Guns and Roses

 

On the weekend of 19th-21st May 2017 I travelled with my significant other to the teeming Wheatbelt metropolis of Narrogin as she had entered the annual “Guns and Roses” croquet tournament put on by the Narrogin Croquet Club. Twelve of Western Australia’s best players (the “Guns”) would partner eighteen lesser ranked players (the “Roses”). Each “rose” would get the opportunity to play with a different “gun” at each round. The idea, which seems an excellent one I might add, is that inexperienced players can learn off of top players.  My role in this was the self-given task of producing a video documenting the proceedings.

Video is a fairly new medium for me, I’ve been playing around with it but I’ve really not got to grips with it. This was to be a complex multi day project and it wasn’t helped by the fact that it was bitterly cold and there was intermittent heavy rain (yes dear reader we do have cold wet weather in Australia). I ended up using my Olympus OMD EM1 mk i with the Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 lens as the main camera, an Olympus Pen EP5 with the Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 for wide shots, a Leica D-Lux for time lapses, and my iPhone for social video in the evenings. For sound I used shot-gun microphones (a Rode VideoMicro on the EM1 and a Rode VideoMic Pro on the EP5) to record straight into the cameras. No external audio recorder was used as I felt I had my hands full enough. By the end of the weekend I had got through nine batteries and ten 16Gb SD cards. The EM1 was used on a tripod (a Manfrotto MDEVE 755XB with Manfrotto MV500AH Fluid Video Head), the EP5 was on a video monopod (Manfrotto 562B-1 Fluid Video Monopod), and the Leica D-Lux was on a photo tripod (a very old Manfrotto 190 tripod fitted with an equally old ball head).

What I learnt from this exercise was:

  • the weather sealing on both the EM1 and the two lenses works very well. At times I got soaked in the rain and the camera just kept going with no adverse effects.
  • I should have used an audio recorder to get better sound and record some general background noise.
  • the 40-150mm f2.8 is not parfocal  (it is not sold as such) and the autofocus kept drifting and in some cases would not lock on at all. Trying to focus on the night games using just the rear screen and no peaking was hard. Either a camera that has focus peaking in video mode or a monitor that allows it would be really good.
  • I shot most of the footage at 1080 at 25fps except for that on the EP5 which only shoots 1080 at 30fps. I used Toast Titanium’s video converter to reconfigure it as 1080 25fps. On the whole it worked out well, but on two clips that I really wanted it dropped frames and lost the sound. So next time I won’t mix clips of different frame rates.
  • With four cameras, each having its own idea of what a neutral colour setting is, made life very hard during editing. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the 8 bit 4.2.0 files didn’t like being pushed too much in post as they would quickly fall apart. It would have been nice to have had a more video orientated camera with a flatter profile and more robust codec.
  • I did the slow motion in post, it would have been nice to have shot at 60fps or higher to get nicer slo-mo.
  • I should have shot more B-roll and tried to interview on camera some of the participants.

As a learning experience this was a very good exercise and I enjoyed the whole process immensely. If money were no object I’d get a more video orientated camera and a video field monitor and recorder, but being as I am fiscally challenged I’ll have to settle for some more memory cards and batteries.

 

M To N

 

The Sony NEX mount was made for sad old gits like me. “Hold on Paul…” I can hear you say “do you mean that Sony engineered a whole camera line specifically for you?”. No! There was a happy accident that had some unforeseen benefits. I’ll explain. This is going to be a bit beardy and nerdy.

The first commercial 35m film camera was produced – the Tourist Multiple. made by Herbert & Huesgen of New York

Just over 100 years ago, or to be precise in 1909, the film (or movie depending upon where you are from) industry standardised on a film format of 1.37 inches in width with four perforations per frame. The decision was economic, it meant that cinemas didn’t have to have different sized film projectors. In 1913 the first commercial 35m film camera was produced – the Tourist Multiple. made by Herbert & Huesgen of New York. Unfortunately this achievement is largely forgotten because the story of Oskar Barnack inventing 35mm film for stills and the Leica camera has become the accepted history, but that is FAKE NEWS as a certain orange haired buffoon is apt to say. Not long after these small format cameras as they were then known took two distinct evolutionary paths the rangefinder (which was the first) as pioneered by Leica and the Single Lens Reflex as pioneered by K. Nüchterlein’s when the Kine Exakta launched in 1936.

The first Single Lens Reflex was the Kine Exakta launched in 1936.

 

Looking through a rangefinder viewfinder. Illustration p.31 London, B et al Photography, 7th Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002.
How range finder focusing works. Illustration from p.31 London, B et al Photography, 7th Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002.

Rangefinder cameras initially were very popular. The technology was available and relatively simple and the cameras and lenses were very compact. The photographer looks through a window on the camera and sees an image with a fainter duplicate from a rotating prism over laid. The photographer adjusts the rangefinder until the two images match up exactly, then the image is in focus. This system was called the split image rangefinder and had been developed to sight artillery pieces and was well understood at the time. The disadvantage is of course that the photographer is not seeing what the lens sees, only an approximation which can lead to inaccurate framing due to parallax errors. Interchangeable lenses were facilitated by having a screw mount and Leica adopted as their standard the L39 or LTM (Leica Thread Mount) which is 39mm in diameter with a Whitworth thread of 0.977 pitch and a flange distance of 28.8mm. Other manufacturers made variations on a theme i.e. the Canon M39 (aka J Mount) and the FED 39 which all share the same diameter but the thread pitch and flange distances are different. By the 1950’s photographers were looking for a faster way of changing lenses and so short throw bayonet mounts were developed. In 1954 Leica introduced the M mount and this is characterised by it having an external diameter of 44mm, a bayonet consisting of four claws and a flange distance of 27.8mm.

With the advent of digital imaging camera designers were suddenly allowed to consider alternative designs where there were no moving parts. It was hoped that eliminating the mirror and using an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and taking a direct readout off of the sensor would allow cheaper and easier manufacture. The autofocus system would be more accurate because the readings could be taken directly off of the sensor and the use of electronics allowed more accuracy than mechanical linkages. With no flappy mirror to interfere with things the flange distance could be reduced along with it’s radius. So the Sony NEX mount has a flange distance of 18mm and a diameter 41.6mm which means that just about any lens can be mounted to a NEX body via an adapter and as long as it has an imaging circle big enough so that an image can be projected on the sensor. The NEX mount covers both so-called full frame format (35 x 24mm) and the APSC format (24 x 16mm). This is the happy accident because I’m sure that when Sony adopted this standard they didn’t realise that it would allow legions of photographers all over the world to mount legacy lenses (lenses made for cameras that are no longer produced) to be mounted to the new Sony mirrorless cameras. Now I am the first to admit dear reader that as a photographer I have been promiscuous. I have not stayed faithful to one brand or lens mount which means that I have a fair few lenses sitting in a shoe box that I no longer have camera bodies for. Now I’ve already talked about mounting my old Olympus OM Zuiko lenses on my Sony A7r here. This and a few subsequent posts are going to be about using L39 and M mount lenses.

The Fotodiox DLX Stretch is a clever M mount to NEX adapter that has a built in adjustable extension tube to allow a degree of close focusing with any M Mount lens.

“So who in their right mind would want to do this?” Well you’re probably right to want to do this would be a sign of mental infirmity to some, but for many people (myself included) auto everything cameras are a bit boring and modern lenses while being technically very good can be a bit characterless. While Leica lenses are wallet puckeringly expensive there are plenty of more affordable alternatives made by Minolta (now absorbed by Sony), Konica (initially taken over by Minolta and then swallowed up by Sony), Ricoh, Voigtländer, Rollei (both of these as part of Cosina’s licensing of their names) Zeiss and those produced in Russia such as Zorki and Fed. These lenses are beautifully made with metal barrels and mounts, buttery smooth focusing, and exquisite clicking aperture rings. I’ve got a Canon L macro lens, and while it produces wonderful images the plastic body is somewhat underwhelming considering the price Canon charge for it and it’s not something I’d pick up for the tactile experience and as for the whole joy of ownership – well let’s not talk about it. These older lenses just feel so satisfying in the hand that makes you want to do some serious lens fondling. They just engender a joy of ownership that plastic can’t. I told you there are mental health issues with this.

SLRs have a big flippy flappy mirror between the lens and the film/sensor. Illustration p.38 Parish, S; Photograph Australia With Steve Parish, Steve Parish Publishing, Brisbane, 2003.

Another reason why rangefinder lenses are attractive is that there are fewer optical design compromises. SLRs have a big flippy flappy mirror between the lens and the film/sensor. This meant making wide-angle lenses next to impossible because the rear lens element would foul the mirror. In 1950 Pierre Angénieux invented the retrofocus lens which is a kind of “reverse” telephoto design where the lens elements closest to the film plane have a negative effect making the image smaller. The downsides are more glass elements means more air to glass surfaces which means more refraction which means more potential chromatic aberration and distortion. More glass means more weight. Here’s an interesting fact – a cubic centimetre of glass is heavier than a cubic centimetre of concrete. Range finders are mirrorless cameras so there isn’t a restrictive mirror flapping about, this has the net effect that your 28mm lens can be a true 28mm lens without a whole bunch of extra glass causing problems. It also means that rangefinder lenses are much smaller than their SLR counterparts.

The retro focus lens design invented by Pierre Angenieux.

However, it is not all unicorns at the bottom of the garden. Rangefinder lenses were designed for use with film and the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion did not care at what angle lights hits them to provide the necessary reaction to form the latent image. But with a digital sensor it is a whole different ball game because the sensor is no longer just a gelatine substrate coated with an emulsion containing silver halide crystals it is a complex sandwich of filters, lenses and electronic componentry as the schematic from whatdigitalcamera shows. For best performance the light needs to enter micro lenses at 90º, when the incidence of the light is severely off perpendicular then not all of it reaches the pixel at the bottom of its well this can cause vignetting, smearing with loss of detail, and severe colour fringing. This is what stopped Leica initially developing a digital range finder. Kodak developed a special sensor with offset micro lenses for Leica M8 to help overcome this along with in camera software correction the digital M became a reality.

The many layers that make up film emulsion. The silver halide crystals respond to light hitting them at any angle. Illustration from London, B et al; Photography, 7th Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002.

 

Anatomy of a sensor. A – Colour filter array
. B – Low-pass filter / Anti-aliasing filter
. C – Infrared filter (hot mirror). D – Circuitry
. E – Pixel
. F – Microlenses. G – Black pixels

. For light to hit the pixel in its well it needs to travel as near to perpendicular to the sensor plane as possible. Illustration from http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/technical-guides/technology-guides/sensors-explained-11457

 

Why not buy a digital M and be done with it? There is no way I could afford a digital Leica as I’m not a “Trustafarian”, and also and perhaps more importantly, my lenses are not made by Leica they are the much cheaper Voigtländers so I’m not going to drop nearly $10K AUD just to use them again. But as I had a Sony A7r for experimenting with my collection of Olympus OM Zuiko lenses I thought I’d just buy a M to N adapter. Because the Sony NEX mount is a much shorter flange distance than a conventional DSLR its sensor does have micro lenses to cope with the native wide angles. However, the fly in the ointment is that just having them alone does not fix the problems with M mount lenses because there is no in camera correction via firmware. So straight away the situation is more complex than using old SLR lenses. The answer is obviously to fix the problems in post. Users of Lightroom can rejoice as there are profiles for Voigtländers lenses in the developing module. They are easy to use but given that they are somewhat generic they sometimes don’t fix the problem entirely requiring a little extra fiddling about. If you are really keen then you can build your own profiles using Cornerfix.

The Voigtlander M to Nex adapter allows users of M mount lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander to mount their lenses on Mirrorless cameras from Sony

Well now we’ve got that out of the way lets talk about adapters. At their most basic an adapter is just a tube with a male bayonet mount at one end and a female at the other. For the sake of brevity I’ll limit this to just dumb adapters i.e. you’re not trying to get auto focus and stabilisation to work. There are a huge range of prices for essentially the same thing. I’ve paid as little as $15 including postage from China to as much as $200. So what do you get for your money? Not a lot. I got a Voigtländers VM II Adapter – Leica M Lenses to Sony E Mount for $200 AUD from an Australian seller. It looked nicely made but it had a serious flaw, there was no spring in the lens release button which means that your lens could fall off as it wasn’t secured. I don’t know if that is typical but I had no luck with trying to exchange it with the seller so I was kind off put off spending a lot of money. The next adapter I bought was from a Chinese seller on eBay and it cost a grand total of $15 AUD and it worked fine. A little agrarian in the looks department but it did the job nicely. Then I noticed that Voigtländer made a close focus adapter which took my fancy. Generally rangefinder lenses only focus down to 1 metre and I like to use wide angles closer than that for dramatic effect and it also meant that my 75mm was suitable for tight portraits. So my interest was definitely piqued, but my wallet was a little bit shy about coughing up $389 AUD after my experience with the other one. Then I discovered the Fotodiox DLX Stretch for $170 AUD from B&H Photo and for half the price of the Voigtländer coupled with B&H’s excellent customer service I was in like Flynn.

The Fotodiox DLX Stretch is a clever M mount to NEX adapter that has a built in adjustable extension tube to allow a degree of close focusing with any M Mount lens.

When the DLX Stretch arrived in its plain brown wrapper I quickly reassured the significant other that it wasn’t anything X rated (“No luv I said photographic accessory not pornographic accessory!”) and got down to playing with it. Basically what it is is an adapter with its own built in variable extension ring. The extension is achieved via a helicoid with a long throw. The amount of extension is not great about 2-3mm but that is enough to reduce the minimum focusing on my Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar from 70cm to 30cm. As my Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super-Wide Heliar and Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar are both L39 screw fitting I promptly ordered two L39 to Leica M adapters so I could use them with the Fotodiox DLX Stretch and the results were just as impressive. For the 75mm the minimum focus is 100cm and is then reduced to 65cm, and for the 15mm the minimum focus was reduced from 30cm to 12cm.

The Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide Heliar normally has a minimum focusing distance of 30cm but when used with the Fotodiox DLX Stretch at full extension the minimum focusing distance becomes 12cm.

In terms of construction the DLX Stretch is reassuringly weighty (unlike the cheap Chinese adapters which feel so light that they may be made from a lacquered toilet roll tube). Both the male and female mounts are chrome plated brass. The aluminium body is anodised a natty orange colour that matches the orange lens mount trim on Sony A7 series cameras. The ring that moves the helicoid is knurled and has a prominent finger tab and has a nice smooth action although saying that it is difficult to use while videoing without creating camera shake. There is no wiggle or play with the extension and the unit attaches to cameras and lens snuggly with evidence of any play or light leaks. To further install confidence in the product Fotodiox warranty the adapter for 24 months.

The Cosina Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar mounted to a Sony A7r via a Fotodiox DLX Stretch M to E lens adapter.

 

A photo of bowl of curry laksa taken with the Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar lens on a Sony A7r at the lenses normal minimum focusing distance of 70 cm.

 

The same bowl of Laksa with the same camera and lens but this time the Fotodiox DLX Stretch is extended to give a minimum focusing distance of 30 cm.

Overall I can see some photographers scoffing at the concept saying they have no need. Myself I like it very much and am using it a lot especially with the Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super-Wide Heliar.

FlatPack Hell

To visit and buy Ikea furniture is an experience that sears the psyche, but assembling it is a journey to the deepest and darkest levels of Hell itself and threatens your mortal soul.

Having fun with the time-lapse function of the Leica D-Lux. It is so much easier to use than the one in Olympus m4/3 cameras and will even generate the movie file for you at the end.

Leica Look

Leica want you and everyone around you to know that you are using one of its cameras.
Leica want you and everyone around you to know that you are using one of its cameras.

 

First off a big thanks to Saul Frank and the nice people at Camera Electronic who very kindly awarded me a Leica D-Lux Type 109 in a recent in store competition.

It's all about the lens. Forget the red dot, the Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9-34mm f1.7-2.8 is the star of the show.
It’s all about the lens. Forget the red dot, the Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9-34mm f1.7-2.8 is the star of the show.

For many years Leica aficionados have talked about the “Leica look”. They weren’t talking about the design of the camera, but the way Leica lenses render an image. Many would say that they can look at a photo and tell whether it was taken with a Leica or not. Non Leica users scoff at this and generally accuse Leica owners of being people with more money than sense and with no knowledge of photography. Roger Hicks, the noted English photographic author, once attributed the Leica look to older Leica lenses, film with no anti-halation layer, and over exposure. This allowed soft light to reflected from behind the film and cause bright edges in the image. So that brings us to modern digital Leicas and in the case of the D-Lux those that are built by Panasonic. Do they exhibit the “Leica look”? I think the answer is emphatically no! Modern lenses, even those made by Leica, are inherently more contrasty and digital sensors behave in a completely different way to film.

The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lunix LX5. Looking from the front there is not a lot of difference in the size despite the D_Lux have a sensor much larger than the LX5.
The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lumix LX5. Looking from the front there is not a lot of difference in the size despite the D-Lux having a sensor much larger than the LX5.

 

The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lunix LX5. From above the size difference is more apparent.
The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lumix LX5. From above the size difference is more apparent.

So lets talk about the D-Lux, or should I say the Panasonic Lumix LX100? It’s not the first time Leica have re-branded a Panasonic model. The Panasonic Lumix LX5, which I own and have sung the virtues of on this blog, was marketed by Leica as the D-Lux5 and there were many others before that. So what does paying the Leica tax get you over the Panasonic? Leica say they have had the firmware tweaked to their specification and that differentiates it from the LX 100.  Both cameras have a Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9–34 mm f/1.7–2.8 ASPH zoom lens which gives a 35mm equivalent of a 24-75mm lens. I doubt very much that the lenses are made by Leica, it is more likely that Panasonic have licensed the Leica name in the same way that Sony have with Zeiss. The only thing that really differentiates them is the design of the outer shell. The Panasonic has a grip and a faux leatherette covering while the Leica is smooth with no grip. I’d have to say I prefer the look of the Leica, it is to my eye a very sexy looking beast. The only thing that lets it down to my mind is that the shell is plastic, and although the body has a very pleasing heft it feels disappointing not to have the cool feel of a metal shell. Technically the camera is a m4/3 camera with a 16Mp 17.3 mm × 13.0 mm sensor, but the reality is that the camera uses a smaller portion. This has enabled the manufacturer to provide a fast zoom lens in a small size and the image circle created by the lens is smaller than the sensor. The upshot is that you get a multi format camera (4:3, 3;2, 1:1 and 16:9) with a good fast lens. The down side is that you only get 12Mp out of a 16Mp sensor which means even at base ISO of 200 grain is apparent. Having said that thanks to the lens the image quality is good enough for an A3+ (13″ x 19″ or 329mm x 483mm) print which is great for a compact camera. The lens has some corrections applied in camera and is distortion free and suffers from minimal chromatic aberration. I only shoot RAW so can’t comment on the jpgs.

The top plate shows the camera was designed by a photographer. aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation all handled by dials. To switch to aperture priority put the shutter speed dial on "A". To go to shutter speed priority switch the aperture to "A". Want programe mode put both the aperture and shutter speed dial on "A". Simple.
The top plate shows the camera was designed by a photographer. aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation all handled by dials. To switch to aperture priority put the shutter speed dial on “A”. To go to shutter speed priority switch the aperture to “A”. Want program mode put both the aperture and shutter speed dial on “A”. Simple.

 

Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA. Exposure: 1/400th sec, f8 at ISO 800. The close focusing capability made this shot a doddle as did the evaluative metering and the dynamic range of the sensor.

 

St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/320th sec, f8 at ISO 200. The lens is still very good, showing minimal distortion and very little chromatic aberration. Again the metering and the dynamic range combined to handle this scene with aplomb.

 

Graffiti under the Great Southern Highway traffic bridge in York, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/640th sec, f2.8, at ISO 1600. Wide open the lens is sharp and contrasty. The sensor is noisy at high ISO, but appears very organic and film like.

 

Nature trying to reclaim the CBD. Northbridge, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/640th sec, f16 at ISO 3200. The lens is quite resistant to flare which is just as well as like other premium compacts the camera ships without a lens hood.

 

Defacing Reclaim Australia notices in Northbridge, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/2000, f2.8 at ISO 200. A combination of large sensor and fast lens means that shallow depth of field shots are possible. The lens renders subjects very well with a nice fall off in tones and sharpness.

 

Wall mural at the North Metropolitan TAFE Campus in Northbridge. Exposure: 1/1000th sec, f8 at ISO 200. Panasonic aren’t as accomplished with colour science as some other manufacturers so it is safe to say that Leica’s secret sauce has delivered some really nice colour profiles.

 

The patterns on a pruned grass tree. Balladong, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/125th sec, f8 at ISO 250. This file prints out fantastically at A3+. The edge to edge sharpness and detail are amazing

 

Watching the large screen in the Perth Cultural Precinct. Exposure: 1/250th sec, f8 at ISO 200. With its small size, great lens, and good AF performance the Leica D-Lux makes an excellent street camera.

Video quality is very very good. The camera shoots 4K video at 25p 100Mbps and HD at 50p 28Mbps, but specs aren’t everything. For example my phone can shoot 4K video but it is horrible looking and very brittle when processing. The D-Lux gives you a good file that will stand some post processing. I’ve really enjoyed shooting movies and time-lapse sequences with the camera. This is where the DNA proves Panasonic’s paternity. There are only two things that lets it down. First is sound – there is no mic input. With this small feature added the camera would really rock as discrete video cam. Second some form of built in ND filter would really make the camera perfect enabling lovely wide open shots possible in bright sunlight. The wide shots in the video below were shot with the D-Lux.

 

 

The rear of the D-Lux is very tidy and well organised.
The rear of the D-Lux is very tidy and well organised.

 

My Leica D-Lux pimped out with its accessory grip, tripod adapter and Peak Designs Anchor Link.
My Leica D-Lux pimped out with its accessory grip, tripod adapter and Peak Designs Anchor Link.

 

So to sum up. This was a prize that I won, not a purchase. To be honest if it were my money I would have bought the Panasonic LX100 which is over $500 AUD cheaper. Leica try to talk you up by saying their version thanks to its Leica firmware produces better images and they throw in a copy of Adobe Lightroom. But honestly Lightroom is less than $200 and if you shoot RAW you can get the look you want easily enough. I found the body too smooth and sprung for the accessory grip which made life a lot better. The EVF ain’t crash hot – it is a field sequential LCD which means that it is subject to tearing with moving subjects or moving your eye around the viewfinder. This doesn’t bother some people as much as others, but it may be a deal killer. There’s no floppy touch screen and no mic input. On the plus side the camera is responsive produces good stills, very good video and is compact enough that it can be taken anywhere. When I got the camera I initially thought I’d use it for a few days and then sell it on Ebay. Instead I’ve had so much fun with it I’ve decided to keep it.

UPDATE   Well I wrote this before Photokina, the big camera industry trade show in Cologne, Germany. I was hoping for a new updated model from either Leica or Panasonic to be announced with some of the changes I’ve talked about. Panasonic announced the  launch of the  LX10/LX15 (depending on which region you live in) camera. There are some worthy upgrades in the form of a tilt touch screen, an improved image stabilisation system, increase in MP to 20 and Panasonic’s very spiffy 4K photo mode which allows users to record video at 4K 30fps and extract stills from the clip. But the downsides are the loss of the viewfinder and the smaller sensor.

Lens Sharpness

Yoshinkan Aikido sacrifice throw, taken on Olympus C-720 Ultra Zoom with slow sync flash edited using Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals

Currently in photography there are several sacred cows and you’d think that from the amount of chatter these subjects generated that they were the be all and end all of photography. Thankfully for the actual art form of photography they are mostly irrelevant. These sacred cows are:

  • megapixels
  • dynamic range
  • sensor size
  • lens sharpness

My feeling is that these topics are so hotly debated is because now in this digital age it is easy to quantify these values numerically and the bigger the number the better. There is no doubt about it a great big  spreadsheet of impressive looking numbers must be right after all. This is why the website http://www.dxomark.com has become a sacred text among the denizens of the internet fora and its proclamations and pronouncements can lift a camera or lens to photographic nirvana or condemn it to the lowest reaches of hell. Well having ruffled a few feathers with the piece on sensor size and depth of field this weeks entry is going to cause the DXO fundamentalists to really froth at the mouth in holy indignation.

Ura Tai Otoshi, a Yoshinkan Aikido technique. Shot using an Olympus C-720 Ultra using slow sync flash. Edited using Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals

Lens sharpness  is something to be coveted. After all Leica, Zeiss, Schneider, Rodenstock, Canon and Nikon have made an art form of it. Those who worship at the high altar of lens sharpness are prepared to spend the equivalent of the GDP of a small African nation on the lenses that have the highest DXO score. The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 Nikon has a DXO score of 45 while the lowly Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II only has a rating of 25.  So the Otus is nearly twice as good as the plastic fantastic Canon. Phwoaaaaarrrrr forum domination and photographic greatness here I come,  I’ll go out and buy one straight away. The Australian list price for the Zeiss is $4474 while the Canon is $135, so the Zeiss must be 33 times better. Er no. To quote DXO “The DxOMark Score shows the performance of a lens, mounted on a given camera body, for its optimal focal length/aperture combination and for defined exposure conditions.” So the lens has been mounted to a camera on an optical bench shooting a 2D lens chart at an aperture that is guaranteed to give the best results in carefully controlled lighting. So in other words it does not reflect real world usage unless your photographic interests lie in shooting charts or brick walls with a camera on a heavy tripod so you can orgasm over how sharp the image is at the edges. Shoot a complex 3D object in rapidly changing light conditions at sub optimal aperture settings and these ratings really don’t mean anything.

A sacrifice throw from Yoshinkan Aikido. Taken using an Olympus OM 4 with a Zuiko 35-105 lens on Fujichrome 400 pushed to 800 ISO. Scanned using an Olympus ES-10 scanner and edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals.

There is no doubt that lenses have become a lot sharper over recent years, but I find it amusing to see that they have become so sharp that they are now unflattering for portraiture as they show every blemish and pore. So much so that photographers are now spending time and money on lessening the sharpness (blurring if you will) on portraits. Don’t you think that is ironic? I’ll spend a fortune on a very sharp lens that is so clinically sharp that no-one likes the results so I’ll spend some more money on a Photoshop plugin to blur it.

 “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

A famous quote and often mis-quoted as nobody can really tell you the context in which Cartier-Bresson said it.  If we forget the Marxist definition of bourgeois and just concentrate on the dictionary definition we get:

 “belonging to or characteristic of the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes: a rich, bored, bourgeois family | these views will shock the bourgeois critics.”

I would hazard a guess that dear old Henri was string a bit when he said it and meant something along the lines that sharpness in a photograph is a very conventional and staid way of judging it and doesn’t look at its other qualities. How can I be sure, well I can’t but he also said:

 “It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera, they are made with the eye, heart & head.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

 So I think it is more than likely to assume that Cartier-Bresson felt that there is a lot more to photography than technical perfection.

The Japanese art of sword drawing. Taken with an Olympus OM 4 with a Tamron 28 mm lens, using Ifford Delta 3200. Scanned using an Olypus ES-10 scanner and edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals.

So by now you’ll have read this and seen some photos I made years ago of some people practicing Aikido and Iado, both Japanese martial arts. You’ll also have noticed that there is a lot of blurred movement and very little sharpness. The reason why is that I wanted to capture the beauty of the flowing energy that is involved in them and I felt that while static shots might capture the technical aspects of the techniques being demonstrated they don’t capture the nature of the philosophy behind them nor the dynamism. I like to feel that these are photos “made with the eye, heart & head” rather than the clinical gaze of the optically perfect lens. This is for me where the beauty of any art lies, not in technique but in the expression of ideas and emotions. None of the equipment used in the making of those photographs warrants a mention on DXOMark so I guess that gives them a score of zero. The equipment HCB used also isn’t on the DXO charts, and guess what quite a few of his pictures are blurred because he often relied on zone focusing and didn’t get it right, but I’d sooner have one of his pictures on my wall than a lens test chart any day.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare. By Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris 1932. © 2014 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

If you are not familiar with work of Cartier-Bresson try this:

If those video clips have whetted your appetite then might I recommend Henri Cartier-Bresson  – the man, the image & the world. A retrospective. Published by Thames & Hudson.

Time For A Change

Head of Janus, Vatican museum, Rome by Loudon Dodd

 

I am holed up in the command centre of the vast global entity that is Paul Amyes Photography taking shelter from the heat of the Aussie sun and pondering what 2014 will bring while my minions work hard to bring about my plans for global domination.  Actually the end of the year and the beginning of the next are very good for such musings, so good that the Romans actually had a god of transitions, beginnings and endings, he was called Janus and January was named after him. He is depicted as having two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. This has led to the whole idea of making New Year’s resolutions whereby a person makes a promise to make an act of self-improvement commencing on the start of the New Year.

 “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Mark Twain

 

Photography is a very broad church and people do it for all sorts of reasons and one of the attractions is that equipment has a fetishistic appeal. There is something about cameras and lenses that makes us lust after them, day-dream incessantly, continuously peruse websites looking to put together the ultimate camera system. The term fetish means “an inanimate object worshipped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit” and camera equipment is certainly worshipped, which implies a religion, which explains the virulent brand wars that flare up on online forums such as dpreview.com. It is probably just as well that this is online for if the protagonists were ever to meet in actual life ethnic cleansing based upon camera brand would surely be the result. Then look at the magical powers that are imbued by certain lenses. Oh if only you had a Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95, a Canon 85mm f1.2 L or a Nikkor 400mm f/2.8G IF ED VR then you could truly ascend to the astounding heights of photographic greatness as you’d never ever take a bad picture again.*

 “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.”

Oscar Wilde

 

Three bodies, seven lenses, two flashes, flash meter, filters, cables, flash triggers, and reflectors. It is a hernia inducing load.

From reading the forums it seems that a lot of people spend the equivalent of a small third world nations GDP in trying to get the ultimate image quality only never to see those images ever displayed larger than a low res web image or to never to take the equipment out because it is too heavy and cumbersome. I often wonder at how many millions of dollars worth of photographic equipment lies in the back of cupboards unused.** Before the mob assembles and proclaims me a sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, self-satisfied, smug, pietistic, moralizing, unctuous, mealy-mouthed, hypocritical prig and lynches me I would like to say that I am guilty of all the above (except for the bit of fantasying about a Nikkor – ugh!). Now at the grand old age of 50 and after nearly 30 of them practicing photography in one form or other I now realise that no one piece of equipment that I’ve bought has made me a better photographer.***

 

“The old year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead. The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time. All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!”

E. P. Powell

 Getting back to our two faced friend Janus and looking back over 2013 I can see that going out and taking photos, working on projects and showing them has made me feel photographically satisfied. So if like me you’re sitting at home wondering what 2014 will bring might I suggest a modest proposal? Instead of buying gear and hanging out on gear forums use your photography budget to travel somewhere photographically interesting, or hire some models, or devise a project and do an exhibition or publish a book. Set goals that are realistic, I’ve been wishing National Geographic and Magnum will come knocking for years now to no avail, and write them down. Then break down those those goals into their key components and then work out a time frame in which you can complete them. Looking forward to 2014 I have an idea of where I want to go and a rough idea of how to get there. It gives me something to look forward to, something to work towards and will give me a sense of accomplishment when I achieve it.

 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…”

Proverbs 29:18

Yours truly working happily on Frenchman Peak.

 

* I bought a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L several years ago and I’m still taking rubbish. Can I get my money back?

** There’s no way I’m admitting to what lies in the darkest recesses of my cupboards, nor its financial cost. My wife sometimes reads this blog and there’s no way I will incriminate myself.

*** Actually one item did make me a better photographer, it was a tripod.