I don’t ordinarily like to pass comment over what’s happening in the photography industry but I actually think things are getting a little “interesting” at the moment. In recent months the idea of Lightweight Photography has really grabbed people’s imagination and camera manufacturers have responded with a glut of new offers. We have seen multiple camera releases from the likes of Sony and Fuji and even Canon has joined in on the game with the new M series compact. Innovation is rife with most manufacturers trying to squeeze more megapixels into the sensors and even larger sensors into the cameras. Just the other day Sony launched the first full frame compact camera which is indeed a great achievement.
Is there a downside? YES – Have you seen the price of these things? I suspect companies are trying to recover their entire R&D bill with the first model they release and that smacks of short term profiteering to me. The pace of change has accelerated and the lifespan of cameras is getting shorter. With it the risk for the camera manufacturers has increased and I don’t think they like that so they pass the risk and cost on to us the consumer. I think this will result in lots of new gimmicks being released regularly as well as an increase in prices as manufacturers ask us to buy more often and pay more for our cameras whilst trying to recover R&D costs more quickly.
My suspicion (and I think we are seeing some of this) is that we will be told (brainwashed if you like) that all the existing cameras/sensors are no good and we need to upgrade to the latest, newest fastest, highest quality camera. I don’t know about you but I have limited funds to spend on replacing my equipment and I like to get good value from it. I do hope some of the manufacturers read this and realise we the consumer are passionate about photography. They can just keep thinking about making money for shareholders; they need to give something back to the enthusiast also.
To prove the point, I have recently been answering some questions for one of our readers who was considering buying a new GX1. I found myself playing down the quality of the images from the GX1 as it didn’t quite measure up to the quality from the 5D MkII which is a full frame, 21Mpixels DSLR with L series lenses. I then printed the image above and realised I was being drawn in by the marketing machine.
The image was shot on a GX1 with an Olympus 9-18mm lens. I printed it at A3+ and even pressing my nose right up to the print it looks good. No, I will rephrase that, it looks amazing; even in the areas that I thought were a little suspect on the screen (at 100%). I now know I could print this image much larger if I wanted to and still get a fantastic print. Why then would I need to upgrade my camera to an “even better” model?
What I have come to realise is the old advice of investing in the highest quality lenses in preference to buying a better camera is now true again. At the start of the digital revolution this wasn’t the case as cameras and sensors needed to catch up with film. Now we can produce super quality huge prints from tiny cameras the old adage has kicked in again. I for one would like to see the manufacturers put as much development into their lenses so that we can have tiny lenses that resolve huge amounts of detail, have fast constant apertures and are super sharp for a reasonable price. Unfortunately I can’t see this happening any time soon as that’s not where the money is to be made. As always I am interested in any other thoughts on this subject.
Lightweight Photography is not just about using lightweight cameras, sometimes it’s about using streamlined processes to make life easier or about tools that can fulfil more than one function and so lighten your load. I have just made one such purchase and I want to share my experience with you. The tool in question is the “ColorMunki Photo” which I’m sure many of you will know about and perhaps a few of you own this.
The ColorMunki provides a simple and fast way to profile your monitor so you can be sure the colours in your images are being accurately represented on the screen. It also allows you to profile your printer (the main reason for my purchase) as well as profiling cameras and LCD projectors. The later will come in useful where I give presentations to camera clubs and often run into issues with my images projecting too dark.
My previous approach to colour management was to use the” i-One” monitor profiler from X-Rite (who also make the ColorMunki). In comparison to the ColorMunki the “i-One” takes much longer to complete the profile and isn’t as user friendly. For printer profiles I tended to use either custom made profiles purchasing from a remote profiling service or sometimes made my own using VueScan and a desktop scanner. The first option is time consuming as you need to rely on the postal service whilst the second option wasn’t really reliable. Since I switched to using a Canon Pixma 9500MkII I have struggled to generate good profiles and if I’m truthful, gave up.
My experience of the ColorMunki is that it performs the two functions above (monitor and printer profiling) brilliantly. It’s very fast, easy to use and the results are fantastic. My printer seems to be using less ink but more importantly the results seem to be much more vivid. Prints I had previously thought were good seem to have just come to life with the new printer profiles I have generated. The profiles also seem much better than the generic profiles you can usually download from paper manufacturer sites. To say I am delighted is an understatement and I wanted to share this positive experience with everyone.
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.