Defining the shooting envelope

shooting envelope radar low res
The latent consultant in me emerges.

I’ve gotten a number of emails recently asking for me to define the meaning of ‘shooting envelope’ – it’s a term which I use quite a lot in my articles and reviews, and it appears I’ve been rather remiss in explaining exactly what I mean by it. We’ll remedy that today, and explain why it matters.

Every camera/ lens/ system has a range of conditions under which it will work optimally and be able to deliver the best image quality it can. This is its ‘shooting envelope’. It isn’t just the amount of available light, but also takes into consideration other factors such as ease of use, stability, and even to some extent, subject matter. The wider the shooting envelope of a camera, the more versatile it is; however, the tradeoff is almost always that cameras with a very wide shooting envelope in one direction are severely limited in others.

Here are the nine main factors that affect shooting envelope, all under typical deployment (i.e. if we’re considering large format, we’d consider low light ability on a tripod since that’s how you’d normally use it anyway):

This takes into account both the sensor’s total pixel count (or equivalent pixel count in terms of film) as well as the optics available for that system. It should also take into account acuity – a D800E will score higher than a D800, and Sigma DP Merrill will score higher than a Bayer sensor of the same pixel count.

Body weight is meaningless – you have to take into account the whole system under typical deployment scenarios – this means that even though the camera itself might not be that heavy, if it requires lenses that are, or a tripod, then the score goes down considerably. You’d have to include a suitable tripod for a large format camera, for instance. I think you can basically divide cameras up into a few categories – trouser pocketable, jacket pocketable/ belt pouch, sling over your shoulder, needs a bag, needs a sherpa.

Low light ability
This metric is more than just the raw high ISO noise score – you also need to consider built in stabilisers, maximum aperture of available lenses (and the ease of focusing those lenses in low light) etc. On that basis, an E-M1 will score much higher than say a GM1 even though their sensors have very similar noise characteristics; the stabiliser claws back quite a bit of image quality by enabling you to use a lower ISO – though because it cannot freeze subject motion, even though it may buy you several stops back compared to a D4, it still won’t score as highly.

Dynamic range
Self explanatory, really. More is better.

Beyond ease of use, how enjoyable is it to use? Do you want to shoot with it? There’s no qualitative way to measure this of course, but I still think it’s important to consider. I personally find myself far more inclined to experiment with cameras that are fun to use.

System completeness
What lenses, accessories, flashes etc. are available? Is there a system at all? For cameras with fixed lenses, you could consider the range of the lens (both max. aperture and zoom range) in addition to any other converters.

A combination of mass and low light ability – a large format camera on a tripod will be very stable, but not so good in the dark not just because exposures will be long, but you’ll have a lot of difficulty actually composing and focusing on the ground glass…

Consider focus acquisition and tracking, menu navigation, settings changes, time from storage to shot etc. Cameras that operate quickly may actually be slow to get the first shot – the GM1 is a good example; it’s responsive in use, but because of its size, you have to de-pocket it (which means storing it with lens cap on) – remove the lens cap, extend the lens, power switch on. As opposed to a D4 around your neck which would be flip power switch, raise to eye. Or a mechanical film camera that’s always ready to go and always set – just focus it (or don’t even do that, for hyper focal shooting).

How much abuse can it take? Can it stand a bit of water? The more the merrier, of course…

And perhaps a better way to visualise this is on a radar chart I’ve created that actually shows (subjectively, at any rate) the shooting envelope for several cameras based on the list above. Wider coverage means a larger shooting envelope. Depending on which you prioritise, having this chart in your mind helps you select the optimum tool for the job depending on your priorities – getting caught with the wrong tool and knowing that you had the right one at home can often be more frustrating than not bringing anything at all! One twist to consider is that scores may change considerably depending on how you deploy the cameras: a Hasselblad with film or digital back are very different, for instance. Or a D800E shot with the intention of maximising resolution as opposed to for web use and heavy downsizing.

Let’s take a look at the charts again. I’ve split them up into low and high resolution cameras because too many coloured lines just becomes confusing:

shooting envelope radar low res
Low resolution cameras – same relative scale as for high resolution cameras

Here, it’s pretty clear that you trade portability for ergonomics, system completeness, low light ability etc.: bigger is clearly better.

shooting envelope radar high res
High resolution cameras – same relative scale as for low resolution cameras

For high resolution cameras, it’s not so clear cut: each camera has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It also shows just how versatile the D800E is. You’re probably aware of most of these already at a subconscious level, just as people have aesthetic preferences: however, evaluating things objectively is of course another thing entirely.

Beyond that, understanding your camera’s shooting envelope is important because it roughly defines the boundaries of what you can do; there’s no point in trying to make it do something it can’t – or if you’re masochistic, you can find situations in which to deliberately challenge yourself…MT


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  1. This post was pointed out on Dpr today discussing an interesting analysis of the variation and trends in sensor performance. It is based primarily on a PCA of 9 variables for 92 sensors (Canon, Nikon, Sony) using raw data from photonstophotons. I really am attracted to this graphical approach, especially where it projects more objective statistics. but obviously we have to strive to map the envelope of the entire photographic shooting envelope 🙂

  2. John Nicholson says:

    Came across this belatedly in reading your review of the Leica Q. Very instructive for defining what I look for in the future and also incidentally drawing attention to the weak spot of the Fuji X100 series – the need to stop down to f4 for clarity. I’d wondered why I was so disappointed compared with my Leica compacts (D-lux4, C and the marvellous bridge camera from 2006 – the V-lux 1). I shall need to read you on the 28mm focal length before I decide whether the Q is going to be a new GAS symptom! I’m actually very pleased with the IQ of the Vario.

  3. Seabisquick says:

    I’ve discovered the very speed problem you describe with the GM1. Too often I spent precious, moment-evaporating seconds pulling it out of my pocket and uncorking it. I hate the strap it comes with. I made a cross-body strap with a 4′ long piece of black paracord and the camera hangs faithfully and comfortably at my side. I let the GM1 go into sleep mode so it’s as ready to go as possible. The cord slides very smoothly and allows me to quickly pull the camera up and shoot.

    • I’ve reverted to using the Ricoh GR in a waist holster. You switch it on as you draw, and by the time it’s at eye level it’s ready to go.

  4. What a wonderful way to assess a system. Thank you Ming. What is the scale of your dimensions? 1-10?

  5. Very interesting and a pleasantly polite and informed forum (one of the few left). Why no Canons Ming? For those of us with an investment in the Canon lenses we are kind of stuck with them. I have a 5D Mk1 (which started it off as I wanted the best image quality for landscapes in a SLR sized package) and 7D both of which I like. Also have X100 (the original and a keeper) and a Panasonic Lf1 (in danger of being replaced by an RX100 III). Must say the OMD series does seem Very Good. Do you think the OMD M1 is worth the cost over the OMD EM10? Are the menus all as horrible as the OMD EM5 (God the naming system is clumsy too!). Yes your chart is like those PS2 games! – especially the Moto GP games. An easy visual way to select what you wanted. Thanks for your great blog and photos. Cheers Doug

    • Sadly forums tend to be populated by trolls and camera collectors rather than photographers. This isn’t a forum in the conventional sense.

      No Canons because they don’t have anything I need, and I’ve already got extensive investments in other systems.

      M4/3 and E-M1s are pretty good. Very versatile. And yes the M1 is better than the M10 – stabilizer, build, PDAF…

  6. Tristan says:

    Hi Ming

    i have no other pro or trustworthy person to ask for this….and i cant test it either! But it is important for my upcoming decision….

    1. Has Olympus already been fixed the hot pixels issues -long exposure- with the OMD EM1 via firmware update?
    2. The PDAF is only working with FT lens normally….but is the PDAF becoming active for MFT lenses in CAF mode?? .There are some users reporting this…is it true, can you verify ???
    3. Continous focus tracking in video EM1???
    4. What about the compatibility problems with the combo omd em5 or 1 body + Pana 7-14 f4 lens ( “purple flare artefacts”) (not with panasonic bodies!!) is it solved via firmware update from olympus too???

    Thanks in advance!
    Take care!

    PS: Nevertheless, i have to say marvelous images MING!! Its MING ART! There’s got to be time for mentioning this!!!! 😉

    • 1. I never used the camera for this, so I don’t know.
      2. Again, can’t tell as there’s no way to force the camera into either mode or tell which AF system it’s using. But C-AF tracking is somewhat improved with the last update.
      3. Don’t know, don’t use it. We pull focus manually because it’s far more accurate.
      4. I don’t own that lens so I can’t say.

  7. knickerhawk says:

    I enjoyed your essay here. This one and some of your previous essays about equipment got me thinking about an interesting experiment you are uniquely positioned to conduct. Here’s the idea: set up a flickr album with sample shots from a range of cameras that you’ve reviewed over the past several years (be sure to throw in some of your iphone shots as well). Don’t label them with information about body/lens used. Invite your readers to comment, pick favorites and rate them on typical IQ criteria such as detail/resolution, color, noise and tonality and maybe ask them to try to identify the kit used. Since your work (and processing workflow) is generally consistent across the cameras you’ve reviewed and used, it would effectively remove the biases that tend to cloud equipment comparisons due to differences in the skills of the photographers involved and identity of the equipment. You have a chance here, once and for all time (hah!) to settle one of the most controversial questions in photography: at standard web display sizes, how much of a truly visible difference does the equipment make? It would probably also drive a lot of traffic to your site, as those of us who love to argue about the issue elsewhere on the net would be pointing to it (or being pointed to it)!

    • Not a bad idea, but I can tell you the answer will be none – assuming DOF doesn’t play a role, you really cannot tell what was shot with what if carefully processed.

      • knickerhawk says:

        I personally agree with your answer, but there are many others who are laboring under false impressions about the extent to which equipment differences can be observed at typical web display sizes. You are in a pretty unique position to make a convincing contribution to the debate precisely because of the consistency of vision, skill and processing involved. That by itself would eliminate a lot of second guessing. For instance, a site like, while interesting and clever in its own way, is limited by the broad range of photographic skills (and presumably processing) on display. We all know that better photographers tend to use higher-end equipment, so the results tend to be skewed for that reason alone. Use of your images would allow for a more objective discussion about the appropriate weighting of parameters like “portability” and “resolution” and “low light ability”. It opens up the next dimension of the discussion (display output mode and size). The interesting challenge is how to visually relate these output variables to the other variables you’ve accounted for in your essay here. I think the “experiment” would be a great way to kick off this very interesting and important question of how to factor in all of the conditions that go into the determination of the optimal equipment for a given use case. Ideally, you end up with a visual widget in which your radar chart changes as you select output mode and adjust a “slider” for output size. See where I’m going here?

  8. Stephen Scharf says:

    Useful display format; I’ve seen this approach used before. Any of this backed up by data is or is this a subjective eval?

    • Hi Stephen,
      The text of the original post says this: “…. a radar chart I’ve created that actually shows (subjectively, at any rate) the shooting envelope ….”. My italics added.

    • It’s entirely subjective other than for things like resolution/ noise/ DR/ colour – those are much like the DXO evaluations.

  9. The results of your diagram more or less explain why the D800 and 4/3 Olympus M5 and M1 cameras competed for camera of the year recently, seeming tipped towards portability. I reached the conclusion long ago that trying to accomplish everything with one camera or one system is not necessary and counter productive. So, I can see using one of these two cameras and then adding something like the Ricoh GR, or simply the GR, and perhaps for someone else adding a Sigma foveon camera for specific, but also very limited purposes just based on its image quality and distinctiveness alone. The first two choices give you the option of telephoto or long zoom lenses and macro lenses as desired. With portability, two smaller cameras are easy enough to carry around and use as needed.

    • That’s pretty much what I do most of the time if I’m not on assignment. If I am, it’s a pair of D800Es and some redundancy/ overlap in the lenses with backups on location or at the hotel. Otherwise it may be a pair of 645Zs next year.

  10. I appreciate your including large format. I disagree a bit on the low light. I have done long exposures in places that I had to focus and set the camera with a flashlight. You have to consider reciprocity failure, but if you use enough exposure time, you get no additional noise. So I would rate LF has having extreme low light. OTOH, I would probably have given it an even lower score on ease of use, and I love your classification of needing a sherpa.:-)

  11. Tom Liles says:

    Radar charts must be popular in Japan, because I remembering seeing the car stats in Namco’s “Ridge Racer” (video game) mapped like this; I remember that very well. I used to use the yellow lambo: its radar chart was basically two spikes. Brilliant at acceleration and general speed, but pants on corners, maximum speed and everything else… until you mastered the drift technique and learnt to drive with your attention on the rear-view (for blocking others) and your peripherals on the road ahead, instead of the other way around… then it was pretty much unbeatable (and made a mockery of the radar chart). Going all the way back to Playstation1 here—halcyon days. Loved the arcade games. Could never master Sega Rally or Daytona.

    Re: shooting envelope, I can understand Dwaine’s point about price and I might add “resale value” and considering system completeness is a concern: “support”—how good a support network are we buying into? I don’t worry about breaking or losing bits from Nikon cameras; I do worry about the same with the Sony. I’m on my own with dead-stock brands and older cameras. But these all diverge from “shooting envelope” I suppose, and we’d need another radar chart to suit.
    I think the other toughy is how you modify scores as time goes on—DxO must have this same issue. We know the older tech generally is going to go down, but by how much? Normalize each axis to the best scoring camera available? But then what benchmark is the best scoring camera measured against?

    I’m quite surprised the iPhone 5s got such a good ergonomic score. I’m still on a 4s, but many times I find it nigh on impossible to hold the camera the way I need to to make the photograph I want, keep the camera still to make sure shake isn’t going to kill the IQ, and then still have a finger that can get to the shutter button. I’ve been known to ask people to press the shutter for me, on occasion.
    (People I know! Though it might be interesting to ask a stranger—it’d make a change from “excuse me, can I take your photo?” –> “excuse me, can you take my photo?… Not me, I mean, my photo, this, here, just come over, see, that, hold on let me, ok, see there, can you tap that bit, yea, ok, go on, yep the shutter, — click — thanks!” Wouldn’t work would it 🙂 )

    • Gran Turismo all the way for me. When I still had the time, that is. I have a PS2 somewhere but no idea if it even still work. I don’t even have the time to look up which version of GT they’re on, much less play it.

      Agreed on support, to a lesser extent resale value – those are more to do with purchase/ economic decisions, though. And support varies by region; it’s one of the reasons why I wouldn’t consider Canon – CPS Malaysia is pretty useless. And sadly Hasselblad seems to have gone down the tubes after a recent management change, too.

      Normalize against what your ‘ideal’ sufficiency is – so for me it’s an Ultraprint in the dark 🙂

      As for the iPhone, I find it easy to hold with two hands and release with my right index finger, or use the volume button.

      • Tom Liles says:

        A connoisseur! I never played GT, though I once heard the simulation got so good, Japanese auto engineers were known to use GT over their own in-house simulators.
        On end of eras: me too, Ming. I think everyone is the same; you get past a certain age and you just don’t have the time or inclination anymore. Games are for school kids and students, and men without serious girlfriends. Though tell that to the legions of married salarymen in the gamecenters and playing online over here! PS2 was the end of the road for me. Having kids now, though, in a few years I’m a sure some kind of games system will make an appearance in our house. Whatever it is, I will master it and summarily beat all comers, including the kids!

        And onto grown up toys…

        Yeah, resale value is definitely economics and not a consideration here — hence I’d tie it in The Cat’s, sorry Dwaine Dibbly’s price metric on another radar chart — it’s really a consideration more for us amateurs (beginners to GASheads) who chop and change a whole lot more than pros—pros, I imagine, generally go big once every two or so product cycles, and literally shoot the cameras to death.
        I kept my Sony in the end, but in the brief moment I nearly auctioned it, a lot became to clear to me in the crunch: the shiny bodies counterintuitively suck up grime and chip very easily, I’d wager even the very lightest of use is enough to mark the A7 up which, in Japan at any rate, instantly kills resale value—a whole lot. You know the Japanese Ming, they do not typically like “dirty” cameras. Considering what these things cost new (and I bought mine new) and how easy to scratch/mark/scuff/chip/discolor they’ve made the finish on them, and how much actual money such tiny cosmetic things cost users on the used market, it is shameful on Sony’s part; they must absolutely know this, and chose to stick it to users. We’d probably get some smug PR spin-merchant saying “well, we don’t make cameras with the intention that you’ll sell them on, that’s your business…” and fair enough—I wonder if Sony know there are other brands in the camera business? I gleaned a newfound appreciation and respect for the splatter paint finish on Nikons and other camera brands that are actually made for people who shoot the things, out in the elements and such… but have an interest in keeping their equipment presentable.
        I guess I’m in the right country for support service—all the camera makers, and a “customer is God” culture to make it even better. All I know is Nikon, and they have always been excellent for me: I’m quite happy with their service, though they can be pricey and sometimes will shy away from doing things to the older mechanical cameras (though never refuse; this said, for older Nikon cameras you can actually get a better servicing for cheaper, and by Nikon engineers who were active when those cameras were on the market—many of the engineers just can’t give up their skills and open little Nikon service shops after they’ve retired).

        iPhone –> volume button. Doh!

        • Martin Fritter says:

          How long should a camera be on the market before it can be properly evaluated? Interesting point about the AR7, which is new. The D600 issue – which should have been a great camera for Nikon – has been a fiasco for them. Maybe serviceability or reliability should be added to the evaluation schema. Maybe life-span? How long should a high-res camera be expected to last?

          • Good question. I’d imagine five to ten years, but it of course depends on how hard you use it and under what conditions. A shelf queen D4 is going to last a lot longer than a regularly abused one…

        • I either buy used to begin with – typically Japanese ‘A’ grade – or just punish the crap out of my cameras until they die, by which point they’ll have long since paid back their initial investment. The Nikons are amazingly mark-resistant, in my experience. Lots of hard use on my D800Es, and they both still look brand new except for a couple of patches on the rubber that look slightly more worn.

        • The volume button on the earphones cable also works well. I find the buttons on my 4 too stiff for slow-shutter speed stability. Before they introduced burst mode with iOS 7, you could also hold down on the shutter button (real or virtual) indefinitely, and then release it to take the picture when the camera and your arms stabilized.

          • Ah yes, there’s that too – free cable release! I too liked the lift to release button – it seemed to be less jerky to me. But I’ve also noticed that the 5s seems to have some form of electronic stabilisation; apparently camera shake is a lot less than with the 5 previously. Or maybe they just boosted the minimum shutter speed thresholds.

  12. plevyadophy says:

    Hi Ming,

    Excellent diagramatic explanation of system differences and MUCH easier to absorb.

    As for Hasselbald V ergonomics, have you have tried the CW Winder (battery operated auto winding grip)? If not, I can give you a little touchie feelie and maybe your rating of it’s ergonomics would go up a notch or two. :o)

    Only thing with that CW Winder, is that kills the aesthetics of the cam. :o(
    And yes, I am kinda girlie in that I like gear to look nice. :o)

    As often is the case, I gotta give ya a big THANK YOU for, as they say, breaking it down, and presenting complex issues in a way that resulst in a “Aha, Oh I see!” moment.

    Warmest regards,

  13. Dwaine Dibbly says:

    In my professional (non-photography) life I find data fascinating. I went through an analysis like this before I bought my E-M1 and I haven’t looked back. Also, another dimension that is probably important to some of us is, of course, system price.

    • Ah yes. I admit I didn’t include that because I looked at it from a professional’s point of view: if you need it to do the job, you really don’t have an option (and either your clients are paying you enough that you are expected to have the right tools, or they aren’t). The rest is a business decision…

  14. Here’s an example wine-tasting wheel…. Thinking back to “Limitations of Language” maybe the descriptive language could be represented in a Photo Tasting Wheel 😉

  15. Uh oh… I’m trying to decide on a “portable” system and you’ve only made my indecision worse! 🙂

    • Not really – M4/3 would still pretty much be it, unless you don’t mind moderate speed manual focus primes under say 105mm on a D800E, or a single focal length (GR) 😛

      • M4/3 is appealing; I will have to feel the OM-D EM5 ( or EM10 ) in my hands again and see how much I like it. I had a Sony portable system (a6000), but sold it because of bad lens selection and ergonomics. The GR is also appealing but I don’t know how much I like not having a viewfinder. The new Sony RX100 is also an interesting option. The popularity of small cameras for consumers makes the market so huge that I’m having trouble deciding on what to buy. The Leica M2 is also really appealing…

        • I only agree partially….

          You can built up even a relatively portable lens line up for the d800 or d600 plemty of options 18-35, 28,35,50,85 1.8s (e.g. 18-35/or solely 28, 50/or 60 2.8 macro/ 85 if you need more tele (70-200 f4)…..

          It is still maybe a little heavier (depends on lens choice named above but is not a must / given!!!!!)….

          What is valid that the cam and the lens are still larger (dimensions) due to physics…cannot change that if you want certain apertures/focal length……

          But there are still a lot arguments for building a portable system for your “studio camera”:

          – just have to be familiar with one camera (controls, menues ec.)
          – still little cheaper, only invest in one system/lens (M43 relatively expensive even i could understand “nanoism”/making things as little as possible and still good performing is maybe sometimes more difficult !!! And they always forget to include the lens hood despite paying 800 dollars for the lens!!!;) )
          – have more options (one system, more lens)
          – maybe dont have to sell it in the future, system doesnt exist anymore….get rid off it due to the fact that e.g. olympus as the smallest company (3.5 less revenue than fuji!!!) is completey overtaken by sony (strong corporation already, sony investments, patent exchange sensors for olys Image stabilization) and sonny is interested not only in IS also in live bulb, live composite patents…..

          For me Nikon, Canon (and Sony) are too big too fail – the safest way if you thinking long term investing in a system!!! Despite DSLR technology, lacking of innovations, they just dont have to…hopefully get more forced from the competition (others fuji oly, sony, pana etc.)….if they have to come out with mirrorless interchanegeable they will do everything in order to make it possible to use theri native lens /F or ef mount) on them…..

          just 2 cents
          Sorry for typos too fast and too fool to correct ;!

          • my only problem is that my studio camera / main DSLR is the D3. Not really a portable system even with a tiny prime on there. My only problem is that anything I buy with the money from selling the D3 wouldn’t be built as well as the D3, and ergonomics/feel of the camera in my hand, and if it feels like it is built well with quality materials is pretty important to me. I’ll have to go down to my local camera shop and feel some of Nikon’s smaller bodies for comparison. Perhaps if the D600 feels as good as the D3 does in my hand, I’ll sell the D3 and buy one, which can definitely be a portable system with a small prime on it.

            • Sorry to disappoint you, but the D600 doesn’t even come close. I think the E-M1 might be be closer, though…

              • I’ll have to try the E-M1, although I’ve also considered a D300 ( or similar well-built DX Nikon). I just hate that I will have to invest in all new lenses if I get an Olympus. Not as concerned about long-term support vs. Nikon ( i.e. my Olympus lenses will still be just as good even if Olympus went out of business ), but just the idea of dropping $1000+ on lenses that I can’t use on all of my bodies. Perhaps I will enjoy the E-M1 so much that I’ll just sell all of my Nikon glass and go full Panasonic/Olympus. Will have to see how much I like the E-M1

            • trade the d3 (s,x?) in for a d800e or the upcoming d800 s/810 … is smaller than the d3, has great ergonimics high build qualty and with a prime 28,35,50,85 1.8 realtively small you can select two or three….18-35 or 70-200 f4 if you need wider or more tele….and if macro get the 60 2.8 nikkor….usable as a standrad lens instead of 50 as well or as a portrait lens….(dx mode too 90mm)

              just a suggestion for you IAN

              nice weekend

              • Thanks for the suggestion, and I would probably do it if I could but I don’t think I can get a D800E for a D3… As it is right now I’m looking at selling the D3 and buying a D700, putting the extra money into a 70-200 f/4

  16. I don’t have anything substantive to add here, but I’ve seen these charts for coffee tasting notes too: (See the 4th picture). Note that they also add up the scores with some kind of multiplier to make a score that’s scaled to 100.

    I assume you made the charts in Excel … so if you wanted to troll the fanboys, you could make up your own composite score for each system, and on the basis of that one number, pronounce one camera system better than another. 🙂 Of course, there’s also the photographer’s “correction” factor, which is like -100 for Fuji X-Trans cameras, and that can be used to further enrage the trolls.

    Just curious: what are the scales of the numbers you used for the two charts? (So I can compute my own composite score for my own trolling purposes …)

    • Certainly – I didn’t do it in PS, that’s for sure!

      As with every assessment of anything photographic, it’s all subjective…

      Scales: 1-10 on each axis.

  17. Thanks for this post. I’ve encountered other definitions of shooting envelope elsewhere, which IMO were a bit narrower in thinking, and it’s rather interesting to learn how you define the term. (I like the radar charts, too 😎 ).

    • Re-reading the article, it seems that I have the concept quite clear in my mind, but the charts still fall somewhat short. Perhaps I need something more like a sphere than a radar… 😛

  18. Mike_George says:

    And as a brief resume/summary or conclusion it has to be pointed out that the Nikon D800e is still overall the most powerful and most flexible camera (system) in the “High resolution cameras”! and in the “lower resolution cameras” it is the Olympus OMD-EM1 in my opinion (still ahead of D4 and GR -only fixed lens, less flexible, despite better IQ-) due to the fact that you accept the “heavier, bulkier, chunkier camera, lens & stuff rather if it is a high resolution camera (d800e nearly same performance low light performance as D4 if you downsize, not D4s but the D800s or 810 is in the pipeline and will be announced on 26th June! by the way) than a heavy & low resolution camera like the D4! Would you agree?

    So now, it isnt wondering why you have and recommend the D800e and the OMD-EM1…..;)!

    Fuji best lens line up already better (optically anyway APS-C) than M43 but different sensor, horrible workflow and ISO cheating rrrr…
    But maybe in the future it will soon change if fuji brings up a firmware update with the ability to convert the files to 16-bit TIFF in-camera –> would be nice for those worried about RAW conversion quality from LR5…..sorry the last paragraph wasn’t topic relating….I’ve lost track of time 😉

    • Pretty much. Even though the 645Z will likely extend the quality/ performance envelope, we’ll still be lens-restricted.

      The D800E doesn’t seem to AF/track as well as the D4, let alone D4S. Hopefully the upgrade will solve that, but I still don’t see the point in having 2x larger files if you’re not benefitting from the extra information; for whatever reason in the software they still take much longer than 2x the duration to process.

      • But maybe the new d800s has the possibility for smaller formats (not the bullshit sraw 4mpx of the d4s though!) …..

        Could you not gain already more time or make the post processing /workflow faster (smaller size, less information –> faster processing) if you always use the 1.2 crop mode (round about 24 mpx) of the d800e instead of the full size 36 mpx….should be stilll better than the d600/d610….???

        • No, because your focal lengths/ angles of view are all over the place, and even if you downsize during conversion you still have to deinterpolate the same amount of information. The slowest part of my workflow is opening the files from ACR into PS. The rest is under 30 seconds, sometimes as little as 5-10.

  19. Under portability the last one after needs a sherpa should be needs a truck like how Ansel Adams would use his large format camera on the roof of his truck as a moving tripod base.

  20. Martin Fritter says:

    Fantastic rendering of a the various data points. I used to shoot Nikon and many of the sites I got accustomed to frequenting still have a Nikon perspective. I’ve been following your site for at least six months and have never seen anybody mention Canon. Not a criticism, but an observation.

  21. Thanks for providing this formation.

  22. mosswings says:

    Ming, I think that this is a good stab at defining the shooting envelope question, but I tend to define shooting envelope a bit differently. While this constellation of criteria describes what the camera can do – mostly, the critical question to me is how effectively can the user access this capability under certain usage conditions. And in your previous postings, you seem to have defined shooting envelope in much the same way.
    Now, hidden in the bulges and creases of these radar charts is probably a pattern that relates to the accessibility question, but it’s not easy to find. And it’s probably as or more important to understand than all of the rest of your criteria.
    To me, there is an essential coupling between resolution, shutter speed, and ISO. Fundamentally, kicking up resolution tends to reduce handheld shooting envelope unless you can improve your motor stability. ISO and shutter speed either separately or together must be increased to compensate, which eats into the capability of the tool.

    So I guess that what I’m saying is that we need to look at shooting envelope more from the photographer’s perspective than from the tool’s perspective. All of these qualities you present are important, just the way in which they are presented doesn’t give me a clear understanding of their implications.

    • Well, I’m attempting to take that into account with some degree of consistency – one user might be better able to get the most out the camera than another. I think it’s a lot simpler: can you get the image you want, or not? How close can you get? It’s probably two axes only: ease of doing so and ultimate image quality potential.

      Yes, there is a relationship between resolution/shutter speed/ ISO, but you can’t deny that a 645Z is going to give you a better image than an iPhone…

      • mosswings says:

        Yes, that’s more how I perceive it: Potential and accessibility. All of the rest of the axes of the radar chart are finer scale concerns, like the other 7 dimensions of string-theory cosmology curled up inside the 4 dimensions of space-time.

  23. Tom Hudgins says:

    Excellent chart for decision making.

  24. William H. Widen says:

    Very interesting matrix! If you don’t mind, how would you incorporate thinking about film versus digital in your thinking. For example, the added issues with carrying around a lot of extra film, or the development time and scanning? Is this part of the calculus for this exercise or a separate consideration in your mind? Thanks.

  25. Well, we’ve all seen “Venn Diagrams” but now we’ve seen “Ming Diagrams”. A lot of thought and experience has gone into producing your diagrams. Well done.

  26. Greg Donikian says:

    i need to stop reading this kind og post, is the ability to produce a great image with what you have what defines the artist, all the other things are really not that important, just diferent tools !


  27. of course every line moves to the middle if you don’t have it with you.

  28. Very good article – as you say we all think about this but very rarely try to articulate it in such a manner. I would say even ‘low resolution’ cameras such as the GR are just as demanding as the higher resolution cameras.

    Would you put any weighting on certain factors? Personally I’m convinced that the near future in camera technology should focus on stability – stabilisation brings huge benefits, especially with high resolution cameras at all focal lengths.

    A GR I could use with 1/30 shutter speed would be ace….

    • Depends on what matters to you – on one hand, we read the charts, on the other, we need to make the areas match up with our personal needs…

      You can use the GR with 1/30s and the hotshoe finder. All it needs is steady hands or a little bracing. Otherwise 1/60s is my minimum.

      • Hmm, may try a hot shoe finder. I also keep 1/60s as a minimum, but find sometimes even that is a bit dodgy at higher ISOs….

        • Shutter speed and ISO should be independent. The one problem I find with the hotshoe finder is that the camera no longer fits inside the quick draw holster…

          • Should have been clearer – it’s more low light. E.g. Small events I take the GR to where available light is poor. So in aperture priority, keeping shutter speed to min 1/30s ISO goes very quickly to 3200/6400 and then with poor stability, success rate is a bit poor. A finder should help, will hunt for a 28mm on flee bay, it should still fit in the small pouch I use, but if something doesn’t fit it doesn’t get used!

            • I’ve for the voigtlander 28/35 mini finder – still not small enough…

              • Would not in these cases then the OMD System be much better (low light, hand holding) due to the IS?

                The EM1 is maybe to large but the OMD-EM10 with a small prime 17,25 or 45 prime or the new kit/pnacake zoom of the em10 bundle 14-42 EZII …not better fitting and performing in these cases thna the GR despite smaller sensor but IS, hand holding, lower shutter speed and ISO???

                • No, because IS doesn’t freeze subject motion. Given a choice between ISO 3200 or ISO 800 + IS with equivalent noise, I’d take 3200 because I can free subject motion AND camera shake.

  29. Marc L. says:

    Hello Ming,

    Very interesting approach, I like it a lot and think this should be part of any camera review as a comparison with its peers!

    I have a suggestion for a “slight” improvement: take into account the usability of the viewfinder, either as an additional axis on the radar chart, or as part of the ergonomics (my preference being for the former). After all, a camera is used to take pictures, this is a visual activity, so at the end of the day a camera is worth what its VF is. No matter the quality of the sensor, the ease of navigation of the menus, the resolution etc., I can’t make myself use a camera with a poor VF.

    In this respect (this is where it gets a wee bit polemic because having read your articles for quite some months now, I see that you enjoy EVFs), I would group cameras in 4 stacks, in increasing order of VF usability and comfort: back screen (iPhone, compacts), EVF (Olympus etc.), telemetric (Leica, Fuji X100), reflex. And then of course all EVFs are not equal etc.

    This addition would evidently reshuffle the radar charts, but more important, it would make them even more useful for readers. What do you think?

    Last but not least – thanks for your interesting and mind-challenging chronicles!

    Best regards,

    • I included VF usability in the ergonomics category. I’m not sure I’d put telemetric over EVF though; RFs have other limitations like lack of framing precision, focus calibration issues, inability to zoom for longer FLs – and EVFs have some major advantages such as exposure preview, magnification, real DOF and 100% coverage…

  30. Very interesting. I guess for an individual the key is understanding what combinations matter. So if you shoot landscapes in the backcountry portability and dr are import, low light/speed less so etc. I guess what I am trying to say is having the widest footprint is not necessarily the key – the key is having a footprint shaped to the needs of the specific individual.

    Which all comes down to the consistent rule – when evaluating buying a camera the question is what does [new camera/more expensive camera] do for you that [old camera/cheaper camera] does not and what do you give up in exchange for that. This is a great way of appraising and understanding that question.

    I agree re. your last comment on challenging yourself. I saw a great series recently of a guy who had shot his kids baseball game on an M3.

  31. Henry Zacharias says:

    First, I really like that way to look at technical stuff! But I am a management consultant and use these diagrams a lot. Main issue always is the personal priority of each fact plus, in some cases, personal habits, preferences and here of course physical measurements. In my chart e. g., there would be a huge gap in ergonomics between a D4 or D800 and any of the current mirrorless systems like an EM1 or A7 while the gap in portability would be not that large. Question: in which category would you consider the different view finder concepts to be rated? Speed, ergonomics, both, elsewhere? Thx for bringing this up, Ming!

    • Gabriel says:

      Me too and I was wondering about the resolution aspect….Ricoh GR, EM1 and D4 all tied up/drawn??? EM1 just due to the IS?? Doesnt make sense for me…more in low light as you described well……but what about their (huge) different behaviour with regard to diffraction, pixel size, pixel pinch (16 MPX. FF, 16 APS-C or 16 M43) etc. or was these facts considered in the low light or dynamic range section? I’m a little bit confused!

      But nevertheless Ming love it that you did these graphics/work and always answering question from readers or persons sending you an email despite the fact that everybody knows as an independent, self-employed photographer you dont have that much leisure due to make sure getting your income, meet clients etc.!!!! You are very honest, friendly and loyal to your readers and receptive to critique, ideas etc.!

      The FUJI of the “pro” photographers…..;) ! This has to be said…….;)!



      • Well, they all have 16MP that resolve the same amount of detail under ideal conditions. So, resolution is the same.

        Pixel pitch etc. are considered separately.

        Ironic – I don’t use Fuji and probably never will thanks to the poor workflow…

    • Guilty of being a consultant too at one point. It depends on how you use your gear; I notice more of the portability gap when you take into account the whole system size including lenses and any required support gear.

      Viewfinder compacts – hard to say because they excel at some things, but have very little flexibility – for some. I can live with just 28mm for reportage/ travel, so it isn’t a big deal, but it might be to some.

  32. Splendid (and as far as I know, original) way of looking at this. Unsurprising I suppose, I would expect nothing less of you, Ming 🙂


  1. […] the tradeoffs associated with upscaling your format do not translate into significant gains in shooting envelope or even practical output most of the time. Actually, I’d go even further and say that your […]

  2. […] ISO200 night shooting exercise clearly shows that cameras these days have pushed the shooting envelope so much that we should not be making excuses or blaming the equipment when it’s our own […]

  3. […] the current full frame camera options like the Nikon D850 and Sony A7r Mark III are pushing many shooting envelopes and could be a better reference of what a full frame camera can truly do. But photography is not […]

  4. […] I won’t repeat that. What I’m more interested is what consequences it has in practical terms on shooting envelope limitations, and how the apparent multitude of choices aren’t really choices at all – with a […]

  5. […] repeat that. What I’m more interested is what consequences it has in practical terms on shooting envelope limitations, and how the apparent multitude of choices aren’t really choices at all – […]

  6. […] chase for stratospheric megapixel numbers, lust over new gear releases and pushing the limits of imaging envelopes, I sometimes take a step or two back and relive the experience of shooting with cameras from […]

  7. […] chase for stratospheric megapixel numbers, lust over new gear releases and pushing the limits of imaging envelopes, I sometimes take a step or two back and relive the experience of shooting with cameras from […]

  8. […] just announced their newest Fuji-X Camera, the X-H1. Will it’s IBIS open the shooting envelope for Fujicron lenses, or is it’s size too bulky for Fujicron […]

  9. […] also talked about the appliance-camera and the ideal format. We’ve defined the concept of a shooting envelope – i.e. the breadth of scenarios under which a camera can deliver most or all of its maximum […]

  10. […] as the larger sensor requires longer focal lengths for the same angle of view)? Furthermore, the shooting envelope shrinks considerably: with more pixels per degree FOV, the amount of tolerable shake becomes even […]

  11. […] anlatmaya çalıştığı “çekim zarfı, çekim kılıfı, çekim kolaylığı” (shooting envelope) açısından D800ler orta formatların çoook […]

  12. […] Hasselblad and everything else in between; if anything, more heavily weighted towards the former. Shooting envelope is far more important than absolute quality: often the most interesting moments tend to happen […]

  13. […] medium format – it beat them in price, image quality, and left them far behind in versatility and shooting envelope. and not only that, did things those cameras simply could not, like high frame rates, high ISO and […]

  14. […] ‘slow tool’ instead of a do-anything documentary camera with an incredibly wide shooting envelope. I’ve used it for everything from reportage in environmentally very unpleasant situations to […]

  15. […] für die Fotopraxis: Kürzere Verschlusszeiten als erwartet werden benötigt, welche die fotografische Hüllkurve* um entsprechende Blenden verkleinern, weil das Rauschen durch die nötige höhere ISO-Zahl […]

  16. […] that when I have my working clothes on, I’m always thinking about having a slightly larger shooting envelope than I need plus allowances for redundancies in case something happens in the field – which […]

  17. […] a full frame sensor, optical image stabilisation, an EVF, and as a result, a much larger shooting envelope. As they say, you pay your money and you get your […]

  18. […] a distinctive look (or another way of looking at it is a general purpose tool with a very versatile shooting envelope), challenging weather, and to top it off, conditions that are not ideally conducive for […]

  19. […] Firstly, I must apologize for the delay in this review, but it’s difficult to write a meaningful summary of something you have not shot with (though it never ceases to amaze me how often this happens both online and in print). And before anybody asks about the black tape, I do not believe in free advertising – undoubtedly just as Olympus Malaysia does not believe in free cameras. Let me make it clear before I get accused of being an Olympus fanboy again that this camera is not a loaner (and none were offered to me) – it is a normal unit bought at retail with my own money. I run a photography business. Any piece of equipment must therefore be able to justify itself by opening up the shooting envelope. […]

  20. […] that ‘more’ is actually accessible to the photographer under most situations (the shooting envelope) is another thing. And whether that make any pictorial difference whatsoever is quite something […]

  21. […] that new equipment forces us to experiment: not just because we must figure out what the optimum shooting envelope is, but also its strengths and weaknesses. Beyond that, there is of course the excitement around […]

  22. […] photographers will just get on with it. It’s a camera, and we know the limitations of its shooting envelope. Granted, we are left with an envelope too small for an address once the stamp is affixed, but […]

  23. […] add any aberrations of its own. Correction: it’s not difficult to do it across a very small shooting envelope (good light, certain subjects, small apertures, no limit to exposure times) – most lenses are […]

  24. […] Thein, jota arvostan suuresti, käyttää termiä ’shooting envelope’, joka on tapa arvottaa eri kameroita ja kamerasysteemeja yhdeksän eri ominaisuuden mukaan. Nämä […]

  25. […] the ultimate image quality that matters: it’s the ease of getting there and the size of the shooting envelope. The easier it is to achieve decent to good image quality, the more suitable a system is; it […]

  26. […] name it, it didn’t go away til f4. And that very much defeats the point of a fast f1.4 lens. The shooting envelope became very small indeed – and we haven’t even talked about focusing it accurately, […]

  27. […] intentionally clip as an artistic choice) – in other words, stay within the capabilities and shooting envelope of the capture device – I really think there is very little to nothing which gives the game […]

  28. […] Shooting envelope I think it’s no surprise here that the two newer cameras have the largest shooting envelope of all; I’d put the D800E and 645Z on par because what the latter gains in high ISO performance and resolution it gives up to faster lenses and a more flexible system to the former. It’s quite possible that the slight high ISO gain for the D810 may edge this somewhat in Nikon’s favour. None of these can exactly be considered light or compact, though the 645s with the diminutive 75mm aren’t too bad, and if you opt for the f1.8G primes for the Nikon (28, 35, 50, 85) you can pack a lot of image quality into not much space at all. I think the 645D lands up somewhere in no-man’s land; it’s really the low-cost starter option to see whether medium format is for you or not. And finally, the CFV combination is really a scalpel: it excels at some things, but definitely isn’t for every situation. […]

  29. […] much faster lens, face-braceable EVF and improved IS system, the reality is that the camera’s shooting envelope is much larger than its predecessors even though there have been no sensor improvements. And […]

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