In the months and years following my first year at a full-time newspaper internship, I had a pretty clear idea about what kind of photographer I wanted to be. I wanted to be in the trenches, shooting football games in the rain, house fires in the middle of the night, perp walks on the courthouse steps, and the crowd going wild when the three-pointer hits at the buzzer.
To do all these things, I needed tough cameras with big, fast lenses. I started with a Nikon FM in 1982, and slowly added to my system. On the occasions when I had a little extra money, I often hit the pawn shops at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where E-1 soldiers tended to blow all their pay on payday, then pawn what they bought two weeks later when they needed to make rent.
At several points in my camera shopping I came across nice Nikkormat cameras. Nikkormat was Nikon’s 1960s and 70s effort to manufacture less-expensive Nikons for amateurs, mostly by limiting their features. By the late 1970s, Nikon and Nikkormat had largely merged, and most Nikkormats had a fair amount of features.
All the cameras made by Nikon during that era were built like tanks: steel frames, brass mounting rings, real glass pentaprisms, engraved and painted markings. It was a golden ago of camera-making for most camera makers, including Nikon.
At one time or another I owned…
Nikkormat FT, the original 1965-design without auto aperture indexing. I eventually sold it after discovering a significant focus calibration error.
Nikomat (brand name sold only in Japan) EL chrome top. I often carried this as my second-camera, usually with a wide angle lens on it, when I would be in the field all day, like at the annual Fourth of July festivities. It died, and I gave it to someone (I don’t remember who.)
Nikkormat EL. For years this camera had a place in my bag, and it remained healthy into the digital era. It has an auto-winder, which is slow and bulky, and is difficult to hold due to a lack of handgrip. In 2002, I handed it to Jamie for our hiking trip to Utah. She had a great time using it, and ended up keeping it in her collection on permanent loan. I borrowed it this week to photograph, but I consider it hers.
The Nikkormats were Nikon’s last effort to create something that was both well-crafted and affordable. Starting in 1981, Nikon introduced the Nikon EM, their first SLR that was mostly plastic, and in keeping with an overall trend in camera manufacturing, never made anything like the Nikkormats again.
Five years ago, one of my best friends, Jamie, received an unusual gift, a Pentax Auto 110 SLR (Single Lens Reflex) film camera, and brought it to me to size it up.
To say that this camera is “rare” is a double-edged sword: from my perspective, this camera is rare enough that Jamie’s is the only one I have ever seen. However, with Buy It Now prices on eBay hovering between $40 and $150, it’s obvious that quite a few were manufactured. My guess about this combination is that many cameras were sold and few were actually used to make pictures.
Photographers who remember the 1970s recall that the 110 film cartridge was one of Kodak’s efforts to reinvent film. Supposedly responding to a perception that roll film was difficult to load and manage, Kodak brought out the 110 cartridge in 1972.
Almost all of the cameras made for 110 were slim point-and-shoot cameras with fixed focus and exposure, relying on negative film’s latitude for exposure control. Many of them used flash cubes, which would fill a room with blinding light.
110 film frames are officially half the size of 35mm frames, so with the state of film in the 1970s, it was difficult to get decently detailed images with such a small film area, which is why 110 remained an amateur format.
The Pentax was an effort to cash in on the ubiquity of the 110 format, but came along just as the format was dying. The Pentax was nicely made and nicely accessorized. I got this list of lenses for the Auto 110 from Camera-wiki.org…
Pentax Auto 110 lenses
Pentax-110 18mm F2.8 Wide-angle lens, 6 elements in 6 groups, filter Ø30.5mm
Pentax-110 24mm F2.8 Standard lens of 6 elements in 5 groups, filter Ø25.5mm
Pentax-110 50mm F2.8 Telephoto lens of 5 elements in 5 groups, filter Ø37.5mm
Pentax-110 70mm F2.8 Telephoto lens of 6 elements in5 groups, filter Ø49mm
Pentax-110 20mm—40 mm F2.8 Zoom lens of 8 separate elements, filter Ø49mm
The camera is so miniature that it feels like a toy in my longish hands. The viewfinder is large and clear, with a split-image focus aid in the center. The lens mounts in the same direction as most SLRs (lefty loosey righty tighty), and focuses in the same direction as my Nikon lenses. Focus is smooth, but the focus throw is a little long. Exposure is set entirely by the camera (Program mode), with ISO being set by the film cassette. That’s a shame, since the driving force of a great camera is allowing the photographer to run the show. The Auto 110 has no manual exposure mode, and doesn’t even have exposure compensation.
I know we owe a lot to Pentax, particularly for the K1000 and its role in teaching a generation of broke college students how to run an all-manual film camera, but the Auto 110, despite its innovation, came at the wrong time in history and with the wrong feature set. Still, it’s neat for Jamie to have it in her collection.
For many years of the later film era, Japanese camera maker Olympus specialized in building very compact 35mm film cameras. Hardware like the original OM-1, for example, was thought to be the smallest you could practically manufacture an SLR camera.
Also from this company were the point-and-shoot class of cameras, which, without the need of a pentaprism for the viewfinder, could be made smaller still. One such camera I coveted was the excellent Olympus XA.
I had one for years, and in spite of my fanciful imaginations about the kinds of pictures I would make with it, I actually shot very few images with the XA.
The XA uses a two-window rangefinder focus system, creating the faint yellow image in the center of the finder: double-image is out of focus, and making the images come together is in focus.
Exposure is controlled using aperture priority, meaning you pick the aperture, and the camera selects the shutter speed based on how much light it sensed and the film’s ISO rating.
In hand, the XA is not particularly easy to use. The focus lever, just below the lens, is tiny and hard to reach with the camera to the eye. The aperture selector is out of sight unless you point the camera toward you. The ISO dial requires a fingernail to operate.
The clamshell design is a good form factor. When it is closed, the camera is smooth and well-protected from pocket stuff like keys.
All this is put together to achieve true pocketability . The XA is so small, in fact, it had a wrist lanyard instead of a strap. It’s likely the XA is the smallest you can make a camera that will hold a roll of 35mm film.
I like to imagine that if I had a digital conversion kit, I would use this camera, but the truth is that I have an Olympus point and shoot that I almost never use. So the XA remains an amusing but unutilized item in my collection.
I have been adding more photographers to my social media list lately, hopefully to inspire my work, but also in an effort to distance myself from the young white girl latte scene. One of those photographers posted a link on Petapixel about long-time photojournalist David Burnett’s recent switch from Digital Single Lens Reflex (DLSR) to mirrorless.
First of all, despite its apparent surge in popularity, when most people hear this news, they ask, “What’s mirrorless?” In simplest terms, mirrorless cameras are interchangeable lens digital cameras that use their sensors as viewfinders, reading data instantly and showing it to us on the back of the camera or in an electronic viewfinder, eliminating the need for a mirror to redirect light into an optical viewfinder. No mirror = mirrorless.
Name that Product!
I find this choice of name to describe an entire class of photographic tool to be flawed: it’s named after what is isn’t. It’s like saying my car is dieseless, which it is, but that doesn’t describe anything about the car. I can rattle off a couple of better names (for example Direct-to-Sensor (DTS), but my impression is the name, like it or not, is here to stay.
In some important ways, these cameras are a fusion of the DLSR with the bridge/crossover/point-and-shot cameras we’ve had for years, which use the electronic viewfinder, but with a fixed lens. Smartphones use the same viewfinding scheme.
The reason we have so many DSLRs instead of mirrorless is that electronic viewfinder technology has, until the last few years, lacked instantaneous feedback. There was a lag between the scene and the viewfinder; even a small lag can result in a completely missed photo. With a consumer point-and-shoot, lag wasn’t an issue because those kinds of cameras weren’t tasked with shooting action of any kind, so a little lag matched the photography.
Electronic viewfinder technology has caught up, and these viewfinders are virtually instantaneous.
A lot of web authors assert that mirrorless is taking over, but so far, I don’t see it in the field or in the classroom. Of the dozens or hundreds of photographers I know, only a few like Tina Davis and Doug Hoke seem to be shooting mirrorless every day. I had good talks with both of them about their mirrorless experience and both seem to love everything about them.
A surprise bonus of mirrorless is that because the distance from the lens to the sensor is much shorter, it allows many more lenses to be used with an adaptor. Beautiful optical glass that went idle at the end of the film era can have new life breathed into it on these cameras.
When I first wrote about mirrorless in 2011, those cameras of that era typically had micro 4/3 sensors, which were roughly half the size of a 35mm film frame, and in that infancy had some growing pains. Today, however, we are seeing surprisingly fast, capable mirrorless cameras with 36x24mm sensors, or in the case of Fuji and Hasselblad, 44x33mm sensors. Coupled with better viewfinder technology and faster hardware in the cameras, I am ready to retract at least some of what I said seven years ago about mirrorless, and proclaim that its era is, or is about to be, at hand.
Fellow photographer Robert and I were musing on the phone yesterday about the demise of “digital film,” a product that tried to gain traction in the late 1990s when the future of photography was still hazy. The idea of digital film was to manufacture a cassette that could be inserted into existing film camera so they could make digital photos.
For my birthday one year, my wife Abby bought nearly a dozen antique cameras and hid them around the house for me to find like Easter eggs.
It turned out that one company, Silicon Film, got as far as a prototype before camera makers managed to get the price of purpose-built digital cameras into the affordable range.
Why would anyone have gone this route instead of just buying a Nikon D1? Well, we all had tons of great 35mm film equipment sitting around, for which we paid a lot, and which was still working fine. What if, instead of shelving all those Nikon F100s and F5s and Canon ESO-1s, and shelling out $5000 for a D1 or 1D, we could insert a cassette with a digital sensor in place of a film cassette?
It turned out the idea was mostly vaporware, and while most people believe this was due to technical hurdles, I believe it was at least as much the fault of marketing and profitability obstacles: why sell accessories at small margins when we could be selling new cameras at huge markups?
Today we see more attempts at the concept like PSEUDO, I’m Back and Frankencamera (though RE-35 was a branding experiment and April Fool’s joke) and I wish them luck.
A Call to Action?
One concern that remains difficult to solve even after all this time is how to trigger the sensor so it knows when to record. My idea, which I haven’t seen iterated on the web, is a tiny infrared beam striking the shutter blade that switches on the sensor when the shutter begins to move.
Finally, with excellent, affordable digital cameras in abundance all around us, why would even be of interest in 2018? Answer: for the same reason lomography has it’s niche, to allow us to expand artistically. There are millions of idle film cameras sitting on shelves from our own home here in Oklahoma to the towering apartments of Hong Kong that could be put to use in some worthwhile endeavor.
As an artist, I find this idea very compelling. As Robert and I talked, one question he asked was, “So are we talking about shooting with old glass?” Yes, I think so. Old lenses, though often not as sharp (since they were designed and built by hand in a bygone era) can create images with a unique and engaging character. Oklahoman photographer Doug Hoke does this all the time when he shoots 40-year-old lenses on his mirrorless cameras. Filters in smartphone applications like Instagram mimic the look of film and old lenses.
I love this idea, and not just for 35mm. My wife and I have more than a dozen old cameras sitting around of various formats, including a beautiful, working 100-year-old Kodak No. 2A Folding Cartridge Premo 116 format conventional film camera making a 4.5 x 2.5 inch image, and a couple of Polaroids that make 4 x 5 inch images. If there were a way to make digital pictures with any or all of these machines, I would happily do so, and in doing, hopefully open up another artistic avenue for my work.
For Christmas when I was 13, I wanted a camera. My parents, with the caution of those who don’t know where their children’s lives will go, bought me an affordable Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinder camera. With it in my hands I started to learn and yearn about photography. It featured a fixed 45mm f/1.7 lens that was well-made and very sharp. Of course, I wanted one thing this excellent camera couldn’t give me: interchangeable lenses.
So, with some cash sent to me from my grandmother for my 15th birthday, I dug into the seedy underside of the back pages of Modern Photography Magazine to Cambridge Camera Exchange, a discount camera seller run in a rathole in New York City. In July 1978, I owned my first single lens reflex camera, a Fujica ST605N. I paid $127.
In 1981, I sold the Fujica to a janitor named Junior, and switched to Nikon.
Flash forward to 2018, and enter the nostalgia of Ebay, where a savvy shopper can get almost anything for almost nothing. I poked around and found a really nice ST605N, and paid for it with my PayPal balance.
In the package was the original green box with the original multi-lingual instruction manual, the camera, the lens, a lens cap, a rubber eye cup, the original leatherette carrying/storage case, and the original black shoulder strap with one of those funny leatherette film canister holders.
When it arrived yesterday and my wife Abby and I unboxed it, she said, “It looks like it’s never been used.”
When review sites and trade magazines talk about “entry level,” this is the camera at the bottom of that rung.
Some of its specifications include…
A horizontally traveling cloth focal plane shutter with speeds of a very peculiar 1/700 of a second to 1/2 second, plus bulb.
Stop-down match-needle metering, meaning that to take a meter reading, you push the stop-down lever, darkening the viewfinder to the selected aperture while you adjusted aperture and shutter speed to make the needle on the right side of the viewfinder move up and down until it was centered.
A selectable ASA (the precursor to ISO, at least in America) with settings from 25 to 3200.
A hot shoe that would fire an electronic flash, and a PC port that would do the same.
The viewfinder includes a green shutter speed pointer and scale on the left side, the match-needle +/- on the right side, and combination split image rangefinder surrounded by a microprism collar, surrounded by a lighter ground glass area, surrounded by the regular ground glass. Focus is smooth and bright in the viewfinder.
The standard lens for this camera is the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2. It has a plastic barrel, clicks at full aperture values, and stops down to f/16. It focuses smoothly, like the day I bought the new one in 1978. It focuses and stops down in the same direction as my Nikon lenses.
Whatever It Takes...
Here’s a fun trick from the film era: if your camera didn’t have a multiple exposure lever, you could push and hold the rewind release on the bottom of the camera and crank the advance lever, which would cock the shutter without (hopefully) moving the film.
One of the best things about this camera, that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time I owned it, is how small it is compared to its contemporaries. Nikons, Canons and Minoltas of the era were much larger. This camera is almost as small as the legendarily small Olympus OM series.
In my review of the Fujifilm S200EXR, I said that an unused camera is a fetish object. I didn’t buy the ST605N to take pictures with it, but for the memories, so I guess it is a fetish object. On the other hand, I made quite a few pictures with it when I owned it the first time, some of which I have included in this entry.
Despite buying a cheap 28mm and getting a 75-200mm one Christmas, I kept coming back to the 55mm. The class of lens has been in my idiom ever since.
The Fujica ST605N was a beginner’s camera for when I was a beginner, and I learned a lot of important lessons about my craft from this small marvel of film technology from a very different era.
In 2009, I was hungry to get my hands on a bridge/crossover camera that would change my game when I was hiking, camping and exploring, mostly in the desert southwest. It was intended to replace my aging Minolta DiMage 7i. I knew from experience that portraiture and sports action photography weren’t in my list of top features sets, nor was the weight and complexity that comes with such endeavors.
In October 2009, I bought a Fujifilm S200EXR digital camera.
I wanted a one-camera solution for times where I wanted to get away, far enough that I felt lost and alone. Part of this strategy was that I needed to carry less; less gear, less weight, less photography equipment. A single compact camera with a versatile lens could do that, since trying to carry many lenses and the accessories can clutter such a strategy. For every lens or flash or pouch or tripod I could leave behind meant more water and food and shelter I could actually carry, thus travel farther and photograph more.
I started photography in the film era, when a decent film camera, a Nikon or Canon or Hasselblad, could be expected to last almost indefinitely. In fact, all my film cameras were working fine from when I bought them in college or early in my career until I sold them in the early 2000s as I migrated to digital. It’s frustrating that we regard a perfectly working digital camera as “outdated” after four years in the case of the S200EXR, or seven years for the DiMage 7i. Ken Rockwell dubbed this concept “futuretrash“.
As with all Fujifilm USA products, the S200EXR is built to excellent, precise standards, and is a great-looking camera.
In fact, in recent years, Fuji has positioned itself as an innovator and leader, particularly in mirrorless. Last year they introduced the GFX 50S, a medium format mirrorless camera that I would absolutely love to use.
Some of the S200EXR’s positives are…
Great handling, especially that it has a standard PASM exposure mode dial, a real zoom ring (as opposed to motorized or “zoom-by-wire”), and an electronic viewfinder augmenting the back-of-camera monitor.
Controls like exposure compensation, ISO, and white balance are on buttons on the body instead of buried in menus. Although you have to re-memorize where they are when switching from Nikon or Canon, once you do, your can get right to them.
The Fuji Velvia slide film simulation mode creates absolutely gorgeous color.
Solid grip and body; this camera feels good in my hands. It’s a good-looking camera.
The lens is sharp at most focal lengths and focuses reasonably fast.
Some of this cameras negative aspects are…
30.5mm (equivalent) is the widest lens setting, and although there are workarounds, like stitching two images together, it’s often just not wide enough.
The RAW files are huge (26MB) and missing markers, so they require a lot of editing to create what you see in the camera. The S200EXR is one of the few cameras with which I shoot JPEGs.
Despite its best intentions in giving us a selectable dynamic range option, the camera actually doesn’t do very well in that regard.
The lens has a six-bladed aperture, and makes ugly, fanned-out sunstars.
I semi-retired the S200EXR in January 2013, when my wife Abby and I found matching Fujifilm HS30EXR cameras on sale. The new bridge camera did almost everything better than the 200, especially being lighter, smaller, and having a more versatile lens.
For web presentation, I often prefer the 4:5 aspect ratio of cameras like this Fuji over the 2:3 ratio of DSLRs. They seem to command a better portion of the computer screen.
I still pick up the S200EXR once in a while, but last year I discovered the left button on the four-way selector was dead, meaning I could no longer access the setup menu or macro mode. Fortunately, I had saved two user presents in C1 and C2 on the exposure mode dial, so it wasn’t completely dead. I decided to throw it in my car as a “grab cam,” and it serves me well on occasions when I want to roll down my window and shoot something by the side of the road, like deer, sunsets, or funny bumper stickers.
Finally, a camera is just a fetish object if you don’t use it, so I am happy to include many of my favorite images made with this camera.
Despite the fact that is regarded as outdated and that one of the controls on it is broken, it’s still a camera I was glad to have experienced.
By now we all know the Kodak narrative: an innovative company has incredible success in the film era, then gets bloated with old management ideas and an arrogant “people will always need film” paradigm, then goes belly-up when they can’t compete. It’s a good lesson in the idea that no entity is immune to the fortunes of economics.
I thought about this when I recently came across a web post about a camera system that crossed my path some years ago, the Kodak DCS. The article delves all the way back into the 1990s with the intro of the first-generation of digital cameras, the NC-2000 based on the Nikon N90, and talks about how much photographers hated them compared to film. Fortunately, I didn’t come to the digital party until 2001, when these primitive beasts had been retired.
Readers might recall that on occasions I get out my ancient Nikon/Kodak DCS-720x and play with it. On at least one of these occasions I speculated my DCS 720x might be a candidate for infrared explorations, and though I was able to create a few interesting experimental images, I seldom dig it out of the box to do that, and later had better luck with a Sony F828.
Readers will also recall that my Kodak DCS 760 died years ago, and in August 2016, I took it apart, which was very fun and revealed a lot about how they were made. It’s worth reading if you have a minute (link.)
I originally got the 720x in 2003 when Kodak discontinued it and dumped the remaining supply of them on Ebay, for a tenth the original list price. In 2006 I saw a 760 on Ebay for just a couple of hundred dollars and thought it would be worth at least experiencing.
Even Kodak’s slick literature can’t make up its mind what these cameras are called. The one I have remaining, for example, is variously called the Nikon/Kodak DCS720x, Nikon/Kodak DCS-720x, the Kodak DCS720x, the Kodak DCS-720x, and the Kodak DCS 720x.
Kodak’s vision of digital photography by 2001 was to produce two very different cameras in the same Nikon F5 body: a slow, low-ISO, low-frame-rate, higher resolution (6MP) 760, and a faster, very-high-ISO, low resolution (2MP) 720x. The Canon versions of these cameras were the 560 and the 520.
One fundamental issue with Kodak digital cameras, particularly with their digital SLRs, is reliability. Although my 720x is still operable, both 760s I’ve knows, mine and Robert’s, died years ago with zero possibility of repair because of Kodak’s vacancy. Ken Rockwell also notes this in his review of the Kodak DCS 14n.
Despite this, it’s still fun to dig out the behemothic DCS 720x, charge its clunky battery, and squeeze off a few frames.
Of note on the bad side for both the 760 and the 720x:
The buttons on the back are fundamental to the operation of the camera, yet are small and hard to push; I sometimes hurt my thumbnail using them.
Due to a long-expired capacitor or button battery, the camera can never remember the date, and interrupts every startup with a message that says, “Date/Time is incorrect,” which requires a reply of “OK.” It thereafter thinks it is March 2023.
In the 2017 world of huge viewfinders and three-inch back-of-camera monitors, the tightly cropped viewfinder of the Kodaks and their dim, two-inch monitor are hard to abide.
The front-to-back depth of the camera is huge, and though I have long fingers, I can barely reach all the controls. Coupled with its weight, this contributed to some tendonitis in my right elbow when I was using this camera a lot.
Battery life with the huge, heavy nickel metal hydride batteries was terrible. I always had to carry an extra battery.
The camera is covered in awkward, large ports for AC power, Firewire, and a 15-pin shutter release.
The media cards are PCM/CIA-based; I never owned such a device, and have adaptors that allow me to use Compact Flash cards.
The 600 and 700 series cameras had two card slots, but once when I was using both cards, it got into some kind of feedback loop, and each card had a folder inside called FOLDER01, each of which had a folder in it called FOLDER01, and each of those had a folder in it called FOLDER01, presumably forever until I turned off the camera or removed the cards. I never found the images, and had to reshoot the event.
Although you can program it to convert its RAW files into JPEGs, the JPEGs are uselessly noisy and flat.
These RAW files are best edited with Kodak DCS Photo Desk, which was never supported by Mac OS X, meaning any computers in the last 15 years (I can’t speak for Windows). They will open in Adobe Camera RAW, but look pretty shabby.
Instead of the now-standard RGB Bayer pattern array, this high-ISO DCS cameras (the 620x and the 720x) had CMY arrays in an effort to increase sensor sensitivity by using less-absobative dyes, meaning that even the best editing favored some colors and ruined others. The 720x, for example, makes gorgeous purples, but not once was I able to get an orange tone to look right.
The infrared filter is mounted in front of the mirror so it can be easily removed or replaced with an anti-aliasing filter (which was not cheap), so the camera was prone to some unexpected reflections between the sensor and the filter that weren’t visible in the viewfinder, usually pink.
On the other hand, I made some great images with these cameras, so here are the good things about them…
High-ISO images from the 720x were always very clean, thank to the Photo Desk software. I often shot sports at ISO 4000 or 5000 when the occasion called for it. The camera’s contemporaries like the Nikon D1H didn’t do as well in the ISO stratosphere.
Since there was no anti-aliasing filter in either of these cameras, pixel-for-pixel sharpness was unchallenged by anything else in the era.
Focus was super-fast and on-the-money thanks to these cameras being based on the excellent Nikon F5 film camera. I thought building on the best film body of the era was a smart move, but Kodak’s next, and last, digital SLR, the SLRn/Pro 14n, was based on the cheap, consumer F80.
The overbuilt quality of these cameras made them feel very rugged.
Despite their shortcomings, I was able to make memorable, high-quality images for my newspaper that still look great today, using both the 760 and the 720x.
One characteristic of a really great camera is to do its job in the background and get out of the photographer’s way so we can do our jobs, and some aspects of the Kodak’s failed to do that.
I will continue to pull out the old Kodak once in a while and play around with it. But I will probably never do photojournalism with it again.
Some years ago I wrote “HD Garbage” in which I talked about the commercialism of imaging and filmmaking, particularly the urge to buy more products to replace perfectly good products because their tech, especially their resolution (and by extension their perceived quality), is regarded as outdated. It’s part of a bigger aspect of mercantilism that insists we make foolish financial decisions in order to “upgrade” whether it’s really an upgrade or not.
One of the most disappointing aspects of technology is that it leads talentless people to generate content that is misperceived as good, which leads to the “my uncle” paradigm: “My uncle has a nice camera. He can shoot your wedding.”
In the biggest picture, we see commercialism selling us the idea that we need more, better technology to improve our entertainment, while at the same time we are a less-happy, less-healthy people, and most entertainment is not only unworthy of high definition, it is unworthy of being viewed. Another 72-inch super-high-definition television will never be able to make that scriptless $350,000,000 super-hero movie into a life-changing moment.
A friend of mine is a huge brand-name fanboy. He is constantly pining for the next big thing, with still-frame and video resolution being at the top of his list. Yet I’ve never seen a single second of HD or 4K video from him. Not one.
Far and Away...
Last night at the game I saw what I see a lot: photographers with very expensive “full frame” (36mm x 24mm image sensor) cameras with the same lens I am using, a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. As much as the photography world touts this sensor size as the answer, I find it ironic and annoying that these photographers are always 30 yards farther from the play than I am. I know what they are getting: tiny figures in the center of the frame with lots of grass below and sky above, and I sometimes confirm it by sneaking a peak at the backs of their camera. As far as I am concerned, smaller sensors, in my case 24mm x 15mm, are a solution, not a problem. My stuff looks great.
On a more upbeat note, I love covering local sports, specifically high school sports. The reasons for this is the legitimacy of emotional investment: the chance that a college or professional athlete has any real connection to you is slim. I heard a comedian say recently about professional sports that, “You’re really rooting for the uniform.”
The kids I cover in our community, on the other hand, are the children of the kids I covered 25 years ago, and everyone on the sidelines or in the stands has a dog in the fight.
This video is from a thing Ada fans have been doing since before I came to The Ada News in 1988. At the start of the fourth quarter, the band plays a song called “Light Up,” and the kids all come down and dance, then at a specific point in the song, they rush together with the cheerleaders and cheer…
This video is a memory and a moment. Nothing about it is improved or destroyed by its resolution. The next time you consider if your video would be improved by a new phone or camera, take out your existing phone or camera and shoot with it. Take a film class. Watch how films are made. Learn how to storyboard and write a script. Only when you have accomplished this, and are making films, will you go beyond the fallacy of yearning to buy more.
Readers of our travel blog saw that our trip to my mother’s hometown in Missouri to witness and photograph the total eclipse of the sun of August 21, 2017 was a complete success.
Photographically, the challenge for me was exposure. I’d never even seen a total eclipse before, and could only guess. The solar corona, an aura of energetic plasma that represents the most visible and photographable attraction of an eclipse, is as much as a million times dimmer than the photosphere of the sun. The internet was little help for numbers on this exposure, which surprised and annoyed me.
For this eclipse, the best exposure was f/8, 1/80th of a second at ISO 640.
I used my Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 coupled with its well-matched TC-14 1.4x teleconverter to make a 560mm f/4.5, which I stopped down to f/8 for maximum sharpness and to tame this lens’s slight inclination toward chromatic aberrations. This lens is from the era before autofocus, but was build at a time when quality construction and expensive materials made a photographic instrument of unchallenged capability. In its day, sports photographers often thought and dreamed of little else than this “sweet piece of glass.”
I got my 400mm in 1997 from the long-defunct Photo-Fax.com, a service that catered to us, we who wanted to pay discount prices for top-dollar gear. It’s the longest lens I own.
With the teleconverter, the 560mm focal length was beginning to be long enough to fill the frame with the moon blocking the sun, showing the solar corona…
If you were building an eclipse camera on a budget from scratch, I might consider one of the new Sigma or Tamron 150-600mm lenses. Both companies make 1.4x teleconverters, which makes the 600mm into 840mm, but also robs the lens of a full f/stop of light. (Do the math: f/number = focal length ÷ aperture diameter.) Shooting at f/8.8 results in shutter speeds duing totality of 1/10 at medium ISOs. It’s also worth considering that most telephoto lenses aren’t incredibly sharp at full aperture, and the situation gets complicated.
It probably goes without saying that a sturdy tripod is a must.
Alternatively, you could opt for renting a super telephoto. You can get a Nikkor 800mm f/5.6 AF-S for a weekend for $400 or so.
Don’t bother with the super-cheap 500mm catadioptric (mirror) lenses. They really are junk.
Finally, there are many fine astronomical telescopes with camera adaptors that will do the trick, but their prices are also astronomical.
In less than seven years, another total eclipse will cross the United States, and the path of totality will be even closer to home than this one. On April 8, 2024, Abby and I hope to be in the vicinity of Idabel, Oklahoma, just 148 miles from our home. With the experience I gained from this time, I will plan to expand my goals to include more cameras, more lenses, and more photographic schemes, and hopefully take the next eclipse to the next level.
As the photographic world knows, or at least loudly claims, amateur photographers shoot JPEG files and pros shoot RAW. I know this because photographers who make these claims trumpet them loudly, often with wearable memes like “I shoot RAW” t-shirts. There are even a few pictures floating around the web of photographers wearing such gear while holding a film camera, and at least one popular webizen has dubbed film to be “real raw.”
The day your camera was born, it was set to make JPEG files. When you pulled it out of that good-new-smelling Styrofoam clamshell and charged up the battery and were ready to shoot, you were shooting JPEGs. There’s nothing wrong with that. JPEG is robust and easy to use. Almost all of the images you see on the web, and every image you see here richardbarron.net, is a JPEG file.
When I first tell my students about raw files, I explain to them that while you might like the results of shooting JPEG files, those files are married to your camera settings. If you have your camera set to “vivid” color, for example, you are stuck with a vividly-colored image. The same goes for white balance – you are mostly stuck with the white balance you set in your camera – except that you can get white balance very wrong when you are shooting. RAW files are a great way to avoid this marriage of settings. Although your RAW file might be tagged as vivid color or tungsten white balance, you can change those values as soon as you open the image.
Why is this? The biggest reason is that JPEG files contain 8 bits per channel, meaning they contain 256 brightness levels per color: red, green and blue. RAW files record 12 bits of data, creating and storing 4,096 brightness levels per color, or 14 bits, creating 16,384 different brightness levels per color. Add to this the fact that we paid for all those colors when we bought our cameras, and then throw most of them away when we make JPEGs, RAW files make even more sense.
My students and I were shooting recently on the bridge over the pond at the Pontotoc Technology Center, and ran across some beautiful light. We took turns posing for each other, and the JPEGs looked great right out of the camera. In fact, since I had my settings on vivid, the images popped beautifully, and really made a great first impression.
I shoot in many circumstances that require settling for incorrect or ugly white balance, under or over exposures, and challenging lighting scenarios (like sports and spot news), and I am always glad when I can fine tune everything back at the office.
I can’t begin to count the occasions when having a RAW file saved an image. I tell my students to start by setting their cameras to shoot both JPEG and RAW files, but as the years go by, I have less and less use for that tagalong JPEG.
As consumers and the camera industry are well aware, the most common type of photography in the world today is smartphone photography, and the most popular smartphone is the iPhone. My wife Abby and I have iPhones, and their sophisticated, convenient, built-in cameras have all but silenced our point-and-shoot cameras.
As I explore the most recent iteration of these, the iPhone 7 Plus, I am finding both its virtues and its flaws.
My favorite way to use my iPhone to make pictures is through Instagram, which includes interesting filter looks and makes sharing on social media easy. Instagram’s game changer for me, though, is its square format. It leads to me to compose images differently, since more of my photography involves choose between vertical and horizontal compositions.
Some ideas that might up your phonetography game…
Keep your phone clean. In particular, keep that tiny lens free of fingerprints. I see tons of phone photos that are hazy and fog-like, and this is because the lens is covered in schmoogies.
Get closer. This has been an essential piece of my teaching for years, and it applies to phonetography as much as any other. The pixels for which you pined and paid over the years are wasted with sky above and floor below in most iPhone images.
Unless you are shooting square frames, pay attention to mode: portrait vs landscape. Most people hold their phone vertically out of habit, and it defines both their photographs and their videos, often inappropriately. It’s easy to turn a phone on it’s side, but too often we see horizontal scenes represented by vertical compositions.
Steady is better. Even the biggest phones are lightweight, so it becomes very important to hold them steady. If you don’t have a steady hand, consider a mass-based steadycam, tripod or monopod.
Don’t bother with the “pinch to zoom” feature. On most phones, it just crops the pixels in the same way you can when editing later.
Although trendy, getting a light source in your phone photos can make quite a mess, and this technique calls for more lens that the phone can muster.
All of the basic rules of photography apply to the phonetography. Keeping that in mind, the camera in your phone is another great tool in the photography toolbox.
For a couple of decades now, a cacophony of myth and misinformation has stemmed from digital photography regarding sensor size. This all started because professional and advanced amateur digital photography was rooted, for economic reasons, in 35mm film photography.
Driven mostly by the engines of sales and popularity, not necessity or creativity or technical superiority, the 35mm film frame, at 36x24mm, and originally derived from an industrious camera maker wanting to take advantage of surplus film from the burgeoning 1930s motion picture industry, became the standard bearer for image size by the end of the 20th century.
I recently decided to do a little used-for-used sell-and-buy on Ebay to get my hands on a Nikon D700, one of Nikon’s earliest digital cameras equipped with a sensor the size of a 35mm film frame, 36x24mm, sometimes referred to by the misleading name “full frame” because it is the same size as a full frame of film. Nikon calls it “FX,” in contrast to their smaller 24x15mm sensors, which it calls “DX.” 24x15mm sensors are often mistakenly called “cropped” sensors by laymen who don’t fully understand the origins of image size. If it has to have a name, it is most accurately described by its size in millimeters or by the film size closest to it, APS-C (Advanced Photo System type-C).
The lazy-writing web world often calls full frame “FF” in forum posts.
Do full frame sensors have “better depth of field”?No. I was eager to debunk this one because I already knew the answer, and because it is an embarrassment to photography that everyone is so eager to believe this. Depth of field is controlled by two factors: magnification and aperture. The reason this myth seems to be true is that to get the same composition on a 36x24mm as on a smaller sensor, one has to either get closer or use a longer focal length, both of which increase magnification to create shallower depth of field. At identical distances, focal lengths and apertures, depth of field is identical. If you don’t believe me, here is the proof…
Is an aperture of f/2 on a larger sensor “equivalent” in light gathering capacity to f/1.4 on a smaller sensor?No. I heard this one asserted by Tony and Chelsea Northrup on their YouTube channel, and I couldn’t believe my ears at the time. (They also refer to “ISO” as a name – “Eyesoh,” which it is not). I have no idea how they came to this conclusion, but this and the popularity of their channel has done nothing but muddy the waters on issues like this. Simply put, f number is a fraction describing the ratio between the focal length of a lens and the diameter of the opening. A 50mm f/2, for example, has an opening of 25mm. 50 divided by 2 equals 25. A specific aperture value lets the same amount of light through the lens regardless of what size of film or sensor is on the other side.
Will a larger sensor give life back to my wide angle lenses?Yes, with some caveats. A 20mm lens that was a mediocre lens on a smaller sensor has now been restored to its film-days glory as an ultra wide lens. While this is certainly nice if you have a bunch of old wide angle lenses, today many manufacturers make very wide angle lenses for smaller sensors. I have several myself, and I am able to get as wide as I need, including ultra-ultra-wide using my 10-17mm fisheye and uncurving it in Photoshop.
Will my telephoto lenses will be less telephoto-y on a larger sensor?Yes. This is the reason sports and wildlife photographers got away from large and medium format film as soon as 35mm was available: just as larger sensors make wide angles wider, they make telephotos wider, since they are projecting their images onto a larger surface. Many top sports and bird photographers very much prefer 24x15mm sensors for just this reason, and this has been a leading marketing tag for Nikon’s flagship 24x15mm camera, the D500.
Are larger sensors better at capturing low-light scenes due to the pixels themselves being larger?Yes. If you compare a 36x24mm sensor against a 24x15mm sensor of the same pixel count, assuming the sensors are of the same era and treated with the same renderings, noise will be lower in the larger sensor. This is true because the pixels themselves, the tiny light-sensing devices inside the integrated circuit in the middle of the camera, are larger, and can gather more light, thus requiring less amplification of the signals they produce. In practice, though, this rule doesn’t hold much water. There are many smaller-sensor cameras that make incredibly low-noise images, and most cameras with larger than “full frame” sensors do not.
The craving for lower noise at higher ISOs is a symptom of photographers being too lazy to master what matters most, light. Additionally, there is a lot of pretense on the photo forums (like photo.net, which recently changed formats and is now unviewable) about, “wanting to do more street photography.” The truth is that most of time people who make this claim just want to be able to say, “I have this camera and that lens,” and don’t make very many photos. All you have to do to discover this truth is walk the streets and count the photographers: ≈ 0.
Are “multiplier” or “crop factor” numbers useful?No. These numbers are all over the place, and only exist so camera makers can muddy the waters of what you should buy. 1.5x “crop factor” or 2x “multiplier” is only helpful if you go from one format to the other constantly while shooting. A far better way to understand this is to know your camera, and know what does what. For example, suppose your camera is a “four thirds” format (18x13mm). A 14mm is a wide angle lens, and a 200mm is a super-telephoto.
Is it worth it to “upgrade” to a larger sensor?No. Anyone who asks this question isn’t ready to take advantage of the subtle differences offered by a larger sensor, and larger sensors are disproportionally more expensive. If you need a larger sensor, you already know it.
People on the street, and students in my class, sometimes tell me their ten year old camera has died, and ask if it would be worth getting it repaired. The answer is usually no, because so many cameras that fetched top-dollar when they were new are no longer worth much on the resale market, yet would be very expensive to repair.
Almost all the cameras on the street are in the “amateur” or “advanced amateur” class, a group of photographic tools that have gotten much more affordable over the years. That leaves us with two options: replace the camera that originally cost $1200 (like my wife Abby’s 2005-era Nikon D70S) with a much better one in the $400-$600 range (like the Canon EOS Rebel T5 with its kit lens for just $399), or poke around Ebay or Craigslist or pawn shops for a used version of our dead camera.
An excellent example of this is the Nikon D80. When it first appeared on the market 10 years ago, this camera retailed for $1000, but today even the cleanest ones on Ebay are never more than about $180. For me, this is exactly the kind of bargain that allows us to use and enjoy perfectly good technology, that once fetched big money, at nearly giveaway prices.
I have a couple of D80s, both bought used, that deliver amazing image quality, image quality that is honestly very hard to beat. It takes a lot of photographer and a lot of necessity to generate a situation in which older, used cameras can’t deliver great pictures.
I’ve said this before, as have others, but it bears asserting again: you don’t need to upgrade your camera. You need to wear it out.
The Nikon D80’s strengths are…
Lightweight and unobtrusive
Easy to use, well-place controls
Will autofocus older AF Nikkor lenses as well as newer AF-S lenses
Decently large LCD display on the top of the camera which is missing on all of Nikon’s D3xxx and 5xxx intro-level cameras
Delivers sharp, clean 10 megapixel images at low and medium ISO settings
Very affordable in the 2017 market
The D80’s weaknesses are…
Slowish frame rate of 3 frames per second, which is too slow for sports
Noisy images at higher ISO settings
A little small for full-sized hands
Plastic construction makes it a bit fragile
Exposure control dial doesn’t have a lock and is easily moved to another setting
Exposure mode dial is filled with useless amateur “scene mode” options
If you are thinking about picking up a D80 is a pawn shop or from the web, and the price is right, make your move. This camera will make good pictures.
It’s Christmas time again, and with it we photographers find ourselves photographing something very pure to our imaging instincts: Christmas lights. Beautiful and dazzling to the eyes, we love photographing them for several reasons. They are everywhere, they are fun to shoot, and they summon the children inside us who looked on them with amazement all those years ago.
I think about this as I photograph lights for a living, and last night as I photographed the Christmas tree and lights at home. I did a fun little experiment that illustrates the value of mastering aperture: shooting the same scene at apertures through the entire range. It is powerfully illustrative of the effects of aperture…
Made with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, one of the best and most affordable lenses in anyone’s bag, these three images are identical except for aperture, which, as you can see, makes a huge difference. Wide open, the out-of-focus highlights are round, at f/2.8, they take on the heptagonal shape of the aperture blades, and at f/22, each bright point of light takes on the classic “sunstar” look.
All three of these unique looks has a place in our photography, and all are right there at our fingertips.