Discussion points: Critical features

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For most of the history of photography, we only had shot-to-shot* control over four things with our cameras: focal plane, exposure via shutter and aperture, and the moment of capture via the shutter release. There were of course myriad ways of implementing this – but eventually, either camera makers did what was easiest from an engineering standpoint, or buyers voted with their wallets – and the modern control paradigm was born. We have ergonomic grips, control dials for shutter and aperture (either on the top deck within fingertip reach, or on the lens barrel) and some means of controlling focus. Fundamentally, all images can be made with control over these parameters. Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that we cannot live without tilting LCDs, live view, sensor shift and optical stabilisers, auto white balance, panorama stitching, eye tracking AF…the list goes on. I firmly believe that it’s possible to get far too distracted trying to master the technology and remembering which menu item and button was set to do what – and as a result, make an image that’s compositionally and creatively compromised instead of technologically enabled.

*One could also switch emulsion sensitivity, color/monochrome and focal length – I consider these secondary controls because not every camera permitted this between subsequent images.

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Photoessay: hardware

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This post is a shameless gear p*** interlude, made with mostly recent but also some older images from the archives. I like my hardware as much as the next photographer, and have no problem admitting that some designs are more beautiful than others. Product photography is as much my thing as any other discipline – why not make them a legitimate subject in their own right, too? MT

Shot with various cameras and processed with Photoshop and LR Workflow III.

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Why the right hardware is liberating

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It might actually be better to start off with the corollary: why the wrong gear is frustrating, or at best, obstructive. First principle: what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for somebody else, and vice versa. This may seem obvious, but the number of people who are chasing and lusting after hardware that simply doesn’t make sense for them is quite mind boggling – the internet seems to be full of them. Of course, it’s highly likely that those who have found camera nirvana are simply out there making pictures and have stopped thinking about the whole gear train – it seems much more productive to me to spend time making pictures instead of scouring fora for obscure solutions and rumour sites hoping for magic bullets. It boils down to this: most people make different images. Considering this objectively, it means that for different objectives, different tools are required. Yet what I can’t understand is the obsession with finding a one-size-fits-all; the manufacturers want to do this because it makes economic sense, but the whole point of having choice is so we as consumers do not have to.

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A lighting conundrum

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The portrait and wedding photographers are all over their lighting gear – everything off camera is fair game to creating a look, and the more unique the look, the crazier the light, why not? Fair enough. Documentary photographers are mostly allergic to flashes because they can ruin the atmosphere and create the impression of something which perhaps isn’t necessarily accurate, or truthful. Product photographers just use what they need and quietly get on with the job. Amateurs will dabble and land up falling on one side of the fence or the other, usually staying away from the hassle of the weight and setup that comes with a ‘proper’ solution. Here’s my problem: I sit somewhere between the latter two points on the continuum, and finding a longer term, larger, lighting solution has been seriously overdue for me. I still don’t have a solution, but on the off chance somebody might find the logic and musings useful, here goes.

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A question of value, accessibility and medium format…

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Let’s say you’re in the market for a new camera – which face it, most of us find ourselves in frequently, often for reasons of our own doing. It has to be something reasonably exciting, and having played this game and gone through this cycle many times, for argument’s sake, it’s probably going to be at the higher end of the spectrum. We have a lot of choices. What I’ve shown above represents the full spectrum of choices, from the best of conventional high performance DSLR, to the top end of mirrorless, to entry level medium format, to something a bit more unconventional. Figure on spending say ~$12k by the time you’re done – body, a lens or two, and the usual plethora of system-specific accessories.

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Xmas 2015 hardware picks

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Let it never be said I don’t put my money where my mouth is. The full recommended gear list is here.

Another year is coming to a rapid close (where did it go?) and we find ourselves at the end of one of the best years in some time for both the photographer and the equipment collector. We’ve seen some genuinely innovative technology, some yawns, some WTFs, and some boundary pushing to find that last 0.01%. What follows is both my year in review and a wishlist in case you don’t know how to spend your year end bonuses…

Note: some of you may have seen a different post go up this morning. I apologise – that’s meant to be for another day, and once again the WordPress scheduler has messed up after my computer changed timezones…

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Close, but no cigar: how to design mirrorless right

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Too large/expensive; too slow and unresponsive, power hungry; no finder or IS

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Limited sensor resolution; overambitious image quality and fragile feel; too many steps to get shooting

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Fixed lens; great UI with terrible ergonomics; classical controls don’t work for digital, sensor limits

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Ergonomic and workflow challenges; IQ limitations from sensor size; needed two years to fix FW

And this is barely half of the mirrorless cameras I’ve used and reviewed on this site in the last couple of years. I still have not found a complete replacement for the DSLR, and I suspect there are many other photographers in the same situation. It isn’t for want of trying or stubbornness; it’s because the product simply does not exist. We’re not asking for the unicorn here, either: there are ergonomic/UI/UX/engineering solutions that have already been implemented and received well in other cameras – just not in the same one. And to clarify (since judging by email and comments, many are missing the point): this post is not to complain mirrorless isn’t a DSLR. It’s recognising that mirrorless is the future for so many reasons – but we are still suffering from stupid design that has already been solved. All of these problems beg the question: just how difficult is it to get it right?

Important: Read this first.

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