It sounds absurd doesn’t it that a little pocket camera costing a few hundred pound could outperform a DSLR costing almost 10 times as much? But that’s exactly what happened to me recently.
I happened to be driving through Somerset with the best part of the day free so I decided to take a detour and visit Wells Cathedral to take some photographs. I had seen some very impressive images of the inside and knew that the Cathedral encourage photography (providing you pay a few pounds for a permit). The only limitation I had to contend with was the low light levels and how to shoot without a tripod.
I decided I could use my 5D with a high ISO setting because of its low noise levels but I would take the LX5 along in my pocket as a sort of backup. With shooting underway, I found I was taking most of my images at either ISO800 or ISO1600 with my lens set to its widest aperture and the image stabiliser turned on. At these settings I was still only achieving a shutter speed of between 1/15” and 1/30”.
As I progressed with my shooting I started checking the LCD at 100% to see if the images were sharp. Unfortunately many of them weren’t, exhibiting quite a bit of noise from the high ISO and some camera shake. I decided to experiment a little with the LX5 and quickly found my favourite low light setting of ISO200 to ISO400 and f/2.8 was giving a shutter speed of between 1/5” and 1/15”. The resulting images did however appear sharp on the camera LCD.
Back at home when reviewing the results I found only about 1 in 5 of the 5D images were acceptably sharp whilst only 1 in 5 (or less) of the LX5 images exhibited camera shake and noise levels on all were acceptable. The problems I seemed to be encountering with the 5D were:
- Camera shake was evident even though the image stabilizer was on. It seemed much easier to hold the LX5 steady whilst taking the photograph.
- Because I could shoot with the LX5 lens almost wide open (f/2.8) I was able to maintain a lower ISO setting which resulted in quite good noise control.
- The lens on the LX5 is f/1.8 and performs very well at this level. Stop it down just slightly to f/2.2 and the performance is excellent. With the Canon lenses (even though they were L series) I need to stop down at least 1 stop to gain good performance.
- The Canon 5D is a full frame sensor so when used with wide apertures I was achieving very limited depth of field, certainly not enough for the compositions I wanted to shoot. Contrast this with the LX5 which has a small sensor so even at f/2.8 I got great depth of field.
So what of the pixel count difference?
Well the LX5 is 10Mpixel and the 5D 21Mpixel. This means I can realistically print the LX5 ISO400 images at A3+ after a bit of resizing. The 5D produces an image of this size without resizing but what use is that if the images are blurred through camera shake, lack sharpness because of noise or simply don’t have enough depth of field?
Finally I should point out that the LX5 was a joy to use in this environment where as the 5D was heavy, tricky and restricted my photography.
So now you know how it’s possible for the tiny LX5 to outperform the much higher spec and more expensive 5D. The message is know your equipment, where its strengths lie and what its weaknesses are. Shoot in the right way and you can achieve some spectacular results with equipment others don’t take seriously.
In my previous posting, and the first Lightweight Photographer blog I set out what I mean by Lightweight Photography and why this is of so important to me. In this posting I’m going to look at the history of my interest and what got me to this point in my Lightweight photography.
Now if you are reading this posting on my regular Lenscraft blog (www.lenscraft.co.uk/blog) you might wonder what’s going on so I will take a moment to explain. After a lot of soul searching about my photography I realised I am enjoying my photography more when I am using lightweight equipment; it helps me feel more free and creative. I decided therefore to create a second blog on WordPress (https://thelightweightphotographer.wordpress.com/) to explore this, but I will also post the same blogs on Lenscraft under a new category called “The Lightweight Photographer”. Back then to the blog.
There is a new trend in Photography that I’m sure you will have noticed and that’s the almost meteoric rise of the CSC (Compact System Camera). Not surprisingly the camera manufacturers have started to jump on the popularity of these small cameras as it’s a new market for them to extract even more money from us photographers. Initially I was sceptical about these cameras but now I am a huge advocate.
If I look back to where all this started for me, about 5 years ago I won a competition giving me money to spend with Olympus and a trip to Paris to use it. At the time Olympus offered either pocket cameras of SLR’s and I wanted neither. I already had an SLR and lenses (I was hooked into Canon) and wanted better quality than was offered by a pocket camera, I decided to use the prize on their new bridge camera. This was supposed to be a pocket camera that gave SLR quality by virtue of having a good lens, larger sensor than a compact and allowed image capture in RAW. I won’t go into if this was in fact the case because it’s irrelevant, what is important is that I became hooked on shooting with Lightweight equipment that could produce high quality results.
After my initial steps with the Olympus I traded it in for a Sony R1 as I wasn’t happy with the quality of the images. The R1 was a spectacularly good camera with a fixed 24-120mm lens. Image quality was and still is amazing but it was big; almost as big as my SLR. This caused me in time to trade the R1 for a NEX-5 which was Sony’s new baby at the time. This again was a great camera that was much easier to carry than the R1. It was however let down by down by the limited available lenses and the suspect quality of some of these.
Around the time I bought the NEX-5 I also purchased a Panasonic Lumix LX5, which is a top end compact camera with a superb lens and which shoots RAW. It may seem counter intuitive but the results I was able to achieve in many of my shooting conditions were better than I managed with the NEX-5. I also found the LX5 much easier to handle and was therefore more likely to use it. On one trip to New York I found myself gravitating away from the NEX-5 and using the LX5 almost exclusively. It was this trip that convinced me to sell the NEX-5 and make the switch to a Lumix GF1 in the hope the expanded lens choice and better quality would give me what I wanted – great image quality that Stock Libraries were happy to accept.
Looking at it on paper the NEX-5 should outperform the GF1 on almost every level. It has a higher pixel count, a larger sensor, better ISO performance etc. None of this however mattered to me as in practice I was achieving much better results with the GF1.
In the past couple of days I took the decision to upgrade the GF1 to a GX1 in order to take advantage of the 16Mpixel sensor and improved ISO performance. I suspect I will upgrade this when something better comes along but for the time being I am happy. What interests me about my latest upgrade and also the GF1 is the quality of results that can be achieved with small cameras has become outstanding. This is something I will look to explore in future posting.
For now, here is an example image taken on the GF1 which prints beautifully on Matte paper.
It might just be my advancing years but I have become a huge fan of Lightweight Photography. By Lightweight, I mean trying to minimise the size, weight and amount of equipment I carry when going out on photo shoots. Call it a minimalist approach to photography if you like, but I think it goes beyond being minimalist.
With a minimalist approach I would likely place constraints on myself around the type of images I capture, for example I might only carry one lens with a limited zoom. No, what I am talking about is being able to still make the same images as I would with my full SLR kit, without compromising my work. This is about minimising the weight and bulk of my equipment without constraining myself.
So this blog begins. It’s about my experience, findings and frustrations in trying to make this lightweight approach work for me.
If you are wondering why someone might follow such an approach when they already own a top quality SLR with a full set of pro spec lenses, there are a lot of advantages. I won’t list the advantages now, that’s for a future posting. What I will do however is share my key reason for choosing this approach which is convenience.
I like to do a lot of my photography in the outdoors, often up mountains or when I am out on long treks. Whilst I could and have in the past taken my SLR and lenses with me, I find the extra weight limits me in a number of ways:
- I don’t want to spend 4 hours walking to arrive on location so tired that I can’t be bothered to make any photographs.
- The weight does slow me down and can limit the time I have available for photograph.
- Exhaustion and photography are not a good mix and it shows in my work.
- I am limited on how much additional non photography equipment I can carry e.g. Winter Gear, which places other restrictions on where I can go with the camera.
If I could find a way to deal with this problem and remove these limits I should find that my photography will improve as will my enjoyment of the experience.
Visit again to read how I fair and also share your own thoughts and experience with me.