Camera Learning. Epiphany after being smug.

I thought I could intuit everything I needed to know about the RX10iii and I used about half of that camera's potential right up until I read Alexander White's book about that camera model. The book laid bare to me how little I really knew about fine-tuning the camera and shaping it to fit my shooting preferences.

I always espoused the idea of making a cursory run through the owner's manual and then just settling in for some extended use with the camera. And that's just what I did but instead of taking time in each use cycle to get to know another feature or working pathway I found myself using the camera pretty much the same way I've used almost every camera I've owned since the Nikon F5.

Why do I date my usage tendencies back to the F5? Well, that's when I felt confident enough with auto focus to capitulate and use it as my default instead of working (as I had) in manual focus.

And how did I use almost every camera? I set the mode dials to either manual or aperture priority, set the auto focus to S-AF with the center focusing sensor selected, pointed the camera and pushed the button. While that's a bit of a simplification I'll admit to being a late adopter of setting custom function buttons and setting up menu shortcuts. In fact, I'll admit that my primitive approach to camera customization is probably what led me to (prematurely) abandon my Olympus cameras. In retrospect, the EM-5.2 is really a very able video camera and a very advanced all purpose camera. You just have to invest the time and effort to really learn it. When I look at the handheld video that my friend, James, and I shot a year back I get a bit nostalgic for that almost magical image stabilization....

The issue, for me, is that in the days of un-digital cameras the controls were all pretty much the same. Mentally interchangeable. You could easily pick up a Nikon, a Canon or a Leica camera and understand everything you would ever need to know to shoot those cameras. One of the benefits to that kind of uniform control interface is that one could mix cameras with reckless abandon and never face the reality of forgetting where, in a crowded sub-menu, was the control that you were desperate to find.

I could easily go from a mechanical Hasselblad to a Pentax LX without missing a beat. Likewise, the steps for using my Linhof 4x5 camera were the same (with the exception of pulling a dark slide) as my Canonet. When we used our cameras over and over again the only thing we were getting used to was how the camera felt in our grasp. Sure, the lenses weren't interchangeable between brands but that never seemed to matter if the acquisition and use of a different brand body came with such a truncated learning curve.

I carried that poly-brand camera ethos with me for far too long in the new, menu-driven camera age. I resisted doing the deep dive into menus and features that would have made my work with some cameras more rewarding. Instead, I collected bits and pieces and tried to apply my general approach to all of them instead of focusing on one brand, one menu style, one interface.

Now I have exactly six cameras (not counting older film cameras that languish about the studio). All of them come from one maker. All of them were created and had menus installed from the current generation of that company's products. What this means for me is that I can shift from camera to camera and body to body without the frisson of having to remember different ideas about menus and control identification. This makes for a much more fluid use of the cameras in tandem.

But it was really just hunkering down and reading White's book that made me chide myself for my shallow embrace of so many previous systems. On recent projects my deeper understand of how to more finely control focus with the RX cameras and how to implement the right look across all the cameras in one project have made a big difference in my final products. A uniformity of look, engendered by a uniform selection of picture profiles, white balances and overall looks makes video easier to edit and makes mixing cameras in still photography productions much, much easier.

Recently friends have asked me if I've tried the new Fuji XT-2 or the X-Pro-2 and I have to tell them I haven't spent much time with the cameras. I have a friend who has offered several times to loan me his Leica SL and lens to test out. I paused momentarily on the Amazon.com page for the new Sigma SD Quattro H, before quickly moving on to find more Sony batteries. But the momentary truth is that I seem to have lost my taste for constant camera change, no matter how big the promise, because I know understand the depth of commitment to a system that real mastery takes.

In good conscience, and in attentive service to my clients, I can't ignore the potential of the cameras I have and how they can bring better results to the mix, if only I use them correctly and fully. That means I finally understand the benefit of a deep system dive.

I keep mentioning the RX10iii because it's a camera like the proverbial onion; it has layers after layers for you to peel back. Using it in raw for stills or in the 4K mode for video is a constant revelation. The better I know the camera the better I use the camera and the more it rewards me.

I am more amazed now than when I bought it that its 4K video is so pristine. In a head to head test with my $3200 A7Rii and my recent tests with a PXW-Z-150 video camera I can see no real difference in the files between the two one inch Sony cameras and the singular category in which the A7Rii is demonstrably better is in lower noise at higher ISO settings.

Before the hours I've spent with the Alexander White book I was using about $750 dollar's worth of my RX10's potential and now I feel like we're really just starting to get our money's worth our of it. But, mea culpa. This is what I get for being a "know-it-all" and believing my own press...

In the digital age the real mastery of a camera has to go so much deeper....


Anonymous said...

You mentioned abandoning Olympus cameras and trying EM-5.2 in the past. Any chance one of your friends would loan you the latest EM-1.2 + 12-100mm with dual and improved stabilization for few days to re-kindle your interest.
Undoubtedly RX10iii is great, but...

Kirk Tuck said...

I'm really very happy with the Sonys. If I need anything else it's probably in the realm of audio gear or repeatable camera stabilization.

Paul said...

With the Olympus the trick is to get a spreadsheet with all the settings, tweak them to see what they do, then revert to default. This way when you apply a software update you won't spend the next week resetting it to what you had.
The good news is Olympus got enough suggestions like mine to provide a settings download to file option, they've included it in the EM1 II - now they just need to be brave enough to allow settings upload from a file :)

David said...

Wow this post sounds like you finally grew up. Matured into using a camera and stoped having one night stands with various systems. I hope the marrage works. All in good fun.

Craig Yuill said...

I have had similar epiphanies in the past. In my film-shooting days I wanted to move from a Mamiya TLR system to Hasselblad - the sharpness of pictures I was getting out of the Mamiya wasn't as good as I wanted/expected. Then I read an article about how to improve sharpness by using better technique. When I put the given tips into practice it was like my equipment had undergone a significant upgrade. The need/desire to switch systems evaporated. I still have that Mamiya gear.

More recently, I have been unhappy at times with results I have been getting from my two current digital cameras. Again, working on technique and trying out different settings has lead to much-improved results of late. I am not saying that I won't upgrade gear or switch systems at some point. But the need/desire to do so is much diminished knowing that I can probably get much more out of my current gear by making a few thoughtful adjustments to technique and camera and lens settings.

Good post! And a great reminder that we should make use of manuals and other resources to really understand what our equipment can do.

amolitor said...

You missed a couple steps for the 4x5.

Yes, you pull the dark slide. Then you sigh, put it back in, reversed, close the aperture, flip the film holder over, and pull the other dark slide.

Isn't this why film holders have two sheets of film?

Jeff Kott said...

Would you mind leaving in a comment an example of a significant thing you learned about the RX10iii from White's book that you didn't know before you read it there?

Kenneth Voigt said...

I'm not sure I understood : " In a head to head test with my $3200 A7Rii and my recent tests with a PXW-Z-150 video camera I can see no real difference in the files between the two one inch Sony cameras and the singular category in which the A7Rii is demonstrably better is in lower noise at higher ISO settings."

Here is what I would REALLY like your opinion on:How do 2k video files from the Sony 6500,7RII, & RX10iii compare to each other? Is each bigger sensor better for video ? Is the 7RII better in low light for VIDEO ?
Ditto for 4K. I understand the 7RII is better at high ISO's for stills but does that also apply to video ? THANK YOU, Kenneth

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Kenneth, First of all I do not own an a6500 so can't really comment there. Video is different than photos. Since all the files are reduced down to the 4K space and fit into the picture profile chosen the obvious differences are mostly just noise performance and depth of field rendering. The bigger sensor is only obviously better at higher ISO settings and for situations where you want to have very limited depth of field. In terms of color, tone, detail, etc. the smaller file size of each video frame, and the way the frames are written does much to filter out the differences we see in traditional photography. Consider dynamic range; if all the files are down sampled from 6k to 4k in processing and all are crammed into an 8 bit, 4:2:0 color space there are inherent limitations that provide lots of common denominators between files.

My file preferences aside I think the RX10iii is a very, very good file making tool. It shoots 6K internally and down samples to 4K without pixel binning or line skipping. No sure exactly how the a7rii does its processing. The results are similar for 4K but, interestingly enough, the 2K files, shot at reasonable (under 640 ISO) settings are best from the RX10iii, followed by the RX10ii, followed by the A7rii with the a6300 in last place. This all changes a bit when switching to 4K. For best quality in 2K I'd shoot 4k with all of the above cameras and downsample in post. Given the ease of transcoding to Pro Res it's not a big ask.

Kenneth Voigt said...

Kirk: Thank you very much for your detailed response (I know you are busy).
San Antonio

Mike Rosiak said...

I had to smile at Andrew's (amolitor's) post. Been there, done that, said a few words.

Rufus said...

I would not feel too bad about giving up on Olympus. After all, Olympus does not help itself because it chooses to have the most confusing and frustrating menu system. It isnt your fault. I dont blame you at all.

By all accounts the new EM1-II takes the image stabilisation you understandably crave to even dizzier heights. It is apparently shockingly, physics-defyingly good. You still have to deal with those damn menus though.

I can only imagine that in Oly land, the menu systems are the responsibility of some wise and highly respected senior employee and no one has the courage to tell him that the menu system needs a complete rethink.

It is a shame, for me and many others the menu system nearly ruins these otherwise fine cameras.