Friday, October 21, 2016

The Best Camera

Phone Conversation - Salt Lake City, Utah
Renown photographer Chase Jarvis said, "The best camera is the one that's with you." He was speaking specifically of cell phone cameras. His point was that any camera is a capable photographic tool, and you shouldn't be afraid to use whatever camera you have available, even if it's the one built into your phone. This was several years ago, and the cameras on cell phones have evolved immensely since then.

The great thing about the camera built into your phone is that you have it with you all of the time. It's an ulta-compact digital camera that's also a phone and a computer. This is pretty amazing stuff when you think about it. And the image quality produced by these cameras are getting better and better and better.
The Closed Road - Fish Camp, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone.
A few years ago Nokia released the Lumia 1020, which had a tack-sharp lens, medium-format-like resolution and could save in RAW format (it wasn't without serious faults, including a really limited dynamic range and poor ISO performance above the native ISO). I used this cell phone for a couple of years, and captured a number of good images with it. It was the first camera phone that I felt had sufficient image quality that you could "get away with" using it instead of a "real" camera if you needed to.

Earlier this year I "upgraded" to an LG G4, which has a slightly better camera built in. The dynamic range is noticeably larger and it can go a stop above base ISO before the image quality begins to significantly degrade. The lens isn't quite as sharp (but it's still reasonably sharp) and it doesn't have as much resolution (16 megapixels vs 41 megapixels). Overall the G4 has a better camera, but not by a huge amount. It's plenty good enough to capture good pictures.
Steam Locomotive Wheels - Ogden, Utah
Captured using an LG G4 cell phone.
There are several camera phones that have come out or are about to come out that seem interesting. One is the iPhone 7, which has two cameras on the back, allowing you to shoot at 28mm (equivalent) or 56mm (equivalent) focal lengths, giving a little more versatility (Apple also finally allows you to save in RAW format). Up until a couple of weeks ago, the HTC 10, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the Sony Xperia X Performance were tied at #1 for best cell phone camera (by DxOMark). Then the Google Pixel came out, which is a cell phone designed with the photographer in mind, and beat them all (just barely). Kodak's upcoming Ektra camera phone is supposed to be similar to Google's Pixel. And let's not forget Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom, which is a pocket zoom camera with a cell phone built into it.

The point of all of this is that the lowly camera phone is a good tool that photographers can use when they need a camera and don't have their more expensive gear near by. These cameras are better than you might think and, while they are not as good or versatile as a DSLR, they can produce reasonably good image quality. In fact, unless you said so, unsuspecting viewers will have no idea that a cell phone camera was used to capture your images. So don't be afraid to use your "best" camera, which is the one that's with you when you need a camera.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Stop Putting Me Down For Shooting JPEGs

Mirrored Mountain - Mirror Lake, Utah
I captured this using JPEG format.
All of the time I hear people say that "serious" photographers shoot RAW and "novice" photographers shoot JPEG. Nonsense!

I rarely see JPEG shooters put down RAW shooters (although there is the occasional "you're wasting your time" comment). Almost always it is RAW shooters putting down the in-camera JPEG photographers.

People have told me that I'm an amateur because I shoot JPEGs. I don't always use camera-made JPEGs, but anymore I prefer JPEGs over RAW for most exposures. I've done my fair share of RAW editing, and I just don't want to do it anymore if I don't have to. It's not fun for me.

That doesn't matter to some. The gauge of whether someone is a serious photographer or not is what format they have their camera save the exposures. RAW equals professional, semi-pro or advanced hobbyist, while JPEG equals newbie, amateur or novice. Never mind that there is a long list of professional photographers who shoot JPEGs and rarely (if ever) shoot RAW. It's a condescending attitude that's based on myths.
Earth & Galaxy - Mirror Lake, Utah
Another out-of-camera JPEG.
Myth #1: JPEGs aren't good.

JPEGs can be quite good. Some camera manufacturers do a better job than others at in-camera JPEG processing, but most cameras are capable of make nice-looking photos. The caveat here is that you have to take care to make sure everything is set as you want it. It means taking an extra moment in the field to get the camera set just right. You can't be a lazy JPEG shooter, but that's good because laziness is an enemy of art. I think that some photographers choose RAW so that they can be more careless in the field. That's not a good reason to shoot RAW.

Myth #2: JPEGs can't be edited much.

You'd be surprised at just how much you can manipulate a JPEG file. Even though the camera threw out some data when it created the JPEG, there's still a lot hiding in there that can be brought out in post production. It's not quite as much as RAW, but it's a lot more than most RAW shooters realize.
Straight-out-of-camera JPEG on the left, that same file after editing on the right.
Myth #3: You get better results with RAW.

If you have the settings right, and depending on the camera, you can get the same dynamic range, noise, color, contrast, etc., etc., with JPEG that you'd get with RAW. But sometimes RAW is better. Sometimes you need to squeeze every bit of data out of the file. Often you don't, and your edited RAW files won't look any different than your JPEGs (if you took the care to make sure the JPEG settings were correct). You have to know when RAW is necessary and when it's not (or shoot RAW+JPEG).

My point in all of this is not to talk negatively about RAW format or those who use it. I've made a whole lot of RAW exposures, and I still occasionally do. But I'm tired of being put down because I prefer camera-made JPEGs nowadays. Just because someone chooses JPEG doesn't make them any less of a photographer. Art is art, whether it's RAW or JPEG or something else.
Mirror Lake Fisherman - Mirror Lake, Utah
This is a camera-made JPEG.
The fact is that viewers don't know or care if a photograph was RAW or JPEG. They only care if the image speaks to them. If they are moved, it was a good photograph. If not, then it wasn't. The format doesn't matter whatsoever.

I've made tens of thousands of RAW exposures. I've made tens of thousands of JPEG exposures. What have I learned? Use what works best for you, and don't worry what others are doing.

So stop putting me down for shooting JPEGs. It's pointless. If something works for me, then that's what I'm going to do. It's my art, and I'll do it my way.

Friday, October 7, 2016

News: Sony RX100 V

Sony RX100 V
Sony just announced the fifth version of their RX100 camera, the Sony RX100 V. This version is seemingly the same as version IV, but a close look at the specks reveal an impressive advancement in auto-focus, speed and buffer.

In fact, the camera has 315 auto-focus points, which would make it the most of any camera ever. Sony claims that the camera can acquire focus in .05 seconds, which makes it the fastest auto-focus camera ever. The camera can capture 24 full-resolution JPEGs in 1 second, the fastest of any compact camera (and one of the fastest, period). The camera can capture 150 JPEG exposures at 24 FPS before needing to pause.

That's all highly impressive!

Of course most people don't need anywhere close to that kind of speed. In fact, there are some advantages to slowing down your process. However, sports and nature photographers, as well as spray-and-pray types, will appreciate the quickness.
Sun Rays Over Cummings Mountain - Tehachapi, California
Captured using a Sony RX100 II.
As far as image quality, there's no major improvements from the original version and this one. The lens changed at version III (some say to better, some say to worse). Version II (which I used to own) saw a small improvement in high-ISO capabilities over the original. Version four and five have improved video capabilities. There are some differences here and there, but as far as image quality is concerned, the five different cameras in the RX100 line are essentially the same.

I think that cameras like the RX100 (and RX10) line will eventually become the "standard" digital camera. Just enough versatility and capabilities that you could "get away with" using it as your main photographic tool, yet very compact. I think, for the most part, interchangeable-lens will fall by the wayside. If you buy a camera with an exceptional zoom built in, what else do you need?

The Sony RX100 V will be available later this month for $1,000. My recommendation is, unless you just really need the speed, get version III or, if you need 4K video, get version IV, for less money. If size and weight aren't all that important to you, for less money you could get a camera like the Nikon D3300 and a couple of good lenses. Then again, the reason to get an RX100 series camera is because you get a lot stuffed into a tiny package.

Size and weight do matter. Cameras that can fit into your pocket will get used more. I prefer my gear to be as small as practical. Even though I won't be buying the RX100 V, I do appreciate seeing its release.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Vintage Glass On A Fuji X Camera [K&F Concepts Adapter + Industar 61 Lens]

Industar 61 Lens & K&F Concepts Adapter
Every lens has characteristics, which could be good, bad or indifferent. Different lenses render different sharpness, bokeh, distortion, contrast, etc. Lens choice isn't just about focal-length, or even aperture. Sometimes a lens can give your images a unique look because of its particular attributes.

There are a lot of lenses available now that are well engineered, darn good overall with minimal faults. They are perfectly boring, lacking character. The images made by these lenses look the same, and in today's digital photography world, sameness is uninteresting. These lenses are a-dime-a-dozen metaphorically, but will run you hundreds of dollars. People will even spend big bucks on a lens because it is slightly more perfect than another nearly perfect lens.

There are tons of vintage lenses out there that have unique characteristics. They have personality. The look that these lenses create is anything but boring and uninteresting. They are different. They may not be perfect, but (to an extent) that's the point. These lenses can often be found for less than $100, and sometimes less than $20.

One lens that I really like is the Industar 61 55mm f/2.8 that came attached to a FED 5c 35mm Russian rangefinder (I paid $40 for both the body and lens). The lens is tack sharp but a little soft in the corners, has beautiful "soap bubble" bokeh, some noticeable barrel distortion, and a radioactive coating. It has four elements in three groups and six blades (Zeiss Tessar type). It's generally regarded as the best lens to come out of the Soviet Union, although it's far from perfect. I think it's the combination of "perfections" and "imperfections" that give this lens its character.

Ever since I picked up a gently used Fuji X-E1 a few months ago I've wanted to attach the Industar 61 lens to it. I purchased a K&F Concepts M39-FX adapter for $10. I made one exposure to make sure that it worked, but then stuck with the Fujinon lens because it's more convenient. 
Yashica Minister-D & Fujifilm X-E1 With Industar 61 Lens
There are a few settings on the Fuji camera that must be selected in order to use the lens. "Shoot Without Lens" must be on. "Mount Adaptor Setting" should be set to the closest appropriate focal length (50mm for the Industar 61). Although I think this may be optional, I also set the camera to manual focus since it is a manual focus lens.

This last Saturday I decided to dust off the lens and adapter and actually use them on the X-E1. I went to a "vintage market" in Logan, Utah, and then drove up to Preston, Idaho (where Napoleon Dynamite was filmed). Guess what? Using the Industar 61 lens on the Fuji camera was great! I was immediately reminded of how photography used to be (before I shot digital). I wished that I had done this sooner. The photographic process was pure joy!

But what about the images? Did they look any different? Did I find the character that I was after? A little perhaps. I can spot it, but just barely--it's very subtle. I think for the price of the lens (typically it can be found for under $30, sometimes less than $10) and the price of the adapter ($10), you get solid optics. If you don't mind manually focusing (which I don't), this is a fantastic budget-friendly option for those wanting to expand their glass. X-Trans owners should certainly consider giving this a try.

I didn't quite find that "look" I was hoping for. There are other lenses (Helios 44-2, for example) that have a more pronounced character, which at some point I hope to experiment with. Even so, I found using vintage glass on my X-E1 to be an enjoyable experience. I will definitely be doing it more often.

Below are the photographs from that trip. All of the images were captured using a Fujifilm X-E1 with the Industar 61 lens. Enjoy!
Rays Over The Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
This was captured on the way to the vintage market.
Power Line - Logan, Utah
Every Day I Love You - Logan, Utah
Electric Clock - Logan, Utah
Autumn In Logan - Logan, Utah
Autumn At The Cache County Fairgrounds - Logan, Utah
Kettle Corn - Logan, Utah
Making Mini Donuts - Logan, Utah
Donut - Logan, Utah
The Donut Trailer - Logan, Utah
Waiting Face - Logan, Utah
One's Junk Is Another's Treasure - Logan, Utah
Old License Plates - Logan, Utah
Cold Pop - Franklin, Idaho
Vote For Pedro - Preston, Idaho
Defaced Napoleon - Preston, Idaho
Rainbow Lockers - Preston, Idaho

Monday, October 3, 2016

Autumn In Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah - Or, Always Bring Your Camera With You - Or, Why Your Camera Does & Doesn't Matter

Utah Autumn - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
My family and I ran an errand yesterday afternoon. The plan was to go there and back. We weren't intending to do anything else.

Typically I like to bring a camera--right now a Fujifilm X-E1-- with me wherever I go. Even if I'm not planning to photograph, you just never know. It's better to bring it and not use it than to not bring it and then later find I want to photograph something. It's often that I find myself making an exposure when I didn't plan to, and I'm only able to do that if I have a camera with me.

This time, however, I didn't grab my camera. I left it at home, figuring that I wouldn't see anything worth photographing. And even if I did find something to photograph, I wasn't planning to stop since I had my family with me and we had things to do. I decided not to bother with a camera and just go run the errand.
Autumn In Big Cottonwood Canyon - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
As we were driving down the Interstate 15 freeway in Salt Lake City, we kept noticing the amazing fall colors on the Wasatch Mountains. Big Cottonwood Canyon, especially, looked brilliant! It seemed like it would be nothing short of breathtaking scenery up on the mountain. After our errand was complete we decided to go on an adventure to check it out.

Immediately I regretted not bringing a camera. I knew it was big mistake to leave my Fuji at home. The one time that I failed to grab it is the one time I could have used it the most. Unbelievable! And, really, as a photographer, it was unacceptable. Lesson learned.

We'd been halfway up Big Cottonwood Canyon once since moving to Utah early this year. It wasn't in the fall. And we'd never been beyond that halfway point. Feeling adventurous we decided to go up and over the pass and all the way to Park City.
Utah Autumn View - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
To say that the scenery is amazing would be an understatement! There is varied beauty found throughout the drive. It's one place that I need to spend a lot more time photographing. Big Cottonwood Canyon offers big scenic sights. This is particularly true in autumn with the trees changing to yellow, red and orange.

While I didn't bring my Fuji digital rangefinder, I did have one camera with me: my LG G4 cell phone. The camera on this phone is surprisingly capable, especially when shot in RAW and post-processed using Snapseed. Does the image quality match that of my larger-sensor camera? No, not at all. But the image quality from the G4 is good enough to not feel bad about using it. I can get good looking 8" x 12" prints no problem, and can even sometimes go larger than that.

The biggest problem with the G4's images is that they have a fairly small tolerance for post-processing. You can only push the files so much before they noticeably degrade. For these photographs I pushed them to the limit and even a tad beyond. The dynamic range limitations of the camera is especially obvious upon close inspection.
Wasatch Autumn Vista - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
It doesn't matter all that much what camera you have with you. It's more important to have a camera--any camera--within easy reach for when photographic opportunities unexpectedly arise. The camera on your cell phone will do the trick. Your camera isn't nearly as important as what you do with it. The photographer is much more important than the gear he or she uses.

Even so, I felt many times on this drive that I could have gotten this shot or that shot if only I had my (more versatile) Fuji with me. And the finished photographs that I ended up with weren't quite to the same level of quality (upon close inspection) as what my other camera would have produced. My more expensive camera would have served me better, no doubt about it.

But, all things considered, I'm pleased with the images I captured on this impromptu drive. My cell phone is my "emergency" camera. It's what I reach for when I don't have another one with me. And it proved its worth on this occasion. In a pinch it's no big deal to use my cell phone camera, because it will do an acceptable job. And it certainly did just that yesterday afternoon.
Autumn Wasatch - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
The Yellow Grove - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Waterfall At Brighton - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Brighton Rain - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Pathway To Change - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Autumn Trees In Big Cottonwood Canyon - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Autumn Grove - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Yellow Trees In The Wasatch Mountains - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Yellow Trees - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Changing Leaves In The Wasatch Mountains - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah