5.14.2012

I have to laugh, sometimes, when people talk about cameras.


They think everything should be sharp, like the images of earth from outer space.  But remarkably, the images most people seem to like don't really have much to do with sharpness or lack of sharpness.  The real parameters seem different.  People are engaged by subject and, with life documented sharply and accurately twenty four hours a day they may be more interested in photography that's an interpretation of a thing instead of it's literal molecular construction.


Both of these images are of a green chair.  The second image totally describes the chair. The first image alludes to something that might be a chair.  I like them both but the more abstracted reality of the chair wears well, day in and day out.

I looked back at these photographs as a counterpoint to the chatter all over the web about the new Olympus OMD EM5 camera.  Half the people discussing are convinced (as I am) that it represents the next real generation of tools for a large subset of photographic artists.  The others either don't care (which is shrewd) or they cling to what they know best and assume a defensive stance.

The arguments rage as to whether the camera is sharp enough (for almost everything I can think of  it is...) and whether it is a worthy tool (most cameras are).

But it got me thinking.  Were all the cameras that came before just a charade?  Were they some sort of place holder between film and digital perfection that we had somehow been duped into accepting because we had no other reasonable choice?

I didn't think so either and so, by way of a reality check, I went back to these files from a trip I took to west Texas where I took only two cameras:  an Olympus EP2 and an Olympus EPL-1.
After the hysteria of the web I expected that, when I opened the files, I would find only mush.  Baseball sized electronic noise and hideous color shifts that would render the files unusable.

But, in fact, I am quite pleased with all the files I scrolled through.  They seem to have more than enough bite to please even the most stringent and critical viewer.  I was pleased to see the squares again.  And pleased to see that the colors were as I remembered them.  Not hampered in the least but a nice rendition of what I'd seen and remembered.

When I finished pulling out some favorite files I was pleased by the thought that the work I'd done before the arrival of the new breed of revolutionary cameras wasn't in vain.  In fact, I think a lot of what I shot with the ancient EP2 is downright lovely.  In fact, I think I'll keep it.






24 comments:

colbyj said...

The "ancient" EP-2 is my favorite day to day camera. I can live with the basball size electronic noise and hideous color shifts!

Bruce Rubenstein said...

"Sharp" is an easily observed and quantified metric of an image and of the equipment used to create the image. Many people on internet, photography forums stay on this superficial level. Creating an emotional resonance between the photographer and the viewer is beyond their scope or interest. I applaud your continued efforts to get folks to think and feel about images, but in the end it comes down to "how much horsepower does she make?" for many people.

PittsburghDog said...

As cameras continue to evolve I simply look forward to those that help me to capture in an instant the moments I want to remember or share with others. The OMD is probably the closest to that I will get. What I really "want" is the same functionality without the EVF in a body the size of the E-PM1. I'm not a photographer though I wish I were. I simply take enough images that eventually one or two of them turn out good. I need autofocus that NAILS the focus because I don't have time to compose my nieces and nephews who cannot sit still more than a nanosecond. I own a NEX-5N and love the output from it. The 5N, the NEX7 and the OMD are more than I need, though I love the quality they provide. If the OMD autofocus is as good as described (and I don't doubt it), then it should fit me perfectly. Now if Oly will just shrink the 12-60 to m4/3 size, then I'll be "done" with my purchases for a long time.

Craig Yuill said...

One of my favorite photos of my daughter is ever so slightly soft. I think it was because she was moving around slightly while the shutter speed was 1/30 sec. Plus I was using a lens with no IS. Doesn't matter. I still love it.

I do admit to regularly using the "Definition" control set to 20-25% in Apple Aperture (similar to "Clarity" in Lightroom) for photos I print. Perhaps I should rethink that practice.

Frank Grygier said...

These are strange times for photography. The photograph takes a back seat to the technology both in the camera and software used to process the file. How many of us look at the metadata of am image and change our impression of the photograph based on the brand of camera we find there

Poagao said...

It's been said that the term "photography" encompasses too much these days, much like including everything from government brochures to want ads to novels when we say "writing". Technically, it is included, but for some reason this gets muddled in the former case far more than in the latter. Thus, as is evident in the above comments, you get people who are interested in photography, people who are interested in electronics and judge a photo by the machine instead of the photographer, as well as those who just want sharp kid shots, all thinking that they're talking about the same thing when they're not; this gap results in misunderstanding and inevitably causes a great deal of friction. Yet, when someone suggests that this is the case, even more friction ensues. It's a difficult situation, and the only fix I can think of is to simply not engage in such discussions and spend one's time doing what one enjoys.

kirk tuck said...

Wouldn't that be novel?

Poagao said...

Ha! I see what you did there.

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Love those photos, both of them. And yes, tho I love that cute little E-PL1 more each day, sometimes my terribly old and out of date E-520 still takes a good image, like yesterday in my http://wolfgang.lonien.de/2012/05/geodesists-use-leica-instruments/ post...

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Sometimes these people's photos remind me of Ansel Adams' "sharp pictures of fuzzy concepts" - thanks for yours, which are way ahead of them.

cidereye said...

I've just been reviewing some shots taken with a Nikon D2X some years ago and all I ask myself is "Why did I sell it?" and get the next supposedly latest & greatest toy? Best digital camera I have shot with looking back objectively.

ebbesen said...

Excerpts from Mime Spoken Here (http://www.mimedance.com/store/bookexc.html):

"""
On Technique and Artistry

Technique is impressive. Artistry is interesting.

"Impressive" alone does not stand the test of time. The next guy comes along and is taller than you, more accomplished, quicker, wealthier, busier. "Impressive" is based on relatives: more or less, better or worse, etc.

"Interesting" stands alone. When something is interesting, time stops, comparisons are irrelevant.
"""

A few years from now even the D800 will seem antiquated...

kirk tuck said...

I agree. I wish I had never sold mine.

Carlo Santin said...

I enjoy the technological march forward even if I don't participate in it as an early adopter. The new Olympus doesn't negate what came before it; the EP-2 is still a fine camera, just like my Nikon FE is still a fine camera. I still shoot with my Nikon D50 mostly because I like the camera and its output. It's like a comfortable pair of shoes that get more comfortable with time, or like my favourite bomber jacket that I've worn for the past ten winters. The camera still works for me, still pleases me and inspires me to shoot, so I still use it. It really is that simple. There are so many interesting cameras on the market in 2012, but it is easy to get caught up in the specs comparison game. Choice fatigue is what I call it, and at times it becomes easy for me to feel inadequate with my antiquated tech-a 6mp camera, my God man! But then I do what you did Kirk, I look at some of the images I've taken with my old camera,smile, and go out and shoot with it. Use what pleases you, what inspires you, what makes it easy, or easier, for you. The new Oly is gorgeous though.

Jan Klier said...

Spot on. There are many people who cling to 'measurable' metrics of success, and things that are easily controlled - sharpness of an image being one of them.

I often find in looking at some of the great images of decades past that many of them are anything but technically perfect (i.e. completely sharp), yet they're still highly regarded. So clearly sharpness is not a required attribute of an image to make it into the history books of photography.

And even then, if you browse contemporary editorials of highly regarded photographers you will often find entire image sets that place no value on focus and sharpness, yet were deemed worth publishing over what surely is a large selection of perfectly sharp images.

I think sharpness of images is focusing on the wrong point (no pun intended).

hbernstein said...

Kirk,

I've read so much back-and-forth about the D2x. Having never used one, myself, do you really feel that it it was that great compared to newer cameras? Are you talking about base iso? Or was it great at the time?

Jim Tardio said...

Agreed...here's a very recent shot taken with the slow-focusing, horribly noisy EPL-1. Of course using the fantastic Oly 45/1.8 doesn't hurt.

http://www.thelostcompass.net/index.php?showimage=263&category=28

Jim Tardio said...

Sorry...can't get the link to be clickable.

Paul Glover said...

I did second shooter at an event this past Saturday. Being all-film for my usual photography and not actually owning a digital camera suitable for the task, I opted to use the main photographer's spare body, a Nikon D70, with a 50mm/1.8D mounted. JPEG mode because he wanted it to be as minimal an editing task as possible and because we needed to shoot fast with no waiting for buffers to empty. He used his much newer Nikon digital body, I'm not sure exactly which model.

The D70, as old as the hills in digital terms. Conventional (forum) wisdom would dictate that the only worthwhile thing I could have done with the camera was locate the nearest porta-potty and drop it down the hole. Using what on APS-C is a short telephoto prime lens (without VR or AF-S, even!) to cover an event might have been frowned upon by the same wise commentariat too, now I think of it.

Against all reasonable expectations the prehistoric AF tracked the runners perfectly as they approached and as I panned to follow them, shooting off bursts of 2-3 per runner, then swinging back to catch the next incoming. The metering firmware, so old it might have been written by serious looking men in white lab coats flipping switches on some kind of console panel with many buttons and blinking lights, did a perfect job of the aperture priority exposures as people moved from the shade of trees to the sunlit finish line. The colorful assortment of issues the D70 is apparently prone to all failed to materialize.

At web size nobody but us would know which camera made which shots, and only then because we remember what we shot. I suspect that the prints will be indistinguishable between cameras, unless perhaps someone goes nuts and orders one 6 feet by 4 feet to hang in their second bathroom.

Not bad for an old and supposedly quite useless camera.

Low Budget Dave said...

My old D70 was stolen not long ago. Otherwise, it is not likely that I would be ordering a new anything. To this day, the D70, (I suspect) takes better pictures than I do.

Among other things, it takes pictures with the built-in flash at 1/500. Try THAT with a shiny new OM-D.

Dave said...

A few years ago I got my Canon 5DMkII and loved the photos. A few months later I got a Holga camera. My wife asked why I wanted a Holga. I said it's cool because it gets soft, dreamlike images and has some fun quirks. She responded "we spent $2500 to get that sharp digital camera and you want that $30 camera because it's fuzzy?"

I find I like the content of the photos more than how digitally perfect the file is. In fact, I rather like the flaws and imperfections. One of my favorite photos is one I shot wide open and completely out of focus on the subject, a girl with an umbrella in a rain shower.

I haven't fully explored the idea, but it's my impression that the desire and ability to get things digitally perfect makes imperfection a problem in our personal lives. I see it frequently in the women I talk about doing photos with. They are so upset by their imperfections that they can't stand the idea of anyone seeing them. It's messed up.

Your articles have me thinking about selling the Canon gear and picking up the OM for something small and light.

FotoEdge said...

Kirk... You really need to put an AMAZON Link on Every Page of this new style blog, I think you are missing out on a lot of passive income.

Scott said...

In olden tymes, I shot 35mm, mostly Tri-X. I developed the film, put it in the enlarger and cranked it up to 11x14 (in general the largest size I ever printed, because who has wall space for anything larger?) If the image on the easel was in focus and didn't show camera or subject movement (sometimes even if it did show subject movement), it was sharp enough, and I printed it. I don't think I ever had a correctly focused image ruined by lack of sharpness.

Jump forward to 2012. If I open an file from my Canon T2i (not remotely a high-end instrument) at 100%, PhotoShop tells me I'm looking at the central portion of a 48x72 inch image, and my nose is about 20 inches away from it. That's the perspective most internet commenters are using when they say "The Belchfire 500 sucks, because I see some smearing/noise/whatever in the corners/highlights/shadows," or "4/3 sucks because it's not full-frame." It's beyond silly.

So here's one of my blanket generalizations that always get me in trouble but I say them anyway: "If your picture was made with pretty much any camera built in the last 10 years, and it's in focus, and you think it's spoiled by lack of sharpness, it's probably not a very good picture."

Scott said...

To steal a line from an old movie: "The only way to win is not to play."