The importance of shot discipline

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Miss it, and the moment is gone. Procession, Nepal. Nikon D700, 24/1.4

Repost: I’ve been referencing this particular early article so often in posts and emails that I think it’s high time we had a reminder. I’ve dusted it off, refreshed it a little. We’ll start by defining shot discipline. There are two main aspects: timing and technique.

Part one: Timing

Imagine having a revolver, and say four enemies that are going to come towards you in a short space of time – too short for you to reload. You’ve got six shots. If you’re good, you’ll only need four; if you miss three times, you’re screwed. How is this relevant to photography? What part of the workflow is limited to just a few shots? Your buffer, especially during fast paced action. (Why do you think pro cameras have huge buffers? Insurance.) Anticipation and waiting for the critical moment – that peak in action when everything comes together – is very important; more so if your camera doesn’t have a motor drive or a huge buffer.

The revolver analogy is a good one. I’d compare a D3/D4 class camera to a machine gun with a telescopic sight: it’s complicated, but you can spray and pray indefinitely and probably get something good – even if you have no skill or experience whatsoever, simply by the sheer weight of statistics. (If you take a thousand photographs, one or two will probably be okay – similarly, aim in the right general direction and you’ll probably hit the target once or twice). In experienced hands, it’s impossible NOT to get the shot.

Honestly, I found shooting with the D3 too easy. Same goes for the D700. The M9-P, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. It’s like a Magnum .44 or a Desert Eagle 50 Cal; utterly useless to a beginner, but a fantastic tool if you know how to use it. But, you pretty much only get six RAW shots when the barrel is hot. See why timing is important while shooting action?

Do I find it limiting? Yes, but only if I’m not paying attention. And guess what: that was the simple part to shot discipline.

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Spot the Himalayas. Would more resolution be better? Actually no, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The scene itself was resolution-limited by atmospheric mist. Nikon D700, 85/1.4 G

Part two: Technique

The higher the pixel density of your camera, the more technique matters. For a fixed sensor size, small movement on a low-resolution camera matters less than on a high resolution one. Let’s say camera A has 4MP, and camera B has 16MP – that’s double the resolution, not quadruple (2x in each linear axis). If you move by a factor of half a pixel on camera A, the image is still pretty much aligned with the original pixel it was focused on; your edges might be a bit blur, but you could probably use unsharp masking to fix the perceived acuity. If you move by the same factor on camera B, you’re going to be out by a whole pixel. And that’s not fixable by unsharp masking. Increase the resolution further, and the effect is compounded. Those original 2.7MP APSC cameras were pretty forgiving, actually. The 24MP APSC ones will not be.

Technique actually covers several things.

1. Stability. This is the biggest one. If you don’t move, then your edges will stay where you focused them on the sensor plane. All will be sharp. So how do we achieve this? Several ways – the easiest is a sturdy tripod. Good shutter tripping technique – roll gently, don’t jab. And the last way is to reduce apparent movement by maintaining a high shutter speed, either by cranking the ISO, using faster lenses, or using a flash.

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mmm, lenses.

2. Lenses. Good lenses have better resolving power, right? Yes, but these days, the difference is mostly visible only when shot at maximum aperture. By f8 or f11, most lenses are capable of resolving identically to near as enough makes no difference at the sensor plane. And certainly not enough to be noticed in a moderately-sized print. Having said that, test your lenses carefully to determine what the optimal aperture is, and by what point resolution is ‘acceptable’. Look at the corners. It’s pretty important to do this before buying too, to avoid any issues or inconvenience later on. Just one of the reasons I’m still happy to go to a real retail store to buy stuff; I want to make sure the lens I’m going to use is going to perform the way I expect it.

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Speake-Marin Immortal Dragon. The eternal fight between more DoF and diffraction limits. I cheated a little by using a wider focal length, which has more DOF for a given aperture. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon

3. Watch out for diffraction. Although all lenses have an optimal aperture, the smaller the pixels, the closer the diffraction limit will be to wide open. Most compact cameras – especially the 1/2.33″ kind – will resolve optimally wide open, and be noticeably softer if set to f5.6 or f8. (This is one reason most manufacturers use a switchable ND filter rather than a real aperture; also on a sensor that small, everything is in focus all the time.) For instance: I can use f45 to shoot macros on the 4.1MP D2H without noticing any diffraction softening; however, by f27 on the D700, I’m seeing a noticeable reduction in acuity. That limit becomes f16 on the 16MP APS-C cameras, and I suspect as low as f11 on 24MP APS-C. F8 is as far as I’d go with any lens on Micro Four Thirds.

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Missed focus in either direction would turn this from a keeper into junk. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF 1.4/85 Planar – manual focus

4. Focusing. If you’re shooting a rangefinder, make sure the RF is properly calibrated for the lenses you normally use. Be aware of focus shift with aperture stop down. If you’re shooting an SLR, make sure your AF system is properly calibrated, especially for wide open lenses; use the AF fine tune function if you’ve got one. Shoot live view, wide open, manual focus and magnified to determine what the absolute best result you can obtain is, and then adjust your AF system until you achieve that consistently. AF accuracy matters most when shooting wide open – sadly these days SLR focus screens are optimized for brightness rather than focusing snap, which means it’s much harder to see when something is in focus or not. (Camera makers want to sell you the latest AF lenses, so they discourage you from focusing yourself.) It isn’t helped either by tiny viewfinders. If you’re going to use your SLR manual-focus, it’s worth adjusting your mirror zero position and focus screen shimming to ensure that what you see in the finder does in fact match what the sensor sees. And a coarser matte split prism or micro prism screen helps immensely, too. Don’t try to do this yourself, however – it’s difficult and there are a lot of fragile, easily scratched components inside the finder which can be irreparably damaged if you don’t know what you’re doing.

5. Maintenance. This also covers several things: make sure your lenses and mounts are clean, for one. Clean lenses are obvious. Clean mounts, less so: a little bit of misalignment between the lens/ mount/ sensor combination can cause noticeable softness on one side of the image. It mattered less in the days of film because the ‘sensor’ plane had some thickness to it; you could be off by a bit and the image would still be focused on the emulsion. A digital sensor is a perfectly flat single plane, with no forgiveness in the front-back direction.

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A good example of condition-induced limits. Paris. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

Bottom line: if you don’t think you can handle that many pixels, shoot in a binned and downsized raw mode, or get a camera with fewer pixels. You’ll save yourself the hassle of handling enormous files, too. I know that under certain conditions – photojournalism and street, for example – it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be able to fully achieve more than 12MP of resolution on a full frame camera. This isn’t because I’ve got poor technique, but simply because there are restrictions put on you by the shooting conditions – for instance, being jostled by people; having to shoot in extremely dark environments at high ISO; using a MF rangefinder with wide open shallow-DOF lenses on a moving subject. The list of excuses goes on. Bottom line: I know I’m the weak link in the imaging process here; I’ll try to improve, but I also recognize my limits and won’t fall into the trap of thinking more MP will make for a better image. It won’t. In the studio however, that’s a totally different matter. MT


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  1. I realize this is an older article but i had a question in regards to using smaller formats on a high megapixel sensor. With a 5Dsr that has 50, 28 and 12 megapixel settings would the lower settings have an effect on hand held image sharpness? I’m not sure how the camera goes about deploying those smaller pixel counts. From a handholdable standpoint would the 5dsr at 12 mpix be as forgiving as an original 12mpix canon 5D? Thanks for your time and congrats on the ambassadorship!

    • Thanks Ryan. The ‘tolerance for shake’ is basically a function of pixels per degree angle of view – which is why we also need higher shutter speeds with telephoto lenses; a certain amount of shake translates to a certain number of degrees/second motion; we need to minimise the absolute number of degrees to less than what corresponds to one pixel to avoid seeing it. (Absolute stillness is impossible without a tripod.) So, the fewer pixels per degree – or the more degrees one output pixel occupies – the more motion we can get away with, and lower shutter speeds. In practice, I’d shoot the D700 (12MP) at 1/fl or even 1/0.5fl sometimes and be happy with output acuity – but the 50MP beasts need 1/2x-1/3x, depending on mirror and shutter damping.

  2. Veryy nice article, totally whaat Ι needeԀ.

  3. SLRfusion says:

    Ming your analogy to shooting a firearm is one I have thought of often as I enjoy both hobbies. It goes beyond shot conservation. The act of bringing the camera to your eye quickly and knowing instinctively where the controls lie is very similar. The need to properly hold the camera for bracing and support also taps the same skills. Looking through an eyepiece and being able quickly assess what you see are critical for both disciplines. Moving quickly and then achieving effortless stillness are another commonality. When one practices enough it is all instinct and muscle memory. I am so blown away at the photographers who used and still use manual focus in action situations. So impressive in terms of pure skill. Only rarely has all of it come together perfectly for me on the camera side. Once in Paris outside the Musee Rodin there was a striking woman in line in a 20’s style cloche. I waited for her to turn and when she did my camera came up and I shot purely on instinct. Her eyes locked with the camera just as the shutter dropped. I had time for just that one shot. It remains the best street photograph I have taken in over 30 years of shooting.

  4. Dirk De Paepe says:

    Hello Ming,
    One of the (many) differences between a professional photographer and a selfmade guy, I guess, is that the latter has some serious gaps in his knowledge. At least that’s how I experience it, even after some 50 years of shooting, since my photographic education didn’t have this systematic guided treatment of all aspects involved. But then, this makes your articles so interesting to read, since there’s often something to learn. An advantadge of this way of constant learning is, I reckon, that one is more eager for information.
    Anyway, thanks again for this excellent article. I had some thoughts in the margin, as I read it, that I’d like to share with you.
    1) Timing has always been one of the main aspects of photography to me, having my roots in music, since photography is this one discipline that can freeze moments. So how remarcable that I used this same image of a machine gun in a recent conversation. Only, I stated that, to hit a very small target, say the size of a coin on a wall, one who shoots around with a machine gun for ten seconds would most likely have no hits at all, while a very good shooter would only need one bullet. But there’s another thing here. If one would only have a few hits amongst a thousand shots, not being able to proparly “aim”, I think most likely he wouldn’t even recognize those hits amongst the pack. So I believe it would be a lost effort anyway. That’s why I never have my camera on continuous shooting, although I normally take more shots of a scene, trying to catch the pinnacle moment. (I’m still not a one-bullet shooter!) I know, in the hands of a pro, a machine gun is a lethal weapon, but I experience much more satisfaction when hitting a target with single shots. And I prefer not hitting every single target above diminishing my joy of shooting. I guess that’s another major difference with pro photograpy: there’s no “MUST succeed” in what I do. (What a luxury!)
    2) Concerning MPs, I absolutely agree with you that more MPs doesn’t make for better pictures. Yesterday, I shot pictures with two lenses, each on opposite sides of the “resolution resolving power” curve: the Jupiter-3 1,5/50 and the Zeiss Otus 1,4/55 (that I have for 3 days now), both in the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The difference is enormous. Still, with one Jupiter shot, I thought “this is my best picture of the day” (better than what I shot with the Otus), because I really nailed a very typical scene. Still I would have wished a higher resolution power (it was the first time I tried the J-3 on the A7r), since I really have to “tune back” the resolution of the J-3 picks in Photoshop. I chose the Jupiter for its utmost portability and invisibility that comes along with it, because for shooting the Otus, I want to attach the vertical grip on the A7. Still, in the future, I’ll use the Planar ZM 2/50 more and the J-3 not that much. It will have to be one of those days that I really crave its character, for me to mount the J-3 again. As a matter of fact, I really don’t need the Otus at all. But it gives me tremendous joy, first to really nail it with this beast and second to be flabergasted by the IQ, when looking at the files. So indeed, more MPs doesn’t create better pictures, but I absolutely enjoy having them! Yet I wonder if I’d really want to handle even more MPs than the 36 of the A7r, since I feel to have reached to summit of what I can physically handle in OOH shooting, without being limited to extreme short shutter times/ high ISOs, and smaller apertures, due to even more critical focusing. Up till the 24MP of the NEX-7 I felt no need to shoot more carefully than what I was used to in the past, but with the A7r it’s like if I passed a threshold to a really higher and more challenging level. This was a surprise to me, I hadn’t expect this at all. No regrets though, I’m absolutely loving it, experiencing the time of my life (photographically speaking). But, like I said, I doubt if I can (or want to) handle more. I’m sure this is a different matter to you – again one of those differences…
    Take care, Ming, and thanks again.

    • I’m a professional but also very much self-taught. I’ve never graduated from a course, attended a workshop, or read any theory. My knowledge is empirical, through experimentation alone.

      Thanks for the thoughts:

      1) You’re mostly right here. The machine gun comes in useful in situations where you’ve got no idea, no control and very little ability to anticipate what comes next; the intermediate frames before the ‘real one’ are insurance. It’s the same reason why I’ll take one shot if it’s for me, and many if it’s for a client: just in case; you want to be covered. You can’t make excuses if they want a different facial expression or something and ask to see the B-roll, but there isn’t any because you only took one shot. Shooting for yourself and yourself only is definitely a luxury 🙂

      2) How are you finding the Otus? More potential means more care required to unlock it. A VW Golf will do 200km/h quite easily on public roads, and is much slower than a Formula One car, but the Formula One car requires a very, very specific set of conditions to deliver maximum performance, a skilled driver, and the correct setup for the track. I think it’s the same with cameras: you can produce a better image with medium/ large format, but only if the conditions allow. Most of the time, the entry-level DSLR will get you an image – because the bigger camera isn’t suited for that task. What I find especially interesting is how cameras like the D800E/ A7R extend that usability envelope much further than was previously possible; there’s no way I could have shot the digital back on my last reportage assignment, but the files I produced from the D800E blew the client away – they had no idea that kind of image quality was possible under those conditions without staging/ controlled lights.

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Wow, I wouldn’t have guessed you’re a selfmade guy too! It only enhances my appreciation. 🙂 Still there remains a huge difference: you made a living out of it, while I have another “main job”, giving me much less time for my photography. Anyway, the learning process never stops…
        1) nothing to add.
        2) I really have exactly the same idea, although I only wanna (and need to) use the Otus “just for fun” (I’m almost ashamed to say this). Comparing it with a Golf versus F1 is exactly what I always do as well. A F1 requires a much better driver and other circumstances. So I’m pretty sure the Planar ZM will remain my most used lens on the A7r. But I’m so very thrilled about what the Otus càn do. So my main concern right now, only shooting for myself, is how I can create circumstances and choose subjects to shoot with the Otus and make its possibilities render. In other words, producing images of a technical quality (the “artistic” value is another matter and IMO not restricted to high IQ lenses) that are not possible with say my Planar (or any other lens). The finding out in what parameters the Otus can overclass the Planar already demands quite an exploration. Well, as a matter of fact, the answer is simple: pretty much in every parameter. But the exploration journey concerns the creation of the right circumstances for the Otus to show off its abilities.
        One example. I’ve been reading: even when shooting wide open, the detail is already quite unique and is manifest all over the image. ??? Yeah right. I’ve tried it in my test shots, and I can pretty much confirm this. To say the very least, it’s far better than anything I’ve seen before. (Let’s not make any mistake here, there’s always room for improvement – did we really expect ULTIMATE perfection in ALL circumstances?… Well, IMO it comes damned close.) But how do I create a wide open shot picture, one that makes sence (!) (let alone that it must have an artistic value), and shows Otus-detail (that means: looking at 100%) all over the image, or even say in the far corners? As far as now, I can’t come up with such a creation and I’ve been thinking of it since I ordered this lens. Because of the extremely shallow DOF and the very narrow margin that comes with a hi-res sensor, all objects would have to be placed in a sphere around the camera – which is virtually impossible. So it’s simply not possible to show this quality in a songle picture (IMO – all ideas are welcome!).
        But fact is: when shooting at f/1,4 the grain in the out of focus parts is of a sheer beauty and softness (only visible at 100%!) that I’ve never seen before. And so are the transitions in the bokeh. That’s why I dare to state that it’s a no-go to apply any sharpening or unsharp mask what so ever on wide open shot pictures. It’ll ruin the unique silky grain immediately. It’s quite easy to show this quality: just focus on a single object in an environment where everything else is at different distance. But I don’t expect too much great pictures in that way. Still it can be interesting for the purpose of demonstrating the grain quality. One can of course shoot people in natural spontanuous circumstances, but for this kind of pictures, invisibility is pretty mandatory, so a simple A7r (without mounting the grip) and the Planar shot from waste level with tilted LCD will probably do a better job, making you nail interesting scenes more easily and making you produce more and probably better keepers… The fact that the Planar looses some sharpness in the corners is absolutely irrelevant in this kind of pictures. (I’m really criticizing now.) I guess a very good use for this kind of bokeh shooting can be found in that specific kind of product shooting, that requires the use of a very shallow DOF (a small percentage of product shooting jobs). Here you can prepare the scene very carefully and make the most use of those capabilities. Anyway, for my part, I’m still thinking of possible scenes… It’s “a work in progress”.
        Another kind of use is more obvious to me, although for many people probably not obvious at all with a 55mm f/1,4 lens with this kind of bokeh quality. I’m talking about hyperfocal shooting. Who wants to shoot hyperfocally with a 55mm lens, for heavens sake?! Well, I do. And I experienced that it’s very well possible. I have a theory about it, that would take me too long to explain here, and I’m not even sure that it’s correct, but I know that, with my camera put at (almost) eye level on my tripod and in a horizontal direction, with the aperture at f/11 (probably even a bit wider) I get “everything” in (visible) focus. And everything will have a level of detail that, again, I simply have never seen before. I’m talking about the flabbergasting kind of detail here. I had read about it and saw that some “demo-pictures” were taken hyperfocally, but observing this in the first of my own pictures really blowed me out of my socks. I was like catching my breath. But again, one really needs to look at 100% – or in large format prints, I guess, because I didn’t make any Otus prints of my own yet – you know I’m still discovering this beauty, or is it “this beast”…? – no, it’s definitely a beauty, or let’s nuance: it’s a wonderfully beautiful beast! 🙂
        Finally, the total aspect of the image, the general IQ, even when looking in screen fitting size on my 28” Mac screen, is already clearly superior to what I get with any other glass. I ascribe this to the quality and density of the colors, the micro dynamics and the 3D separation as a result of the resolution resolving power, that I suspect to be much, really much higher than what’s needed for the 36MP sensors we use today. I guess this is why the “visibly in focus area” ranges considerably further than what’s to be expected with a “normal” 55mm lens. I also gues that’s why you can process available light shots to a level where indeed your clients will suspect a lot of artificial light. And that’s exactly one of the main reasons for me as well, to having bought the Otus: I almost always shoot with available light. That’s also why I’m so thrilled with the A7r’s sensor, compared to the NEX-7’s…
        All in all, to me and as far as now, the joy of using the Otus on the A7r is tremendous, and I consider “joy of shooting” to be the most important “parameter”. I don’t have to bother wether or not I can make this a good professional investment. Another tremendous luxury, isn’t it. My really only hope and concern is, to be able to really live up to the Otus’ features. I hope to show some shots that please me pretty soon. It’s a great challange, but I’m working on it. And I guess I will continue discovering new Otus capabilities for quite some time. Anyway, I’m trying to proceed systematically.

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        The most difficult aspect in solving problems is to keep it simple.
        Sometimes one needs a whole lot of thinking to get as far as that. As a matter of fact, last night I realised how stupid I have been concerning the use of the Otus. I realize that comparing it to a F1 is wrong. It rather needs to be compared with a Ferrari or another hyper sports car. Why? Well, you can drive it like a Golf if you want, using only part of its potential, though this means taking the inconveniences (like having no lugage space etc.) for granted. So is it crazy to use a >300km/h hyper sports car for a regular trip? If you happen to have one, I don’t see why. One can still enjoy having the potiential at hand, enjoy the finish and technology that can be felt in every switch, every control. And every ones in a while, one can use the accelleration power, or step on it, those days that one travels on the German autobahn. Is it stupid to by one, if you’re mainly making regular trips? If you’re thrilled by it and you’re prepared to spend the money, I’d say “go for it”. I’m sure you will enjoy driving it.
        I have said a thousand times to young musicians that, when trying to impress with technical virtuosity as a main goal (let alone the only goal), one looses the music and the performance becomes something like a circus act (“look what I can do!”). It can arouse awe, but it has nothing to do with music. Same in photography. Thinking about what pictures to take to let the Otus perform to its full abilities is plain wrong. So I won’t do this any longer. I’m just gonna use it whenever I feel for it, even if it’s for “a quiet drive along the coast”, and I’m sure to enjoy it…

        • I suppose it makes it a Bugatti then – I can’t think of anything else that occupies the same rarefied territory…

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            Let’s go for the Bugatti! As a matter of fact, that was my first choice – only it’s price range kept me from it. But isn’t it the more awsom from Zeiss to come up with this lens in the price range of a Summilux? That’s why I’m a huge Zeiss fan for 50 years: their top quality price range is unseen.

  5. Dziękuję.

  6. Liked the shooting analogy, but in real life also machine guns require shooting discipline, a steady platform, patience and calmness to be effective. Therfore I think photographers, independent of equipment will benefit from honing their shooting practice, and reflect on their results. This is why I acquired a used Nikon FM2 and a Df. The DF is not a camera for Safari, but a great tool for slow photography.

  7. Nice article Ming.
    I received my 20×20 Verticality iv print from you and luckily they walking play baseball with the tube. 🙂
    Getting it framed now and look forward to seeing it hanging at home on my one gallery wall illuminated by the gallery style lighting I installed awhile back. The detail of all the lines rendered by the zeiss Otus and D800E is awesome in person. Wesley did a nice job with the printing and the paper is a nice warm paper, good for B&W.
    Thanks again and I hope the money helps out your site.

    • Phew! Thanks Wayne. The prints are less of a commercial exercise – after the number of replacements from the last run, more like break even – and more of an intentional way of getting more high quality final output into the hands of photographers so they can see a) what the gear is capable of, and b) how very different a good print looks compared to any digital representation… 🙂

  8. As always, a great post, Ming. Valid analogies made. I think your article inspires one to consider revisiting an approach of making each shot count a bit more when shooting digital and firing off less shots (a professional shoot might be the exception here). It automatically places a greater focus on technique and yields significantly less images to sort and delete in post.

  9. A small point, perhaps, but I’m not sure “rolling” across the shutter button is a great idea. Whenever one is putting pressure on the part of the camera body which surrounds the shutter button itself, one is rotating the camera body clockwise, because they always put the shutter button on the outside right end of the camera.

    I always advice folks new to photography to use their finger tip, and to press straight down on the shutter button to avoid hitting the surround. Works out better for me, anyways, although I haven’t done a well-controlled study. Ok, I tested it out for about ten shots, made a decision, and I’ve been running with it. ;D

    • Pressure on the camera body is bad. Perhaps I used the wrong terminology – it’s application of gradual pressure, but how you do that is up to whatever works best for you…rolling the ball of my finger works for me.

  10. A very helpful reminder! This reminds me about a link I was going to share on a past discussion: a gun shooter’s guide to stabilizing your camera.

  11. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thanks for a good summary of essentials!

    Stability: You might have re-mentioned the advantage of a viewfinder, even a rudimentary one, for stabilizing the camera against your face in bad light – or even upside down against your forehead.
    [ With a not to light non-SLR camera with a leaf shutter acceptable keepers for the family album can be shot at 1/20 s (with good luck even at 1/10 s) with 35-50 mm eq. without IS.]

    ( I’ve made a folding cardboard tube with a magnifying glass to tape to my camera screen as a viewfinder, also good for seeing the screen better in strong light.)

    I like your gun analogy. Breathing and triggering is the same with a camera. With practice you learn to let the target squeeze the trigger for you, not the awareness of your finger.

  12. Watch out for camera shake caused by the mirror as well, especially on lighter tripods. Since upgrading to a D7000 from a D40 I now almost always use the remote mirror-up mode when shooting on a tripod and the difference is results is clear to see. I also find with the higher pixel density (and heavier body) I need faster shutter speeds when handheld so the superior ISO noise performance is certainly welcome. I hadn’t thought of using smaller resolution modes though and always shoot in full 16MP so thanks for that tip.

    • Tripods are extremely underrated and quite misunderstood; lighter isn’t better, and design matters. In short: you get what you pay for. There’s a reason why for the most critical work I use a 5-series Gitzo with legs the size of telephone poles…

  13. Well presented Ming.
    After shooting weddings for 20 years on Hasselblad, I can relate to shot timing. As you know, we only had 12 or 24 exposure backs. When I transitioned to Nikon digital in 1999 with the D1, over shooting was never a problem. Also agree with your comments on the D3. After the D1, D1H, D1X, D2H, D2X, the D3 was the first camera that I trusted on AWB and could even conceive of shooting JPEGs.

    Thank you for your continued hard work on this site!

    • Thanks! I certainly find the extra shot discipline the Hasselblad requires translates to much better digital work…

      • Absolutely agree on that.

        I think a lot of us who cut our teeth on film back in the day also developed better shot discipline for it. We had no autofocus to guide us, and metering systems were (comparatively) primitive, but did the job if you learned to understand how they read the scene properly.

        Of course, we also had the benefit of superior manual focusing (both in terms of physical resistance on the lens and easier to focus split-image or microprism screens.

        But I still shoot the same way with my current DSLRs as I did with my 35mm SLRs: look at the light & composition, focus on the moment, squeeze the shutter, don’t “spray and pray”. I’m just as slow and methodical with the D3s or OM-D E-M1 as I was with the Canon EF and Nikon F3HP.

        Not sure if you’ve ever had the opportunity to look through the viewfinder of the original Olympus OM-1 or OM-2 cameras (especially with the Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 lens attached), Ming, but they’re a revelation. I don’t think any other 35mm (D)SLR camera before or since can match them for size and brightness. Way ahead of the SLRs from Nikon/Canon/Pentax/Minolta/et al from the same period.

        • Quite possibly so, but I also suspect you experimented a lot less because there was a cost associated with it.

          And there’s really no comparison between the current focusing screens and even a mediocre one from the MF era. I haven’t had a chance to handle an OM – they’re not that common here – but that’s quite impressive given that they were also the smallest of the 35mm SLRs.

        • John Lockwood says:

          My first SLR was an OM-1MD, Robert. Still have it. The OM system was barely larger than the Leica M series. In fact, Olympus originally named it the Olympus M, until Leica threatened suit. The OM-1, OM-1MD and OM-1n were stellar pieces of engineering. The Zuiko glass is nice too, and diminutive by today’s standard.

          • The OM-1 and -2’s viewfinders are said to have 0.92x magnification and are very bright. I think the only SLR with a higher magnification was the Zeiss Contaflex with 1.0x. Of course, this comes at the expense of eyepoint: larger magnification means smaller eyepoint. By comparison, modern DSLRs are around 0.7x and not very bright. The just-announced Fuji SLR-lookalike was bragging about its 0.77x ratio being the largest for a digital camera. The E-M1 is around 0.74x. And there are people who shoehorn series 2 Olympus screens into the -1 and -2 cameras and make them even brighter.

            Anyway, just some trivia I picked up while researching film SLRs recently. I like that Olympus put their shutter speed control around the lens mount too — it seems easier to control without moving your eye from the viewfinder.

            FWIW, there’s someone selling what appears to be a NIB or very mint OM-1n and a 50/1.4 along with some accessories on RFF for about $850 …

            • That’s enormous – 0.92x? Even with the DK-17M we only get 0.89x out of a D800E. If I’m not mistaken, the F2 is about 0.8x. However, we also have to take focusing ‘snap’ into account in addition to magnification when trying to figure out ease of focusing – there is no easy way of measuring this, unfortunately.

              By the way, did your prints arrive?

              • Yup, there are certainly other factors. I’ve read in various Hasselblad V system discussions the disagreements over whether the Acute-Matte screens are better because they don’t do the focus snap as clearly as the older, darker screens.

                Yes, I did get the undamaged prints, with only 1 dent on the tube! Woohoo! You must have a lot on your mind, as I think we had this same discussion over email just a week ago. 🙂

                • I’ve got one camera with and one camera without; there doesn’t seem to be as much difference as I expected, to be honest. Both are pretty good.

                  Let’s just say it’s been a very busy two weeks. Was the number of prints correct? 😉

                  • Haha, that was a very pleasant surprise, and I’m very grateful! At first I thought, “Oh, that’s nice. They’re lining the inside of the rolled print, too” until I unrolled it, and discovered a picture on the protective liner! 🙂 Thank you!

                    The resolution and clarity of the man in Clouds is amazing, especially considering he’s in the corner. I’m not sure I can put a piece of glass over this so I don’t obscure any of its detail.

                    • 😉 Remember how I said in the post somebody would get a bonus one? To be independent, I left it up to my print master to slip in – I didn’t know who got it until afterwards.

                      If you thought resolution on those was good…wait until you see the new run. It’s difficult to calculate exactly because of the fibre structure of the paper, but I believe we’re at somewhere between 2-2.5x the resolution. Put it this way: you need a magnifying glass to appreciate the details now. 🙂

                    • Yes, I forgot about that bonus until I opened up my tube. Anyway, it sounds like that was as fair a way of doing it as reasonable.

                      I was also thinking about your new print direction when looking at the Clouds print. Frankly, after seeing Clouds, I’m not sure how many people need, much less know how to use, such a lens. It’s hard enough to use something like that well, but then to also have an artistic purpose that needs such a lens? Anyway, to be continued in the comments thread on your Does the audience matter post since I’m starting to develop analogous feelings about the 4 qualities of an outstanding image …

                    • I’d be surprised if you thought otherwise 🙂

                      Otus: we’re chasing the far reaches of diminishing returns here. I doubt most will be able to make enough out of it to be able to see the difference; similarly those who can might think of it as night and day – I do – but at the same time, we worry that we’re just pixel peeping and losing sight of the bigger picture…

                    • Hmm, good point! 🙂 I would not disagree that Wesley did a good job!

                    • And we’ve moved up quite a big notch since 🙂

  14. Peter Boender says:

    On stability: that’s why I like my OM-D’s (E-M5 and E-M1) so much: the 5-axis IBIS is fantastic, and one can use the rear minitor to focus or focus and shoot.

  15. Great information. I’m still so new at photography that I’m looking at all of this with new eyes.

  16. RE: focusing with a rangefinder camera, I can’t stress enough how important a proper diopter correction lens can be if your eyesight isn’t perfect, particularly if you’re near sighted. Probably the number one reason people have a hard time focusing a rangefinder. If you have an astigmatism, you’ll have to keep your glasses on or find a different kind of camera.

    • That, and rangefinder mechanism calibration…I was at a recent gathering of Leica shooters – 9/12 of the cameras there had misaligned rangefinders; their owners assumed they were just difficult to focus or it was their eyesight…

      • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

        And Leica is unresponsive to my suggestion for a long time due to their penny pinching exorbitant charges for in-factory RF adjusting. How low they can sink! My suggestion? Just build in the body two lockable adjustement screws ( horisontal/vertical) that would fix eventual RF discrepancy due to shocks or calibration of lenses ( focus shift ). With M 240 you use LV and with all others a groundglass in film/sensor plane. When out in the wild, miles away from UPS or nearest Leica service, Leica photogs need to be able to check in field RF accuracy now and then, in order not to come back home with their invaluable but out of focus picts. But no, Leica knows better, aiming at rich afficionados for whom taking pictures with their super high quality Leica glasses amounts to drinking 1000$ champaigne when it doesn`t matter whether you`ll have sip of it or spill it on the floor.,

        • You have those; but they just require special tools and balls of steel because it’s very easy to slip, scratch or otherwise mark/ damage the screws – after which they’ll tell you the camera has been tampered with and you’re own your own.

          I always carried a toolkit when in the field with M bodies in the past, and have had to frequently stop and make calibration adjustments. They do drift out of alignment, and alarmingly frequently too – especially important for the really fast glass…

  17. Thank You Ming! Nice to re-read this as a reminder.

  18. Beautiful shot

  19. There is a great resource for diffraction limits and other interesting technical information at

    Camera movement is a very big issue that most photography enthusiasts ignore. The firearms analogy fits well with this, because it is tough to put shots on target consistently, and we are dealing with distance and placement. If a D3 is a machine gun, then large format is a bolt action rifle. 😉

  20. Good article. I agree with the D3/700 thing, although this fact doesn’t detract from their excellence as cameras. We can’t blame them for being good at what they do.

    That’s one reason I enjoy using the Merrill (DP3), especially for subjects its not really designed for, because to get a shot I have to really be “on”, especially if there’s anything which is going to be out of the frame soon. There’s almost no time to think; this is when you see how much you’ve learned. Same with film, (my previous philosophical question about using it notwithstanding); one chance, and I find that shooting both the Merrill and my film Canon to be much more of an engaging experience than with any previous camera I’ve used.

    Course, for a set-up shot (and when your getting paid or not depends on your production of the shot) then it’s less important, but I’m more interested in shooting things which are (as Cartier-Bresson put it, I think) “constantly disappearing”.

    That’s the other nice thing about mirrorless, fixed-lens cameras: other than the lens, there’s essentially no maintenance 🙂

    • I think pushing yourself to think and hone your shooting instincts is always a good thing – just not when it’s critical. We do that during the times when it’s not critical so we’re ready to go and have more creative options at instant disposal for times when it is…


  1. […] somewhere along the way, the camera’s potential became much greater than ours, and our shot discipline went back to being the limiting factor […]

  2. […] under which a camera can deliver most or all of its maximum image quality potential – and the degree to which that’s operator dependent (i.e. heavily). I’ve even talked a lot about what makes sense from a commercial and business […]

  3. […] or isn’t visible enough to justify the effort. It might be the resolution losses from sloppy shot discipline or challenging conditions cause enough camera shake to actually be visible at higher display […]

  4. […] – especially when chasing diminishing returns or subtle qualities in an image – if your shot discipline is somewhat shaky or you use a different piece of software for each camera? Yes, you might be able […]

  5. […] handheld, then the extra resolution is really not going to be seen most of the time because your shot discipline is going to have to be superhuman (or you live near the sun) and you might as well use your D810. […]

  6. […] beast in any sense, and demands the sort of attention to technique that Ming Thein describes in his shot discipline article. And, its resource demainding, both in terms of time and money. I figure it costs roughly […]

  7. […] though: to see a consistent difference, you’re really going to have to be employing optimum shot discipline all of the time; otherwise that 20% is going to disappear very fast […]

  8. […] cameras of this resolution come serious considerations of shot discipline, shutter and mirror design: if there’s too much recoil, vibration or it’s difficult to […]

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