Time for a bit of a rethink

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This year has felt like a year of big changes for me – aside from the arrival of a new family member, my photographic focus has also changed. This is true of both professional and personal work; the former has become increasingly freestyle and less considered, and the latter has done the opposite and become more deliberate and structured. I’ll frequently go out with a tripod on a walk but haven’t used it on my last two assignments. I’ve set up flash still lifes at home, but opted for natural light during my last portrait (!) shoot. I’ve made three system changes (so far) and it’s only August. The problem is, none of them quite sit right. And I think this means it’s time to go back to the beginning. I’ve always said the gear doesn’t matter, your vision does. That has not changed. But the right – or wrong – hardware can make your life much more enjoyable or just a struggle. And if you notice your camera when shooting, it’s usually a problem: it means you can’t get in ‘the zone’ and you’re wasting attention on technical problems when it should really be focused on the idea and the composition. This is my current problem: I’ve somehow landed up in a position where I’m not just noticing the camera, but frequently fighting it. (Attempting to pull critical focus at f1.4 with a manual focus lens on a moving target at 50MP in twilight might have something to do with it).

I wrote an article on selecting equipment about a month ago; ironic that I’m now having to revisit the process myself. The problem is twofold: firstly, there are very specific tools for very specific purposes that excel at that and that task only – think studio macro tripod work with flashes, or architecture in confined spaces – and the rest of the time, it’s merely an expensive paperweight. This isn’t so bad if you have the work to pay for it, but the problem comes when you’re on assignment or travelling and you have a weight budget imposed by both your airline and your spine. It’s all good and well to suggest a gym, and you might be able to carry 25kg of gear for a week in the field, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be relaxed and happy and creative after doing so. Assuming of course you get past the check in people to begin with. And here comes the crux of my current problem: there is specific gear for specific tasks, but I typically have to do many tasks on one job/trip, and that means either compromising some, not doing some, or being a mule.

None of those options is ideal: the first because you know there’s a compromise, the second not just because it’s bad for business but most critically results in creative frustration, and the third because…well, it’s just unpleasant. I would like to have the 5DSR and Otuses and the Cube and geared Gitzo 5-series for when I have time to work slowly with a static subject. I’d like to have the set of PCEs and D810 for challenging dynamic range situations and things that must be straight. I’d like to have the 24-120VR for when I see something I need to grab quickly, and I’d like to have my fast AF primes for when I need to record something in low light. It’s somewhat easier on assignment because you can tell yourself that you just need to let some things pass because you’re there to do something else, but much harder if you don’t have that imposed limitation.

The 5DSR is a fair weather friend and capable of delivering some amazing results under ideal circumstances, but stray outside that optimal operating window (low light, high contrast, reliance on any of the auto metering modes, etc. for starters) and you quickly land up with files that have very little latitude and wonky metering that means you may well be both a stop or two out and not have room to recover it. And if you miss, you’ve got less perceptual acuity and resolution than the D810 or even one of the 24MP cameras.

The D810 is pretty close to being multipurpose, but it too suffers in lower light (though not as much, and has both better metering and more latitude) and there’s a very noticeable difference in both color and printability. The 5DSR is clearly a notch better on both counts. I’ve also got a full M4/3 system, which delivers the same sort of file over a far wider envelope than either the Nikon or the Canon, but that sort of file has even less latitude and is even less printable. That said, by the time you hit ISO 3200 on the two high-resolution cameras, ISO 400 or so on the Olympus isn’t resolving much less detail thanks to the IBIS. And there are some situations which are so physically tight you’re not going to get that much gear down there anyway (some of my underground documentary assignments, for instance). Added to this, I’ve also got almost full lens coverage from 24mm or thereabouts to 200mm+ on all systems, with fast primes in addition.

It’s time to take a step back to consider what I shoot most of the time:

Corporate reportage and documentary. It’s mostly unscripted, impromptu run and gun in available light situations. Printability matters, which means there has to be a tradeoff between ability to grab the shot and ability to go large. The D810 is probably the best tool here, with the Leica Q riding shotgun. In practical situations – i.e. handheld and above base ISO – the 5DSR’s image quality starts to fall of very quickly. At 3200 and up I’d rather have a D750.

Architecture and interiors. The 5DSR and various TS lenses fills the bill, unless light is particularly hard – in which case the D810 substitutes with its extra dynamic range.

Product. The 5DSR is actually not the ideal choice here because there is a necessity to balance depth of field and diffraction limits – not to mention the flash system. So the D810 and PCEs are again the weapon of choice. This is one of the downsides with the Canon: to extract all of the potential resolution, one has to very, very carefully manage depth of field and diffraction otherwise you’ll either have strong resolving power only in one small part of the frame, or a frustrating lack of acuity everywhere. This limits your lenses, your working distances, your working apertures, and means that you’ll have to choose between odd creative restrictions to maximise potential, or defeat the point of buying the thing and leave image quality on the table.

The ‘others’: landscape, abstracts, still lifes, family stuff, workshops. Here it gets confusing: in the same order, 5DSR, Olympus (due to extended depth of field) or 5DSR (printability), 5DSR or D810, Olympus, and doesn’t really matter. What do I pick when I’m going to shoot for myself? I stand staring at the cupboard for several minutes.

Note that none of this covers the intangible stuff: what’s it like to shoot? What’s it like in the hand? Professional support? System completeness? Power management? If you’re holding the thing for twelve or more hours a day, days on end, then the little things start to matter very quickly. Though it seems that re-entering around the D810 is the logical choice, I cannot ignore that I now much prefer the feel and ergonomics of the Canon. The D810 is now somewhat uncomfortable by comparison when I use it, and the shutter has noticeably more vibration. But you do gain a battery that lasts three times as long, metering that’s far more accurate, and highlights that never seem to clip. The E-M5 II remains only for handheld video and stuff that doesn’t benefit from more resolution – family stuff, mainly. There is no real choice between spare diapers or a larger camera, either. Even then you land up with frankenmonsters like this:

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Packing for a job where I’m likely to encounter more than one different type of work has become a nightmare of paralysis, because I want to pack far too much in order to be ready for anything – which means in reality ready for nothing except overweight baggage charges as you’re playing musical lenses and bodies. Eight or nine lenses and three bodies is not unusual for me of late. I’ve found myself frustrated with compromises in the field more than once recently, because an unexpected situation you want to take advantage of lies just outside the equipment envelope of capability. It really seems that the more technology advances, and the more choice we’re given, the less of a solution we really have. It’s not even wishing for the impossible – the technology exists, just not in one place. And sometimes because of reasons that are incomprehensible (if only those Otuses had AF, for starters).

Though I approach this whole thing with as much rationality as possible – I am running a business, after all – it’s really not easy to do because one’s personal feelings towards the gear do affect how you shoot and your creative frame of mind. As much as I’d like to follow my own whimsy, it does me no good professionally if I’m not able to operate the gear with the familiarity of an involuntary reflex. By the same token, whilst some tools get the job done, they’re not enjoyable to use for one reason or another – and that makes them unsuited to casual pleasure and experimentation, and as a result they don’t advance your creative development, either. I don’t think I’ve hit a creative wall by any means; I’m just frustrated because I know what my hardware can do under very narrow ideal conditions, and that optimum peak is both very small and very steep.

I am not a gearhead for the sake of it or because I’m obsessed with the gear: it’s because I know what I want/need, and you often don’t know which compromises are workable and which are not until you get the stuff in the field. I’d like to carry less and be more focused, but I don’t want to compromise on image quality or printability. I cannot help but think that like our current government, it’s time for yet another major cabinet reshuffle at MT HQ…I don’t know which direction it’s going to take yet, but there’s more than a niggling feeling there will be both a lot of casualties and some unexpected rationalisations at the end of it. MT

Coda: There will be one more change. After the number of incredibly rude emails, messages and comments following the recent post, I have decided I am going to stop pulling punches. If you want to troll, go join the rest of your breathen under the bridge at DPR. If you are immature enough that your camera is your religion and you cannot distinguish between objectivity and personal attack, or had parents who never taught the basics of civil interaction, you will be dispatched and banned. If you want to criticise, remember that your own work is also out there for evisceration – or if it isn’t, then you have zero credibility. It seems to be far too easy to forget that the internet does not absolve you of manners and you are a guest here. I do this for free, and I reserve the right to a) stop when this is no longer enjoyable, and b) kick out those who seem to delight in making life a pain for everybody else. That is all.

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Comments

  1. Well my 2 cents on the gear review issue – I can see why it looks nearly impossible to get some material ($) benefit from all the work devoted to this. I personally appreciate gear discussions and will admit that I was lured back into photography after the first affordable decent digicams came out (hint, for those born too recently, it was the Nikon Coolpix 950, then E500*, then the Canon 20D), both because they allowed me to experiment like pros do (benefits of digital) and because I just plain appreciate tech. So it is refreshing to have an expert, unbiased and free resource here.
    As to whether it could be made to pay for your (Ming) time and effort – I’m glad you’re not going the paid route for the blog. Consulting for the big names, it looks like they have not been interested – understandably they must have their in-house fiefdoms; but I’m curious about ONE company whose equipment you haven’t reviewed, and justly so, namely Samsung. I remember evaluating and even recommending the early models to a good friend of mine who I know wasn’t going to get up to speed fast enough to see any benefit from more advanced systems – I was impressed by the tenacity and clear thinking that went into their products, and I gambled at the time that at least their lenses would keep up in value. I also remembered from my computing days how the early Samsung laser printers were workhorses that were highly undervalued for a long time (after all, they did know something about laser printers, they used to manufacture HP’s printers!). Samsung is a heavy weight company..
    Being the company with the least amount of legacy in photographic equipment, they should be most interested in getting good advice from seasoned photographers to complement their more technically oriented bias**. Samsung does not have a choice but has to forge ahead in the photog area if only because they have to keep up in the smartphone cam field. Perfecting all the subtle but so important features for great photography is a lot to address (too many to list, but you clearly know all of them inside out … to address only the most glaring one, re not having decent high end lenses for now, which third party fixed lens should they make an adapter for, how should they design their cameras to best use such lenses.. ..)

    (*) Shot with that E500, i made really decent prints at the time https://www.flickr.com/photos/nycandre/186142673/in/album-72157657128833838/. Some other shots were used in a commercial brochure, nothing like Ming’s hi res prints but plenty good enough
    (**) Then again, many companies don’t do the “logical” thing as we all know

    • Well, Samsung do have interesting products – obtaining them is quite another thing entirely. And they are impossible to resell here, so I’m definitely not taking the risk of buying one out of curiosity…

      • Too bad I don’t have any relevant contact information at Samsung – I wasn’t suggesting you do a free evaluation of their equipment/ strategy, more musing that they could benefit from your experience in refining their strategy (re zero return for you). Wishful thinking, possibly they may have decided to go for the technical wow at a good price point and forgo the “art” and pro sides/ market.

        • They hooked up with a local ‘celebrity’ photographer here and produced a sort of ‘who wants to be a pro’ TV show – it was singularly unwatchable, partially because it was badly executed and partially because that kind of thing needs a host/star with eloquence and personality…

          No doubt it cost a fortune to produce and didn’t yield results; I haven’t seen them do anything in this market since.

  2. gil guerra says:

    Hi Ming,
    I tried to read through all the comments on this post. Too many, so many. I admire your patience and your capacity to keep up the level of your answers. Even a champion heavyweight boxer gets tired after so many rounds (and your adversaries are always fresh).
    In three years I have only commented once and for this I apologize sincerely. But in the face of both your posts and the high level of most of the responses I read on your blog I find myself with very little to say and simply enjoy reading, seeing and learning.
    I admit I found you when looking for critiques of the em-5 which I duly saved up for and bought the kit and the 17/1.8 prime. I’m happy with it as should be.
    I enjoy reading your posts on gear as much as anybody. It’s like reading about a new bike and salivating but then you go out for a ride on your own mount on some country road, the temperature is just right and at the end of the day when you get back you had another perfect ride. Anyhow when sometime back you announced that you were cutting down on those I was sorry but understood.
    Now as to whether there are more people reading those or your other more philosophical or photography oriented posts I cannot tell, but I can say for myself that I hardly ever miss out on them or your long string of followers/commenters. So thank you and thank them for this place.
    One last thing. By sterile do they mean “ascetic”… (quiet, sometimes sad or better melancholic, contemplative, …and yes sometimes less so, maybe nothing is coming through – but then again nobody is God – whoever that is)
    I very much enjoy the way you treat architecture and nature (I’m an architect and always loved landscape photography since A. Adams’ “The Negative” in my teens 30someting years ago.

    Please don’t stop this blog. I really don’t care if at the cost of the little thrills of your gear reviews (not counting haptics and camera philosophic musings) but keep up the rest. There is not much else on the horizon and you and your followers would all disappear.

    n.b. It’s all your fault…now you have a responsibility to keep it up! Both for them and for me.

    Cheers and “Let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a fair wind of it homeward.”

    Gil

    • gil guerra says:

      Oh!
      Congratulations to you and your other half for the best thing any human ever puts on this little planet.
      Gil

      • Truth be told, I am now wondering whether subjecting another soul to the kind of people that exist these days was a good idea or not. I don’t remember when the last time any transaction was handled with integrity or basic courtesy. Hell, even Apple doesn’t seem to honour warranties anymore.

    • gil guerra says:

      Another thing I forgot. Did you ever count how many people read each post. It’s always much easier to gab about techy stuff than to make intelligent comments about photography or art for that matter.

      Once again Cheers

      • Yes. Equipment outweighs philosophy at least 10:1. Nobody cares about making pictures, but the mind boggles because otherwise…what are cameras for?

        • Ming, I am brand new to your blog, but will be lingering. ( I found you via Eric Kims’s open letter to you). I am a textile artist branching into photography and gear reviews are interesting but the stuff about the art of pictures much more so. I want to know about gear and how it might help me. But I only have so much budget and so much time to learn how to use it. And so much ablity to carry the stuff, as you say. ( I chose mirrorless for that very reason and I was helped greatly in my choice by other bloggers who wrote gear posts like you do. My neck and back thank you all for your time). But as an artists first and photographer second I want very much to know about the art, the thoughts behind it, the internal life of the artist. I might be the only one of your (new) readers but I care very much about the making of the pictures. For me its not even just about learning photography, its knowledge transferrable to all art.
          Although that said there is a certain poetry to the reading of good writing about gear when you don’t really understand it. It”s like listening to Britsih cricket commentary with its easy, gentle lyricism and all those numbers that just glide pleasingly if meaninglessly past!

    • Err…thanks Gil. No pressure. 🙂

  3. Peter Sia says:

    I have always enjoyed your equipment posts. I hope you will continue to put a lot of them. Obviously some folks who worship their favourite brand will be offended, and yes they should be kick out if they are rude. I feel not putting them out will be a greater loss to the photographic community. We need more objective posts, otherwise we will be left with less than objective magazine reviews.

    • They no longer make any sense to do because a) I have to buy the gear to review it since no brand wants objective reviews – only fanboy ravings; b) it takes up too much time, and c) there is zero return.

    • I haven’t been a follower of your site for long, but have perused many of the pages, and admire your photos. Frankly, the whole discussion of your work being ‘sterile’ is a descent into the morass of semantics; in general I like your perspective and vision, and find your photos striking and inspiring. Do what you do and damn the critics.
      As for your perspective (I don’t wish to call them ‘reviews’) on equipment, I enjoy them but understand being annoyed by the bashing from those who are blindly devoted to specific brands. I’ve always been amazed by those people who vote for the same political party, and drive the same brand of vehicle, regardless of the passage of time, changes in leadership, philosophy etc. After all, the only thing constant is change.

  4. John Brady says:

    Ming, you’ve mused a few times on whether maintaining this site is worth the hassle. You’ve also noted that your gear posts attract many more comments and hits than your more philosophical and image-based posts, but they also attract fanboys and snark. May I offer a perspective?

    You clearly want to pursue your own vision of photography. In many of the comments below, you’ve argued for the merits of your sterile* style, and you clearly want to work with clients who value that style and who want you to push the envelope.

    To what extent do the gear posts now support that vision? You clearly have a dedicated following from people who *do* enjoy the philosophical posts, and I’d lay good odds that those are the ones buying your video training, ultra prints and workshops. Do you know which posts (if any) are supportive in attracting clients? Ultimately, I wonder if the gear posts are an overhead that no longer supports your brand.

    I have learned an enormous amount from your blogs and videos in the last two years, and would like to thank you for creating a unique resource. Given some of your comments below about the silent majority, I will make an effort to comment more often.

    Best regards.

    *I don’t find it sterile at all.

    • John, thank you for that clarity of perspective. I think you’re right. More with the photos, less with the hardware. I leave it in because to some extent, it’s part of the journey. 🙂

      • John Brady says:

        You’re welcome, and thanks for replying.

        Re your gear challenge, I suspect that the technology is a generation or two away from meeting your current needs (although by that time your envelope may have moved again!). It sounds like you want:
        a) The convenience of mirrorless, so you can drop the Zacuto and use focus peaking, zebra stripes etc to help you use your MF Otus lenses
        b) A sensor with the pixel count and colour rendition of the Canon, but with Sony/Nikon’s dynamic range. If we’re putting a wish list together, you’d want the ability to bias it towards the highlights in daytime (as with the D810) or bias towards the shadows for low-light photography (as with the D800E). Which raises an interested question about whether the difference between the D800E and the D810 is in the silicon, or if its in the imaging pipeline and therefore could be configured…
        c) Ergonomics and haptics have to be spot on
        d) A range of lenses (including tilt-shift) capable of getting the best from that sensor
        e) I’m a bit unclear about whether you like IBIS or not; I think you like to use it in a pinch but like to switch it off when you want maximum pixel acuity?

        I can see why so many people are excited about the new Sony A7R II as it seems to tick most of the boxes, but I suspect that Sony’s 11+7 RAW is baked into their imaging pipeline and therefore hard to change. Maybe the 3rd generation will crack it. The native lenses seem to be getting there at last and the ability to use adapted lenses allows you to use existing tilt-shift lenses. Alternatively, maybe Nikon or Canon will start to explore full-frame mirrorless.

        However I think you will still be left with a fundamental problem, which is weight. As Sony has shown with their FE lenses for the A7 range, reducing the flange distance for mirrorless doesn’t shrink the lenses by much. (They’ve cheated a little by producing F4 standard zooms). So any full-frame mirrorless system with a range of primes, zooms and tilt-shifts is still going to be heavy and bulky.

        Which means you’ll need to compromise somewhere: either by using a smaller mirrorless system (M43, Fuji) which no longer meets your printing needs; by taking fewer lenses and accepting you’ll miss some shots; or by accepting that you’ll have to be a beast of burden.

  5. godlygleanings says:

    There will be one more change. After the number of incredibly rude emails, messages and comments following the recent post, I have decided I am going to stop pulling punches. If you want to troll, go join the rest of your breathen under the bridge at DPR. If you are immature enough that your camera is your religion and you cannot distinguish between objectivity and personal attack, or had parents who never taught the basics of civil interaction, you will be dispatched and banned. If you want to criticise, remember that your own work is also out there for evisceration – or if it isn’t, then you have zero credibility. It seems to be far too easy to forget that the internet does not absolve you of manners and you are a guest here. I do this for free, and I reserve the right to a) stop when this is no longer enjoyable, and b) kick out those who seem to delight in making life a pain for everybody else. That is all.

    Good for you, Ming. You have the consideration and fortitude to run a clean forum, unlike the negligent principals of DPR. After years of attempting to share and share alike, I’ve finally and irrevocably terminated my participation in the said outfit

    • godlygleanings says:

      The first paragraph above is a quotation of your statement, Ming. I tried to mark it so, but the markups didn’t take.

      I wish you all the best.

  6. I made it easy enough for me to stay with my D800, and now my D810. I like the notion of having 50+ MP at my disposal, but my Nikons has already spoiled me with great color and dynamic range. I tried the 5D MkII before. I loved how it felt in my hands, with its substantial grip and superior ergonomics, but how a camera feels in my hand won’t give me the same image quality as I get from my Nikons. When I read that the Canon 5DSr has the same dynamic range as the old 5D MkII, I just told myself, “no way I’m going two steps back in order to move one step forward. (That’s how I feel about the Canon 5DSr.)

  7. Ming,

    I enjoyed your thoughtful comments on reevaluating your photographic needs and direction. To the others who have articulated their response so well, I want to say that all this has caused me to rethink my approach photography.

    I’m just enough into retirement from a very technical field that I’m finding that I’m ricocheting off that work/retirement interface. All those goals that I had for photography in retirement are being redefined by family and changes of plans. To those events, this discussion has helped me to muddle on. For me, I find that some of the changes are literally causing some grieving processes in that it may be that some goals just aren’t attainable and for others my quest for perfection just can’t be met by (my preferred selection of) current equipment. So I’m looking for how I might get over my emotions and get on with the reality, now instead of later, because my horizons are somewhat compressed by the narrowing telephoto view of retirement.

    I’m working on getting rid of the past things that were enjoyable but no longer practical, trying to keep all decisions in the present and making do with what’s here and now; leaving enough financial headroom to react quickly to what changes (equipment, life and access) that come down the pike.

    For me, my experience is too broad, I’ve had too much time to figure out ideal solutions to diverse problems and it’s hard to put all those specialized approaches into one box. I have hope, the Leica Q is close to doing all that I want for a sizable share of my current requirements. On paper it bookends the family/events/street and travel-landscape needs, but there is a middle ground of family/event portraiture where I would prefer a broader solution. I have a solution, but it’s heavy and bulky and requires carrying two kits for some situations and that is becoming more and more unacceptable in my situation.

    I appreciate all this discussion. Thanks to all.

  8. I do very few assignments, but for those equipment seems straightforward to me: after doing a couple of shoots with similar subjects, it will be clear waht equipment gets the job done and I choose it, concentrating then on getting the image. Now your case throws a spanner in by trying to print as detailed as possible, which requires the somewaht tricky compromise between Canon and Nikon. Personally, I’ve felt since the D800 that the resolution level is sufficient (with good lenses and technique!) and I can live with slightly less, but I really want the tonality and that’s the much more critical aspect now. Thus, I didn’t feel any excitement for the 5DRS: what to do with the pixels if the tones and dynamic range are not at D8x0 level? But that’s just me, I don’t do ultraprints.

    For personal work I tend to think that it should first and foremost be liberating and that involves getting the shot (no, I’m not getting to the iPhone, which is fun but also very frustrating). For me, this then means taking the gear to its essentials, often a Nikon and a Zeiss lens or two. The gear should be as compact and lightweight as possible to not getting in the way (I’m not small and I’m fit, so I just dismiss the whole gym argument). This way, I can focus on the essence in taking the photos. I’m not saying this is waht you should do, just trying to offer some viewpoints to what one is trying to achieve by photographing and how to achieve one’s goals — not everything can be first priority.

    PS. which mount do you use for the zoom record to put it on the camera? my coldshow mount is not satisfactory and I’m thinking of a cage or some other system, preferably mounting the recorder with a dovetail for fast assembly.

    • The gym argument isn’t my problem either, and I am small. The problem is those pesky airlines, and ‘seeing’ many different things in the same scene which require a lot of vastly different hardware to execute – part of it is because I always want to experiment, and part of it is because I’ve usually got many personal projects running simultaneously – none of which are ever really ‘done’.

      I’m using the cold shoe mount for the zoom – not what you wanted to hear, I know…

      • I see. I find that going out with too much gear can be a hindrance to my process, though in fairness shoots that require artificial lighting setups need a big bag. But in other words, I’m now in a “less is more — to an extent” mindset. If you feel you need precisely certain gear for each different simultaneously running project then I can’t really help you, you need to decide on your priorities in order to make the right compromise 🙂

        I see it’s on the hot shoe, I was just wondering which adapter it is. It looks slightly different from mine, although I can’t be sure.

        • Not a specific one – just a $3 one off eBay…I bought a few to see which worked best. I think this one is all metal on both the stem and the lock screws.

          • OK, mine is less than $3 off ebay, maybe the same or the missing cents contributed a lot 🙂 Mine’s metal, but firmly attaching the H6 is not possible without modification (it rotates), which annoys me. Also, the adapter makes the recorder harder to pack. But I will find a solution, it’s just frustrating to look for 🙂

  9. I think you’re chasing unicorns on this and causing yourself a bit of mental harm by having so many choices. From what I gather of your choices it seems the D810 is either the first or second choice in most of your applications. Seems like you can either compromise or suffer with the choices but the D810 (from what I read of your thoughts on it) will handle the job 95% of the time in some form or fashion. A man with a skill-set such as yourself (I would think) should be able to make the other 5% work and achieve the ultimate goal (or maybe I’m just naive).

    Maybe eliminating the choices, sticking to the D810 and focusing on what it can do when you need it to do it would be best. Would your life be simpler with just 2 D810s (one as a backup)? And then something small for home/fun stuff?

    *just my opinions here, I read often but rarely comment.

    • Where’s my unicorn lance? 😛 At least it isn’t windmills…

      (I have a D800E as backup because it actually does a bit better in the shadow areas for low key images, and the linearity of it is a good thing for studio/flash work. No plans to change that to a second D810 as my workflow is very well ‘locked in’ for that camera.)

  10. Might the new Panny GX8 might be worth a look? As it’s the first M4/3 to go higher than the current crop of 16MP sensors.

    On paper it looks good? (Dual IS (IBIS/OIS), 4K video, 20.3MP, CDAF sensitive to -4EV) But that’s only if the current range of lenses is able to resolve to that degree I guess.

    • The lenses won’t be the problem. Diffraction limits at f5.6 will. The problem with M4/3 isn’t just resolution outright – it’s also noise, dynamic range, color accuracy etc. All of these parameters contribute to image quality and a little erosion on any lands up having a cumulatively large effect. I doubt even smaller pixels are going to solve this – even factoring generational improvements in technology, it appears from sample images that we’re at best on par – and that’s before diffraction limits.

      • Since pretty much any technology which makes m4/3 better makes larger sensors better, I’m assuming on-par means utilizing similar technology with output that correlates with sensor size?

        • Yes it would – though being diffraction limited at f8 on M4/3 is less of an issue than diffraction limited at f8 on medium format. Those limits are a function of pixel pitch and have to do with circle of confusion, and so stay constant regardless of sensor size.

          • Said AZIZI says:

            Hi Ming,

            Are µ4/3 16mp sensor diffraction limited at F5.6 or F8 ?

            I don’t think you have a post about diffraction in your blog (I didn’t find one by searching) ! It would be a great read !

            Thanks

            • Somewhere in that range – it’s a continuum, not a hard line. I personally won’t go past f8, f5.6 if DOF is sufficient.

              Not much to say about diffraction other than it is directly proportional to pixel pitch. I think most of the audience here would find it rather dry (and so would I) 🙂

  11. Perhaps my critique will be unwanted, but at any rate I will leave it here to see what others have to say. Ming, I have always found your shots and technique to be stunning–to this day I have not discovered another photographer who is able to capture a real-life scene with as much fidelity to the original as you can. You understand your equipment well and are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible, technically, with the latest generation of cameras. I admire this and your indefatigable effort to educate others about the photographic process, and I am sincere when I say that the community needs you to continue your work.

    I have filtered through the comments and it seems to me that most of the detractors share a fundamental view on art, the same one I hold, from which all their criticisms stem–that art is not, can never be, a pure product of technology. Of course the meaning and value of art is subjective, but I think we all agree that the most iconic works transcend the equipment used to produce them. The Kent State massacre photograph could have been half the resolution and yet would not have lost any of its wild potency.

    All of this discussion of equipment and pixels brings to light what I find to be the only shortcoming with your photographs–or rather, the only area where I personally yearn for more development (take it for what its worth, for I am not an expert). When I showcase your work to my friends, I receive an almost universal response: “Extremely beautiful, well executed, but sterile.” It is harsh, I understand, and neither am I saying that any of us believe that we can do a better job–we can’t–but these are the actual, unfiltered words that I so greatly hesitate to write down. However, it is an opinion that I have slowly come to adopt myself.

    It is not enough to record a scene with perfect fidelity and resolution. A good artist must also inspire and move and infuse his work with a soul. You clearly understand this: you have written it down yourself, and your photoessays stand testament to the sustained effort you put toward this goal. However, though you have all but mastered technique, there seems to be so much more room for improvement in the artistic department. I want to see a series of photographs that influences the way I think, that makes me pause in wonder or terror, that evokes some visceral emotion. So far I have not seen this. Perhaps it is easier to do this in photojournalism (Magnum) than in the fine art style that you enjoy, but if there is anyone who can do it, it is you.

    I have no doubts that the equipment you use is essential to your work. But perhaps it may be beneficial to take a step back, shift some attention away from technology and onto the art.

    • I see it another way. I make my work deliberately sterile because I intend it to be that way, and everybody is projecting what THEY want onto MY art. There’s plenty of work I’ve done that isn’t sterile (my cinematic images, for instance) but it also seems to be human nature only to remember evidence that supports one’s viewpoint 🙂

      • Interesting. If sterility is your intent, then you have successfully conveyed it–which makes you a commendable artist. Perhaps our key disagreement, then, is what makes an iconic artist. In my view, a piece of work that lacks a soul will probably never last. Why would we preserve something that is merely a shell and doesn’t move us in any way? But perhaps you will prove me wrong…

        • Guersky – soul or no?

          • “The best situation to be confronted with your work is to come into a room or a space, and you don’t think about approaching your work, you just come from another world and you see it and you have an immediate emotion,” Gursky says. Emotion, emotion, emotion–it is the thing that matters. He goes on to say that the large size of his work is intended to offer two different experiences: “one immersive, one intimate.” I have not seen his work and thus cannot judge it, but the point is that Gursky did not intend his work to be sterile.

            • I found it sterile in person, but each to his own. I do also recognise that sterility or even revulsion is an emotion itself: love and hate are opposites. And the emotion may be far more complex than can easily be expressed.

          • Absolutely, along with some other Germans who studied under the Bechers. There is a bit of disorientation in many Gursky images, and that may be the attraction for some, and confusion for others. I think there is a soul to Gursky’s images, but it’s not particularly a happy one. Perhaps coming from East Germany influenced his vision. Gursky also works with scale, as many painters have done, so I don’t think many of his images work at smaller sizes.

            • Agreed on the scale thing: I really didn’t ‘get it’ until I saw the actual prints. That said, they still don’t feel particularly happy to me, but they do make a lot more sense than a web jpeg. Sadly, most judgements on images are made off the wrong viewing size/medium simply because it isn’t possible or easy to see the intended one. Maybe that has had more of a negative effect on ‘serious’ photography than we are aware of…

              • Barry Reid says:

                “Sadly, most judgements on images are made off the wrong viewing size/medium simply because it isn’t possible or easy to see the intended one. Maybe that has had more of a negative effect on ‘serious’ photography than we are aware of…”

                Definitely. Not just in terms of scale but sequencing and flow of images. The internet has away of stripping images everything of context and without this they do become truly sterile. I think his is partly why the Photobook has such great success as a transmission medium for ideas based photography at present. It gives the photographer back some of the control of sequencing and flow that a good galley show has. Of course like a gallery show, you can just dip in and out of the work – if that’s how you want to approach it.

                Of course photographer’s who work on the internet only may not ‘get’ the importance of flow and sequencing. Personally, when I had my first* solo gallery show a couple of years back, working with the gallerist/curator was eye-opening in terms of sequencing the work on the wall…

                Contact with Rinko Kawauchi’s books was also a big eye opener for me with respect to how you can build a story with a series of (sometimes) subtly related yet disparate images.

                *as yet it’s my only solo gallery show 😦

            • I had the same experience with Monet’s Water Lilies and various Jackson Pollocks at the MOMA in New York. It’s so overwhelming when viewed in person, especially Pollock whose energy is only hinted at by reproductions in books.

              • Makes me wonder if we should compromise with any reproductions at all, if it changes the viewing experience that much? I suppose it’s the same thing I’ve been encountering with web vs ultraprint.

                • Well, if there were no art books, there’d be much fewer people aware of Monet and Pollock’s works. They do have an advantage in that someone has thought about those pieces and written why they’re important. Not so much for artists hoping to be discovered. Maybe the real challenge is to make a photo that works at any scale.

                  • Also very true. But those people may not necessarily get the right impression from viewing images in books, or not be able to correlate what’s written with what’s seen. At least I suppose it gets them thinking. From the artist’s perspective it may be different, though.

        • You are begging the question here: who says one should aspire to be an “iconic” artist? And what does that even mean? Similarly, whatever soul is, why does it allow a work to last? And that’s assuming you want the work to last. That’s not as silly as it sounds as there’ve been artists who have celebrated the ephemerality of their work. Similarly, there’ve been plenty of great artists who’ve been accused of being soulless or sterile or mechanical.

          Arnold Bax on JS Bach: “All Bach’s last movements are like the running of a sewing machine.”
          George Balanchine on his own work: “My ballets are like butterflies — beautiful today, and one day they’ll be gone.”

          And perhaps the most direct of all:
          Peter Tchaikovsky on Johannes Brahms: “What a giftless bastard!”

          • I think the bottom line, Andre, is one has to be happy with one’s own work, and the critics be damned 🙂

            On top of that there’s also the silent majority who may like it or be indifferent, but you’d never know since they never say anything one way or another.

            • A.- You’re implying that being soulless or sterile or mechanical is a bad thing. That’s all I’m saying as well–actually, to be precise, I’m saying it’s not an especially good thing.

              M.- I hope you differentiate between constructive and destructive feedback, and evaluate your work on more than just the number of supporters and detractors!

              Heading out, as I don’t have anything more to add that could be perceived as useful.

              • Not at all. I’m questioning the need to be an iconic artist (whatever that means) and the need to have one’s work last. Both assumptions are couched in your criticism of Ming’s work. The criticism may be true (or not), but I question the assumptions behind it.

                Time’s the only true judge of artistic value. Online carping about soul or sterility or whatever else some blogger is flogging this week is just a lot noise in the grand scheme of things.

                • We don’t know if our work will last, until much time has passed. Leaving a lasting impression, or simply leaving something behind, or making a mark, is why many of us do art. The commercial work pays the bills, but the art keeps our minds fresh. We cannot look at the art market as another commercial project, though some do that. If we are not doing art for ourselves, we are not being honest in our art.

                • Ironically, if you do the same thing as those who came before there’s no way you can be iconic because you won’t be different. So…perhaps it’s a binary thing: either you fall off on one side or make it over the fence…

            • Felix

            • Michiel953 says:

              The critics don’t need to be “damned”; it would be a sad place (there are many in this world unfortunately) where criticism is banned.
              Having uttered that very obvious statement, there’s a lot to be said for stubbornly pursuing your own vision. While, at the same time, not being totally deaf to what the world thinks of that vision.

    • I think the Soul people speak of comes from; ‘within-out, not from without-in’. Gear, is the vehicle in which we channel our creation, through. Therefore, our gear, should ideally be ‘seamless’. If it is not, it impinges on ability to make a soulful photo.

      The same could be said with compulsion (thinking we need/have to shoot) and repetition (of ideas of others) of work.

      The photos that I think people react to is subjective, but, in my opinion the photos that are least thought about, and most creative, are in the flash of that moment, and appeal to one, most of all.

      Sterility is something we are perhaps all guilty of from time to time, and the key is to snap out of it when we find ourselves there. Sometimes that might come in the form of a slap in the face with a wet kipper, or, in a more inspired way :>

      Keep Shooting..

      • Nobody has yet answered: why is sterility bad if that is the desired outcome? Why does it have to be ‘snapped out of’?

        • I’m not convinced that it is your desired outcome. If it is, from a creative perspective, it doesn’t, I think. Although, in the alternate, I’m happy with my answer, or, at least happy with my understanding of my answer, which is of course always expanding, and when reduced to words, meaningless. What does the poker book tell us on what a good hand is: ‘it depends’ ;()

        • Michiel953 says:

          Ming, “Sterile” is just an adjective, a label, that can be applied at will. Your images are not “sterile” in the sense that they are, looking for a word here, numbing, not provoking any thought process at all. This very interesting exchange proves that.

    • Martin Fritter says:

      Apparently discussions of aesthetics are more contentious than discussions of gear. As for sterility, it’s hard to make it a term of approbation. There are aspects of our host’s work that I would define as austere and reserved. My favorites involve his application of his extraordinary product photography techniques to the most quotidian objects and details. At their best, the results become uncanny and haunting. I would really like to see him apply the same methods to formal portraiture. I suspect the results would be very exciting.

  12. Are you forced to make this decision now? Perhaps waiting a bit will allow a solution to come into clearer focus. You are struggling to preserve your ideals in the face of significant logistical obstacles. I hope you will resolve never to compromise on the quality of your work. If something must be left behind let it be the projects and equipment you find least rewarding. Thank you for all you have taught me. Good luck!

  13. I enjoy your thought processes very much. “I feel your pain” for having to make very hard tradeoffs. Having recently gone from Nikon FX to Olympus (E-M5 II and the excellent Olympus primes), I’m grateful that I don’t have the burden of high-end professional work. I can only hope that you will find a place for the m43 gear in your new lifestyle so that we will have the opportunity to hear your insightful opinions on it. 🙂 Your reviews of the Olympus gear were quite an essential factor in my decision that it is “good enough” for my purposes, especially under the absolute mandate to downsize gear (for travel and family reasons). Traveling with the Olympus gear is a joy. It is amazing how the IBIS compensates in certain key ways to offsetting most of the drawbacks of the tiny sensor and the low resolution. I’m astonished that I am actually considering selling off ALL my Nikon gear; originally I intended to keep a D600 and the best lenses until we see what Nikon does with mirrorless, but now I don’t see the point.

    Thanks again for your generosity in supporting this amazing blog.

    • My problem with the Olympus gear now is that it always feels like a compromise; I enjoy using it and I enjoy the ergonomics and controls, but I always wish I’d brought something else especially if I get an image I want to print afterwards…:(

    • Allow me to recommend to keep an FF body and one or two FF lenses despite you see no point now. I strongly believe Oly has quality issues with it’s system (eg. shutter) showing after about one year in my case (body & one expensive prime). The idea behind the Oly m43 system is very good and the colors it provides are amongs the best. But never are these cameras equally reliable as CaNikon. Secondly, in my case, I started to find the photos I made with the Oly ‘too real’ in terms of sharpness and clarity, even when shooting RAW. Today, I use my reduced FF equipment only and sold my Oly. I found a small FF body with two small primes light enough providing more natural results and easier/more flexible to PP than the RAWs from Oly. And this combo is even cheaper in comparison.

  14. Ming: I always enjoy your clear thinking, though you’re situation is far different from most of us who don’t print large.

    Camera makers aren’t producing top pro lenses anymore so, you’re stuck in a 3rd party/non-AF trap. Nikon doesn’t make lenses that compete with Otii performance for you (using small format cameras to produce ‘medium format’ shots), and the lack of AF restricts their other uses. Zeiss needs to add good AF and Nikon needs to up their game.
    The hi-res Canon has messed you up on the camera side, too. You need Canon (to finally) end their “1 generation behind” sensor development. Or have Nikon get a higher res body so you can use your hodge-podge of MF lenses.
    Argh.
    FWIW, I’m an old Nikon/Hasselblad person and would like to jump to Canon at this point. As I see it, Canon’s different camera models operate consistently, are well built and their lenses generally have somewhat better optics and build, in a stronger range.
    But, the Canon sensors are a generation behind Nikon’s. If all goes well, I’ll jump with the 5DIV. Whatever the DR, it will likely prove ‘enough’ and I’ll be able to dump my sometimes brilliant, hodge-podge Nikon system for a more coherent ‘system’.
    Maybe.

    • Aargh indeed. Manual lenses aren’t so much of a problem most of the time since I’m usually working of a tripod anyway – and those Otuses sing.

      I haven’t run a coherent system in a long, long time now. I actually don’t remember when the last time all of my lenses were from the same manufacturer; perhaps the early days of M4/3. The Nikon is running Zeiss and Nikon; the Canon is running Canon, Nikon, Nikon mount Zeiss and Contax Zeiss. The M4/3 gear is running Nikon and Leica mount Zeiss, M4/3 lenses from Oly and Panasonic. It’s really all over the place and feels, well, cobbled together. Each pairing has so many exceptions and things to remember that I am worried one day I’ll forget an adaptor or to stop down or something similar. This is obviously a rather distracting state of affairs…

  15. I have read this post and tried to read all of the comments and come away feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I understand your desire to push the envelope and not settle for good enough. I can be a bit of a perfectionist myself at times, and I share that desire to not settle. On the other hand, I do have to wonder if it is ever possible to not feel fully satisfied between compromised products (at all levels) and the ever-moving bar of “progress”? You might be lucky and find a product that is void of almost all compromises, but sooner or later, the envelope will get pushed and you will be looking to move towards that outer edge again, and that will most likely mean needing to move on to new equipment, compromised or not. When/how does it end? I suspect that if you want to keep pushing to that new outer edge, you may have to accept that compromise is sometimes part of the package.

    And while I understand that your client’s and your personal expectations can be the primary drivers of being at the outer edge of the envelope, I am a bit unclear how the blog fits into the picture. You have mentioned below about how equipment reviews are more popular, but if you are not directly monetizing your blog, does this need to be a concern? Would it make sense to to run less gear-related posts and hopefully have a less stressful life in exchange for lower traffic? I find your opinions on gear to be very helpful, but as they spread out over the past year or two, I did not really miss them. And, I suspect that while they may generate traffic, they are probably drawing folks who are primarily gear shopping and not really interested in your thoughts and work, or in following your blog in the long term. I really enjoy reading your posts, but I am sure that I could be happy reading one to two posts per week with only an occasional discussion of gear. I know the blog is not your biggest time commitment, but if a reduced blogging/review schedule freed up time for other more important things, it might be worth some consideration.

    I do wish you luck as you move forward.

    –Ken

    • Ken, firstly I salute your patience at wading through the comments!

      Honestly, the blog doesn’t fit in other than within the remit of personal work. It may well be one of the things that goes at this rate.

  16. Gary Morris says:

    Lots of stuff here. Here’s my 2¢… as the wife and I are getting older, we’ve been moving to smaller homes. Our 4th move is coming up (actually we’ve moved out of our last home, and are now homeless while waiting for the new place to finish up) and we’ve got our stuff scattered between 5 storage units in two states. How does this relate to you? We need to clear out some of this clutter to get a better picture of how we want to live. Sell some furniture, give some silverware and china away, etc.

    I’m not saying your cameras and lenses and such are clutter… all seem to be very useful for your profession and life’s work. However, when the stuff starts to close in on you, at least for me, it’s time to thin out the herd. I had a Canon, gave my hand cramps… gone. A Canon zoom lens that was too heavy to hoist… gone. Leica 21mm lens that conflicted with my dyslexia… gone.

    On the other hand, you’re a craftsman. My oldest son is a very fine (and commercially successful) woodworker. He must have 50 different chisels. Craftsmen accumulate tools; not because the one who dies with the most tools wins… but the one who successfully uses the tools, wins.

    The pictures and images you display on this web site are usually “right on”… you’ll figure out where you’re going with it all.

  17. Maybe you can meditate on the equipment that Henri Cartier-Bresson was using for his amazing pictures

    • He used the best tool available to him at the time. And that has changed since.

      • Not necessarily. This is HCB’s take on cameras: “I am completely and have always been uninterested in the photographic process. I like the smallest camera possible, not those huge reflex cameras with all sorts of gadgets. When I am working, I have an M3 because it’s quicker when I’m concentrating.”

        • I’d like to think the OP wasn’t referring to a Leica is the specific solution. But that quote sounds very much like ‘best tool for the job’ to me, which is what I said before.

  18. I see an A7rII in your future 🙂

  19. rest assured. your output will be on the very cutting edge (technically speaking, transparency wise, sharpness, whatever you want to call it) of all shooters using the 35mm dslr format regardless of which system you use. believe me, considering all the other factors it is not worth going nuts over. your long term success client wise will also (imo) depend on factors outside of this.
    keep on….

    • I honestly don’t care about what anybody else is doing – because it doesn’t affect my work. I do care that I can do better and am not (for whatever reason).

      Here’s the crux of it though: Idea execution experiment proof consistency/ professionalism being able to show it clients. Those things are not interchangeable. I’ve been hired specifically to do Ultraprints as output on several occasions because those clients have never seen anything like it – if I’d just settled with ‘normal’ printing, that could not have been the case. Etc. There are rewards for being on the bleeding edge…

      • all true.
        and yet it’s also true you were operating at 36MP (plus stitching) w Nikon colors for an extended period and delivering seriously above average precision already, right? it was already an elevated situation, pretty much already on the cutting edge of what a 35mm dslr can do in 2015. so now if both are (i have to say having now had a chance to try both) extremely capable (if not the ever impossible “perfect” which no camera, especially in the small 35mm format has ever been), each with strengths and weakness is it no comfort that you can produce exceptional results with either, thus alleviating the issue? chose one and go (imo).
        sure, if you had a new Phase One XF and all of their 7k lenses you could be producing even “better”, (and be minus $70,000 or so)….but it’s going to be outstanding regardless, correct? (not even taking into account those qualities of images which have little to do with technical specs)
        however it’s possible my standards are just too low….ha! i thought the D700 was pretty damn good already! some guy is running around with mine for $850 and having a ball….ha!
        best of luck.

        • There was something never quite right with the color on the Nikon especially for foliage under certain ambient light conditions.

          I’m sure the Phase is better, but not 7-10x better. There are economic realities too, and I can’t live out of my camera 🙂

          • indeed. you cannot drive a camera to work or live in one even tho the price would suggest otherwise.
            that said….if color and res are top priority then…go with the canon, adjust to the meter, and maybe underexpose by 5% to avoid blown highlights or related dynamic range issues. i’m sure the results will be never less than stellar. tbh i think it would be more frustrating to use both at the same time and constantly be annoyed having to switch up your workflow to adjust for what you do and don’t like about each. a distraction.

            • The Canon has other critical limitations – underexposing a little typically means leaving some headroom on the table with the ACR conversion; it doesn’t have the recoverability of the D810. And their TS Macro and flash system leave a lot to be desired, which is one of the most used lenses in my Nikon kit – so that isn’t an option, either.

              • i agree. after playing with it a bit (not my camera) i know what you mean re shadow recovery.
                i still stick by my earlier thought….you will produce top shelf final product with either. no final viewer will see the shots with the noisy shadows and you already have thousands of quality frames from the D810 that look great.
                the second point that having to shift back and forth (using each for purposes best suited to it’s strengths etc) is more trouble than it’s worth is just MY personal take on it. you might be totally cool with it.
                personally i love to get into a groove with a particular camera (and even just one particular lens for a while) and just roll with it. i would find adjusting back and forth bothersome (during shooting and post) and make me all the more aware of my issues with both.
                keep on….

  20. Nehemiah says:

    I am not near as sophisticated as many shooters here, but I do find needing two distinctly different needs when shooting for leisure versus assignment. But I have chosen the divide to not run two systems, but two different sets of lenses. The work set is zooms, AF, based more on coverage rather than f-stops or rendering. For hikes I have a bag with compact 21,28,50 and tele zoom. For urban 28,58 and 100. For assignment (depending on which) wide zoom, fast mid prime, long zoom, and Zeiss ZF 100 for portrait/macro.

    The set for my personal work is lenses from now till 50 years ago, MF, all selected for hyper specific purposes (rendering, mid lights to highlight retention, high contrast at small apertures with neutral color and mid distance to infinite). I have shot most the systems, but I am finding Sony A7 series the best compromise, I.e. It allows me to run different sets of lenses for my purposes very well. The first gen of those cameras were more or less FF backs that weren’t responsive enough, but they are turning into real cameras now. The files aren’t perfect, but they are very very good to me. I find the sets of lenses pretty liberating. And after going through so many cameras, it’s nice to have 98% quality in one camera and the consistentcy.

    Thanks for the blog Ming.

  21. Good Morning from the west coast of North America Ming.

    First, I would like to say that I have enjoyed reading your blog since shortly after following you on Flickr perhaps 2-3 years ago now. The length of the blog entries, the details, the photographs selected, the processing all reflect the work of a true scholar and gentleman. I aspire to join you one day on a workshop.

    Even the length and detail of the comments on your blog are atypical, and to a large degree must represent “like seeking like”. There are many of us who struggle with photography and in life with other philosophical issues like integrity and compromise. Had I remained in academia, it would be easy to pontificate, but being in the trenches brings a new and different respect for the world as a whole. I infer deep currents in your mind and character, and I respect you for having the courage to share them with the world. It is very easy to be black and white, but for a few, it’s far more interesting with the 256 shades of grey.

    I appreciate your equipment dilemma from a personal perspective. I have had the D800, an EM5, and some other things. I am not a photographer, but an avid enthusiast. The sole purpose of my efforts is to get some phenomenal PRINTED memories of my life, to remind me of places I have been and aspire to go, to leave behind for my family something of a legacy of images that they might pass on to the next generation. I will never have a gallery display, or sell works on redbubble or whatever platform is now doing that. To this end, the equipment I use and the compromised I have made are reflected in your original post, and the conversations that follow. I am using the a6000 and I am gradually acquiring some good glass.

    Like your desire for using the EM5ii, I don’t want to carry full frame glass as it exists today. Let me restate that. If I could have a range of Loxia lenses, small compact, manual focus, similar to Leica glass, I might wish to have a A7rii. I do not want to carry Batis lenses because having all the mechanics increases the weight and volume beyond what I desire. I suppose having a sherpa might mitigate that, but I can’t afford one. I have thus learned to use a nodal tripod head on a lightweight CF tripod and stitching software to create massive images. This I can do, can carry, and have adapted my workflow to achieve those ultra quality prints. This won’t work for the whole world, but it is an interesting philosophical compromise. This might all change in 2-5-10 years, but for now, I’m having fun and accomplishing my ultimate goal.

    What I wanted to say, hundreds of words ago, sorry about that, was, I can’t get comfortable with the process unless I begin with the end goal in mind. As long as I know what I am trying to achieve, I can photograph with purpose, just like I acquire new kitchen appliances to contemplate cooking gourmet meals in my retirement… ( that’s and inside joke, and might not make sense to anyone else ).

    Finally, I just received your Connection Book in the DHL. What production value. I think you’ve done a great job there. I like the box. Wonderful product. Sadly the packaging was only the DHL unpadded pouch, and DHL then crushed the box and somehow further managed to bend some pages. I would just pass that along to your parters who were responsible for the shipping.

    I now need to get back to work. Thank you for this most fun diversion. //Dennis.

    • Thank you. I think we are probably looking at the full uncompressed 14 bits here – 256 would be easy! 😉

      Sorry to hear about the book. If you shoot a note with a photo to Ida Chan (ichan@chunwo.com) she’ll take care of it for you.

  22. zerberous says:

    Why not publish more detailed specs of a “Ming” camera? It gives the established camera makers new ideas (as you had mentioned) but additionally opens-up the possibility for open-source cameras. Presumbly latter can incooperate more radical ideas, whereas corporate ones can leverage what is already there (IBIS, mass-production etc.).

    • The engineers in Japan want locked down systems. You can see that in proprietary RAW files. Despite many of the same sources for parts, there is very little common nor open in most. Even the software and menu systems seem to be stuck in the late 1990s. Add in declining sales figures and companies will simply move to broken whatever markets they now think they can use to generate profits.

      I’ve worked with a start-up company doing research into a future imaging system. We’ve had input from several professionals and some knowledgeable enthusiasts. While it is technically possible to create nearly anything, the sticking points are price and market size. Profits really exist in the optics, and not in the camera bodies. A new open camera system would be a niche, and as such the money to develop it would need to be constrained, because sales would be limited. Think along the lines of Leica, instead of Canon or Nikon. I like what I have seen so far of the project, but this is only at concept and seed money stage.

      • Zerberous says:

        Thank you for your insights.

      • zerberous says:

        Maybe in 10-20 years 3d-printing and “camera design software” has matured enough to establish custom made cameras.

        They may not have all features such as IBIS – but they can come in different form factors, lens mounts, sensors, processing hw/sw-software, buttons, batteries etc.

        The companies would provide access to the “camera design software” and execute the mostly automated production, quality control, calibration and shipping e.g.

        On the other hand established camera makers – let us e.g. say Canon – may wind down most of their camera business and use their valuable engineering resources for more profitable purposes.

        Given that smart-phones and also current (film) cameras are sufficient for most users to either share pictures online or print them (= at usual postcard size) it is not an unlikely scenario.

        • Ahh, open source modularity…

        • I think many manufacturers will leave the camera segment. Those that are able to downsize and service niche markets will continue to survive. Mass market cameras are in severe decline, though as market research indicates, this is largely due to these systems being now seen as difficult to use. Popular views imagine market saturation, or smartphone displacement, but the data does not support this. The companies who believe in market saturation or smartphone displacement have no option other than winding down their business, though I don’t think they really do believe either of those explanations. Think about how easy so many things in our lives are now easy to use, and then look at the average camera manual and menu system for changing settings. Cameras are stuck in the 1990s, while the rest of the things we use are now really easy to use. I think this is also why “photography” workshops often cater towards camera operation and image processing software, because modern cameras are not easy to use. Professionals are willing, to a point, to put up with complexity, if it provides the results we need, but I don’t think all camera enthusiasts should go through that.

          Ideally we should have cameras that are as easy to use as smartphones, alongside operating manuals that are no more than a page or two. Unfortunately engineers are in charge of development, and want to make things complex. There is also a very vocal group of internet enthusiasts who push for long lists of “features”, or customizable settings, causing many others to think they need a long list of features. Meanwhile smartphones offer very few settings and customizable aspects, and few ever complain. Just as an example, I have three dozen different buttons, knobs, levers, and dials I can move on my Nikon D3, and that’s before I mount a lens or Speedlight to it.

          Oddly enough, the camera body design is not the highest cost. Batteries, shutters, and various chips are the main cost components, and choices of who supplies those parts is a bit limited. The imaging chip is usually the highest priced item, depending upon the surface area. Using 3D printing is often part of the development process in most cameras, then later production can be injection molding on high volumes, or CNC on lower volumes. There is also operating software available that would solve most needs, and just require some integration. So an electrical engineer to tie together the physical components would be the biggest need. After that is advertising and distribution, which are also somewhat expensive. Patents and licensing limit certain features, though licensing is mostly another expense. The weirdest thing about the current imaging market is that GoPro is the most successful company in the entire segment; if we can understand the reasons behind that, then maybe there is a solution that will work. I think that is somewhere between GoPro and Leica, because the enthusiast market is a niche, though it can be a profitable niche.

          • zerberous says:

            Thank you again for your interesting insights.

            About GoPro you may have answered part of the question – e.g. they are easier to use and furthermore:

            – lightweight and water-shock proof allows users to mount them on helmets, skate-boards, surf-boards, motor-cycles, cars, drones, dogs.
            – video centric (no prints) -> lower resolution -> cheaper optics&sensor, less processing (= low power ASIC video encoder) -> smaller battery
            – wide-angle and small sensor size -> focusing/framing solved; (AE/AWB are less critical)

            Leica is mostly about design (->less dials/buttons!) and brand with its associated qualities.

            Looking at both – maybe the market segments itself into niche cameras that fill gaps that smart-phones leave?

          • zerberous says:

            Between GoPro and Leica we could envision a stylish, quality, lightweight, rugged micro four thirds range finder (16-35mm zoom, equivalent, IS, less than 16MP) with easy to use UI and excellent connectivity to share videos-pictures online. Question is if we will see novel concepts with multi-lens arrays that allow e.g. refocusing in post.

            • I honestly can’t see GoPro and Leica collaborating though – if Leica does something like a GoPro you can be sure it’ll cost a small fortune…

              • Leica is all about high end imaging. I don’t see them going after the lower priced and higher volume consumer market. Leica command a high price because of the feeling of quality, and their heritage. Leica users feel a connection with that heritage. GoPro command a premium in action cameras, because they connect with their end users. In both cases, there are technically better choices in each market segment.

                Where both companies excel is in their focus upon those who use the cameras. The resulting images are the main draw to either platform. Users are championed for what they can accomplish, whether it is a newer or older model device in use. There is just enough technology to enable a great user experience, and controls are simplified to quickly enable content creation. The ways Leica and GoPro interact with customers is similar, though the technology and target markets are very different.

              • zerberous says:

                Sorry – I did not want to suggest a collaboration between Leica and GoPro. Just find a spec in between the products in reply to Gordon. If that spec makes sense is another question.

                You both seem to have an excellent understanding of the market.

                With GoPro and Leica filling lucrative niches – maybe the question is what other (niches) are left or to come (VR video)?

                • Interesting you mention VR Video. I know agencies in that realm, and at the moment most are putting out free content to try to convince companies to commission more content. This is a bad downward spiral, in which no company can get enough funding to push out other companies. Working on spec is generally a very bad idea. Probably will be a while until the VR world loses some of the hype and gets to a (stable) point of reality.

                  I think Canon and Nikon will continue to service the professional market, largely because many pros already have been using this gear for a while. Fuji and Sony will make small gains into the pro market, though Fuji is probably positioned better to do this. I think the real future pro realm in many cases will be defined by the lighting gear, and there are some great developments happening there.

                  I think enthusiasts are a niche, though how to address that has been the subject of more than six months of research. It’s quite a bit of information, and what we discovered was not exactly what we thought when we began that research. The trick now is figuring out the size of that market, how it will evolve over the next so many years, and how to be profitable in that niche. The basic idea is addressing needs that are not now being fully met by any current equipment. If that start-up gets the funding, then I can share more information over time, but for now I cannot make specific comments.

            • The Leica T went a bit too minimalist, and there is a lack of lenses. Dials should be labeled in some manner, though the UI is interesting. The Leica Q points to a different direction, though the menu system could be further developed. Luxury niche.

              Design is important for GoPro and Leica, though the approach is different. GoPro has not heritage to draw from, which gave them an open slate for design. Leica needs to respect the past in their designs. Different approaches, and not complimentary.

  23. So here’s a question for you: Let’s say each of these cameras produced identical image quality across all parameters. Which system would you choose?

    I realize it’s a bit of an impossible hypothetical, but given that we’re likely to see some interesting new developments over the next 24-36 months, it would be similarly interesting to see which system measures up best when all other criteria are gathered together in aggregate.

    btw: I get the impression from this article that the Canon could probably be jettisoned without it being a great loss; the D810 can handle those duties more than sufficiently. But it is interesting that you prefer the handling of the Canons. I’m the reverse – I much prefer the Nikon ergonomics myself (maybe I’m just used to them now).

    Will we get one ring to rule them all? Probably not. But we might be getting closer. Whoever thought we’d see a full frame sensor with IBIS, for example?

    • Actually, the EM5II – weight and IBIS…

      Assuming we restrict this only to the Canon and the Nikon, then almost certainly the Canon – assuming I ever got used to the metering. It just fits my hands much more comfortably.

  24. Andrew Murray says:

    I just want to say I love what you do, how you do it, even sharing your thoughts out loud like this is appreciated. Keep up the great work Ming, it’s so obvious that’s why so many of us are here.

  25. Ming, So what would be the Ideal camera for On location and studio Portraiture, natural light and strobe? While I love my D810 the Colors are always all over the place even after profiling.

  26. Maybe I share in a small fraction of the frustration, in my own small way.

    I “switched” from D800E to D810 intending to move past all the ‘little’ disadvantages that minor as they were collectively made D800E less rewarding only to find D810 walking backwards in low-light. And to add to the scenario I happen to find as a process of discovery over time that a significant share of the most satisfying personal images for me are low-light…enough to have gotten me pondering why it’s this way. And so two sentences ago I wrote that I “switched”, because it was *supposed* to have been a switch…the notion of going D810 by day but D800E at twilight strikes somewhere for me between unpleasant to downright unacceptable….

    Well, stepping away from all that, there are of course compromises and specialized tools, but it still seems to me as if manufacturers are doing awkward, semi-random dances all ’round the dance floor without ever putting their feet down in the right places.

    • I’m doing exactly what you are: the tonal gains of the D810 in high contrast/bright scenarios are significant enough during the day that it becomes preferable. The files no longer look ‘digital’, but rather ‘natural’ and ‘transparent’. In low light I switch back to the D800E because of shadow tonal response and linearity.

      It’s not so much a dance as a camera juggle.

      • Michiel953 says:

        Mmm. This is about wat gear to bring right?

        I just switched, two weeks ago, from the E to the 10, for the same reasons that Thomas mentioned, unreliable AF being the most important one. Over 400 clicks now. What set the counter really running was a BBQ beach party we had last Friday night, shots from 1900 until after (a searchlight like) sunset, inside and outside a beach club. We live near the seaside, the sun sets over the sea.

        Question #1: what to bring? Not the V3 (my wife would have liked the video possibly though), the 810, with the 35/1.4G. The most versatile set up (that I have in my possession; the alternative being one of my film slr’s). No room for camera bags and lens changing at a party, particularly not with my two year old twin girls running around (they had a great time, and I managed to grab some great shots of them).

        Almost 200 shots, 100 left now after the usual and necessary binning process. Focusing accuracy a great improvement over the E (still very critical though), WB accuracy decreased as it got later (mixed lighting, inside lighting and a searchlight like setting sun), not better than the E, higher ISO noise (3200 max on auto ISO) not better than the E, can’t really see an obvious difference in shadow recoverability (yet).

        Of the 100 left, some 20 are real keepers.

        Conclusions?

        An improvement over the E, certainly.

        The much improved AF makes the 10 a surprisingly fast camera. I grabbed shot of one of my twins handing her 89 year old greatgrandfather a spoonful of icecream that I probably wouldn’t have made with the E. Priceless.

        Take the camera you have (not the one you don’t have) with the lens (maybe two lenses?) that you think will suit the circumstances most.

        Don’t fret about the things you didn’t bring.

  27. You’re an artist with a slight scientific orientation. It seems like you should continue your discovery and play with different tech and see if there is something that helps with the kind of images are currently interested in making (or need to make for your clients). I don’t think you need to write a final position paper on what you think the best equipment is. I look at your images and am completely uninterested in what camera took it.

    I appreciate your philosophical perspective. That is actually what drew me to your web site. I also like your educational materials and will be picking up three more ‘classes’ soon if I can get Paypal to work for me!

    Thanks for everything. You have taught me a lot.

    Regards,
    Phil

    • Thanks Phil. I put the thought process out there because I (mistakenly) thought some people would find it interesting. Mea culpa…

      • I think many people (and I am one) find the thinking in your article extremely interesting and are grateful for it. I hope a few off-colour comments won’t get to you. What you’ve outlined is a conundrum that affects many areas of life and there is no off-pat answer but it is very helpful to have it set out so cogently with regard to photography.

  28. Frank Murphy says:

    Your dilemma makes me think of Thom Hogan’s Nikon survey: http://www.dslrbodies.com/newsviews/what-we-learned-from-the.html

    You really like the D810 with some of the heavy-hitter lenses, but when it comes to video, stabilization and size, Nikon doesn’t offer enough.

    – The DX-sized Coolpix aren’t up to the Ricoh GR in terms of lens, price, controls, etc.
    – The Nikon 1 series isn’t up to the Olympus M4/3 stuff in terms of sensor size, lens options, IBIS, etc.

    Thom’s point that “Nikon doesn’t think of a customer’s needs, but thinks of a customer.” For your pro work, you seem to be a Nikon DSLR customer, but for your personal family and artistic work, you’re not. It’s too bad that Nikon (and the other makers) don’t get that. Sony do seem to be getting closest, but it sometimes feels like they are an algorithm getting asymptotically closer, but lack the vision needed to really nail a series of cameras and lenses.

    • You’re right – for pro work it isn’t too difficult a decision. It’s the other stuff – which enables creativity and dictates the direction of paid work – that’s the problem. Right now, I’m really enjoying the Q – but again for FL and printability limits. It is a GR on steroids but not a system. M4/3 is great for size, video and IS – but it isn’t printable. And Nikon’s own solutions aren’t even really unified; they each require their own system in reality.

      • odldesigns says:

        “It isn’t printable” is just a silly comment. Your obsession with absolute resolution seems to have clouded your better judgement.

        Note, you may mean for your “ultraprints” but even with that in mind your statement if just silly.

        • And the anonymity of the internet seems to have clouded your manners, not to mention your memory that a JPEG is not representative of an idea or a print.

          • odldesigns says:

            Snarky aren’t you. I call a blanket statement silly and you call my manners into question.

            How ’bout this, say it isn’t ultraprintable. Because “it isn’t printable” is actually complete rubbish.

            • I understand because of your own business you’re in ‘unprintable’ is taboo…but that’s no excuse to be rude to those who have higher standards. In addition, since you find pleasure in taking my statements out of context, there are plenty of other forums online where you’ll find satisfaction.

          • billmeier says:

            Hi, Ming, he makes his point a little crudely, but I, too would like to know more about M43 being “unprintable.” Knowing you, this is not a flippant statement. Could you elaborate, or perhaps one day dedicate a post to that thought? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

            I’m an Olympus M43 shooter and used to be a Canon DSLR shooter…not a pro, but an enthusiast who found M43 to finally have sufficient image quality to justify the switch. I love the smallness of the system, and that I can carry a pretty nice kit in a tiny bag. But I do miss the Canons sometimes, too. So far I have only printed up to 11×14 or so on M43 and find it pleasing enough. Of course, I am not trying to sell anything. In all seriousness, could you elaborate on your statement? I have much to learn and would value your input.

            • If you follow the link to the business in his username, you’ll see why he started being defensive.

              M4/3 is unprintable to the standards I and my clients have come to expect because of many reasons:
              a) Color is pleasing but not accurate, and requires a lot of work – more than is usually justified based on the underlying file – to make it so.
              b) Tonal and dynamic range are limited by the pixel pitch. The files have a certain ‘crunchiness’ as a result of this – both at edges and along high frequency areas.
              c) Some software corrections cannot be removed, especially with newer lens/body combinations. This can produce some strange stretching artefacts that are visible at larger print sizes.
              d) Simple resolution limits: 16MP is fine for portraits but not for high frequency/high detail subjects. The HR stacking modes are completely impractical.
              e) Limited latitude for tonal manipulation before artefacts occur (e.g. shadow noise, banding etc.) – even if it’s just to raise shadows slightly for a more natural rolloff. We’re not talking tone mapped HDR from a single file here.

              Within limited uses, they’re fine: but if your clients are used to D810/5DSR/MF files, they will see (and challenge) the difference immediately.

              I’m pretty sure people don’t come here expecting to have their egos massaged or to see mediocre work. Then again, I might be wrong. 🙂

              • billmeier says:

                Ah, I get why he’s defensive. Well, not really, but since I read a ton of forums and work with designers I understand.

                Thanks for your reply, makes sense to me.

  29. Martin Fritter says:

    Regarding your persona l work, I’m still rooting for pictures of people eating taken with the Q.

  30. Maybe saying “Yes” to everything means you end up with a cupboard full of stuff which then drives you mad? It’s risky but suppose you said “No” to a few things which aren’t right for you because they just perpetuate luggage nightmares or because you simply don’t like them? So what do you love, really love to shoot, what leaves you unmoved either way, and what are you prepared to say “No” to? It’s possible that one system for work and another for play would cover it.

  31. David Challenor says:

    Hi Ming, A very interesting article, your frustration clearly shines through, and I fully sympathise with your point. After over 55 years of amateur photography I have spent fortunes buying and selling equipment, some of which you recommended, and even though I have a large collection today I am not at rest. My analysis is that I have not achieved the emotional satisfaction that all this equipment should have produced. In fact I do not have enough memorable pictures to justify it all. Your professional photography is something separate, but your personal pictures, I am sure, are the more important to you from a creative standpoint. The move to ultra prints was more a technical challenge than an emotional one. Most of your ultra prints, to me, and I repeat to my view, are technically fantastic, but sterile. From time to time you produce some really beautiful pictures that convey emotion, and stay in the viewers mind.The reality is that simple equipment was probably more than sufficient to produce them. However the high technical level that can with super megapixels and mind blowing lenses possibly has clouded your creative spirit. I suspect your Ricoh GR has produced the largest percentage of satisfying pictures. You have one of the best photography sites on the internet. Thanks DJC

    • David, I’m troubled because I know for a fact that you have never seen one of the Ultraprints. How can you therefore pass judgement? That would be like reading the first line of a book and assuming you know the ending.

      I suggest you actually see an ultraprint in person first. There are simply many ideas that don’t work as web images and cannot be conveyed without the full information captured to be taken in simultaneously, as we would in reality. They break the illusion between image of object and object. It hasn’t clouded my judgement at all, if anything, it’s opened up new creative options beyond what I can present through an internet medium and beyond what most people can imagine until they see it.

  32. Bruce Bodine says:

    Ming,

    Shoot an email over to Kirk Tuck with this post, he may be able to offer his solutions, or then again maybe shared frustrations!

  33. Honestly Ming, you are an exceptional photographer. For what my advice is worth I would suggest looking at two things. The first is your own happiness and sense of worth which many of us project onto our work, dissatisfaction can be deep rooted and a symptom of past or coming change. Your photography is at a very high standard this might not be as related to equipment as it first appears.
    But getting to equipment, my own experience and that of several Nikon shooting professionals I spoke to was dissatisfaction with colours in raw conversion from ACR/Lightroom. Adobe seems to handle Canon files better (even with profiling). I think Thom Hogan wrote about this sometime ago and there has always been some difficulty in the Nikon Adobe relationship and quality of conversion. He found things too orange with Nikon others worry about the greens. I could never get good skin tones. As you do most post processing with PS why not try a different raw converter? Honestly capture one is the reason I still use Nikon. Colour manage to is very good. So if you’re not totally committed with workflow as it is I would dump the Canon stuff and try this raw converter. If you are committed to ACR I would dump the nikons and bracket and make sure you nail exposure with the Canon. Colours matter and there are some wonderful L lenses for architecture…
    I’m also disappointed to hear phase one have not been keener to engage with you as a potential client, very frustrating.

    • C1 workflow was a bit of a disaster – I did try it, but landed up compromising the highlights and shadows (transition and recoverability) because there it can’t do what ACR does. I can mostly fix the color but not achieve the same ‘naturalness’.

      The problem with the Canon is when one is working fast: the metering is simply so unreliable and transition between clipped or not so abrupt that you have no latitude at all. Either you are two stops under and must push clipped shadows, or two stops over and looking at white.

      I’ve attempted to contact Phase One several times – both when I wanted to get a second hand P45 checked out/serviced before buying it, and then again post-Hasselblad pre-Pentax. Not a single reply either time. It’s clear to me they are not interested in me as a customer – and forcing the issue, especially for that kind of money, is just silly.

      • I’d like to know what program Nikon uses for their photos in their catalog and promotions. It can’t be their own CNXD. I just saw the sample photos in their new 24-70 VR-E and of course they look good. Interesting enough I think the majority of LR (ACR) users don’t realize the skewing of colors and profiles. FWIW I use portrait camera profile for my NEFs and build from there. And find sharpening degraded in ACR. Another example of ACR, I have a few hot pixels in my D4 and they are not evident in ACR but show in CNXD. I have tried Silky Pix and the color profile is very close to Nikon’s. Silky Pix makes CNXD and their program runs much better and probably uses the same algorithm provided by Nikon, after basic tweaks I export in aTIFF for additional edits.

  34. I like that you are very calculated in your equipment choice for any given shoot. It shows me how serious and professional you about your work. Perhaps the rumored Nikon 50mp will fit the bill just right. From what I’ve been reading, it seems that the new 24-70 2.8E is a new optical design which I would guess will resolve a higher resolution sensor. Before dumping anything, perhaps wait a little longer to see what Nikon comes up with?

    • I’ve been going through the same exercise of what is the right, transparent equipment for my photography goals and budget. My D700 has fit the bill and continues to work for photographing my kids (3 and 6 years old) in sports, running on the playground, or in low light theatre settings, but I have been searching for the “right” compact, light camera to always have with me for family photos, classroom photos, and travel. After being in and out of the E-PM2, x100s, and the E-M1 in the last 12 months, I think I have finally settled in. D700, E-M5, and x100T. I just returned from a trip to Peru and I carried the x100T with 50mm conversion lens and the E-M5 w/ 45mm 1.8. The three focal lengths are my favorites, the weight is light enough to carry both all day on my neck or in a backpack (not a camera bag), and the image quality is satisfying when executed right.

    • The Nikons will stay regardless because I’ve got too much invested into that system already. But they’re not inspiring or fun to shoot – and there are times you just feel like you’re fighting the camera because of stupid engineering decisions (e.g. lack of any U1/U2 modes on the D810 means if you see something that requires switching quickly from tripod-mode to handheld run and gun…you’ve got to change five things in different menus and physical controls, and chances are you’re going to miss the shot.)

      • Hi Ming

        I am not the right person to advise you on your dilemma, but from the article and comments, it seems perhaps you have the best equipment you can get already, and you feel it could be better, but you still need most of what you have. For example, you have defended the Nikons in the parent post. The Canon, on the other hand, is the only body which will give you 50mp in that form factor today, plus you seem to like colours from it and its handling.

        Someone mentioned programming in a different comment. In larger works (usually, but also expressible in smaller works), programming is an art form and needs more than technical proficiency. Sometimes you want to express an idea and you are forced to restructure it according to what a programming language permits. There are a lot of programming languages, and a programmer (who trains as a programmer) often learns many of them. People get into arguments often about what language is a better choice, not because it’s not possible to write or achieve something in one over the other, but because of how one expresses an idea using it.
        A person who tries to keep up with new languages as they are introduced knows many languages, but rarely is a master in any of them (here I’m not comparing your situation, please don’t misunderstand). But a person who learns just one suitable language and masters it can find ways to bend it, esp. a lower-level language such as C. Many things are difficult and lengthy, but you learn the ways and it becomes natural over time.

        Photography now may be different because the technology changes somewhat rapidly. Maybe, if you are proficient in one or two systems to know their strengths and weaknesses, you can stay on top and chase the difficult ones. You’ll always chase the difficult ones, no matter how much it improves and that’s not bad.

        Mukund

        • Hi Ming

          I just read the coda added above, and I hope I didn’t seem impolite in the last post. I’m grateful for answers in the past, and am a fan of your photos on Flickr. It would’ve been fun to be a fly on the wall while you were shooting and editing those cloud photos from the 5DSR. I have never been able to get a high number of levels in clouds on a Canon (not dynamic range, but separate levels); clouds look rich and beautiful in person, but the shot has far lower detail. It is likely due to poor technique. The colour and lighting on your photos is so natural. It is a pleasure to see them.

          Mukund

  35. When I read these kinds of “position papers” they strike me as astonishing. I think your “problem” if there is one, is that you have all these categories that for some reason seem to require completely different camera set ups when I suggest you should just get one and make it work for all categories. Most of my colleagues have a single kit: Canon, Nikon, or sometimes Fuji or Sony and use this for all jobs that pay the bills. Some have medium format for detailed studio work. You seem to need a completely different kit for each separate category for reasons that I have to admit seem to say more about you than about the job or the client. As others have said, I seriously doubt that any client will care or notice whether a shot was taken with a Canon 5Ds or a Nikon D810 as long as you have a good image and I refuse to believe that either system will not work, pretty well for anything. Although you say you are not in love with gear, when I look at your mass of what seems largely redundant (as in duplicate focal lengths) lenses and systems, I think you should simply confess that you do. This is partly no doubt because you are an “internet guru”, so you have to buy and review gear to keep people reading. All I know is that I would find selecting the gear for each job from your mass of equipment a decision tree of nightmare proportions!

    • When I read your comment, I find it astonishing that somebody could be so simultaneously naive, ignorant, insulting and rude to somebody they’ve never met (but are no doubt happy to benefit from). I find it even more astonishing that you choose to single out only the equipment related posts and come to derogatory and accusatory conclusions on those alone, which are by far in the minority compared to posts with images, posts on philosophy of photography, posts on ideas, posts on techniques, and posts on everything else.

      One. I am not an ‘Internet guru’.

      Two. I have high standards, far higher than most. That is partially because of the person I am, and partially because I have shot discipline, clients and output methods that can differentiate between them. Just because you or your colleagues have never encountered such clients does not mean they do not exist. Like attracts like and we create our own markets.

      Three. One size does not fit all if you actually want to improve yourself or push the limits. If you are happy with complacency, good for you. Perhaps the reason you ‘seriously doubt any client will care or notice’ is because your work is either so amazing that all they see is the image, which is great, or so poor that it makes no difference: all they see is still the image.

      Four. I am equally frustrated by the amount of redundancy required to do similar but not identical tasks. And that was the whole point of the ‘position paper’ as you put it. Sometimes things have to be said for a reason because this site and this commentary is not designed solely to cater to you, so let me put it bluntly: the point is being made to the industry people whom I know read this site. Despite all of the marketing and technological advancements and everything else, the fact remains that we are getting further and further from an ‘ideal’ camera. And it isn’t just me who’s finding this.

      • David Goure says:

        Hahahaha Ming, I think the guy above doesn’t really know what kind of person you are, and deserved the MingSlap(TM) he received.

        The one point I’d pull from his post is this: 99.9% of the time, you COULD use just one set of gear and make it work. It wouldn’t matter to the client. But your response is the more poignant one: it matters to YOU. And since you’re trying to create images that are FAR from redundant (I think the poster doesn’t appreciate different rendering characteristics among other things) and which push the limits, by definition you can’t allow yourself to be limited by your kit.

        Honestly, God/Allah bless you for being so driven and willing to share your mental processes with readers like me.

        • Hmmmm. Well, I think what we can deduce from Chris’s comment is the following:-
          1. He hasn’t met or worked with Ming
          2. Has not seen Ming’s work ‘in the flesh’, either projected or in particular, printed
          3. Is perhaps an easily satisfied individual unlikely to change any status quo
          4. Is one of those people that criticises other’s continuous struggle to push the boundaries that others accept
          5. Contributes little, if anything, to progress.

        • Actually, it matters to the client, too: it’s not just technical. If I can make a more convincing image, then the client can see it too; the rest is merely supporting that. And there are clients who can tell, regardless.

          I prefer to think of it as ‘knighting with the Arca Mace’ 🙂

          • Like you’d ever hit someone with your ludicrously unnecessary tripod. I’d like to see you try, scrawny, thin skinned little charlatan that you are.

            I know you’ll moderate this out, but you’ll still read it first, so the last laugh, as always, is on you.

            • Just for you, I’ll leave it in – just so you can enjoy the only moment of public spotlight you’re ever likely to get, and even then you had to do it by demeaning somebody else instead of on your own (nonexistent) merit.

              As for the last laugh, well, better to keep your mouth shut than make it clear you’re the missing link. Lastly, if you don’t understand how to use a tripod, then perhaps you should find a hobby that’s less taxing on your single brain cell, like sleeping. 🙂

      • Pretty harsh response Ming, surely?

        Looks to be an unnecessary counter to someone just expressing an opinion. Yes, we are invitees, but you have allowed the comments section, and it is public. Sounds to me, at least scanning through comments you’re being more abrupt then the readers/comment-ors.

        The reality, is, that creativity comes from ‘within-out, not from without-in’, gear, is the vehicle in which we channel our creation, through.

        Therefore, our gear, should ideally be ‘seamless’. In this regard you have answered your own question, your gear is inhibiting you.

        • I am surprised at your aggressive response to what strikes me as a reasonable statement of an outsider’s view. As Jeremy says, you have said your gear is a problem for you, so my suggestion was to be like most others and simplify. What’s offensive about that? Also why is being an internet guru so bad? You will notice that quite a few people support my contention. I was direct, but not rude. Were you offended by me suggesting that you like gear in itself? This is not an insult. I know many pros do too. I see nothing wrong with this, but you are very po-faced about this and post hoc rationalization seems to be going on. I think you are too sensitive and perhaps need a little more humor: but at least you had the decency to keep my post in your comments section.

          • Chris, I’m abandoning pretty much all forums. They seem to be nothing more than a chance to prove intellectual one-up-man-ship, which, if one is playing, has already lost.

            Creativity and art is not about this or blogging etc.. 😉

  36. Nathaniel says:

    As a d810 owner I hesitate asking this, but what exactly about the canon was superior as far a printability? I would be curious to see examples of the cameras compared in terms of color as color has always been a bigger interest to me than small gains in resolution etc. It sounds like despite the same sensor the a7r was also ‘inferior’ in some way to even the 5d3 as a well known french travel photographer gave up his a7r recently after feeling the color and contrast could never match his old Canon. Not that I am in a position to ever switch but I would love to see comparisons of what the issue is.

    • Resolution on high detail subjects like landscapes, and color of foliage etc. The color is a bigger differentiator to me, too. That said, you compromise noticeably on dynamic range and shadow recoverability. I’ve never been able to get the D810 to match the color despite numerous reprofiling attempts. Of course, it does assume that a) you’re shooting under ideal circumstances with ideal lenses and b) you’re printing large enough or sufficiently high resolution enough that you actually have to start interpolating to reach your final print size at the native output ability of your printer.

      • Michael Greene says:

        Thank you for answering questions, despite the pissants who need to vent their rage against the world. I must admit, I’m still confused about the printability differences. I used to shoot medium format and large format film, but have moved to digital. I’m ruminating over the higher megapixel camera choices for landscape photography: Nikon D810, Canon 5DsR and the Sony a7rII. With many of the reviewers I respect criticising the “cooked” RAW on the Sony. My choice is down to the Nikon or Canon. The dynamic range and latitude of the D810 had me leaning that direction, but I wanted to know more about the advantages of the 5Ds R; the downsides as to exposure limitations I understand.

        • If you only work off a tripod in ideal conditions, the 5DSR has a) much more pleasing colors that require less adjustment (and some adjustments cannot be made at all on the Nikon) and b) with adequate less, a noticeable resolution advantage if you go large. But yes, you’re giving up a couple of stops of dynamic range – so it isn’t always ideal for landscape, either. That said, unless you’re printing very large or very high resolution or both, the Nikon is still going to give a very good result.

          • Michael Greene says:

            Thanks Ming – I have to admit I’m still confused as to my choice, but that helps! I usually shoot on tripod for landscapes and like to print large, but often find landscapes with heavy tree cover, which brings dark shadows.

  37. Ming…I’m wondering, where does the 645Z play in your recent rethink? I noticed you left it out…tnx again for all you do and share.

  38. Samuel Jessop says:

    A very interesting read, particularly as I have been considering my own far more budget limited equipment rationalisation for a while. This has reassured me that the plan to sell my zoom lenses and start again with just one normal prime is the right idea. I shoot around there anyway, and I am hoping it will improve both my image quality and shot discipline. I am also getting rid of my travel tripod and sticking with the much heavier 055CL which does the job just fine.

    Reading through your equipment posts I detect a theme, although this may be my own bias. To me it reads as though the Pentax 645Z was a particularly transparent tool with a potentially wide shooting envelope. I have to admit that this with just the 55mm would be my fantasy setup, but I like very much the results that you have produced with this in terms of colour rendition and tonality more than the Canon and Nikon solutions.

    • Sam…I soooo agree!

    • I’m not sure that difference was obvious at web size – even to me. The other problem is you cannot use 55mm for everything, nor can you only have one body on a commissioned shoot in the middle of nowhere. It is not viable as a professional system, and if it isn’t making a return at that price, it’s not justifiable. I am not a hobbyist – I’m running a business.

      • Samuel Jessop says:

        I think I’m blessed in some ways by not needing redundancy, and I seek out locations and opportunities on my own time. The single idea is something I am adopting in part because of your “The fast compact normal conundrum” post. It made me realise that my X100 and two zoom lenses was not reflecting the way I see the world and leading me to the wrong choices.

        The shots you upload to Flickr and the photoessays you post seem to show more thought over equipment choices than is my default position. It has inspired me to worry less and get on and shoot.

        • I think that’s partially because of curation, and partially because if I’m going somewhere to shoot, I want to make sure I’m prepared and know both what I want to achieve and what I need for that. Working to strengths and all that. I could take a looser, more intuitive approach – and that’s when the 24-120 comes out 😛

  39. Hi Ming,

    I was absent from photo-internet sites for a long time for various reasons. I just started again and came across this article. I have a different view on this mainly because I take from time to time “breaks” from photo sites to get more distance to the photoindustry and is marketing blabla and to avoid ending up in the madhouse 🙂

    As far as I remember, you wrote long time ago an article about the sufficiency level most of the tools achieved in 2012/2013 after a certain innovation level in the photo industry. Obvioulsy that depends on each own’s output target.

    But I do think, that there is also a kind of “madness level” nowadays, which has to be taken into consideration. The madness level is obviously on a much higher innovation level than the “good enough” level for the mainstream photographer. This madness level is – same as the sufficiency level at the bottom – for each photographer different. The key criteria for this madness level is the answer to the question: Will you clients really see easily and/or at all the difference?

    In your example betwen the Canon 50MP and the Nikon 36MP, I doubt it. If you think that they can, then be consequent and sell the Canon and Nikon stuff and buy the toys for the “men”, i.e. Medium Format for +50.000 USD. I am sure that there is significant more to see that with the “small” 36mm fullframe format. But then you have to increase your daily rate for your clients by a significant percentage 😉

    Are your clients willing to pay 1,5-2x your current rate to be able to see the difference? I doubt it.

    Obviously, normal for a human beeing, all of your clients want to have a Rolls Royce. Even if they do not feel or see the difference to i.e. a VW Beetle. But they are not willing to pay you above the price tag of a VW Beetle.

    So why do you want to give them still a Rolls Royce for the price of a VW Beetle? Even worse, you do not wnat to start a discussio about men-days-rates with equipment x vs. men-days-rates with equipment of y. They shall pay a price tag for your ideas, creativity and execution, Not for the gear.

    Otherwise you communicate your clients, that every Jow Shmoe with a D810 can do the same as you, just because he has the same camera 😉

    So my advise is not to walk in the trap of trying to pass the madness level. There will be always a camera and system that will give better results. But as long as nobody except you can see the difference or nobody wants to pay you for that difference accordingly, it is not worth it to make this step.

    And in 3 years, that camera is anyway in the bargain bin of a department store, because something else “groundbreaking” was launched. So who cares? Relax.

    The majority of your readers can not afford those toys with price tags of over 2500.- USD per body anyway. So even for your website, there is no downside risk.

    For your family memories, take your Ricoh GR and maybe add a Canon G7X for the 100mm reach. For more demanding family stuff you have the Nikon. Everything else is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

    Best wishes

    • The sufficiency level still exists, and because our eyes haven’t changed, it hasn’t moved much – unless one is educated as to the differences.

      Can my clients see the difference between 36 and 50? Yes, if properly deployed for appropriate subjects. They may not know precisely why one image is better than the other, but they can say which they prefer. If 50 helps with clarity of rendering and that’s consistently visible, then there’s a difference. 50MP MF is not necessarily better: I’ve owned that gear, been given that gear by clients to shoot with, and then landed up falling back to the 36MP Nikon because it was the best tool for the job (to which they agreed). So it isn’t always about subdividing percentages.

      The same camera does not mean that the operator is the same nor does it mean they know how to use the tool to support or convey their ideas – whether the idea benefits from it or the tool allows some unique presentation. I would have thought that was obvious. I would have also thought it was obvious that I no longer deal with VW beetle clients nor am I charging VW beetle prices – precisely because they cannot tell the difference and just want quantity. Not all Rolls-Royce buyers can tell the difference, but many of them can.

      However, the point of the article is that commercial work isn’t the problem. The challenge I now face is trying to balance off being able to get the last bit of potential out of something and knowing A may be better than B for a certain creative intent but compromised for everything else. The equipment is an enabler. I cannot be enabled if I know I’m making a compromise that doesn’t have to be made.

      • Hi Ming,

        “However, the point of the article is that commercial work isn’t the problem”

        Sorry, then I misunderstood this.

        ” I cannot be enabled if I know I’m making a compromise that doesn’t have to be made.”

        mmmhhhh….. The compromise does have to be made though. Otherwise you have to use even more expensive gear every day, every year as soon as something “new” comes out. Even then, you will never be satisfied.

        What about the images you made 4 years ago with “inferior gear” compared to your tools now? Do you delete them now? Are they now less good or give you less satisfaction? Where shall this lead to? There are also limitations for specific viewing distances, for specific output channels (screen/print etc.) and for specific audiences. Everything in life is a compromise. It is important to define the own individual compromise and be satisfied with it.

        There is always room for improvements of course. But IMHO it is a way of seeing the glass of water half empty or half full. You make excellent photos with excellent gear. If in one situation the gear you have with you is 10% less “ideal”, the glass of water is still full 😉

        Best wishes

        • Commercial work isn’t the problem because it’s easy to decide what to use: whatever gets the job done the easiest with the highest reliability. ‘Gets the job done’ includes both image quality and shooting envelope.

          From your example, there are images I made four years ago which I would like to print and offer as editions (and have been asked to) but cannot because they do not meet client expectations based on current images. So yes, I do regret it, and don’t wish to make the same mistake again. You also have to keep in mind that if you continue to put out/promote/sell old work, then it becomes impossible to control your own career as a photographer. The last thing I want to do is be painted into doing only one thing and land up shooting that the rest of my career – that completely defeats the point of quitting corporate to take up a creative profession. It is also the reason I have heavily pulled back on watch photography, for instance.

          I’m chasing the last 1%. I know that, and I don’t expect most people to understand it. Yes, perhaps it makes life difficult – but pushing the envelope is how one advances creatively and otherwise.

        • If you think that everything in life is a compromise, you’ve already compromised.

          • No, I am just a realist. Compromises are not bad at all per se. You need to know your metes and bounds to make the right choice and be able to live with it. Otherwise you will never be happy and always complain.

            • You are talking about compromises and Ming about chasing the last 1%. If Ming can see the last 1% and rationalise it, he is on the safe side, what separates him from madness. For the most of us we do not understand what he is after only from seeing his work on the WWW and history shows that many not understood people were judged as beeing mad to make life easier for the not-understanding people. I see this article related to Mings post from the 30th of July about the absolutes where I was thinking about when business and passion need to part. If a genious wants to translate his talents into business this genious will fail since his output will not be perceived by the paying customer and therefore not rewarded/paid enough. Such a person can end as a lonely and bitter person even if his work is rational. Such a person might be to proud to step down from his quality standards to meet mainstream where the money is. Or such a person will find enough clients who are willing to pay accoringly, what seem quite unlikely to me. Or such a person just accepts reality and satisfies his passion outside the business world. But never should people without understanding the others expertise judge the other or call his expertise as irrelevant even it is for many of us for whatever reason.

              • It may just be easier to be certified. There, you get a nice soft room and three meals a day and you’re the client 🙂

              • Hi Dave,

                it seems that you did not understand my postings I wrote above about these two different levels. You do not need to defend Ming. I can totally understand his dilemma and never said otherwise. I have the same problems, but obviously on a much lower individual level, for both, the good enough level and the level at which it reaches my personal madness level.

                But as a matter of fact, this dilemma will never end, no matter how the progress in IQ, gear and each owns capabilities will continue. So there will be always some kind of 1% to chase for. This is why per definition, it will always be a compromise, no matter how hard you try to eliminate that.

                • Hi just me

                  When reading my post a bit later I wanted to write some more and better arguments toward yours direction. Fully agree, that there is a schizophrenic driving force behind it. I did not feel like defending Ming and felt equally philosophically 🙂 underlining your true short statement about compromises. And Ming found another business model by becoming client in a madhouse what is well worth a thougt if everything else fails… 🙂 I hope Ming finds his personal compromises for the sake of his mind. Until then he will push the borders and bring photography forward in a way we can profit from him.
                  I honestly think that there is a lot in Mings article only by reading how people start to swear at him. Gladly you and I found a compromise and posted in a civilised manner…

  40. The answer’s simple, you need to stop being rational and instead base your gear decisions on ideology and pre-conceived ideas you never bother to check. I suspect that’s what a lot of the Sony shooters do 😉
    I don’t manage to have a fanatical devotion to one company, but instead I have a series of irrational dislikes that allow me to rule out certain gear. By the time I’ve ruled out everything with a sensor smaller than MFT or larger than full frame, any camera that has a mirror, any single item that costs more than 1,500 dollars, any camera / lens combination that weighs more than 1.5kg or doesn’t fit in a certain size of bag, any camera without a viewfinder, any item which on launch stirs up controversy online, and any manual focus lens, there’s really not much left that I’d consider buying. It’s perhaps not the best route to inner peace, but it works for me….
    In terms of what to take with you when not on assignment, you could just try picking equipment out of the cupboard at random. After all, I’m sure you’d get better pictures than 90% of us regardless of what you use 🙂

    • I think I should buy one, put it on an altar, and prostrate myself regularly in front of it. Since I won’t actually shoot with it, problem solved!

      You and I are in the same boat. I have more dislikes than loyalty and the only company whose products I know I’m probably going to be happy with are Zeiss (though most lack AF, and they do have some dud lenses like the SLR 50 and 85 f1.4s.)

      I could pick gear at random but that’s not advisable on a commissioned shoot, and usually not enjoyable if you’re shooting for yourself and focusing on the image/idea…I suppose there’s always the iPhone.

    • “…I suspect that’s what a lot of the Sony shooters do…”

      That is a good one! a lot of truth in it.

      “…By the time I’ve ruled out everything with a sensor smaller than MFT or larger than full frame, any camera that has a mirror, any single item that costs more than 1,500 dollars, any camera / lens combination that weighs more than 1.5kg or doesn’t fit in a certain size of bag, any camera without a viewfinder, any item which on launch stirs up controversy online, and any manual focus lens, …”

      I agree on most points. This is nowadays a good guideline to not get caught in the marketing traps of the photo industry…

      • I just noticed the ‘no MF lenses’ bit. That’s a shame, seeing as it rules out the Otuses…

        • They seem like amazing lenses, and I know you love them, but they are very expensive, very heavy and manual focus only… two of those and I might consider it, but three and it goes out of the zone of being “fun”. The Sigma Arts seem to get 80% of the way there, with AF….not as good, certainly, but good enough for the hoi polloi like me.
          (Actually I haven’t used either on a DSLR, but the Sigma Arts for MFT are astonishingly cheap and have given me a very good impression of Sigma. If someone were to give me, say, a D810 or a 5DIII, I’d probably look at the Sigma lenses before the native ones….)

          • Unfortunately yes: they too are very specific application, and I admit I don’t use them as often as I probably should for that reason. Two of those things is the volume and weight of three or four other lenses. Sometimes, flexibility is preferable to absolute precision.

            The Sigma Arts are very impressive for the money, but they are not Otuses…

  41. You’ll always have the Ricoh!!!!

  42. You will never be satisfied. That’s a good thing. Excellence is quantifying your expectations. A race car driver wants the next fastest car. What, ignore the next best thing? Unless you don’t want to race. You can’t be expected to be a reviewer of gear and not want it. As for being one with your camera, that’s an amateur’s privilege. Like an old sports car. You’re too far in front of the pack and will not be satisfied with a last generation’s sensor. These are computers with sensors for capturing. Don’t fight it and realize it’s what made you and you’ll always be with more than one system and the lenses. There is no one all around for an expert like you. I think we are in the best time for photography. Leaps have been made in the past decade like never before and that’s also part of the problem. I don’t know the future of DSLRs and see their costs going up and volume going down. But I’m always looking ahead, and still finding ways to better my D810 and D4s results. Something else that might be causing you to rethink, I like the color better from a Canon (I like your term “radioactive” greens from Nikon) and I feel less post would be needed and even JPEGS could be more applicable in some instances (events, sports or personal work). And have seriously considered changing. I think that is also part of what you realize after using the Canon.

  43. Canon OUT! A7RII IN for S**TS & Giggles (GAS fun). Nikon/OTUS for Rent and Progeny expenses 🙂 Done and done…

    • The A7RII is too expensive and depreciates far too quickly to buy on a whim. I will wait until I’ve seen a single file that convinces me…

      • My answer: Super 35 Mode…stabilized! Way too much fun 🙂

      • Agreed. There was an interview recently with someone from Sony about how they might start looking into uncompressed RAW since they are hearing that many people want it. If/when they do that, I will look hard at the A7RII.

        The other potential would be an update from Nikon that would use the same sensor that would provide uncompressed raw at 42MP. Still doesn’t solve the color problem or printing, though.

        It also sounds like a part of your frustration is knowing that certain things that would solve your problems can be built, but not seeing them built. 🙂

        Lastly, I just started shooting with my newest lens, the Sigma 50mm ART. Of course, it’s no Otus, but pairing it with your Workflow 2 video, I’ve been seeing a real improvement in my pictures. Thanks for the awesome instructional. Quick question, though: I seem to be finding I need 1/150-1/200s shutter speed minimums with this thing on my Canon 6D; is that typical?

        • “It also sounds like a part of your frustration is knowing that certain things that would solve your problems can be built, but not seeing them built. :)”

          Yes! And not just me. But they’re not built because if they were, then the companies would have to build an even better product next time. Instead of just building one every ten years, dividing it into five small incremental improvements and then laughing at the fanboys.

          Shutter speeds: usually higher than you think, and depends on your hands. I need 1/200s with the 55 Otus and 5DSR, and that’s with the electronic shutter in LV and with a Zacuto.

  44. More is never enough. This leaves me felling you are not happy. Why don’t you put all this “stuff” away and go spend a week with your beautiful wife and child with no gear and be completely present with them. I wish you peace.

  45. The Buddhists point out what they call the Three Kinds of Suffering, being:

    The Suffering of Suffering – The most common kind of suffering, birth, old age, etc., what Shakespeare called the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

    The Suffering of Change – The familiar “what goes up must come down” and vice versa, i.e. the only constant is change. Things change.

    All-Pervasive Change – This is the more subtle one, said to be caused by our own karma rumbling beneath our consciousness, like a subway or overhead train can be felt from blocks away. Call it ennui or the fact that coming events cast their shadows. My point is that this low-level unrest, like the birth process itself, does not always result in birth every time we have contractions. Quite often we feel unrest, but nothing comes of it… for quite a while.

    Samsara is endless suffering, or so the Buddhist say, and the only relief from it is the luminance and pristine clarity we get from “seeing” through our lenses. In other words, it is the “process” seeing itself that is the result, not something somewhere down the road.

    • Bingo: there is no ideal, only entropy. But we have to make a living and a business out of it and still somehow fulfil our creative sides. Not so easy, sadly…

  46. Martin Jones says:

    Have you been testing the new Leica by some chance? Plenty of rumours about its crossover ability & very high ISO, though we wait to see. But someone must have been testing it.

    • Nope. But I’ve heard from more than one source it exists. I don’t think it would be a viable solution either because of cost and reliability – by the time you buy the necessary second body and three or four lenses, you’re already out at least $25-30k.

  47. scott devitte says:

    Yesterday afternoon I had assembled on my work bench my 4k working gear- RED Dragon 6k, various Canon, and m43 bodies, and a slew of lenses- Canon CN E primes, Canon ef l zooms and primes, a sweet Canon LTM legacy set, and a nice Contax set, and the newer Zeiss ZEs and various sound gear, preparing and winnowing- what do I really need- trying to not bring it all- for a shoot in Colombia. As Ming observes above oy vey! and, walked away- big headache. Then-

    I received the A7RII early yesterday evening, went to the bench, unboxed, batteried(is that a word?) up, extended the viewfinder a bit, and mounted the Otus 55. That beautiful, smooth, long throw focus ring fell right at the fingertips of my cupped left hand, the camera controls nicely in my right. Tactilely it felt luscious. Smooth as silk I set parameters, framed, focused, snapped, reviewed the screen, and…niiiice… Then I engaged 4k video with internal stabilization, hit record, and did a slow 360 around the room. Reviewed- and right then I knew that I held the/my future in my hands. Played around a bit more, checked the stuff on Photoshop and Final Cut Pro confirming my impression- this is where things are headed. Perfect? Not yet, but with the speed that Sony is constantly upping their game and with their relationship with Zeiss- Game over?

  48. It reminds me on parking your car. The more slots you find empty the more difficult it gets to make your choice. Life might be easier having less to choose.

  49. Well just outside of your current setup there’s 645Z and A7R2. Neither of them should contain any surprises to you (except maybe the newer Sony lenses). Further beyond there’s more mid/low-end alternatives (not useful since you have the lower end covered) and something like Leica S or the new Phase One body (which won’t solve any of the broader issues). Any completely new entrants like Pentax FF or a surprise leicanikon FF mirrorless won’t initially have the lens range to satisfy your needs.

    So my perception is that you are dealing with known quantities, none of which is perfect at the moment, hence the frustration. An obvious solution would be to make a best guess about near future and start simplifying into the right direction, or just sit and wait for a while. 5Dmk4 might solve the DR issue (though perhaps not at adequate resolution) and D820 might increase resolution to at least 42mp. Given enough time Sony might improve their bodies enough (and discount the price) to suffice as a smaller backup for high DR / high ISO work.

    Amateurs have it easier since introducing limitations to one’s equipment range can actually be beneficial for fun & development, and no business is lost in the process.

    • I’ve been down the 645Z route and whilst it was everything in terms of image quality and had a reasonable shooting envelope, the lens lineup was limited and local support again far less than promised. A7R2 remains to be seen; it’s very expensive here and not something to be casually tried since Sony resale is a disaster. Leica S sits below the D810/Otus combination in quality and several times higher in price, so that’s a non starter. Phase One is just out of my budget, but even if it wasn’t, I can’t buy one since they’ve never even replied to a single email I’ve sent about being interested in a demo. It appears they are not interested in doing business with me.

      Your perception is thus spot on. It’s the balancing the necessary workman-reliability for professional work and the inspiration for art that’s the tough bit.

  50. I’m always interested in your thoughts, Ming. But why does everything has to be so ‘gear dependent’. I know a lot of fine art photographers that don’t care too much about gear. If it works for them, that’s alright. There’s also a fair bit of overhyping in the sense of specs. People are jumping from camera to camera as it has become a kind of consumable – wasted after one or two years. I’m frequently shooting film with two old F2’s, with ‘silly’ lenses like the AIS 50mm F2.0 of those days. I’m always impressed of the result. Even true the 35mm scanning process (which remains a challenge) the sharpness is fully there across the whole picture, in a way a lot of people would never believe this was made with a 35 years old combo, this glass has a lot less chromatic aberration than some of the fastest current Nikkors have (the present AF-S 50mm F1.4/G lens for instance, which is very, very mediocre). Tiny little lenses compared to the huge and heavy FX-kind of glass you’ve seen appearing in this decade. I can get nice (Kodak) colors and B/W pictures that no camera whatsoever can deliver out of the box in 2015, in digital it mostly way too harsh, saturated,…. After lot of consideration, I’ve put part of my workflow back to the Fujifilm X-series. That really required quite a bit of revisitation after the first wave misery I experienced with the X-Pro1, but the current X-series are in my eyes the closest to film. I don’t care that the res is ‘only 16MP’ or zooming in – I might see an artifact or two when I’m not using the right RAW-convertor. If I want to, well I jump back to my Nikon D800 gear. There is really not a lot of glass in both the Nikon or Canon catalogue that can beat the native Fujifilm lens quality, while the X-T1 has finally become a very credible product. In such a sense, that even Leica-people have frequently been surprised of the results I get out of my own kind of workflow. To say a last word about a gear, I find it a shame for Nikon (and Canon) that companies like Sigma (the Art-series) are really capable to deliver lenses with far better optical formulas than Nikon can. They really have to revisited their own roots.

    • It’s not gear dependent. The problem is when I write about anything else, nobody reads it. Otherwise they’d know that the reason there has to be some equipment dependency is because my aim is transparency in print.

      • mmm…so there in lies part of your dilema?! To ensure some of your writings are relevant it should be about gear? Respectively i sense some paralysis by anlysis here Ming. Drop some of angles and technical considerations to a point, free your mind up and just shoot.

        • Yes – and no. The stats tell me nobody cares about images. I’ve never had a single image or creative/ philosophical posts that’s gotten 400+ comments, but that’s normal for a review, and traffic is something like 5:1. I started this site thinking that there would be at least some people who care about the image making and the whys and were sensible enough to view equipment as merely an enabling tool. They exist, but far, far fewer than I’d thought. Perhaps that was my mistake – amongst many.

          • mmm…well main thing is you started something which has suceeded in its own right…mingthein.com so you have take positives from that. Now its about ensuring it you are getting what you want from it.

  51. Clearly “rethinking” needs to be part of this process, Ming. Still, in my experience, when logical analysis produces nothing but a big, complex matrix with no optimum solution, I can’t completely think my way out of it; ultimately I have to feel my way out. Which is inherently risky. And, possibly like you, I naturally tend to be more cerebral/analytical in my decision-making process rather than emotional (in my case, to the point that I over-think things), so such situations definitely push me into a zone of discomfort. But sometimes that’s just how it is. (BTW: how about film for personal stuff?)

    • I’m trying to feel my way out of it, but I don’t have a good handle – it isn’t as though the tradeoffs lead to an obviously preferable solution; they just lead to a tie. The only thing I know is that I’m probably going to be sticking with the D800E/D810 for the foreseeable future for core work because the solutions are there and I can operate them on muscle memory. But do they inspire me? Are they enjoyable? No, not really. I suppose it’s the difference between a Toyota and a Porsche. What I’d really like is something in the middle, like a BMW…

  52. There is also the issue of perceptions, in that clients will expect you to have certain gear, though sometimes as simple as a big camera. I’ve heard from some photographers who run workshops that they need to have something better or equal to the gear that participants bring to workshops. As much as we know it’s not about the gear, there are too many instances still of the gear being really important, and not always for the right reasons.

    I can understand the printing needs, and it seems that you will be stuck on the bleeding edge of technology to meet that. Hopefully you are generating enough print sales and workshop profits to compensate for the expensive equipment. My own fine art images were driven by far lesser constraints, but then again I found that my smaller images sold better and gained more notice.

    The one part of this where I can really relate is the weight of the gear. Since a bad shoulder injury, and while airline restrictions became tighter, I’ve been weighing everything. I’ve tried a few projects with a very small subset of my gear. Recently I was weighing the Speedlights, triggers, and connecting cables, then comparing that to newer portable pack systems. Every bit of high end lighting gear is just as compromised as high end cameras, yet working within the limitations can produce great results.

    Two ideas, though I suspect neither may be that great a solution. The first is having a regular assistant. On the simplest level, that means someone who can carry one extra bag onto an airplane, and for ground based projects someone to act as a gear caddy. Many professionals do exactly this, and a few have full time assistants. The second idea is to go back and review your older images, then see what gear you used. I suspect you may find and recall some cameras from the past that worked with you more than against you.

    Lastly, there are some interesting system cameras which will be available in a few months. I’m not entirely sure one of these will really work well, and lighten your load, but the potential may be enough for you to tough it out with your current set-up until then. Eventually I see everything we use as professionals getting lighter and more compact, and clients accepting that we use those things, though we’re not quite there. 😉

    • Strangely I’ve had less perception issues from clients than online ‘experts’. So long as you don’t turn up with a compact it’s generally okay, and even then – if I explain why I’m doing a documentary assignment with the GR and show them some files, they’re fine too. I try to work with clients who hire me because of my output and with that comes a certain level of trust in the creative/execution decisions. The rest…well, if they judge your work by your camera, I find it’s typically a harbinger of more serious long term issues.

      The printing thing isn’t so much about size as it is transparency; obviously the option to go larger is better, but we’ve been working around it for the time being because larger images also mean larger viewing distances, and that helps to even things out to some extent.

      For me the absolute weight isn’t so much the issue, it’s the airline restrictions. I’ve been looking for an assistant for ages, but have not found anybody who would be anything more useful than a mule here. I do not want the risk of somebody I’m not 100% confident in handling gear or interacting with clients. Plus there’s the added expense of retaining them and travelling with them. Economy plus or business class actually tends to be a better solution, and you’re not completely jet lagged and uncreative on the other end.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one frustrated with the compromises though…I suppose to some degree we really are all quite masochistic.

      • Hi Ming,

        “…The printing thing isn’t so much about size as it is transparency;…”

        Just a theoretical question, because I use some of your current gear, but also Sigma DPM’s in the past: Assuming that Adobe would offer the perfect RAW conversion and workflow for Sigma Merril RAW files, would you say that the Merrill images meet your desire of “transparency”?

        The Merrill images (not the newer DPQ’s) have something like transparency, I am just not able to duplicate with any other gear/lens combination so far.

        Best wishes

        • Yes, except not shooting envelope. So long as you can work within base ISO and/or tripod, you’re fine. Much outside that, no. In that way, it’s really quite similar to how I’d have to optimally use the 5DSR.

          • Cool. I thought already I am the only crazy person because of my love for the Merrill files 🙂

            But I sold them and try now since a few months a cold turkey because of the small shooting envelope and SPP workflow. But man, do I miss this smile in my face when seeing those images….

            The DP3M (75mm) would be a very good partner for your GR. They even use the same battery. DP3M has better colours than DP2M and DP1M. Small, light, 75mm, same battery. Only the LCD screen is a nightmare in bright sunlight… and slow AF…. and….

            Maybe I am still not cured….

            • I tried one of those for an extended period, with thoughts published here.

              • I missed that article, thank you. Yes, that’s it! It is like you could touch physically the man or the car in the street. Like shooting through an open window in the alps with fresh air instead of shooting through closed windows or dirty air…

                Why Nikon or Sony or Canon did not buy Foveon instead of Sigma…. It is a shame…

          • I forgot to mention: I find that the Fuji X-Trans files have at least a little bit of this transparency of the Merrill files on screen. They are not there yet, but at least it is going in that direction. Maybe 50-70% on a 100% Merrill Metering Scale 🙂

            But you dropped your X-T1 fast. So this seem no option for you anymore, right?

            Best wishes

  53. Minimalism is the key. It is same with women. Concentrate on the one you love, and everything will be fine.
    Oliver 2.0

  54. Perhaps the freedom to choose is the causal of such situation? Certainly you can still make great pictures with what you had, and the post of Nikon L25 shows that. In the end, modern equipment matters less as they matured. You have always been the champion of ideas over tools, which I take it to the heart. Why not streamline on what you have to make things efficient?

    • I think the issue here is not that X or Y camera can’t make a good image. The issue is that the camera must be able to service the output needs and work within the shooting envelope/conditions. For example Steve McCurry’s ‘Afghan Girl’ is a good image, but it may not hold up to Ming’s Ultraprinting requirements. That doesn’t make it a bad image, just one that doesn’t satisfy Ming’s needs/requirements.

      • In portraits we don’t need to see skin pores and blemishes to know that we are looking at skin. Afghan Girl was shot on 35mm Kodachrome. I’ve seen a large C-print of this image, and the quality is quite fantastic. However, this is a different sort of image than landscapes with a plethora of fine detail, or architectural images. C-prints are continuous tone, while inkjet mimics continuous tone through greater volume of dots. Portraits are one of the few realms in photography that can benefit from somewhat less ultrafine detail, as long as the colours and contrast work well within the images.

        • Agreed. On top of that, having smaller, less obtrusive equipment is much better for interacting with the subject. I’ve always felt that portraiture is less about the capture part and more about the interaction/ getting the most out of the subject part. Only a very small portion of my work is portraits though.

        • Gordon, I only chose Afghan Girl as it is a well known and recognised image. I didn’t mean it had to be Ultraprinted and yes we don’t have to see the skin pores. My bad, should have picked a better example.

          • Actually, I think it was a perfect example because it is an image that does not rely on technical qualities to carry it – though they would certainly help. A bad print of Afghan Girl will still look worse than a good print. But neither will diminish the intensity of the eyes. An image that has little fine detail or fine detail in focus will also not really benefit much from an ultraprint – i.e. most portraits…

          • Perhaps the prints of Edward Burtynsky would be a better example, especially his large format work from several years ago. The depth of the images drew me in, though at the time the influence it had on me was arguably not the best outcome. I bought a 4×5 set-up not long after seeing those images. It wasn’t just those Burtynsky images, but several others from other people using what most of us would consider to be technically inferior equipment. The lenses in use and the relationship of foreground and background is what makes large format appear a bit different than small formats, though the movements possible add to that. The downside is that it means very heavy gear bags, and nearly everything shot off a tripod. This also led to getting a ridiculously massive scanner, because at the time scanning services were disappearing. Considering what my corporate clients wanted in images, the 4×5 set-up was a bit of overkill. Outside of trade show prints, and a handful of fine art C-prints, I never felt that I got near the limits of what a 4×5 could render. As the prints got larger, most people stepped back a bit to take it all in.

            The other side of this is that I am classically trained as a painter, which changes my approach to photography. We know from painting that the viewer will fill in details with their “mind’s eye”. So if every detail is not visible in an image, or painting, that was there in real life, most people will not notice, because they understand the image. We learned this from some drawing exercises in the reverse, view a scene for several minutes, then turn around and sketch what you remembered.

            Last example. I was one of the subjects in an ad campaign a couple years ago. The photographer of that campaign was Morgan Silk, who specializes in hyper-realistic images of people. He used a complex lighting set-up and top of the line Hasselblad on the campaign. Many of the images were printed poster size and wall size. Everyone I have met who has seen those images, comments that they don’t look real. Commercial printing can render extremely fine detail, if the files contain that information. In this ad campaign, the hyper-realism went with the campaign idea. Few portraits work this way, which is why I think we still like images of the past of people, like Afghan Girl.

            • FWIW, my two-lens 4×5 setup is lighter than my two-lens D810 setup: Nikkor SW 90/8, Rodenstock 150/5.6 Sironar-S, Chamonix 045F1, and 3 Fidelity film holders vs. Nikon 24PC-E, 70-200/4, and D810. I carry the same tripod for both. I do get only 6 shots with the 4×5, and adding on film holders adds a surprising amount of weight, but I often also only get 1 or 2 good shots from the 70 or so I take on the D810 in an afternoon.

              • You could even go for an F-Line Misura and lighten that further actually. It’s also less frustrating to use than the D810 at times…

                • Always wanted a Misura, especially with the leather case. Maybe one of these days. 😉

                • It would certainly lighten my wallet! That’s a Leicaesque price. I wish someone would make a good mirrorless camera so we can just use the Cambo already.

                  • We’re back to the Sony or some variant of again.

                    And you have to use LF lenses because of the image circle requirements, and not all of those can resolve at the necessary 100+ lp/mm level.

                    • Sony: hence my wish for a *good* mirrorless camera. 😉 The LF lenses would have to be telecentric too. The symmetric designs of many of them may not be suitable for a digital sensor, though some people are swearing that the new Sony can walk and chew gum at the same time.

                    • They might have improved the compression algorithm to the point it’s a non-issue or the presence of IBIS outweighs the detriments of compression under most shooting conditions? Or they may be The Converted…

                  • Most large format cameras are really lifetime cameras. There is little to wear out or break on them. The biggest issue is that sensors are not large enough yet. Movements are easier to get where you want them when the view on the ground glass is larger, which also means less difficulty in positioning.

                    The best large format lenses would resolve 60lp/mm to 80lp/mm, though at f11 or f16. When you consider diffraction limits, that means sensors with no smaller than 6µm (micron) pixels. Some of the newer wide angle lenses from Schneider and Rodenstock, like those used by ALPA, can resolve more, and are optimized for f5,6 to f8 apertures. Given the small size of the medium format digital market, I’m not sure we will get larger than 645 sized sensors anytime soon, or good performance on multiple minutes exposures.

              • Commercial set-up meant planning for 20 to 40 images. It helped to have Fuji Quickload or Kodak Readyload, though not that much lighter than double darks. I now have several Mido holders, if I have the need to do a project with the 4×5. Film holders definitely add quite a bit of weight. Add to that Linhof rollfilm back, and Fuji-roid instant film back. The other issue is that I had to carry a spare camera with the 4×5, just in case, and that was usually medium format.

                • Did anybody ever do 4×5 roll film/back? That’d be one solution…

                  • Some of the aerial photography set-ups had those systems, and both Kodak and AGFA had special productions for those films. Those backs are really massive and heavy. Works okay mounted in a plane, but I wouldn’t want to carry one around. The Linhof 56×72 or maybe a 6×12 medium format back would be easier to use. There is a Seitz 617 scanning back (1 second images), but way out of my price range. Other scanning backs needed to be used tethered, so not a travel solution. Mostly I keep the 4×5 for night industrial, or architectural imaging.

                    • Ah, too bad. I saw the Linhof 6×12 options, but for that I’d rather have the 6×17 or 6×12 Technoramas and not the full blown 4×5.

                    • Fuji Quickload and Kodak Readyload were the 4×5 film solutions to keep the film flat, since those systems have pressure plates. The holder stays in the camera, and changing film packets does not involving moving the camera. In the 6×12 rollfilm backs, some think the Sinar zoom back is a bit better than the Linhof, though the Horseman is also very good. However, if you knew what you wanted to shoot most of the time, tough to beat a dedicated 6×12 (cropped 4×5) or 6×17 (cropped 5×7). Shame about the pricing on those.

                    • Yes – for some inexplicable reason, I’ve never seen cheap 6×17 equipment…probably because as you say, they’re only bought by those who know what they’re doing.

  55. Gerner Christensen says:

    I think the reason why I ended up shooting several cameras is partly due to my curiosity how this and that camera would work for me, and partly the search for the Holy Grail = One size fits all. A compact and light weighted camera that produce big enough and flawless enough RAWs with plenty of latitude for PP. There should be excellent lenses for it in plenty enough focal lengths, and it should help me achieving pixels sharpness by handheld shooting in almost all sort of light and with manageable noise. Last but not at least, I should like to shoot the camera.
    When I take a look around the options until today, I think it explains why I ended up with 3 systems and the frustration is, none of them does it all.

    I have decided to give the new A7R2 a chance since this camera seems to check most of my boxes on paper at least, except for a few flaws that hopefully will be fixed by Sony soon. Should it happen to sing along my melody, I do not want to maintain any further a big DSLR system or a small u43 system for that sake.

    • I actually think the biggest problem is this: “I should like to shoot the camera.” That encompasses so many things yet nothing tangible, which can affect everything from simple comfort of holding to weight to whether you feel creative or not with the thing in your hand. The Hassy H series are technically very competent but they do not inspire me or make me want to shoot with them. The M4/3 cameras feel great until you try to print the files, and are left with a sense of ‘if only I’d used something better’. You do not want this on a commissioned job – even if you can work around it – and you certainly don’t want it if you’re working on a set for a fine art exhibition. In fact, I’d argue that it’s impossible to get creative if you’re stuck thinking about the lump in your hands or get disappointed with the output at the end of it.

      The problem is, how many people really understand this feeling? How many of them work at camera companies? And how many of them have any say in the product at all?

      • I have the same feeling with the m4/3 cameras (and, to a lesser extent, Fuji). Nice in hand, great haptics, fun to shoot. Then I go home and look at the pictures and try to print them and feel like something’s “off” compared to my other cameras. This eventually led me to give the Sony A7r a try but after shooting it for almost a year I feel like, at the largest size that I print (A3+), I’m not really gaining anything over my cameras but at the same time have to deal with the Sony’s quirks as well as additional shot discipline. And now that my son is 3+ I’m starting to fall back on the old “mirror-flapping dinosaur”, the Canon 5D3, to handle all his running and jumping around.
        Funny how gear preferences change over the years. 🙂

        • Chances are you’re not gaining anything with the A7R because of the shutter vibration problem. The D800E (same sensor) is a completely different beast to the M4/3 cameras.

      • Alex Robinson says:

        I think that’s a common consensus with M4/3 from experienced photographers. I love the overall ‘look’ of my Olympus files—pleasing colours, acceptable dynamic range, great IS etc. but yup, every time I look at them on my screen I know straight away they’ll never be much more than nice pictures for the holiday flickr gallery. I do wonder if just shoving an RX100 IV in my pocket might serve me as well or better for this but then again, can’t justify that level of investment in a compact either. After shooting M4/3 pretty much solidly for nearly 6 months I took my DP1M and DP2Q out and shot some landscapes and the difference is night and day in terms of printability versus M4/3. Sadly, Sigma’s software still sucks after over a year of updates to version 6 so it’s not a practical everyday solution.

        I feel like with mirrorless the camera buyer is being used as a beta tester of sorts, very few products seems complete at launch and many require substantial bug fixes. None of these systems feel like something I would want to count on during a job. Maybe the best bet would be for Canon or Nikon to simply launch a mirrorless version of their current full frame DSLRs? Pop out the mirror assembly and pentaprism, slap in an EVF and call it a day. It’s surely not rocket science, Pentax managed it 3 1/2 years ago (although not very nicely executed). I’d also like to see more articulating screens in the style of the Sony A77/99.

        • Having tried the RX100III route very recently, I can answer that as a resounding no. M4/3 has a better envelope thanks to the IBIS system. Sigmas are nice but again a fair weather small envelope camera – which is not what I need.

          Agreed: a mirrorless EVF version of the D810 would be just fine, even if it were no smaller. At least I wouldn’t have to use that Zacuto thing.

    • Jose Viegas says:

      Hi Gerner, I’m also waiting for my A7RII to arrive, let’s see what we can do with it! 😀

  56. It looks as if staying with the Nikon gear is the optimal way and let the canon go…

  57. Maybe your like me? I’ll never be happy with the gear I own lol, I jumped from Canon, to Nikon, to Leica (M8.2), to Nikon again (D3S), back to Leica (M240), now back to Nikon (D4S), its expensive to always change systems, but your right every situation has a different need, got the Leica M240 for my traveling to Japan, but now for portraits and events, back to the Nikon D4S, dont think there will ever be a perfect camera, SONY is trying to produce that though 😛

    • They won’t be there either so long as we need a backpack of batteries, a second body, and a bottomless bank account to buy a second body and stave off depreciation…

  58. Your personal work is all over the place. You need to figure out what you want your personal work to be, and then the personal gear list will sort itself out.

    Or, to flip that around: you’re a bright fellow. If your personal work wasn’t all over the place, you’d have already sorted the gear out.

    On the business side? Eh. You always need a broad arsenal unless you’re lucky enough to be able to live off a narrow niche. And even if you are that’s high risk. Niches have a way of shifting.

    • No, my personal work is diverse because if you only ever do one thing, you’ll never have an open enough mind to be creative and bring something different/ unique to a particular field. And I’m not afraid to do that experimentation and show those results. The experimentation matters. I challenge you to find somebody else who is a) doing the same and b) has the balls to show it.

      On top of that, as you point out, you have to shoot everything to survive commercially these days. And that means you also have to practice or get left behind.

      • Do you view your personal work as the place you practice and experiment in order to bring value to your clients?

        • Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. You can’t offer something to a client as a solution unless you are confident that you can make it work consistently even under circumstances that might not be ideal. Photographers claiming to be able to do things and then failing are unfortunately one of the most frequently encountered reasons here for people being unwilling to hire pros or pay fair rates: their previous experience was bad or standards were not met. That is the bare minimum of professionalism. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t experiment or practice before agreeing to a job?

          • I don’t shoot professionally. I write software for a living and haven’t done any personal software for… I don’t know. A decade or two?

            Occasionally I knock together something tiny to solve a personal problem but I don’t practice outside of work in order to better my work skills.

            Photographically, I’m pretty confident that I can work out how to shoot pretty much anything. I’d be too slow, though. Always. Which is one of several reasons I don’t shoot for money.

            • Well, writing code and shooting are two very different skill sets. Photography isn’t problem solving or logic most of the time, it’s intuition. And if you don’t practice implementing that, you’ll probably miss the shot where it counts.

              • I’m certainly not suggesting that you oughtn’t to practice.

                I’m just interested to find that your personal work is also work. It rather changes the character of things.

                • I fail to see the point of splitting hairs. I photograph what I’m commissioned to photograph for a living. I photograph what I want to photograph how I want to photograph it for myself, and if a client likes that and requests I do the same, then it’s work. The division isn’t so clear cut as with programming. Photography is an art, not a science – even if we have to sometimes apply the scientific method to it to master or control certain aspects of the process.

                  • Let me try again. Knowing that the personal work you show is, at least sometimes, at least in part, practice and experimentation for your day job changes how I look at it, how I judge it.

                    That’s interesting to me.

                  • I get where Andrew is coming from here. I do not shoot professionally either, so can not comment on the work side. That said, yes absolutely need to be “prepared” to produce great results, particularly given how a client may use that image. However like all of us (and I think this is where Andrew is coming from) we need a release of sorts from “work”. Something where you stop caring about certain aspects and it is your time and your “own brain time”. If they cross over great but if you introduce it to your client then it stops becoming “yours”.

                    In an ideal world where you shoot for yourself all the time and people happen to like it and want it to the point you can make a living from that….you are done! But life’s not perfect for most (any) of us.

                    People like Michael Levin and Jonathan Critichley shoot mostly for themselves though like you run workshops in long exposure, black and white photography. Their content though is what sells so the subject matter has become important to achieve the above. Still though only very few will make enough money out of “art” and pretty sure both probably still rely on the workshop income. Then you go to Magnum photographers and take Trent Parke for example. He was (perhaps still is) a photo journalist, though he’s made is name for himself in shooting for himself. It’s his “time” and freedom which created his place in photographic history.

                    I’m probably rambling a bit now but you have to leave work alone sometimes. You are no longer at BCG slaving for hours…..same applies here.

                    • Ironically I work far longer hours now than the already long hours in consulting. I at least had a day off now and then! Not anymore. Not since late 2011, actually. There’s nobody ‘else’ to do it if you don’t.

                      Workshops are and have always been secondary. I do them if I have time, but commissioned client work comes first – it’s one of the reasons I’m probably one of the few people who’s cut back on workshops this year (4 vs 6 last year, 12 the year before).

  59. winedemonium says:

    I wonder if part of the frustration in there not being the Goldilocks system. Even if two systems did the whole lot I’d be happy.

    A small high acuity camera with true lossless non pre-baked DNGs, in body stabilisation, and on which I can manual focus lenses, but also fast autofocus lenses when I want, tilty screen with touch focus for when that is useful, high grade native lenses, and a superb EVF. All of this exists in different systems but this camera does not yet exist. It’s the body I want though. If the Sony people give a firmware update allowing uncorrected lossless DNGs or if Leica launch an interchangeable Q/M I will be closer to having what I want.

    Good luck with the rationalisation!

    • We’re not even there with two systems – and carrying two system isn’t even practical these days, especially when travelling.

      You would be describing an E-M5II or something, except…the file size is very compromised when it comes to serious printing. However, if you don’t print – then it already exists. 🙂

      • I want to print, or at least retain that option. So I don’t think the E-M5II is it – though the form and function is close…
        Linden

        • It all depends how big you want to print and how close of an inspection it needs to hold up to. ISO400 and below are printable up to 16″ on the long side. For casual stuff like family shots I’ve printed ISO6400 at 12″x12″ in B&W and it works out fine.

        • Well, so long as you’re not Ultraprinting or photographing subjects with a lot of high frequency detail like grass, you can still get decent 13×19″s out of it.

  60. Mike Stewart says:

    I think the answer is clear… start a GoFundMe or Kickstarter to mass produce the MT camera. Nikon D810 level DR, Canon colors, Canon layout with plenty of custom setting options, and Zeiss Otus-tier AF primes + a 24-120 zoom for good measure 😉

    In all seriousness, you make excellent points about the frustration that accompanies gear, despite all of the technical advances. I chose Canon over Nikon many years ago due to color rendition more than anything. Both companies have a solid reputation. I have seriously considered switching to Nikon for the clear DR advantage, esp the “highlights that never seem to clip.”

    Is it possible to profile D810 files in ACR / PS to mirror Canon colors?

    • I’ve tried to reprofile the D810 several times, but whilst I can match the reproduction at one point in the luminance curve or another, I can’t make it work throughout the entire tonal range for all colors. I think this is because at best we can profile for RGB curves but not other channels intermediately, or we can profile for other channels at a fixed luminance level but not at all luminance levels.

      A new camera system? We’re looking at tens of millions and far beyond the scope of Kickstarter…

  61. Ming, what you”re looking for, left or right, does not exists!! But, there are some improvements, which you must find out yourselve!

    • No, it doesn’t. But there’s probably some compromise which is less of a compromise than others. Unfortunately the only way to find it is to experiment and use the things in the field with one’s own workflow and creative ideas.

  62. Here in New York most of the successful commercial shooters I know have much less gear ~ frankly I don’t understand how you do all this — costing so much time and money — a smaller market?

    While none of the brands offer a perfect solution, settling on Canon or Nikon with two bodies and 3-4 workhorse lenses… And maybe a more compact body or the Q for street… would probably satisfy all of your clients. And yourself if you would only ignore the Internet and apply last year’s expectations to your images. Why not try to skip a camera model generation and see if you can still produce quality work? I mean that’s what the vast majority of photographers have done for the past 189+- years. Be a photographer first and work within the limitations of what you have on hand.

    We can look forward to your review of the D830 in a few years.

    • Because I’m also maintaining this site and this audience and like it or not, 99% of readers are only interested in gear. Hence the rethink: why?

      A lot of successful commercial shooters also maintain less gear because they have pro support networks that can kick in without too much trouble if something breaks, or replacements are easily available. It’s feasible to only one one Hassy and a few lenses if there are rental houses for special purposes or a strong Hassy distributor; here – if you need something, or something breaks, the spare had better be in your bag. I also work at relatively camera-dry locations quite frequently, so the spares have to come with me.

      I can still produce quality work regardless of the hardware. Composition and light are independent of equipment. But an increasing amount of my output is also pushing print limits, so I’ll take all I can get because on that front – we’re not there yet, and the differences are not only visible but can make the difference between an idea working – or not.

  63. I’m curious: I get the need for highest resolution when making Ultraprints, but with reportage how large is large when it comes to printability? Know many who prefer cropped Nikons for lightness and depth of field; they haven’t hit their production print thresholds either. Curious the context here…Are clients requiring your Ultraprint demands?

    • It depends on what you use the output for. In my last exhibition, we were going up to 90×60″ for documentary images. That’s far beyond Ultraprint territory but you’d certainly see the difference between 24 and 36 assuming sufficient shot discipline (which I have).

  64. I can’t help but think back to your earlier D750 post. If I recall, you really enjoyed shooting with it, it felt great in your hands, and it excelled in low light. Though it doesn’t solve all of your problems, it seems that carrying just two bodies (D750 and D810) with lenses that can be shared with both bodies would cover a lot of ground.

    • You’re right, but the D750 and D810 were so close in weight with the D810 being significantly better in good light and the D750 no easier to focus that I didn’t really see the point in keeping both – I would just grab the D810. It made great video footage but wasn’t a practical solution without a rig/gimbal because it didn’t have a stabiliser (unless using slower VR lenses). Goldilocks for 99% of the population, yes – for me, no.

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  1. […] of hardware, too. Where do we draw the line? I am frequently accused of many things, including being a gearhead because of my frequent hardware changes. This is not an attempt to defend or explain my choices; that does not have to be justified to […]

  2. […] a recent post, you wrote an article about your gear, and tried to reiterate how you’re just trying to carry less stuff in the […]

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