How technology has shifted from 4 years ago

Adobe House, Institute of Texan Cultures - San Antonio, Texas

Adobe House, Institute of Texan Cultures – San Antonio, Texas

I took the day off on Friday to go on a school field trip to San Antonio with my younger son. It’s an annual event for 4th graders and I went on the same trip with my older son 4 years ago. They went to the same two locations, the Mission San Jose and a museum called the Institute of Texan Cultures. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two trips, photographically, and primary from a technology point of view.

First, I noticed a big change in the type of cameras the parents used. It’s no secret that point and shoots are diminishing in popularity. Most every parent I saw shot with iPhones. The kids used iPods and inexpensive digital cameras, perhaps the hand-me-downs that the parents no longer use. I also saw only one DSLR on the entire trip. Four years ago there were many parents that used DSLRs and smaller dedicated cameras. Not a statistically significant sample but interesting none the less. A couple of parents even said that they had DSLRs but they were too heavy to bring on the trip.

You know that I have shifted away from DSLRs. A bit crazy and unwieldy but I brought 3 cameras with me. The Olympus E-P3 with the 25mm f1.4, the E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 and the Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot. My rational? I was going to do two distinctly different types of photography on the trip. I wanted to shoot casual, mostly candid pictures of the kids to share with rest of the class. I also wanted to shoot HDR urban landscapes on tripod. You can see a subtle HDR that I shot during the trip at an old Adobe house. I used the XZ-1 for the casual snaps, mainly outdoors. I used the E-P3 with the f1.4 lens indoors so that I didn’t have to use flash. The E-PM2 was attached to a tripod and acted as my “serious” landscape camera.

I just looked at my archives and discovered that I brought two DSLRs with me on this trip, four years ago. I used a Canon 20D with a 18-55mm kit lens and a Canon Rebel XT with a 70-210mm. Outdoors, I also used an external speedlite to tame the harsh sun. Indoors, I cranked the ISO up to 1600. Back then, I had no need for a tripod, I just shot people and didn’t do any urban landscapes. Today, even with three cameras and a tripod, I’m pretty sure my gear weighs less than it did back then.

I was surprised to see the XZ-1 point and shoot held its own, in daylight, compared to the DSLRs 4 years ago. The XZ-1 has a slight edge in resolution, 10MP vs the 8MP DSLRs. The DSLRs have a shallower DOF and more dynamic range, however I used a flash on both cameras outdoors and the resulting images were very similar. Using flash outdoors tends to soften harsh shadows and reduces the need for wide dynamic range. Of course I used fairly basic lenses on my DSLRs back then so I’m sure nicer glass would have tipped the quality balance towards the DSLRs. Back then I only shot JPEG, while now I use RAW. The RAW has the benefit of grabbing more detail and dynamic range in favor of the XZ-1.

Indoors, the DSLRs will run rings around the XZ-1, of course. But the Olympus E-P3 with the f1.4 lens holds its own and surpasses the Canon 20D and XT. Noise wise, the E-P3 has similar performance to these 2005 vintage DSLRs. The Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens however is clearly superior to the Canon kit lens. Ironically, I was getting shallower DOF with the Olympus and the 25mm, then with my Canon DSLR with the kit lens. The image quality of my newest Pen, the Olympus E-PM2 is even better than these DSLRs.

It appears that my candid and posed compositions of the kids were no worse and possibly better than it was 4 years ago. This is noteworthy since I rarely shoot these kinds of photos anymore. Back then, it was all that I did. Nowadays, I do a lot more city and urban photography. There are also changes in the way I shoot and post-process photographs. These days, I tend to expose darker and my photographs are a lot more colorful. The JPEGs that I shot back then were minimally processed and had dull appearance. Ironically, even though I now shoot exclusively in RAW, my colors are a lot more rich and vibrant. I attribute this mainly to my post processing that has evolved over the last several years.

Finally, I guess after years of practice, I now have the ability to shoot different kinds of photographs on the same outing. While I concentrated exclusively on candid, event type photography 4 years ago, I’ve added tripod based landscapes with HDR to my repertoire. It certainly keeps me busy and perhaps a bit goofy juggling multiple cameras, but it seems to work for me. I have little downtime and no dust, since I don’t have to change lenses. Since the cameras are so light and small, I’m not bogged down with a huge load of gear like a pack mule. I’m curious to see what I will be shooting with, 4 years from now.

17 thoughts on “How technology has shifted from 4 years ago

  1. I guess I should get over my dislike of tripods. They make me feel like my feet are nailed to the ground. Since I own a tripod, I should try using it. You certainly make the case for it being worth the effort. My husband’s been nagging me to use it … in fact he’s the one who made me buy it. He’s convinced if I get used to it, I’ll like it. How long did it take for you to get comfortable with it?

    1. When I started taking more urban landscapes about 3 years ago, I started using tripods so I’m comfortable with them. But they are still a pain in the butt. I use a really light tripod now since my camera is lighter so it make it better.

      My new philosophy is I’m only using a tripod if it helps me make the kind of images that I can’t make handheld.

      For example, the image I have in this post. No way would a normal photograph be able to show the inside of a room with this much detail while showing this view out the window.

    2. I like to use ISO 100 (and I would say that using an E-PL1 and an E-520 I have to) – so taking a tripod almost everywhere is kind of natural for me. The only times I leave the house without one are when I either know I’ll have to carry (shopping), or don’t have time to take photos anyway (when I’m on early shift for instance). But even then, I have a tabletop tripod in my bag.

      1. Welcome back Wolfgang. Table top tripods can be a great tool. I have so many small tripods, I need to blog about them someday.

  2. I was at a tourist spot a few years back and there was a couple there playing Pass the Backpack. They had bought a Canon 50D and some lenses and when I chatted with them over coffee they described it as the worst purchase they had ever made. So the handwriting was on the wall for a lot even back then, In fact the husband even admitted – “I have no idea of what I’m doing.” That was sad. I told them to see what they could get for their stuff and get a Panasonic LX-5 which had just come out as I was pretty darned happy with the Leica counterpart D Lux camera that I had.

    1. These stories, unfortunately are not unusual. Many people, at least in the past, equate the DSLR as “serious” photography and expect that they automatically get great photos when they use one. Of course this is untrue.

      So many of the parents at the school use the DSLRs in the green auto mode which really doesn’t help much anyway. At least with the iPhones, their tool now better matches their experience level.

  3. Interesting topic. I am curious how you bring two pens and one point-and-shoot camera to the area? Two pens on you neck and the P&S on your pocket, perhaps? I usually have my E-P2 attached with pana 20mm in my messenger bag along with 14mm lens, batteries, iPod touch, Mifi hotspot, notebook and a bottle of water. I am not sure I will be comfortable to hang two pens around neck.

    1. I usually have my primary camera around my neck. The others I keep in my shoulder bag within easy access. There are some cases when I do have two cameras around my neck, but not often.

  4. Truth be told many ‘pros” use the “pro” setting! The Green one.
    Glad the small cameras worked out. i personally think, though i’m firmly
    camped in the small camera camp, the DSLR simply must be better!
    It’s the real estate size of sensor. i do have a problem, one day on vacation,
    extremely windy, i snapped some sail-ski’s with my P/S and daughter’s Nikon.
    My P/S were equal. Seemed sharper but less detail?
    The HDR perfect. Gonna see rest of your shoot.

    1. Yes, if you use the auto mode on a point and shoot and DSLR the quality is different but often times not enough to really matter. The DSLR is capable of doing so much more but only if you know how to use it.

  5. Which would lead to the obvious question : what cameras will you see on the same school trip in 4 years from now? My bet would be even more cell phones. Iphones colors rendition is I think pretty impressive (I heard there is an auto HDR in the iphone 5), and the auto white balance is clearly better than my entry level canon DSLR, which is really sad to admit.

    A post about tripods would be very welcome. Cheap as I am, I am using my 80 mm telescope tripod (but very rarely), which is incredibly heavy.

    I think the parent’s point in not bringing the DLSR because of the weight is bogus, though. Come on! How much stuff are they bringing with their kids anyway? I am the parent of 2, and everytime we go for a 2 hours outing, I now carry more stuff than when I was a bachelor doing my solo 1 week long backpacking trips in Alaska (I still had a SLR by that time, it has been a while!). The additional quarter pound can’t account for much, IMO. But it’s just that a DSLR (as for every camera) requires a bit more effort to learn and postprocess, as well as a decent lens. This is the additional effort, and not the weight, that probably makes bringing a DSLR not worthwhile for them. But a smaller camera would not make the effort a lot lighter.

    Great HDR picture, by the way. Makes me curious about trying it one day. I still have a lot to learn.

    1. Thanks. HDR can be interesting, especially when done in moderation.

      I think you might be right about the continued trend towards smart phones and the color on the iPhone is quite nice.

      I think there is a weight and also a bulk factor. The body and big lens combination means it needs its own bag. They’re also not casual cameras and required a dedicated effort to use properly. For group photography, they are harder to use since they tend to have a shallower DOF.

      Point and shoots, with their smaller sensor, is a lot easier for group shots where everyone is in focus.

  6. Excellent balance in the HDR treatment. Subtle enhancement of interior detail complemented by that perfectly natural sunlit view through the window. Gotta learn how to do that.

    I think it’s pretty clear that the iPhone (and its upper tier Android competitors) will be the camera of the future for most people. That’s not bad in itself.

    Some of the market stats reported by Thom Hogan today in his Sans Mirror blog are a bit unsettling. They include a more than 30 percent decline in mirrorless camera exports to the U.S. in 2013 vs. 2012. Make of that what you will. I hope to blithely ignore it.

    1. Thanks Mike. The HDR was a bit more challenging to make but I think it was worth it.

      Interesting about mirrorless sales. They don’t seem to do as well in the U.S. I think the perceived price performance of DSLRs are better, particularly the low-end models are quite inexpensive.

      People buy DSLRs thinking that they will use it but end up not using it as much. The bigger is better mentality is alive and well.

  7. Mirror-less digital cameras are not evolving they are merely catching up! Some of the best camera’s in the world are not DSLR’s but mirror-less (range-finder) film cameras like the Wista 4×5, Fuji GSW690III and Mamiya 7ii to name a few. It’s just a matter of time before mirror-less digital cameras surpass the DSLR, making it nearly obsolete. In addition, Medium Format cameras are getting cheaper and Megapixels are increasing in all camera formats, making it easier for the amateur to get decent shots of their kids at a basketball game.

    I believe within 7 years time, we will see camera’s with 40 and 50 MP being sold for less than $3000, revolutionizing photography the world over. The iPhone will eventually become a 12MP camera which will strain it’s chip (and battery) but give consumers an ability they’ve never had in just the palm of their hand.

    1. Interesting prediction. Not disagreeing with you, we will see where it ends up.

      Whatever happens I know that I will need a lot more hard drive space!

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