Faster isn’t always better

*Or, an example in construction series.

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Like most photographers…I am not immune to the siren’s song of very fast lenses. And even less immune to the lure of lenses that are fast and designed to deliver performance at maximum aperture – think of the Zeiss Otus series, for instance. We’re even willing to compromise with older designs that perhaps don’t perform or resolve quite to the level we’ve come to expect from modern lenses on modern high resolution sensors, but write it off as being ‘characterful’ or ‘nostalgic’. Or even trying to rationalise that we don’t need such high resolution since most of the frame is out of focus anyway, plus we want a smooth transition between the bits that are and the bits that aren’t. And then we try to adapt lenses to systems they were never designed for (here, and here) – with varying degrees of success. However: the reality is we probably don’t need such tools the vast majority of the time, and even from a creative standpoint – a wider aperture doesn’t necessarily make an image better.

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‘Investing’ in equipment

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By strict definition, an investment is something that is expected to appreciate in value over time, or deliver some sort of tangible return that together with the underlying asset value is grater than the initial amount spent. One of my pet bugbears when it comes to photographic discussions are the two inevitable questions: “is X worth it?” and “should I invest in X?” The problem is, if you replace X with any other depreciating mid-term consumable such as, I don’t know, frozen peas, you’ll instantly realise the whole question makes no sense whatsoever. But replace X with a camera or lens model, and it seems common sense goes out of the window. You wouldn’t put your savings into something that has no hope of making any financial return. Why should this be any different? My aim is by the end of this article, you’ll suffer from far less frequent confusion and buyers’ remorse (if any at all).

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Market challenges and predictions, late-2018 edition

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Construction images, because, well, we’re building something here…

As with every industry, the cycle time for major changes is getting shorter and shorter for photography. I would argue that we’re now late into the second phase of digital (first phase: early digital at the cutting edge for pros, scientific applications etc.; second phase: consumer) and on the verge of the third phase. What does this mean in real terms? Why is the overall enthusiast photographic market softer? What remains to get excited about as a hobbyist? At the risk of inciting every troll between here and DPR, I break out the crystal ball…

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Brand (dis)loyalty, mirrorless and why it’s good for everybody

Switching camps has never been easier: with the increasing number of companies going mirrorless, photographers can now have their cake and eat it – at least in theory. With the whole premise of mirrorless being smaller, mechanically simpler and cheaper, there are several key implications for every company: firstly, new mounts and optics are needed to at least attempt to keep to the brief. Secondly, the form factors are going to land up much the same: EVF in the centre position (or off to the left); thin body with large mount since the final element has to be very close to the sensor and therefore large to avoid extreme ray angles and all of the things this implies; some sort of decent handgrip both to house the substantial battery to power an always-on sensor and display; not quite enough body real estate to place the buttons for all of the features demanded by today’s buyers; and lastly – a bonus feature. Basically: make it as attractive as possible to the buyer to adopt, but remembering that as a company, you are also going to have to convince your existing brand loyalists to reinvest heavily, too. I’m opening with fighting words, but there is a point to all of this especially with the last two big holdouts joining the game.

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Design, photography and visual priorities

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The previous post out of the archives was intended to cue up your thinking for today’s discussion: taking things one step further and exploring the relationship between design, photography and composition.

Some of you probably know that beyond photography, I’m involved in design work on two fronts – as lead designer at Horologer MING, my watch brand, and as a consultant at Hasselblad. There is a popular misconception that design is mainly about a few things: style, function/ usability/ UI/ ergonomics, and differentiation. In reality, design is really about making a set of coherent choices in an environment where there are choices to be made I’d argue that beyond and above this, there’s really only one overarching principle that should be the basis of all good design: I think of it as one of composition.

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Repost: Achieving visual consistency

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Cue one from the archives, with updated images: tomorrow’s post will make more sense when viewed in context after this…

One of the questions I’m asked also (unsurprisingly) happens to be one of the biggest challenges for a lot of people: how to achieve visual consistency across multiple systems/ cameras/ media, and across multiple subjects. Though the latter is really getting into the question of what constitutes style and how can one consistently apply it, there are still things you can do to ensure that you are in control of the final presentation: not your camera. I certainly cannot tell a client ‘sorry, it looks different because I used two different cameras.’

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The continued adventures of the traveling audiophile: going wireless

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As with everything, it’s very easy to go off the deep end with audio – even personal, in-ear audio – and land up in a position where you have an extremely expensive piece of hardware that has zero secondary value (anything custom, for instance) and feel compelled that you have to make that decision before trying all options. And even if you’re lucky enough to be able to try all feasible options, 10-15 minutes of listening and A-B comparisons in an often less that representative (let alone ideal) location simply aren’t enough to make an informed decision. It also doesn’t help that you (I, at least) hit fatigue after perhaps half a dozen samples and can’t really hear the difference anymore – even if I might have fairly acute hearing on a normal day. But, I digress before I’ve even started. Last year’s move to the iPhone 7 and its forced choices of a) no charging with music if you use the Lighting to 3.5 adaptor, b) charging if you use the bulky as hell USB multiport thing and a small amp such as an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red, or c) wireless – has left me with a messy solution when travelling, which with involvement in three businesses in four countries and international clients, I seem to be doing even more of these days.

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Crystal ball gazing – have we reached a plateau?

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The split, redux: all will be explained in the article…

In the late 90s/early 2000s, film photography arguably reached its zenith in many ways: you could get all sorts of hardware in all sorts of form factors; emulsion technology peaked in both proliferation and quality, and it was easy to get anything developed and printed, and developed well. There were high end pro compacts, super fast DSLRs, consumer megazooms, large format folders, sub-frame cameras…films varying in speed, look, positive/negative, and even crossover-types like C41 process black and white. I’d even argue that since then, film emulsions have not really improved (undoubtedly due to the vanishingly poor business proposition created by the emergence of digital) – and we’ve lost most of the major manufacturers and choices. (To say nothing of the labs.) The core technology reached a balanced plateau: lenses were matching emulsions in resolving power; AF systems were matching the rest of the system in precision required to consistently deliver the aforementioned resolution. On film, there’s not much difference between one of the better 50mms of the time (say a C/Y 1.7/50 MM, A Leica 50/2 Summicron, or a ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar) and arguably the best of today – the Zeiss 1.4/55 Otus APO-Distagon. I tried this experiment on an F6 some time back, with Fuji Acros: I couldn’t really see much of a difference in resolving power. Drawing style, yes, but not resolving power. Your ability to focus made far more of a difference. And running the same film through my 1979 F2 Titan or the 2005 F6 made no difference at all, of course. Ultimately, during the film era: image quality was proportional to format size. How is this relevant to now?

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Heresy and sacrilege: MT and SOOC experiments

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Due to an idle browser, more idle hands and pre-Raya* specials, the un-camera is no more. I traded in the GX85 for an Olympus PEN-F (previously reviewed here), available now at just half of its original launch price (at least in Malaysia) and with bonus goodies of grip with built in Arca rail and extra battery. For a modest supplement, it seemed like a good deal. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself: firstly, why? Well, a couple of things: if I’m going to shoot something serious, then I’ll break out one of the ‘Blads. If I’m not, then managing a three year old and the associated peripherals means that you don’t really have a lot of payload left over for hardware, let alone time to use it. But there are still opportunities to be had, and often single interesting grabs that require something quick**. On top of that, I admit the un-camera had a couple of serious deficiencies: firstly, the body was plastic and felt like it – grip it with moderate force and you’d be rewarded with a squeak or three. The back control dial was a bit recessed to access easily, and turned stiffly. Default color needed serious help (more on this later) – and lastly, I just didn’t like the fact that despite having a very comprehensive feature set (4K, dual IS etc) it felt like an appliance and had nigh on zero emotional value to shoot.

*end of Ramadan
**I’ll be the first to admit this does not describe the current generation of Hasselblads; but we
are working on it.

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Format equivalence, engineering and practical envelope

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So which one has the biggest practical shooting envelope? They’re all the same; read on to find out why***.

Much has been written about depth of field, angle of view etc. equivalency for the various common sizes – I won’t repeat that. What I’m more interested is what consequences it has in practical terms on shooting envelope limitations, and how the apparent multitude of choices aren’t really choices at all – with a very few exceptions. To complicate things further, just because something can be done from an engineering standpoint doesn’t mean that it’s desirable from a marketing standpoint, and that’s before we even attempt to factor in how other things like haptics, controls, build quality etc. affect the overall shooting experience. Two examples: a consumer APS-C-sized camera with weather sealing and no feature or control compromises (think D5600 or 200D size); or a 1″ camera with really top class interchangeable optics (well, Nikon tried, but the market didn’t accept it). Or a rugged ‘professional’ compact, sensor size irrelevant. See what I mean?

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