5.31.2010

Business Decisions versus Personal Shooting Decisions.

It's interesting how equipment decisions get made.  I would have been happy spending the rest of my life as a photographer shooting with the Hasselblad I used to create the image above.  And, after experimenting for over a decade with black and white films and various processing routines I would be just as happy spending those years shooting Tri-X and developing it in D76 at a 1:1 dilution.  And I would be ecstatic to print all the resulting images on Ilfobrom graded double weight paper.  But that paper was put out to pasture years before digital was even a seedy leer in the eyes of any photographers.

If you've read my column you probably know that I've spent the last year shooting with Olympus DSLR cameras and lenses and, for the most part, have been quite happy with them.  Most of my clients have moved the majority of their advertising to the web or some other electronic avenue and so the size of the files isn't really meaningful to them.  Armed with a couple of e30's and some hand selected SHG glass I think I would have been very happy to shoot with nothing but the e stuff for years to come.  At least that was my intention.  And if I shot only for myself I do think that 12 megapixels with really nice color is the "sweet spot" most of us were looking for in the first place.  But one thing I've learned in this business is that nothing stands still.  Everyone is a looking for a marketing advantage and when they find one, they press it.

The wild cards in all my presumptions about gear are the advertising agency clients.  The art directors.  The creative people on the front line.   Over the past year we did many images that were destined for small space ads in print or for use on the web in websites and in presentation materials.  People loved the Olympus colors and really got the idea of differentiation of vision.  Then the economy recovered and the one Achille's Heel of the smaller camera sensors emerged.  Raw resolution.

My single largest ad agency client, someone directly responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of billings over the past decade, did two things.  First, he worked with a photographer in Dallas who just bought a high megapixel (21+) camera and was very evangelical about it's attributes.  Second, he designed a piece for  a client that was:  1. 11 by 17 inches, with full bleed images.  2.  Destined to be printed on very expensive, gloss paper stock.  He started comparing the raw resolution and detail he got from his Dallas shoot to some of our preliminary tests on 12 megapixel cameras.  And then he threw down the ultimatum:  High resolution camera or no assignment.

Whatever his understanding of photography he had parsed what he considered to be defining attributes for his projects going forward and he made the determination that he would set out his own expectations for his creative suppliers.  I had three choices and I didn't particularly like any of them.  1.  I could rent the gear I needed for the job.  But I was certain that, if the job went well, he would partially attribute our success to the gear and I'd be renting the gear many times, over the course of the year.  Not to mention that local rental houses have different lenses than I normally use..  2.  I could tell him all the reasons that I think the 12 megapixel paradigm is the "sweet spot" and how much I like the colors, etc. and take my economic chances that he would choose to work with more compliant partners.  This is not a person who is confrontational, and we've worked together for 20+ years.  He obviously saw differences that were/are important to his work.  If I chose the second course of action we would still be good friends, he still might hire me to do work that was headed solely to the web but........

The third course of action, and the thing I wound up doing was to listen with intensity to what my client was saying and to react in the way that would, long term, be most profitable for both my working relationship with him and my piece of mind.  I bit the bullet and headed to Precision Camera to decide on a new system.  Having done six video projects with Will van Overbeek and his Canon 5d mark 2 I was already leaning in that direction.  I like Nikon stuff okay but the video in the 5d mark 2 is pretty convinciing.  I also ran my decision making process past "no nonsense" architectural photographer,  Paul Bardagjy and he gave a big thumbs up to the Canon 5d2.  It's the camera he uses, along with just about every shift lens ever made, to do all of his current business.

In fairness, I did play with the Sony cameras,  the a850 and the a900.  In the end it was the lack of a big line up of lenses and the lack of any video capability that was the final determiner.  I reached deep into my beleagured and weary wallet and plunked down for a Canon system.  I'm sure everyone will want to know what I bought so I might as well divulge the list here and now:

Canon 5d mk2,  24-105mm L zoom,  70-200mm f4 non IS L zoom,  20mm 2.8, 100mm f2 and the "nifty fifty", the 50mm 1.8.  I toyed around with getting some Canon flash but I've never been very impressed with the flash capability of the system, especially having once been a Nikon flash user, so I stuck with my current cheap favorites and ordered a Vivitar 383df dedicated to the Canon.  I use a macro on a bellows quite a bit so I bought a very inexpensive Fotodiox EOS bellows and am using a nice, older Micro Nikkor 3.5 lens with an adapter ring for my high tech wafer and microprocessor work.  There are a few things I'd like to add including the 28mm 1.8 (which Will says is his favorite) and the 85mm 1.8 (which is similar to the Canon 85 I had back in the non-AF days.  I also owned the EOS film cameras and many of the lenses so I am more than passingly familiar with the system.

What's my verdict?  When raw resolution is at the top of the purchase order this camera delivers.  I like it for the most part and I think the menu is easy to get used to.  The 24-105 mm is very decent but not in the same league as the Olympus 14-35mm.   The 70-200 f4 is very sharp, even wide open.  And it's much lighter than the Olympus 35-100 but the Oly lens is so sharp and the out of focus areas are so delicious that I can't let go of it.

Here's the bottom line:  To get the most out of the Canon,  to get what I paid for,  I have to shoot at 21 megapixels and shoot in RAW.  That's how you maximize the perceived difference that the clients demanded.  But you end up with so few images on a CF card.  You end up churning your computer's hard drive and processor.  Storage becomes an new concern. Etc.  If enough people are interested in the Canon 5d2 I'll write my review but frankly, I don't have much to add to all the stuff that's out there.

So, what happens to all that cool Olympus stuff?  Well.  I keep shooting with it for all the same reasons I did in the first place:  Better jpegs.  Better out of camera colors.  The most interesting normal focal length zoom I've ever shot with.  The perfect file sizes for shooting theater, events, travel, etc.  In many ways the systems are complementary.  I think of the Canon as my "print advertising camera" and my Olympus stuff as my "all purpose toolbox".

Some friends suggest I simplify by getting rid of the Oly stuff and just ramping up with Canon gear.  They assume I'll do this eventually anyway.  But they are forgetting that I already own the best camera system in the world.....the Olympus Pen Cameras!!!  And as long as I can shoot video with them, and put all kinds of esoteric lenses on the front ( like the 14-35mm f2 and the 35-100mm f2) it's silly to sell off the 4:3 bodies.  Life has changed.  We're not shooting the same stuff all the time.  It's nice to have different tools.

It's the reason I still have so many other cameras.  It keeps things fresh.

Long version:  all I've written above.

Short version:  follow the money.

Just thought I should continue to divulge.  That's what readers have said they value.

34 comments:

ginsbu said...

Asked and answered -- and, as usual, with a more interesting explanation than I could have anticipated. Thanks!

BTW, your post title seems to sum up a (the?) major theme of the blog -- one that makes it so interesting, to me anyway.

kirk tuck said...

Ginsbu,

A blog created just for you. It was a question I thought should be answered. Afterall, it's a big tool box, might as well explore all the wrenches.......

Thanks, Kirk

John Krumm said...

I'm sure many 4/3 users wouldn't mind having a 5D mark 2 to use once in a while. I've been looking at Joe Cornish's "Light and the Art of Landscape Phhotography" and now I wouldn't mind an Ebony 45 field camera (with a digital back that made things look as good as his Velvia).
You might have to sell something when the legendary, sure-to-be-here-someday E5 rumbles into town....
Blog wise, I think having a number of different systems keeps things more interesting for readers.

kirk tuck said...

Fingers crossed that Olympus will want to give me a camera to test and write about. We'll see how that fantasy works out. I'm keeping my lenses around just in case... :-)

neopavlik said...

Things I'd like to know about the Canon purchase(s) :

- Skintones !
- Banding at Low ISO ?
- Any thoughts on Processing - DPP , Capture One , Lightroom ?

Canon mount can use an adapter to fit most other brands so I'm sure you'll have fun with that.

Luke said...

Given all your great Nikon glass I'm surprised that you didn't go with the ultimate resolution and build quality of the D3x? Was it the size of the camera or the lack of video that pushed you towards Canon?

kirk tuck said...

How about the price? From what I've gathered the D3x is better, resolution wise, than the Canon 5d2 by a certain % but at such a cost. I'm still reeling from the worst year (2009) I can remember in my nearly 30 years of being in the creative business in one permutation or the other. The Canon filled the art director's wishes and I could throw together all the things I needed for a quick start for thousands less than the DX3 body alone. Besides, I did the Nikon stuff already. This also plays to my desire to keep stuff fresh.......

One of my friends has the D3x and it have gorgeous files. Damn it's heavy. But I'm hardly one to speak given my masochistic nature in dragging the Olympus 35-100 mm everywhere.......

jefflynchdev said...

Wow. What a surprise. Not many Nikon shooters switch to Canon these days. I've used only one Nikon camera in the past 30 years of shooting Canon so I'm completely biased.

Take a look at the EF 17-40mm f/4 or 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses. I think you'll find them very close to your Olympus 14-35mm. The 28mm f/1.8 is a wonderful lens for environmental portraits but a bit soft around the edges wide open. The 24-105mm is a good general purpose lens but not spectacular in sharpness or contrast. The 70-200mm f/4 however, is superb throughout its aperture range.

One thing I've found with the 5D2 is to watch your DOF closely. Even shooting at f/5.6 you might get only one eye sharp in a head & shoulders portrait depending upon your lens. Takes a little getting used to.

The 5D2 is also a great way to dive into video if your clients take you that direction. Welcome aboard.

Dave Jenkins said...

I've had the 85/f1.8 ever since switching to the Canon EOS system in 1993. I'm sure I don't need to tell you what a fine lens it is. I've only owned the 28/f1.8 for a short time, but plan to keep it. These two form my two-lens system, a la Mike Johnston.

I've owned just about every lens Canon has ever made in the 70/80-200/210 range, including the 70-200/f2.8L and 70-200/f2.8L-IS. My favorite was the first one, the 80-200/f2.8L (fondly named the "Magic Drainpipe," which sadly died in my arms), but my second favorite and permanent keeper is the 70-200/f4 non-IS. This is a light and lovely and very, very sharp lens that you will enjoy using.

Since I shoot a lot of architecture, I also have the 24mm TS-E first series. If the new one is better, it must be awesome. I lust for the 17mm TS-E, but it will be a while before I can afford that one.

Anyway, good luck with your Canon equipment. Nothing wrong with owning two and a half systems. Horses for courses...

Andre said...

Didn't you get a new Olympus lens from doing those talks?

Interested to see future shots from both your Olympus and Canon cameras!

kirk tuck said...

Neoplavik,

The skin tones are a bit more "plasticky than the Olympus ones but can be reality-ed up with a judicious use of sharpness and levels.

No banding at low ISO's tho I haven't gone to ISO 50 yet....

Capture One is my hands down favorite but occasionally I'll use DPP to deal with lens perspective, save and finish in Capture. Best sharpening resides in Capture One.

kirk tuck said...

Andre,

Got the 14-35mm as payment. Love the lens. I just came back from my Sunday walk around town with that lens and the e30. There are reasons to own both...

Poagao said...

The Panasonic GF1 is my with-me camera, but it's nice to have the the "Invincible Rabbit" (If you read "5D2" in Chinese it sounds the same) for more, I dunno, "concentrated" photographic scenarios, especially night shooting at ISO5000 with the f1.2 50L.

kirk tuck said...

Wow. ISO 5000 with the 50 1.2. That's vigorous shooting. I'm not allowed out when it gets that dark...... :-)

Neil Gaudet said...

Hi Kirk. Love your honesty and approachability in this blog.

I also shoot with the Olympus E3 and the Canon 5D mm II. Both are good cameras and I am finding they compliment each other well. Each has weaknesses and strenghs the other doesn't. Of course there are some big downfalls to having to run two systems as well and I'll be the first to admit my heart belongs to Olympus. But when I'm faced with a challenge on a photo assignment being rain, low light, need for crazy resolution or the desire for a crop sensor I know I can face it with one of the tools in my bag.

By the way, I can't remember if it was this post or another of your recent ones where you mention you haven't tried the FL50R but the wireless TTL works very well, I think you might like it. I'm going to check out the flashes you talk about, but I agree with you about the Canon flash, I bought the 580EX II and it isn't anything to write home about. Certainly the Nikon flash system is king and the Olympus not far behind.

Sorry for rambling on so long!

kirk tuck said...

Neil, Love a good ramble when it largely agrees with me. :-)

I've used the FL50r but not in wireless mode. The folks at Olympus lent me one for a few weeks last summer. It's a nice flash but bigger and heavier than some others that seem to be just as accurate.

I agree with the need to have a healthy tool kit. I'm pretty sure the 5d2 isn't up for a day in the rain. Not sure the e30 is either but if push comes to shove it's easier to replace e30's.

thanks for tuning in.

Dave Jenkins said...

Not to argue but just to give a different point of view, I've been really pleased with the 580EXII. It's the best flash I've ever owned.

kirk tuck said...

Dave, When I wrote my first book I played pretty extensively with the earlier version of the 580 ex. I wasn't impressed. After I wrote the above one of my good friends also took up the fight for the newest model. Between you and Paul I am convinced that I should borrow one and test it. If it is as good as you say it should be a worthy addition to the stack.....

Kurt Shoens said...

The big advantages of the 580 EX II over the original 580 are that it recycles faster, has a sync port, and my favorite, doesn't whine any more.

Dave Jenkins said...

I can only saw that I've been pleased with the 580EXII in comparison with all other flashes I've used, including the Canon 550 and the Metz 54MZ4. I don't know how it stacks up against Nikon's flash system because I haven't used a Nikon flash on a Nikon camera since 1992.

I do, however, have some SB-28s in my minimalist lighting kit, since Canon has nothing comparable. They do a good job. I'm a long-time Vivitar 283 and 285 user, but the SB-28s are clearly better.

Chris said...

Great post Kirk! I also have Canon for high-res and OLY / Nikon for 12mp stuff. Largely, due to legacy lenses purchased over the last 35 years. Curious as to why you didn't get the IS version of the 70-200 ...not so much for the IS, but it has much of the same "snap" of the OLY 35-100 even though it is two stops slower. I've used both, and at least on digital, the IS version is superior from my perspective ...and even to the dreaded lens reviewers. Also, the 1.4x is amazing with this lens (at least in decent light ...now 5.6). Anyway, you should try one at some point and make the comparison. Also, the Zeiss ZE 35mm f/2 is a wonderful manual focus lens on the 5D mkII!

David Ingram said...

Kirk, thank you for this post. Makes sense to keep an otherwise good client happy.

I am planning to upgrade from my D300, which I have had for 2 years, and the logical move to the D700 is problematic in that it doesn't seem competitive (in terms of features) with the 5DMarkII but almost the same price. The next step up, the D3X, is very expensive.

I'm not sure what Nikon is thinking of with this price/feature imbalance.

kirk tuck said...

David, Thank you! That was exactly my dilemma. The client is very, very Photoshop Savvy and can tell instantly what the actual res of the camera is. He's decided that metric is vital to his success. I'm more familiar with Nikon but went with the 5d2 because of the price/performance equation. No doubt (for both of us) Nikon will bring a FF 24 megapixel camera to market in a month or so......after I've spent the money on Canon. But, it will probably be $5000. So we'd be having the same conversation. In the pre-digital days I would have bought the ultimate camera knowing that I'd be able to keep it and make money with it for years to come. Sadly, the D3 everyone hungered for a year ago has already been overtaken twice. It's all crazy. But the bottom line is.....the bottom line. AD's want it and I'll deliver it. I can use whatever I want for fun....

steveH said...

Another good post.

I've been using an e30-based set for poking around in the woods for a while, and like it a lot, as my inclination tends toward "bugs, weeds and mushrooms".

To deal with the need for more resolution, meanwhile, I'm waiting for my new (to me) RB-67 and lenses, etc. Largely because I can afford the gear. And I can get more exercise. Yeah. That's important, too.

h.linton said...

Your "dilemma" puts my current equipment situation into sharp perspective. Armed with 2 5D's[MK-I]; a 16-35 II; 70-200 f/4 IS; 50 f/1.4 and a 100 f/2 all I'd have to do in your situation is rent a 5D MK-II or whatever specialty lens[macro; fish-eye; T/S] the job might call for and I'm done. Rental is the biggest reason I'd never buy anything but what the Big 2 have to offer. They're not necessarily the best nor are they for everyone but, if you're working professionally [especially outside of NYC], you really don't have much of a choice.

Anonymous said...

I, likewise, pine for the film days. The genie is out of the bottle and it isn't going back in. I have a decent EOS lens collection, but went with Olympus for digital. I don't shoot pro anymore, so I wanted to keep cost and size down. I can do that with Oly. I tried EOS bodies, but the ones I could justify the $$$ for didn't feel or operate nearly as well as my my Canon film bodies or Oly. My Oly just feels right. Zuiko lenses are absolutely fantastic, even the "lower end". I am impressed.

A couple lens recommendations for you: 1) Get that 85/1.8! 2) Try the 200/2.8L. My favorite Canon lens.

Happy shooting!

tex andrews said...

Basically, I can't get around the following, which you stated originally but encapsulated above in this sentence: "The client is very, very Photoshop Savvy and can tell instantly what the actual res of the camera is. He's decided that metric is vital to his success."

I can see this for some things, surely; but if this is for what I see as typical commercial work in typical presentations---which include magazines....well, I really don't. I'm certainly not denying that this art director THINKS this is the case, but she/he's kidding herself/himself if they think more than 1/2 of 1% of their audience can tell the difference even if it is pointed out to them. Professionals tend to forget they live in a tiny bubble, surrounded by people who may indeed be able to tell the difference, but they are a tiny, tiny group of viewers.

kirk tuck said...

Got the 85 1.8 on Monday.

kirk tuck said...

Tex, to a large degree I agree with what you are saying. But in this case I get his point. We're doing an ongoing series of images, each of which, when cropped, will print 11x17 on heavy, high quality gloss stock. We both looked at proofs. I could see the difference and he could see the difference.....and like any good artist his first audience is himself. Like any good business guy my goal is to retain my (very) profitable client however it is most efficient to do so....

kirk tuck said...

Have added to the inventory: Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZE, 100mm f2.0, 85mm 1.8, Canon 7D, 15-85mm, 50mm f2.5. Two 580 EX2's.

Short wish list: 200mm 2.8, 18mm Zeiss ZE.

Rudi Vavra said...

Quick question: How do you like the 7D, as compared to the 5D2?

kirk tuck said...

Up to ISO 400 the 7d is the superior camera. Above 1600 the 5D2 is the superior camera. In the middle it's a constant battle between image quality and handling....

meandmycanon said...

Wow! Am I glad I found your web site! I am just on the verge of getting into an slr system. Do the Olympus 14-35 f2 and 35-100 f2 lenses focus as well with an adapter to a Pen epl-1 or do I have to go to a full size (620 or new E5?)
Love to get to Austin some day!

kirk tuck said...

The 14-35 and the 35-100 are not optimal for auto focusing with the Pen's. If you want to use those lenses I'd go with the new E5