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Photo Geek Alert — The Camera Sensor as Emulsion + Why Your Digital Camera is More Like Film Stock Than You Realize

Geek alert. Although the mentality stems from the last century, the megapixel wars are not over. It is, however, safe to say that those of us familiar with our cameras have started to realize that they are much more than megapixels + dynamic range. There are other factors that we have come to admit are important to consider – case in point, the sensor. Some are noisy, some are big, some are juicy, others are…well… you get my point. These apparent truths prompted a conversation with my friend Sohail and led him to this in-depth post about the comparison of digital sensors and processing systems that go into today’s cameras — all with the emulsion (the photo sensitive side of film) discussion that used to kick around in the era of film. It’s all coming full circle now… Take it away Sohail. -Chase

A few months ago, I made a switch in camera platforms. Comparing images taken with a 5D Mark III and a Nikon D800, I found that there was something about the Nikon image that I really liked, something that went beyond the standard things that can be quantified, like its 36MP resolution, or its 12 stops of dynamic range.

D800 shot on the left, 5D Mark III on the right. Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

D800 shot on the left, 5D Mark III on the right. Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

The atmospheric conditions for the two shots were different, but even accounting for that, the 5D Mark III image was uncomfortably crunchy, with some pretty serious color noise and banding in the shadows. The D800 shot, on the other hand, had amazing tonality, and the noise was mostly luminance noise, smoothly rendered, almost organic, like film grain.

Shadow Comparison. D800 On Left.

Shadow Comparison. D800 On Left.

I’d love to tell you that this was a moment of epiphany. It would be great if I could say something like, “And at that moment, it was as though the heavens themselves had opened up and poured the sweet song of angels down upon my ears and I realized I had found the camera I’d been waiting for all my life.”

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Though I did end up switching to Nikon, for a number of reasons. (Let no debate rage at this point…please).

An idea is born

Comparing the two images — especially the comparison of the Nikon’s luminance noise to film grain — did serve to make me aware of something that I think has been happening for some time now. Though the megapixel wars aren’t over by any means, we have started to look at our DSLRs as more than the sum of their megapixels.

Two of my current favorites when I shoot film.

Two of my current favorites when I shoot film.

I’m old enough to remember the halcyon days of film. Back then, we had vigorous discussions about tabular versus classic grain, T-Max vs Tri-X, why no one should shoot caucasian skin with Ektar 100 and why only masochists shot with color slide film (Chase tells me this was his primary mode). The old darkroom hands swapped developer recipes back and forth, or kept them close to the vest, like preciously guarded state secrets, while the young hands spent hours in the darkroom with pieces of cardboard punched with holes for dodging and burning under the enlarger.

It was with much amusement that I realized the parallels in our comparison of digital sensors and processing systems that go into cameras with the old film hands’ discussions about various emulsions.

Really? What parallels?

Let me break it down for you.

In the old days, every film could be said to have a purpose. Fuji Velvia was the landscape film, with awesome, popping greens. Kodak Tri-X was the photojournalist’s film, a 400 ASA film that you could push to three stops and shoot at ISO 3200. Kodak Portra was, as the name suggests, for portrait films.

We left a lot of that specialization behind when we went to digital – and thank goodness for it. Unlike real emulsions, however, digital emulsions can’t be switched out — unless you’re shooting medium-format or with a Ricoh GXR system — so it made sense to have a more “generalist” chip doing the job. Instead, we resorted to post-processing to recreate the look and feel we wanted, and this is an approach that still yeilds dividends today. The cityscape above was finished in Nik Color Efex Pro 4, for example, and I applied the Kodak Portra 160 effect to it to make it look the way I wanted.

Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

But look around you. In the last couple of years, specialty sensors are, in fact, making an appearance. The Sigma SD–1, with its Foveon sensor, which purports to deliver a file that claims to rival medium-format images, for example. Or the proprietary X-Trans sensor in Fuji’s X-Pro1, with its EXR processor and built-in film effects, which does away with the standard optical low-pass filter and the traditional Bayer array of pixels, with fantastic results. Or the aforementioned D800E, with its ridiculous resolution and dynamic range. Or the most blatant of all specialty sensors – the Leica Monochrom-M with its black-and-white-only sensor.

That piece of silicon in your computer that sits on the film plane is starting to look a lot more like film, isn’t it?

Okay. But why does any of this matter?

Simple. It matters because when you reach for your wallet to buy or rent your next camera, accepting that there are differences in sensors beyond megapixels is going to go at least some way towards helping you pick your next camera.

Let me give you an example. If you’re the kind of shooter who likes HDR photography, then knowing that the D800E has incredibly dynamic range might help you chose that over, say, a Canon 5D Mark III. Or, if you’re nuts about great, popping, luscious colors, you might chose an X-Pro1. Black-and-white enthusiast? That Leica Monochrom might have your name on it.

The realization that the sensors going into digital cameras have their own unique characteristcs, just like the film emulsions of yesteryear, can actually direct your choice of cameras. I’ll happily put up with the X-Pro1’s foibles, for example, to get that awesomely luscious color out of it.

JPEG straight out of the Fuji X-Pro1. © Sohail Mamdani

JPEG straight out of the Fuji X-Pro1. © Sohail Mamdani

Wait a second. I can do that Velvia film look and get those colors in post, can’t I?

In many cases, sure. There are some great programs out there now that can help pull color out of RAW images like never before. And if you have the time, energy, and funds, you should invest in them.

You are, however, going to have a much better starting point if the sensor in your camera gets you that much closer to the look you want to begin with. To go back to images at the beginning of this article, I’m sure that with enough massaging, I could work that color noise out of the Canon image, deal with the banding to a large extent, then apply the film grain of my choice. I tried that, in fact, and like my experience, your results may not meet your expectations. After an hour of work on it, the image from the 5D was still murky in the shadows, and didn’t have the look I wanted.

The Nikon image, on the other hand, took less than ten minutes to get it to where I wanted it.

Conclusion

Unlike the days of film, you don’t need to delve into the minutae of the differences between film grains, the response curve of Portra 160 vs 400, or the tonality of Neopan Acros 100. But if you understand that — and accept — that modern sensors do, like their film analogues, have quirks and capabilities beyond those listed on the camera’s spec sheet, then you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about where you spend your money.

In the end, you’re going to make the image, not your camera. But it helps to have a great starting point.

 

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

The Secrets of Surf Photography —- Chris Burkard Shares His Craft

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At 26 years old, Chris Burkard is living the dream of traveling around the world to shoot surfers in exotic places.  He’s been recognized for his work with some prestigious awards including a first place spot in the Red Bull Illume competition.  His images are a complementary mix of being right in the action and being removed from it.  At times the subject is a tiny speck in the grander landscape.  Other times the camera is enveloped in a wave.  I caught up with Chris to get some insight to what he’s doing and how he got there.

Could you describe your process? How do you end up with the striking images we see here?

CB: I guess my process has a lot to do with luck and preparation. I like to research and prepare as much as possible so when those unique unexpected moments happen, I’m ready. I also like to keep in perspective the work and the passion. To never let the assignment become more important than my photographic voice. My process seems to always involve a little bit of introspection. Am I just taking pictures to take pictures?  Or are these actually moments that mean something?
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How did you get your start in photography? How did you get to where you are now?

CB: I started taking photographs around the age of 19. I did a lot of art in high school and it seemed like a natural departure from painting, pen or ink. Photography for me was the perfect medium for expression. It was ideal for how I wanted to experience and document because I could take my art into any situation. The mountains, the ocean, social settings.

When I started getting serious about photography, I would shoot surfing locally, just friends. But my passion was for landscapes.  I would spend summers exploring the desert southwest and looking for a chance to expand my photographic eye. I sought out internships and shadowing opportunities and from there. Things just evolved and I’d like to think even though I have a distinct style now, that I’m still seeking to change and grow in my art.

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Do you have other influences outside of surfing and action sports? Whose work inspires you?

CB: So much of my work is based in action sports and outdoor lifestyle, but in fact the majority of my inspiration comes from landscape photographers and portrait work. I’m really drawn toward the work of William Albert Allard, Henri Cartier Bresson, and Edward S Curtis. I have such a strong admiration for people that really connected with there subject, whether a landscape or a culture. I have always aimed to have the same kind of connection with my subject. In the surf world and action sports realm I also have a lot of influences. Ron Stoner, Craig Peterson, Jimmy Chin, Ted Grambeau.

Ultimately I think I am the most inlfluenced by nature and the outdoors.

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You clearly have influences outside of the action sport world. Do you also work outside of the surf world?

CB: Yes.  I shoot a lot of outdoor lifestyle, music, wine, automobile. I love to branch out and shoot everything, and I love the challenge of new assignments. I’m usually pretty specific and only work with brands or companies that I feel are going to help promote my personal aesthetic or natural light and editorial style photography.

People always want to know about the gear we use – so I gotta ask – what’s in the bag?

CB: Nowadays mostly using Nikon, and occasionally some sony nex mirrorless cams.

70-200 and 16-35mm are in my usual lens kit. Also a 50mm and 400mm telephoto. And always a fisheye for work in the water.

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Where do you like to haul all that gear? What’s your favorite location?

CB: I love Iceland. I have been 7 times and already planning my 8th trip. Can’t wait. The place has a really unique type of light. It’s almost tangible. Like surreal beauty that seems to fill you. For me it’s the type of place I could move to someday.

Where do you want to go that you haven’t been?
CB: I would love to spend some time in Alaska. Really excited to explore some of the islands off the coast, especially Kodiak. For me, the more remote, the better. That’s where the adventure lies.

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Advice for aspiring surf photogs?

CB: My advice would be always aim to create a style that is recognizable. Something the viewer will know is your image without seeing the photo credit. I think it’s so important these days, especially with how many people are out shooting surf and action sports images to create work that is meant to last. Dont be so focused on logos or how good the action is, but more on the emotion in the image.

Anything else?

CB: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Check out more of Chris’s work here.

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Wireless Cameras Are The Future — What’s in it for You?

The Samsung Galaxy Camera includes Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS and can run Android apps

I’ve been banging on the doors, windows, and faces of camera manufacturers for years about this one having long found value in the idea, “What good is a picture if you can’t share it?” It’s a simple concept that lots of us helped ignite in our culture via mobile devices. Instantly being able to share is assumed now. But… that our friends in the “real” camera world have been a little slow in adopting this concept is a massive understatement. So what is the state of that state really? What planet are they from? It’s worth taking a look at. As such, I’ve enlisted my pal Ben Pitt (who has authored some popular posts on the Nikon D600 and Canon 6D in recent weeks) to give us the technical breakdown on the latest and greatest. But even as you read this post that dives deep on which widget does what and how fast, remember, dont forget I’m still backing the idea that the best camera is the one that’s with you. Take it away Ben! -Chase

12 months ago, Wi-Fi was built into about half a dozen digital cameras. This year it’s everywhere – not just in high-concept cameras such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera but also in half the compact cameras announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It’s built into the Canon EOS 6D and Panasonic Lumix GH3, and is available as an optional upgrade for Nikon’s latest generation of SLRs (D3200, D5200, D7100, D600, D800, D4) and the Canon 5D Mark III and 1D X.

So is Wi-Fi going to change our photographic lives, or is it just another over-hyped innovation to help camera manufacturers shift more units? Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.

Remote control

Wi-Fi allows remote control of the camera from an Android or iOS app – most of these cameras have accompanying apps for both platforms. The camera creates a wireless network for the smartphone or tablet to join. In some cases this can be cumbersome to manage, but it needn’t be after the first time they’ve been paired.

The EOS Remote Android app for the Canon 6D includes touchscreen spot focus and a VGA live preview.

The app can then show a live preview feed and provide a remote shutter button and some control over photographic settings. In many cases this includes a touchscreen spot focus function. The quality of the live preview tends to be pretty good. Most run at 640×480 pixels, which is equivalent to a 921,000-dot LCD screen, but with the added benefit of a larger screen size. There’s a certain amount of latency in the live view feed, and also in the response of the shutter release, but in my experience it’s usually well under a second.

These remote shooting functions are impressive but, personally, I doubt I’d use them much. They’re perfect for group portraits when you want to include yourself in the photo – something I do perhaps once or twice a year. Knowing my luck it’s bound to stop working at exactly that moment, giving my assembled friends and family yet another chance to revel in my humiliating defeat at the hands of technology.

The Lumix Link app for the GH3 running on an iPad

I’d hoped that remote shooting would be useful for photographing birds and other wildlife in my garden. It turns out that birds are just as nervous of a tripod as they are of a person (the shot on the right was with a long lens through the window). I guess that birds would get used to the tripod if it was left in place for a few weeks, but would they be scared off by the appearance of a camera on the tripod? If anyone has experience of this, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Remote shooting has other uses, such as when the camera is positioned in hard-to-reach places. This is probably more useful for video than photography, though. So far I haven’t seen or heard of a camera that can stream video wirelessly while recording it – unless you count the Parrot AR Drone app-controlled aerial drones.

Using a high-resolution tablet as a wireless video monitor would be extremely useful for video production, regardless of the camera position. 802.11n should be fast enough for compressed 1080p video. I’m hopeful that this will appear before too long in mirrorless and SLR cameras.

The Canon EOS 6D also supports wireless PC tethering, with a live view feed and comprehensive control in the accompanying PC software. This might be a killer feature for people currently struggling with (or put off by) tethered shooting over short USB cables. Performance and latency seemed to be pretty good in my tests with the 6D.

Wireless transfers

Transfers are technically simpler than remote control, but probably more useful. In most cases, the same Android and iOS apps used for remote shooting can also browse the camera’s card contents and request photos and videos for transfer. In some cases, photos can be selected for transfer on the camera too.

Picking a photo to upload from the Panasonic SZ9 compact camera.

The remote shooting modes usually incorporate automatic transfers as soon as the picture is taken. However, the ability to shoot with the camera’s controls and transfer photos automatically is surprisingly rare. This is something that Eye-Fi cards have been able to do for years.

I can see two potential uses for wireless transfers to an app. One is for instant online sharing. Mobile phones have changed the way casual snaps are shared – people want to be able to upload within seconds to taking a photo. With a Wi-Fi camera, you’re not limited to using your phone’s built-in camera.

For serious photographers, the ability to review a photo on a high-resolution tablet within seconds of taking it is a big draw. It’s useful for checking focus, and for spotting subtle problems with the scene that would be hard to see on a camera’s 3in screen. The Canon EOS 6D’s app also lets you rate photos, with the data synced back to the camera’s SD card.

I’m looking forward to seeing cameras that allow photos to be transferred to an app at the touch of a button on the camera, directly after taking a photo. I don’t necessarily want to transfer every photo, but when I do, it should be a quick operation that doesn’t distract me from the creative process.

Most Wi-Fi cameras can also transfer photos and videos directly to online sharing services – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on. I’m not sure how useful this is, though. It’ll only work when you’re in range of a home network or public hotspot, and entering social network passwords using camera controls is pretty fiddly. It seems easier to send the photo or video to a smartphone first.

Wireless transfers to a computer or network storage hold more appeal. Large transfers are slow, but it’s great to be able to simply switch the camera on and press a couple of buttons to start copying.

Other tricks

Syncing GPS data to the Canon PowerShot S110 from the CameraWindow app.

GPS is increasingly common on digital cameras, but a few models (Canon S110, Fujijilm F800EXR, the latest Panasonic compacts, among others) provide GPS by proxy via the Wi-Fi link. This uses a smartphone app to keep a log of the location over a given period. Later, this log is cross-referenced against the capture time of photos in the camera to add GPS coordinates to their EXIF data. It’s not as neat as integrated GPS but it’s cheaper to implement. It’s certainly better than no GPS at all.

The Sony NEX-6 and NEX-5R can be expanded with downloadable apps. This lets you add functions such as time-lapse photography and advanced bracketing modes, and cost a few dollars each. However, I can’t help feeling that this is less about getting more features and more about Sony looking for new revenue streams. Sony has always lead the way for innovative shooting modes, but they used to be included as standard rather than optional extras.

The potential for third-party app development is interesting, but I can’t see many developers choosing to spend their time coding for a closed system such as NEX at the expense of Android and iOS platforms. The natural home for third-party camera apps is on Android cameras such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera.

Looking forward

So that’s where we’re at so far. These Wi-Fi functions are still in their infancy, and I’m yet to test a Wi-Fi camera where everything has worked smoothly. Some implementations are a little cumbersome, particularly when it comes to configuring network settings. Pretty much every camera I’ve tested has had one or two features that I’ve not been able to get working as advertised. Hopefully these kinks will be ironed out.

For me, the most useful functions – wireless monitoring while recording video, and one-touch, on-demand photo transfers – have yet to materialise. Even so, Wi-Fi cameras show lots of promise, not just for casual users but also for enthusiasts and professionals. They won’t revolutionise digital photography, but if they help to keep dedicated cameras relevant in this age of instant sharing, that’s no bad thing.

But that’s enough about what I think. Are you tempted by any of the features described above? Are you already using them? Is there’s anything else on your wireless wish list that no one’s thought of yet? Let us know below.

Canon EOS 6D Hands-ON — Canon Giveth, Canon Taketh Away

Canon EOS 6DIt seems our exploratory swim in the waters of full-frame DSLRs is far from complete. With the ink from his recent reviews of the D600 and the mirrorless Panasonic GH3 still drying, I asked my homie Ben Pitt to put the Canon EOS 6D between his microscope plates and share his findings here. As you’d expect with a lower-priced semi-pro camera, the EOS 6D is a mixed-bag. It’s light and boasts integrated GPS + Wi-Fi, but a couple notable omissions are enough to yank this camera from the “obvious choice” list. Scrutinizing consumers have come to expect a catch with the $2,000 price point products. Does the EOS 6D have a big one? I’ll let Ben take it from here. – Chase

A year ago, a full-frame camera meant a professional camera. They were simply too expensive for the majority of amateur photography enthusiasts. But with the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D, the landscape has changed.

Last month I wrote about the Nikon D600, and whether the inevitable compromises it makes compared to the pricier D800 are worth living with. I concluded that – for me at least – they were. Given the choice of a D800 or a D600 plus an extra $800 to spend on glass (or more realistically, household bills), I’d happily go for the latter.

This month, it’s time to ask the same question about the Canon EOS 6D.

There are no nasty surprises regarding image quality. The 6D’s 20-megapixel full-frame sensor is new, but quality is hard to distinguish from the EOS 5D Mark III’s 22.3-megapixel output. Details are marginally lower, but so too are noise levels. Incidentally, detail and noise levels are very similar to the D600, too. Canon and Nikon each has its distinctive colour processing but there’s nothing much to separate these three cameras’ image quality on an objective basis.

1/320s, f/5.6, ISO 400, 400mm (click to enlarge)

1/60s, f/5, ISO 100, 32mm

1/125s, f/2.2, ISO 320, 50mm (click to enlarge)

1/200s, f/2.2, ISO 12800, 50mm (click to enlarge)

Their video modes are more varied. The 6D’s videos lag a little behind the D600′s for detail levels, and it lacks a headphone out to monitor the microphone input. However, unlike the D600, its aperture setting can be adjusted while recording. Overall, I’d class that as a draw, but both come a distant second to the Panasonic GH3 for video.

As with the D600, the 6D takes its design cues from a cropped-sensor sibling – in this case, the EOS 60D. The 6D is only fractionally larger and heavier than the 60D, although the lack of an integrated flash and articulated screen possibly account for the minimal weight gain. The layout of buttons is very similar, with a generous number of single-function buttons but a few less than on the 5D Mark III. It’s great to have the AF-ON button included – something Nikon chose to omit from the D600. The lack of direct access to white balance settings is disappointing, though.

Some people will lament the single SDXC slot, which compares unfavourably to the D600’s dual SDXC and the 5D Mark III’s SDXC and CompactFlash slots. I can live with a single slot, but it seems that this particular one hampers performance. Testing with an SDHC card rated at 94MB/s, burst mode set off at 4.2fps but slowed to 2.3fps after 26 frames. When I tested the 5D Mark III (which uses the same DIGIC 5+ processor), I found that the 6fps burst rate lasted indefinitely with a 90MB/s CompactFlash card but slowed to 2fps after 28 shots with a 94MB/s SDHC card.

Still, 4.2fps for 26 frames isn’t so bad. If you’re looking for a fast camera for sports or wildlife photography, you should be more wary of the 6D’s autofocus sensor.

As with the Nikon D600, its points are bunched towards the centre of the frame – it’s as if Canon has taken an APS-C SLR’s autofocus sensor and plonked it into a full-frame camera. But whereas the D600 has 39 AF points, nine of which are cross-type, the 6D has a much simpler 11-point autofocus with just a single cross-type point in the centre. That rules out the automatic subject tracking that’s available in the D600 and 5D Mark III – there simply aren’t enough AF points to track moving subjects. It’s also a pretty big drawback for portrait work, where you want to be able to focus on the eye without having to focus and recompose the shot. Then again, the 5D Mark II had a nine-point autofocus system, and it sold by the bucket load.

So far, the D600 is coming out on top for features, but the 6D’s trump card is integrated Wi-Fi and GPS. GPS worked without a hitch in my tests. The GPS radio stays on when the camera is switched off, so it needn’t spend ages recalculating its position when you want to take a photo. An icon on the passive LCD screen reminds you to switch it off (via the menu) at the end of the day – shame there’s no hardware switch.

The Wi-Fi implementation is one of the most sophisticated I’ve seen. With the help of the EOS Remote app for iOS and Android, the camera can be remotely controlled from a smartphone or tablet, complete with live view, touchscreen control over the autofocus point and full access to exposure settings. Image browsing is well catered for too, with responsive full-screen previews, detailed EXIF data and the ability to apply star ratings. There’s no option to transfer photos to the app at the full 20-megapixel resolution, though.

The EOS Remote app running on an iPad

The 6D also supports wireless tethering to a PC or Mac, which worked flawlessly once I’d jumped through various hoops to set it up. There are various other features, such as uploads to Facebook and YouTube over a local network and the ability to stream slideshows to a Smart TV via DLNA.

Overall, the EOS 6D is a heady mix. Image quality is outstanding. Video capture has its limitations but picture quality is certainly flattering. Its controls and performance are decent enough, the autofocus is disappointing and the wireless features are spot on. That might sound like a fair compromise considering the breakthrough price, but it’s very much a case of taking the rough with the smooth. To me, the D600 feels more balanced.

As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Are 11 autofocus points enough, or has Canon misjudged its market here? Bear in mind that Canon wants the 6D to appeal to people who are ready to move up from a cropped-sensor SLR – it’s not designed for potential 5D Mark III owners who are looking to save some cash. Are the Wi-Fi and GPS must-have features, tempting extras or a waste of space? And putting any allegiances to one side, which company do you feel has made the best cut-price full-frame camera?

100 Ideas that Changed Photography

Every so often, I am reminded of the tectonic shifts in photography that seem to skip under the radar in our exploding world of photography and photographers. No harm, no foul — but it snaps my head back into place when pointing these out from time to time.

Mary Warner Marian’s book 100 Ideas that Changed Photography” does a damn nice job highlighting some of these shifts. It’s her personal take on the most influential ideas that have shaped photography, from the daguerreotype in the early 19th century up to the digital revolution and beyond.

Now… top “100″ lists are always risky business. Inevitable omissions beget unavoidable criticism; the author’s author-ity (and intelligence) gets questioned; the business of “TOP 100″ lists is decried. NO so long ago, when I created a little 240 page book of portraits titled “Seattle 100, which featured my personal curation of 106 people influentially driving culiture in Seattle, it was not to prescribe the “best” 100…not “THE” 100, but simply A 100 if you catch my drift. Fortunately for us, Marian’s book seems to take the same approach — curated list of her own design and one that I respect. Ultimately, this book is a reminder that much of the fear and chatter expressed in our modern day, the alleged affronts to the “craft” of photography by new technologies, are seriously misplaced. The art of capturing light has been evolving since Christian Gobrecht first illustrated the workings of a camera obscura.

As the author Marien puts it:

While it may seem that a new photo technology is born every day, photography is still what we make it, not what it makes us.

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IDEA # 1: THE CAMERA OBSCURA When Christian Gobrecht illustrated the workings of a camera obscura for Abraham Rees’s The Cyclopedia or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature (1805-22), he was careful to show how the device created an inverted image.

Collodian

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IDEA # 13: COLLODION Photographers who used the collodion process had to process their glass plates before and after exposure. They brought a portable darkroom and sometimes employed assistants to help.

The Lens

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IDEA # 9: THE LENS Specially designed weights or impromptu inventions were attached to the shutter to create timed lens exposures.

Negative/Positive.

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IDEA # 4: NEGATIVE/POSITIVE The negative formed the basis of photography until the digital age. It is based on the reversal of dark and light tone.

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Images and captions courtesy of Laurence King.

A Robot That Drives Your Camera — The Little Motion Control Dolly That Could

I stumbled on this gem via Kickstarter a week or two ago and reached out to my camera tech pal Sohail to get his take. In short, we cranked out this review in short order to give you a first look AND… I’ve got another prototype en route to my studio now to put it thru the paces of an actual commercial job… Will report back again after all is said and done, but in the meantime, Sohail goes deep with this little monster and validates that this motion-control timelapse dolly is a worthy endeavor… Take it away, Sohail… – chase

Often, the simplest of ideas, executed without bloat, result in the most elegant and useful of solutions. That is what the L’il Mule personifies. In fact, when it was handed to me, my first reaction was, “That’s it?”

That was, in fact, it. The L’il Mule is a trackless dolly that is the brain child of Warren Herndon, the man behind the popular Omni-Tracker line of video dollies. Warren appears to have taken the feedback he received from the Omni-Tracker to heart and has used it to build a dolly that, if you’re interested in video or timelapse, you should take a good look at. The Kickstarter project that he used to launch the L’il Mule is still ongoing, and has been funded at over 200%.

The L'il Mule dolly

The L'il Mule dolly

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Hands-On Camera Review with the Panasonic GH3 — [Side By Side Comparos + Can it Beat a $250 eBay Bargain?]

Given the response and discussion around last week’s post on the D600, I invited pal Ben Pitt back to share another hands on review of a camera that has been competing for eyeballs: the GH3. Since the introduction of the Lumix DMC-GH1 back in 2009, the GH-series’ has been gobbling up mindshare for photographers looking for some great technology in a tightly sized and affordable package. I’m a big ol’ fan of the mirrorless category of cameras of late…seems that all the manufacturers are making massive leaps to give us astounding quality in small packages (I’m currently playing with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and loving it…and did a run-down on the mirrorless category — Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, Fuji — a few weeks ago here). But now, let’s let Ben do a deep dive on the Panasonic GH3 below. Take it away… -Chase

Thanks Chase. Panasonic has long been the maverick outsider of digital cameras – consumers have long been not quite sure where it fits into their lexicon – but with the GH3 it looks like it’s lining up to join the establishment. Reviewers have been falling over each other to heap praise on this camera, and it’s easy to see why.

The GH3 is bristling with the right sockets, buttons, levers and dials, an articulated screen and a large, high-resolution electronic viewfinder. Autofocus is startlingly quick, and being able to place the autofocus point anywhere in the frame via the touchscreen is a major advantage that conventional SLRs can’t match. There’s 4fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus, rising to 5.6fps with fixed focus, and a large buffer for sustained quick-fire operation. A PC sync socket and optional battery grip demonstrate that this is a reasonably serious photographer’s tool.

Image quality is a big improvement over previous Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras, and broadly on a par with the Nikon D7000 for noise and details. However, it’s the video mode that really shines. Its videos are incredibly sharp, and there’s less moiré interference than from Canon and Nikon’s SLRs. They can’t match the GH3′s smooth video autofocus, either. With full exposure control while recording, bit rates up to 72Mbit/s and frame rates up to 60p (50p in Europe), nothing else at this price comes close for video.

Nothing, that is, except its predecessor, the GH2. The GH3 makes big strides for photo quality and ergonomics, but a lot of reviewers have found that improvements in video quality compared to the GH2 are relatively subtle. That’s not a criticism of the GH3 but praise for the GH2, which has been a big hit among independent filmmakers.

I’ve been using the original GH1 since June 2009. I’ve reviewed a wide range of cameras since then, but I haven’t used anything that has tempted me to upgrade. Admittedly, the GH1 is showing its age for photo quality, particularly for noise levels. But for video, it’s very similar to the GH2 and more capable than anything else I’ve used.

However, I’ve recently been shooting with the GH3 (on loan from Panasonic), and I’m seriously tempted to upgrade. But then, the GH3 costs around $1,300 (€1,200, £1,200) and the GH1 is only fetching around $250 (€200, £170) on eBay.

That got me thinking… the GH1 is currently a phenomenal bargain for video producers. Glass tends to keep its value much longer than cameras, so are video producers who are considering the GH3 better off picking up a GH1 and spending the rest on lenses? And should I stop pining over the latest model and be content with what I’ve got?

Frustratingly, the answer isn’t as clear cut as I’d hoped.

In many of my tests, the GH1 and GH3′s videos were hard to tell apart. The GH3 had a slight advantage for sharpness and its colours were a little punchier, but there wasn’t much in it. Here’s a frame from each camera’s 1080p output, split into three to show the GH3, GH1 and Sony’s NEX-5N – another excellent camera for video, but clearly trailing here for sharpness and colour response (click the image to enlarge it and type F to expand to actual size).

 

Next, here’s the GH1 and GH3 again, this time set to minimum contrast in an attempt to capture as much dynamic range as possible. Both cameras excel for detail but neither of them have managed to capture anything in this over-exposed sky. Having said that, the GH1′s murky grey sky isn’t much to look at – I’d prefer to settle for the GH3′s bleached out white.

 

The GH1′s handling of skin tones has always bugged me, with a strange habit of vein-like bands of desaturated colours along the edge of highlighted areas. It’s pretty subtle, but having noticed it, I keep spotting it again and again. It’s just about visible in the example below, but there was no sign of it in the GH3′s output. Otherwise, there’s not much to choose between them here. If anything, the GH1′s colours are generally more flattering and noise is less pronounced.

 

The GH3 really starts to prove its worth in this high-contrast shot. The sky is well exposed in both cameras’ output but the GH3 has captured lots more detail in the gloomy foreground.

 

Boosting the shadows in editing software shows just how much more detail there is in the GH3′s output. There’s no contest.

 

Finally, here’s one more example, with the Nikon D600 thrown in for good measure. The D600 trails slightly for detail in the rushes at the bottom of the frame. However, the GH1′s lack of detail in the dark trees on the other side of the lake brings it to third place here. Then again, I wouldn’t consider the D600 for video because of its moiré problems, fixed aperture while recording and lousy video autofocus.

 

So what’s it to be? I think it’s clear that the GH3 is worth the extra for those who want the best. No other mirrorless or SLR camera can touch it for video quality. As for me, I think I’ll stick with the GH1 for now. It may struggle in high-contrast scenes but it still packs an incredible bang for its buck. And that new Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens is pretty tempting too.

You can buy the GH3 at B&H Photo here
You can rent the GH3 at Borrowlenses.com here

The Best Camera — The Everyday, Can Do No Wrong Camera Kit

One of the most common questions we hear from all of you is, “What is your everyday kit?” Our digital cinema guru, Erik, wanted to take a minute to chat gear with you and answer that question from his perspective. Please give him another warm welcome… This post is another installment of a series that our staff is doing about the gear that we consider essential for our work…the stuff we don’t leave home without. -Chase

Thanks Chase. As I sit here on my couch writing this blog post, I’m surrounded by no less than 22 cameras in my living room alone.  Some are decorations, some are used on occasion, some are only used for video shoots, and one gets used every. damn. day. I’m a collector [read: junkie] and I can’t get enough cameras, so when one becomes a regular fixture of my daily creative arsenal, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize its greatness.  Right now that camera is the Olympus OMD E-M5.  I picked mine up last may, and have since taken it around the world and shot the hell out of it.  My kit consists of the E-M5 camera body, an Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens and a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens, all wrapped up in a Think Tank Retrospective 30 shoulder bag. It’s a simple setup, but it’s yielded results good enough for me to keep bringing it out of the house while my bigass DSLR kit stays on the shelf.

There’s a lot to love about the E-M5.  It’s weather sealed, it’s got a slick retro design, and the image stabilization is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  But for me, the camera really shines in two categories: speed, and low light capability.  Everything about this camera is fast, from the startup time to the autofocus to the frames per second it can fire.  Even the layout of the buttons and dials make for a brisk shooting pace.  In regards to low light, the image quality holds up quite nicely at high ISO’s.  I don’t like to use a flash, so this is a huge bonus for me.  ISO 3200 on the E-M5 looks like ISO 1000 on my Canon 7D, it’s crazy, and everything shot at ISO 1000 or lower looks the same, so grain and noise are rarely a concern.  Throw the cameras insane 5 axis image stabilization into the mix [which allows for shooting at slower shutter speeds] and you can shoot in the dark with results like this [click to enlarge]:

This picture was shot at ISO 3200, f/1.7 at 1/13th of a second. If you can't do the photo math on that, trust me, it was dark.

Now let’s talk lenses.  Keeping my kit lightweight is important to me, so I’ve paired it down to just two lenses; the 14-150mm zoom, and the 20mm pancake lens.  The zoom lens keeps me covered for just about everything I want to shoot as long as there’s enough light.  With the 2x crop factor on the E-M5′s sensor, it’s effective focal length is 28-300mm.  That’s some range.  Check out these shots from our recent trip to Villefranche for an example.  They’re shot from the same spot using the same lens zoomed all the way out on the left, and all the way in on the right.

The only drawback to this lens is that its aperture is a little “slow”. The widest aperture on the lens is f/4, and f/5.6 when zoomed to 150mm.  While that’s fine and good for bright landscapes, it doesn’t lend itself well for indoor or night photography.  This is when I switch to the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens.  This was the first lens I picked up when I started using a micro four thirds camera 2 years ago [the Panasonic GF1], and it might be my favorite lens of all time.  It’s super sharp, it’s tiny, and it can see in the dark [as shown in the above photo of Mike Horn holding the giant wine bottle].  Its focal length is a sweet spot in my opinion.  At 20mm, or 40mm equivalent with the crop factor, you can take a few steps closer to your subject and take a portrait with no weird lens distortion, or take a few steps back and get a wide shot with no lens compression.  Here’s a portrait of Norton looking like a baller on Fancy Friday, shot with the 20mm:

And here’s a landscape from the Guardian Peak Winery in Stellenbosch South Africa, also shot with the 20mm:

The final component of this camera kit that I think is worth mentioning is the oh-so-classy Think Tank Retrospective 30 shoulder bag.  Think Tank nailed the design of this bag with one simple characteristic that ALL other camera bag manufacturers need to take note of; it doesn’t look like a camera bag.  There are no bigass logos anywhere to found, no hideous bright green interior, no giant awkward straps for securing tripods or trekking poles or whatever else you wanna weigh yourself down with.  This bag looks like something your cool grandpa handed down to you after he retired from chasing his secretary around.  The bag is smart too.  I love the deployable “Sound Silencers” that cover up the velcro so you’re not the noisy photographer swapping gear in and out of their bag.  The Retrospective 30 is my preference since it holds my camera body, lenses, batteries, and the occasional iPad with room to spare, but they make them in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so check out their website to see if they have what’s right for you.

I hope you found something useful from this minimalist approach to photography.  If you’d like to try any of this photo gear out, it’s all available to rent from BorrowLenses.com.  Feel free to tell us about your walkaround kit in the comments section and, as always, keep snapping.

 

D600 the Affordable full-frame DSLR — What’s the Catch? [Hands on Review]

It’s been out in the marketplace for a while now – but the conversation and questions continue to churn around the D600. Is it all that and a bag of chips? Or is there a catch? Is it a good choice for the working pro and how does it compare to Nikon’s D800? At a pricepoint that is majorly accesible, it offers similar features as the DX-format D7000 and seems to represent a big leap for photographers. For those of us who have been around for a while, it’s interesting to think back only 4 years ago when the D90 landed and changed the way we use our DSLRs forever. (Check out that vintage video I made to launch Nikon’s first-in-class here) In fact, it was just over a decade ago that the first full frame DSLR was announced (Canon EOS 1Ds). At that point it was the realm of the elite pro or wealthy enthusiast at $8,000. Today, the D600, can be found for less than $2,000. We’ve come a long way baby. Given the response to my post on the launch of the D600 , I invited my friend Ben Pitt to continue the conversation with a hands on review of the camera. [At this moment, I'm climbing Kilimanjaro with some friends to bring awareness to clean, safe water in Africa. I've loaded up content for this week with the help of experts like Ben.] You might remember Ben’s last post that described How to take a 7-Gigapixel photo. Take it away Ben. – Chase

When Chase asked for your thoughts about the D600 in September, you didn’t hold back. There was a surprising number of negative comments, but perhaps it’s not so surprising. After all, $2,000 is an amazing price for a full-frame SLR, so anyone with a healthy dose of scepticism will be looking for a catch.

I’ve been shooting with a D600 for a few weeks, and I can confirm that there’s a huge amount to love about this camera. The 24-megapixel full-frame sensor delivers what is, for me, the perfect balance of high detail and low noise. It also allows for 5.5fps continuous shooting – a big improvement on the pricier D800′s 4fps. The controls are almost identical to the D7000′s, but that’s not a criticism – all the key functions fall under the fingers.

Having said that, the Auto ISO mode is more sophisticated than on the D7000 (adapting the shutter speed in line with the focal length) and is quicker to switch on and off. The viewfinder is as big as the D800′s, the screen is just as big and sharp, the weather-sealing equally substantial, and it includes mic in and headphone out sockets. It’s a little smaller and lighter than the D800 but it’s still a comfortable fit in the hand.

There’s not much to report about image quality. We know what Nikon’s JPEG processing engine is capable of, and it’s firing on all cylinders here. Details are sharp and noise is far lower than any cropped-sensor camera. It’s a little lower than from the D800, too, thanks to the lower pixel density.

But surely there’s a catch? Otherwise, the D800 is dead in the water. Yes, there are a few downgrades compared to the D800, which I’ll run through below (I’m not counting the sensor, which for me a sideways movement with its lower detail and lower noise). It’s up to you whether you see them as deal-breakers.

 

Smaller, simpler autofocus sensor

The D600′s 39-point autofocus sensor uses the same layout as the D7000′s. I’ve got no issue with the number of points – after all, Canon’s rival 6D only has 11. However, while the array of points largely fills the D7000′s viewfinder, they’re much more bunched in the centre of the D600′s full-frame viewfinder. This makes it harder to track erratic subjects. Subjects towards the edges of the frame require a focus-recompose-shoot technique.

No aperture adjustment during live view or video capture

Live view generally works well, taking about one second to autofocus – not great but better than many SLRs’ live view. However, while you can adjust the aperture value, it only adjusts the aperture blades just before you take a photo, so there’s no real-time preview of the depth of field.

Personally, I’m not too bothered about this. I’m more bothered by the limited aperture control for video. Here, the only way to adjust the aperture is by exiting live view, spinning the command dial and then re-entering live view. It’s not possible to adjust the aperture while composing a shot on the screen or while recording (unless your lens has an aperture ring). Shutter priority isn’t available for video, either – it’s fully automatic or fully manual only.

No 1080p/60 video

On the subject of video, it doesn’t seem unreasonable in 2012 for a $2,000 camera to be able to record 1080p at 60fps. There are enough $500 cameras that can do it. 60fps shooting is great for slow motion, but on the D600 it’s only available if you’re willing to drop the resolution to 720p. Then again, the same applies to the D800 too. Otherwise, this is an extremely capable video camera, with crisp details and the same colour output as in JPEGs.

No AF On button, PC sync or CompactFlash slot. Different button layout to other full-frame Nikons.

These issues might put off people considering the D600 as a backup camera to a pricier Nikon SLR, and who don’t want to have to give a moment’s thought when switching between cameras. For those coming from the other direction – perhaps going full-frame for the first time – there are easy workarounds.

AF-On lets you assign autofocus and shutter release to separate buttons to avoid unnecessary refocusing when taking a string of shots. The D600 doesn’t have a dedicated AF-On button, but either the AE Lock or front-mounted Fn button can be assigned to this task. You still get a dedicated DOF preview button as well as this Fn button.

PC Sync – add this for $20 or even just $3 with a shoe adapter.

CompactFlash – the fastest 16GB SDHC cards costs $40 – it’s not worth worrying about your old CF cards.

1/200s flash sync

A few comment posters complained about the relatively slow flash sync speed. This seems to be more a criticism of the general direction that Nikon, Canon et al are going – after all, 1/200s isn’t much slower than the D800 and D4′s 1/250s. Besides, switching the D600 to Auto-FP mode (short for Auto Flash Power), I had no problem syncing an off-camera strobe at 1/250s. If you want 1/500s flash sync to reduce the amount sunlight in your flash photography, get yourself a D40 – no current full-frame or cropped-sensor SLR that I know of can do it.

Mysterious dust problems

Various reviewers and forum posters have noticed a build-up of dirt on the D600′s sensor. There’s a risk of this with any SLR, of course, but I can confirm what others have found – the D600 does appear to be more prone to it than most, particularly in the top-left of the frame. More worryingly, the dirt seems to be coming from inside the camera. I’ve been shooting with a single lens, which hasn’t come off since the camera arrived, and there are dust spots now that weren’t there earlier. They’re just about visible on plain areas of photos (such as clear skies) at f8, but in most cases I have to shoot at f/16 or higher for them to show up. That doesn’t excuse it, though. I’ve asked Nikon for a comment, and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond. I’d be tempted to hold out parting with any cash until they do.

The D7000 was – and is – a fantastic camera, but the D600 is a compelling upgrade, delivering the lower noise and extra detail that comes with full-frame but without the usual prohibitive price tag. The smaller autofocus sensor area and dust problems are the only lingering issues for me – hopefully the latter can be resolved. If so, I’d happily pick the D600 over the D800. In the end, it seems there is really no catch.

Professionals looking for a backup camera are probably better off with the D800. It will feel more familiar, and its 36-megapixel sensor is a welcome compliment to the 16-megapixel D4.

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You can buy the Nikon D600 from B&H here.

DSLR Killers — Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Best Mirrorless of Them All?

UPDATE: if you dig mirrorless cameras or want to find out why everybody else loves them, you’re in luck. creativeLIVE has courses on mirrorless cameras by the talented John Greengo. Go here to check it out, learn more, enroll, etc.
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I like to shoot with the newest, biggest, baddest DSLR as much as the next guy. And I’m lucky enough to do so on the regs for my commercial work; however, when it comes to my day-to-day shooting (when I’m not snapping with my…ahem…iPhone) I’m having fun with Olympus OM-D’s and E-P3′s. I’m blown away with the images these little beauties put out. There are a whole gaggle of new cameras in this category that beg a look. So I called on my camera review pal who has used most of what is out there, Sohail Mamdani, to do a breakdown of the latest cameras in this category. Read on for what might be best for you in this category -Chase

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of a new class of cameras. This class goes by many names – the Large Sensor Compact (LSC), the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Compact (MILC), and Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) are a few of the labels that have been used to describe this generation of cameras, but most of them seem to fall short in one way or another. The collective refers to this category as “Mirrorless”, as that is the one thing they all have in common.

Today we’ll take a look at five cameras that are leading the charge in this category.

Olympus OM-D EM–5

The OM-D EM–5 from Olympus.

The OM-D EM–5 from Olympus.

Back in the film days, Olympus made a 35mm SLR camera called the OM–2. It was a neat little camera, and was pretty successful in its time. Looking at the OM-D, with its new Micro-Four-Thirds body from Olympus, it’s pretty clear that this little baby is of the same design pedigree as the OM–2. In fact, if you look at it from the front with a lens on, it’s not hard to imagine the OM-D as a film camera itself.

Flip it over, though, and the 3-inch OLED touch-capable screen dispels that notion completely. The OM-D may carry forward the retro look that Olympus pioneered for its digital cameras with the E-P1, when it brought back the venerable PEN moniker, but the insides are cutting-edge tech all the way.

DNG from Olympus OM-D, with Lightroom edits. © Sohail Mamdani

DNG from Olympus OM-D, with Lightroom edits. © Sohail Mamdani

Reviewers of the OM-D have been almost gushing about this little body – and with good reason. It seems to have breathed new life into a brand that’s been hit by scandal over the last several months. The image quality of the OM-D is superb, and I’ve taken to using this camera as my carry-round body with 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 lenses from Panasonic. (Chase shoots this body with the 12mm fixed 2.0…) With the OM-D’s in-body image stablization, I’ve gotten steady shots at down to 1/6th of a second, and the details captured by this compact body are downright impressive.

From its fast autofocus (Olympus claims it has the world’s fastest AF system at the moment) to its impeccable low-light performance, the OM-D hits enough hot spots that some pros are switching to this diminutive body as their primary camera.

The Good: Fast Autofocus, excellent low-light performance, fantastic in-body 5-axis image stabilization.
The Bad: Not much. Continuous Autofocus tracking is a bit on the unreliable side sometimes.
Who it’s Ideal For: Outdoor enthusiasts and photojournalists. You can use Panasonic’s 12-35mm and 35-100mm lenses and have an effective 24-200mm range covered. And in a package that is much smaller and weighs much less than, say, a Canon 5D Mark III body with 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses.
Buy it: $999 (Body only) from B&H Photo
Rent It: From BorrowLenses.com, starting at $44

Fuji XE–1/X-Pro1

The Fuji XE–1

The Fuji XE–1

Okay, this is really two cameras, but they’re such close cousins that you can go with either one.

Fuji began its foray into the mirrorless market with the highly-acclaimed (yet quirky) X100. This was a remarkable camera in many ways – it featured a large APS-C sensor, a fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/2 lens, a leaf shutter system, and a fantastic retro design that was every bit as eye catching as the images it produced. Fuji eventually followed up that single-lens model with the X-Pro1, which, while suffering from many of the same quirks as its predecessor such as slow autofocus performance, was a sellout on launch.

The XE–1 is similarly back-ordered, and with good reason. It keeps the sensor of the X-Pro1, which has managed to wow many folks with its color and detail reproduction, but packages things into a smaller size. It ditches the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder found in the X-Pro1 in favor of an all-electronic viewfinder. Like the X-Pro1, the industrial design drips with retro finesse, and it maintains full compatibility with all of Fuji’s X-Mount lenses. There’s also a Leica lens adapter, so your manual focus Leica lenses will work with the XE–1 as well.

Fuji X-series of cameras definitely have some kind of special sauce in them. Fuji packs in a number of effects that emulate their classic film stocks like Velvia and Provia. Photographers who have worked with the X cameras, like Zack Arias, have been repeatedly blown away. Here’s what Zack had to say after taking a particularly striking image with his X-Pro1.

And I was sold. I’m in. I got it. It’s worth every effing rupee, peso, penny. I don’t care. I’m not in Bombay any more. I went somewhere else and once this light was gone I woke up with the X-Pro1 in my hands and yes. Ummm… maybe? No. Ummm… Yes. I zoomed in on this image to check focus. “Hot Damn.” It was one of the greatest personal moments of my professional life.

Honestly, if you can handle the X-series’ quirks, there is something pretty satisfying about the images coming from these cameras.

The Good: Fantastic image quality, cool retro design.
The Bad: Weird sensor design means RAW compatibility with Lightroom/Aperture is slow to arrive and doesn’t work as well.
Who it’s Ideal For: Portrait and landscape artists will love the high image quality, rich colors and the Fuji film profiles like Velvia and Provia baked into the JPEGs. Street photographers will like the retro rangefinder look and feel, which seem to put people more at east than a large DSLR and bazooka-sized lens.
Buy it: $1399 (X-Pro1 body only) or $999 (X-E1 body only) from B&H Photo
Rent it: The X-Pro1 From BorrowLenses.com, starting at $59

Sony NEX–6

The Sony NEX–6

The Sony NEX–6

Sony’s NEX series has been getting a lot of great press, and with darn good reason, too. The company has been making good on its promise to commit to the photography market, and its NEX compact cameras have been extremely well-received.

What’s remarkable about these Sony cameras is that Sony isn’t afraid to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. That leads, interestingly enough, to features being included in mid-range models like the NEX–6 that aren’t in the higher-end NEX–7. WiFi is now included in the NEX–6, so you can do things like view the images on the card in the camera on your smartphone.

You also have improved autofocus performance due to the inclusion of a hybrid system that uses both phase-detection and contrast-detection sensors. Most of the time, mirrorless cameras use only contrast-detection sensors, which are slower than the phase-detection sensors used in DSLRs. Low-light performance is also improved over the NEX–7, and to my surprise, is pretty awesome for a camera this size. I expect to see angry red, green and blue dots at ISO 3200, but instead, the noise that is there is more reminiscent of the big, fat grain you’d see in ISO 3200 film.

High-ISO (3200) image with the NEX-6. © Sohail Mamdani

High-ISO (3200) image with the NEX-6. © Sohail Mamdani

There is an entire ecosystem of adapters that allows for the use of Canon, Nikon, Sony Alpha-mount and other lenses on the NEX cameras(I’ve written more about that here). The stable of E-mount lenses is still growing, but is doing so rapidly.

What’s Good: Great image quality, low-light performance, small size.
What’s Bad: Needs more native E-Mount lenses.
Who it’s Ideal For: Pros looking for a small, compact shooter with performance to spare. Also, anyone shooting Sony’s DSLRs who wants to leverage their existing lenses via adapters on a smaller body.
Buy it: $848 (body only) from B&H Photo
Rent It: From BorrowLenses.com, starting at $50

Panasonic GX1

The Panasonic GX-1

The Panasonic GX-1

Panasonic is the other primary partner in the Micro-Four-Thirds standard (with Olympus), and its cameras have received excellent reviews as well, including DPReview.com’s Silver Award. The GX1, released last year, marked a departure from the single-model lineup of Panasonic’s Micro-Four-Thirds camera into two separate lines, the GF series and the GX series. The GF series was marketed more for beginners stepping up form a point-and-shoot, whereas the GX series was intended more for advanced amateurs or pros looking for a more pocketable camera.

There’s a lot to like about the GX–1. It’s smaller and lighter than many of its competitors, and has a touch-screen for added controls. One thing I found was that due to fact that you can do things in more than one way (physical control or touch-screen), you often find yourself hesitating and wondering if you should use the physical knobs and buttons or the touchscreen to accomplish a task. This kind of sorts itself out as you keep using the camera, and the touchscreen is useful for some tasks.

Where Panasonic really shines is in their lenses. The standards for most photographers are the 24–70mm, 70–200mm, 50mm, and perhaps a Macro in the 90–105mm range. Panasonic delivers soundly with a 12–35mm, 35–100mm and a Leica co-branded 45mm Macro, as well a 25mm f/1.4 lens. Because of the smaller sensor, you experience a crop factor of 2x, so the 12–35mm f/2.8 becomes a 24–70mm f/2.8, and so forth.

What’s even cooler is that the 12–35mm and 35–100mm zooms have optical image stabilization, which neither Canon nor Nikon have included in their 24–70 f/2.8 zooms yet. Moreover, Panasonic also offers a 7–14mm (14–28mm equivalent) f/4 zoom, which is particularly useful for landscape users.

And of course, since Panasonic is part of the Micro-Four-Thirds consortium, it can use MFT lenses from Olympus, Sigma, and other manufacturers.

What’s Good: Excellent lens selection, small, relatively cheap.
What’s Bad: Controls are cramped and a bit clumsy, not the most innovative industrial design.
Who it’s Ideal For: Beginners looking to step up to a camera with room to grow. Also, given the plethora of adapters for MFT cameras to adapt everything from recent Nikkor lenses to ancient M42-mount optics, it’s a nice step up to give that old glass a new lease on life.
Buy It: $449 (body only) from B&H Photo

Leica M9

Leica M9

Leica M9

If you’re surprised to see the Leica here, don’t be. People tend to forget that before the trend towards mirrorless cameras started, Leica was already there with their digital rangefinders. The legendary camera of legendary photographers, the overall design of the Leica M series hasn’t changed much since the film days, keeping an emphasis on classic elegance that has become the German company’s trademark and has inspired at least three of the models I mention here.

Leica DNG, treated in Silver Efex Pro 2. © Sohail Mamdani

Leica DNG, treated in Silver Efex Pro 2. © Sohail Mamdani

In the digital world, Leica has really scored with the M9. It’s a big step up from the M8 (and the new “M”, with no number after it, is apparently even better), and adds some interesting features like a first-rate bracketing option (though it feels weird to try and shoot HDR with a Leica) and better high-ISO performance. Here’s what I had to say about shooting with a Leica for a few weeks a while back.

Using a Leica distils the experience of shooting down its very core elements, and when you’re used to the photographic equivalent of driving a loaded Lexus LS with all the amenities, being dropped into the equivalent of a 1970′s-era Porsche 911 is a shock.

A pleasant shock in many ways, but a shock, nonetheless.

Leica’s lenses are another reason for its reputation. I keep using the word “legendary” here, and with good reason; these optics have some kind of magic that, in the right hands, deliver an image that is almost three-dimensional in nature.

Is it expensive? Yep. But if you can get your hands on one (rent one, if you can), it’s worth experiencing this little bit of history.

Leica recently refreshed their “M” series line, introducing the “M” (no numbers now) and the “M-E”. The new “M” camera sports a CMOS sensor in place of the old CCD and adds a number of features that bring the Leica series further in line with modern-day cameras. These features include 1080p video, Live-View, an optional EVF, and improved ISO performance.

Those looking to keep the spirit of the old bare-bones Leica alive will love the M-E. The M-E strips the camera down to its essentials – no video here, or Live-View, or EVF. You also have the old CCD sensor instead of the new CMOS, which is not a bad thing at all.

What’s Good: Built like a tank, fantastic image quality, remarkable glass.
What’s Bad: It’s a Leica. I’m not allowed to say anything bad about it (but if I were, I’d say the high-ISO performance isn’t good and the buffer is tiny).
Who it’s Ideal For: Besides Henri Cartier-Bresson? Well, surprisingly, a number of types of shooters. From street photographers (natch) to landscape and portrait artists, to travel photographers and photojournalists, the Leica can work for just about anyone looking for high-end optics, tank-like construction, and a camera with a deep and formidable history.
Buy it: $6400 (body only for the M9), $5450 (body only for the M-E), $7000 (body only for the new M)
Rent it: M9 from BorrowLenses.com, starting at $225

Conclusion

Mirrorless cameras are coming on strong, and they are rapidly gaining ground as people stop thinking that a great camera with a large sensor has to look like a DSLR. The image quality from cameras like the Leica, the Fuji and the Olympus are allowing the classic manufacturers to come back with a vengeance, while the newer kids on the block, like Sony and Panasonic, are putting out some incredible technology into the field of photography.

Will mirrorless cameras become the predominant cameras out there? I don’t know. There may be certain types of photography that these diminutive devices will always be unsuited for (sports photography comes to mind). But for many of us, mirrorless cameras may well become de rigeur for all kinds of everyday shooting. Just as the iPhone and other phone cameras are slowly replacing point-and-shoots for many uses, so too might the NEX–6 replace the D7000 for many uses. The cameras listed above are just the start; the product pipeline in this class promises to be even more exciting in the coming years.

 

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

LIVE Photoshoot using the World’s Biggest Camera + The Power of Personal Work

Update: The LIVE broadcast is TODAY Wednesday December 19th. Check out the post below and be sure to tune into http://www.chasejarvis.com/live — 11am SEA time (2pm NYC -19:00 London) — and enjoy the show. See you on there.

I am an advocate of personal work. Finding time to create personal projects has been one of the most valuable experiences of my career as a visual artist. My guest on the next week’s episode of chasejarvisLIVE is Ian Ruhter. Ian’s commitment to his personal work has been turning heads. A professional snowboarder turned photographer he was at the top of his game as a staff photographer and commercial shooter for the most respected magazines and brands in the snowboarding world. Then, more than 2 years ago, he had a vision of a photo that had never been taken – and he needed to be the one to create it. In a moment he went “all in” and started his pursuit of a new, completely unique, creative experience. He spent all his savings and converted a box truck into a tintype camera and started traveling around the country in his camera taking wetplate processed tintype photos – some of the largest that have ever been created. Check out the video above for a teaser on Ian and his work.

I’m so stoked that Ian is coming to Seattle next week to share his experience on chasejarvisLIVE. And even more exciting – he will be shooting the camera with me, my team and YOU. Dont miss this. It will be LIVE, un-scripted and inspirational.

WHO: You, Me, and a LIVE photo shoot with Ian Ruhter’s wetplate camera-truck + worldwide gathering of creative people
WHAT: Interview, discussion + a worldwide Q&A
WHEN: Wednesday, December 19th, 11:00am Seattle time (2pm NYC time or 19:00 London)
WHERE: Tune into www.chasejarvis.com/live. It’s free — anyone can watch and we’ll be taking YOUR questions via Twitter, hashtag #cjLIVE

We will be giving this signed photo of Ian’s away during the show – you have to tune in to find out how to win!

Watch the show today and find out how to win a signed print this Ian Ruhter photo

As always, you can ask any question of me or Ian (@ianruhter) that you might have, as we’ll be taking your question via my twitter handle + hashtag #cjLIVE and via my Facebook page.

THIS IS HUGE – WE’RE GIVING AWAY TWO MANFROTTO GEAR SET UP.
Help us promote the show by sending a creative tweet out to your friends to help promote this show
@manfrotto_tweet + #cjLIVE [note: you must follow @manfrotto_tweet to be eligible to win]

Bundle #1: Manfrotto Bundle composed of:
_Manfrotto 290 3-section carbon fiber tripod with quick-release 3-way photo head
_Manfrotto Midi-36 LED Light
_Manfrotto Stile Bella V Black Shoulder Bag
_Manfrotto Lino Apparel Soft Shell Jacket
_Manfrotto Lino Apparel Photo Cap Winter
Total Bundle Value: $780.00

Product Bundle # 2:
Manfrotto Bundle composed by:
Manfrotto Compact Photo Head Kit
Manfrotto Klyp Kit with Case for iPhone 4/4S + ML 240 LED Light + Pocket Tripod
Manfrotto Stile Bella V Black Camera Shoulder Bag
Manfrotto Lino Apparel Soft Shell
a Manfrotto Lino Apparel Photo Cap Winter

Total Bundle Value: $ 474.98

ALSO – FOR EVERYONE RIGHT NOW
We’re working with our good friends at liveBooks for 50% off an Emerging Predesigned Package site. Use the promo code CJLIVE. The discount is good for a yearly package, expiring 12/31/2013.[You can get it for $99 - regularly $199]

Special thanks to our sponsors who help make this show possible – please follow them and let them know you appreciate the free content that they help us deliver. Respect.
HP: @hpprint
Broncolor: @hasselbladbron
Manfrotto: @manfrotto_tweet
liveBooks: @liveBooks

View Official Contest Rules here.

Emerging Talent: Niki Feijen’s Interiors of Intrigue [and What Pro Photographers Need To Learn From Non-Pros]

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRolloI was first introduced to Niki Feijen’s work via Amy Rollo who helps me with the Best Photo Locations pieces on my blog. I saw his stuff and, naturally, poked around to learn more about him. Ironically, one of my favorite parts of Niki’s backstory is that he’s not a professional photographer. He has a day job, and photographs his passion – urban exploring. And then something occurred to me: while it may be unconventional thinking, I believe deeply that pro photographers have a lot to learn from those who are not professional. Remember when your next photo wasn’t an “assignment” for a “client”? There’s something healthy about his. The following is Amy’s interview with Niki. The simplicity in approach is eloquent and noteworthy IMHO. Enjoy…

Amy Rollo: Every one of Niki Feijen’s intriguing shots could be featured ANY Best Photo Locations list.  With Tim Burton-esque scenes, intrigue draws you into these realms, yet we’re all terrified of what we may find around the corner. He brings us on a tour of abandoned hospitals, mansions, and churches. At first glance many of his images seem filled with life, sunlight bouncing off of smooth surfaces. Upon closer inspection you notice the decay and rot in every corner.  ”Lonely” is certainly a word to describe some these settings, but that sense feels temporary.  Like the family who lives here just went to the movies, but they forgot where they lived and their stuff has been waiting a few decades for their return. Naturally, I had to ask Niki what exactly makes him tick…

Amy Rollo: I understand that you’re not a professional photographer. Do you want to become one?

Niki Feijen: Well to be honest, I don’t think that my kind of photography could work out to be a full time job. If I want to become a professional photographer and do this full time I will need to step away of doing just urbex [urban exploring] photography.  I will have to master other directions, too. I would have to take assignments and I think it would drive me further away from the whole urbex thing. Besides that, I have an awesome job which I love.  In the meantime I can fully practice my crazy hobby. I’m currently in progress of assembling and publishing my very own book. I do not think I have the time and opportunity to do that if it were a full time job.

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

Why is photography important to you?

Photography is a way to handle my urge to be creative. Since its a hobby I can do whatever I want. I have all the freedom in the world since I do not need to be here or there. I can make a crazy surrealistic shot or show the eeriness of an abandoned hospital. The tension and excitement of urban exploring is also a big fun factor. The rush you get when finding an entrance into a building that has been left behind for 20 years and is in a perfect condition is priceless.

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

What makes photography art?

Every photographer has their own creative vision. Every photo tells a story just like a piece of artwork. If I can capture a scene and I can transfer the atmosphere of that scene to an audience, I have succeeded. If I can move the audience with my photographs and trigger their emotions, I think that is art.

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

Talk to me about photo gear, your perception, and your approach

Technology goes so fast right now and there is still the big Nikon / Canon which-one-is-better “war” going on. I don’t think that there are any bad cameras anymore. It’s still the photographer that needs to make the photo and it really doesn’t make that much of a difference with what brand you use. I am very happy with my Nikon D800,  but if i did not have all the Nikon lenses I could just as well have taken the Canon 5D Mark III. I truly believe that mirrorless cameras will have the future though. The flipping mirror is from the 20th century and it is time to move beyond that. The mirrorless camera already has a lot of advantages.  Look at the FPS rate for example. Already they shoot more than 50 frames a second and the whole thing fits in your pocket. In a few years they will have larger sensors and the mirrorless camera will be mainstream. In 10 years we will buy a bulky retro DSLR on ebay to put on display.

 Who or what influenced you to become a photographer?

I have been photographing since I was a kid. Fascinated by the shots of the World Press photo and National Geographic photographers like James Standfield. I wanted to be like them.  When I got my first camera I tried many different directions like concerts, landscape, portraits etc. Many years later i discovered urbex photographty and nothing appealed to me more as that. Trey Ratcliff introduced me to HDR and when I discovered the combination of urban exploring and HDR by the works of Andre Govia, I was hooked. Even today there are a lot of photographers that inspire me. Lee Jeffries for example is a master in black and white portraits. No one can transfer the emotion and pain of a person as well as he can.

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

 What makes a good photographer?

I don’t think you can define “good photographer”. What is extremely good for one person can be the exact opposite for somebody else. It’s the same thing as Art.

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

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ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo-01

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

Check out more of Niki’s work on his website and follow him on Facebook.

How to Shoot a 7 Gigapixel, 60-Foot Wide Photo in 5 Easy Steps [The Devil is In the Details]

San Francisco panorama

I’ve always been a fan of photographic works by Andreas Gursky and others that are huge in scale and still maintain amazing detail. While Gursky is a living legend and none of us are approaching his sphere any time soon, there are a variety of more accessible approaches to creating massive images that maintain incredible details available to most of us

As such I want to take a second to introduce Ben Pitt. Ben is a tech / photo geek who has been reviewing digital things and software for more than 15 years – and as this post demonstrates – he knows a thing two about making these multi-gigapixel images with insane detail and will walk you though it in this post… Be sure to click on the link to this crazy 7-Gigapixel photo here (requires Flash) to get a sense for what I’m talking about. -Chase
________

Thanks Chase. Modern digital cameras’ excessively high resolutions really bug me. Seriously, who needs more than 12 megapixels? (Don’t answer that.) So it’s ironic that I’ve recently caught a different kind of bug: creating gigapixel panoramas. It’s done by taking hundreds of photos and stitching them together on a computer. The image above weighs in at 7 gigapixels. Printed at 300dpi, it would be 61 feet wide.

As Chase mentioned, take a second to check out the 7-gigapixel image at by clicking one of these links Gigapan (requires Flash), Gigapan for iPhone/iPad or Photosynth (requires Silverlight). Hit the Full-screen button and see if you can track down the four details below. Go on – zoom right all the way to the sidewalk where you can peep into the lives of millions of San Francisco locals going about their day.

Gigapixel panorama stitching is a stiff challenge for the computer, but the technique is surprisingly easy and the equipment needn’t be expensive. There’s some high-tech kits out there, such as the GigaPan robotic camera mounts, but my image was captured using a normal tripod and an inexpensive ultra-zoom camera I happened to have with me on my trip. A long telephoto lens is crucial, and the Panasonic FZ200 was perfect with its 600mm (equivalent) maximum focal length and crisp focus. I generally prefer to use an SLR or mirrorless camera but I love how versatile, compact and affordable these ultra-zoom cameras are.

Step 1: Shooting
First, shooting was pretty straightforward. I mounted the camera on the tripod, switched the exposure, focus and white balance to manual and zoomed in. All that remained was to zigzag across the scene, capturing it a row at a time with about 30 percent overlap to ensure an accurate stitch. I took 1,229 photos, captured in 16 rows of about 75 shots each. It took just over an hour. The weather in California is thankfully a little more stable than it is in my native England, so the light didn’t change much throughout the hour.

Step 2: Stitching
A week later I was back at my PC and finally able to stitch it together. I used a free Windows utility called Microsoft ICE (short for Image Composite Editor). The stitching process is entirely automatic – simply import the JPEGs and the software identifies common features in overlapping photos, adjusts each photo’s geometry as necessary and stitches them all together. It takes hours to process hundreds of photos but you can just leave the software to get on with it.

Photosynth for iPhone

Photosynth for iPhone

[Note: Other stitching utilities are available for Windows and Mac, such as PTgui and GigaPan Stitch. These will set you back around $100 but they have some useful extra features, such as GigaPan Stitch's vignette correction or PTgui's manual adjustment for misaligned photos.There are also some impressive panorama-stitching iPhone apps too.They can't generate gigapixel images (the iPhone's 33mm equivalent lens isn't long enough) but you can't beat an iPhone app for immediacy and interactivity. Check out DPReview Connect's round-up of iOS panorama apps here.]

Step 3: Troubleshooting
I’ve found that automatic panorama stitching is rarely faultless, and there were four areas where ICE ran into trouble in my San Francisco shot. I’d anticipated two of these – the sky and the hillside in the foreground – as I knew that there wouldn’t be enough detail in these areas for the software to identify common features in overlapping photos. I got around this by shooting the skyline again at 195mm, which gave me enough sky so that I didn’t have to crop Sutro Tower out of the shot. Zoom in and you’ll notice that the sky isn’t as sharp as the city, but it’s only really apparent in the aeroplane just above the blimp. For the foreground I stitched a dozen shots at 25mm. That’s far less detail than the rest of the image, but considering that the foreground is out of focus, the join is fairly imperceptible.

Step 4: Photoshop finishing
Next, I loaded these three stitches into Photoshop CS6, resized the smaller ones to match the biggest and blended them together. This is one job that’s not worth considering without Photoshop. I tried various editors to see how they’d cope with the 15GB PSB file, and Photoshop was the only one that stood a chance. If you don’t own it, bear in mind that you can now rent it for cheap.

The trees in the foreground confused ICE too because they were blowing in the wind, so I returned to the original photos to patch this area. There was also one small spot that I’d somehow completely missed, so I had to rebuild it with some Photoshop trickery – I owe a beer to the first person to find it.

Photoshop CS6

Step 5: Sharing
Sharing – and even saving – gigapixel panoramas is another challenge. JPEG and TIF formats won’t go that high, so Photoshop’s PSB format is the only option I’ve found to save it to disk. The best way to view and share them is via online hosting sites. These work in a similar way to satellite mapping sites such as Google Maps, downloading small sections of the photo as they’re requested. I uploaded to Gigapan.com using its free uploader utility, and to Photosynth.net using a plug-in for Photoshop. You can also upload to Photosynth.net directly from Microsoft ICE.

There are some breathtaking panoramas on GigaPan, Photosynth and elsewhere – check out Martin Kulhavy’s work at www.martin.kulhavy.info, and this 30-gigapixel, 360-degree monster by Matt Uyttendaele, who happens to be the man behind ICE. These are the photographs that inspired me, and I’m happy to have produced something that – technically at least – is in the same league and yet was achieved with a cheap camera and basic tripod.

I love the fact that I created and published this image but I haven’t seen most of it. It’s a photo for exploring – finding the finer details. Like the man in the red cap reading a book on a roof, two toddlers planning their escape from a playground or the masses of street art that stretches across south San Francisco. There’s something satisfying about how this image is inquisitive but non-judgemental. From the fire-ravaged house façade to the man in the park with his tent, this is what San Francisco looked like on the 13th of October, 2012. I hope you find something interesting in there too. I hope you’re the man in the red cap, reading this now. Either way, If you’ve got a long lens and a couple of hours to spare, I’d love to see what’s happening in your neighborhood.

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