Important announcement from the CEO of the Visual Science Lab: All serious cameras are now better than they need to be.

If you are ancient enough to remember the early days of digital photography you might remember that Kodak (the people who largely invented digital imaging...) announced that the "Holy Grail" of digital would be to match the performance of slide film.  Estimates varied but most experts at the time figured that the number to hit was about 6 megapixels. When we hit that number with the Kodak 660 and 760 cameras a lot of professionals and well heeled amateurs figured we had arrived, dumped the film cameras and stared bravely into the future. And that's when the whining started....


Marco Venturini-Autieri said...

I would like to add one thing on the comparison small vs large camera that I never see mentioned; something that can still make Canon and Nikon SLR camera "win" over the "smaller" (M43, Fuji X, etc) competitors; something that for me is very important:


True: instead of a heavy Canon EF 70-200 f/4L IS lens I could have a 35-100mm zoom, much smaller and producing the same image quality on a small M43 sensor. But I could never use the 35-100 zoom on any film camera.

Nikon, Canon and Leica are the only systems offering the photographer to use their lenses on either digital or film bodies.

For me, this is the only reason to stay with large SLRs today.

Art in LA said...

True dat! I distinctly remember when I had my "bridge" camera (a Konica Minolta Dynax A2), I desperately wanted a 6MP DSLR so that I could print 8x10 at "full resolution" (300 dpi). I'm sure I could get by with a 6MP camera nowadays since most of my favorite shots end up on the web anyway ... it is so rare that I print anything bigger than postcard sized.

I do prefer the improved high ISO performance of the newer cameras though. But you're right, my camera is way better than my skill set, just like my tennis racquets.

Unknown said...

Your analysis is right on. When I first became interested in photography in the early 70’s, my photographs were “superior” to most of my friends and family because I was using my Konica SLR (purchased used), and they were using their Instamatics. Until recently, I could continue to buy this “superiority” but now everyone has the equipment to compete with 95% of my photos. To maintain the perception of my friends and family that I am a good photographer, I now need to have a better vision, to find or provide better lighting, use better technique, and to excel at post-processing.

Due to the terrible Indiana winter, I recently have been spending too much time obsessing over new cameras and rumored new cameras and planning my next camera purchase. I spent this weekend in St. Louis and on Saturday the weather permitted a photo walk through the park to the St. Louis zoo with my Sony Nex 6 and a couple of lens. I had a great time. The camera provided files that were technically excellent and at least a few of photos were either beautiful or interesting. I had a great time! Clearly, my problem is with focus – mine. I need to focus on my picture taking and not equipment.

One final thought. It is still possible to buy “superiority.” Having lighting and lighting related products that you know how to use, as you well know, will set you apart. I am still working on this area.

Jeff smith

Anonymous said...

One of the best of your best posts, Kirk, and thank you for it. Of course, I agreed with everything you said even before I read it — because I've always loved Steichen's quote 'No photographer is as good as the simplest camera', and because my own path has to some extent followed yours. In the space of six or seven years I went from Pentax (6MP K100D) to Sony full-frame (like you, A99 first, and then A850), and now I'm working with the Olympus E-M1 and some rather nice lenses.

One small difference: I'm one of the rare birds who's not a fine art photographer but is nevertheless quite interested in printing. I believe that the pictures that don't get printed won't be around in 50 years — they'll get lost in the digital clutter — and I preach this gospel to my brides and my family portrait subjects. I am now doing more and more printing myself — and I find that the E-M1's 16 MP files print as beautifully as the A99's, at 8x10 but even at 13x19. I've concluded that, for the stuff I do, something in the range of 16MP is just about right and that 24MP is overkill. But then I remind myself that my Panasonic LX5 (a mere 10 MP) actually makes wonderful photos, too, and wonderful prints.

One last completely non-technological point: At weddings I use the E-M1's vertical battery grip, for the normal reasons (extra battery life without a change, better vertical grip control) but also because my sense is that brides expect the photographer to have a "big" camera. Without the grip, the E-M1 doesn't look "serious" to people who tend to judge books by their covers. :-)

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I understand Marco's comments. I have a Leica CL and I use the 40mm and 90mm M mount lenses on an E-pl1 PEN all the time. The 40mm f/2 is a great portrait lens on u 4/3 and the 90mm is good for tight head shots outdoors. The CL body is a backup that I take with me on important events/hikes so I know I can always get some shot if my batteries die.

As far as Kirk's thesis I agree. I purchased the E-pl1 because I felt it was the first compact camera that could take M lense that looked like 35mm film, and film cameras exceeded my skill sets anyway. The form factor is identical the the CL. I still shoot like I shot film cameras-still use a tripod, still use lowest ISO speed possible. I stil use fill flash a lot (Oly has really good on camera flash control) and off camera flash not infrequently- easy with the E-pl1 built in flash, and camera in manual mode will sync. at 1/250 sec. with manual flash. Occasionally I have to shoot at ISO 1600 (e.g. poorly lit church-no flash allowed) but then I just shoot B&W and it still looks better than Tri-X.

With fast lenses, e.g. f/2.8 or faster these u-4/3 cameras are just fine.


Paul Chance said...

So true...

It is heresy to admit among some photographers that some of your best shots where made with a lowly Nikon V1. But when used with proper technique, tripod and a handy Vari-ND filter - magic can happen with a cheap, cheap camera...

For example... http://www.achanceencounter.com/westernalberta/h37602940#h37602940

Yes, I prefer shooting with my Fuji's but that is for many reasons...

I have given up on carrying 30 lbs of gear and have proven to myself that I am the limit to my images, as you state.

Tom V said...

Brilliant and true post... Since 2006, I have shot with the 400xti, 5dmkii, e-p1, x-pro1, and the eos m... Looking through my shots, I cannot tell which camera I used... Always have to look at the EXIF to be sure...

Marco Venturini-Autieri said...

In reply to anonymous' comment who says they did not understand mine:

Of course we can adapt all sorts of lenses on all sorts of cameras. You always lose something adapting though.

Canon and Nikon 24x36mm SLRs are the only cameras that allow you to purchase lenses and accessories that you can equally well use on either film or digital cameras, no adaptations involved.

Surely, for instance, the only way of using an image-stabilized lens on a film camera is choosing either Canon or Nikon. As a mater of fact, the usefulness of IS lenses on digital is much less than on film: with digital you can shoot several frames ad high ISO that you can merge then with Photoshop to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. With film, this is not economically feasible.

Unknown said...

How many of you photograph people in dynamic settings? Because most of my people and lifestyle work would be quite challenging with mirrorless cameras–at least up until the EM-1, reputedly. With living, moving subjects, fiddling with a tripod can mean missing the shot. This was true, even with film, which is why film ISOs crept ever higher to allow faster shutter speeds in low light.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Garland, are you shooting under very low light? Or are you shooting in daylight? You know, we used to shoot very active people in the days before AF.....and even on medium format cameras. It's not that it can't be done I think it is that most people just never try it.

If it's indoors at night under crappy lighting then I guess we can all use all the help we can get.

Zephod said...

Oh, I totally agree. I have an 8 megapixel camera and I laugh at people rushing for ever more megapixels when all they do is reduce down to 1200x800 and post on Facebook or similar. Even the digital photo frames aren't that high resolution.

I don't think digital cameras have come out with anything new in years. Live view is nice but not wonderful. High ISO is more interesting. Could be why I can't sell my 580EX2 flashes.

The new mirrorless cameras look interesting until you want to do low-light photography. Personally, I'd love to sell my full size Canon gear and get into the Nikon 1 system. That looks really good.

Anonymous said...

The title is a bit misleading. "All.... are better than they need to be" is NOT the same as saying that all cameras are capable of IMAGE QUALITY that is better than it needs to be.

I agree with the second statement. But there are, unfortunately, still a great many "serious" cameras that are ergonomic horrors, lack decent viewfinders (or any viewfinder), suffer from excessive shutter shock, have mediocre build quality, poor lens selection, etc. All (well, most) imaging sensors are better than they need to be. But not all cameras

Robin Wong said...

It is because of articles like this that you so often wrote, that got me hooked to your blog and kept coming back for more.
You just summed up many thoughts and facts that people already know but do not want to acknowledge!

Anonymous said...

In response to Marco's reply:

I lose nothing in adapting my M mount lenses to an E-pl1. Those lenses were totally manual on a Leica and they are totaly manual on a u 4/3 camera as well. The only thing that is different is the viewing angle, the 40mm becomes a 80mm and the 90mm becomes a 180mm. The adapter is only 6mm deep and cost $19.00.

The analogy would be mounting old Nikon F lenses on a D5300 body.

The big advantage of the Olympus is the in body image stabilization and auto exposure. I didn't have those with the Leica CL.


Marco Venturini-Autieri said...

Hello Tedolph,
For me, film cameras do not necessarily mean low-tech. Autofocus and Image Stabilisation are important tools; with film they are even more important to have than digital, since each shot is more expensive. Only with Nikon and Canon I can buy the same modern and performing AF / IS lens and use it either on digital or film.
Said that,it is not true that you lose nothing adapting Leica M lenses on M43. Firstly you lose the super-comfortable focus/rangefinder of Leica cameras. Then, you use the lens stopped down and this in low-light can get you a bad electronic image. Not all Manual Focus was born the same. Focus peaking on an LCD is much much worse than focusing on a bright viewfinder such as the one in a Nikon F3, just to make an example.
This is why I said that the only reason for me to stay with big and chunky DSLRs is the possibility of using effortlessly the same lenses on modern film bodies.

Ashley Karyl said...

It's a great pity that the Ripe Camera blog no longer appears to exist, so it is not possible to read further beyond the paragraph at the top of this page. I did read it sometime ago and it made a good deal of sense.