back to article Snapper's decisions: Whatever happened to real photography?

Gradually and quietly, there has been a revolution in photography which has seen traditional film eclipsed by digital techniques. John Watkinson argues that the results of the revolution are not all beneficial, not least because the evolutionary path from amateur to professional has been economically closed off by marketing. …

  1. fearnothing

    So suppose that you have a customer who has the patience and determination to make something more of his photography than a tourist with a camera phone, but not the budget for the ones that make the pros wince - what options does this kind of hobbyist have?

    1. Tim Roberts 1

      mirrorless

      There are some excellent mirrorless cameras out there that fit this need. Some have good optical and digital zoom.

    2. Vinyl-Junkie

      It's difficult to answer that without knowing what your subjects are, what your budget is, and what you are trying to get out of it (see my comment further down the page). However I would say that there are plenty of mid-range DSLRs out there that you can experiment with (and if you buy secondhand you won't take a huge hit if they don't suit - my local secondhand camera exchange puts about 20% markup on items, which is better than the 30-50+% hit you'll take on a new buy! To compare and contrast features and results I have found www.dpreview.com to be a good resource.

      Above all when you get your kit don't be afraid to experiment with it; go out there and take pictures to find out what the camera will do, what limitations or quirks it has, and to refine your techniques before you need them in anger. Much easier to do these days than when you had to wait for the film to come back! Especially learn where all the buttons and menu options are; you never know when you might need them in a hurry!

      1. fearnothing

        I have a couple of main subjects; first one is indoor sports photography (I'm a fencer). The other is nature macros - insects, plants, birds. I also like doing landscapes from time to time. I'm currently using a Canon Powershot G5, which does very nicely with the macros, especially when there's a bit of sunshine, but the amount of light I get in is pretty poor, so any kind of fast movement will give me desperate trouble unless it's in bright daylight. Budget is £600-1000 initially, and of course I'd expect to add more lenses to that over time.

        1. ckm5

          Try getting a tripod & a remote for your current camera. Both of those will be helpful when shooting in low light.

    3. Vociferous

      > what options does this kind of hobbyist have?

      A digital SLR.

      They are not as good as they could be because, as the article observes, the manufacturers have focused on low cost rather than high performance, but even a modest dSLR is still head and shoulders above anything any cellphone can produce.

      The author is a medium format enthusiast. For good and bad medium format enthusiasts have always been the "linux crowd" of photography.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        "Linux crowd"? There are a lot of ex medium format phogs wishing that there were 120mm system cameras on free distribution.

      2. Mark McNeill

        The linux crowd

        "For good and bad medium format enthusiasts have always been the "linux crowd" of photography."

        That means large format photographers are, what, BSD? (May be relevant: I was told that beards were a bad idea for large format photographers, because, erm, hairs and other bits were more liable to fall on the film when loading darkslides.)

      3. Psyx

        "For good and bad medium format enthusiasts have always been the "linux crowd" of photography."

        Quite. I did find it odd that the author was advising on the use of cameras he doesn't use, in the shoes of a customer-type that he's not.

      4. James 132

        Funnily enough, I've never touched a medium format camera in my life (I have had an EOS 20D for ten years now) but, on Flickr the medium format stuff is what I find myself browsing the most often.

        I'd give it a try but I just don't have the time (or money!!) these days, but it definitely looks really interesting.

    4. russell 6

      You don't need to spend a fortune on a camera. If you are serious about how making more of your photography then you need a camera that gives you control of Aperture and Shutter speed. There are many good deals out there on refurbished and well looked after second hand cameras. A modest budget can get you on the road. The important thing is choosing something that is right for you.

      I got into photography when I was 10, borrowed lots of books from the library on the subject and went out and experimented, it is the best way to learn. As the article states, the important thing is to slow down and consider what exactly it is you want to capture, have the image in your mind's eye before you even pick the camera up. Then set the camera up to capture the scene in the way you already imagined it. That comes with time and a shed load of experimentation.

      Happy hunting :)

      1. Stacy

        I would suggest a good second hand body and a good second hand lens (sigma ex dg lenses are great and a fraction of the cost of a professional grade brand lenses). My Canon 5d was about 600 pounds and my sigma 24-70 1.8f lens was 150. Great combination, and cheaper than a cheap DSLR costs brand new

        1. Vinyl-Junkie

          My Canon 550D was £300 secondhand; I've used it for some macro photography and it's very effective. I used the big zoom I've got which would eat most of your budget even at the secondhand price I paid for it but a good high quality lens should be available within your budget, especially if you buy second hand.

          I would also say if you have one near you go to a camera specialist that sells secondhand equipment; most are happy to let you try it out before buying, and you will at least know it works and even get some idea of whether it's what you're looking for. They may not be as cheap as online but they will often have good knowledge and can help you choose. The best ones see the value in repeat custom; which is likely if they sell you the right thing to start with.

          1. James 132

            I still shoot with a 2004 Canon 20D. I've no plans to upgrade any time soon, because frankly the camera is still more than enough for my abiblity. I'm deeply envious of the low light performance of the high-ISO new bodies, but I have most of my pictures on the web and it's good enough for that.

            I use it most commonly with a Sigma 20-40 F2.8, a discontinued and unloved lens in Sigma's lineup but one I got dirt cheap secondhand, and is more than useful on that body.

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          >Above all when you get your kit don't be afraid to experiment with it; go out there and take pictures to find out what the camera will do, what limitations or quirks it has, and to refine your techniques before you need them in anger.

          Agreed. A lot of learning comes from the desire to mitigate the shortcomings of an imperfect camera.

          An aid to learning is having the camera with you often.

          I started with a 3MP phone camera - horribly noisy, low resolution... but it made me think about just what is was in the shot that I was trying to capture - what it was that had an emotional impact or interest, and trying to accentuate it in Photoshop. I wasn't going for realism, or print-quality.

          I then used a cheap Samsung compact camera whilst travelling - but it did have manual controls, enough to get a feeling for shutter and aperture.

          Then a Lumix LX-5, a 'premium compact' whose competitors are the Canon S95 and Sony RX100 and the like. Small enough for a jacket pocket, I carried it often, and played with it a lot. I could get away with low-light photography - parties, street scenes etc - if I was careful in my settings. I learnt more about which compromises to make for a particular situation. Bokeh was possible, but only at the widest zoom... filling the frame with someone's face without zooming would make their nose look too big.

          Currently I have an LX-7. It builds upon the LX-5, and offers an aperature of f1.4 - albeit married to a relatively small sensor - bigger than most compacts, but smaller than a m4/3rds or DSLR. Portraits benefit, because I can zoom a little, yet still soften the background.

          Play, play, play. The more you use it, the quicker you learn. If a compact camera means you carry it more often, so be it. You will learn its shortcomings, and if you decide to more money on a pricier, bigger camera, you will have a better idea of what you want from it.

        3. ckm5

          Great lens, I had the equivalent one on both Sony & Nikon bodies. For me, large aperture & a 50mm sweet spot is the ideal camera, although I also really like ultra-wide angle lenses.

      2. fearnothing

        It sounds like I'm not up to the point where you are in terms of competence, but I know enough to say that while control of aperture and shutter speed is useful, if even on the largest aperture you still require bright direct sunlight to get a decent high-speed shot, then you have problems. F-stop on the G5 only goes to 2.4 and add that to the fact that the lens is limited in size by the fact that it's a compact (if larger than average), it means my opportunities for good photos are much more restricted. I simply don't get enough light.

        That said, thanks for the tips about second hand kit. I like the sound of a 5D and lens for £750 :)

        1. Vinyl-Junkie

          Decent control over the sensitivity (usually measured in ISO equivalence) is the major factor in allowing you to shoot high shutter speeds in lower lighting levels; although you'll get a trade off in noise. This is where www.dpreview.com comes in very handy; they do lots of tests and you'll be able to see how a particular camera behaves at higher ISOs. You might also want to consider an image stabilised lens, although these are not cheap!

          Definitely see what's about and do some comparison before committing yourself; I looked at a number of secondhand Canons when I was in the market for an upgrade; the 550D was easily the best value for money of those my local secondhand camera shop had available. And they let me try it out with my existing lenses in the shop.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            >Decent control over the sensitivity (usually measured in ISO equivalence) is the major factor in allowing you to shoot high shutter speeds in lower lighting levels; although you'll get a trade off in noise.

            Yep. How much noise at higher ISO settings depends upon the camera. Only the human operator can decide if the scene contains moving subjects (a noisier image is better than a blurred face), or if the camera will be kept still to better capture detail of a non-moving subject, and thus balance the trade-off accordingly. Play.

            Whilst talking about instant feedback, cameras with higher resolution screens can aid the learning process, since soft-focus shots are easier to identify whilst reviewing.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Consider upping the asa, oops sorry!,iso, Im still in plate camera mode.

          Raising the effective "film speed" until noise becomes a problem is the way to go in low light.

          Your camera will probably exceed your capabilities,Im not being rude,mine does and Ive been a pro since 1965.

    5. ckm5

      Controversial view

      IMHO, and it really is just that, you should practice, practice, practice with the equipment you currently have until you can get 'pro-level' pictures with that equipment. Only then should you try to find better equipment. Digital Rev has a great series titled 'Pro-tog, Cheap Camera' which highlight how important skill is over hardware: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7ECB90D96DF59DE5

      I went down the path of ever increasing hardware, both in size & price, until I finally decided that I needed 'good enough' hardware that was light enough to encourage taking it with me. And practice, practice, practice - at one point I was taking > 2000 pictures/month (most of them crap). After something like 30k pictures, I now carry a Nikon V1 with pretty much only a f1.8 50mm equiv lens ... when I'm carrying a camera at all. And my 'hit rate' decent pictures to crap has gone from 1 in 100 to about 1 in 3.

      So, focus on getting good with what you have. It's cheaper and in the end what is behind the lens is more important than any hardware. My SO takes incredible pictures with a Fuji XF1 thanks to extensive experience shooting TV...

      And, if you are going to spend money, lenses are where it should be. A very, very good lens on a mediocre body will do much better than crap lens on an expensive body. Plus you can always update the body...

    6. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

      Look at the world's best images. Notice anything?

      Rather than worrying about gear, perhaps you should worry about location.

      $2,000 lens, or $2,000 plane ticket?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

        To be fair, his sports shots were crap

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

        My wife often says to me, why can't you take photographs like that. To which I reply, because I can't afford to go to the Antarctic or Patagonia just to take pictures of penguins looking up at the sky and the local zoo just doesn't have the right background. Or spend three months sitting by a pond waiting for a humming bird to hang upside down from a twig and look at it's reflection in the water. She wants to drag me round art galleries to look at the work of other photographers, waste of time, lions on the savanna, sharks playfully tossing seals about, yeah, I wish. Although I do have some decent snaps of the squirrels in the local park and huge dragonflies from it's pond.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

        Location only up to a certain point. Find someone with skill and time they will be able to pull stunning shots from that park at the end of your road!

        I went through a phase of belt-tightening and I set myself a max radius of 10 miles around my house and I had to go with all my gear on foot for 3 months. It taught me so much about eeking out every single opportunity in any weather, any light. I was able to memorise locations I had seen and then visit them in so many different types of light and take more or less equipment, depending upon how I felt. That lesson taught me so much about how to work with my kit and the light I was given. I couldn't just jump in the car or take a plane and drive to where the weather was good. I know the location so well I still go back there 2 years later when I need to practice and don't have much time. The shots I have since got from there were good enough to secure me a place on the Landscape Photographer of the Year shortlist!

        Here's the kicker, no I don't live in the Lake District of the Dales, I live on the outskirts of London less than 5 miles from the M25 and that's where the shots were taken! So no, you'd be better off not spending money at all and simply investing time into your photography. Money will buy you image quality, time will buy you improvements to your talent!

        1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

          Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

          Agreed, just because you cannot go to the worlds exotic locations should not be a constraint on great photography.

          Sometimes such constraints work to your advantage, forcing you to concentrate on the basics. Take photos of birds and squirrels on a backyard bird table, find a local deer park during the rut, try macro for insect.

          By adding restrictions you increase your ingenuity and imagination to the point that if you do get the chance to go target rich environment, you won't waste your time taking poor photos.

        2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

          "...stunning shots from that park at the end of your road!"

          Park? Road? We live on 3+ acres diversely forested lakefront. My wife takes some lovely snapshots of our scenery, close ups of cute mushrooms and nice colourful leaves. She uses her iPhone 5S, ignoring the Nikon D3200 that I bought her. The snapshots end up on Facebook. They're lovely.

          I've not yet seen any National Geographic photographers wandering around our yard.

        3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

          Q: What is the one photograph that is arguably THE most famous (*) and *also* (!) obviously THE most important photograph ever taken?

          A: 'Earthrise' taken by the crew of Apollo 8 at the end of 1968.

          .: The Best Photo Ever was a direct result of "location, location, location". From Lunar orbit in this case.

          Photos of leaves reflected in a puddle aren't quite in the same league. No matter how good the bokeh.

          (* Nat Geo's 'Afghan Girl' is a contender for most famous. But somebody went to Afghanistan. Location, etc.)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

            I'd disagree, the most famous photograph is probably the little girl running away from being napalmed by the forces of the glorious liberators. I'll leave any political or moral comment for another time. I douibt the photographer went there for the scenery.

            1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

              @Chris W

              You've just provided another example supporting the importance of location. He had to be *there*, flying halfway around the world.

              Location does not imply just scenery. It also encompasses events.

          2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

            One 'thumb down' from somebody that has a hobby of taking exquisite photographs of leaves reflected in puddles. Pathetic.

            The First Rule of Thumb: "F8 and Be There" There' being an interesting location.

            You all must be blind if you can't buy into this obvious fact. Look at the percentages of the world's greatest images. Travel is a key part of almost all of them.

      4. intrigid

        Re: Ansel Adams, gear from 75 years ago, location, location, location.

        So true. I gave up on scenic photography because I live in a region that's about as scenic as the inside of a brown paper bag. I still enjoy wedding photography, despite the fact that pretty much all weddings are painfully cheesy and ridiculous.

    7. This post has been deleted by its author

    8. NickHolland

      Pitch for Pentax DSLRs

      One digi SLR line that most people seem to miss is the Pentax K series. Not sure about the rest of the world, but very few people selling it in the US, but it is worth consideration for one reason: it uses ALL the old Pentax lenses. A $25 adapter gets you even the screw mount lenses. Supposedly an adapter is available for the medium format 645 lenses.

      It is a blast working in a dark theater with a modern DSLR providing something like a 6400 ISO sensitivity with a 30+ year old f1.4 50mm lens. Can you get a f1.4 for your Nikon? Sure, but old Pentax lenses are laying around in people's attics.

      Down side: sure, no auto-focus, but also no split-image prism for focus assistance, and those f1.4 lenses do need a precise focus. Manual exposure, too...but that can be good.

  2. Tim Roberts 1

    nice commentary

    A couple of classic quotes that I enjoyed in the article:

    "My most important photographic accessory is a bullshit filter."

    "To get better pictures requires some knowledge of photography, which you don’t get by buying a DSLR, any more than buying a sports bag makes you an athlete."

    I'm an old film man - yes I admit to having a canon SLR back in the day (darkroom enlarger, stinky chemicals etc etc) , and have relatively recently returned to photography as a hobby and purchased a canon DSLR. I've quickly re-learned that the camera does not make the photographer.

    But what I really like with digital - my passion is bird photography - is that I can take lots (read several hundred in a morning) and keep only a few because the others range from crap to not good enough to keep.

    Tim

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: nice commentary

      I don't count myself as a photography enthusiast, but I have taken pictures over the years that have generated a wow reaction from people.

      I taught myself film photography from books and experience while at university, using a tank of a second hand Praktica LTL3 completely manual SLR camera with an f2.8 Carl Zeiss Tessar lens (an optically good, if rather restrictive lens) and stop-down metering.

      By my photos were always the ones people wanted to see at the breakfast table when they came back from the developers.

      What this hair-shirt experience taught me was that preparation was important, and pre-focus for action shots, setting the aperture and exposure in advance, and, above all, choosing the correct shooting location is essential. All of which are skills that can and should be learned. Another thing was to leave the camera cocked at a medium aperture and mid-range focus (for reasonable depth of field) so as to make an attempt at those 'just happening' shots, and rely on the developing process to correct the exposure. And if you have time and spare film, bracket the exposure for those important shots you don't want to miss.

      I stopped spending significant time taking pictures, and am now really just a casual photographer.

      When I got my first digital bridge camera, I was appalled by just how difficult it was to actually control the process. Everything was automatic, and the overrides were so difficult to work using the few buttons on the camera that it was a joke. I now possess a slightly more serious Fuji bridge camera with a mid-zoom lens. But I chose this one because I could control the focus and zoom by hand (which does wonders for preserving the battery life), and while I don't fully understand how the synthetic aperture work, I can use it. But what I first learned using a feature-free camera is still useful, even if most of the time I now shoot on full automatic.

      I pity people learning photography now, because they just don't get the opportunity to learn the necessary skills properly. One of my kids studied photography a few years back as part of her foundation degree, and I found it highly amusing that they were told to go and buy a cheap second hand film camera with full manual over-ride for use on the course, so at least the colleges still understand.

    2. calmeilles

      Re: nice commentary

      You last point is germane. As a one-time film user it took me years to learn that taking lots and lots of frames not only wasn't going to bankrupt me it was actually allowed, not some form of "cheating."

    3. Psyx

      Re: nice commentary

      "nice commentary"

      Kinda. It took 5 pages to get to the point, though. I did find myself skim-reading pages 3-5 because it didn't seem the article was getting anywhere, perhaps other than 'I'm a medium format photographer and know lots about photography".

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: My most important photographic accessory is a bullshit filter.

    I don't think filter is photography-specific, at least, mine isn't.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Re: re: My most important photographic accessory is a bullshit filter.

      That should have read "I don't think that filter..."

      Apparently I can't type very accurately at 3:45am.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Enjoyed this

    article immensely. Some of the best photographic results I ever had was B+W 120 from a Yashicamat.

    Taking a photograph, the dynamic has really shifted from doing more than frame/expose with little more thought than that, then do most work post production whilst sitting on a computer playing with settings. The good thing is, it allows you to be lazy when taking the shot. The bad thing is, it allows you to be lazy taking the shot. Even now, with the plethora of images thrown at us, a good, well composed image that catches the eye, can tell a story or, and this is the hardest part especially in landscapes, conveys the feeling of being there still stands out from the rest.

    Actually, a question, I still have a couple of 35mm and wanted to know where a semi-decent place is to source and develop b+w film these days, along with a set of prints? Kitchen, alas, really isn't suitable.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Enjoyed this

      >I still have a couple of 35mm and wanted to know where a semi-decent place is to source and develop b+w film these days, along with a set of prints?

      Perhaps try asking around a local art college... they might be able to steer you in the right direction, or find a student who will use their darkroom on your behalf for beer money.

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Enjoyed this

      @Mort - consider someone like Silverprint (er, I'm assuming you're in the UK - there should be equivalents elsewhere) - http://www.silverprint.co.uk/ - for both film and chemistry supplies. There are also 'daylight' developing tanks which will get you a negative.

      From negative to print you might like to think about scanning the negative rather than a further stage of processing, particularly if you don't want the hassle of an enlarger and dishes full of wet stuff.

      I love the orthochromatic (it doesn't see much red) Adox CHS 100 film - gives a lovely 50's look.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Enjoyed this

        That's what I do; kitchen sink developing in a daylight tank for negatives and slides (you really need decent temperature control for colour, though). And a Canon FS-4000 film scanner. I normally scan at 2000dpi, which gives me roughly 5MP images; if I want to order a big print, I scan at 4000dpi instead.

        And since I don't have space for a darkroom, or do prints often enough, I just order them online. Ilford Lab will do very good black and white photographic prints from uploaded files.

        Besides SilverPrint, other good sources for film and supplies are First Call who have a range of colour chemicals in softpacks, which is great if you don't do it very often, and AG Photographic.

        It's always worth shopping around - vendors seem to price the film wildly differently, and shipping varies a lot, too.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Enjoyed this

          I never found temperature control for colour film developing (neg or slide) to be too much of a problem. I filled the kitchen sink with water, adjusted by the taps till a floating thermometer showed about 5 deg above the correct temperature. All the bottles of chemicals would sit in that sink for an hour or so before the start, and I added a bit of hot now & again after the temperature had fallen to keep it correct - the required temperature was not much above room temperature so it didn't cool down very quickly. The developing tank sat in the same water during processing. Temperature control to within half a degree or better throughout the process was easily attainable.

          1. Nigel Whitfield.

            Re: Enjoyed this

            @Cynic_999 - yes, it can be done with a little attention like that, and some of the newer C41 chemicals have a fair amount of leeway in them too.

            I use a secondhand Jobo which I picked up on eBay before prices for them became completely ridiculous. And despite some of the dire warnings you can find about colour processes being absolutely temperature critical, a little bit either way doesn't seem to turn things into a disaster. It's generally only the first dev (in a 3 stage C41/E6) where you need to be as accurate as possible, in my experience. That said, I've never done the full six step E6.

            At around 30 quid for an E6 pack that does a dozen films, it started to become more economical when RoyalMail jacked up their rates so much that the postage there and back for a roll of film now costs more than some of the professional labs will charge for the actual developing.

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Enjoyed this

      If you are not looking at developing the films yourself, you could use C-41 process black and white film. This can be processed by any film processor as it uses the same equipment as colour film.

      I believe that both Ilford and Fuji still produce this type of film, and you may still be able to find some Kodak film still within it's use-by date.

    4. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: Enjoyed this

      "Taking a photograph, the dynamic has really shifted from doing more than frame/expose with little more thought than that, then do most work post production whilst sitting on a computer playing with settings."

      As a serious amateur landscape shooter this attitude infuriates me. I spend the best part of my time planning for location and weather, one shot took me close on 2 years and 3000 miles of driving back and forth to a location that was a 400 mile round trip in a single day each time, before I was happy with a shot. I personally do very little to my images in post other than a tweaking the tones and hues, I know how to use Photoshop and can happily kill an image with way too many effects but I don't want to spend any more time in front of the computer than I have to. I appreciate you're were making a generalisation about a lot of people with cameras but please don't lump us all in with that. Some of the best amateur landscapers in the country spend 75% of their time planning, studying and travelling before a shutter is even pushed, let alone time in front of a computer.

      "The good thing is, it allows you to be lazy when taking the shot. The bad thing is, it allows you to be lazy taking the shot. Even now, with the plethora of images thrown at us, a good, well composed image that catches the eye, can tell a story or, and this is the hardest part especially in landscapes, conveys the feeling of being there still stands out from the rest."

      Sadly you are very right on this part. While there a lot of us out there spend hours planning and executing a shot, there are a lot of people out there who simply shoot every sunrise, crank up the colour and contrast in post-processing, upload to 500px and then sit back and watch the hits roll in a like a torrent simply because their image has tons of orange/red/pink in it but when studied later on the images often have very little true substance to them.

    5. Getriebe

      Re: Enjoyed this

      I assume you are in London, so go here http://www.mrcad.co.uk/AboutUs.ink - Pimlico

      They can advise on anything.

      I use a Leica M3. Plus Fujicolour, it gives the best light intensity range of anything.

  5. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Many good points - however

    A very good medium format camera remains a heavy bulky camera. For a planned trip where the photography is the object of the trip the bulk and weight may well be acceptable. For any other purpose the weight and bulk are likely to be unacceptable. A moderate camera that you have with you is better than a superb camera that has been left at home.

    Rough comparison of camera weights

    Camera part of smartphone - under 10 grams

    Compact zoom camera - about 150 grams

    SLR with APS-C sensor and kit zoom lens - about 700 grams

    Full frame SLR with good zoom lens - about 1500 grams

    Medium format camera with lens and tripod (needed) - about 5000 grams

    I have a number of lenses that I use with my full frame SLR but the one that gets the most use is a good quality 35-200 f4.5 zoom. Other lenses (50mm f1.4, 500 mm f8 mirror, 135mm f3.5 etc) are used for some preplanned shots but are not normally carried due to the additional weight. For a person who is not a professional photographer, the weight of the carried equipment is a very important consideration. (For a casual trip into London, if I carry a SLR camera at all it is likely to be a Sony A200 (APS-C) with 18-70 kit zoom for its light weight.)

    I have considered and could afford a medium format setup - however I decided that it would not get very much use due to the weight so I decided not to go for medium format.

    1. Fazal Majid

      Re: Many good points - however

      A Mamiya 7 or a Fuji 670 are comparable in weight to a premium 35mm SLR.

    2. Vociferous

      Re: Many good points - however

      Good point.

      For personal vacation snaps I use a Canon Powershot G15 compact camera: small enough to pocket, image quality good enough to print.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Many good points - however

        The Canon G-series have lots of physical manual controls, but consider also the smaller Canon S95, S100 etc. They compete with the Lumix LX-5, LX-7 etc. More recently, the Sony RX100 MK2 - a similar size but bigger sensor - is said to trounce them for image quality but Sony's user interface is supposedly awkard at times. Its existance has caused Panasonic to up their game, and their LX-100 looks very interesting.

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Many good points - however

          I so agree with the Canon S compacts they are lovely I hope they are making them as tough as they used to my old one took hell of a beating, although tempted by the Sony more recently....

      2. Paul Johnston
        Happy

        Re: Many good points - however

        Re Canon G15

        Ditto, lovely camera and it has a viewfinder great for us four-eyes :-)

    3. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Many good points - however

      >A moderate camera that you have with you is better than a superb camera that has been left at home.

      This. And the best way to learn photography isn't to dick around with medium format, which most prosumer users don't know how to use creatively anyway (sorry John...), but to start with a phone cam or maybe a compact and learn the basics of composition and lighting on that.

      You can worry about focus, shutter speed and aperture later, after you know how to frame a good-looking shot.

      Also

      1. Take lots and lots of photos and learn what works and what doesn't.

      2. Look at the work of the best photographers - not just the well-known ones like Cartier-Bresson and Adams, but the more obscure ones like the remarkable Vivian Maier.

      3. Look at art and learn some art history. (Learning to draw will help, even if you never get very good at it.)

      Bottom line is that any £300 DSLR is so good now that you can take semi-pro photos with it. Any £3000 DSLR is good enough for professional use - and you'll see photos taken on this kind of kit daily in high-end print outlets and on the web.

      So the idea that 'there is no progression for photographers' is nonsense.

      The only people using medium format are geek hobbyists who obsess about the technology but have no clue about visual framing, fashion/food/product photogs who actually need the quality, and a few slightly crazed landscape photographers.

      No one else cares. And high end DSLRs are so good now most professionals have absolutely no need to drag a Leaf back around with them.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Geek hobbyists

        @ TheOtherHobbes - some of us prefer 4*5 or larger simply for the lens movements - and some of us build our own cameras... don't know if that counts as geekish or merely points out that we can't afford to splash a couple of grand on what is essentially a box with a bendy bit in the middle and a hole at each end!

        I don't *care* whether or what others care about my photography; I don't do it for them.

      2. Michael Strorm

        Re: Many good points - however

        "The only people using medium format are [..] and a few slightly crazed landscape photographers."

        Apparently, the *really* serious landscape photographers use large format (i.e. 4 x 5" negative(!) and larger) cameras that look like they came from the Victorian era, but supposedly deliver quality that knocks spots off any DSLR:-

        http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/4x5.htm

        Surprisingly, it appears that the cameras themselves *aren't* eye-wateringly expensive; new ones are less than $2000, and secondhand ones start in the low-hundreds. Don't know how much the film is though (bet it's not cheap) and if such things even exist, I don't even want to imagine what a digital back with a full-4x5"-frame sensor would cost (i.e. these would definitely be film-only for mortals).

        1. Getriebe

          Re: Many good points - however

          i.e. 4 x 5" negative

          When I was living in Switzerland the lab of the company I was working for had all manner of whizzzo cameras. So in order to look like Edward Wymper I took a Linhof Technika ice climbing. Not as difficult as you might think, but the negatives it created were off the scale. Grey scales even with intense lighting changes, sharpness that you could not break, even projecting on the walls of the canteen.

          Majorly impressive. But as one film sheet at a time you needed something running at glacial speed if you wanted to do more than one shot

          If you are photog - you need to use one just once to enjoy the myriad of adjustments and the contact sheets.

        2. Steven Jones

          Re: Many good points - however

          The only sort of back there is for large format are digital scanning backs, which work rather like a flat-bed scanner in that there's a linear array which physically move across the focusing plane. If you want, one model produces a 1.1GB files with 48 bit output.

          Of course, they are useless for moving subjects.

          http://www.betterlight.com/products4X5.html

    4. Psyx

      Re: Many good points - however

      Agreed: A medium format camera is a foolish waste of cash unless you work your way up.

      If buying a complex DSLR as an amateur snapper is a waste of cash because you don't understand the principles, doing the same thing with medium format is twice the folly.

    5. TheWeddingPhotographer

      Re: Many good points - however

      It's the combination of a lot of things that produce a great shot...

      Opportunity, Creative vision, luck, location, gear, light, time of day, timing, patience and skill...

      My observation over the last years is that most want to skip: Getting up at dawn for the best light, learning the skill and patience

      What most tend to do nowadays is believe that Canon or Nikon provide the technology for making up for all of the above

      In the main, to start of with (besides creative vision), you need great light, and if you don't have great light, you need to add it yourself. If you cant change this, you are pushing the water uphill before you started. You then need a great composition... that can mean working that extra bit harder to climb the mountain to get things right.

  6. Vinyl-Junkie
    Happy

    The key to happiness?

    A very thought provoking article. I think the key to photographic happiness (and therefore camera choice) is "are you happy with the results you get?" and that probably depends on what you are trying to do. I started out wanting a record of the airshows I went to in the 80s and 90s, which meant an SLR and a powerful lens, When I looked at my results they were OK, but I decided I wanted to take GOOD pictures, and that not only expanded my camera bag but also the kind of pictures I took. It also meant going out with a 36 exposure, 35mm roll of film and shooting the same subject 35 times in 10 minutes, making notes of the speed and aperture used, and using that to inform myself when out taking pictures I wanted to. Similarly with filters. I learned techniques from those days that still stand me in good stead today

    I started out with a Praktica SLR from Argos, then moved up to a secondhand Olympus OM-1 and added a selection of mid-price (mostly secondhand) lenses (both fixed and zoom) and a motor-drive, which worked very well for the pictures I wanted to take. On the whole I was happy with the results, particularly as the motor-drive allowed me to take, step up (or down) an f-number, take, step again, so quite often I could get a range of exposures without taking my hand off the lens or the lens off the subject.

    In the mid-2000s I made the foray into DSLRs with an entry level secondhand Canon (having been using digital P&S cameras as backups for some time). I didn't go with Olympus as all my lenses were manual focus so there was nothing to be gained there (and at that point I was carrying both cameras). I started using photo-editing programs and started learning about improving a shot through digital techniques; I especially learned how framing can sometimes turn a good picture into a great picture; reframing a shot after it was taken was something I'd never had the chance to do as I wasn't ever in a position to have a darkroom.

    However sensors improved and prices came down and./or you got more features for the price. The one thing I really missed from my 35mm days was spot metering, so earlier this year I invested in a newer (but still secondhand) Canon 550D. Absolutely love it but it did expose some weaknesses in resolution at high-magnification with the Sigma zoom I was using. So I bit the bullet and bought a Canon 100-400 UM IS lens (secondhand, naturally).

    And now I'm really happy; I can take pictures that I think are really good (and I am my own worst critic) and quite a lot of them even make my friends go "wow" so that's why I'm happy. I don't feel the need to add to the bag, or upgrade, or even refine my technique. I can look at pictures in magazines and go "you know what, my pictures are nearly (or sometimes even just) as good as that".

    I will never be exhibited, it's quite likely I will never be published (partly because I'm not that bothered about it), but I can open one of my old photo albums, or browse my hard drive, and go "wow, I'd forgotten I'd taken that - that's GOOD!" and I'm happy.

  7. HandleOfGod

    An interesting technical history of photography from the point of view of a relative purist but I don't subscribe to all of the opinion parts of the article.

    To use an IT angle, back in the day WordPerfect 5.1 was a much better wordprocessor than early versions of Word but it was aimed at trained secretaries and skilled IT people. Microsoft understood the need for the software to be easy to use if wide adoption was ever to happen and produced a technically inferior product that was much easier to use. The rest is history. Consumerism DOES reduce technical ability because mostly in life advanced equals complex and most people don't need have the understanding to use advanced or sufficient interest to learn.

    I have no argument with the idea that a good photographer will get better results with cell phone than a beginner with an SLR - of course that is the case. I also have no argument with the idea that marketing, and in particular pixel count, has caused both consumers and manufacturers to focus on the wrong things as the technology has matured. Where I differ is that there is no middle ground, no development opportunities. That assertion, IMHO, is nonsense.

    Yes the lack of skill needed to operate a cellphone camera means that no learning is done, but the reality is that majority of those who aren't learning are those who don't have the inclination to do so anyway, and without the easy to use cellphone cameras would simply not be taking pictures at all or, 25 years ago, would have had a cheap plastic settings less P&S from the Argos catalogue. Those that have higher standards and greater interest will still make the effort and will still develop their skills to the point at which they are happy with what they have achieved. And to help them on their way there is a world of resource on the internet, a large range of manufacturers producing reasonable compacts at many levels, a full spread of entry level, improver and enthusiast APS-C based DSLR's from Canon & Nikon and DSLT's from Sony (or 4/3 from Olympus etc), with an increasing range of FF options from the same sitting above them. For all those who bought a DSLR thinking it would turn them into a pro overnight but who never developed their skill to use their equipment I think we should be thankful - even if their kit now sits in a drawer gathering dust the money they spent has help fund the boom years and accelerate the pace of development / maturity of the technology. And if this market is now contracting meaning model ranges will thin and product cycles slow then we should be all the more grateful that it got as far as it did before the steam ran out.

    To me, it is a very exciting time to be a photographer.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Before Microsoft, Nokia got clever and produced the 808 Pureview which has a low megapixel output still unsurpassed by other phones after 2 years, in the same way that there has been no successor to Concorde, or the NASA Apollo program. (Lumia have one or two that do good low light shots but otherwise are inferior).

  8. cheveron

    I'm a techno luddite

    One advantage of the digital revolution is that it is possible to pick up used film cameras and lenses that I never would have been able to afford in the past. I have a Nikon FM2 and selection of Nikkor lenses. I use Fuji film, long may they keep making it. I stopped using a darkroom a long time ago though. I can still get one hour film processing where I live. But then I have my own dedicated negative scanner (good resolution but not much image correction) and finally PhotoShop. I'm happy with this setup and the results I get. And it didn't cost me a fortune as I was a student when I bought my copy of PhotoShop.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm a techno luddite

      What scanner do you use for your slides? I have two Epson flatbed units (1200 and 1600) with dedicated heads for films. Neither seem to be able to get the full resolution and contrast that is inherent in my Ilford Pan-F negatives and Agfachrome 50asa slides. The better unit seems to throw up points of "sparkle" from the surface of the film - even though any dust has been blown away.

      1. Juan Inamillion

        Re: I'm a techno luddite

        One of the best scanners I've come across was recommended to me by a production staffer working for one of the biggest magazine publishers in Europe. The Epson 4990 is a flatbed and negative scanner and, before anyone says anything, the results of negative scanning outperform most dedicated film scanners (other that those costing thousands of course). It has a Dmax of 4.

        I bought mine on ebay - complete with the original box and all the film masks. Apparently there's quite a trade in buying them to scan in whole negative collections then selling it back on ebay for the same money!

        Really really easy to use. If you can find one you should seriously consider it.

      2. cheveron

        Re: I'm a techno luddite

        The one I have is an old model. This is the current model. http://www.jessops.com/online.store/products/84531/show.html

        It can handle negs and slides and the software has settings for different film types. The reason it is cheaper than equivalent scanners from Nikon is that it doesn't include a powerful computer for image correction. But it will scan at a higher resolution than a flatbed and I find PhotoShop is a perfectly adequate substitute for the image correction engine. It just takes longer.

        1. Nigel Whitfield.

          Re: I'm a techno luddite

          The PlusTek is a pretty decent it of kit - that's what a mate of mine uses for his - and they seem to be about the only people still making real film scanners as well. The main reason I went for a secondhand Canon FS-4000 instead was largely laziness, as the PlusTek is a manual advance, which the Canon can batch scan the whole tray of negs, so I can get on with other stuff and just put a new strip in from time to time.

  9. Financegozu

    Good points mixed with some arrogance, IMHO

    There are horses for courses, and what fits the author will not always be the best solution. I agree that a church that has been standing there for centuries will not go away in the next hour, so one has time for choosing point-of-view, lens, filter, etc..

    My wife specialises in live photography of bands. This means that she has several zoom lenses that allow her to choose her point-of-view without having to change lenses. The equipment has to be very portable, so a tripod is out of question; at best it will be a monopod. And those guys on stage are constantly moving, so time is critical (especially the time between pressing the shutter button and the actual picture being taken ...). Furthermore, to capture the mood of what's happening on stage, sometimes a specific amount of motion blurring is an indispensable ingredient for a photo with a message.

    So what suits the author of this article doesn't suit everybody, and the remark of there being a void between crap and too expensive cameras is just plain nonsense.

    1. Uffish

      Re: Good points mixed with some arrogance, IMHO

      I have enjoyed reading John Watkinson's technical articles for some time, and often because of his insistence on defending and promoting enginering excellence (in the 'do things at the limit of physical possibility' sense, not the 'good enough and one tenth the price' sense).

      In real life of course, you try to get the best tools you can to do the job you want to do. That means making choices that have nothing to do with engineering excellence (of either sort) and all to do with getting the results you want.

    2. Brenda McViking

      Re: Good points mixed with some arrogance, IMHO

      I use a humble, bottom of the range 7 yr old APS-C Sony with a raft of 2nd hand 80s A mount Minolta lenses, I have contmplated upgrading as I think it might benefit my photography, but honestly - I can't see myself getting more pleasure out of it - and it is one hell of an investment to change to FF now.

      I like to capture fast aircraft, ballroom dancers, steam engines and, above all, human emotion.

      The latter is all about response. Everything is secondary to speed, everything. The prep is having the right lens on with the right settings, but other than that, my tactic is 600 photos an hour, with the expectation that 2-5 will be outstanding. The rest - well, who cares? it's digital. i.e. not hard to delete 99.9% of them. Film would never have suited my style - I'm not so bothered by photography that I am prepared to be patient, but thanks to terabytes of test footage, I have a pretty good idea now of what works where.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blind shutters

    "At fast shutter speeds, the second curtain would set off before the first had completed its journey, meaning that a moving slit of light traversed the film. That was fine for naturally illuminated shots,"

    The important constraint of the blind shutter was that it distorted moving objects. Effectively it was taking many slices of the picture at different times sequentially. A horizontal shot compressed or expanded an object moving horizontally across the view. In a vertical shot then any vertical movement was similarly affected. Whether it was noticeable depended on how fast the object was moving.

  11. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Re-learning Photography

    I started out with 35mm with a Praktika LTL + 50mm Lens in the Early 1970's.

    It was stolen in Venice in 1978 so I bought a Nikkormat FT3. Been with nikon ever since.

    moved to Digital with a D100 in 2004.

    My last big move up was from a D700 (great camera) to a D800E.

    going from 12Mp to 36Mp was a real shock. For the first month or so, almost nothing I shot was any good.

    I went back to basics with Manual everything and started again. Camera Shake was a big problem at first but VR lenses really helped. It was probably there in the D700 pictures but was invisible. no so with 36Mp shots. I also use a monopod far more than a Tripod.

    At the last count I've taken some 35,000 pictures with the D800E. My only gripe is the shutter noise compared to the D750 I tried out last weekend.

    The majority of pictures only need a couple of tweaks in Photoshop (all done by an action) as I deliberately shoot almost everything underexposed by 0.7 of a stop to reduce burnout on the whites.

    Yes, my gear is heavy. My backpack with 2 bodies + 4 lenses including a 200-400F4 zoom is heavy but I generally carry a daypack as well.

    I still have the Nikkormat. If I could still get B/W slide film I'd use it more. Agfa dia-direct was a wonderful film even if it was 25 ASA. The tonal qualities of it was just mindblowing.

    1. Lallabalalla

      Re: Re-learning Photography

      +1 for having a Nikkormat *that still works* - though this might be because you don't use it much!?

  12. Joey

    10 x 8

    Back then, I shot food and still lives on a 10 x 8 Sinar. Because of the long bellows extension and small aperture (f64), there would be up to thirty flashes from different flash and tungsten heads placed around the subject - some with a stocking over the lens to give a halo. I would have to use 10 x 8 Polaroid film to balance the lights and then take bracket shots +- 1/3 stops. The film would be sent off to the lab but a couple of sheets held back to be pushed or pulled by the lab for the final tweak. Depending on the subject, we could do one or two shots in a day like this. I always considered this approach to be 'painting with light' rather than photography.

    1. Lallabalalla

      Re: 10 x 8

      I used to do this too, but we used tungsten lighting/film. The heat meant you had to work quite fast once the set was dressed but the results could be spectacular. <>30 second exposures rather than 30 flashes!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sprocket holes

    "Whilst cinema film must have sprocket holes, they are not necessary in still photography."

    The problem with advancing film is that the obvious mechanism of winding it between two spools gives a non-linear travel - as the take-up spool diameter increases with used film.

    The old roll film cameras required the user to watch carefully for a frame number to appear in a little window as they wound the film on.

    Sprocket holes meant that the amount of film passing could be accurately measured by clicks as it passed over a toothed wheel with a ratchet. The camera would automatically stop the film when the next frame was aligned. It would also only cock the shutter when that point was reached. Deliberate multiple exposures were permitted by disengaging the film travel whilst still priming the shutter.

    That reliable automatic registration mechanism also enabled bulk film magazines, motor drives, and remote/unattended operation.

    How the large format professional cameras solved that automatic registration problem for roll films without slippage is probably more complex and expensive.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interchangeable viewfinders

    "One of the great boons of medium format is the interchangeable viewfinder."

    More expensive SLRs had interchangeable viewfinders too. The affordable Edixa 35mm cameras had that feature. The standard display was a ground glass screen viewed from above - with a magnifying glass that could be moved into place. I seem to remember there were also additional ground glass screens with various focusing range-finder style centres. The eye-level solid prism was expensive. I once made my own hollow prism with half-silvered mirrors in an attempt to produce an automatic zone exposure system of some sophistication.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edixa_Reflex

    1. fruitoftheloon
      Thumb Up

      Re: Interchangeable viewfinders - on cheap Canon dslr

      Ac,

      When i bought my dslr a while ago, it was the cheapest (canon 350d) with a "Viewfinder C" (~£140)- which can rotate 360 degrees and had a setting for macro, plus one L-series lens.

      It was all I could afford, i like architectural shots and live bands, my range of styles isn't wide, but some of shots have stunned professional photographers that I know.

      Even with a modest setup and cheap flash triggering kit it is amazing what you can achieve if you put the effort in (sometimes hours per shot)...

      Havr fun all!!!

      J.

    2. Lallabalalla

      Re: Interchangeable viewfinders

      Our standard 35mm was Nikon F1 with a photomic head, which could be swapped out for a regular finder, and allowed for interchangeable screens too.

      The overriding reason for this was true 1-1 WYSIWYG -ness.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Digital backs

    "Hasselblad actually sell a digital back that will fit on their old cameras, but the sensor size is about half the area of the original film frame and the images will be heavily cropped, so it’s not a real solution."

    Every time my digital cameras show barrel and pin-cushion distortion I reflect on my hibernating 35mm kit. The removable back was probably proprietary to that model - so no chance of a digital upgrade. A DSLR might be the answer - but not worth the investment for the snapshot subjects that now present themselves.

    Many years ago there was a proposed product that would convert any 35mm camera into a digital one by using an insert modelled on a film container. Technology must now be close to making that feasible - possibly with crowd funding?

    1. Vinyl-Junkie
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Digital backs

      The rumour of a CCD that fits into an existing SLR has been around since at least the mid-1990s. I can't help feeling that there's a vested interest somewhere ensuring this never comes out!

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Digital backs

        I'd like one for my OM10 kit. I have a lot of nice lenses.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Digital backs

          "The rumour of a CCD that fits into an existing SLR has been around since at least the mid-1990s. I can't help feeling that there's a vested interest somewhere ensuring this never comes out!"

          ISTR a back for a Minolta 7000/9000 that had one.

          Yep, search yields:

          http://www.mhohner.de/sony-minolta/onebody/sb-90

          1. Vinyl-Junkie

            Re: Digital backs

            There have been one or two for specific bodies; this is/was supposed to be a CCD that looked like a 35mm film roll with a piece of film sticking out (possibly with a second "roll" to fit into the takeup slot) The idea is that the "film" is a CCD and the "canister/s" is/are the circuitry + rechargeable battery & USB connection. So it will fit any film SLR, simply by inserting it into the back.

            Obviously once a photographer had one or two, there'd be no repeat business. But I was never sure whether it was a concept (or a pipe dream), whether anyone had actually made one, or if whichever company had proposed it had decided maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all.

      2. Steven Jones

        CCDs on DSLRs

        Why the CCD obsession? They were used on early DSLRs, but CMOS technology has long overtaken CCD performance for the size of sensors used in SLRs. Indeed, even in the MF world CMOS sensors have started appearing (all utilising a recently released Sony sensor). Also, Leica have no adopted a CMOS sensor for their M9. For comparable cameras, current CMOS sensors (size for size) beat CCD on frame rate, high ISO performance, dynamic range and colour sensitivity. Yes, there are some exceptional specialist CCD sensors for scientific work, but not for still photography.

        For example, here's a DXOmark comparison of the Leica M 240 (CMOS) vs a couple of Leica M9 (CCD) models. On all the objective criteria, the CMOS model wins out all through the ISO range.

        http://www.dxomark.com/Cameras/Compare/Side-by-side/Leica-M-Typ-240-versus-Leica-M9-P-versus-Leica-M9___844_721_640

        Some people claim there's such a thing as CCD "colour". However, both CMOS and CCDs are (close to) colour blind, and what gives them the ability to distinguish colour is the filter matrix. (There is an exception, the Foveon sensor, which distinguishes colour by difference in the silicon depth penetration by different wavelength photons. To be ultra-picky, some video cameras use prismatic separation using multiple sensors, but not any current still cameras).

        If you want an CCD DSLR, then there are plenty of second hand ones around. Here's a list of Nikon models with the sensor type listed. There's also the Leica S MF DSLR if you have very deep pockets and don't care about frame rates or performance at anything much above base ISO.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Nikon_DSLR_cameras

        1. Vinyl-Junkie

          Re: CCDs on DSLRs

          I tend to use CCD as an all-encompassing term for the image sensor; I don't know (and don't particularly care) what the actual electronics underneath is! So you could read CMOS in all my posts where I've put CCD...

          1. Steven Jones

            Re: CCDs on DSLRs

            I see. I do remember the proposal. It also would have been CCD at the time. It hit all sorts of technical issue and, in retrospect, was a dead-end as there were all sorts of integration issues and a DSLR designed from the ground-up would have lots of advantages.

            The "system camera" approach is actually returning. If you take something like the Sony A7 series, they have a full-frame sensor and, because of the very short sensor-flange distance, can mount almost every 35mm (or MF) lens made via adapters, excepting only some of those which are fully "fly by wire". OK, it's not quite the same as a film back, as it includes all viewfinder and a lens mount, but it's not so much different in principle to using a digital back on an MF camera.

            nb. the CCD vs CMOS argument is one of those "religious war" issues which comes up from time to time.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Picture data

    The nice thing about even relatively cheap digital cameras is that each image also records aperture and exposure details. No more keeping notes for each shot.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Picture data

      The EXIF information also contains a lot of other stuff as well.

      Some of it might prove embarrassing if left in an image that gets uploaded.

      Try explaining to the wife that when you were supposed to be at a footie match, you were in a studio a 100 miles away shooting a few buxom blonde models in various states of undress....

      If you have GPS on your camera then beware!

  17. David Roberts Silver badge

    Total light?

    Interesting stuff.

    One thing I didn't really pick up on was lens diameter.

    I assume one benefit of larger format cameras is that the total amount of light - photons per pixel - should be larger with larger lenses.

    I assume that this makes a difference?

    1. Steven Jones

      Re: Total light?

      You are right in that image quality is ultimately limited by the total number of photos detected, but that's over the whole image area (and, for a common output resolution, that's per-pixel). In principle that's purely a function of the lens alone. A smaller sensor requires a proportionately shorter focal length in order to get the same field of view. However, to collect the same number of photons, it will need an aperture proportionately wider. Take the example of a 35mm so-called "full frame" sensor 24x36mm and imagine you mount a 50mm lens with an aperture of f4. Now imagine a sensor of half the dimension, 12 x 18mm (not a usual sensor size, but it makes the arithmetic easier). You will now need a 25mm lens to get the same field of view, and to collect the same total number of photons in a given exposure time, it will now have to be f2 (and get the same depth of field characteristics). This is all part of what's called "the principle of equivalence". As the f-stop is simply the focal length divided by the aperture diameter, then you can see the physical diameter of the aperture will be exactly the same in both cases. As the maximum (physical) diameter of the aperture is the primary factor that dictates the lens diameter, you can see that for the same light gathering power the two lenses will (broadly) be similar diameter (although not length).

      So the question might be asked, why do we need large sensors, if we can just use smaller sensors with wider lenses. Leaving aside the issue that lenses with very small f-stops become increasingly difficult and expensive to design (only partly ameliorated by the smaller image circle), there is a major sensor limitation. That is the ability of a sensor to detect photons before saturating. Broadly speaking, a sensor with 4 times the surface area can detect 4 times the number of photons before saturating (or blowing highlights). Note that this is not just sensors it applies to, but also film. Slide film, especially, "blows" highlights and to collect more light in total, you need bigger films.

      Of course there is another issue, that for any given output resolution, the smaller sensor will have to have smaller photosites (clearly half the dimensions in this case) and that, in turn, means the 25mm lens would have to be able to resolve twice as well.

      As the ultimate dynamic range of the sensor is defined by the ratio between the saturation level and what's called the "noise floor", there is an advantage to the larger sensor. It has the potential for four times the number of detected photons before saturation which means, all other things being equal, it can achieve a couple more EV of dynamic range.

      There's a lot more to it than that of course but, essentially, the reason "big is better" just comes down to that ability to detect more photons by dint of the greater surface area.

      Try this.

      http://theory.uchicago.edu/~ejm/pix/20d/tests/noise/index.html

      1. Chemist

        Re: Total light?

        @ Steven Jones

        I certainly can confirm that my 550D ( love it as I do) isn't a match for my full-frame 6D esp. in noise performance even though the pixel count is ~ the same. Shooting a starry sky, for example, I was seeing far, far more stars without any noise artifacts.

        (BTW though some of the finest slides I've ever seen where 21/4 inch Hasselblad photos)

        1. Steven Jones

          Re: Total light?

          Yes, your 6D collects about 2.6 x the amount of light in total (as Canon APS-C has a crop factor of about 1.6). That translates to about 1.5 stops better performance across the ISO range.

          For some things, bigger is better.

  18. HywelPhillips

    Digital photography isn't dead yet

    This is a very odd article.

    Claiming that there's a void between the iPhone and Medium Format digital is plain wrong. Sales may have been falling, but a Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 paired with decent lenses is a general-purpose imaging power-house far more versatile than the author's franken-rig Medium Format bodge.

    Can you get specialised kit with higher real resolution? Sure, if that's all you care about. But try taking a shot of a humming-bird in flight or the moment the wicket falls or the racing car crosses the line with a frankenrig MF or a tech camera. You'll struggle a LOT more than a 5DIII photographer will struggle to get a decent landscape shot.

    The author is also clearly not interested in the main development in digital cameras in the last decade, which is the ability to read out the systems fast enough to shoot moving pictures. The imaging quality of a RED Epic is getting up towards that of a top-end dSLR. It can create 19 megapixel images at 100 frames per second.

    Even a cheap Panasonic GH4 can read out fast enough to do 4K at cinema frame rates, and also delivers perfectly acceptable stills for a lot of purposes.

    It may not suit the sort of photography the author does- slowly considered landscape and architectural photography- but for those of us shooting people and stuff that moves, it's a damn good time to be alive and working.

    He's also apparently ignorant of the current state of MF digital, being unaware of the exciting Pentax 645Z (low cost, 50 megapixel sensors) or the very well thought of Leica S series.

    There's also reasons for preferring modern lenses designed for digital sensors rather than film- for example, most digital sensors are much more sensitive to the angle of light rays incoming than film was- you can't get away with such steep incoming angles towards the edges of the sensor without bad vignetting. The Hasselblad and Leica digital MF lenses have been redesigned accordingly. Sure, they are compromised, but they are a compromise suited to the sensors behind them, rather than film.

    And although I do use and enjoy a Hasselblad MF digital system for most of my commercial work, I could do most of it perfectly well with a 5Diii and still get paid.

    I'm glad the author has found a system which works for him, but the state of digital cameras is nothing like as bad as he is painting.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Digital photography isn't dead yet

      >Claiming that there's a void between the iPhone and Medium Format digital is plain wrong.

      There does seem to be more interest in the 'premium compact' market these days, with Sony and Fuji joining Panasonic and Canon in the fray. I'm talking about cameras that will just about fit in the inside pocket of a jacket, and have sensors larger than those normally found on compacts, large apertures and have an option of full manual control.

      1. Psyx

        Re: Digital photography isn't dead yet

        "There does seem to be more interest in the 'premium compact' market these days,"

        Quite right. £500 quid will get you a CSC or compact that leaves the DSLRs of 6 years ago standing in the dust.

        There is no void between mobile phones and high end DSLRs. I really don't know where the author gets that idea.

    2. TheWeddingPhotographer

      Re: Digital photography isn't dead yet

      Agree.. I was wondering where a mid/top line Nikon / Canon fell into tall of this. A D3s is pretty perfect for nearly all work out of a studio, and a D3x for nrarly all work in a studio.

      ... And as you mentioned, the Pentax 645 digital sits in the middle ground,

      Yes there is a place for large and medium format, but practicality and usability also need to be flung in the mix.

      In the real world, we do want cameras we can get mucky, use in the rain, snow, climb mountains with, put in a underwater housing etc. etc. Or even, just take a snap for a text message with..

  19. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Out of curiosity...

    (and this may be like asking a chef what the best fast food is) If you are monitoring these comments, what mass-market cell phone cameras would you say are the better ones? I know my old DroidX that actually had a mechanical shutter seemed to take some pretty good snaps, despite a modest sensor. And my old 4MP Pentax still rivals anything on a cell phone for overall image quality, which I'm sure is because of the lens. I am a novice, but do like taking snaps, and would also love to know what one of the better bargains are in a DSLR.

  20. Thomas Gray

    The best way to learn photography - a dSLR

    The author dismisses dSLRs as being too cheap, but then asks how can someone learn to move from a point 'n' shoot (or phone camera) to a "proper" camera. The answer is obvious: through the cheap dSLR. Yes, they all have full Auto mode and more Scene presets than you probably need, but they also all have the 'classic' PASM (Programme, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual) modes, user-controllable ISO, off body flash - in fact, everything that we old farts were desperate to automate back in the day. The only reason most dSLR users don't get better photographs is because they don't learn to use the tool they have. And there are plenty of upgrade paths available from the "bargain basement" plastic dSLRs available in Currys.

  21. Mage Silver badge

    Excellent

    Fantastic.

    It's very hard to find any Consumer Still or especially video camera with Manual everything.

    There is similar "forbidden zone" with Video. For SD Widescreen my old 8mm Digital Sony is better than most new cameras as you can hold it to your eye and have it more steady. For an HD Video camera with proper viewfinder with enough resolution to focus, instead of a flip out LCD you are into professional priced territory. Again some phones are barely worse than consumer video cameras.

    USA NTSC SD video resolution was of course chosen in 1940s to be roughly equivalent to cheap 16mm film production. (Actually by 1970s probably good 16mm Colour film movie photography in decent light was a lot better than NTSC color).

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Excellent

      >It's very hard to find any Consumer Still or especially video camera with Manual everything.

      Try the cameras listed here, or their forebears:

      http://www.photographyblog.com/reviews/canon_powershot_g7_x_review/rivals/

    2. Psyx

      Re: Excellent

      "It's very hard to find any Consumer Still or especially video camera with Manual everything."

      It really isn't that hard.

      It's more difficult to find something without auto everything.

      Oxymoron? No, because every DSLR has auto modes. But you just turn them off, removing one crutch at a time as you learn.

      That makes it easier to learn - one stage at a time - not harder.

  22. Steven Jones

    m43 resolution 4Mpix???

    " A four-thirds format digital camera is unlikely to deliver more than four megapixels of information per frame, irrespective of how much data it outputs. "

    This is simply nonsense. Quite apart from it bearing no resemblance to the resolving power of typical lenses, DXOmark have tested a large number of M43 lenses and measured resolutions far in excess of 4MP. I cursory glance came up with several that reached 11MP. There are also plenty of on-line comparative samples which show this.

    A further point is that the limit of lens resolution isn't a binary thing (and neither is diffraction limiting for that matter). It manifests as a gradual loss in contrast. There's no sudden "cut-off". It depends on the criteria used.

    Further, even if the sensor does "out resolve" the lens, there are still advantages as the 2x2 bayer matrix found on most digital cameras is twice the pitch of the sensors. Thus you get better colour sampling with the higher resolution sensor.

    Also, it takes far more than 4 photosites to output a single RGB pixel. Any algorithm which did so, would produce horrible results apart, maybe, a 2 x downsizing. In practice, demosaicing algorithms are complex beasts and make a huge difference to the final output.

  23. gerdesj Silver badge
    Pint

    TIL

    Today I Learned: a few photography skills. Thanks for a great article.

    I had not even heard of medium format before today. Now I have a few extra skills to try out or at least strategies to make my phonecam shots better. Starting with dealing with the crap colour in night shots and artificial lighting.

    Cheers

    Jon

  24. Number6

    I have to admit that a few years back I was getting irritated by the results from a compact camera and bought a low-end DSLR. I often go for action shots and the article misses one of the other differentiators in the market, namely the response time. The really cheap cameras have a slow processor and may take hundreds of milliseconds of faffing around before they take the picture, whereas with the DSLR it's much faster, to the point where I can see something happening, grab the camera hanging round my neck, turn it on as I'm lifting it, point and shoot and get an instant response. Some results are still crap, but there's a reasonable number of good ones in there, given that I'm usually out walking and wildlife doesn't stick around and pose for photos. Most compact cameras don't let you turn off bits of the automation either, which the DSLRs usually do, so the limits of what you can do are more restricted.

    1. John 62

      On the subject of turning the camera on, my 400D's battery lasts so long* I never bother to turn it off because I'll be sure to charge it before an event anyway. In fact it's really annoying when someone tries my camera or looks at pictures on it and turns it off before handing it back to me. The only problem with this is that is doesn't regularly do the sensor shake thing.

      * If I'm away from electricity it will even last almost a week with moderate usage.

  25. Chris G Silver badge

    Good article

    I enjoyed the article immensely because of the large amount of information it imparts in a relatively short article but like a few other commentatrds here, I think photography is very much a personal thing.

    I like taking pics of almost anything and started doing just that with a 35mm Halina in the early '60s while playing hookey.

    I would walk around the local common or the country lanes shooting pics of anything that struck me as interesting.

    Since then I have gone through the old Zenit E complete with the telephoto lens kit that used to come with a shoulder stock,pistol grip and a trigger to shoot the shot. After that I went on to a Praktika with TTL metering and on up to several quite nice Canon SLRs.

    American Airlines changed my photography habits in 2001 after a stewardess repacked my bag in the overhead stowage on a flight from California to Minnesota, 10 minutes later we hit turbulence, the bag hit the deck and nothing ever worked the same after that. One body went completely west and the other had shutter problems my GP lens was broken and the 300mm would hunt instead of focusing.

    After that and no compensation I went on to cheap cameras for a while and still go budget now.

    I have a Lumix Bridge camera, the FZ48 what it does for the money is amazing, if I use 'intelligent auto', it produces better results than I feel I deserve for such laziness and it weighs almost nothing.

    I have the hots now for one of the Lumix four thirds range of cameras as the quality from them is fantastic, the 4/3 system is a Panasonic invention and in my opinion they still do it best for the money.

    The other great thing about most of the 4/3 cameras is that you can use almost any other lens with a suitable adapter so all of that old kit knocking around in the attic or at boot fairs for old film SLRs is usable.

    Oh and when I am feeling lazy the Lumix range still have the IA ( intelligent auto) which is getting better and better.

    A lot less than a grand will buy a lot of camera.

    1. Steven Jones

      Re: Good article

      The four thirds system was actually defined as a joint venture between Olympus and Kodak, not Panasonic. However, it's now a consortium which includes Panasonic. The micro four-thirds system was defined by Olympus and Panasonic and essentially defined a new lens mount with a shorter register eliminating the option of a mirror box (but the sensor format is that of the original four-thirds system).

      In the medium/long term it seems to me that fully electronic system cameras (like MFT, Sony. Fuji etc.) will gradually push DSLRs into a niche market as having mirrors flapping around doesn't seem like the future.

      All that's needed now is for a manufacturer to crack the problem of the fully electronic shutters on systems cameras (existing examples all have serious shortcomings), and we can have properly silent cameras.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Good article

        >All that's needed now is for a manufacturer to crack the problem of the fully electronic shutters on systems cameras

        Yeah, I was quite naffed off once when attending an acoustic music gig, and a young person (well, my age, it was a few years ago) was taking shots with a big - and loud - DSLR. It was grating because she not seeing that she was placing her 'content creation' over that of the singer we has all come to hear play.

        I believe some DSLRs have the option for a silent 'digital shutter', but I haven't the experience to know their disadvantages - other than the viewfinder is disabled and the camera has to use contrast detection autofocus as opposed to phase shift (except for those Sonys with the translucent mirrors).

        1. Steven Jones

          Re: Good article

          There are a very few systems cameras with a fully electronic shutter, like the Sony A7S and the Panasonic GH4. Unfortunately, the problem is that they take a long time to scan the sensor as they lack what's called a "global shutter". On the latter, the senor can, in effect, take an instantaneous "snapshot" of scene. However, on a CMOS sensor, the photosites have to be read sequentially, and row-by-row. On even relatively low resolution sensors with 12-14MP, this process takes, perhaps, 30ms. In consequence, for even modestly fast shutter speeds, the sensor rows have to be cleared and read as a sort of rolling strip that passes up the sensor. Of course, this is essentially what a focal plane shutter does, by exposing a narrow strip for higher shutter speeds. The difference is, electronic shutters take about 1/30th second, whilst a half-decent focal plane shutter traverse the sensor in about 1/250th sec or less. What this means is the top of the image is exposed before the bottom, so you get "leaning verticals" on moving objects. That's called "rolling shutter". You still get it on focal plane shutters, but it's about an order magnitude worse on electronic ones. Also, this problem is worse the higher resolution the sensor, which is why you don't see the option on sensors of 16MP upwards. (A lot of cameras do have an option for something called "EFCS", or electronic first curtain shutter. That's a partially electronic shutter which uses electronics to clear the photosites (which can be done faster than reading), and this runs ahead of a physical second curtain which shuts of the exposure. It's quieter than a fully mechanical shutter, but far from silent.

          You see the problem with "rolling shutter" on a lot of video cameras with CMOS sensors as you get weird effects like twisted aeroplane propeller blades. It';s technically possible to create a CMOS sensor with a global shutter, but (currently at least), only by creating a temporary charge storage area for each pixel, which means giving over silicon real-estate which, in turn, means compromising other aspects of sensor performance, like dynamic range and noise performance.

          Having taken more than a few photos at gigs myself, I know the problem of noisy shutters. Of course it depends on the circumstances. In a full-on rock performance, especially if it's outdoors and you are in the pit in front of the stage, not problem. If it's a folk singer or a string quartet in a quiet concert hall, it's nasty (not to mention at wedding ceremonies).

        2. TheWeddingPhotographer

          Re: Good article

          They did on the D70. Hence why one still sits in my camera bag.. The flash sync to silly numbers :-)

  26. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    There still are intermediate cameras

    There are still intermediate-range cameras. Or at least there were a few years ago. I found my phone camera unsatisfactory; I still use it a lot of the time, but it's really not that good. It wasn't good on my previous phones and it's nothing special on my current one either. It's just the reasons given in the article; tiny lens for packaging reasons, and the obsession with huge-megapixel count on a tiny sensor ruining low-light sensitivity and just yielding high-pixel-count but poorly focused photos.

    I really do view these cell phones cameras as equivalent to the typical film camera -- which is not the quality products in the article, but the little camera where one sticks in film, winds it, hits the button and hopes for the best; no focus control (possibly just a single "infinite focus" lens), and sometimes not even a way to disable the auto flash.

    One point on this, that is even worse than implied -- some people will zoom in rather than framing the shot.. yes. But MOST of these cameras with "zoom" aren't even actually zooming, it's "digital zoom" so it is just pre-cropping the photo!

    The one point I have to disagree on though -- it's not "crap camera" or "eye-wateringly expensive."

    I got a Panasonic Lumix camera a few years back; it was under $250. 7.2 megapixel (when most cameras where pushing over 12 megapixels) i.e. they went for pic quality rather than "most megapixels". Leica lens, not as big as on an SLR but way bigger than the thumbnail-sized typical lens. 6x optical zoom (which i try to avoid using, but it is very sharp, I can read text down the street that I couldn't read no matter how hard I squint without the camera.) It has very good low light sensitivity, if I can see reasonably well with naked eye it'll take a good photo without flash. (Below twilight or so, it does take pretty noisy photos.) It has autofocus, auto-f-stop and auto-exposure but these can also all be controlled manually as well. Sharp, high-resolution photos, and the color reproduction is nice.

    Pros would want RAW mode and replaceable lenses; nevertheless, nice cameras (a lot better than what's in any phone) do exist without having to spend the amount for a high-end camera.

  27. SDoradus

    A Hasselblad can work with film or digitally.

    The article's a storm in a teacup. It's not like there's no choice. Showing a film-capable Hasselblad - a discontinued line - at the article headline is a little disingenuous.

    A suitably dedicated (or fanatical) emulsion aficionado will always be able to buy a film-capable back for his Hasselblad, just as one can buy digital backs which convert early film-only models to digital ones.

    The biggest problem is the discontinuance of emulsion film manufacture, and secondarily the closing of factories able to cheaply and conveniently process roll film. For some types - like Kodachrome - home processing is not a realistic option.

  28. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Panoramic cameras/lenses?

    I learned some interesting stuff as well. I have an 8 year old Canon SX-10IS an an even older Olympus C-3000ZOOM. I still use them because I've gotten to the point where I know exactly what they'll do and how to make them do it, and the Canon will even do an hour of video on a 16GB card. The Olympus, irregardless of the name, does magnificent macro shots.

    Anyway, the most useful camera I ever used was a point'n'shoot cardboard disposable panoramic film camera that I took on a motorcycle trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the early '90s. The resulting pictures were "3 normal pictures wide" and I still "wow" people with them today. They were almost completely distortion free.

    Stitched-together images, whether done in-camera or not, are a complete pain in the ass, with the exception of the Photosphere app for the Nexus phones. My Moto G does really crap panorama with KitKat 4.4.4 now.

    Does anyone still make anything like that today?

    1. Psyx

      Re: Panoramic cameras/lenses?

      "Does anyone still make anything like that today?"

      Yup: Lomography. They make all kinds of strange but interesting stuff, including a make-your-own-camera model kit. Their panoramic cameras are here:

      http://shop.lomography.com/gb/cameras/panoramic-cameras

      This is also a lot of fun, though eats a roll of 35mm at a time. Check out the video at the bottom of the page.

      http://shop.lomography.com/gb/cameras/panoramic-cameras/spinner-360-new-package

  29. Francis Vaughan

    Awesome

    As someone with a massive amount of Mamiya kit in the cupboard (including the 50mm shift) I am most impressed. Care to share some more info about the mods done to the camera body? I assume it makes it impossible to use a film back again.

  30. roger stillick
    Linux

    REAL photography ?? try Darktable...

    i hate to be one of those obnoxious folks that yell try LINUX everytime something like this photography article cones along, yes - you are being dumbed down and ripped off with no path to to professional work... so just maybe there's new stuff out there...

    REF= Wiki, darktable, download and print / save to file the WIKI 'pedia entry...

    Want to Go Pro ?? don't buy that funny little video camere (everyone's got one)...<< read about darktable instead>>... find someone who is doing the online light in photography program and take it... become proficient in GIMP, buy the book... at this point it will be obvious that pro photographers use camera teathering on a laptop and external strobe lights are also teathered... finally you get to buy a camera that can be teathered (by this time the darktable folks will be helping you) and the learning can begin.

    IMHO= you do not become a pro race driver by buying random rides off a car lot, and you do not become a pro photographer by buying cool looking cameras... you must have a plan to capture light, manipulate that light and have an output that someone wants... darktable can be a major advance in your light capture routines...RS.

  31. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "Gradually and quietly....film eclipsed by digital..."

    "Gradually and quietly, there has been a revolution in photography which has seen traditional film eclipsed by digital techniques."

    Really? "Quietly"? So, like, nobody even noticed?

    I could have sworn that I'd seen it mentioned once or twice.

  32. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    As photons don’t scale, smaller photosites just get noisier, which is why cameras in iPhones croak in the dark.

    Mobile phone cameras croak because their sensors are small, not because their photosites are small. The total amount of noise in an image is much more a function of sensor size (by orders of magnitude) than of photosite size.

    Medium format pixel counts continue to rise to pointless numbers, with the unsurprising result that noise becomes a problem. Don’t worry, you can get noise reduction software that reduces the noise, and the resolution, again.

    And it's no more true for medium format than it is for the tiny sensors in mobile phones. In fact, smaller pixels give you increased spatial resolution that you can then either keep (when lighting is good) or trade off against reduced noise in a way that is better than simply averaging the pixel values (as larger pixels are effectively doing).

  33. Hilmi Al-kindy

    This is why in astronomy we prefer black and white cameras as you get the true resolution of the sensor as compared to a camera with a bayer matrix. They also tend to be approximately 20% more sensitive in low light and provide better sensitivity in the infra red side of the spectrum. Another consideration that has to be taken into account is the arc-seconds per pixel image resolution. Basically, in astronomy we try and get the combination of lens/telescope and camera sensor that gives a resolution of no more than 1 arc-second per pixel. There is very little benefit going for more resolution as the atmospheric distortion alone will not let you get any sharper images . So most astronomers actually look for bigger pixels not smaller pixels.

    Nothing shows off defects in your optical train like a point source of light, i.e. stars. All the chromatic aberrations, coma, astigmatism sensor tilt etc... will show immediately when taking an astro-photo. Your eyes will immediately notice when your stars are ovals instead of circles. Chromatic aberration will immediately show as a purple haze around your stars. Focus issues will show as stars will look bloated instead of nice sharp points.

    Many times when using a camera lens for Astronomy work, you have to stop down the lens to f4 because f2.8 will just not give you the image quality expected.

    So basically, if you savor challenges in your photography, you would get into astro-photography. Did I mention that my tripod and mount weighs close to 40 Kg? Makes that Manfroto 405 look rather flimsy doesnt it? Well, what if I told you my mount is considered entry low end of the good type of mounts and many people would complain that it is not stable enough to do some of the more serious work.

    Ever tried to perfectly track a moving target for a 20 minute exposure.. I could keep on going, the list is endless

  34. Triggerfish

    Digital cameras have opened up photography.

    I love digital cameras I think they really have opened up photography. I don't agree there's a huge void between cheapo and fully pro there seems to be cameras going up for every jump up in skill or need of what you want to do.

    First digital camera I got was a Canon S50 it did everything I wanted and more than I understood, it was a fine point and shoot for the other half but had loads of different manual settings to geek out on as well (and allowed me to take photos better than plain digi point and shoots), it also fitted in my pocket for traveling.

    I went from one of those crappy 35mm fixed lens cost you a tenner cameras to that S50, and the combination of not having to get your images printed to see how they have come out, but rather get an idea on an LCD. The fact that you could just take shot after shot fiddle with settings see what that does etc as well made me such a better photographer with a better understanding of shutter speed, aperture etc etc and means I am now contemplating a mirrorless myself.

    Having played with a hobbyist SLR about and also a full on Pro several grand job. I have to say the mid range SLR really took some good pictures, I doubt I have enough understanding of photography (or skill) to really utilise the fully pro one.

    The author said the fixed in zoom lenses on cameras were a leap backward, and also that auto exposure is etc but I would argue for the point and shooter there great considering most of the people using them before would have been like me using a crappy fixed 35mm lens and a lot of photos back from boots with helpful stickers telling you why your photo has a big white patch or something. Maybe its even encouraged a few people to start taking better photos.

  35. trog-oz

    Film cameras have a very long life

    I regularly use an Exakta Varex VX, of 1952 vintage, which is 7 years older than me. I also still use my first "proper" camera, a Ricoh KR5 which I bought with my first pay cheque in 1979. My newest film camera is a Pentax LX of 1982, which I bought second hand in 1999. A truly beautiful camera to use. I very much doubt even the most expensive DSLR will be viable after 65 years. I think I'll stick to film. I do have a happy snappy digital, but if's really junky and the Kodak Brownie Starmite that I was given when I was 7 or 8 feels much nicer. Shame 127 film is almost impossible to find as I'd love to use it again.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yet the smaller sensors do get better

    It's a basic law that the bigger the quadrangle that gets hit by the light, the better the technical quality of the photo. hat aspect of photography isn't going to change any time soon.

    However, if you look at the dynamic range performance I get from my current main camera (an Olympus Pen) and my first DSLR (and Olympus E-510), the difference in available dynamic range is frightening. It's like comparing slide film to negative. In this respect, I think per pixel performance improves over time, in fits and stars (at the moment, it's hit a wall).

    Zoom lenses? Haven't shot with one of those in months. Thanks to ebay, I have a small set of primes. I'd love one of the quality zooms but, obviously, they remain quite expensive (and my primes are still faster).

    Subject isolation (using narrow depth of field) on a smaller sensor? Hmmm.... Very fast lenses on Four Thirds (thinking lenses like the Panasonic 42.5 f1.2) are expensive. Depending on what you want to do, I think there comes a point where so-called full frame (35mm) is more economical.

    Medium format manufacturers? I think Pentax and Leica might take issue with your assessment (and a modest Pentax system can be had for the price of a Ford Focus :-).

  37. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Steven Jones

      Re: Skill is all you need?

      I'd certainly like to see a cameraphone produce a good closeup photo of a bird in flight, or a macro photo or a great closeup of an athlete. Or of a myriad of different subjects.

      This trope that a great photographer will always surpass the limitations of their equipment, and outshine the mere snapper is always trotted out. Of course, a gifted photographer will beat the snapper, but it's still the case that for some sorts of photographs you need the right equipment.

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: Skill is all you need?

        I agree in some ways. Give a pro any camera and they will get a better camera than mr average because some things the camera cannot do for you, like great composition.

        On the other hand a good DSLR camera allows you to more easily adjust shutter speed, aperture. The biggest difference though is that a DSLR allows the user to control depth of field which is difficult with a phone camera. However they do need to learn how to use it first, unfortunately I have lost count of the number of people with expensive cameras around their neck, but on full auto and still shooting JPEG's rather than RAW.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I sold all my digital kit apart from a Sony RX100 and bought a mint Leica M6 TTL with a 50mm Summilux.

    Apart from being a magnificent piece of engineering, it has improved my photography immensely. Shooting full manual on films like Velvia which are incredibly intolerant of poor exposure forces you to learn how to take a photograph properly.

    As a plus side, the camera is fully mechanical, 90's vintage, the lens 70's, and still one of the best ever made. It's never going to drop in value.

    1. Getriebe

      Leica M6

      And when that shutter goes tssshhht - a sensation all on its own.

      Nothing beats a Leica M series.

  39. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Astronomical

    I took pictures of a neighbours house across the bay by attaching my Pentax SLR film camera to a 10 inch aperture reflecting telescope. Being by default F5, I got good results at 1/250 sec. I scanned the negs. and stitched two shots together to create a pleasing image of their property. I framed it and gave it to them as a present. One of them (the woman) said "Oh! you could have done that with a helicopter".

    I replied, "But I don't have a ****ing helicopter!"

    A classic facepalm moment.

  40. Psyx

    Comments to the author

    "Sales of DSLRs and compact cameras alike are plummeting like a streamlined piano."

    Compacts: Yes, because everyone has one on their phone. Those things are dead. Fuji don't even bother making them any more.

    DSLRs: No. The market is contracting (Canon's profits != a reflection of the whole market), but that's more a reflection on the quality of recent cameras and manufacturer's trying to get us on the same annual upgrade cycle as phones. As much as Nikon/Canon would like us to, people don't buy a spangly new DSLR every year. Not unless there has been some kind of major breakthrough that's changed the game. Margins are also tight: Nobody makes money selling cameras any more, due to a competitive marketplace and grey imports.

    If you want a real dead duck though, look at camcorders. Phones do what cheap camcorders do and DSLRs now do what the pricer ones do. Anything less than a high-end broadcast quality camcorder is a dinosaur.

    Ok, now the bits I really take exception to:

    "Digital photography today is another victim of the dead hand of marketing, where short term gain overrides any other concern." - Not really sure where you get that idea, but okay...

    "Broadly speaking, marketing has created two types of camera."

    As someone who works in the industry, that's certainly not what I see. I see three or four levels of marketing and customer. More later...

    "need no skill to operate and therefore teach the user nothing." - You say that like it's a bad thing. 95% of people are content to drive to work without knowing what power-off oversteer is. there is absolutely nothing wrong with products which just work and produce satisfying results. Not everyone with a camera needs to learn to become a photographer. However - a stated - that corner of the market is making death rattles. Phones do that and have the bonus of always being in your pocket.

    "And then there are those cameras with big chips that are so expensive that even professionals cringe. It’s like owning a jumbo jet: you can’t afford not to fly it, hence the constant references to workflow in the marketing. Alas, in between these two types we find the equivalent of a valence band or forbidden zone." - *splutter*. Yes: There are very expensive high end DSLRs that are entirely pointless in the hands of people who leave them on automatic. Some people buy them expecting 'better' photos, only to send them back when they are overwhelmed with the number of settings. The pros aren't buying them as often as they used to because their old ones work just as well. They still have a place in the market, but don't have the planned obsolescence that manufacturers want them to have.

    However, you've just blithly missed the modern heart of the camera market: Low-mid range DSLRs and compact system cameras.

    "so there is no progression route for the keen photographer to climb. "

    Yes there is. mobile phone/compact > bridge > CSC/low-end DSLR, scaling up through the DSLRs.

    "The small chip camera owner cannot cross the forbidden zone for economic reasons, and even if he did, he wouldn’t have the necessary skills. "

    Again, you've just ignored 70% of the camera market.

    " I think it is pertinent to ask where the next generation of professional photographers is going to come from. "

    From their bedrooms, which is where they do most of their work. they shoot RAW with a basic understanding of photography, then crop for composition and muddle around on Photoshop. That's how it works now. I don't think it's great, but that's the truth of it. Come to think of it, I used to enjoy fiddling around in the darkroom more fun than taking photos myself, so I shouldn't complain. Deciding what three shots of a model from the 500 blazed through on a shoot is only the beginning now. the creativity has largely moved to the back-end of the process. And that's at all levels: Pros use expensive monitors and photoshop, but even those shooting on phones now spend more time applying filters and post-processing than they do on taking the shot.

    "The great beauty of the camera is that it has no automatic functions whatsoever." - Which is beautiful... for you. There are other photographers. They want good results without the learning. And why should we turn our noses up at that? They know the limitations of the compact camera and want better, but they don't want a complex DSLR. Fortunately there's a massive part of the market devoted to them: Plastic bridge cameras for those on a budget, retro-styled, interchangeable lens and highly capable CSCs for those with a bit of cash who want something nice for when they are carrying a camera, and any of the huge range of cheaper DSLRs for those who want to get 'into photography'.

    I'm just bewildered that you seem under the impression that only the two ends of the market exist and I'm curious to know why you think that?

  41. hugo tyson
    Flame

    Whence the next generation of professional photographers?

    We don't need a next generation of professional photographers. Image data is no longer a scarce resource, and people look at pictures on tablets, or occasionally laptops. Print magazines are dying. Glossy catalogs too.

    It's like asking "where will the next generation of hand-thrown clay potters come from?"

    1. Amorous Cowherder
      Facepalm

      Re: Whence the next generation of professional photographers?

      So you only needed a professional photographer for glossy magazine articles then? OK. Pro's have no place the modern, online only digital world? Fair enough.

      You take a look at [ www.youarenotaphotographer.com ] and tell me you still don't need a professionally skilled photographer for capturing that special moment in your life.

      1. hugo tyson
        Happy

        Re: Whence the next generation of professional photographers?

        Tee hee. But those people are happy with those pics! Let them have their fun!

        The existence of appallingly inept amateurs does not imply the non-existence of acceptably competent amateurs.

      2. Psyx

        Re: Whence the next generation of professional photographers?

        "You take a look at [ www.youarenotaphotographer.com ] and tell me you still don't need a professionally skilled photographer for capturing that special moment in your life."

        I would argue that 80% of today's wedding photographers should not be considered professionals.

      3. Brass Man

        Re: Whence the next generation of professional photographers?

        Thanks for the awesome link.

        Hobo baby was my favourite!

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The best camera is the one you know

    When you take a photo, it's generally with the camera you own so it's best to pay attention to what works and try to understand when it doesn't work, with a view to working around it in future. I had a Fuji S20 "Pro" and got fantastic shots out of it - after a year of gradually reducing frustration as I learnt how it really worked enough to write my own Perl scripts to "develop" the RAW output. Never did manage to get a good seascape out of it before the sensor packed in. The output of the shitty camera/lens in my SIII Mini has improved markedly since I stopped using the in-phone zoom.

    Whatever your budget, you have to learn to use what you have and not worry about what the next camera up could do if you had it. Some of the world's greatest photos have been taken on pretty basic equipment, by people who knew what they were doing.

  43. DonaldDwain

    'Fig. 1 shown here was taken in Sweden with a 12 stop digital back and shows full sun on snow outside the windows; yet indoor details are also visible. That picture could not be taken as a single exposure with film'

    I stopped reading properly after this. Slide film is not the only type of film.

    Digital photography is great; I shot a wedding recently and clicked about 1000 times. Going through the photos afterwards however is a nightmare, hence I much prefer my 4x5" film camera (which I couldnt afford without digital) where I take 4 shots max when going out. The whole process, from shot to print is much more relaxing and hence, more fun (why shoot for any other reason?).

    Incidentally, unless printing very small, all cell phone shots will be garbage due to the ridiculous amounts of noise reduction that have to be implemented to compensate for the appalling signal to noise ratio. This is much less of a perceived issue given that most shots are no longer printed, just displayed on screen.

  44. LesC
    Thumb Up

    Cameraphone, meh.

    I've got an N4. I don't use the camera on this as it's crap.

    Mostly these days I use my Nikon D3200 DSLR but lurking in the same camera bag is my Agfa Isolette 3, a Leningrad light meter and a few rolls of Ilford FP4 Plus 50 ISO (aka film!) on120 plus a few simple chemicals can make for staggering B&W prints, medium format greyscale with resolutions in gigapixels... you can shoot in available light, no flash with this stuff :)

    http://www.ilfordphoto.com/home.asp

    Ilford B&W film (FP4 or HP5) is cheap enough, it's quite tolerant of poor light, developing it is straightforward, perhaps the commentards on here should try it using a pinhole camera made from a shoebox or get a no-name 120 viewfinder or twin lens reflex camera from a junk shop. You'll be surprised with the results.

  45. Nanners

    Just like every thing else

    It's all fake now. No talent required... just point and shoot, throw a filter on it later. Nobody recognizes the difference anyway.

  46. TimChuma

    Is a big jump between DSLRs

    The amount of money you have to spend to get a significantly better DSLR as compared to an entry level one is large enough that I have not bothered. They do not keep their value and having the right lenses for what you are photographing is more important. I can't afford them either. I had to use a 50mm f1.8 for almost two years manually so it taught me a lot about getting the right shot.

    1. Psyx

      Re: Is a big jump between DSLRs

      "The amount of money you have to spend to get a significantly better DSLR as compared to an entry level one is large enough that I have not bothered."

      That's because they're significantly better cameras. You get what you pay for.

      "They do not keep their value"

      Then you've just answered your own problem: Buy second hand. Ideally just before a major Nikon/Canon high-end release when hard core 'must upgrade' photographers are foaming at the bit and trading on their older model.

      "and having the right lenses for what you are photographing is more important. I can't afford them either."

      Lenses hold value, but once you decide who you prefer in the brand wars, they're an investment that will outlast your next couple of chassis, assuming they are well looked after.

      "I had to use a 50mm f1.8 for almost two years manually so it taught me a lot about getting the right shot."

      Nothing wrong with a good prime lens. Pro lens of choice for many applications. they also encourage photographers to move around to compose, instead of welding their feet to the spot and using zoom.

  47. John 209

    Find one good tool and learn it well

    Michelangelo's advice applies to photography as well as sculpture, although a chisel and hammer are a damned sight simpler than film cameras w/ processing, and almost infinitely simpler than digital photography well done. And, as "A man paints with his brains and not with his hands", so he photographs with his brains and not with his eyes or his camera. That is, whatever tool, or set of tools with photography, you settle on, you must master the technology to the point where that technology disappears into the picture that your brain wants to take at the moment you click the shutter. That's what you see when studying the photographs of the classic masters like Adams, O'Keeffe, Cartier-Bresson, Avedon, et al.. Each was master of their selected technology and technique (using it), but nowhere does it intrude or overpower their subject matter. That involved, as it does now more than ever, stripping away all the alternative ways of making a photograph (and the hundreds of interacting options available on digital cameras, post processing gimmicks, etc) and systematically focusing on, and mastering, a limited subset of tools and processes that reliably translate what your brain sees and wants to appear in the final photo, on paper or electronic display.

    That takes a lot of effort, trials, errors (differences between what you wanted and what you got) and learning from each error so that you improve over time. With lots of consistent practice, the "technology" becomes automatic, your brain chunks the long sequences of necessary mental and physical steps into a few fluid motions, and you can then concentrate your effort on the subject and lighting (instead of fumbling with menus and options). Being able to think ahead before you shoot, with lots of relevant experience, is what photography is all about, while shooting like a wildman and sorting through the dozens takes for something acceptable and patching it up after the fact is what most picture-taking is about today. The camera company marketers, who have too much influence over camera design today, much prefer that you do the latter as that keeps you permanently frustrated and wanting the latest and greatest to see if that can "automatically" improve your mostly lousy shots. It won't. Doing as recommended won't necessarily make you a great photographer, or even a good one, but it will make you a better photographer than you are today.

    Finally, two more relevant quotes from the master: "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark." and "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish."

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pentax Linux Hartblei

    If there is one manufacturer who has made tremendous contribution to outdoor Medium Format [MedF] photography [weather proof - won’t fall into bits in a drizzle], it is Pentax; which has been omitted in the Article. If one likes to dabble with MedF, 35mm and APSc without investing in a huge line of separate lens lines The Pentax 645 line of film/digital should be considered. The same line of MedF lenses that fit the 645NII [MedF-Film] will fit the new 645D [MedF-Digital] as well as Pentax-LX [35mm film] and their latest line of APSc K3 [APSc - digital] with an adaptor. There are beautifully made tilt-shift lenses for the Medium-format (Hartblei, Zeiss, Pentax) which fit the 35mm and APSc camera's [with extra tilt and shift flex] . Combined with a precision Arca-Swiss D4 head the combo will keep many an outdoor photographer happy for a long time :) . Oh yes the Pentax MedF lens are stupidly sharp even when used on the obscenely dense APSc sensors (75mm F2.8, 150mm & 300mm F4 come to mind)

    If you have the need to stereotype, yes; I use linux/Dark-table/GIMP/Hugin & AfterShot Pro

    1. Psyx

      Re: Pentax Linux Hartblei

      "it is Pentax; which has been omitted in the Article."

      Sadly, Pentax only exist as a sub-brand of Ricoh, now.

  49. Slow Joe Crow
    Happy

    I fully agree that the eye behind the camera has far more effect on the photograph than the camera. That is why my justification for getting a DSLR to replace a point and shoot was to "more accurately capture the image in my head" because when I look at a scene I see the photograph I want and it's up to my hardware to create it. If the image in the photographer's mind is a flat banal snapshot it matters not whether they use a phone, a Leica or a 4x5 view camera with Zone System exposure it's still going to be crap where somebody with the right image in mind can create great art with a landfill Android phone.

  50. homedoc

    Fantastic article, John!!

    You really know your stuff! It’s nice to know I’m not the only fool out there who is making his own gear. Incidentally, which Credo are you using – the 40, 60 or 80?

    I took a somewhat less elegant, but considerably cheaper, approach. I picked up a used Schneider-Kreuznach 75-150 f-4.5 zoom lens originally designed for Bronica 6000 bodies, and adapted it to my Nikon D800E (36.3 MPix). The lens, machinist and a used Nikon tilt-swing bellows cost about $1000.

    The Schneider-Kreuznach glass certainly lives up to its legendary reputation. The colors are rich and free of all haze, and the definition is spectacular. In addition, the use of a medium format lens on an AF sensor means that the sensor is only seeing the sweet spot in the center of the lens image. Since most of the distortions and aberrations occur near the edges, I can get prime lens quality from a zoom lens.

    The Nikon D800E is a fantastic camera – it’s resolution is almost as good as a Hasselblad H4D-40, Leica S2, or the Credo 40 Mpix back. So I am guessing that with the sweet spot effect, I am pretty much in medium format quality range. The image prints up to 16” x 24” at 300 DPI. If I want to achieve bigger prints or higher resolution images, I can stitch together two or more images taken with either a long mounting plate or a panorama setup to position the iris over the center of the tripod.

    On the location vs. non-location debate, I definitely fall on the non-location side. I believe that when Universal Design manifests itself in nature, the result is beauty. There are a hundred great photographs in every rose or rock. Beauty is everywhere, and if you cannot see it, then a trip to Africa isn’t going to solve your problem. It’s about finding and recording the extra-ordinary in the “ordinary”, whether you are here or in some far away exotic land.

    Of course, the operative word is “recording”. I strive to control every aspect of the process so that I can faithfully reproduce the beauty I see. But great technique is a mechanical prerequisite to a fine art photograph. The art comes in adapting the technique to better express the subject. That and composition. Everyone always talks about composition but there are no hard and fast rules. I recommend using the camera handheld for starters and observing the subject from different angles, perhaps rotating the subject if possible, to get its best face in the best light. Then switch over to the tripod when you get the image that best captures the beauty you see.

    Having started out in the ‘50s, I am of course totally familiar with the smell of the darkroom. But I don’t miss it a bit! There may be some die-hards out there who are still authoring illuminated manuscripts with goose quills and paint brushes, but IMHO digital has so many advantages that choosing it is a no-brainer. First, the pictures cost nothing to shoot, and the more you shoot, the better you get. Second, the results are instantaneously visible so the learning curve is greatly accelerated by eliminating all delay from the shoot-view-refine feedback loop. The same principle applies to post-processing. It is so much better when you can tweak the color or apply an effect and see the results in real-time. This is a second instantaneous feedback loop.

    The software is essentially an extension of the camera, so a good photographer will come to know how the final image will turn out AFTER post-processing. If you shoot raw and flat, the image you capture will be relatively low in contrast and vibrance and will not in general look much like the final outcome you’d like to achieve. So it helps a lot to know before you snap the shutter what you will do with the image in post-processing.

    A final thought on technique: if I need more light, I prefer to increase the ISO rather than using a sub-optimal shutter speed and/or f-stop. There is some fantastic software to remove any noise created by a higher ISO, but de-blurring an image in post-processing that was shot with too low a shutter speed is a lot harder and always leaves image processing artifacts. Finally, if the subject is static, you can use a fast shutter with high ISO to eliminate vibration blur, and then use ten or more multiple exposures to average out sensor noise, which is random.

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