Considering smaller and smaller cameras.

Life became more interesting for me a few years ago when I bought a Sony R1 camera. It was what is commonly referred to as a "bridge" camera. Not really a point and shoot and not really an SLR. But 10 megapixels and continual live view. A fun, articulated finder that could be used as a waistlevel finder, ala the old Hasselblads. But at its heart it is a point and shot. The viewing is done on screens, both on the back and through the viewfinder. But what made it fun is that you and your subject are not likely to take the camera that seriously....

So why am I writing about this? Two reasons: 1. Canon has just announced a camera that I think will have a profound effect on the bottom end of the professional photography market and maybe the entire market. And, 2. I've just done a few jobs wherein I used point and shoot cameras to supplement my traditional DSLR's with good results.

Let's start with the Canon announcement. The camera is called a G11 and will replace the Canon G10. The 10 is an emminently usable gem of a camera that packed 15 megapixels onto a small chip with really convincing results-----as long as you shot your photos at ISO 80 or ISO 100. When you sauntered off to higher ISO's you got more and more noise as the density of the sensor started working against low noise.

Everyone who has used the G10 loves it except for the noise. They love the form factor and the very good image stabilization and the very high resolution. But almost to a person they remark that Canon would have made the perfect camera if they had resisted the "megapixel race" and just kept the sensor at 10 megapixels. Apparently Canon listens. The G11 will have a sensor with 50% fewer pixels and the pay-off is a promised two stops increase in performance vis-a-vis sensor noise.

So, in a matter of weeks you'll have access to a small camera with these benefits: 1. A fast, sharp lens. 2. A very quiet operation. 3. Low noise up to at least 400 ISO. 4. A professional hot shoe for all kinds of flashes and flash triggers!!!! 5. Raw file capability. 6. Fast shutter response. 7. A flash sync capable of going all the way up to 1/2500th of a second. And finally, 8. A solid metal body.

Assuming that your style of photography is the "captured moment" or "street" photography or even work in the studio with continuous or electronic flash lighting you could do a ton of work with one of these cameras......all for the princely sum of less than $500 (US).

I've used a Canon G10 for many photographs. For a while I made it a habit to shoot professional work with both a D700 and, if time permitted, the little guy. And sometimes the G10 worked better. More depth of field, easier to use live view mode, etc.

If you've read my ramblings over the past few months you know that I am continuing to explore the idea that, as we go further and further into the web as the outlet for our photographic work, the concept, execution, lighting and subject rapport will trump the physical superiorities of expensive professional cameras. Content will finally become about content instead of being about craft.

The barriers to entry into professional photography have always been multi-tiered. The first line of defense in the preservation of the professional space has always been the myriad complexities of operating the machinery. But the real magic has always been the ability to think and be different from everyone else and to be able to express that genuine eccentricity in your work. Craftsmen seek perfection, artist seek expression. The craft used to be the country club dues that allowed one into the inner circle where opportunity lay. Now it lay all over the place but because the barriers are falling, one by one, the entry level "craft" intensive work has become commodified and adhering to the laws of supply and demand the market is consistently lowering the cost to the final user.

But, and this is important, the price of creativity has not become commodified because there is no way to replicate it. Art and vision is like a virus that replicates itself each time mankind in general find a "solution", a "formula" and a way of making current art a commodity. That's the magic of it all. People will pay for vision before they pay for craft. If you can combine them both without letting craft set oppressive boundaries you'll have chance at the winner's circle.

Coming full circle I see the G11 (and all the copycat cameras that are sure to come) to be a change that reduces the weight and structure of photography making the process more transparent. The hope is that this will push down the formalist restrictions of the process and free up the vision of the user.

I used to be a camera snob until I set up some lights and a 14 megapixel SLR in a mixed light set up and looked at the previewed image on the back of the camera. One of my clients took a shot with his iPhone. The iPhone snapshot looked better. Now I'm up for anything that works.

I mentioned a project I worked on earlier in the year using a point and shoot camera. It was for a client who need some landscape imagery for use on a web site. I shot wild flowers and roadways and overpasses and landscapes. One day I shot everything with a Canon SX10 camera. The 28mm equivalent lens on a 7mm sensor gave me sharp and detailed focus on flower right in front of my face and kept the monolithic road constructions a hundred feet away very sharp.

I shot with the P&S because the work was supposed to be used only on a website. The client called and got permission to use them in another project. My client is a ten year veteran of the business and can read files as well as I do in PhotoShop. Her monitor is as well calibrated as mine. If she looked at the image at 100% and found it usable I certainly wasn't going to question her judgement. Bottom line? The image looked great on a spread in an annual report printed on glossy stock. Really great.

I'm buying two of the G11's (cameras should always travel in pairs.....) and I intend to use them for any professional job I come across that would be improved by their unique properties. In fact, with the exception of jobs that call for very narrow depth of field looks I can think of few instances where the cameras would not be competent.

Finally, I sat with a photographer this afternoon who has done much work in Europe for National Geographic Traveler. He was showing me a story about shooting London with cameras that cost under $1,000. His camera of choice (this was a few years ago) was a Sony V3. His work was wonderful. Street shots full of movement. Challenging lighting. Interior shots. Even great dusk shots.

He had hedged his bets by shooting some shots with a Canon 1DS camera (state of the art at the time). While the bigger camera was better at very high apertures most of the street scenes and general images were equally good on either camera.

It's a brave new world. It's time to be brave about separating our perceptions about cameras from our intentions about art. I'd love to hear from people who are shooting professionally with cameras like the G10.


Nelson said...

I wish I could just jump into this wave... problem is... I'm addicted to shallow dof... and the compacts are not a real option. Maybe the micro 4x3 will do the trick. Anyway, very nice move by Canon, really.

Philip Morgan said...

Another advantage of small cameras like the G10 is the high flash sync speed. Although I haven't done much strobe-in-sunlight work, it should make that type of work easier than SLRs with a lower sync speed, right?

Janne Morén said...

Before you call other entrants "copycat cameras", it seems pretty clear Canon is more than glancing at similar cameras like the Panasonic LX3 that have resisted the megapixel race to the bottom (and is, I believe, outselling the G10 in Japan (though don't quote me on that; I'd need to find the source again (parentheses are fun!))).

Me, I'm tacking in a different direction. I love using my Pentax 67 and Yashica Mat cameras, and from what little I have shot 35mm so far I realize that even scanned with my flatbed, 35mm is also giving me all the resolution I need, with all the fun idiosynchrasies of film types thrown in for free. I kind of suspect there's a Voigtländer or Zeiss rangefinder - or Contax G2 - in my not so distant future.

In fact, my wife got a Canon Demi EE28 some time ago, just because she had one as a child. When we got the prints back from the first roll (yes, they happily print half-frame for you here) my jaw actually dropped. I guess both film and printing technology has improved hugely over the years; with normal print sizes the images were rich and lush and full of detail. I doubt you could find any difference to images from my DSLR printed to the same size (except that the digital images would be more likely to have blown-out skies or blocked shadows). If your target is the web and you don't mind the development stage, then a 40 year old low to mid-level guess-focusing half-frame camera really is good enough.

Jim said...

I'm more impressed with the little S90. It seems to do just about everything the G11 does and it actually fits in your pocket.

I'm also coming real close to buying the Olympus EP-1 to shoot my travel stock with. I'm definitely going to give these "new breed" of point & shoots a workout.

alohadave said...

My main camera is a Pentax dSLR, but I keep my Fuji superzoom around for fun black & white work. It's great to have a camera that you can switch to B&W mode, and see how the sensor is seeing the scene (especially as I don't think in B&W). Plus, when I put the ISO at 400, it produces a nice level of noise that is reminiscent of grain. The only thing I wish it had is a shoe or PC connector for off-camera flash.

psu said...

I think if most amateur photographers are honest with their heart, they would realize that they need no more camera than a G10/11 or the Panasonic LX-3 in their pocket if they knew how to use the thing correctly. This is what I have found more and more even on my major "photo" vacations.

I'll still probably buy a D700 anyway. Just because it makes my jaw drop to see those high ISO shots.

AlanD said...

When I shoot indoor sports at ISO 1600 to 6400 I have no choice but to turn to my D700. I still use my D700 for other work, but over the past 4 ot 5 months I have been increasingly using a Panasonic LX3 as it simply works "better" (or easier) than the D700 in some situations as long as you remain at ISO 80 or 100. The LX3 is partiularly useful for outdoor flash using high sync speed as you don't have to deal with the limitations of the curtain shutter.

The LX3 has one other useful feature, a black and white JPEG mode called Dynamic B&W. The results from this mode are terrific as long as you know in advance that you want only B&W. It saves a lot of effort by not having to do the B&W conversions in post. Also in this mode the higher noise at say ISO 800 is not only not objectionable, it sometimes is even esthetically desirable!

Great post Kirk!

Alan Dunne

kirk tuck said...

I like the "idea" of the S90 and the Panasonic LX10 but I reject them for the same reason I reject the Olympus EP1, I just can't get used to framing stuff looking at an LCD on the back. It's okay for studio work but not for portraits.

Anonymous said...

I have been using a p&s alongside my DSLR for years. I have been scoffed at and told it was unprofessional and blah blah blah... I quit telling them what I used. Getting a closeup, full length, detailed shot is nearly impossible without serious dollars tied up in a short tilt lens when someting like a G10 or 11 does it as second nature and without a hesitation... and very believable to boot.

With all the banter about megapixels, sensor sizes, superior glass etc... and to echo your sentiments, this is my favorite saying... "Dude, it's not the camera".

Love the Blog!


kirk tuck said...

I know the small cameras weren't up to the task in the early days of digital, mostly because of iffy focusing and slow response but I think that now the only hesitation is the noise (easy to fix: shoot at 100) and the DOF (which there are no easy fixes for ).

I'll keep a few DSLR's around for those times when shallow focus is the solution. The rest of the time........I'll see.

kirk tuck said...

If you want more on small cameras, check out david hobby's blog today over at strobist...: http://strobist.blogspot.com/2009/08/on-assignment-teeny-tiny-halophiles.html

Saad said...

I bought an LX3 recently and I love it. I was tossing up between it and a G10, but the G10 was too noisy and to damn big!

I love the LX3, I take it everywhere with me, and sometimes with a gadget infinty remote and an old Nikon SB28, for instance off camera flash. and The results impress.

Not to mention the B&W mode is terrific, full of character, and easy to use.

The only problem is lack of a viewfinder, but Im thinking if getting an external one for street work

aaron said...

Can I have an Amen?
Great post Kirk!

Jim said...

The just announced Lumix GF1 may be an option as well. Here is the link:


web said...

I'm much more interested in the S90 - basically because I want something as small as possible. If I'm leaving the DSLR behind, I want something I can put in my jacket pocket and forget that it's there. It also has a faster lens and the control ring, bonus points for sure. My one reservation is build quality - I have a nagging suspicion that the S90 will not be built nearly as well as the G10 is - and the G11 likely will be. Considering their respective pricepoints, they should be of similar quality but the initial reports on the S90 are that it feels noticeably cheaper than the G series. One can only hope Canon doesn't drop the ball in terms of build quality on such an anticipated - and needed- camera!

Lili said...

Kirk, excelent and thought-provoking piece.
I have 2 DSLR systems with about 12 lenses between them. Before I got my second system, the first body had to go to repair to map out some serious hot pixels and get cement like dust off the sensor. While waiting a I found a Fuji Bridgecam on close out. Even after my Pentax got back I still shot the Fuji; it does RAW, has 28-300m-e lens that focuses down to 1cm.
Without carrying anything extra.
I set myself a challenge recently to use only it for a while; concentrating on shooting and not on gear and pixel-peeping.
The results were well worth the effort.
Not professional quality perhaps, but VERY pleasing to me.

Mika said...

Before I got my Olympus E-520, I was using an Olympus SP-570, part of their 'ultrazoom' category. I still have it as a backup, and for a camera that small it does have a lot of goodies (a 24-520mm equivalent focal length lens, hot shoe for flashes and wireless flash control, useable ISO up to 200 or 400 depending on circumstances, a 10MP sensor with image stabilisation and ability to shoot raw, and the same one-button access to main menu options as the E-series cameras...).

For some time I've been debating whether I should sell it or keep it, but after reading this post and actually considering what a versatile package it is (for around £240, or ~$400 at the time) I'm inclined to keep it...

Your no-nonsense approach to photography is quite refreshing!

Tofuphotography said...

I agree with you Kirk. I use a D300 and a Canon Ixus 970IS compact. It (the Canon) is light, easy to take everywhere and shoots great photos. They are quick and easy to process in Picasa where if necessary I crop, straighten, auto contrast and auto colour, which is great for photos taken in early morning or late afternoon light, giving a lovely soft pastel tint. Photos that are fine for web-based activities and many of the users of my blog would struggle to tell the difference.

For some purposes (low light, telephoto, sports, birding, shallow depth of field) a DSLR is essential, but for most everything else today's compacts will do the job for web-based photos.

I am really excited about the S90 and can't wait to get my hands on one. If only half the hype surrounding this camera is true it promises to be very very special.


seikoesquepayne said...

Call me crazy, but even DOF isn't a problem to me with point-and-shoot bred cameras like the G10/G11/LX3/P6000. It just requires a little outside-box thinking. Typically, if I need the produce a shallow DOF with my G10, I set the camera in macro mode and get in as close as I can while keeping the subject adequately framed, and voila. It may not have the same melting focus as an f/1.4 or even f/1.8 lens, but I guarentee your background will be significantly more out of focus than your subject. The only limitation is with your framing, since in macro mode you're locked into a very narrow range of focus.

Steven Alexander said...

My D700 really enjoys its bag and the rest it has been experiencing since I got an E-P1 to replace the G10, too noisy. My mind set comes from over 45 years of Leica M shoting. Small cameras can be professional tools. G11, the new Panasonic GF1(Leica rebrand) and all that are to follow are really interesting to me at 70 and still shooting.

Peter Appleby said...

Hi, Kirk. The recent trends to high quality in small packages has really got me to thinking. The question in my mind is "Where will we be in 5 years from now?"

I'm just old enough to be stuck in the "I gotta have a viewfinder" rut. But that being said, with the continued improvements in sensors, software, and miniturization, I can see a very small dslr in the future with excellent qualities. I'd like to see a more 'back to basics' model with less bells and whistles that performs the basic features very well.

We live in an interesting time!

Dermot Carey said...

"Craftsmen seek perfection, artist seek expression."

Absolutely fantastic quote. Is it yours? And so very true. This will run through my head every time I shoot.

cidereye said...

I agree with Jim and feel the new Canon S90 has far more to offer "overall" than the G11.

I've owned both the G9 & G10 and noise is an obvious issue but I just turned mine down to 8MP and found the G9 especially much better to shoot with but I wouldn't touch either these day's for my "personal" needs because they are far too big, bulky and heavy for a compact camera that one can easily slip into a pocket and carry at all times hence why I have just ditched both Canon's and bought a Ricoh GX200 which, for me at least, is a far, far better camera than the G10 and has the option of a decent add on viewfinder which works very nicely.

I took both the GX200 and a Leica R8 loaded with Ektar out for a shoot a few days back and ended up using the little Ricoh all the time as it's obviously far less intrusive and being small, light & nimble left the Leica in the car boot for the afternoon. Results = superb and the ability to shoot in a MF like 1:1 format is like having a "Pocket Hasselblad" as one user of the camera put it to me. After several weeks of using and getting used to this little beauty I can find very little to fault it on.

Wouter Brandsma said...

Well maybe I am not shooting professionally, but I have sold a couple of B&W A2 prints last year for witch I used the Ricoh GX100 and GX200. For me small sensor cameras are great B&W sketch machines.

But I do find it interesting to see you move from your larger cameras to smaller ones. But doesn't change cameras change your photography too?

kirk tuck said...

Dermot, It is my quote. I'm glad you like it.

Wouter, When I change cameras I do change my photography. I like that it changes because the stasis is deadly.

Anonymous said...

Love those compacts. The Ricoh GRD is still my all-time fav camera. I had the GRD2 and now the GRD3.

Mel said...

The heck with your camera comments, I really was hit by your craft/art comments. I've been polishing my technical skills and getting flat, lifeless images; however, when I ignore technical perfection and just shoot I get more interesting, unique images. Problem is, I don't know how to ignore consistently. Any words of wisdom on this topic?

Like Dermot, I'll have that phrase rattling around inside for a while. Thanks!

\`1nc3nt said...

Great post! We should consider this fact years ago.

I am still using my D70 and not looking any alternative yet, except for a dream, inexpensive full frame digital camera.

Currently I am starting to use my F3 again and also with an 60 years old Rolleiflex for the same reason why I grind my coffee bean manually using a german made coffee grinder.

What's missing is the ritual. It's the ritual that makes sense to everything.
The ritual inserting the film into the camera, imagining how the picture will looks like, calculating the exposure and waiting until the film is developed and printed on paper.

Without the ritual there is no soul in our shots.

Anonymous said...

I moved from a nikon f4 (shooting velvia and kodak trix to a Ricoh GX 200 - and have never looked back. Its super high quality to hold, like a leica m6. The quality in most light is good enough for magazine size published images , the camera is intuitive and a joy to work with. Everything i used on the F4 is here, and manually accessible without needing to go through all the menus. The 24mm wide angle lens is also superb. Great having 24mm in a compact! I do a lot of outdoor action sport/travel photography, and its so refreshing having the tiny Ricoh in the bag - instead of 2-3kg of body and lenes! This means I take the Ricoh on trips where I would have lazily keft the nikon at home. The only disappointment I had in the GX 200 was that Ricoh went to more megapix - 12mil, up from 10 on the GX100. I would rather haver less as I like to shoot in low light a lot - maybe canons move signals that finally the sensor manufacturers are listening, and these lower no. megapix, more saturated sensors will turn up in the Ricoh and other cameras too. Ricoh always said it would have kept the 10mega pix sensor - but the sensor manufacturers had abondonged it in search of more megapix. heres hoping this is a new trend in compacts. p.s - for what its worth - the canon tho a nice cam is still too big for a compact - right on the margin and similar to an entry level digi slr in terms of size and weight. the ricoh gx 200 is truly pocketable.