6.21.2013

How am I shooting now? What's changed in the past few years? Months?

hardly looks like hydrogen to me...

I'm nothing if not flexible in my adaptation to new toys and tools in my business and hobby. For years I worked mostly with big Nikon and Canon cameras and I would buy "point and shoot" compact digital cameras for fun shooting, or in situations where the image was secondary to the actual experience. I bought into that paradigm for the same reason we all do; it was the prevailing thought structure for photographers, reinforced by advertising and group reinforcement. A perpetual motion machine, stuck in place by its own inertia and centrifugal force. For me the walls of the construct began to change with the introduction of really convincing point and shoot digitals like the Canon G10 (which I sorely regret selling a few years back), and various, similar cameras like the Panasonic LX-5. I even went through a dalliance with long zoom range bridge cameras and my equipment cabinet was littered with Canon SX20's, 30's and 40's until Ben and his friends sacrificed a number of them to the vagaries of kinetic video production or random skate boarding accidents. We still have one or two hanging around for "high risk" situations...

But the cameras that broke the big camera hegemony for me were the second generation of Olympus Pen micro 4:3rds cameras and their subsequent Panasonic cousins. With the Olympus EP-2, and later, the EP-3 I experienced comparable image quality (compared to my previous bigger cameras, not exactly to contemporary big cameras) which allowed me to embrace the smaller cameras and do work that was very satisfying for me. The proof of value for me of the new, small system cameras became evident on a spur of the moment trip I took to Marfa, Texas (and points west) in the Spring of 2010. On that adventure I took only EP-2 and EPL cameras and assorted lenses. My images were everything I'd hoped they would be and the 12 megapixel files were fine and dandy for prints up to 15 by 15 inches. (Go print something from a small frame camera like a Sony RX100 or a Nikon V1 and you'll likely end up questioning your previous cache of beliefs about quality and camera cost/size equations. Really).

As of the beginning of this year I had only one remaining prejudice/long held belief/precept of faith and that was the firm and tenacious religiously held belief that I could not and would not use a camera that had no eye level viewfinder. Just wouldn't do it. Interesting that for the last month I've been coming up to speed with a camera that has......no eye level viewfinder. It's a Samsung NX 300. And in the spirit of total disclosure I must state that the camera was sent to me by the folks at Samsung for free. They have given me the camera. The tenuous string they attached (but without a legally binding contract...) was a request that I post 4 images a week to their Facebook page between now and September. Considering that I tend to shoot four images in any given hour of the day I thought it would be an easy mark to achieve. 

My finder prejudice made me a bit reticent to accept the offer but only a fool turns down a free camera with lots of potential so I decided to put aside my own self induced moratorium re:  this class of camera and give it the old college try (but without the faculty politics).  Long story short the casual viewfinder style of shooting is so different and even purging to me that this has become my de facto carry around camera. While it might have seemed churlish and challenging for me to bring my full frame Sony cameras to Chris Archer's grand video project it seemed natural for me to bring along a small and inoffensive, tourist-style camera with which to capture behind the scenes images. And  truth be told it was remarkable facile to use in the low light and dusty environment. Since I have only the kit lens I wasn't about to change lenses with the sand flying around and I found two ways to hold the camera (by using tension on the neckstrap) that allowed me to hold the camera without much shake at all.

What initially drew me to use the camera more and more were the very clean files and the very neutral look of the color. Very nice files with a high degree of sharpness. The second thing that cemented my daily, casual use of the camera is its innocuous look. While it's nicely designed it does scream "consumer product" in its very contenance. 

On my first outings in bright sun I had all the viewing problems I'd anticipated, the screen was all but invisible to me without prodigious efforts to screen it with my hands, black baseball cap, part of an discarded garbage bag. As a result I started taking a large Hoodman loupe around with me when I knew I'd be shooting in the sun. The other detriment to anyone in my age group will be your ability to focus on the screen with acuity. I can do it well enough for casual images but I work better if I stick a pair of reading glasses in my pocket as an assist. Now that I do that I've started to leave the training wheels (the loupe) at home and work with more confidence in the field. It may also be that I've narrowed down the feature set I like to work with and don't need to hit the menu as often.


The fruits of my labors...

Now I'm comfortable using the camera like a hipster. Eventually I'll find a small screen protector that folds out and shades the screen a bit. I'll keep the glasses at hand. But it all started me thinking today as I was reviewing images I'd been making with the camera. Beyond my own weaknesses (proximate vision) what was at the heart of my prejudice against using the camera in this fashion?  Afterall, I'd spent the better part of 20 years staring down into a reversed, ground glass screen on my Hasselblad (the big difference being that the H-Blad screen was much darker, much less resolved and much harder to see without popping up the magnifier and essentially sealing off the viewing system from outside light). And it was the same manner of viewing for the many Rolleiflex and Mamiya twin lens cameras I owned and used promiscuously over the years...

So really, all the Samsung NX 300 needs to make me love it without conditions is the equivalent of the Hasselblad waistlevel finder with pop up maginifier that worked so well for so long.

Once I jump that hurdle there is really nothing I like less about this camera's interface or image quality than what I get with my Sony Nex cameras. In fact, the menu in this camera is much, much cleaner and better! The images are different. The Sony's seem to have a bit more color and tonal bite than the Samsung but the Samsung files are more open and don't have an oppressive or heavy feel to the colors.

Here's something I didn't expect when using the rear screen...I've reverted to a much more careful compositional rigor than I employ when I use an eye level composition method. Much more rigorous! I look for the out of focus stuff in the background and I'm much more aware of juxtapositions of shapes and people. I'll admit it, I'm kind of hooked. 

Note to Samsung: Send me a couple more bodies and three or four juicy lenses and I'll trade you for my Nex stuff. I'm learning a new way to shoot and, yes, I could do the same with the screens on the back of the Sony's but I have to do it this way with the Samsung. Maybe I needed to be pushed more...

At any rate the Samsung is a hands down winner in my book and I'm adjusting quickly to my hipster/dirty baby diaper camera hold....well as much as I can. I still look around to make sure no "real" photographers are around before I do it. Old habits and pretensions die hard.

Kirk Tuck tries the "retro" setting and is mildly pleased.

Ahhh. Caffee Medici. A variation from coffee on a hot summer afternoon. Loving the out of focus areas in the background.

Muted color and long dynamic range means lots of room to play in post...

It's Friday morning and I'm procrastinating because I have two writing assignments due by the end of the day. I'll make it.  By the skin of my teeth....

23 comments:

Roland Tanglao said...

it ain't the camera or or the viewfinder it's all about the photographer. love your photos no matter what tech you use because of their composition and light!

dario dasar said...

I am glad to know that you are under contract with Samsung

atmtx said...

Kirk, the question is, which is more of an insult. The stinky baby diaper hold or the hipster hold?

Does this also mean that you are no longer going to ask me "Where's my EVF?" when we next meet? ;-).
I see the force is strong with you and it's good that you rely less on the targeting computer.

Kirk Tuck said...

no contract. just a summer time quid pro quo.

Kirk Tuck said...

better to have one and not use it than to want one and not have one.

Peter F. said...

Hi Kirk, Until you mentioned the camera was free, I was going to suggest that a try with the NEX5R would be worthwhile, as it too is small and lacks the EVF... yet all the glass you already have for the NEX7 will work on it.

I recently bought the NEX5r at a price that must have been a one day error on Amazon and it augments my NEX6 and OMD. Like the Samsung, the smaller format makes it an eassy carry around esp. with the 16-50. Because of my progressive glasses, I find that holding it at chest height allows me to shoot without tilting my head back, and the tilting screen helps with this....

Peter

Michael Matthews said...

Happy to see that you remember the images from your Marfa trip as being significant.

They'e what sold me on trying a remaindered Olympus E-PL1...and what will probably lead to another Olympus camera with better internal image stabilization and more up-to-date sensor.

Who knows, maybe the Epson-made VF-4 viewfinder (on Olympus or Sony) will get me close enough to my memory of the Pentax Spotmatic experience to make the whole thing truly enjoyable again.

In the meantime, if the flamers writing to various forums pick this post to scream about being "bought" by Samsung, just let it roll on by. Your readers know better.

Kirk Tuck said...

It'll take more than an EVF-less camera and a kit lens to budge my ownership/allegiance needle. And it's only right for me to disclose that the camera was free. I don't think the FTC would think any differently...

Thanks for the nod of confidence. The reality is that all of today's cameras are pretty darn good.

Kirk Tuck said...

Andy, I think "hipster hold" is the more perjorative.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Like Michael, I remember your articles about your lone trip to the desert. I was sooo jealous. Only the horse with no name was missing...

Frank Grygier said...

Andy must be beside himself with glee for is not the only stinky me.

Brad Calkins said...

What got me to switch to a smaller mirrorless system and ditch the dSLR was that while it was perhaps a generation behind due to the smaller sensor, it was as good as the previous generation of APS-C. And wasn't the original Canon 5D the ultimate consumer camera in its day and good enough for me at the time? Didn't I tell myself the Canon 40D or 7D etc would be the best camera I'd ever owned for IQ? And this year's MFT mirrorless as as good as any of those models (DOF is a separate topic!). In the end it was freeing to know I was no longer pursuing the ultimate in image quality and just focussing on my photography.

Your comment on being more critical when using the LCD is kind of what I've found. While many seem to revel in giant full frame viewfinders, I actually prefer the slightly smaller OM-D EVF or APS-C viewfinders. I don't lose track of the corners! I picked up a Pentax K-1000 last night and can't believe how dark it was, and how hard to focus in low light (for me). I don't understand why anyone would reject useful tools outright, just because they are new - so glad to see you are coming around to using the LCD. EVF + LCD is the best of both world's for me, but it is hardly the case that an LCD only would prevent me from getting images in bright sun :). That said, I do enjoy shooting with an EVF and outdoor swim meets - I don't find telephotos and action shots very easy on an LCD.

Jaladhi Pujara said...

Great to read your honest thoughts about this system. I hope Samsung sends you their 45mm f1.8 and the 85mm f1.4 NX lenses. 45mm is a lightweight lens that provides a nice short telephoto option while the 85mm f1.4 can compete with the best 85mm portrait lenses currently available from any brand.

David said...

Kirk,
Whats your take on the new Galazy NX? The one feature of it that I actually think could be interesting is the voice control. 3 iterations down the road, it could be really good. I would love to hold a camera with EVF to my eye. Say Manual mode, 1/500, f4. Then say what aperture or shutter I want. No Menu, No Buttons, no problem. Would be a dream.
David.

Kirk Tuck said...

I actually love that big screen. It would be pretty cool for studio work. I'm angling for them to send me one to test out. I'm pretty good at angling....

Wally said...

Now if only Samaung could get pocket wizards to come pit with a Samsung compatable version.......

Michael Ferron said...

Am in love with my Olympus EPL5 and use the VF2 most of the time but have no problem using the nice tilt screen on the rear for off angle shots. I do have to say in general that I still don't like stinky baby viewing. On a tripod for studio? Tilt screen viewing is perfect and preferable.

atmtx said...

Yeah, I agree the hipster hold is much worse. Now I might have to run out and get an EVF!

sixblockseast said...

I was waiting for you to get a chance to use a Samsung NX camera and am not surprised you like it so much. My NX10, which has a much older sensor and slower autofocus than the NX300 (but does have an evf), is keeping me very happy. I'm sure you know you can use legacy lenses also with the NX mount? Some of my favorite photos with the NX10 have been taken with an old Minolta Rokkor 55mm f1.7 lens.

Alan Green said...

I am beginning to think that the development of digital cameras is a perfect example of sods law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. First they were the size of bricks, while miror-less gave us useless viewfinders. I know as I brought an EVF3 for my son so he had a small camera to cover the Olympics. Then at last when I enthuse in my old age about the EVF4 along comes the Samsung with no view finder. Which is then hailed as a great camera.

Then there is the shutter release, particularly if we start using cameras from out waist looking down. I was raised on the Rolleiflex so have always considered the shutter release is in the wrong place. Surely it should be on the front of a camera at the bottom on the right. Over eighty, jut thinking aloud.

fotographx said...

I myself have been wondering where my photography is going. A short while back, due to illness I had difficulty carrying around my 5Dii and three lenses. I opted for a Lumix GF3 so I went from a 5 lb camera to a 17 oz camera. I had the ability to do some of the same things technically and I really liked a lot of things about that camera especially the Q menu which I loaded with all my favorite settings. The touch screen was really great and I absolutely loved the ability to use the touch screen to place my point of focus. Alas I got around the problem with the LED screen and sunlight but I tend to shoot lots of low light stuff and the IQ wasn't where I wanted it to be. Photos were great at 100 ISO but ISO 800 they were getting a bit to noisy for me. I've now switched to a Sony NEX 5R with a Fotodiox adapter so I can mount my Canon lenses. I've also added a EVF and if I want I also got a hot shoe the will work my Pocket Wizards. I take this camera with me almost every day when I walk. So far it has been great. I'm maybe at times wishing that I have f-stop control but so far I've managed to work around it. The IQ is comparable to my 40D and the Pano option means that I no longer have to carry a wide angle lens or a T/S. I carry around also a Canon Elph 110 HS as my macro lens and sound bite collector. I'm always using the EVF once it was on the camera I haven't taken it off. I'm thinking as technology improves these micro four thirds cameras will be very popular. I've gone out with both the Sony and my 5Dii on occasion and end up using the Sony most of the time. Exposure was a great issue so I used the Sony's HDR ability to compensate and that worked well for me. My health is better now but I'm really not missing carrying 20-30 lbs of camera gear around to get 'a' photo anymore. Scouting or walk around stuff I grab the Sony with the Tamron 18-250 lens and I've got just about all the coverage I need. Recently I've added a follow focus for my Sony. I've sort of gotten into doing video stuff. So like I said I'm wondering where my photography is going at the moment. Currently I'm sort of using the Hybrid Sony/Canon combo and liking it. I know that studio work will be done by my Canon gear simply because I'm set up for it that way, although in a pinch I could use the Sony. I like your out of the box thinking about camera gear. I'm a the worst photo ever is the one not taken kind of guy. It doesn't matter what camera I'm holding.

Andrea Costa said...

There is difference between the Stinky Diaper and the Hipster holds: the Hipster one requires that You bend back your body while composing. It's artsy, you know.

Andrea Costa said...

I think that rejecting a new tool is connected with being proud of "old-days acquired craftmanship". I mean: you encounter the inescapables limitations of a certain technology, but with hard work you learn to overcome it - and you get excellent results. But now, here it comes a new tool that helps newcomers to bypass some of the old limitations, leaving them free to pursue their visions without caring of the technical aspects. And when some of them can produce excellent results with less efforts, the old-schooler feels "threatened"... not understanding that, in the end, "no one cares about how much you have worked"...