguely remember reading something about colors being not right.

          • They don’t need sharpening if you nailed it in-camera. And the digital ‘look’ is a consequence of the processing. But yes, there are color issues, caused by spectral attenuation as light passes through the different layers of sensor.

  7. Amazing article Ming! Thanks a lot :)

  8. Intense, Ming. You leave me behind a few times here just because I don’t have a scientific / physics background. But the results do speak. Financially, it makes me want to ditch my Canon 5D Mk II and get the OMD. On the other hand, I’d love to play with the HB for a few weeks. It’s deep.

    You continually expand and ignite our awareness. Thank you as always for an amazing point of view.

    • Just go with your eyes, and then use your wallet to decide where to stop the lift. Stop where you can’t see the difference anymore.

      The trouble is when you can see the difference…that’s a slippery slope.

      • You can see the difference. The HB wins. But then there are all those other factors that come into play that you’ve outlined so well> Size, weight, haptics, having the camera with you at all. Commercially, you bring the best to your game. For the non-commercial rest of us, the other criteria com into play. Sensor size matters but absolute size matters too! Still loving the Leica M9 and the GR is the surprise of all if you can live with the fixed focal length. Such a great little camera. Thanks again, Ming.

        • Even commercially, it doesn’t always make sense to bring the best to the game: if you’re shooting available-light documentary, the best may not make sense. The best for the given conditions is more like it…but even then, sometimes we have clients who don’t want or need the best. You’d be surprised how many ask for silly file sizes and specs (16 bit CMYK TIFF please!) and then complain when I give them a 400MB file their computer can’t open. :)

          • Ah yes! And I’ll do a 100 piece orchestra at one of the sound stages in town and no one will come and they’ll accept an .mp3 as the final output quality for their commercial. The other side of that equation. :)

            • That pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. 600dpi A3 (which translates to about what a D800E produces), retouched to individual pixel-level perfection and then used for the web and facebook. :(

      • I recently looked at some of my first images, taken with the Nikon D80, and honestly, it made me wonder what I’ve spent thousands of dollars on since. The 10MP files it produced could have served me a lot longer than it did, given that I for now only view my images on my computer. Of course, I’m absolutely in love with the clean low-exposures I can get from the Nikon D5100 for instance, and there are other things it does better as well, but for good light photography and only viewing the whole image on screen, I don’t need much more than the D80.
        Except if there are shadows, then I’d want full frame. ;) Or if I can view the image at 100%, then I’d want full frame, or possibly even bigger. ;)

        • Ah, sufficiency. I didn’t understand that argument in the early days when I was shooting with the D70, but I do now: get it right, be as close to perfect at the pixel level as possible, and the reality is we’re long past sufficiency for most uses. Bringing in an earlier comment by Haplo before on the OM-D vs full frame – this is the reason why I can accept the OM-D’s image quality; it’s well past that point. Do I like the bigger/ better files? Yes, but I don’t always want to deal with them (and the weight).

          • There’s an argument to be made for what you find fun to use, as well. If you don’t like the ergonomics or whatever, chances are you’ll be using it less than if it fits your hand perfectly and you find it a joy to use. While the D80 might be enough for me for image quality, what strikes me every time I pick it up is how slow it is! Try zooming in on an image and then moving around at that zoomed in level. Goodness gracious, it is just unbearably slow! The change to the D5100, which is a lesser body, was well worth it for that speed upgrade alone!
            But as I said elsewhere, if I could consistently make strong images, I would care less about technical image quality and know I would be served well by pretty much anything available today. :) And at that point, I’d probably go for something smaller.

  9. Mario_E4 says:

    Hello Ming,

    thank you for sharing your insights!! I have only one question concerning the Microns of the OM-D.
    Isn’t the Pixel pitch = width of sensor in mm divided by image width in pixels?
    With the OM-D Data (13,0 mm (Sensorwidth) 3456 (Image width in resolution))
    I get 3.8 Micron, for the D800 I get 4.88 Micron.

    • You’re right. I’ve messed up the math somewhere for the OM-D. I do know for the D800E that the 4.7um value is the active photosite width excluding some peripheral wiring, but I will amend them to be the same metric.

  10. Great article. I will surely like to ask about the Sigma Foveon sensor, especially as you’ve been trying out the DP3Merrill. Where might it fit in?

    • This is a tricky question, because it isn’t a like-for-like comparison; I didn’t have the DP3M at the same time as I was putting together this test, so it’s unfortunately excluded. But I will have a comparison to the D800E in the upcoming DP3M review…in short, it wins on some metrics, but lags behind considerably on others.

  11. Hi Ming, I’m surprised that you think that the Hasselblad is the most unforgiving of the lot. My experience with an H4D 40 and 39 before that is that you can really push the files around a lot without them falling apart. I would have expected the exact opposite. I assume that you are using Phocus?

  12. Paul Stokes says:

    Another excellent article Ming. I was very interested in you comments about CCD Vs CMOS for b&w but CCD’s seem to be a disappearing breed. Maybe it is time to take up film, at least partially though GR seems to rate well in this respect. Well now your has arrive maybe we can look at the best camera for b&w outside the Monochrom and the Hasselblad.

    • Thanks Paul. There doens’t seem to be much development work going into CCDs, which means that CMOS has long eclipsed them on noise performance, dynamic range, frame rates etc. Shame, as none of the CMOS sensors I’ve seen so far can quite match the tonal response of a good CCD.

      As for the GR, I need to find time to shoot with it! Seems like my personal shooting time these days is taken up testing gear – the X Vario and DP3M are next in the queue, and I’ve also got a Panasonic 7-14 here, plus I’m told the new Zeiss Touits are on the way too…

      • Paul Stokes says:

        Although its true that there is only one thing worse than being busy, that is not being busy, make sure you have relaxation time as well as work time.

        • I’m trying! It’s like boiling water: if you let it come off the boil, things get cold, and it takes time and energy to restart. Keeping things simmering is the tough balance.

          • Hal Knowles says:

            And the watched pot never boils making that restart (and balance) even tougher!

            As always Ming, your thoughtful mastery of the art of photography and blogging is awe inspiring. Thanks for all the light you capture and share in our world!

            While I was seriously tempted by the Ricoh GR goodness, I ultimately couldn’t pass on the Panasonic GX-1 fire sale and the recent deep discounts on the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 lens and FL600R flash to grow my m4/3 system. My OM-D E-M5 is happier now so it looks like I get to hone my 28mm street shooting skills with the Panny GX and 14mm pancake. I’ll have to earn the privilege of one day owning a GR…and registering for one of your workshops ;-)

            • That is such a true and sweet comment, Hal. I concur completely about Ming, his light and his blog. I took the GR, btw, and it’s a total blast. Hope to meet you one of these days. Heading to Prague with the crew in October. Can’t wait. :-)

              • Prague is going to be intense, fun, and productive!

              • Hal Knowles says:

                Thanks Roger and likewise on meeting you!

                I am envious about your upcoming trip to Prague with Ming and the crew. I backpacked through Europe for a few months after college and Prague is hands down one of the greatest cities in the world! From the people, to the food, to the nightlife, to the architecture and everything in between, you are in for a real treat. Interestingly enough, I also felt like there is no better location for B&W photography than Prague. I almost felt crippled when viewing the city through the rainbow vision of my own eyes. It takes a monochromatic image to see Prague at its most essential level.

                What a special life moment to be in Prague under the tutelage of a true B&W master in Ming Thein!

            • Thanks Hal! At the end of the day, the differences are minor enough you might as well use whatever feels better or is more convenient. Composition and postprocessing will be far more apparent.

              As for workshops…one or two places left for Europe in Sep/Oct, provisionally Australia/ New Zealand next year, and North America again in the later portion of the year…

              • Hal Knowles says:

                Thanks Ming, that’s good (and intimidating) to hear that I should have no excuses (other than my own imperfect skills) for the photos that are to come from the Panny GX-1 and 14mm combo ;-)

                After spending the first few months with my OM-D E-M5 in JPG only mode, I finally had the guts to take my photos in RAW + medium size JPG. I’ve only scratched the surface on my postprocessing experience. I have access to Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6 on my work computer which I can also access remotely from home for my personal photography. While I had originally started using LR4, I’m considering shifting my workflow over to PS/CS6, ACR, and Bridge as you suggest. I just have to accept the steeper learning curve.

                Ah, to join you in Europe would be unbelievable! Unfortunately, life circumstances don’t permit my apprenticeship…yet. If you continue your workshops for at least a few more years, I’m confident that you’ll one day find me as your student.

                Until that time, I just sent a donation to your site as gratitude for the amazing free lessons you provide to the photography community. If I can find the right image and the guts to “buy a critique,” this is another way I’d like to support your site and to start my nascent tutelage!

                • Thanks for the support, Hal.

                  I think you’ll find the OM-D’s raw files + ACR open up a whole new universe of possibility. My suggestion would be to download the CS demo first and see if you can work with it, then figure out if you need it or not.

                  • Hal Knowles says:

                    Thanks Ming, I’ll give that a try as I try postprocessing a favorite image for your “critique”!

      • Thanks for the very interesting article Ming. I like its mix of the technical with the aesthetic quality that your refined eye looks for. That is a unique and valuable combo!

        What mount will you be testing the Touits on? I just rented the 32 last week and while it has very nice image quality (especially B&W), there are some handling issues that are obnoxious on a Sony body mainly having to do with AF.

  13. Excellent article and very informative; I also enjoyed the explanations of tonality etc that Eric mentioned. One question: when you say “CCDs have a bit of an advantage over CMOS sensors as their tonal map is definitely nonlinear”, what exactly does this mean, and what are the practical ramifications? I sort of get it, but could use a concise definition…

    • CMOS: A doubling of intensity of light results in a doubling of useable output signal, across the entire tonal range from shadows to highlights.

      CCD: It’s almost as though you need to get over a certain ‘activation energy’ which makes shadows darker than you’d expect, and highlights clip in a pleasing way (though I’ve seen this with some CMOS sensors too). For film, blacks never quite clip to pure black, whites never quite clip to pure white; CCDs do clip at both ends, but subjectively it seems that the way they do this is in a manner that’s closer to film (and the way our own eyes respond to light) than CMOS.

      • Cool, thank you for taking the time to write that. Since I started reading your site, I’ve (perhaps inevitably) become very interested in the nuances of tonality–particularly black and white tonality. The differences in conversion potential between Coolpix A and GR are a particular source of fascination to me at the moment, as the two cameras are otherwise so similar. Found myself studying their tone curves on DPReview yesterday; they wrote that the “Ricoh clips to white around 1/3EV earlier than the Nikon (Though, at any given shutter speed, aperture and ISO, its JPEGs will be 1/3EV darker, so will actually capture the same brightest tone). The Ricoh’s shadow response is slightly less contrasty than the Nikon’s – again meaning that the shadow regions will be fairly similar to the Coolpix if set to the same exposure values. The main difference will be a darker mid-tones – which is why it measures as 1/3rd less sensitive than the Nikon, despite very similar highlight and shadow results from the same exposure”. Theoretically, then, using those parameters one could make a profile for the Coolpix A that exactly matches the GR’s (given that their sensors are, for all intents and purposes, the same)? But surely it’s not such an exact science?

        I’m actually considering getting a GR (in addition to the Coolpix A I’ve had for a few months) when it finally comes out in the UK just to compare and contrast tonality. No interest in owning both, and of course it makes no sense financially, but I would like to figure out where the magic lies in Ricoh’s black and whites (and how to emulate it in other cameras).

        • Side note: I’m currently trialling Photoshop CC (I use Lightroom at home, but have been using its big bro for much longer, primarily at work these days), so had cause to bust out your iPad videos again (I got a load of them as a Christmas present to myself, but had to use my parents’ iPad, so I don’t have access to them most of the time!); really excellent. There’s something visceral and satisfying about the hands-on nature of your Photoshop workflow (particularly multiple curves and the much more precise dodge and burn tools) that Lightroom/ACR alone can’t match; the greater degree of control afforded makes processing a more right-brained and fun experience, IMO. Hearty endoresement from me to anyone reading this that hasn’t tried Ming’s videos.

          • Thank you! Fundamentally, the theory is the same – Adobe continually changes labeling, the conversion algorithms get more refined, but for the most part everything works the same.

            • Oh, yeah, in terms of Photoshop, I haven’t noticed any real differences between CC and CS6. I’m tempted to sign up, though, despite the overwhelmingly negative response to the subcription model from many quarters. The initial outlay is less, and that’s appealing. Lightroom has served me fine for 5 years now, and in isolation it’s great (and I do like having an entirely non-destructive editing environment), but it’s rather simplistic and limiting in some key areas (dodge and burn, curves, sharpening immediately spring to mind–and that’s a good 75% of the process!).

              • Frankly – if I didn’t already have CS5.5 and was happy with it, I’d spring for CS6 and be done with it. There really isn’t anything more I need, and I’d say I’m probably a more serious user than most :)

        • I think they were referring to the jpegs, no? But the reality is that you won’t notice 1/3 stop of difference – you can easily negate that through minor postprocessing, or differences in the raw conversion algorithm. I don’t think I’d go to the extent of buying both, though :)

        • Tom Liles says:

          Hi Todd, I hope you don’t mind me chipping in for a moment. I’m interested in this too, and like you, the interest came from reading Ming speak about CMOS and CCD previously [a comment on the D2H here, a comment on the CMOSIS M240 sensor vs. all the kodaks that came before, there].

          I only have one CCD sensor in my arsenal, the Epson R-D1s and it does do better B&Ws than comparable CMOS cameras I — or my wife! — own: the DMC-L1 and the Nikon D60 [the DMC-L1 is technically a hybrid CMOS; but to my eyes it's way more CMOSy than CCDy: the "flatness" -- read: linearity -- of raw files is what I use as a marker for that. I just go by eye; not very scientific. Who has time...]. But with the R-D1s, a lot of the pleasing B&W results are down to IR pollution I think [it's not quite M8 level bad... bad meaning good not bad meaning bad, to borrow the words of Run DMC]; a kind of soft, glowing effect from skin tones is the signature of this. It’s great.

          But I have another camera that’s better for B&W even than the Epson, two in fact: the Sigma DP Merrills. These are just on another level when it comes to mono. I know we have at least a couple of Merrill users on here — and they’re surely more proficient than me — so perhaps they might lend their voices, but seriously, I can sit and try to finesse an Epson file for hours and not get close to what the Merrills give me straight out of camera from the X3F raw. No WB, no channel mixer, no curves—the “flat” raw data, convert to monochrome: blammo. I know this can’t be me because my shot discipline and adherence to Ming’s 1, 2, 3, 4 is not even close to being there, but still the tones just come out great.

          The Merrills are the most modern cameras I own. That could be it. The next newest is that used D7000 you remember I saved up for and got a month or two back [it's going to get part-ex'd for an 85 1.8G tomorrow!]: the D7000 is a CMOS from 2010. Also the same Sony sensor that’s in your A; and perhaps your GR? :) May the GR be with you. But, the D7000 B&Ws sans any fiddling? Flat, flat, flat is all I can say for straight desaturations. I am pretty clueless [at photos], there is that, I know. But it seems to me you need really obvious, controlled lighting setups, that would make ANY camera’s B&Ws sing; or very intentionally sought out and chosen — and obviously dramatic — ambient light to get the D7000 B&Ws to do anything that puts a smile on your face. The Merrills just seem to turn any old thing into “oh, ah :) ” B&W conversions. It could just be that most modern cameras do this, and I’m too far behind to know yet. But I doubt it. I’m sure it’s down to the Foveon…

          Anyway, sorry again for the interruption. Hope all’s well down in Tunbridge Wells :D
          [I'll always remember this because you mentioned you were in TunWells to Ming once; before coming back to Tokyo, I lived for a year in Tenterden, then another year in Rye, so just around the way. I still own a house in Rye---praying to God someone will buy it soon. Not a seller's market, that's for sure. But anyway, I can't remember if TW is the weald, but it's close enough! It was the only place my wife and I never got to in our time in Kent/E.Sussex. Always regretted it. OK, I'm out of your hair!]

          • I never mind you chipping in Tom ;) (There’s no way to phrase that without sounding like a creep, apologies ;p)

            Yes, straight black and white conversions with the Coolpix A are just like your outgoing D7000: flat as a pancake. Standard CMOS, in other words, and in broad terms the output of the GR (same sensor) is no different. But apply a similar contrast boost to both, and it’s it’s the GR that’ll yield the most pleasing tones, by pretty much unanimous agreement as far as I’ve seen (and I don’t use the term lightly!). Some subtle difference in the native tonal response of the sensor/camera profile and how that defines what you have to work with in the first place, probably.

            Disclaimer to anyone else reading this: we’re talking pretty small differences in starting point here–they’re likely to be negated as soon as you get into post-processing to taste.

            • Tom Liles says:

              Yeah, it’s fascinating stuff, though. So, a contrast boost sounds like a smoothing out [spreading out] of the tones—you see the histogram stretch, move both left and right, when you do it in iPhoto, LR, PS, etc. I’m just saying it out loud Todd, I know you know—it’s me making sure of myself! But I’ve come to the conclusion, lately, that for B&W conversions this is not what gives pleasing results. Or not in isolation, at any rate. I actually do the opposite!.
              Depending on the camera I shot with [and it's very interesting how different cameras really do demand different PP approaches; you soon learn which ones react well/badly to certain tools, which need kid gloves and which you can just wrench around willy nilly---how's that for sounding like a creep! Ha] yes, so depending on the camera and all, but, I usually turn the contrast down. Way down. Way way down. This is effectively increasing my dynamic range [I say effectively, not actually]. Next I add in “clarity.” This isn’t a standalone tool in PS-CS3 [what I've got] but you can achieve the same thing with the unsharp mask; or there’s loading the file into ACR and doing it there… So I add in clarity. By the by, if working in color in LR [on my work machine] the clarity tool robs saturation straight away. Not so much in PS, interesting that. Overall I find PS tools to be much much more subtle and adult. Adult? Anyway, I’ll add any lost saturation back in last, if it’s color—and a by the by for the by the by: I actually find default zero values for saturation are too rich and it robs some sense of cleanness or clarity from the image. All else equal, I find minus 5 to 10 is the correct value with my Nikons. Now, contrast slider way down, clarity to taste, next is to put the “macro” contrast — I think of the clarity tool as like “micro” contrast — back in, but where I want it.
              This is a good place to give a second shout out for MT’s photoshop videos, which I got like Todd. I do go back and refer to them once every so often, about monthly [you always find a tidbit you glossed over previously, or just didn't understand, or find something you understood but now you understand in yet another way, etc]. Anyway, the way to put the overall contrast back in, where you want it, but in a natural way, is all in the videos. Watch and learn. Seriously. I didn’t get the all bruhaha about brushes in LR until I tried what MT taught in the videos in PS—and LR is quite unsatisfying as an editing tool thereafter :(

              Next I fiddle about with WB and colors. I find playing with the B-Y and G-M WB sliders gives me filter effects like ye-olden days when the OGs put physical filters over the lenses at the time of capture. This is before mucking about channel mixers or HSL sliders, etc. Which I sometimes try for subject isolation [when the colors were more distinct than the luminance differences], but honestly I find playing with colors too much on monochrome shots is just a recipe for posterizing. You get a few points worth of play, any more it starts to look silly. I know the color shifting/enhancing/etc technique is one that MT uses for subject isolation in some B&Ws; but I tend to stick to luminance based thinking [look for it when I'm shooting; use color sliders to achieve it in PP, e.g., blue-ing up a color converted B&W photo will darken it, depending on the underlying data, of course].

              Last is do a “clean up” iteration on previous settings to fine tune. And that’s really about it. I do find less contrast [on the slider] and mucking about with other controls to put it back in gets better B&Ws — tonal transitions — than putting contrast straight onto a raw… Though I doubt what I’m doing is really that novel or news to anyone. Of course it is important to get good data to begin with, I fully appreciate that. But PP is a real factor in photography, I find. And knowing that you’ve got about a stop to play with in post is quite dangerous knowledge in many ways :)

              It’ll be good to see which of the A or the GR you stick with Todd… Looking forward to finding out, and oh, if you have any B&W tips: interested ears are keen to know! :)

              I’m preparing, mentally, for trying B&W film, probably around Autumn. I figure, why spend so much time and effort trying to recreate “the real thing” when the real thing is actually, umm, still a reality :o

              • Film is to CCD as CCD is to CMOS. That’s probably the best way of looking at it. The medium gives you very pleasing tones, plenty of dynamic range (that, importantly, doesn’t clip to pure black or white, as Ming touched on above), and more than enough resolving power. But, just like digital raw files, the negative is merely a starting point; a straight scan is going to be flat and boring. #1 misconception about film photography: “buying Film X will give me this look”. Wrong! The vintage film look most people have in their minds was defined by the /print/–the post-processing of yesteryear. The actual differences between film brands are very minimal by comparison; again, they’re likely to be overshadowed by your personal choices regarding contrast etc. Further confusing the issue, much of that post-processing now takes place on a computer, not in a darkroom; even 99% of professional labs post-process and print digitally.

                Upshot: your digital post-processing chops are just as relevant to film, because you’ll be using the same principles… probably even the same software.

                (Those with a traditional wet darkroom, I salute thee :))

                • A good summary on all counts – the ‘look’ of film has more to do with processing than emulsion, as does the final output of your digital file. Some emulsions/ raw files make it easier to get to certain places than others, but work is required for all.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Thanks for that Todd. Really good. Could I slip the X3 Foveons [from the "Merrill" series of cameras] in there between film and CCD :) Seriously though, I doubt you’ll find any other digital sensor as close to film out there. Even just mechanically—remember Ming was telling me about the depth of film emulsions vs the perfectly flat planar surface a digital sensor presents? [the light wells don't matter for my point here] This was on the Leica Vario thread when we were talking with amonle? About m4/3 vs DRF, etc? Anyway, if you do remember that and what MT said, then, with the Foveons being layered architecture, it gives light rays that wouldn’t have been perfectly focused or straightened at a digital sensor plane, a chance to meet, etc as they might have done on film as both the film emulsion and the Foveon have some effective thickness. I’ve probably gotten that completely wrong [because I think Foveons do have microlenses], but anyway :)

                  Well you’ve given me pause for thought there on the film stuff. Because I know that you shoot film quite a bit and so what you say carries weight… The only reason I hadn’t taken up film before was, it seemed to me, you’re going to end up displaying digitally anyway: why not just save A TON of hassle and start with 1s and 0s instead?
                  There is only one reason I can think of: the response curve of film emulsions versus trying to recreate one with software [PS etc] from the linear [are they really linear though?] output from an ADC [a raw file]. It’s a weighting between how much you want that chemical response and how far you’re prepared to go to get it. I’m not quite over the wall yet…

                  But it sounds like you say film negatives are flat? That’s confused me a bit. Film, I thought, is really the analogue of jpegs—the tone curve is burned in: it’s a basic sensitometric property of the emulsion [a logarithmic, rather than linear, response to light].

                  And you’re too kind to me Todd—I have NO CHOPS at all!
                  [except for the lamb ones I thought were cool when I was a shtyudent :o ]

                  • The Foveons do have some thickness because of the layered sensor…I suppose if this was laid out in the correct order, it might well help to reduce or overcome CA to some extent because it would allow focus of different wavelengths at different distances. Hmmm…

                  • Best example I can think of (without uploading my own!):

                    For an example of a good straight scan, do a simple inversion of this 6×6 contact sheet Ming uploaded a while ago: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mingthein/8490608643/in/set-72157632243289072

                    Then compare and contrast to the finished versions, with tonal adjustments made in Photoshop that are tantamount to what would have been done in the darkroom (some people still do!): http://www.flickr.com/photos/mingthein/8491707966/in/set-72157632243289072/

                    You’re quite right: some degree of tone curve is baked in, and that is one of the main differentiators between different brands (grain and colour are the other big ones). But negatives were always intended as an intermediate format; a lot of the magic is in what used to be called the print–a term that now envelops not just prints in the traditional sense, but any file that you’ve post-processed and prepared for output, even if it’s to the web or whatever.

                    In simple terms, whether you’re using film in the darkroom or working with the latest raw files in Lightroom, your workflow and processing choices will likely end up mattering more than small differences in starting point. Whatever the medium, it’s all about unlocking the potential. Personally, I’ve come to regard film as being like a particularly lovely raw file; the main difference for me is the shooting experience, not the actual look I end up with.

                    • Was this the ‘adult’ post? I think it landed up in the moderation queue because of the links.

                      The files had minor local work done, but most of the tonal adjustments were part of the conversion action I use for that particular film.

                    • Haha, yes, that was the X-rated post. It’s a conversion action, yes, but there’s still a lot of you in that, I think. You had to pre-visualise what you wanted from that film, then work out how to get there using Photoshop. It’s quite possible for the same film to look drastically different depending on how you process and post-process it; that’s what I think many people don’t understand at the outset.

                    • Absolutely. Knowing what you want and what you have to do in PP vs in camera dictates the way you shoot too…so workflow goes all the way up the chain. And that’s the bit which a lot of photographers don’t learn until much later.

                    • Speaking of which, I’d still love to see a video on film processing. I had a go last night using the trial version of Photoshop CC (until now, I’d been working with what I’d got: scanning flat and processing using exposure and curves in Lightroom), but I felt like a bit of a n00b. Getting something acceptable is easy enough, but mastering the subtleties is not.

                    • It’s in the plan, to be released together with the film scanning rig…

                    • Ooh awesome! Sold separately to the rig, right?

                    • Possibly, yes. All depends on demand :) You’d of course need the rig to make it work, though.

                    • Well, I for one will definitely buy the video if it’s available separately (as a download), as I’m sure a good portion of the Photoshop part would apply to negatives scanned with no prior adjustments. I don’t have any kind of lights or a macro lens at the moment, so the rig itself is probably not practical for me for the time being (much as I would like to replace my negative scanner).

                    • Makes sense!

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Todd, I’ve been itching to drop a comment in to thank you for your reply there. Have been stuck in a meeting since 20:10 Japanese time… Finished at midnight. Just got home now. Before I sleep:

                      Yeah, I’ll give that inversion a try! It’s funny, I’d really never thought of this [almost like try before you buy]. I have to admit though: all the things like self-developing, the nightmare of scanning, etc., AND THEN only being at the start point of PP workflow? Intimidating to say the least. If it were just a matter of things like this, I think you’d have to be a raging masochist to glean ANY enjoyment. But it isn’t just a matter of this:

                      …the main difference for me is the shooting experience…

                      This is it. This and that enigmatic “film-like” look [well, with film it's not "film-like" is it! Ha].

                      I think there must be a certain pleasure to film that seems analogous to smoking a fine cigar in a club chair or savoring a good glass of Barolo with a succulent Kobe beef fillet… that sort of thing. And that’s why I’m interested in it. Plus just the pure smug value, if I’m brutally honest with myself. Film is harder. It has to be. Being the guy intentionally going the hard route comes with its own satisfaction, but there is the outward appearance of being the guy intentionally going the hard route [desirable].

                      I forget the chap’s name, but months back a commenter compared it to Vinyl. I really think that was astute. Not because vinyl is the touch point: because these things: vinyl, film cameras, radio, VHS [there is a MASSIVE niche for VHS with young people now; a whole GIF subculture dedicated to it], and on and on… when technology passes things by — in fact just plainly, when things get passed by — they sometimes disappear, but more likely become redefined in “art” terms. Advertising is a good example [passed by by PR]. Most ads get approached like they are artworks now; agencies hang them on the wall as though they were artworks. This signifies how dead advertising is as a viable medium to do what it’s supposed to do [sell stuff; it's just a rank sales tool---not art]. Think about any outmoded technology [not failed technology; there is a difference], isn’t it true that we look upon it as art? How did I get onto this… I forget… perhaps time for bed… Ah yes: the smug route. In my case, this is a real pull of film [pun intended!].

                      I think I’ll ease in with an old F2 [MT's guidance on that one]. I already have two MF Ai Nikkors, so no need for money on lenses. Just get a body, a roll of film, and just do it. Looking forward to putting my best “blue steel” face on and intently eagle-eyeing some scene, taking my stance, presenting the camera, looking through the viewfinder, focus, ENGAGE, EXECUTE, letting the camera glide down and winding that lever on. I almost want a cameraman vest with the mesh pockets to put rolls of film and a spare lens in, to complement. What the hell, throw a booney hat in there too.

                      But negatives were always intended as an intermediate format; a lot of the magic is in what used to be called the print–a term that now envelops not just prints in the traditional sense, but any file that you’ve post-processed and prepared for output, even if it’s to the web or whatever… Personally, I’ve come to regard film as being like a particularly lovely raw file

                      Fascinating stuff. You’ve actually changed my whole viewpoint around there [again]; just like I was afraid of FX, but have found it nothing to be afraid of, in fact more kindly to me than DX was, I read that and have started to think film is just another option. No great shakes; nothing to be afraid of. I have an FX camera, an ASP-C one, a 4/3 one [someone, anyone, please make a modern 4/3 body for me: PLEASE!] and two Foveon ASP-Cs; the film camera would just be another option [and I really have to start a cull, that is a stupid amount of gear. Yet I love each one of them to bits! Agh!]. I hate to sound like a broken record, but all that stops me is the thought of all the extra work that goes with [I'm a family man so only have a limited amount of time].

                      I should just shut up and give it a go and do it and see if it’s for me or not :)

                      And go to bed!

                      Oyasumi nasai m(. .)m

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      dagnammit, the itals :(

                    • Crikey, long day! Get to bed man!

                      There are definitely parallels to vinyl, yes. There’s an elusive magic with film that’s something to do with tones, grain, and the non-quantized nature of analog; Ming and I touched on that when we were talking about digital being unsuited to representing the character of old AI lenses in a pleasing way.

                      The experience of shooting film, meanwhile, is like owning a classic car: it’s inconvenient at times, and you may find yourself cursing the lack of convenience features, but there’s a huge feelgood factor involved; I put that down to haptics and the knowledge that you’re using something that isn’t going to go out of date (because it already is out of date!), packing a definitive full-frame sensor–still the high-water mark for quality. Digital will inevitably surpass film in every measurable department one day, but it will never /be/ film (actually, I suppose it might… but that’s looking deep into the crystal ball). There’s pleasure to be had in owning something /definitive/, especially in today’s disposable society.

                      Personally, I dipped my toe in the water with an FM3a, and I love it. It’s my favourite camera, and just a lovely object; if I never shot another roll of film again I’d probably still keep it. Digital cameras came first for me–including a 5D2, the kind of camera many people aspire to–but the FM3a and an old 50 prime unlocked a whole new level. Great learning experience, and the action of the film advance lever would drive Jeremy Clarkson wild (someone mentioned car journalism elsewhere in these comments!).

                    • The difference between a 5D2 and a FM3a is like the difference between a Toyota Camry and a Lotus Elise…the Camry may well go faster and have more bells and whistles, but the Elise is involving, and more importantly, fun.

                    • Must be, mine’s a Futur too!

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Morning Todd. –>

                    SOLD

                    FM3a, eh? Shall have to take a look. The best camera I’ve ever held in my hand, BAR NONE, is a Nikon F6. Don’t know why. I wouldn’t call it perfect, but certainly a there’s nothing I don’t like here type deal. And I have held and shot a few frames with Leica Ms, etc., but still—the Nikon. Theres no advance lever though. Will have to get myself to a camera shop and give this FM3a lever a go!

                    Swap the camera vest for jean jacket, jeans and loafers, and in my best Clarkson voice go:

                    the best advance lever… IN THE WORLD

                    • No no no! F2! F2!

                      Actually, the best advanced lever…IN THE WORLD belongs to the F3. But since that’s an ungodly hybrid of the F2 and some electronic bits, we’ll ignore it. The F2 is the camera from the time when men were men, and carried clubs, not lounged in them. It has a degree of solidity that tells you it will probably survive a crash better than you will; and at the same time you can pretend to be James Dean, or perhaps Fidel Castro (he also had an F2). The FM3a is close, but hollow in comparison. It might be better, but then again, I like to shave with a straight razor rather than a multibladed thing with a handle like an alien probe…

                      How was that? ;)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Hahahahaha

                      We just need to get you a curly wig, a belly, and a bad temper and it’s there Ming!

                      There must be an iPhone app for this somewhere? “Clarkson Translate” etc…

                    • I just need the wig and belly. Already got the bad temper. I’m not a luddite, though.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Oh it’s an F2, Ming. I meant Todd had sold me on film [you and others too].

                      I just try not to mention F2s so much because I know Paul will get excited and might do something silly with the credit card :)

                    • _6001465bw copy

                      You mean like I did the last time I was in Japan?

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      All men in the vicinity:

                      STAY CALM AND WALK TO THE NEAREST EXIT

                    • Haha, this is like an epic rap battle themed on film advance levers and Jeremy Clarkson! Almost certainly the first of its kind… :)

                      In all seriousness, I didn’t mean that the FM3a is particularly outstanding in its field (I happened to bag a mint black one at a good price from a shop in Canterbury, of all places), but the film experience as a whole is something every enthusiast will benefit from–it might just prove revelatory.

                      Interestingly, I don’t use new-fangled plastic razors either; I’ve got a Merkur. Don’t remember this topic coming up in the new hobbies/common ground comments, but it makes sense!

                    • Ha! I’ve got a Futur actually. Perhaps it’s a manual camera thing…

                    • Purchased five years ago almost to the day, according to the receipt in my emails. I wonder how many Fusion ProGlide Super Ultra Mega Power 4000 Xs are in mint condition (and still have easily available compatible blades) after that amout of time…

                    • The ones that were bought then forgotten after the owners found out how much the blades cost :)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Seriously scary stuff Todd—I own a Merkur too! I couldn’t cope with an open bladed razor, but the classic double sided interchangeable Bic design does it for me. The amount of razor burn I got went down to almost zero after getting the Merkur: makes you go slow and not press too hard, use multiple passes…

                      Hey, wait, this sounds familiar… :)

                    • ‘Ming Thein’s Mastering Dodge And Burn, and also shaving’ video is now available via the iPad Compendium…

                    • Haha :)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Hey Ming, I’ve seen the numbers for what P&G do in men’s grooming…

                      might be something to consider? :)

          • *bit that everyone else can ignore*

            Awesome, I love Tenterden! And Rye! I used to go to both nearly every weekend at one point (remember that era after you’ve got your first car and want to drive /everywhere/, /all the time/?). I would happily buy your house–my girlfriend’s looking to relocate back to Kent/E.Sussex! I’ve also got an 85 1.*4*G that I’m considering selling… Swap it for the house? ;)

            • Tom Liles says:

              Haha. They’re about the same price—or feel that way! The reason I want a 85mm = I spent my entire “new computer savings” on a used D3 :o

              True story. So now I don’t have anything at the narrow end to try the “cinematics” stuff with.

              At the time I got the used D7000, you’d mentioned the D700 being a forgiving camera… I’d been intimidated by the words “FX” a bit and just wrote it off for me [a newbie] straight away. But a combo of things: wanting [affordable] wide angles, using/enjoying old Ai Nikkors a lot, the fearsome resolution and pixel density of the D7000—and just the viewfinder and HAPTICS of these big Nikon bodies… All playing on my mind… Then my friend JeffC mentioned that the D700 and D3 were pretty much it for him [sorry Jeff, I'm getting a mail to you soon!] and I was sold. Pre-sold…
              So one day, in a camera shop — there’s the problem! — a couple of D-threes had appeared. Literally, weren’t there the week before. I casually enquired, held one, smiled, gave it back. Went again next day, did same thing again; asked “how many shutter actuations?” The answer…

              7000

              HOLD THE PHONE

              Seriously. They took a shot, put it in the EXIF software right in front of me and it came up 6900 and odd… Wow…
              [Nikon have confirmed this since!]

              I lasted about 48 hours after that. And then it was mine! I’m considering it a message from God. Or, that’s how I pitched it to my wife.
              [and back to square one on the new computer, but! But! My computer is a happy camper with 2007 NEFs :) ]

              Anyway, the 85 1.4 should be AWESOME on my D3, but I will surely get a newer Nikon a few years down the line so getting something that will carry over nicely seems sensible. From reading MT’s review and general internetz opinion, the 1.8G is probably the smarter choice [considering what happens to the 1.4 at higher than 12Mpix res]. I just plain can’t afford the 1.4 either—that’s the main reason :)

              Ah man, driving! I haven’t been behind a wheel in over a year now :( Miss it immensely…
              [We have a car, but I don't have a Japanese license]

              Tenterden was like Shangri-la to me. Everything I want, right there. My wife preferred Rye, so guess how we ended up living in Rye ;) But Rye really grew on me. To the point where I was genuinely sad to leave and didn’t really want to sell our house there [in the hope we could move back someday]. With Camber Sands right there. Loved it. But keeping a house in the UK has clashed with the reality of living in Tokyo now and needing a house, apartment, something because the cost of living is just too high; so the house went on the market. 300K if you’re interested Todd :) No, we actually have an interested buyer at the moment, but it’s one of those “sell to buy” things so we’re waiting for her to flog her London flat. It’s excruciating. But the day we swap contracts… wow, maybe a 28 1.8G to celebrate? :)

          • Seconded – the DPs are definitely amongst the best B&W cameras I’ve used. Very little data manipulation is required; the output – so long as you stay within the dynamic range of the cameras – is very filmic.

            Ricoh is definitely doing something with the GR’s DNG files – B&Ws from the A and D7000 (and D5100, which I did own for a while) definitely did NOT look like that.

  14. Nice work and good explanations .. thanks. Just a shame you don’t have the RX100 on hand (just my personal bias grumbling).

  15. I noticed some sort of hate tawords Canon in your words. I hope it’s not the case. Your texts are always great to read.

    • Err…no, what would give you that idea? The only negative comments are to do with the result of small sensors, which is manufacturer independent. The only small sensor cam I had that fit the requirements was the Canon…

  16. Do you still use the M9 Ming?..

  17. Thank you for your fascinating review. I am quite new in trying to improve my photography and have recently been gifted with the Fuji XF1 (in black). I’m loving it, and it has coincided with me discovering your blog which I’m taking very close notice of in my very amateur attempts at improvement.

    • Tom Liles says:

      Good luck with the XF1 Sofia. You should poke Ming about it: I think “his” XF1 is actually his wife’s; but no doubt MT knows it inside out. You’ll definitely get better. I only started 6 months ago, but if you just keep taking pictures everyday — and reading this site — you’ll be amazed at the improvement you can make. Ming is an expert culinary photographer so check his archives—there’re tons of useful articles here for you. So well done, you got a great camera for a great blog. Chorizo pasta and Shubert for me please :P

      It’s my lunchtime now, and even though I’m eating as I surf, you just made me very hungry! Can you do peperoncino? One of my all time favs along with beef taliaita [cheek] and the list goes on. And on. Love Italian food and Italian wine. But not Italian beer!

      And it’s my birthday today—just 3 days after you!
      I didn’t get anything as lovely as an XF1 :(
      I’m only joking, my wife bought me a new lens and my kids gave me some lovely hand drawn cards and CHOCOLATE!

      • Hi Tom! Happy Birthday!!! :) A new lens, hand drawn cards and chocolate are fantastic!
        Ah I thought the XF1 wouldn´t be his haha. My boyfriend got this for me saying it is the “wife” camera and he is considering getting the next model up himself. I certainly am looking in Mings blog which I think is superb.
        Thanks for coming over my blog, Certainly some Chorizo pasta and Schubert if you wish hehe.

      • Happy birthday!

      • Tom Liles says:

        Thanks Ming and Sofia—answering birthday wishes, ha, this is getting like my Facebook page now :)

        [Do you do one global "thank you everyone for the birthday wishes" post; or go MT style and reply to each individually? I go MT style, for the same reason: they made the time to write to me...]

        • You can also type super fast on your iPhone, which actually makes that a practical option. I have pockets of time I try to be efficient with, for example this traffic jam I’m sitting in now…

          • Tom Liles says:

            Hopefully not roadworks! Will they ever finish building KL? Still, it’s actually quite pleasant to keep up with the works in your photos :)

            [I always felt like seeing them building stuff in your city is an uplifting sight; you feel like money and people are coming in rather going out.]

      • Well as usual I’m really, really late to the party/conversation. Couldn’t figure out where to pop in, but then I find out it’s your birthday Tom. Don’t need a better reason than that!! Happy Birthday Tom!!! I’ll be pouring a beer in your honor tonight! Also wanted to say thanks (both you and Todd) for the input on Ming’s PS vid. Been dragging my feet on that purchase and my post-processing is suffering because of it! I’ll be placing my order tonight. Cheers and Happy Birthday!

        • Haha, thanks for the support Jeff!

          • The order is in! It’s the least I could do. I wasn’t able to pony up the cash for a print, but I still want to support the site. I’m sure I will appreciate the education. Once I get through part 1 it’s on to part 2. Looking forward to it! Thanks Ming. Just one thing, right before I placed my order I up dated my paypal shipping address. Anyway to verify That you have the correct address? Thanks again.

            • And I just sent you the download link :)

              I much prefer to be able to supply something useful – print, tutorials, email school – than rely on donations or referrals. Plus, demand in its own right is always a good thing. In any case, there will be future print runs – this one went well, beyond my expectations.

        • Tom Liles says:

          Jeff! What a gent—if only they knew :D

          Thanks mate. Look forward to the day I can pour that beer for you; then you can pour one for me =>

          Cheers!

          P/S enjoy the vids. Going for the advanced one yeah? We’ll have to swap notes sometime: if I EVER get my act together and get that mail off to you! I’m hopeless :) Baby in a couple weeks, then I’m stay at home Dad for three = hopefully I can get myself organized like you mate and leave my evenings open for Internet AND A DRINK! Speak soon pal. Cheers.

          • Tom, no worries! Sounds like you have been crazy busy! I’m 3/4 through that beer (A Belgium style dark ale!). Don’t stress about that mail. You got a lot on your plate. Should try to get a few moments for yourself. I’m pretty sure the new arrival has plans for you! I’ll be here. Advanced vid? Not yet. You give me more credit then I deserve. Post has never been my strength. Enter Ming Thein! As far as being a stay at home dad…. I’m here for morale support anytime you need it. Cheers!

            • Tom Liles says:

              Definitely take you up on that. Yeah, I’ve just suddenly gotten super-busy lately; I honestly think half of it is a mirage—as the due date and my last day at work [not last last day, you know what I mean] as they roll closer, I feel everything speeding up and don’t have time to do anything. I have a backlog of 200 NEFs from the D3 already, sitting untouched on the hard drive [which I think about around 20 times more than work on the slate, upcoming deadlines, etc! Ha]. I’m raring to get at them, but circumstance keeps getting at me!
              And I got a new lens today: the AF-S 85mm 1.8G. Ever tried that one Jeff? I’m finding it pretty awesome in the few hours I’ve used it so far. 100 shots on my walk home! Throw them on the pile! Lovely lens. Though I’m a completely unreliable witness—we’re still DEEP in the honeymoon period with me and this D3, and me and this lens. Can’t stop handling the both of them. The camera sits next to me wherever I sit. It’s right there on the table next to me now as I type (rugged, manly. Serious. Like a commando. The D3, not me.).

              Christ, I don’t know if Ming’s like this with that sumptuous F2 Titan; but if it were me, I’d probably stay up late at night, set it down on the kitchen table, make myself a cup of something, and just sit and look at it for an hour or so. Stroke it, etc.

              So listen, hey, did you get a look-see at your vid? I misspoke again: there isn’t an “advanced” video, is there… “beginner” and “intermediate” right? I have both, and the intermediate, with just a few worked examples, pretty much sews everything up. That’s why I called it the “advanced” one. Every tool I’ve ever needed or used so far was covered in that [this doesn't mean MT covers thousands of things]. Any more advanced and we’re into industrial grade trade secrets I’d imagine.

              I hope MT won’t mind me being so frank on here [and redact this if you like Ming], but I wanted to add some balance for others reading: if you approach these videos expecting the secret of the universe you’re in for a disappointment. MT gives guidance but “here we are now, enhance us” is not going to fly [just my opinion]. What you get is a good look at a professional’s workflow and a once through some techniques; the cream of them. I said it before but — and this might just be me — I consider them jump off points. There’s no way MT could show us everything — he’s been at it, what 15 years? — so he’s selected a few pertinent examples. And they are very useful. Again: as start points, places to build your own thing from. I go back to the videos every once in a while, and each time get something extra. You can’t be passive, you have to be an active learner, find stuff out on your own bat, look at EVERYTHING Ming does in the video, not just blankly watch like it’s an episode of Coronation Street [that will stump everyone but the east Europeans and the English!]. Tons of PS articles on the web; I read as many as I can. Go back to MT’s video, and ask myself: why wouldn’t MT do that thing so-and-so said? Can I get the same results by doing it that other way? Try, fail –> invent a way myself, Try, fail –> back to the video, notice a little comment here or there that suddenly makes it make sense “aha! that’s why he doesn’t/you can’t/you shouldn’t” etc. Well, that’s what I do; and find MT’s vids keep giving back on that basis.
              The approach to dodge and burn brushes is perhaps the supreme lesson in it all. It didn’t change my PP so much as change what I do when I take a photo. Really. Because I have what I want to do/what I’ll need to do in post, now, in my head. I didn’t appreciate or notice this change fully until a few weeks ago when I found myself taking 10 minutes on a random shot of a building, not on framing, etc., etc… 10 minutes on the shot just to get the histogram exactly where I wanted it. I knew which tones I wanted to burn, which I wanted to dodge and which I didn’t [which NOT to]. No use knowing that once the data is a lock and you’re sitting in front of a computer screen two weeks later.
              I’m making it sound like you get the universe again, when it’s not as simple as that. Every photo is different, the techniques may stay the same, but which technique and how much of each you need is up in the air because every photo’s different. MT can’t do this bit for you I guess… I’ll say this: you can go in thinking the videos will give you MT style pictures, or not; either way you’re not going to get them: 1) you’re not MT, 2) once you pick up what he teaches, that won’t be on your mind—you’ll want to be you. The videos are guides toward and tools for realizing that.

              Sorry Jeff, I stopped talking to you and went into speech mode there for no reason whatsoever. Well no, I mean yes, for a reason… I had to write a sales memo for a client today [a speech to sales staff to get them to buck up; these are actually my favorite jobs, way more fun than the ad "catch copy" slogans]. So my fingers are still stuck in grandiose mode :)

              Anyway, speaking plainly to you now Jeff :) let us know how you get on. And let’s secretly swap notes by email so no other so-and-so get’s a leg up on the post-processing! JOKING. Ha.

              Ok sheesh. Time has gotten to me. And SHEESH, this turned out to be a quasi-mail to you. Nah, real thing on its way. Got some “me” time carved out for the weekend. The only question is, Jeff…

              Will it go on you or the d3 / 85G?

              /eyes shift to right and covet the camera…
              ;)

              • There’s no ‘Advanced’ because I honestly don’t think it would be of any use to most people. And things get more and more complex, so the time required to plan, produce and cut it wouldn’t even come close to justifying the return.

              • Hey I kinda figured you were in the thick of it. Also knowing that you recently acquired that Badass D3 would keep you preoccupied! I know the feeling. When I first got my D700 you couldn’t pry it out of my hands. The 85 1.8G? That was the first lens I bought for the D700. At that time all I had for full frame was the 70-300VR and the 50 1.4D (this one is in danger of being replaced by the 50 1.8G! Damn you GAS!) I really like the 85, though I don’t shoot it as much as I should. So I started watching the vid last night, but didn’t get all the way through it. It was late and I was getting tired. To much info there to not be focused. I get what you are saying as far as what the video presents, and I think that I understood that before purchasing. The whole work flow, and the efficiency is what really interested me. That and a basic run down on the tools in PS. There’s a lot there to the new user of PS (that’s me) and it can get overwhelming if you aren’t computer savvy. As I read through the comments from Ming, Todd, Gordon, you Tom, and many of the others here I have kinda of come to a realization of what I want from my post processing. What I’ve learned from reading this site is that although I am completely overwhelmed and intimidated by Ming’s precision and quest for perfection I have come to appreciate the quality of his processing. It’s the color accuracy and tonal range of the images, I guess I would say the realism of them. I have no interest in applying someone else’s actions so that I can create a trendy look. It’s not my scene. I’m not trying to take anything away from those who enjoy those avenues, it’s just not what I’m into. I think the thing that really becomes clear to me is that Ming’s Images will hold up with the passage of time, and not date themselves. I want this for myself. But I have no interest in recreating Ming’s look, I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to! So my hope is to acquire some new tools and then learn them so that I can further develop.

                So Tom, my vote for the email for Jeff or D3/85G? Go shoot the D3/85G!!!! You got extra time (HA!!) drop me a line.

                • Cool Jeff, enjoy :) Very happy to encourage people to spend their money on education before gear, and to throw some money at Ming–he gives us a lot for free.

                  I’ve been using Photoshop since version 5 (not CS5… 5.0!), and I still learned a lot. You can understand the tools without knowing how they fit into the big picture. What makes Ming’s tuition exciting is that he’s not a teacher per se: first and foremost, most everyone here was originally drawn in by his photos. Being allowed to peek behind the curtain and have the artist show you exactly how to do what they do is rare–understandably so, given the effort that goes into establishing personal style/workflow. Normally when it comes to instructional videos/articles you take what you can get; there are nuggets of information to be gleaned from all over, but does the person responsible really know their stuff? Do you even like their photos?

                  I don’t think most people would be creatively satisfied by recreating someone else’s look, but benchmarking our heroes and trying to copy them a bit somewhere along the way is an inevitable part of the learning process, and of creative growth. You could trace Green Day’s lineage from Nirvana right the way back to the blues, for example. I think the world would be a better place if more people owned up and said “I want this for myself” and credited their teachers and influences; that’s gotta be better than plagiarism.

                  Good luck on your developmental journey :)

                  • Geez, you make me sound like a performing circus monkey or a stripper! Actually, it’s probably easier for them to get money thrown at them. Maybe I should blog in a monkey costume and a bikini :P

                    The idea for the videos is to give you the tools. You’ll try to replicate at first because that’s easiest, but to get the same results you’ll need to shoot and compose the same way in the first place. You’ll then see that this doesn’t quite give you the end result you want, then adjust both shooting and postprocessing accordingly as your experience grows – and out of that, your own style will develop…trying to follow somebody else is a dead end, simply because we all see differently.

                  • Thanks Todd! Appreciate the comment. Reading about your continued journey inspires me. Some would find it discouraging that after all those years you haven’t “Mastered” PS. I don’t look at it that way. It reminds me of one of my other pursuits and an idea my teachers have shared with me. It’s basically the concept of maintaining a “Beginners Mind.” What I have gained from that is always being open to learning new information, to being humble and accepting information or direction from unlikely sources (as well as those that you expect it from.) I think that is what will keep me coming back for more from photography. As far as your description of Ming as a teacher I completely agree with your thoughts. I might add that my view of a good teacher is not only one you provides information, but also one who starts you on the path to ask questions that are truly relevant to your development. This Is what I see in Ming, but also here in the comments section. So much great information and energy! Thanks again Todd!

                    • Mastery is something one aims for, but never really achieves. That kinda implies you can’t get any better, but we all can; I know I’ve got a long way to go.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Sir Jeff!

                  In the ten minutes before I have to leave for work.

                  Please let me do a massive climb down, u-turn, flip-flop, call it what you may, but let me say: I wasn’t talking to any one in specific with the you won’t get the universe / you can’t be MT stuff. Especially not you Jeff! Not for you mate. Or Todd. Or anyone in specific. Forgive me!! That was a turd of a piece of writing [not clear what it was about and who it was for].

                  No, I was just concerned for other readers [now and future], who may be just pure beginners [as I was] and scrabbling for an idea of what to do, who may read our glowing recommendations [rightly] of MT’s vids, and may get overly high expectations from what a PS video can give them, in particular one of Ming’s [as I say: a lot, but at least half of that is dependent upon the learner]. And then write MT complaints because they aren’t Sebastiao Salgado after an hour.
                  I know that sounds silly; but even seasoned photographers will complain to MT that he isn’t Gary Winogrand when the guy just posts some “inspired by…” blog photos. That truly surprised me. And we all know, from other sites, the volume of “tell me what to buy” people is not a trivial amount. Just from those two we understand that the chances of someone expecting they might get it all from a vid, are not 0%. I particularly appreciate this aspect of human behavior — because I’m a weakling myself — and my job exploits it. It’s the stage my whole industry plays on. Unduly inflated expectations. Again, I’m not saying this is the way it is; I was just trying to honestly recognize that it’s a reality, and one that should be mitigated against. Why? Because, ultimately, out of proportion expectations hurt the vendor more than the punter: I’d hate this to happen to MT.

                  OK I have to get to work now, I might try and add a couple of thoughts from the train [with a salaryman proof-reading for me over my shoulder! :D ]

                  I’m gone!

                  • Thanks for the support, Tom. It happens, I deal with it, until I don’t think it’s worth the stress, then I’m outta here.

                  • Im playing catch up here! My iphone has been chirping all night and I haven’t been able to respond until now. Tom, there is no reason to apologized. None. I was simply putting my thoughts down and rationalizing my chosen path. In fact I think I was agreeing with your statement, and not responding defensively. No worries my friend! No bruised egos here. I’ll see you farther down in the comments….. Still catching up!!!

                • Very, very sensible: figure out your end point; the PS tools are there to guide you through and make you faster. Another reader just emailed me about this saying he expected the videos to turn him into me; aside from that requiring compositional instruction too, he missed the critical points that
                  a) everybody shoots differently
                  b) everybody has a different expectation of the end result
                  c) without knowing a) and b), I can’t tell you precisely what to do in PS to get to c). And you can’t do that in a video…but all I can say is that my workflow works for me – I think the images you see on the site are ample proof of that. :)

                  • “Another reader just emailed me about this saying he expected the videos to turn him into me.” I could pretend to be surprised, but I’m not. Problem with the world today, is no one wants to earn “it.” “I just dropped all this cash on a top o’ line camera, glass, and software!! Now I should be able to do Ming caliber work!!’” In a past life I was a mechanic. When I started I wasn’t good and the money wasn’t good. I was told I had to “Pay my dues.” Didn’t get it then. Now I do. Any skill, craft, or trade takes time. A mentor or teacher helps. That’s why most of us are here. Some still don’t get it. Some never will!. I was once told by an older tech I respected “Learn to do the job right, speed comes in time.” Well that’s where you come in. Give us your take on how to do the job, and with practice the speed will come. Don’t worry Ming there are those of us out there who are ready to listen! You are not wasting your energies all for not!! Thanks!

                    • Thanks Jeff. I figured as much, but I still gave this bad habit of taking things personally because *I care* about all of the end customers/ readers – good and bad, sometimes.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  I have come to appreciate the quality of his processing. It’s the color accuracy and tonal range of the images, I guess I would say the realism of them.

                  +1
                  No wait, “like.”
                  Ha!

                  Likewise. And I agree with Todd too; I want to copy as much as I can, just to completely ignore all the advice down the line. You’re already ahead of me Jeff: you know what you want and have some tools for go getting it.
                  I’m not sure what I want yet and it doesn’t matter really because I don’t have the skills at capture or at the computer in post to get it even if I did. But not consciously knowing and plain not knowing are perhaps two different things.

                  To me, the entire content of this site is the compliment of those videos: there are articles on technique, gear — and that is of CRITICAL importance in my mind: how else would you make informed purchases; and understanding what equipment can and can’t do is self-evidently useful — but most of all the philosophical stuff. Not because it makes me feel important [though it does] because it seems an exploration into bringing those unconscious stylistic tendencies to the fore. I think most artists are scared of this [scared of what they see as rationalizing; it isn't].
                  In writing, many artists feel like they aren’t legitimate if they aren’t degraded in some way—be it chain smoking, heavy drinking or having psychological quirks [that's too mild a word for what many writers are like]. I see the same in painting, music, etc., etc.
                  An artist I quite like called Grayson Perry — a cross dresser — had a fair few psychological issues and has spoken, usefully, about this at length. I leave the interested to find his words, but the outcome was that he took therapy [with everyone around him telling him not to because it might destroy his gift] but he did and became better for it. His health and his art did.

                  If I look at all the photos I’ve taken thus far, there are a few rudimentary currents apparent; but I honestly think whatever my “style” is, it shouldn’t be so simply obvious or easy to get to, just yet. What do I know, so I look for bona-fide artists who might shed some light. And find only one with the balls to investigate: Mr Ming Thein.

                  So I read along with Ming. Look at his work, and wonder with him:

                  - What is “good”
                  - What is “style”
                  - What am I trying to do? Really?

                  - Will my wife be angry if I buy an F2 and turn the bathroom into my film developing lab?

                  - How do you get a picture of a guy with his back to the sun but hold some detail in his face [like my eyes would see it]?

                  Inquiring minds would like to know!

                  [so we buy vids and read sites and TAKE PICTURES!]

                  • I can live without the psychological quirks, but don’t have a choice. I just hide them well :)

                    Seriously though, I think there has to be something just so slightly off about a person to make them see the world in a different way to everybody else; the ability to interpret and present that is what creates art.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Yes, absolutely. But this smuggles in a misconception about what therapy does perhaps—it’s not about banging in the nail that sticks out. I’m not saying you need therapy Ming. You do so much introspection and philosophizing, I’d say you’re in excellent psychological health on any metric that matters [the culture at large has just forced us to draw stupid boundaries for what's "normal," I'll come back to this]. The point I’m laboring and making a pig’s ear of is that, generally, in art, I find there’s a backward, slightly childish tendency to cherish flaws and refuse to change because no-one’s done it before [the artist = nutter; not so many people would assent to: the artist = sensible, normal person. We just refuse to accept "normal" people can be artistic or gifted, and neglect to notice that there's no such thing as a "normal person," so, in fact, any one could be Picasso. That's the title of a famous Japanese TV show, made by a great Japanese artist: Kitano Takeshi. Who is also a comedian, let me unsubtly add! But we're only talking "could be." That's where it ends. I don't like Kazuo Ishiguro's work so much, but I'll name drop him here because he did do a very nice investigation into this in one of his books---looking into the cherishing of what we consider our "potential" that we actively make sure not to realize. Because chances are that we won't / can't; we just prefer the thought of it]. But art and artists sticking to this thing about unspoken, unconscious, don’t touch gifts and necessarily having to be f— ups to have them. I challenge it as a kind of boring cowardice.

                      Wasn’t art about “truth” and “the new”?
                      [And in my opinion about one liners and making a stink.]

                      What I like about your whole thing Ming is that you have foibles, you know you have foibles, you’re honest about it [though you don't have to share everything to do that. And you don't even need to say it either: sometimes a picture paints a thousand words]. The best part of your your honesty is that you at least attempt to bring it out into the open. It sounds like I’m lionizing you but I have no intentions of the sort—you’re just simply investigating your own thoughts, out loud. It’s very simple. Anyone could do it.

                      Where you differ is that no-one does.

                      [Or, if there's another photography site like this, it's news to me]

                    • But all that thinking makes one quite unhappy because you realize each and every one of your flaws. The introspective process is what helps creative development, but it also makes one pretty miserable at times. It’s worse when you pour a lot into what you do, to be shot down offhand by a few people who don’t even bother reading whole posts before deciding to publicly damn you. (And yes, I’m speaking from experience here.)

                      There isn’t another site like this, which is why I created it. People make sites to create a persona that makes them look like invincible heroes. I don’t delude myself, because that’s not reality. And of course the thinking process makes me a better photographer…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Can I just say: I’m sure Sofia didn’t expect this when she kindly made a comment.

                      Not your typical blog? Tell us about it! :o :)

                    • Probably not :)

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    +1 ;)

                  • All this talk from you (Tom) and Todd wanting to copy Ming’s style made me think….. Trust me it happens from time to time!! So I started thinking of a way that we could rationalize or explain some attempts at “coping” his style. What if we compared it to the multitude of Japanese schools that study the art of the sword. With my very limited knowledge of the subject, It is my basic understanding that there are many schools with varying styles. Each school has specifics that they focus on, nuances that differ from dojo to dojo. So are we not studying under Sensei Ming Thein? Perhaps we are studying in the Dojo of Cinematography? As students do we not learn the basic foundation our Sensei has presented and then at some point we begin to build upon that foundation an art that is a truer reflection of ourselves with underlying influences of our teacher? Or should I simply step away from the glass of whiskey……?

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Haha. Last line = TIMING

                      Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: MT [better said, MT's project] is, to me, just like the character Li Mu Bae from CROUCHING TIGER… Li Mu Bae — who represents a trope in both East and Western thought — transcended his sword. People fought and died over the precious weapon he owned [and many felt only LMB was worthy of owning] and the “secrets” of his art [martial]. The Li Mu Bae character is teleological in nature: seeking perfection, “the next” and for a reason. His terminus is obviously beyond the grasp of us; else we’d be in a transcendent state with him [to understand it]. But on outward appearance — what we lesser types can understand — Li Mu Bae just didn’t need the sword anymore. That’s where it ended [began?].
                      I don’t know if MT will ever get there. Or if it he wants to. But I think he wants to. I don’t mean giving up photography; I mean transcending the camera. In a way HCB did just this; but not fully. Because I don’t agree he was ever a photographer in the first place. HCB was a painter, plainly.

                      It’s interesting about the sword schools. As MT is the philosophical type, and we all agree you need a philosophy for this, you could even compare it to schools of philosophy. Though if I had a choice: I prefer being a swordsman. No, actually, if we have a choice: I’d like to be a sniper. I already know which equipment I’d like too [ex shooter!]. And I insist that my name from this day forth be: Golgo. A few 100 Gs per hit? Rolling in it. Tax free too. This reminds me, I must shoehorn this in, and you did mention cinematography: the latest James Bond film, SKYFALL, cinematography by Roger Deakins, a legend, did you see it? The scene in Hong Kong, or was it Singapore? where Bond shadows a hitman who’s gone to the top of a building to do a hit. WOW for the photography on that. Seriously. You always see these lists of films for photogs that trot out the usual Stanley Kubrik, John Ford, etc., etc [who I LOVE as much as anyone] and ignore all the amazing stuff happening RIGHT NOW, because the lists are written by useless greybeards for who if it didn’t happen in their youth, it didn’t happen at all… anyway, WOW AGAIN for that scene… the neon, the light, the dark, the reflections… it’s not quite MT territory on the nose, but it felt related… where was I?..

                      Philosophical schools.

                      It’s interesting because the students of the greats, who then achieved greatness themselves, were often antagonistic to the thought of their teachers [once they were the finished product themselves]. On this standard, Ming’s best ever student, who he says can equal then surpass him [with the start point of some talent, and the resource of time] will have THE OPPOSITE style of Ming. Will be a reaction against. We’re talking out of control colors, loose composition, small format, what’s the opposite of square? round framing, no reflections, no buildings, no upward gazes; I can’t say what it would look like, because we’ll have to wait and see… But, yeah, I think you’re right Jeff: anyone, all of us, learning from MT are more likely to end up different to him than the same, close, or related.

                      I think if I were swordsman, my philosophy would be: RUN!

                    • I suppose the sword is the camera in this case – except Li didn’t need the sword so much as the other people wanted it; what he could do, he could do without it. Just like me using a whole bunch of different cameras, but the results not being that different in the end. The compositional/ psychological/ artistic distillation to get there is an ongoing process; none of us will ever get there, because there’s always some change in your life (so long as you are living and experiencing) to alter your biases and thus affect the way you see the world.

                      Agreed on Skyfall/ Deakin cinematography – you might want to add Wong Kar Wai to your list.

                      I shoot small and large formats, and every aspect ratio. I look up and down and have tried photographing everything at one point or another. That poor chap is going to have a very schizophrenic task ahead of him…I think in the long run, students will land up different – in the short term, you need to do go through the emulation phase to learn both control and what works/ what doesn’t for you personally.

                      Ciao and Dian, if you’re reading this, Tom has just thrown gauntlets at the both of you. :P

                    • Step away from the whiskey. I haven’t seen anybody try to shoot watches yet :p

                    • Don’t be too discouraged by my comment about having learned a lot despite having used Photoshop for years, Jeff. It’s a program that you can use a hundred different ways; over the years I’d used it for illustration, “fine art” (or attempts at it…) and basic photo manipulation, so I had a good idea what many of the tools do, but that’s very different from having a clear, repeatable, end-to-end workflow. At this level–where a basic ability to take a photograph and get it onto your computer is a given–subtleties are everything.

                      Ming: dance, photo-boy! ;p

                    • Dancing not, shaky camera and bad for image quality it is, young padawan.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Triple X rated post full of adult content on its way to you Jeff, i.e., put two links in a comment and it got sent to moderation purgatory! My own stupid fault m(. .)m

                      [and sorry for adding another straw to the camel's back, Ming. Mea Culpa!]

                    • Good lord. Just seen it. Better add another X to be on the safe side.

                    • Haha :)

                    • Like/+1 for Skyfall’s cinematography. Really nicely shot film.

                    • That talk of diametric opposites raises some interesting questions. I’d venture to say that most of the regulars here appreciate a fairly natural look; as Ming put it in his first video, “I’m not adding or subtracting anything, I’m only emphasising what’s already there”. Precision framing, colour accuracy and complete control over output are the cornerstones of that look. What is the antithesis of that? Arguably, Instagram. Perhaps that’s why that app and its brethren are so unpopular in these parts; I’m not sure it’s possible to covet the “right” way of doing things and then be happy with doing the reverse. So what would the opposite style be /within certain parameters/? That’s an interesting question, I think.

                    • Actually, that might well be the opposing style. Zero control of anything, poor technical image quality (even by cameraphone standards), even leaving postprocessing to be outsourced.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Response to this comment from Todd. Hopefully that’s directly above my comment here—but we’ve done it again I think: made wordpress wet its pants with the sheer amount of replies to and words we’re laying on. I’m starting to see replies getting bumped about into strange places. It’s fun :)

                      Todd, I think you’re closer than I was. Instagram would be a PRIME candidate for the antithesis of MT’s aesthetic/philosophy.

                      I’m not sure it’s possible to covet the “right” way of doing things and then be happy with doing the reverse

                      Ooh, I dunno. Leaving “happy” out of it for a minute makes the picture clearer, perhaps. Rewrite the above sentence and put in “do” for “be happy with doing” and see how it sounds to you… I mean, don’t you find people whose work you’re drawn to is often the opposite, or far apart, from your own? Can I talk about Mike Tyson for a minute…
                      When Iron Mike was boxing under the eye of Cus D’amato, he was a wrecking machine. Grown men weighing over a hundred kilos, most of which was hulking muscle, were physically scared of him. Their voices would break and their hands would shake. Men who could probably give a bear a run for its money in a pit fight would have loved to run a mile from Mike. They were scared of the physical damage they knew Tyson could, and would, inflict on them. Not believed, knew. They’d seen what he’d done to all comers before. Tyson was the natural successor to the Manassa Mauler. He was fearsome. Refined in his own way, but that way and that refinement was a distillation and direction of raw wrecking power and fury. That’s what Mike was good at, that was his game. Cus saw it, brought it out and built it up. We all know the story.
                      But what did Mike want? How did Mike see himself?
                      Iron Mike genuinely thought, thinks, he was not natural successor to Jack Dempsey, but that he was to Mohammed Ali. Picture it: Iron Mike dancing. Iron Mike outthinking the opponent. Iron Mike being graceful. People tried to talk him out of it, but we all know the story…

                      From an uninterested vantage point, it’s very clear, very often, that people are just drawn to what they’re not. It makes sense. Tough guys are interested in small furry animals. Actors want to direct. Directors want to produce. White kids worship black culture [rich worshiping the idea of poor]. And so on. And so on. The confusing thing about humans is that we’re evolved to be group animals—”birds of a feather, flock together.” We can all attest to the validity of that, too. It’s just as undeniable. But the last thing we want to do here is say “the truth must be in between.” I’m dead against this sort of conclusion. It’s almost like a cop out.
                      The truth is, must be, that it’s both. At the very same time. No one is capable of really grasping the full power of it [unless you're Li Mu Bae] so this is very unhelpful and totally unverifiable. You just have to believe it, or not. I do.

                      We do have a word for [a version of] it: hypocrisy. Having your cake and eating it too. There’s no more human thing, in my opinion. When I contradict myself, run a double standard, say one thing and mean another… that’s exactly the time I’m at my most human. So when I follow Ming, genuinely respect, admire and wish to learn from him; but in the same motion, completely reject everything he’s about. Then I’m being as “me” as I can be—and both impulses are true and authentic.

                      I doubt such tension could make you “happy” per say, but, again in my opinion, I’ll take that over philosophical strabismus any day.

                      Ultimately I’m a fan of laissez faire. What’s going to happen is going to happen. It is what it is. Happy or not happy, people are going to do what they are going to do—none of this has any meaning for me until someone does something, actuates it. Then, after the fact, I can look and say “oh that’s what they did” or “oh, so that’s how that turned out.” Just the same way it happens with subatomic matter, where we don’t know until we know [until a wave function collapses]. There are probabilities, yes. But we don’t know until we know.

                      Coming back to the thing about the opposite style to Ming. I agree, it’s a good question. We could think about it before the fact, and I’d like to do that, but my intuition would be to wait and see it when it comes. Bet you it will be nothing that any of us expected. And that’s how we’ll know it’s the real deal!

                      Films / Cinematography:
                      Ming, I’ve never seen a Wong Kar Wai film. Well, about 15minutes of BLUEBERRY NIGHTS [because my wife is in love with Jude Law; oh to have been born Jude! Imagine the schooldays and teenage years through to 30... sigh] but I don’t think that counts. I think Wong Kar Wai if he was he here would be like “No! Not that one, it doesn’t count!” So I’ll have to try a proper WKW film. But I’m a real Hollywood film guy. A cretin in the eyes of some cineastes… but I have my schtick and I stick to it—the films of Hollywood are my bag. I own over a thousand of them.
                      [More than a decade of collecting now, but I hasten to add I don't think of it as "collecting." I hate that. I buy only films I want to see and know I'll want to see more than once, not much more to it than that.]

                      Todd. Yeah R.Deakins did well on SKYFALL. Was it ever in doubt!? Well, just after first release, quite a few trendy naysayers were all “ah, just because it’s Deakins everyone loses their mind…” doubters indeed, and I was kind of with them. Then I watched SKYFALL and said to myself “ah, yes, BECAUSE it’s Roger Deakins, everyone loses their mind.” The man’s supreme.
                      Can I mention Robert Elswit? Not my favorite cinematographer in the World, but up there: the reuniting scene in THERE WILL BE BLOOD = genius. Every other film you’ve ever seen does that scene in close or in close enough… Elswit shot it wide from miles away. AND IT WORKED. You really need trusting and visionary colleagues to do work like that. Imagine the prowess necessary, from so many people, to get these masterworks of cinema made… It’s really the highest form of art for me.

                      But I only watch the Hollywood stuff.

                      [Well not only, but you know what I mean ;) ]

                    • Absolutely. There’s hypocrisy even within oneself. The part of me that says ‘can’t be bothered, use iPhone’ fights the part that wants to bring the ‘Blad and a tripod. All the time. If we didn’t have this tension, I think we’d go into a sort of creative autopilot that would not really advance anything. Either that, or we become Li Mu Bai and have reached a sort of personal enlightenment and don’t care about the greater world, possibly because it doesn’t understand us anyway.

                      I agree ‘Blueberry Nights’ doesn’t count. Try 2046. And we appear to have forgotten Ang Lee, director of Crouching Tiger…

  18. As always your article is fascinating, insightful and expresses the point better than most others on the internet, with superb visual examples. It partly answers a question I recently posed elsewhere – I do a lot of bird photography, which often involves high ISOs and heavy crops in post-processing. I have been disappointed in the final results from my OM-D E-M5 with Panasonic 100-300 lens compared to my Nikon D7000 with Nikon 300 f/4 AF-S and 1.7TC, in terms of sharpness, feather detail, and dynamic range. For birds that are big and close the final results are very similar, allowing for technique, and camera settings. Could the minor differences that you have pointed out here, due to sensor size differences, be exaggerated at higher ISOs and large crops, or could it be the lens quality, or something else? Thanks, Richard

    • Thanks Richard. Disappointed why? I was pretty pleased with my results from the OM-D/100-300 combo; before that I was using the Nikon super teles on DX. Certainly the differences would be exaggerated if you’re cropping heavily, and larger pixels pull away at higher ISOs – lens quality may well also play into the equation. Silly questions, but why not use the Nikon 300/4 on the OM-D? It’ll be manual focus, but should still deliver excellent results. The 500/4 AI-P was superb – some examples are here.

  19. fishingwithflies says:

    Great article. Thanks Ming. I’m curious as to what maximum size prints one could make with these cameras before “the differences start to makes a difference”. Assuming a normal viewing distance…. Any “gut” feelings on that. Thanks, Ming.

    • Thanks – off the top of my head, I’d be happy with an 8×10/8×12″ from the 520 HS; perhaps 13×19″ with the right subject. The OM-D will happily go to 24×32″ or perhaps slightly larger assuming minimal fine detail. The D800E looks fantastic still at 1×1.5m and 5″ viewing distance, and the CFV will presumably go beyond that. Detail frequency of subject matter, print method, paper etc. of course play a part in all of this. Short answer: you’ll probably run out of wall before you run out of pixels :)

  20. Very informative post , love to read … Thank you ming !!!

  21. Megatron says:

    Cool article! I totally agree that smaller sensors can yield images that are almost on par with FF or even larger sensors. If possible, I think it would be worth comparing cameras with large sensor formats to those mentioned above; the Nikon D700 and Canon 6D have FF sensors with pixel pitches similar to or exceeding the Hasselblad above.

    Also, in my opinion, sensor size should not really be an important factor when taking landscapes or indoor scenes with a tripod. I think the larger formats give a totally different aesthetic to images, especially portraits and macro shots. For example, you can take roughly the same FOV with the following combos: Leica S with 70mm, Nikon D600 with 55mm, Olympus OM-D with 25mm. The DOF will vary widely from the large format sensor to the micro4/3, and a portrait image will take on a totally different look when shot with these different cameras (bokeh). Curious to know your thoughts on this, and, given your existing equipment, if you could one day provide a neat comparo of these types of images. Thanks!

    • Didn’t have either of those handy, unfortunately. One could keep comparing ad nauseam though…

      Yes, the overall drawing style is of far more interest – especially at typical reproduction sizes. MF is unbeaten for DOF control at wider focal lengths, but there are also times when pan-focus is desired, and M4/3 comes in handy there, too. So I suppose as always, it’s the right tool for the job (or the artistic intention)…

      • Megatron says:

        Thanks for your reply! I totally agree that the “drawing style” is the more important factor when comparing sensor formats, which seems to be overlooked on most blogs, forums and reviews in favour of metrics like light sensitivity and colour accuracy (which shouldn’t vary too much, depending on the pixel pitch).

  22. Hi Ming,
    - I think you’ve read my mind. These past several months, I’ve been weighing the cost/benefit analysis of switching (or supplementing) a D700 Full Frame System with (or to) a small sensor, lighter weight system. The above is a very good start to such an economic analysis. What is the optimum image quality per sensor size, while weighing in factors, such as system cost, size and performance..?
    - Stated another way, at what cost/performance point do consumers move down in sensor size and system, from the top of the line full frame system? (Utility curve, indifference curve?) I wish I had paid better attention in economics!
    - My gut says that the EM-5 provides the best bang for the buck in terms of image quality, small system size, performance and cost. In other words, at sane print sizes, I should be pretty happy with the OMD doing 85% of what my D700 used to do, at a smaller size and cheaper price.
    - However, the Ricoh GR, XE-1 and the promise of the NEX-6 have kind of disturbed that analysis. Why should I invest in a Micro Four Thirds System, when eventually an APS-C mirror-less system (e.g. next generation XE-1) should be able to do the same thing at around the same cost and size…? (Perhaps with one stop better ISO performance…?)

    It seems like this is where Olympus may be in trouble on their pricing, relatively to mirror-less APS-C systems.

    What are your thoughts? Wait for the next gen NEX-6 or XE-1…? Tks!

    • The OM-D has effectively replaced my D700 for travel photography. I even shot them side by side on this assignment and was surprised just how far technology has come – the OM-D’s files were better than the D700 at low ISOs, and just as good at the higher ranges. I sold the D700 shortly after that. Pair it with a GR, and you’ve got pretty much all you need for most uses. I don’t like the X system because of workflow issues – Silkypix is good but slow, JPEGs are obviously limited, and ACR is still not really doing the sensor justice. No experience with recent NEX cameras, but the 5 I owned left a lot to be desired – mostly in the lens choice department, actually.

      • Thanks Ming!

        So it sounds like the one stop difference between Micro Four Thirds and APS-C is overblown
        or perhaps offset by the wide variety of lens choices…?

        The GR perhaps fulfills the low light camera (high ISO) requirement for you?

        I love, love, love my D700 (except for the weight).
        If the OM-D is that close in terms of image quality, it says quite a lot..!

        • Actually, it’s offset more by the OM-D’s IBIS than anything else – that buys you more than a stop, especially with the fast primes, which aren’t stabilized for most mounts…

          GR works fine except f2.8 and not that stable, so you need to go a stop above what you might do with a face-braced DSLR. The sensor is excellent, though.

  23. It would be interesting also to compare RAW files of compacts with good ACR support and how much you lose in ability to adjust colors compared to larger sensors. If this type of processing is possible, e.g. without solarization, that might make the gap even smaller for smaller output sizes and given enough light. At least I was impressed how little the differences in the dynamic range test were.

    • I don’t have anything that currently fits the bill, but I found that in the past if the scene is within the DR of your camera, there isn’t that much difference. If not, then the smaller sensors clip quite abruptly. Color accuracy and resolution are of course another matter entirely…

  24. Jorge Balarin says:

    Thank you Ming for the nice article.

  25. Nice article Ming. Been shooting with an OM-D and a couple of nice m4/3 primes (and OM Zuiko primes I had in my cupboard), since March myself. Absolutely blown away by its output most of the time.
    Most recently I read an article that one profits the most from Oly’s files (in terms of colour reproduction, detail, lack of noise) when converting them to 16-bit-TIFFs in Olympus Viewer 3 (with Natural picture mode (0,0,0), and normal gradation), and import those TIFFs to LR or PS then. Upon trying that workflow I must say, I was pleasantly surprised, cannot fight the feeling though, that it’s all “placebo”, if you know what I mean. What is your take on this? Worth the rerouting through OV3, or are LR and/or PS enough in their own to process and get the most out of Olympus’ .orf files?

    Your thoughts, and findings are – as always – a delight to read, and great brain fodder, thanks!

    • I’m happy enough with the results via ACR that I wouldn’t bother, personally. I value the extra speed of workflow more – especially for the things I tend to use the OM-D for, which are high in quantity…the Hasselblad may be different, though; I don’t mind processing individual files simply because I won’t shoot more than a handful to begin with.

  26. I trust you have a good overview of site traffic? It just seems to me you’ve had some low activity articles (philosophy) but then you post a technical article, and BAM, lots of comments! I just find it kind of funny.
    It mirrors me, though. The technical side of photography might be what I need the least to spend time on, but it’s what I find the easiest to understand, and somehow also the most interesting…

    • Pretty much – philosophy doesn’t seem to be too popular with the masses. Reviews tend to drive numbers through the roof. Go figure :)

      Once you get beyond the technical, the only way to improve is to consider the philosophical/ psychology aspects of the craft – after all, photography is nothing more than a preserved reflection of the photographer’s interpretation/ vision of the world at any given instant…

      • Ming, I’m curious if you’ve ever read any car reviews by Dan Neil. He’s my favorite car reviewer by far, and was even given a Pulitzer for criticism for his car reviews. I bring him up because his car reviews are basically philosophical and cultural musings wrapped inside a car review.

        And his reviews kind of piss off the numbers people who just want to know the technical specs, but he is far more interesting to read than the usual R&T and C&D crowd who all try to ape (badly) his beautiful turns of phrase without the depth of his insight. My favorite example of this is his Lexus SC430 review, which pondered the nature of the so-called “chick car.” http://www.cars.com/lexus/sc-430/2004/expert-reviews/?revid=45547

        You can see the reviews he wrote that the LA Times submitted for Pulitzer consideration here: http://www.latimes.com/la-neil-pulitzer,0,3836325.htmlstory

        • I have now – definitely an interesting read. I admit to being very partial to Clarkson, though. You’re thinking it might be interesting to do the same for camera reviews?

          • I like Clarkson, too, and mostly for the sheer pleasure of reading rather than finding out something about the car. He is very imaginative when it comes to finding new ways to offend new groups of people. :)

            I think your camera reviews definitely have a large component of philosophy (but perhaps not so much culture at large like Neil, not that there’s anything wrong with that), which is why I found your site so appealing in the first place. Someone called your blog the “thinking photographer’s blog,” and that’s a perfect summary of it. I wanted to point you to DN for two reasons: you seem to enjoy cars, and to show that someone can write unconventionally and be celebrated for it.

            • I forgot to mention that I wouldn’t want you to try to emulate anyone else. What you do is valuable, and you can only work on being the best version of you. Sorry if that sounds hackneyed, but it’s true.

            • Haha, yes! He’s managed to raise the standard review fare to entertainment. I’d love to do the same, but I’m pretty sure I might lose most of my audience if I did that, and I’d be on the hit list of most camera companies. Perhaps when I’m a little more popular…

              I do enjoy cars. I just can’t afford anything interesting with our local 200% import tax.

      • I’m “painfully” aware that the technical side of photography isn’t the side that benefits me the most to spend time on. But yet I find it more interesting and easier to grasp than the art and creative side, which just seems kind of mushy. :p I am moving in that direction though, however slowly. I am aware that the images I make today are not the images I want to be making, and it has nothing to do with the technical side of things.

        As for the links Andre posted, interesting, though perhaps a bit unserious for me. It would, however, be interesting to see you “sneak in” a bit of philosophy with the equipment reviews.

        • I do, and it’s usually around haptics and sufficiency…

        • Paul Stokes says:

          Writing style is very much an individual thing. I certainly enjoy reading Jeremy Clarkson as much for the serious point in his reviews and his writing style as for the vehicle he is abusing or damning with faint praise. Thanks for the link to Dan Neill Andre, he appears another writer worth following. I certainly like the way Ming writes and think he has the right balance between opinion, evidence and technical discussion. The presence of the philosophy element is what raises the standard of the technical writing. You need the why as well as the how to. This particular posting is a fine example of writing to and for all who post. Maybe it would be amusing to write a post in the style of Clarkson or Neill but I also think not all respondents would get the joke. Far too many people are too serious about their cameras.

          Go-cart racing as you relaxing hobby away from those cameras. You would have to concentrate on the task at hand and ignore the voices of the sirens calling; “Take me Ming, ignore the OM-D, she can’t give you the crystal clear images I can.”

          • Without the why, the how-to is completely irrelevant: you might as well just pick some random process and spend an inordinate amount of time on it, like say how to open the SD card compartment. It makes no difference in the end.

            I can’t imagine carrying the ‘Blad in a go-kart…but yes, kart racing is fun. And surprisingly physically demanding, especially for endurance races.

    • I noticed the same thing. But for me, the real content and benefit to my photography are Ming’s philosophical articles. They require a photographer to be extremely introspective, and to make themselves vulnerable like that takes a lot of courage. If people are introspective (I’d like to think I am) it takes time to think and construct a response. Then there are many who do not share Ming’s introspective attitude. And then there are others who are in fear of being ridiculed and judged by others. So to play it safe, they post nothing.

      Comments are one thing, the number of site hits is another. Would Ming care to share?

      • Thanks Jason. I don’t mind being introspective and sharing, simply because the process of me thinking about why/ how I shoot and the creative choices I make in turn makes me into a better photographer.

        Site visits? Easy, I’m open about that too, unlike some others. I’ve been online in this format for 15 months, and we passed five million visitors sometime last week. May or may not be a huge number in the grand scheme of things, but I’m proud of it and thankful for my audience nevertheless.

        • I was wondering about the readership between the ‘philosophy’ articles as compared to the ‘gear’ centred articles. I don’t want to base my conclusions solely on the number of comments.

  27. Of course you are a good photographer and you take good photos with all these camerasI..I just looked through a lot of your work and your earlier D700 and Leica shots really sing!..I think.

  28. Slightly confused on your white balance approach. Are you letting the camera do auto white balance and then alter that in post, or are you setting a Kelvin number first? I tend to custom pre-set white balance all the time, and I rarely have much change in post, unless I want a different effect. Apologies in advance if you have previously gone over this, and somehow I missed it.

    There is another factor in pixels cells (bucket), which is the depth of the well. Newer sensors are using shallower buckets. This slightly enhances the light gathering capability, or fill factor. I have not seen any white papers that address the diffraction difference of this architecture change, though I would think there is a slight improvement.

    On medium format digital backs, colour bit depth is another factor in performance. Granted that printing methods, or display delivery limitations for non-printed output, can negate that advantage, but I like the difference in post. Unfortunately the cost, fickleness of operation, and lack of ruggedness are factors against wider adoption.

    • I generally use AWB then precisely set it in post, unless I’m doing something under controlled light (constant K temp) and color critical – then I’ll use a gray card. Trouble is unless you’re under those situations, WB drifts anyway, so there’s no point in setting things manually since everything is changing anyway.

      Shallower buckets but identical pitch would enhance light gathering but surely penalize dynamic range? Surely that would result in overflow sooner.

      Agreed on the color bit depth difference: the CFV can replicate what I see with little work, the other cameras simply cannot. And for certain applications, that alone is worth it.

      • Interesting. You are one of the few pros I know using AWB. Why I was wondering was your comment on the slight cyan, and I was thinking perhaps the AWB was shifting to that? It could be an area where smaller digital is a bit better evolved than medium format digital.

        The slight information I saw on shallower buckets suggested the benefit was for low light performance. It seems an odd bias, though the engineers may be pushing that direction for photojournalists. Heat would seem to be more of an issue in the chip, just due to less material, unless there is something else to compensate for heat build-up. There probably is a hit on dynamic range. Side note on this, I am still satisfied by the files from my D3, even though the replacements seem to push chip design further.

        I debated on moving more towards medium format digital, though the move cuts a bit into profit margins. Considering the final output usage of my images, medium format digital is too often complete overkill. So with that in mind renting when needed makes more sense than owning, though perhaps there are not many rental options in your part of the world. I notice more of the difference on skintones. Of course there are still reasons for me to shoot some projects on film and scan them on a gigantic scanner. I know several pros picking up medium format film cameras again just for the results when photographing people.

        • No, that was rebalanced after – so it isn’t an AWB issue. Even with post-capture rebalancing, there are still differences. I shoot AWB only when I’m not controlling the light, simply because it can react faster than I can. Full manual in studio, of course.

          I thought the shallower buckets were to avoid shading and edge CA with microlenses, but I might be wrong.

          Got a very good deal on an ex-demo CFV-39, so the costs weren’t that bad. Less than say a D4, for instance. The rest of the system has paid for itself after a couple of jobs – oddly involving people too…there’s just something about film for that use, isn’t there?

        • Tom Liles says:

          I have a question and I think it pulls the level of conversation down, so sorry for that in advance. But I’m very confused, still, by this color and WB stuff [I know you've had to suffer me on this before Gordon and Ming. I'm sorry]. Here’s what confuses me:

          With a ColorChecker chart, some photographers say that they can recreate the same tonal response [color] from any camera [by making a custom profile from that chart for each camera in the same conditions]. Of course you can’t match colors that were never captured in the first place [the software may well ably invent for you, though] so this is perhaps distinct from the same tonal gamut; but I think they mean making a Nikon red the same as Canon red the same as a Leica red, etc., etc. In theory, that makes sense to me. The ICC values are set in stone, leaving aside display foibles for the moment, if you normalize your camera’s output to the values from the chart, which are tied back to ICC color tables, the result should be the same. So a photographer saying he can get the same colors from any camera if he calibrates with a chart, on principle, doesn’t seem objectionable to me.

          In practice, I can get NONE of my cameras to do this [and most definitely obvious with Foveon vs. Bayer]. Same chart, same computer, same screen, same light I take the chart with [I know ambient light is always in flux, even if by only the tiniest increments, but I assume this effect is negligible when we're talking about frames taken within seconds/minutes of each other...]
          Ming, you always seem to imply that the same colors from different cameras is not possible [in fact that photo of the red vases above is concrete evidence!] and chromatic response, tonal maps, etc., are properties of a sensor [certainly processing algorithms!], and it makes me think that differences can’t be calibrated for [against?]… My short experience agrees; but it certainly doesn’t fit with the above paragraph. What gives?

          ——-

          POSTSCRIPT
          I’ve given up on the ColorChecker chart altogether. Profiles from it just don’t give true or pleasing results. In fact they just make a pig’s ear of what I’ve already got. I don’t know if my software [LR] is somehow doing a “profile on a profile,” i.e., painting calibrated values over the in-the-can Adobe ones, instead of replacing, or what. But I haven’t had a decent result yet [though using Adobe's DNG Profile Editor does give better than awful results].

          Instead, now, I eyeball the screen [which I also calibrated by eyeball], and manually bugger about with HSL sliders until the data looks how I want [which is usually as true to life as possible]. If I find I’m always making the same color changes to a certain camera’s files, I set those changes in the calibration tab, save, and use that profile whenever I edit images from that camera. This, almost analog, method of calibrating has beaten every bit of digital wizardry I’ve thrown at the problem yet. But I trust digital wizardry and the people that invented it more than my skills and my eyes…

          I guess it’s all bound in the philosophical question of: what is true?
          [maybe we'll have a thread on that one Haplo!]

          If it’s something that outwardly matters, I’ll use a gray card for the tentative assurance that I get the WB at least “true.” But again, the more I edit files, the more I think about output media [mostly computer screens] the more I get to thinking even this is pointless. All my cameras are always set to shoot raw and left on AWB [which in practice is almost always v.close or already spot on]. In post you just set an arbitrary value that looks and feels right [for what you want to do]; sync every relevant file in the series to this—you’re done. Who needs grey cards [except bench-testers]?

          • Hi Tom. Well, you could do that, make each target on the colour checker as close to theoretical ideal as possible. In the early days of digital, I use to create Action Scripts for other photographers that did just that. While I do know some photographers who still do that, I have moved past that in most of my shooting. Perhaps the early bias was more one of perceived accuracy than of camera characteristics. Of course if you were shooting fabrics or materials where the colour was very critical, and the client very specific, then the colour target is there when you need it. Yes, one range of red tones from one camera can rarely be made to match another camera, but how often do you check results side-by-side in real life situations? It goes back to the story for my niece about why the sky is blue; after all, you knew each vase was red, even though the red was different in each image. ;)

            When we just shot film, certain films were chosen for their palette. I see that as a bit like choosing oil paints when I put together a painting. Probably the most obvious was using Kodak E100VS when I was photographing Italian sports cars, because the red and the yellow really popped. The thing I see happening in the more recent (mini) resurgence of medium format film, is an attempt to move away from the “sameness” of many DSLR images. I heard some photographers claim that images looked too much alike, so using different choices allows one to get a different look. There was also a trend towards over-processing for a while, in which too many images appeared so clean as to be unrealistic to the viewer. We hear all too often about images being “Photoshopped”, especially with images of people. So now a more “natural” result has become more popular.

            I think in some ways we are moving on from the obviousness of digital. Sure, there are still people who will criticize anyone who uses film in any professional capacity, but largely the “battle” ended a while ago (yes, digital “won” that). ;) Perhaps we can throw Instagram in as an influence on images, especially that many of those appearance tricks can be accomplished in a camera. We also rarely call them “digital” cameras now; they have mostly just become cameras, and distinctions have more to do with flavor (mirrorless, compact, rangefinder, DSLR). Unfortunately some people still ask me whether I am a “Nikon guy” or “Canon guy”. :)

            Okay, technique: I tend to choose a grey point to get a neutral, then adjust to a “pleasing” rendition. A grey card in the image, under the prevailing light source, can help a great deal in post. White point for me depends upon the paper used for the final print, and that is rarely 100 Brightness. Even then, many of the 100 Brightness papers are not 100 White, as Whiteness and Brightness are two different things with paper. Note: 100 Brightness often means a very slight Cyan is added to trick the eyes into thinking the paper is Whiter. Viewing light is another issue, and while we could have a D65 or D50 source, our intended end-user audience rarely has nice light to view those images. Black point is something that happens in CYMK through adjusting the K (black) Channel, but it can depend upon Total Ink Limits and how good the printer is at getting close to that without GCR or UCR kicking in and printing muddy areas. Of course all this is easier with images going to a screen display, other than the range is crushed.

            I did not start with the wonderful monitors we have now. Everything was by the numbers in Photoshop using the eye dropper to sample various points. Now with so many tools, there is a temptation to use those tools, and to push towards some “ideal” level. You mentioned it too, in that our eyes are not all the same. We may not perceive a shade of red the same either, even when both of us look at the same thing. Maybe you can think of digital as finite numbers, much like metal working, while film is more like wood working.

            • I agree with all of your points, Gordon; my practical PS workflow is pretty similar to yours too. But I think the opposite is true with film and clients: if you deliver the goods, the amount of respect you get multiplies manifold.

            • Tom Liles says:

              Excellent post Gordon, thanks — again! — for that. I feel like I’m inching toward understanding…

              …if you were shooting fabrics or materials where the colour was very critical, and the client very specific, then the colour target is there when you need it.

              Not professionally, but not privately either, I am often shooting fabrics: photos for my colleague’s blog, they run a couple of clothing labels. This was the reason I wanted a ColorChecker [a very kind product photog just gave me one and encouraged me to try using it]. But as I say: the color rendition before I apply the calibration is 10 times out of 10 better, in LR. Using Adobe’s DNG profiler assuaged this somewhat. But still, better without than with [but that's not MT level great]. And never mind what they do to people: test shots of my friends sees them coming out with grape colored lips and horrid skin tones that look like they’ve all got kidney diseases [some of them do drink, though, Gordon]. I’ve given up trying to work out what I’m doing wrong [and will wait for the next chance that photog comes to our office and attach myself to him like a limpet until he teaches me what's going on]. Especially not worth the hassle when you consider it’s just throwaway blog posts that teenagers will be looking at on smartphones.
              [Though being a perfectionist, I can't just let it lie]

              Your words on using the grey card were brilliant. And especially with regards to white point. Yes, I suppose “brightness” is more Gamma related than a WB/White point thing?.. though “brightness” itself is a difficult word [perceived lightness]. Intensity, Radiance, Luminance, are perhaps more well defined Charles Poynton has been a good source for me on this.

              Maybe you can think of digital as finite numbers, much like metal working, while film is more like wood working.

              Haha. Nice analogy. I failed both classes at school :o
              [do they still even do things like metalwork and woodwork at school now? I'm not old---35 today!]

              • Try this: 100% flash exposure (manual, high shutter, small aperture, low ISO) and manual flash WB. Then report back on color – basically, we’re trying to eliminate as many variables as we can to color temperature.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Thanks Ming. Will try. And will report back. Just to clarify: take the color checker chart on 100% flash exposure [no ambient light interference]? And “manual flash WB” means set camera WB to “flash”? Or you mean use the amber and blue modifications Nikons let you make to the fixed WB setting [fixed WB setting = "flash," "shade," "tungsten," etc]; modified to suit by eye and the rear screen [not a good idea it seems to me, can't trust those rear screens for much!]

                  Do this and try a calibration?

                  On the slate for tomorrow!

              • Well, for internet output, or going to a smartphone or tablet, get it to where the client approves it, but encourage the client to include a disclaimer that colours on the internet may not appear the same in person. I became a creative professional through print, so at times I find the internet renditions to be frustrating. I do recall a few photographers attempts at getting people to adjust their monitors for “proper” viewing, though ultimately most dropped that idea. It’s a bit like going to someone’s house and the talking heads on the television look like they could be extras on the next Willy Wonka movie. The popular television standards are PAL and NTSC, and I recall a saying that NTSC meant Never Twice the Same Colour. ;)

                • I thought I was the only one who had that problem; clients complaining things didn’t look right…then me finding out they were viewing it on a monitor so hideously crappy that the gamut was not only limited, but also skewed.

            • Tom Liles says:

              Sorry Gordon,

              In true l’esprit de l’escalier style, i.e., true Tom style, I completely forgot this:

              Well, you could do that, make each target on the colour checker as close to theoretical ideal as possible

              Yes. Yes. I thought this is exactly what the calibration software was doing? It sees what your camera thinks the value is; it knows what the ICC value is for that square: data point one. Repeat for each square. Take the data points, correct and interpolate for the in-between bits => standardized color profile that should in theory be the same — at the very least for each of the squares — for every camera [at the same scene luminance, thank you for that correction Ming. Though if we're talking dual illuminant, isn't this also not really a factor?].

              In the early days of digital, I use to create Action Scripts for other photographers that did just that

              /attaches himself to Gordon like a limpet…

            • Great post, Gordon.

          • You can get colour response to be the same for a given luminance value, but the tonal response across the whole spectrum and all luminance values won’t be the same. Even that can be evened it with a lot of work, but it generally isn’t worth the effort – better to find a camera that gives you what you want natively. I do the same – shoot a test chart at various light levels, then mess around with the HSL sliders in ACR til I’m happy, and save the settings as a profile to be applied at will. How do you think I get such a consistent palette across all of my images? :)

            • Tom Liles says:

              How do you think I get such a consistent palette across all of my images?

              Haha. Ah, for sure, I do think about how on earth you do it. Like, A LOT. Most of the answers [non-specific] were in your manifesto; perhaps plus a little bit of magic [part you, part #7 in the manifesto]?

              But mostly, practice –> developing the sense –> then knowing what you want –> and being able to do it

              I’m still practicing.

              • I think the problem with third-party colour solutions (and even Adobe’s own DNG Profile Editor) is that they’re usually rather unintuitive if not downright unpleasant to use. ACR is a much quicker and more efficient way of doing things, and of course you’re free to make changes any time, whereas a custom camera profile is fixed (you could of course make changes to said profile in ACR, but that rather eliminates the point).

                I feel the same about bundled photo editing software like Capture NX2 and Viewer 3. Fans champion these programs as getting the most out of their respective brands, and occasionally the differences are perceptible, but I’ve yet to use one that was as fast and flexible as Adobe’s stuff. Life’s too short to wrestle with badly designed software; I’d rather spend time learning how to get what I want out of ACR.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  To borrow one of yours, Todd:

                  It’s not Facebook, but +1

                  • Replied to your film post above, Tom. Awaiting moderation.

                  • That would be +1 on google+ or like on FB…

                    • Quite right. I believe my exact words were “It’s not Facebook, but LIKE”! The honourable gentleman has misquoted me!

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      It was one of those where you know you’ve got it wrong the moment you press “post.” But it’s too creepy to write yet another comment to correct. So you just let it fly. But clangers never fly.

                      I’m a bit like Yogi Berra in the speech department: mixing metaphors is a piece of bread and butter. Occasionally, I might say the odd interesting thing ;)

              • Pretty much – the last line was bang on. Also, using a calibrated, wide-gamut monitor helps.

  29. A very intersting read. Thanks for all your troubles and work with that test.
    What impresses me most is how far micro 4/3 pushes the limits of sensor design. It is impressive to see it so close to Nikon’s FX.
    It really makes me wonder what the future will bring. We already have impressive IQ right now.

    Best regards.

    • Thanks Stefan – if we had OM-D pixels in a full frame sensor, we’d easily be pushing 60+MP. The trouble is going to be hitting diffraction limits relatively early on…I suspect eventually we’ll get sensors with random sized and very high pixel density, to replicate the semi-continuous medium of film; these will render very differently to what we have today, and also probably require significant processing/ storage improvements to handle…

  30. Excellent article.
    Congratulations!

  31. Franco Morante (Adelaide, South Australia) says:

    Really enjoyed your article MIng. Many thanks.

  32. I will soon read all the comments, I’m sure they are great. ButI just wanted to say that Ming you just might be the best photo blogger on the net. This is an amazing article. Do you, like, ever sleep?

    • Thanks. Short answer, between being a full time commercial photog, this site and a bunch of other projects, no. :p

      • Your health is the most important thing you have!…SLEEP!

        • Seriously. I think I’m having issues with insomnia, especially of late. I just can’t…perhaps time to get some sleeping pills.

          • A lot of high powered people who have little time to sleep do this..http://www.tm.org/

          • Hi Ming,
            If you can’t sleep, I recommend the following. Lack of sleep will mess you up badly and lead to pretty bad health issues.

            1) Take an actual “non-working” vacation
            2) Unplug from everything – perhaps including your camera. (You may appreciate it more.)
            3) Stop drinking coffee or limit it to a few cups a day.
            4) Get very, very dark shades/curtains for your bedroom.
            5) Watch Downtown Abbey (…kidding!)

            In regard to 1) above, I know a lot of type “A” personalities. Although the idea of relaxation sounds simple, they actually need to learn how to release control of various aspects of their life and really, really prioritize what is important to them. One of my relatives, who is a classic control freak, forced herself to take several vacations with her family and forced herself to socialize. She is much, much happier for it.

            By the way, did you ever find the elusive hobby you were looking for?

            • Thanks for the suggestions:

              1) Aargh…and yes, I think learning to switch off is perhaps one of the hardest things to do.
              2) If I stop…I honestly don’t know what will happen since the site and everything else require constant attention. I guess I’m so used to it at this point it’ll feel odd not to do anything. And even worse when I come back and find thousands of comments/ emails to moderate/ reply…
              3) Done already – there was a time when I was drinking 12-15 cups per day to keep myself functioning because of the demands of corporate. That was NOT fun.
              4) Done
              5) I could also read annual reports, that tends to work too.

              Nope, no hobby yet. But I’m thinking of circuit racing or fencing.

              • 2) Is there a “vacation mode” that you can set your blog on?

                Sorry, I’ve never run a site before, so I’m not sure what would be involved.

                At least technically, it should be possible to open up an an Auto Reply that says “Gone on vacation. Will return on xx/xx/xxxx. Will not be responding to any emails during that time, so please hold all your emails and requests, until I return. Thank you for your understanding.”

                I’d say give it a go, if you can. As long as you give your readers a heads up, I believe your readership will understand…!
                (There is probably a term for social media burnout..!)

                Good luck! Beware burnout! (Otherwise, you may as well have stayed in consulting.)

                • 2) Not really. And truth be told, I’m worried that it’ll kill traffic if people know I’m not around.

                  Facebook OD?

                  I don’t plan to be doing this forever…so I hope people appreciate it in the meantime :)

              • Michael Matthews says:

                Ming…build that Caterham 7. 8/8 scale, not Legos. Race it (but return alive). That should take care of a lot.

                • I was going to buy the kit chassis – but we have a stupid problem here with the government that if you assemble a car yourself, you need a special constructors’ permit to be able to register it. And they’re only given out to the local automakers. So you have to buy a complete one, with 200% tax, strip it down, build it again, and you can no doubt see how that becomes hideously expensive very quickly…

              • Tom Liles says:

                I still hold out hope it’ll be the unicycling or joining an Arabian horse syndicate.

  33. Thanks Ming, this is great timing. I’ve been doing research online recently about different camera formats, couldn’t find any good and fair summary until this one.

  34. Hi Ming,
    Another great unobtrusive camera review of yours :-)
    BTW what was the lens used for photographing all cameras together? is it a Zeiss Makro ?
    cheers!

  35. Congrats, great article again Ming and very informative! I’m a bit late to the party and just wanted to contribute following links I found interesting, in case someone should have missed it. Would be interesting to hear your evaluation of the following news eventually. A new technology promises cheaper and smaller sensors which are more light sensitive by a factor of 1000x. I wonder whether this is the technology on which the new sensor of the Panasonic/Fuji cooperation is based on:

    http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/06/12/Fujifilm-and-panasonic-organic-CMOS-sensor-industry-leading-dynamic-range-and-sensitivity

    “1,000 times more sensitive to light: How graphene camera sensors could revolutionize photography:
    http://theweek.com/article/index/245052/1000-times-more-sensitive-to-light-how-graphene-camera-sensors-could-revolutionize-photography
    Singaporean researchers are engineering some seriously futuristic optics at the nanoscale level”
    Cheers,
    Faruk

  36. R.V. Abbott says:

    Great article, and one that is consistent with my casual observations. I’ve been thrilled with the results I’ve gotten from my OMD and feel no need to upgrade. Full frame has gotten cheaper, but it’s still bulky, and and unless you do commercial work where large print sizes are required, I don’t see the point. I see a huge jump in quality from camera phones / compact cameras to mirrorless, but then it’s a question of diminishing returns, and how much you’re willing to pay for each marginal improvement in image quality. Finally, mirrorless is also a remarkably flexible system. Take the grip off the OMD and slap the pancake zoom, and you’ve got a compact camera. For more “serious” work, you can always add the grip and a high quality prime. Now if only they could improve continuous focusing…

    I’m just surprised it’s not being adopted more widely. I very rarely ever see mirrorless in the US, but I do see a lot of people walking around with a bulky SLR and kit zoom!

    • Thank you. Adoption could well be ergonomics: Oly have said they didn’t specifically design the OM-D to accommodate larger hands; it certainly appears that way. That said, my US workshops were full of OM-D’s (easily 80-85% of participants had one) – and those that didn’t bought soon afterwards.

  37. I enjoy your articles for many reasons. You must certainly have some equipment/brand preferences but it doesn’t come out in an overt fashion. I find myself reading without thinking “yeah, but this is coming from a Leica/Nikon/Canon/Fuji guy”. Your open-mindedness is contagious.

    You give an honest opinion of cameras that many pro’s wouldn’t dare mention. I have to tell you that I really enjoyed your XF1 review and the main photo in that review is gorgeous! You stated its obvious limitations yet still gave credit where it was due. And where else can I find an in depth comparison that includes both a Hasselblad and an IXUS 520?

    And most importantly to me, I find your images very pleasing and your opinions insightful.

    Having started with an OM-2n I picked up used in Bangkok I’ve owned and still own some nice cameras. Partially because of your review I recently picked up an XF1 as a take-everywhere camera after having ditched an RX100 that gave me no pleasure (although it was technically excellent).

    I took my high-end camera out with my new XF1 and made a few colorful, contrasty shots. The XF1 using JPG and the full raw post process with the other. Viewed one at a time (not side by side) as a 5×7 on a good display I could see differences but not an obvious winner and loser. Certainly nothing that would indicate the 5X cost difference between the two. Part of this is due to aging eyes I’m sure but I think we forget how excellent cameras have become. Posts like this one help us to remember this fact while still being technically instructive.

    Thank you.

    Jerry

    • Thank you. My preference is for whatever works – that’s it. (And also why I have three systems!)

      Try printing – you will start to see the difference fairly quickly, especially at larger sizes. I was at the printer’s yesterday QCing and signing images from the print run; I also did a 30″ wide image from the Hasselblad CFV and my last trip to the islands – resolution and tonal detail on that blew me away. Perhaps for the next print run :)

      Enjoy your XF1!

      • Oh I don’t need to print them. I can simply go 1:1 on my Cinema Display and see huge differences, but most of my images are viewed by friends at far less than their native resolution. 1D, XE-1, and XF1 images can all be made to look very nice on an iPad display and as you’re well aware a nicely composed or intriguing image can be very compelling without being bitingly sharp, or displaying a vast tonal range. But then again–it rarely hurts :-)

        Being a hobbiest allows me some leeway you may not enjoy. I can endure some quirks in order to shoot equipment I find physically and emotionally fulfilling to use. I never bonded with my now departed X100 but love the control placement and feel of shooting the XE-1–even though it can be slow to focus and the EVF can be laggy. Having an aperture ring and shutter dial again are very satisfying to me and I love the image quality. Likewise even though the RX100 image quality was very noticeably better than the X20 I sold in order to buy it I felt no pleasure in using it and now have both another X20 and the pocketable XF1 because they’re physically rewarding to handle. If my livelihood was dependent on image quality and focus speed I would likely have different gear. If that were the case though, I might be able to justify an M9. :-)

        Of course your site and your images are a great reminder that there’s more to being a pro then simply getting paid to take photos and I’d love to see some 30″ prints of your work.

        Jerry

        • There you go. Most don’t even view at that size; there are some tiny differences at web sizes, but even those are disappearing. We have to go solidly beyond 13×19″ in a print to see a meaningful difference.

          My leeway comes when I shoot for myself – albeit increasingly infrequently these days, but I try to make it count; hence my preference for cameras that are physically liberating – the GR, or even Canon 520HS – or force me to do things differently (film) to keep work and play at least psychologically separate.

          Large prints can always be arranged (too bad you missed out on the last print run, but I’ll definitely be doing another one in future – probably after the European tour) – I did a couple of 30″ wide landscapes from the CFV-39 for myself yesterday after fulfilling the orders, and they were stunning :)

  38. Ravi Kumar says:

    “there’s little highlight separation left in all the cameras except the CFV and curiously, the XF1″

    Hi Ming, You say the above in the dynamic range section. Thoughts on why a larger pixel size would give a better DR (at least for highlights). Won’t the larger area collect more light and saturate at the same time as a smaller sensor. I have seen some debates in photography fora on whether it is the pixel size or sensor size that matters for dynamic range (assuming technology from the same year). Here of course, the Hasselblad has the largest sensor size also. I’ll take yours to be the final word! Great review by the way. Thanks. RK.

    • Not necessarily. Larger photosites mean more electron collection ability before hitting saturation, and because of the way these things are engineered, greater full well depth (more electrons before overflowing).

      • Ravi Kumar says:

        Thanks. I need to read up more on some of the technical details of sensor architecture as well!

  39. Tom Liles says:

    Reply to this MT comment

    Yes. Making sure the camera was set to record 14bit raws was one of the first things I did. As I look at most of my files at work on my breaks [and since taking up the hobby I make a point of getting here at least an hour early so I can have some quiet concentrated computer time] as I do it at work I’m viewing on a McBair, i.e., the last device you’d choose to seriously look at these things, so the difference was mostly lost on me when looking at 12 and 14bit on screen. But noting histograms, file plasticity, and looking at images blown up on colleague’s cinema panels. Yes, I see a difference. Considering this is 2007 architecture and EXPEED one, we’re talking about, I imagine the D800/D800E, D4, etc., must be DROP DEAD GORGEOUS.

    Well as a matter of fact, I’m sure the D7000 was 14bit too. But I definitely prefer the colors from the D3 [though as mentioned, this isn't to kid myself: the D3 is OLD and showing it by today's standards. I don't care. I wanted the body, the finder, the moderate resolution and the full frame more than state of the art colors. I'm sure I'll spring for a more modern body someday, but it won't be soon---and a voyage into film awaits before that!]

    Spot on with used prices here in Japan. Unfortunately, it’s a perfect storm of them loving the new more than the old [generally] and it also being the place where all the new stuff comes from. This was why I was surprised with what the store gave me; I expected to get low-balled way more than that.

    Oh yeah, The rest of this month is going to be cinematics month for me. I’m also getting very high shutter speeds from this lens—sign of good transmission? But the 1.4 was slightly better on that front if I recall your thoughts correctly. Anyway it doesn’t matter to get bogged down in this too much. I just mention it as it was a pleasant surprise since compared with what the metering from my 50mm on the D7000 would have given me it is a fair bit faster/lower ISO [plus, notwithstanding the metered slower shutter speeds, with the D7000 I found you had a add a lot of shutter speed in, for hand held, to compensate for the resolution: like, at least, the reciprocal of 2x the 35mm focal length, rather than 1x.]

    Happy man today :)

    • Bigger pixels = more accurate colour.

      The T stop of the 1.4, like for like aperture, is higher as it has Nano Coating and very low internal reflections; it’s also almost totally immune to flare – the 1.8G on the other hand, isn’t.

  40. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Ming,

    Please, in the XF1, what were your in camera raw conversion settings?
    Had you reduced the “Sharpness” and “Noise red.” settings or were they set to “STD” ?

    And, if you have time, please, two more questions.
    1) [ I quote: "- - petals: - - - - with the Fuji surprisingly close; its sensor seems to protect the highlights at the expense of the shadows - -"
    "Black and white tonality - - - - whatever Fuji have done to their sensor, it appears to be very highlight-biased; there is very little shadow information whatsoever." ]

    I get the impression, that the XF1 crop of the flowers has more contrast than the others, were your in camera settings of “Highlight tone” and “Shadow tone” set to “STD” ?
    Would reducing the “Shadow tone” setting have helped, or do you suspect that already the raw file lacks in shadow detail (more bits reserved for the highlights and fewer for the shadows?) ?

    ( Quite often I find myself reducing the XF1 “Shadow tone” setting to “M-soft” (occasionally even “Soft”) in order to get more details in dark parts – or, perhaps, I just make what is there more visible; my monitor isn’t the best, at present I have only a Nexus 7.)

    2) As to your red colour test:
    I find I tend to set “Color” (with “Film sim.” “STD”) to “M-low” (perhaps due to my Nexus 7 ?).
    But I guess that makes too small a difference ?
    ( In the Resolution Test crops the XF1 seems to give a bit more punch in the colours than the “raw” cameras, but in the Flower crops I can’t see any difference? )

    Please, what is your preferred profile in the XF1 ?

    AND:
    Thank you Ming for your interesting and thorough comparison!
    I learnt more than from what I have previously read on the “other” I-net.
    ( I’ve been off the I-net for some time but I’m catching up on your articles..)

    • I honestly haven’t had that much time to explore all of the XF1′s settings: there is no point as there are better tools that fit my needs in the same class of device. Other cameras of this sensor size are pretty similar in output quality; regardless, the extremes of settings don’t make enough of a difference to put the camera’s performance up or down a category.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Ming,

        I thought you probably hadn’t, asked just in case.
        After all, it isn’t your camera… :-)

        ( I certainly understand, XF1 in camera raw conversion plus moving to a monitor _is_ a slow hassle and an additional curve adjustment is sometimes called for. )

        Best wishes, and thanks,
        Kristian

        ( I was curious about the highlight versus shadow bias, seemed strange from a serious make – I have nothing to compare with myself.
        So I guess all settings were default.)

        PS.
        I bought the camera for its size and 6 Mpx DR modes. I considered the RX 100, but such a compact lens on a much larger sensor seemed to good to be true and your comments on the lenses and the XF1 jpg:s decided me.
        THANKS!

  41. Michael Matthews says:

    Just a quick note of thanks. This site is a godsend. The fact that this thread of comments began as a gear oriented subject and led to everything from directors of cinematography to go-kart racing says it all. Thank you for having the patience and interest to respond to all of it.

  42. Spyros K says:

    Hi Ming,
    fantastic review, thanks for all the effort
    I am wondering though: are xf1 and 520HS photos placed in the opossite place in the DR scene? You write in your great article that “there’s little highlight separation left in all the cameras except the CFV and curiously, the XF1.” so I am wondering if these two cameras are missplaced in this comparison as in my non-calibrated monitor the Canon scene looks ok and the Fujifilm scene has clipped highlights
    Thanks again for the great comparison review!
    Kind Regards,
    Spyros

    • It’s not a review, but rather a practical demonstration/ comparison.

      No, they’re correct – look at the file names in the titles. DSCF is Fuji, IMG is Canon. I should have added something about the way highlights roll off too – abrupt transitions at the cutoff point like the Canon are unnatural looking; the Fuji might well appear blown in places (the actual overexposed area is less than the Canon however) but the transition is much more gradual – and thus natural.

  43. There are many factors in play, thanks for complex description! I would also be curious to see how D7100 would compete with the rest… I have bought this camera after long thoughts about D600. If you are interested, I can borrow it to you in Prague :).

    • Thanks for the offer. I suspect that it’d do pretty well, though you’d hit diffraction limits fairly quickly by f5.6 due to the pixel density.

      • I assume it should be no problem for you to get a D7100 for a day or two sooner than in Prague, there will be many enthusiastic D7100 owners everywhere who would like to know how their camera would do :-).

        I am still playing with the new toy, so far I am most happy with Nikkor 85f1.8D shot on appertures about f4, which is no big surprise. But even the Nikkor 18-200VR is giving decent results. I need to study the relation between diffraction and pixel size… from D90 I am used to shoot he zoom with appertures around f7.1-8, do you suggest the quality might actually go down above… lets say f5.6?

        • I’ve requested one but not heard anything yet. I have no plans to buy one as it doesn’t fit in with my needs at the moment.

          Yes, sharpness will visibly decline at the focus distance beyond f5.6-8 due to diffraction.

          • Sure, D7100 is an amateur camera after all, it cannot impress someone who uses D800 :-) .

            That diffraction is the reason why image quality goes down above certain apperture I know. What I was thinking was that the 18-200 Nikkor has optimal optical quality on f8, no matter what body it is used on… f8 is just the apperture by which the most picture information goes through the lens. Simply said – that optimal apperture is exclusively property of the lens.

            Now you suggest that optimal apperture of one lens might be different on different bodies (with the same sensor size)… so f8 was the best on D90, but on D7100 f6.3 might be better, because D7100 pixel size is smaller? If I understand correctly what you say, I have to study more about the diffraction, I was not aware of this relation.

  44. That first test, you think to be a test of the Dynamic range, actually says little or nothing about that parameter, this test is definitely hard to do with sunlight and with different cameras, but this is totally unreliable.

    This subject have a too large percentage of the bright area with no real deep black and/or elements close to the camera, not filtered by atmosphere, the change in light intensity between one picture and the other, caused by the movement of the clouds and the change in shape, change the intensity of the filtering of sunlight, then there is a different light intensities in the different moments of shooting.
    This is no good!

    This test shows us almost exclusively on the ability of those (unknown) lenses to deal with the high contrast, against light and tell about the cromatic result of the glasses and his coatings, is a test useful more to see the gost & lens flare, but even for this intent, must be done differently; here no lens appear really good there is a diffused glare in all the stills.
    The sun must be strong without atmospher veil, the sky clear and without clouds and high humidity, or does not say much.

    Alternatively, you must use a artificial set with strong light, controlled and stable, with accurate framing, hoping then that does not happen some anomalous reflections inside the camera due to some not well-built parts, with not so good antireflection matt black finish …
    Also this can happen!

    • Since you can’t change the lenses on compacts, and I’ve picked the best glass available for the interchangeable systems, I think your comment is not at all representative of a real world situation.

  45. afildes says:

    How do you think the OM-D might have done if you’d put the Zeiss on it (possible with an adapter) – instead of using the ‘lesser’ kit lens? That’s a couple of rather fine lenses the Nikon wore, considering the subject matter. The Olympus test choices are possibly the equivalent of having used a basic 35-80mm lens on the Nikon perhaps, and a cheaper 85mm. The 45mm f1.8 has a decent reputation but is a portrait lens so is probably optimised for short DOF. I’m not defending the Oly particularly, but that’s an odd anomaly that may undercut any serious comparison.

    • If I’d used the Zeiss 50, it would give a noticeable magnification advantage to the Olympus. I’ve got a 28, but that’s much too short. So either way, it wouldn’t be fair, either. We work with what we have…and the 45 is actually an excellent lens, regardless of the price. The only other 45mm I’ve got is the Nikon 45/2.8 P, and as well as that does on FX bodies, it doesn’t have the resolving power for the pixel density of the OM-D – I did try it.

  46. Laxman Mestry says:

    Article is very informative for passionate photographers.

    It will be very helpful if you write something on Canon Camera’s like 600D, 60D as these cameras are very popular in India now a days for amature photographers. In festive season, Canon have sold these camera with combo offer with discount.

    Inspired by your work, I am trying to photograph wrist watches with acrylic diffuser ( as shown in one of your article). But I am still struggling to reach your quality (I have Canon 600D, Tamron 90mm Macro lens, Nissin flash Di866 and one non TTL flash).

    Not sure whether I have to upgrade Camera Body.

    Regards,

    Laxman Mestry
    Mumbai, India

    • I don’t shoot Canon, and likely never will. Even if I did review them – my lack of familiarity with the system would make the comments meaningless. Sorry.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Conventional wisdom states that the bigger the sensor, the better. The bigger the pixels, the better. All things equal, that’s true; however, 10-micron pixels would mean very low resolution compacts, and medium format digital doesn’t sell in sufficient volumes to justify the same sort of R&D spend that consumer or even midrange pro gear would get. I admit I’d always been curious to see just how much the technological improvements from generation to generation offset pixel pitch etc.; some time ago, I did a comparison of the Leica S2 against the then-new Nikon D800E. Today, we go one step further to see exactly what kind of gap exists between the various grades of equipment. Spoiler: it’s not as wide as you might imagine in some areas.  […]

  2. […] Conventional wisdom states that the bigger the sensor, the better. The bigger the pixels, the better. All things equal, that’s true; however, 10-micron pixels would mean very low resolution compacts, and medium format digital doesn’t sell in sufficient volumes to justify the same sort of R&D spend that consumer or even midrange pro gear would get. I admit I’d always been curious to see just how much the technological improvements from generation to generation offset pixel pitch etc.; some time ago, I did a comparison of the Leica S2 against the then-new Nikon D800E. Today, we go one step further to see exactly what kind of gap exists between the various grades of equipment. Spoiler: it’s not as wide as you might imagine in some areas.  […]

  3. […] A question of sensor size – Ming Thein | Photographer […]

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