Lucky photog spy
Stumbles through action and twists
Leica meets James Bond
I imagined dramatic golden sunrises breaking over Waikiki beach. That’s what I wanted to capture when I lugged by tripod and Olympus E-PM2 to Hawaii. It didn’t turn out that way.
I woke up early twice before the jet-lag diminished. What I discovered was the sun was hidden behind high-rise hotels and the glorious color was trapped behind these towers of concrete. On these two mornings, there were barely any clouds to add interest. The light was boring and my photos were far from my pre visualized splendor. The bottom line, I didn’t know the best places to shoot and I was at the mercy of weather and light. Using HDR is not going to overcome mediocre light.
While the subtle and muted pastels my attract some, I didn’t get the color that I wanted. Experimenting with black and white, I realized though atypical, they created dramatic images with contrast. I like these — they are more unusual. But I’ll be lying if I said I planned it this way.
In retrospect, I should have gotten here earlier, during blue hour. Or better yet, capturing the blue hour after sunset. Ultimately, if I’m serious about beach landscapes, I need to research and explore. I didn’t have a car so I stuck to places within walking distance. But as you can see, I get bored of just beach and nature. I like having man-made influences. Perhaps I’m more attuned to hard angles instead of the organic forms of nature.
While I’m not a morning person, it was peaceful and more enjoyable shooting around sunrise, at least in Waikiki. This place is so tourist filled that the desolation of early morning works better for landscapes. There’s no clutter of people. The sprinkling of human forms add scale and interest but doesn’t overwhelm. Sometimes, you might even catch an amateur photo shoot by some sisters on the beach.
I finally started organizing my Hawaii photos from a few weeks ago.
As you may recall, I brought 3 cameras on my trip and here are the final picture counts. The Fujifilm X100S with 2219 shots. The Olympus E-PM2 and TG-2 came in about the same with 899 and 963, respectively. At 4081 total images, it’s noticeably less than the 6,500 photos I took in the Netherlands. And out of the 4000 or so photos, a majority are family snapshots.
I didn’t do as much “serious” photography, opting more to both document and enjoy my family vacation. But as you can imagine, I did get some alone time. My keeper rate was lower than usual, however. I was probably more distracted than usual (or less determined, photographically) and didn’t see as well as I usually do.
I’m not a morning person, which usually works fine because the city life that I photograph is more lively at night. But due to the magic of jet-lag, I was up earlier than normal. Blue hour, which I often talk about, happens in the morning too. Here is a rare, for me, blue hour photo from paradise, snapped at 5:31am.
There’s always a lot of chatter on the net about sensor size. Some people insist that full frame is the only way to go, perhaps because it matches the classic 35mm film size. Other people say the world has changed and full frame is no longer required. That APS-C or even smaller is more than adequate, image quality wise. I always find these discussions amusing. People talk about sensor size but they don’t talk about the tool in relation to the requirements. And by requirements, I’m not trying to get all businessy. You may have stringent requirements for high-resolution photos for a paying customer or your requirement may be as simple as having fun taking pictures.
Where do I fall in the sensor size debate? All over the place, as you can see. You know I own a lot of cameras and I realized that I own and shoot with practically every sensor size from full frame, downward. Here’s a list of my current cameras, arranged from larger to smaller on the sensor size scale.
|Sensor Size||Camera Type||Make/Model||Resolution|
|Full Frame (35mm)||DSLR||Canon 6D||20 MP|
|APS-C||Compact||Fujifilm X100S||16 MP|
|APS-C||Mirrorless||Pentax K-01||16 MP|
|APS-C||Mirrorless||Sony NEX-5||14 MP|
|Micro 4/3||Mirrorless||Olympus E-PM2||16 MP|
|Micro 4/3||Mirrorless||Olympus E-P3||12 MP|
|Micro 4/3||Mirrorless||Olympus E-PL1||12 MP|
|4/3||DSLR||Olympus E-1||5 MP|
|1 inch||Mirrorless||Nikon 1 J1||10 MP|
|2/3 inch||Compact||Fujifilm XF1||12 MP|
|1/1.7 inch||Compact||Canon G15||12 MP|
|1/2.3 inch||Point and Shoot||Olympus TG-2||12 MP|
|1/2.3 inch||Point and Shoot||Panasonic ZR-1||12 MP|
|1/3 inch||Smart Phone||Apple iPhone 5S||8 MP|
So what can you conclude from this list? First, of course, that I have too many doggone cameras. Also, you can tell from the various makes that I’m brand agnostic. I use cameras that fit my needs or piques my interest.
I’ve added an assortment of photos from these cameras on this post. You can hover over each image with a mouse to see which camera I used. With all of these modern digitals, you can make good images, at least at web sizes. As I found out recently, even the 11-year-old 5MP Olympus E-P1 looks great at this size. When talking about image quality, you got to go back to the requirements. What is your target output? How large? What is the purpose of the photo?
Do they need to be printed 8 feet by 10 feet at high-resolution? Are they going to be used only on the web? Perhaps they are just going to be on Instagram or Facebook? If shot correctly, all of these cameras will make good quality 13” x 19” prints, except for, perhaps, the 5MP E-1. I’ve tested this with my own printer to prove it to myself. I wonder how many people actually print large?
There is no question, keeping all non-sensor factors aside, that a larger sensor creates better image quality. They also have better high ISO performance and create a shallower depth of field which can be nice for portraits. But there’s a lot of photography where shallow depth of field is not preferred. Think landscapes, for example. Or try to take a group photo with shallow depth of field.
I’m known for shooting street scenes at night so I’m constantly using cameras in challenging dark conditions. There are techniques and technologies that allow one to shoot in the dark, even with a small sensor. I’m not just talking about tripods, which certainly work, but can be cumbersome. Look at this image above. I shot it with the Nikon J1, with a “paltry” 1 inch sensor, which was panned by camera enthusiasts. I too was surprised that with good image stabilization and the right settings, it produces outstanding photos at night, with the kit lens. I especially love its dynamic color.
How about this photo from a compact camera. Not bad for something that easily fits inside a coat pocket.
If you do use a tripod and HDR techniques, you can create images like this which expand dynamic range and challenge cameras with a sensor of any size. Having shallow depth of field seems to be the holy grail for some users but in a landscape photograph like this, having everything in focus is usually desirable. I find it easier to make this picture with a micro 4/3 sensor than with full frame. The naturally deep depth of field on the Olympus allows me to shoot this image quicker which has tremendous benefits.
Then there is the fun factor, which many people and camera reviews seem to ignore. On an absolute scale, the Canon 6D shoots higher quality photos than the Nikon J1, but I can tell you that the J1 is a lot more fun to shoot. It’s smaller, lighter, focuses faster and shoots quicker. Or take the Olympus TG-2, my waterproof camera that I used on the beaches of Waikiki and Cancun. It’s towards the bottom of the list, image quality wise, but in those harsh environments, it’s the ideal camera. I don’t care how good of a photograph a camera will take, I’m not going to have fun if I worry about salt water sprays and sand particles getting lodged in the lens.
Finally there is convenience. Regular people, unlike the photography enthusiasts that visit this site, have practical concerns. Is the camera easy to use? Convenient? Have acceptable image quality? Can I share photos immediately? Most regular people have already migrated to smartphone cameras. They are inexpensive and always accessible. I admit that I’ve been a camera snob and didn’t take smartphone cameras seriously until recently. But used in the right way, they make satisfying images, even for someone picky like me.
I’ve realized a few things that ultimately changed my mind. First, smartphone cameras continue to improve and, especially under good light, their images have really approached good enough for most everyone. The best place to view these photos are directly on the phone, not necessarily on websites or in large prints. That’s fine because most people’s requirement is to shoot for Facebook or Instagram. Even grainy low light images become acceptable on the small retina displays which people always carry. The 4 x 6 snaps and albums are dead. People have all the pictures they need on their handheld computers that answers phone calls and records memories. A paper album can’t compete with that.
And talking about fun. I can shoot, select, post-process and upload these smartphone images almost anywhere. Camera manufactures put WiFi on their purpose-built cameras but they are too cumbersome. The smartphone will always trump regular cameras for convenience and fun. Again, it comes down to requirements.
I like to have high quality photos viewable minimally on 27” displays. That’s why I still use purpose-built cameras. But as you can see, I’m open to adopting smaller cameras when the need arises or when it’s more convenient. That’s my benchmark, 27” or larger, except for my iPhone photos which are generally targeted towards Instagram.
So the sensor size argument is silly and simplistic. Next time you hear people arguing about sensor size, ask them what their requirements are and how much fun they want to have. Only then can you intelligently talk about what cameras are right for the situation. Do you really want to lug that hefty 36MP Nikon D810 with the beefy f2.8 zoom lens to take Instagram photos? It’s the best right? After all it’s full frame.
A few weeks ago, when I was in Hawaii actually, this blog hit its 4th birthday. I’ve been at this thing as long as it took to get my undergraduate degree. In some ways, I’ve probably dedicated more energy into this endeavor than my formal university education. That may be an exaggeration, but sometimes it feels that way.
So why do I expend so much energy on this thing? I’ve thought about this a lot.
Our analytical left brain works hard to optimize our thoughts for making a living. I’m guilty of this and I’m not proud to admit that my university education was meant as a vehicle for getting a better job, instead of the pursuit of knowledge. But there is so much more to life. Quite unexpectedly, working on this blog has begun to breakdown the walls to the creative and emotional right brain.
What good is making a living, if there’s no emotion and passion to live it?
First through photography and now through this blog, I’m tapping into the long dormant creative side that most of us have mothballed since childhood. And as I slowly jack hammer the wall that separates the two halves, I’ve realized that life can be so much richer. Photography trains me to see. The blog helps me to express.
In the last year, my interest in writing continues to grow. I’ve started dabbling in poetry (Haiku) for the first time. I’ve created my first video. I’ve enjoyed tweaking the look of the site and made a major design change last September. These activities feed my creative side.
But, old habits die hard. My analytical mind is fully present on this blog too. Pavlovian conditioning reinforces equipment oriented posts since they generate the most views. The quest for a larger audience may be misguided, especially if this blog is meant purely as a creative outlet. But life, of course, is more complex than that. Sure the blog soothes my desire for creative expression but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a larger audience.
I’m in an active struggle to balance gear talk with photography and creative expression. The uneasy blending that I’ve been working on is to wrap stories and ample photos around cameras I talk about or review. Truth be told, my equipment reviews are a devious attempt to showcase my photographs on unsuspecting readers. People come to find out about a camera and they are presented with my photos taken with said camera. I hope, dear reader, that you don’t mind.
I have no idea what the fifth year will bring. I’ll continue to break down the walls to my creativity. Hopefully you will find this interesting. Perhaps you too will find ways to tap into what interests you.
Thank you for your continued visits.