Child Departs for College. Forlorn Parent/Photographer takes to the streets with a camera. And other stuff.

Boy says goodbye to the critical member of the family, The Studio Dog.

So it's all played out now. We drove the boy to the Austin airport and sniffled as we watched him go through security and then we drove back home and looked around the empty house. The Studio Dog knew something was afoot and she eyed us with harsh judgement for somehow banishing her best friend. 

I kept my camera over my shoulder to get a few last snaps like this. 
Not a great image but one that Belinda, Studio Dog and I will 
like having around until the winter holidays. 

Then of course I shook off all the sentimental fussiness, grabbed my favorite walking around optical machine and headed out to do the routine route; the quick tour of downtown Austin. I had my shooting camera perfectly set up. I was using the Olympus OMD EM-5 (in black) with the full on battery grip, the miraculous 25mm f1.4 Pana/Leica lens with hood, all held together with a black cloth strap that's soft and pliable and compfy to wear over one's shoulder. Auto ISO, aperture set at f4.0-f5.0 and color turned up to exciting. There is something very comfortable about the way the EM-5 is laid out, especially when one adds the battery grip to the whole package. It's just a fun camera to shoot and the Pana/Leica normal focal length lens is just right. 

The neat thing about walking through familiar territory is noticing all the things that have changed. The progress of giant, new building projects. A flock of new industrial cranes. The progress of the new $300,000,000 library building, built on some of the most valuable property in Austin, during an age when everyone downtown has instant internet access to almost anything written and nearly for free on their laptops and their phones. I'm always puzzled by the reason for the new library and also its location and who it is intended to serve...

But the Olympus camera does a nice job documenting the construction and the library's share of cranes...

I took a bit of heat around the web for my prediction that Canon and Nikon would eventually run into trouble if they didn't start introducing some innovations that other companies have already mainstreamed, like EVFs. I couched it all in terms of reducing the feedback loop of picture taking. Many traditionalist rushed to defend the optical viewfinder and disparage the whole idea of needed progress. The main reasons they trotted out in defense of OVFs were sports photography that requires AF tracking and a quaint subsection of photography called, "BIF." 

BIF (damned abbreviations and jargon!) is supposed to stand for "birds in flight." In another age they would have been referred to more poetically as, "birds on the wing." Apparently, and almost unbeknownst to me, there are legions of people who take their cameras out and try to shoot very tightly cropped images of birds as the birds fly around. This apparently requires the use of optical viewfinders. Given that sparrows and even hawks are pretty damned tiny, not to mention the dimensions of a finch, I would think that people who practice this unusual pursuit would probably need 800 or 1200mm lenses to have even the remotest chances of filling the frame with the flying trophies. Which means that their cameras pretty much must be on tripods as the last time I looked those lenses were devilishly heavy and unwieldy. Not the sort of optical construction that one hand holds. 

I presume all that stands between success and failure is the magic of phase detection auto focus. Hence the imagined need for the optical viewfinders. I imagine that all of this must have been true until the Panasonic GH4 with its DfD focusing magic. I've tried it with a borrowed Panasonic 100 to 300mm and it's pretty good. That 300mm has the reach of a 600mm on a full frame camera but I still don't think that's enough magnification to fill a frame with a flighty and nervous bird in flight. On the wing. All BIF-oriented. I'm going to venture a guess that the limiting factor for BIF-ing with m4:3 is not the AF or the AF-tracking but the availability of very fast, long lenses. 

I'd be interested to know where all these BIF images end up. I don't ever see them as I scout around the web looking at images and sites by photographers. I've never seen or heard of an ad agency requesting a BIF-fer and outside of a few low pay nature magazines I've never seen a printed BIF magazine cover either. Are there readers of VSL who regularly BIF?  I'd be interested to hear in the comments your rationale for spending valuable time looking for and tracking the photographing birds on the wing. What drives you to take these kinds of images and what real world impediments are various cameras and lenses putting in front of you? And what do you do with the successful images once you've captured them?

The other rebuttal from the must have/love the OVF crowd is the old standby, SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY. And again, I'm guessing that we're really concentrating on soccer, track and field and American football. Baseball is so unbelievably visually boring (as well as constrained to small, bound spaces) and slow moving that I can't imagine any modern camera not fast enough to catch the endless spitting that seems to constitute the majority of the time spent on field by the players.  Need to catch the action? The batting swing takes place at a stationary position at home plate. They stand still. You have all the time in the world to lock focus. Next, they slide into first base. Again, all you need to do is focus on first base. It doesn't move around! Pop fly? Again, the slow trajectory of a pop fly gives you endless time to lock onto whoever is positioning themselves to catch the ball....

And I know all the cameras are capable of covering swimming. The sport is highly predictable and very linear. You can prefocus on the start. You can prefocus on the finish. You can track a straight line swim. (But you'd be better off going manual and tracking along with the race since water splashes routinely trick the AF and cause shifted focus...

What other sports require fast AF? Do you deal with that sport? Really? Just about every camera made in the last year will do a decent job with most sports. But I'll readily admit, having photographed a lot of top tier gymnastics, that using a top of the line (Nikon D4) with a newish 300mm f2.8 is going to get you a specific look and do it without missing very many frames, even on the rush to the pommel horse. It's specialized. Really specialized. I'd probably use a couple of D4's and some big fast lenses if I made a good living photographing that sport...Something with a huge buffer and great high ISO performance. You'll need it since flash is banned from competitions.

So do you shoot lots and lots of sports? The kinds of sports that move fast (not bowling or golf...) and erratically? Well, maybe you will have to wait a few years until the EVFs become absolutely instantaneous and maybe you will have to wait until the big fast primes come to m4:3 and other mirror less cameras. I can accept that. But I also think that people who never shoot anything moving faster than their lunch like to trot out these arguments because they don't like to think about the future and they don't like to acknowledge change. I look at a lot of portfolios and web sites. Again, not seeing the huge volume of demanding sports imagery.

Finally, two people mentioned the fact that EVFs eat batteries and they mention having day long assignments that mean having to change batteries with an EVF cameras. I laughed my ass off when I read that. Apparently no one remembers the days of pro digital cameras working on metal nickel hydride batteries. My big Kodaks got about 80 shots out of what seemed to be a one pound battery. My buddies who shot with the Nikon D1x carried around five or six batteries to get them through the day and that was a time when there were few third party batteries and the Nikon battery product was something like $125 a whack. 

I just bought a couple of extra batteries to use with my Olympus EM5s for a trip this Fall. I bought Wasabi Power replacement batteries for cheap. I can buy two of them with a charger for about $25. If I'm shooting with the EM-5 and the battery grip it's rare not to get through a shooting day without changing a either battery. I bought them for the extraordinary times when I might shoot a crap ton of images and stay late to shoot some more. It takes me a few seconds to change out a battery. This is an argument upon which the entire decision to skip or embrace a system is based upon? Ridiculous. 

But underneath all of the rhetoric it was never my intention to "sell" a system to anyone or to claim that one system was the perfect fit for all humans who photograph. My argument was that EVFs bring some powerful shooting tools to people that make shooting in most situations easier, more satisfying and fun, more controlled and more predictable. EVFs and their "always on" feedback loop of pre-chimping imagery are easier cameras for rank amateurs to use well, and in the hands of skilled users they offer certain advantages that aren't duplicated nearly as elegantly by various, traditional live view schemes on mirrored cameras. I don't own stock in any of the mirror-less camera making companies and I'm not out shorting Canon and Nikon stocks on the Nikkei. I'm making observations based on my experience and the feedback I hear (constantly) from well schooled enthusiasts and pros. The leitmotif is that once you've pre-chimped with a good EVF you'll never want to go back. The other verse is, once you've shed two thirds the weight of a big kit and still realize that you can take just as great a photograph you'll never want to go back to being a pack mule. It's pretty much logical. 

But Kirk! You just told us last week that you bought a Nikon D7100. What the hell is up with that? 

I'm in a government program for photographers that's modeled on the agriculture programs here in the U.S. The government pays me big bucks and gives me tax credits to buy equipment I don't need and then put it in a boxes and promise never to use it.... (JUST KIDDING). 

But seriously, I do photography for a living and have done so for many, many years. Not all jobs fit one set of cameras and lenses. If I shoot exterior architecture that requires in-camera perspective control I'll rent (not hire, that's what you do with people....) I'll rent a Canon 5D 3 and a couple of perspective control lenses. We don't have those in m4:3rds. If a client comes to me and asks for files that can, A. be blown up to huge sizes, and, B. Examined at very close viewing distances, I'll probably rent a medium format cameras and the right lenses. Or, at the least, I'll rent a Nikon 810 and the right stuff to go with it. But those are just every once in a while situations and those are not cameras I want to use on a day to day basis to shoot stuff that's largely destined for the web. 

The D7100 fits a special niche. I do shoot a lot of event style stuff.  I need at least one camera and flash in my bag that is great with flash photography. Not pretty good, but great. Fast moving flash. Not set up with slaves or CLS and chimp flash but ready, aim fire, got it, good flash. I wasn't getting that with my Sonys (which I sold) and I wasn't getting it with my Olympus or Panasonic cameras and their flashes. I needed it and wanted it so I researched and experimented and liked the D7100 and it's circle of usable, iTTL flashes. The proof is in the eating of the pudding and my first two jobs that required quick, automated flash went even better and more deliciously than I expected them to. I also used the D7100 for some detailed images of museum artifacts against white backgrounds. Not with the auto flash but with a big studio rig. I chose to use the D7100  because I still have a collection of Nikon macro (micro in Nikon parlance) lenses and, locked down on a tripod in a studio, the live view is good enough. I was shooting for maximum resolution. Sorry m4:3 guys but a good, big 24 megapixel sensor can still do some stuff very well. Especially this new sensor from Toshiba.

At any rate it's all good stuff and it all mostly fun to shoot. There are constant trade-offs between ultimate image quality and haptics. Weight and fun. Speed and obtrusiveness. Etc. etc. The bottom line is that everyone gets to shoot with whatever they want. But as far as reading comprehension goes it's not okay to read into an article whatever the hell you want and then go spew your inaccurate interpretation into the marketplace. We will all eventually be shooting with EVFs and when they are fully exploited there will be very few people who will be able to discern the difference between the EVF and an OVF.  The secondary reason for the  technical/manufacturing shift will be cost savings and profits for the makers. Little hi-def screens are much, much cheaper than silvered precision glass pentaprisms.

Cameras will get smaller and smaller until they reach an equilibrium between size and handling. The phone camera acceptance shows us that. Sensors will get better and better and at some point we'll stop talking about them altogether. Then we'll focus on "magic lenses" and have the same kinds of battles over optics. I'll keep shooting what I like for fun and writing what I think photography is all about now and in the near future. The distant future is largely unknowable. 

We're past the point where every little specification is "mission critical." We've hit critical technical mass and we'll be staying here for a while. That's why it will be so hard, economically, on all the camera makers. 

My walk downtown was therapeutic and fun. The files from the EM5 are great. Just as good as the GH4. At the sizes I use them they are as good as the files from any camera on the market. Maybe better if pleasing color is a primary metric. 

You can hold onto whatever you like but eventually everything will change and we'll be looking at new ways to make the same old images. And then it might even dawn on us to try and make new kinds of images. And I'm all for that.

Please help support 
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buying and reading our latest book.
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....what else? A photographer.

Final Note: Ben has arrived at college, moved into his dorm room, had two delicious meals, unpacked and met his room mates and suite mates. All the worrying about logistics on my part is over. I hope he has maximum fun. He deserves it.