Eat your heart out, Nikon. The D4? Humbug. Here’s my new camera. No megapixels, no battery, no video…heck, no lens. It’s loaded right now with very very expired Kodak Gold 200. If I were really cool, I would have built it truly from scratch, but the kit was $20 and came with a book, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
I was tweeting today about my favorite of several new toys. Maybe I’ll get around to mentioning the others sometime soon, although I must admit that most of them only will appeal to people who like talking tech. But my favorite of the new lot is my Bronica, for which I have recently professed profound love.
I’m still learning the ropes of it, and still getting comfortable with just sort of eyeballing the light and making exposure decisions about it. Still, it is definitely a departure, and a fun one at that, from the immediacy of digital photography. Not that the immediacy of the digital formats is a bad thing…but in a time when photographers can reel off an unlimited number of shots and then pick out the several best, it is not only a change of pace, but also a change in the way of thinking, to be limited to twelve shots per roll of film. Shooting with this type of camera slows me down and makes me think about each and every exposure.
Of course, one should always slow down and think of each and every exposure. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I for one certainly am guilty of the “start shooting and see what happens” approach when using digital. With the medium format, it’s more “stop and be clear about what is going to happen.”
On my July 4th trip to NC, there was one morning of dense fog. I had the chance to simply duck out into the backyard and take a few shots. The fog is like a very spongey seamless background–it doesn’t have a definite surface, but it certainly goes out to white somewhere out there over the pond. Neat little effect, especially with the mid-morning sun giving enough light for details in the trees.
85mm lens, Ilford Delta 100 film
So here’s one of those shots that looks pretty basic at first, but the more I look at it, the happier I am with it. The pose is nothing special, the setting is pretty nice (under a weeping beech tree that is maybe 150 years old), but the lighting…this is what has me excited.
If you look closely, the couple has sort of glow-y look to them; there’s some rim light, the veil is lit up, etc. There’s a speedlight on a stand directly behind the couple, at about 1/4 power, pointing back toward the camera, adding that effect. It’s subtle, but it is the reason that the image has that pop to it. The ambient light would have been too flat; an umbrella from the front would have perhaps added some shape, but not helped to separate the couple from the background. I’m happy I made the choice that I did: mostly ambient light with a bit of subtle shaping.
Post was pretty simple for this one, too. Exposure was increased a touch on the couple; curves layers accentuated the tree and the texture of the ground. That’s about it.
Also, on a note from my personal life, I am riding a hot streak of eating some pretty good cake. Ask me about the icing I made for my wife’s birthday. Boy howdy. So in that vein, here is a picture of a wedding cake:
Another frame from my first shoot with the Bronica SQ. I’m using an 85mm 2.8 lens, and Kodak T-Max 400 film (120 formate, of course). Going through my bookmarks the other day, I was reminded why I bought this thing in the first place. It might have been a bit of an impulse buy, but I must say there are no regrets. Far from it!
A subtle thing I love about the negatives is that the edge is irregular; you can see the holders that keep the negative where it should be, and I love how it gives a little bit of character to the framing of the picture. I guess this is also a way of showing off that the image isn’t cropped, if you’re into that sort of thing. I run into a little bit of trouble here, because even though I’ve never been a real big cropper of frames, I think that my right leg is actually a bit shorter than my left, because I do have a tendency to tilt my frames a bit from the horizontal, and when that happens, any straightening results in losing that border. Of course I have to blame my legs. There’s no way I could possibly be the cause of holding a camera not-level. Must be something else out of my control. For certain.
I’ve also been metering with two methods that are probable not recommended. First, I shoot a few frames with my digital camera, and then just carry those settings over to the fully-manual Bronica. Of course, one has to be careful here, when metering, to use full stops on the digital…I’ve gotten so used to 1/3 stop increments that I really have to make myself pay attention there. But it does result in decent exposures. Maybe some other time I’ll pick up the debate about reflective v. incident metering, but not now.
The other method of metering has been to use the “sunny 16” rule, and then just sort of eyeball the reduction in light caused by clouds. Here, I am relying on my judgment, and there are many many people who will come forward and tell anyone willing to listen that this, when dealing with me, is a foolhardy strategy.
Oh and by the way, Happy Birthday to my wife! She’s awesome.
This is my first time shooting 120 film, as well as shooting on a camera that has no light meter. I think, so far, it is going well. what I really love is the negatives. They’re big. They have lots of details. They’re beautiful. They play nicely with being scanned (even though the lab scanned them as low-res JPEGs and not hi-res TIFFs…. Grr. Argh.). And the resulting images just have a look to them. I recognize how intangible that is, but still.
Plus, the viewfinder! the viewfinder on my D300s now makes me feel a little claustrophobic. The SQ’s is huge, and makes manual focusing almost easy. Love love love.
So now I’m trying out a few different films, looking to come to a better understanding of what each offers. Tri-X 400, T-Max 400, Ilford Delta 100 and 3200, and I’m looking for their SFX 200. Looking forward to learning this thing inside and out.
When I shoot weddings, I’m always working with at least two cameras at any given moment, one with a 24-70, the other with a 70-200. I know this is typical, and there’s good reason. The above shot was taken during a family portrait of about fifteen people, all of whom were significantly taller than this little girl. Ok, actually her younger sister was there, too, but she was being held, so she was like 6’4″ even though she was only two. Anyway.
I was shooting the group with a wider lens so that I didn’t have to be eighty feet away, and this girl kept flapping her head side to side, playing with her hands, and generally just being charming in a way that was in peril of being lost in the group composition. So I quickly threw the wide lens in the grass, grabbed the telephoto, and singled her out while everyone thought I was shooting the whole group.
Kids are so aware of the lens; it is difficult to catch them in an unguarded moment, but I think that, having fifteen people around, and not just being subject to one click and flash, they are more likely to let their guard down and be themselves. I’m not sure how aware she was of where the focus of my attention and my lens were, but I certainly know that she knew how to attract it.
Light modifiers are my current area of self-evaluation and study. I’m waiting to be convinced by my Lumiquest 80/20, but I also think I just haven’t found the right situation to really bring out what it does.
So for now, my favorite light modifier remains the ceiling. I love the quality of light in this image and how it just makes the colors snappy. It was shot was a D300S and Sigma 24-70mm f2.8, with an SB600 on TTL shot straight at the ceiling with no modifier. Here’s another from earlier in the day, with a bit more ambient light mixed in.
I try to get by the best I can with the equipment I have. In terms of lighting, this means an SB600 speedlight and an umbrella that can be used as either a shoot-through or reflector. One of these I’ll get into the studio strobe and softbox market, but for now, I’m playing around with my basic toys trying to get better results.
Although I like using the shoot-through, one of the problems it has is that it spills an awful lot of light around the room in a way that a softbox, with its black sides, wouldn’t. So I came up with this solution:
Set up the umbrella and speedlight normally for a shoot-through scenario. Then, add to the speedlight one of those mini-softboxes that can be used when the speedlight is on the hot shoe; I have one made by Opteka that cost about $10. This helps a bit with the spill issue, plus it adds another layer of diffusion to the light modifier, as some larger softboxes do.
The above shot was taken with this set-up. Nikon D300S, 55-200mm kit lens @200mm, 1/250 @ f16, ISO 200; one SB600 w/ Opteka mini softbox and shoot-through umbrella, high camera right, manual mode at full power.
I should also add that this shot was taken during lunch. Photoshop was used to remove a certain amount of lasagna from the subject’s face.
I went back and forth on this one, trying to decide if I should leave the orange orange. I eventually decided that the color was a bit ostentatious, a bit garish. At least for this image. I found myself looking at it, especially on a black background, thinking, “Holy cow that’s an orange orange!” And then I had to tangle with the temptation of cranking the vibrancy and saturation in Lightroom and turning this into an Electric Alien Fruit Slice, and…and…just all that orange.
Before we go any further, I think we all need to be honest with each other on how we pronounce that color. Are you one of the “Ore-inj” people, or are you one of the “Arnj” people? My sister used to pronounce it “Arninj”.
The problem with the color version was that I found it distracted from the texture and light, which is what I really dig this image. Take the color away, and you are left with a subtle and interesting surface with a nice, diffuse reflectiveness. Besides, it’s not as if anyone is going to have a hard time imagining the image in color, if that’s what you do. It’s an orange. It’s orange. Really really ore-inj, even for an arnj.
I blahg blahg blahgged enough about taking shots like this yesterday, and all the reasoning still applies. In fact, the two were shot just several minutes apart, and there are more to come.
The holidays have come and gone, and so I’m not getting as many requests from friends and family for advice on what camera to buy as I did over the last six weeks or so. If you are a photographer, or at least someone who is seen in public often enough with a larger-than-credit-card-sized camera, you probably get these requests often enough as well. And I’m here today to ask one thing of you: stop telling your friends to buy a dSLR. They don’t need one.
There are some truly amazing dSLRs out there; I am the proud owner of a D40, and I use it regularly, and for most intents and purposes that don’t also require a contract, this simplest of dSLRs is just brilliant. Of course, it also got a little bit dated in the rush to include video functions on all cameras, and now it is no more. The functions are streamlined, the menus are deep enough for good customization but not so deep as to be daunting, the controls are simple and easy to understand, learn, and use. Once you toss the kit lens off an ocean liner and replace it with something worthwhile such as the 35mm f1.8 (a steal at around $200), you have a nice little camera that breaks neither your bank account nor your shoulder.
That being said, it is still more camera than most people need. How many people do you know who have bought dSLRs, and either leave them in P mode, or use one of the other presets on the mode selector, and never, ever set anything manually…not the shutter speed, nor the aperture, nor the ISO? And I’m not even getting into image optimization options, or D-lighting, or shooting modes, or metering modes, or autofocus modes, or programming the function button, or exposure compensation, or flash compensation, and on and on and on. They essentially use their dSLRs as point-and-shoot cameras, because that is what most people, I think, are looking for. DSLRs, on the other hand, are meant for manual operation. Sure, the automated functions sure do come in handy in some situations (it’s not that odd for me to shoot much of a wedding in P mode, with the flash on TTL), but a camera, even the D40, separates itself from others by the customizability that is the hallmark of dSLRs.
So when someone who really wants a very good automatic camera shells out for a dSLR, they are paying for hundreds of dollars of features they never intend to use. That just isn’t smart.
The typical rejoinder here is that dSLRs “take better pictures”…even though, as a cartoon I once saw put it, saying that cameras take pictures is like saying that mouths make compliments. While it is technically true that dSLRs are capable of making images of much higher quality, I think it is smart to really consider the practical limitations of quality an average person is interested in. As photographers, we are hopefully full-on OCD about quality. But the average person who wants good snapshots does not have the same demands for quality that we do, and again should not be coaxed into paying double or triple what is necessary to meet their needs.
Are they going to be shooting in RAW, or JPEG? Probably JPEG. They’ll get perfectly good images, but they don’t need a camera that shoots RAW. Should they shoot RAW? Really. Does an average snapshooter need the flexibility brought by RAW? No. So don’t pay for it. Are they color calibrating their monitors to get the most accurate prints possible? No? Then why have them worry about the fractional improvement in color rendering offered by the larger sensors of even crop-frame dSLRs? Are they using image editing software, or just printing straight from the camera via USB cable? Are they using a professional printing service, or are they using CVS? Or are they just uploading everything for viewing on the web, or are they even just keeping everything on their camera and showing it people on the LCD display? At each of these steps, the argument for the higher quality of dSLRs falls apart a little bit more. Your friends are not interested in making professional-quality images, and so they don’t need a camera that has that as its designed goal. Save the money and take a photo class at your local community college.
And we haven’t even gotten to lenses yet. Sure, there are some great all-purpose walk-around lenses like Nikon’s 18-200mm, but even that lens has an aperture that will leave you taking mostly flash pictures indoors, and there is nothing more frustrating for your friends than dropping $800 on a camera and $700 on a lens, taking that first flash picture indoors, looking at the LCD, and then thinking, “Hey…that looks just like what my $90 camera took…blasted highlights and shadow-mullets on the wall.” Of course, we all know the cost of replacing that consumer-grade glass with something that really will make a difference. The cost of all that camera is now going into the thousands. Plus, is your non-photographer really going to carry around a bag with three different lenses? Really?
I always recommend two cameras: the Nikon P100, and the Canon Powershot SX30 IS. Both approach the quality of dSLRs. Neither has the fuss nor cost of interchangeable lenses, which your friends won’t bother with. In fact, the lenses on these are, arguably, better than those consarned f3.5-5.6 kit lenses. They are more compact. They are, in essence, exactly what your friends and family want, and at a fraction of the cost. Not that they are cheap–the Canon costs about the same as my D40 kit did. But since I bought my D40, I’ve bought two more lenses for it, and it still doesn’t and won’t ever do video (not that you should be buying a dSLR for its video functions). Recommend these cameras to your friends.
I am just a susceptible as the next person to getting excited about equipment, and wanting to pass on that enthusiasm. But more than passing on an enthusiasm for gear, I hope to pass on an enthusiasm for images…and those come from capturing moments, capturing light, thinking about what you are photographing. These are artistic considerations, not technical ones. And while I realize that the technology assists and empowers the art, most of the snapshooters we know don’t need seven frames per second; they need to know more about framing and composition. They need to have a camera in their hands when they are just sitting or walking around. They need to lie down on the floor with their kids and put the camera at a novel angle. They need to climb a tree and shoot down on their next picnic. They need to fall in love with light and learn that photographing shadows can be just as compelling, and sometimes more so, than photographing the same face again. They need to learn to take candid shots and not lines of people in front of walls.
No amount of gear can instill this sensibility. So don’t ask your friends to pay for it.