The micro four thirds dilemma. Do we have to pack for every contingency?

I'm heading up to New Jersey next to make photographs at a large industrial concern that manufactures technical products for worldwide sale. When I talked to the advertising agency about the project they indicated that our primary mission would be to take portraits of the company's executive leadership team for use on the website and, since we would already be there, we would also spend a day taking photographs of the nuts and bolts and spaces of the business. The idea, as I understood it, was that all of the images would be used on the newly re-designed website but might also be re-purposed for other media. And it's those last four words that tend to paralyze me when it comes to choosing which cameras and lenses I'll want to pack. 

When I listened to the production manager from the agency describe the project my focus went immediately to the Olympus m4:3 cameras and lenses; after all, we'd be packing to fly, and then travel to the actual location and the size and weight savings of the smaller system would be noticeable. We carry on our camera gear and that means we have to spend hours shepherding it through airports, on and off rental car shuttles, and in and our of hotels. Not to mention porting the gear around large factories. The lights and assorted lighting support gear goes into wheeled cases and is checked luggage. It's only at transition points that the burden of the lighting stuff really comes into play. 

I envisioned stuffing the two EM5.2 cameras into a smaller Domke camera bag, along with a spread of lenses that would give me the equivalent of 24-130mm in focal lengths. If we decided to do big still lives or interiors I would feel pretty confident putting those cameras on a tripod and revving up the high res mode. I've tested it and it really works. Add to that the beautiful Olympus files and it's really hard to consider leaving them behind. 

But.....there's always the specter that we'll get to the location and the client will lead with a request that we shoot some of their people or working processes (things that move cancel out the hi-res advantage of the OMD)  for use on trade show graphics or large posters. It's happened to me before....and with the very same agency. You can armchair quarterback and say that we should lock all uses down before we step out of the studio, but that's not realistic.That's not the current market.

That fear of failing to deliver the enormous, high res file, leads me to alternately consider choosing to go with the big Nikon cameras instead. They aren't as quick to work with and they weigh (comparatively) a ton but they do provide a 36 megapixel image that's hard to argue against when you need sheer resolution along with subject motion. 

I'm "test packing" today in anticipation of a week out of the studio. I'm packing two alternate variations and I must say that, from the outset, the Olympus is winning the "comfort" contest. Later this evening the Nikons will win the "bulwark against fear of failure" contest. And by Sunday afternoon I'll be so confused that we'll be back to a coin toss. 

This is my cautionary tale against having so many competing systems sitting around your studio. It's nice to tell yourself that you are prepared for any undertaking but the mentally tyrannical nature of choice is a real anxiety provoker and time waster. I actually have nostalgia for the days when I had no money and no real choices other than the single camera I had in my bag. I had so much more free time when I didn't have to decide. 

Is it really a question of technical performance or is it the illusion of  what might still constitute industrial standards, and playing to client expectations? Will we ever figure it out? Probably not. 

Some cherish one format over the other. I see the formats as style neutral.

Camera choices, yes. But the tripod is a non-negotiable necessity.

You can always pack a bigger and better camera and more expensive lenses but does it really
make any difference to many of the projects we do that rely more completely on 
our vision for the lighting and our rapport with the people we meet? Is the higher res process cost effective? Is it time efficient?

How small can you pack? How much can you carry?
More importantly, how much will you use?

Will the format and image size really effect the final result once everything is shrunken down and compressed for website use? Is medium format film capable of eliciting more of a feeling of
flakiness? Will the differences show up?

Can we get there from here with the stuff we need for a good shoot?

It's all just part of the agony of traveling to do photography for a living in modern times...

In the end it's the subject that drives the photograph, not the camera.

Does that mean I should take the Olympus cameras?  Hmmm....


Anonymous said...

I would bring the Olympus gear and the Nikon d810 with a small zoom lens as a backup in case you really think you might need it.

Patrick Dodds said...

Lenses - same thing happens: say I have two bodies and four lenses at a wedding - it's generally two lenses too many and I end up swapping them on and off when I should be shooting, moving, shooting... And that happens even after hours of torturous choosing prior to getting to the venue. Oh, and on the way there I generally convince myself that the pieces of equipment I decided to leave behind after much agonising, those will be the crucial things missing when I'm there. Sometimes I'll have a shoot late in the day and I'll even convince myself that I have to buy something for the shoot because I can't possibly do without it - not a new lens or camera (well, I might consider a lens:) ), but something cheaper / without a whole lot of learning attached - a reflector, say, or some prop or other. Of course, invariably I don't need it...

christer3805 said...

Could it be that you have too much equipment sitting around?

Mark Davidson said...

You are singing my song!

So many times I have wanted to take the small kit only to worry that I might get caught out with a request for long tele shot or an UWA shot.
The few times I have felt very confident about my gear choices I have been asked to set up something completely out of left field.
I have managed to pull it off with the available gear but it has caused me to carry a ton o' crap in my van.

That in itself breed more off the wall requests as they know I have all the lights and gear needed for most anything.

IMO the actual file size worries we have are self created since we made clients very happy with the older lower res cameras for years. I feel that in most applications, even largish print,the 16MP file of a ยต43 camera will do splendid work.

It is only our pixel peeping at 400% that undoes our confidence.

Mike said...

Would the Nikon D750 be a nice compromise? I just got one and haven't really taken it out to play yet, but it does have a substantial weight advantage over my D700. Can't touch my E-M5, though.

John Camp said...

I'd just take the Nikons. If you've got to take lighting equipment and equipment cases, you're already committed to hauling a ton of stuff around, so the difference in weight between the m4/3 and the Nikons won't matter much...and, I know this sounds dumb, but have you thought about driving? Three days up, three days back, but you have your own vehicle and all your stuff...I only suggest it because I personally enjoy cross-country drives, and if you could bill for part of it...

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Mike, I have to state again that we never, ever go on location without a back-up body. In the case of my Nikon system the only back-up I have for the D750 is the D810. Not a bad back-up but not a low weight option. Still, the D810 and D750 plus three well chosen lenses wouldn't be too bad and seems to be the way I am leaning right now. By the way, I love the D750; it may be the best compromise of price/performance and size in the whole Nikon universe.

Kirk Tuck said...

christer3805, Is that even possible?

amolitor said...

Yeah but when you're at the gig and there's some shit going down in the bathroom, are you gonna take that gangster down with some m43 system?

No you ain't.

ODL Designs said...

The high resolution mode does work with moving subjects, you simply have to brush in the moving subject with the 16mp file... The two files process the same, auto align perfectly then you simply brush in the 16mp file.

To be honest in my experience photographers have a lot of overkill.

mikepeters said...

Hey Kirk,

Where you going to be up here in the Garden State? I'll buy you dinner if you're within a reasonable driving distance.

Up here in NJ where I work, my sixteen megapixel files of people doing stuff, sometimes on a dark stage shot at very high iso's, wind up on ten foot square theater posters, twenty five foot tall banners hanging from the ceiling of an atrium, thirty foot wide wall wraps, or billboards on the highway. Not to mention the six foot tall pull up banners that proliferate these days, often sliced from a horizontal image.

Yup, all that from sixteen measly megapixels. Remember when the Canon 1Ds MkII came out and we all just about died and went to heaven with those gigantic files that we could do ANYthing with? Yup, sixteen megapixels.

Rarely does anything that is screen printed resolve enough detail to take advantage of the D810 files. Yes, if you're making 2880 ppi fine art prints at some big size, say over twenty four inches on the short side, then you might need all of that info. But even then, if it's moving people doing stuff, probably not.

From what it sounds, the Olympus cameras will be more than sufficient for what you're doing, even if they go large with some of the images. No one will ever know that you used so few megapixels.