A laboratory in New Jersey. ©2106 Kirk Tuck
I'm pretty sure I'm going overboard with all this "one inch" enthusiasm but please know that I'm not rushing to abandon all other formats or denigrate their use as great imaging tools for photography. I guess I'm sharing this succession of images and stories from my experiences shooting smaller format cameras on real jobs because I am personally so amazed at how well they work in lots of different situations. I believe that the smaller format cameras are important tools to have along on most projects and offer an ease of shooting that, in many cases, is unparalleled.
We all have a prejudice, based on digital camera history, that tells us that all big sensor cameras make better images than all smaller sensor cameras. If you are just measuring noise response at higher ISOs you'd be more or less correct but there is so much more that goes into the success of an image and a lot of it has nothing to do with the noise formula. Even in that arena the one inch sensor cameras I am currently using outperform the noise characteristics of even full frame camera from only a few years ago. I have only to pull up images from the Sony a850, a900 or Canon 1DS mk3 to know that this is true. So, here we are five years down the road from the introduction of the full frameSony cameras only to find that, head to head, the (currently) $700 Panasonic fz 1000 is better in low light. And with a sensor a fraction of the size.
The image above was shot in a lab in New Jersey, late last year. The first priority of that assignment was to take location portraits of twenty+ executives for a large pharmaceutical company. The style the advertising agency and client were looking for was one with a very narrow depth of field so we could drop industrial backgrounds out of focus quickly. To that end I dutifully packed up a couple of Nikon full frame cameras and some fast, prime lenses. But I also dropped the fz 1000 and a couple batteries into the case just to have a fun "personal" camera to play with in the off moments.
We got good use out of the Nikons and they performed the out-of-focus function we needed very well. The colors and the exposures were great. They should be, we had lots of time to set up on a tripod, do custom white balances and use live view to triple check everything.
Once our full day of portrait work was done we moved the next day from the board room to the factory floor to shoot processes and details that would be used to accent the web site. I started off with the camera and lens I had planned on using; the Nikon D750 and the 24-120mm f4.0. We were moving fast and a tripod is a burden on a dangerous shop floor so we needed to shoot handheld. In order to make it all work we were shooting nearly wide open. And here's where the issues started to cascade in. The lack of depth of field (a boon for portraits....) was an issue. On the shop floor I wanted deeper focus! I wanted to see whole machines sharply rendered. To do it with the bigger camera required stopping down to f8.0 or f11. That pushed ISOs way up. And even though the camera handles ISO 6400 well enough the files still fall apart (as do nearly all high ISO files) when underexposed. No matter how meticulous I was the automatic white balance was too easy to fool. And since we only had the day to get a lot done it was a time vacuum to chimp the shots and then add in needed corrections. I might get a shot of a worker moving in a certain way with a certain gesture only to find it was a bit too dark or a bit too unsharp from motion blur. Maybe the color was off. Whatever. Most of the situations were such that we couldn't stage them and there was no chance to shoot the exact same thing again.
Frustrated, I tossed the bigger cameras into a bag and we dropped the bag off in someone's office. Out came the Panasonic fz 1000. Until that day I just didn't realize how good the image stabilization is on that camera. I set it up quickly and started shooting. In nearly every frame I could have elected to shoot Jpeg (but actually shot raw...) because the automatic color balance was right on the money, nearly every time---and I could preview it in the finder as I was shooting. The same with exposure.
I used the camera mostly with the lens wide open but in the shot above I shot at f5.6 to get more depth of field. That shot, one of hundreds done in the course of a day, was done at ISO 800, handheld, and with no supplementary lighting. I am still amazed at the richness of the file and the crisp detail. To get the same basic image I would certainly have had to be at f11, at a minimum, to get the depth of field that makes this shot work. I would have been on a tripod to do that because I would need to use a slow enough shutter to make the exposure work without getting into an iffy ISO area. And I would have needed to do more post processing to get the white balance nailed in.
As a portrait photographer who loves narrow depth of field in studio and location portraits I am NOT giving up my full frame cameras. They do something that I can't duplicate with smaller sensor cameras. BUT!!!! There are many, many situations in which the smaller sensor cameras excel and give me shots that would be harder and more time consuming to do with bigger cameras. And, at the end of the day the images from the bigger cameras would not be "better."
There are reasons (for "omnivorous" professional photographers) to own a variety of cameras, just as a carpenter owns a variety of hammers or screwdrivers. Please stop inferring that just because I have discovered and am singing the praises of one format that I am jettisoning all other cameras and taking a vow to never touch them again.
The looks are different. "Nothing is good nor bad but thinking makes it so..." Shakespeare.
That being said, I can't imagine doing run-and-gun, handheld video with a manually focused, full frame DSLR. Not after having used the Sony RX10-2 in its sweet spot. Try some. See for yourself.
And thank you for reading the blog.
Below are a selection of online classes from Craftsy.com. Click the links to go and check them out.
One of the original Craftsy Photo Classes and
still one of the best!
I met Lance a couple of weeks ago in Denver
and found him to be really fun and knowledgeable
this class reflects what he teaches in hands-on
workshops in Ireland and Iceland, as well as
cool places around the U.S.
How to make what we shoot into a cohesive
train of visual thought.