From a production at Zach Theatre. ©2016 Kirk Tuck.
If nothing else I have spent the last few years unintentionally proving to myself and everyone around me that the actual camera I take out and use on a job hardly matters at all. I often come to realize this when I head over to Zach Theatre to shoot dress rehearsals. In the last year and a half I have dragged over bags full of Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic cameras; in formats ranging from one inch sensor models to full framers, and lenses as current as last week, and as old at the 1960's. But the differences between the images are less effected by the size of the sensor than by the distance to the stage, or my sense of timing and composition on any given day.
When I look at the image above I always presume it's one I made using the Nikon D750 but when I look at the exif information I find that it was done with a Panasonic GH4. I recently did some additional available light portraits for a corporate client. I thought I'd done the first round with a full frame camera and a relatively fast lens, stopped down to f4.0 so I could make sure the subjects' ears would be in focus. I presumed I was using the same combination I did the time before because the color and the out of focus rendering looked like a good match. But when I went back to Lightroom to post process the new batch I took at look at one of the earlier batches and realized that those images had been done with an Olympus EM5.2 and the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 shot at f2.0.
While many of my readers are logical engineers who thrive on the idea of finding the "best practices" of a task, and doing it over and over again, always with the same equipment, I am not wired the same way. I get easily bored with repetition; at least where the technical part of a process is involved. I like to mess things up a bit and see if I can still pull out the images I want.
I recently followed one assignment at Zach Theatre, where I shot with two full frame cameras, with a second, similar assignment where I shot with nothing but a Sony RX10ii camera. In the Theatre's final use, even across big, transluminated graphics, the images were more of less identically capable.
I have switched between formats on many assignments and have come to understand that, if the "seeing" is consistent, and the "style" of shooting is consistent, then, except under specialized conditions, the choice of camera is really incidental.
One thing that does bother me when I switch between cameras is the operational differences between cameras. I dislike having to keep an assortment of radically different camera menus in mind almost as much as I dislike having to remember, across camera lines, which functions I have assigned to what custom function buttons --- and why.
I bristle at having to stock different batteries across the brands (and across models) and I chaff at having to learn the rhythm of the batteries' inevitable declines, from model to model.
I have talked about simplifying my camera and lens choices on this blog for years. In the past I have never seemed to be able tolet go. To actually open the drawers and dump everything into some voracious camera bags and expunge them all from my life. Cameras under my care tend to proliferate like bacteria in a ripe Petri dish. A few weeks ago I was taking stock and I found drawers with Panasonic and Olympus cameras and lenses. Another drawer with Sony RX10's and a drawer filled with full frame Nikon cameras, as well as one drawer just filled with Nikon, Sigma and Rokinon lenses.
But here's the kicker. Most of the gear is almost unused, sporadically embraced and then pushed away. And then there is the stuff I used on day-to-day assignment work. While there were exceptions I usually try now to press everything toward the tender mercies of my Sony RX10ii cameras.
A couple of weeks ago a random camera sale and purchase caused a shift in my way of thinking.
I'd just spent a day struggling with two systems. I'd brought my Olympus cameras to shoot a public relations job that turned into a "flash fest." A non-stop, on camera flash situation that required great flash exposures, on the fly, with the Olympus cameras. And I must say that fast moving, on camera flash work is not their strength. If it is I have not mastered it during my years with the Olympus cameras. Back into the drawer they went.
The next job was a portrait assignment and, having been recently chastened by my experiences with the Olympus cameras in a situation in which they did not excel I decided to go with the "safe" choice and press the full frame, well reviewed, much lauded Nikon D810 into service. Everything looked great on site but back at the studio everything fell apart. The files were tedious to work with. I could never quite nail the right color balance for flesh tone and the images were heavy. Almost an exaggerated shadow density that wasn't helped much by changing profiles or settings. It wasn't awful and, after some work the files looked good, but I never struggle like this with the mirrorless cameras. They just seem to be more tightly coordinated between review images on the camera's screen and the final results on screen. At the end of a long post processing session I was left with the feeling that I could have had a chunk of my life back had I been shooting with a "lesser" camera.....
Now, most of this might be attributable to a "reverse placebo" effect in which I have poor results with cameras because I have some personal sense of dis-harmony with the cameras in question. Why else would I switch them with such ferocity?
But, of course, there is always a disruption in the stasis of my camera universe. I made the "mistake" of getting interested in the Sony a6000 as an alternative platform for my use of the Olympus Pen F manual focus lenses. I bought one. It was fun. The images from it looked great. I got hooked and bought a Sony zoom lens for the camera. I got hooked some more.
One interesting aspect of buying the a6000 was my realization that the menus between the RX10, the RX10ii and the a6000 were almost identical and, while not necessarily pretty or logical, they were very consistent. Then the a6300 landed, with its 4K video, and I added one of those to the mix for an assignment (that got cancelled...). Across two formats and four models there was a consistency in both set up and operation that was (and is) very comforting. I can pick up any one of four cameras and not have a moment of hesitation or confusion, and, at the same time, I really like the look of the files I get out of all four cameras. Pretty amazing.
As I bought more Sony cameras I used them for everything that came across my assignment calendar. I enjoyed using them. My clients liked the look of the files. One client was amazed at the quality of the videos we were pulling off the RX10ii. I genuinely smiled when I realized that all the batteries were identical and could be interchanged between all the cameras. And then it dawned on me. I was well into the process of simplifying my life, I just hadn't gotten rid of the clutter yet.
Last week I made the final step in the decluttering process; I bought a Sony A7R2, and a couple of lenses, to cover those times when I wanted to shoot full frame or ultra-high resolution, and then I packed up, traded or sold off every vestige of every other interchangeable lens camera and lens from every other system. All but a handful of lenses that I kept around because they have utility across systems.
I kept a couple of Rokinon Cinema lenses and their Nikon-to-Sony E adapters. I couldn't quite part with the 105mm f2.5 so I kept the best copy I owned. Same with the Nikon 55mm f2.8 micro lens.
When I packed a kit to go on an environmental portrait job yesterday the choosing of gear was easy, and quick. The A7R2 went into the weatherproof Pelican case, along with the 70-200mm and the 24-70mm. I tossed in the a6300 as a back-up camera, along with a few extra batteries. Nothing else to choose from. No tortured decision process and no second thoughts.
So, how did the assignment turn out? Just as it would have if I'd used the Nikon only the raw files were a bit easier to edit, and a bit more together right out of the camera. Not that one system is hugely better in the final image results but in this day and age I just can't seem to get used to going back and forth between an optical viewfinder methodology and a electronic viewfinder methodology and I'm pretty certain which one works for me.
I'm enjoying this simplification. It's nice. Three formats, all with the same handling and interface attributes. All with the same color family and rendition.
One small detail... I still haven't decided what to do with the two Panasonic fz 1000s. They are just so nice. And so earnest.