A few quick, post Thanksgiving notes. The camera you know is the camera you love. And hate.
I'm still working diligently on my comparison between the Fuji and the Panasonic cameras. Both are the most current models from each maker so there should be no question about comparing older models to newer technology. It's a slog and the addition of the 50mm f2.0 XF lens has created the need to shoot a bit more... Both the G9 and the X-T3 are very good cameras. One excels at handling and the other is a very, very competent photograph maker. I'll have more to say after this week's corporate shoot in three states...
My first note here is just an example of my meandering single-mindedness. One of the first accessories I bought for the Fuji cameras, after extra batteries and an aftermarket flash, was an inexpensive Pen FT to Fuji FX lens adapter. Yeah, you know why.... I had to see if the ancient Olympus 60mm f1.5 worked on the new cameras. I am happy to say that it does and I've been in manual focus, Acros black and white heaven since yesterday. Granted, I haven't had much time to use the combo (X-E3+60mm) but what I have done with them makes me smile. The lens is still an amazing example of just how great some of the lenses from the late 1960's and early 1970's were... It's still a great fast lens and the APS-C crop factor makes it a 90mm portrait lens equivalent.
Several readers have written to tell me that I must try the 55mm f1.2 Fuji lens and add that it's just right for me. Well, no. It's not. It's too short a focal length; by about 5mm. It may be exhilaratingly sharp and sassy but 60mm is where it all starts for a nice headshot in APS-C. Believe me, I've shot the format more than once. But while we're on the subject I'm given to understand that the 50mm XF f2.0 is sharper in the center than the 55mm f1.2 anyway. If I'm going to carry around the weight of the 55/1.2 I'd make a different choice and grab the 16-55mm f2.8 for about the same money. More choice = fewer lenses to carry.
At any rate, I've got the 60mm f1.5 on the X-E3 body and it's pretty sweet. Reminds me of the old Leica LC cameras. Lightweight and fast to use. Not the world's best ergonomics but then the CL wasn't that great to hold either... The files are nice though. As was the film that came from the CL's 40mm Summicron.
As you might know, I've been working for over a month now for a corporate client which has me photographing exterior, environmental portraits at huge infrastructure project sites across the continental United States. I've traveled a lot and have shot nearly 6,000 images. Mostly with a G9 and two great lenses. Just looking at Lightroom stats I see that the lens I seem to be grabbing most, on this job and in conjunction with the G9, is the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8/4.0. I don't know exactly why but I'm guessing my sub-conscious brain is guiding my choice based on the idea that the camera and lens combo offer dual I.S. and that it must be something special since it's all over the camera maker's advertising.
I think I'm on to something here. Once I started using the combo on these remote location assignments I got confident enough to leave my Gitzo tripod at home and depend on my ability to handhold the camera and lens. The way I'm packing for next week goes in one of two directions; either all m4:3 gear or all Fuji. If I go with the m4:3rds stuff (which I may because of weather and the comfort of experience) I've pared the equipment down to two lenses and two camera bodies. If I go in that direction I'll take two G9s and both the Panasonic 12-60mm and the Olympus 12-100mm Pro. They both fit into the parameters I've established on my first 16 locations and they provide the perfect back up strategy for each other.
Last week, when I came home from shooting on the same project, with the Fuji X-T3 and the 18-55mm f2.8-4.0, I was happy with the results and ready to substitute the new system for the G9 system. The images looked great, the backgrounds looked great and I pretty much figured out most of the handling issues and settings. What I didn't get absolutely right was well covered by the safety net of shooting raw. So why am I suddenly leaning back toward the small sensor encampment?
It all has to do with how stuff really works rather than theoretical pondering. I've been told that the Fuji has: more dynamic range, better color, more DOF control, etc., etc. and so it should be obvious to me that it's the superior camera system. But experience shows me that the difference in ultimate quality is finer than I ever imagined. Talking about the difference between similar working files is like trying to describe the difference between kinds of fog. In a fog. The differences just aren't as substantive as we are being led to believe. Not in any meaningful way.
This became clear to me as I was working on the part of every assignment that determines a project's ultimate success: post processing and retouching.
My client put together a short list of 120 portrait images that they wanted retouched and made ready for public relations and advertising use. Now, instead of glancing at a SOOC image on a screen and making presumptuous comments I would have to get my hands dirty (metaphorically) and see how the 20 megapixel raw files actually perform when shot the way I shoot. No test chart tacked to the wall. No tripod mounted, remote triggered preciousness. No time to re-shoot and no time to wait for wind to die down or rain to stop. Just make photographs.
The thing that kept my keeper rate high (technically) is that we decided (client+Kirk) that I'd shoot the exterior portraits with an off camera flash and a small soft box or umbrella. The flash does such a great job of freezing small amounts of motion and allows one to actually zoom in on a monitor and look at the fine detail a lens and sensor together are capable of producing. Many of the images were taken in full sun so I had to put up a diffusion panel to prevent direct sun from hitting my subjects, although I did use some direct sun (from time to time) as backlight.
But since there were strong contrasts between deep shadow and daylight exposure that pushed highlights to the brink of burnout a lot of my post production was aimed at making the most of the dynamic range in the raw files. Many times I'd have the shadow slider in Photoshop cranked up as well as the highlight slider. Trying to pull useful detail from a wooded area in shadow while at the same time pulling down highlights on heavy equipment and even water.
All the files have been shot at ISO 200. All the same for the Panasonics and all the Fujis.
I have now spent twelve hours working on the client selected Panasonic files; stopping to compare them to files taken with a Nikon D810, a Sony A7Rii and the X-T3. Shot correctly (meaning: no blown highlights, keeping the shadows as open as possible, and, most importantly, getting the WB correct in camera) the differences at the same magnification are mostly things like differences in depth of field and differences in sharpness of lenses. Key things like noise, resolution, color integrity and dynamic range are all pretty much the same if you are viewing the photographs on a nice monitor. I also find that each camera's look, if the file was originally shot in raw (meaning I was re-working raw files) could be nearly identically mimicked by any of the other cameras using the same raw processor.
If all cameras in my test are compared at ISO 200 and at a maximum size of 20 megapixels it's entirely possible for me to get files that are close enough to each other to be visually nearly identical.
While I've shot with the G9s for a good long while this was the first assignment that really pushed the photographer (me) to do things consistently and for a long period of time. I was like a dilettante in the early days of appraising the camera. I shot a street scene here or there, or a sexy shot of a cup of coffee and that was my test. Now I'm down dirt roads, carrying a 50 pound lighting case, setting up in mud and light rain, putting plastic bags over my flashes, and really working to get the best flesh tones, the best textural detail and the best overall look to my files, and I'm doing it over and over again.
The raw G9 files are superb. I use Lightroom and Photoshop interchangeably and I've learned so much more about getting faces right. I know I need to consistently change the red hue in the raw conversion. My G9s are both subject to having a bit too much magenta in the red channel. Once I zero that out faces look much more natural. The Adobe processing seems to fear green and so is heavy handed about not letting the green channel loose. When using their canned profiles I constantly find myself adding just a tiny bit more green to face colors in order to obtain numeric (and visual) neutrality.
While I might find the Fujis to be superior the more I use them I have to say that the G9s handle really, really well. Much better and much more fluidly than other cameras. If you can't get really good photographs in conditions that call for ISO 200 with the G9s and the two lenses I described above as being in my camera bag I think you might want to consider that something other than the gear is at fault.
The camera makers understand something that I think is also becoming obvious to many photographers. The truth is that we've hit the point where 95% of all the work we do; especially for money, can be well done with just about any interchangeable lens camera out on the market today. Most of the difference between cameras are gingerbread, or specific features aimed strictly at sports photographers. Super fast shutter rates are meaningless to a corporate advertising photographer out getting portraits made with flashes in remote locations. The battery powered flashes can't keep up with 20 or 30 frames per second while being cycled at full power (remember, we're competing with the sun!!!). Ultra fast continuous focus is likewise mostly useless for the kind of work I do. Even super long and fast telephotos have very little (to no) relevance for most of the image making that is most profitable.
The Panasonics and Fujis both have very good face detect AF. I use it a lot. But for critical work I like to stay with manual focusing and punch in magnification for critical focus fine tuning.
At the end of the project I'm currently working on our client will have hundreds of good photographs to use for marketing. The majority of the marketing will be aimed at web-based channels and websites. Some will be used in traditional print. A few images might be selected for display. But the vast majority of the audiences will see the work on the screen of an iPhone or a big Android phone. The step up will be viewing on a laptop screen. If you seriously think there is an ounce of difference between well shot and processed camera files, even from different formats, when filtered through a 6 bit or 8 bit phone screen at a coffee shop; well I have either a bridge, or a full frame, 50 megapixel camera to sell you. Just keep believing you know what's right until I get your check cashed.
One other note, since Michael Johnston (TheOnlinePhotographer.com) keeps bringing up cars....
I was perfectly happy with my nicely aging Honda CR-V until my wife decided to replace her sixteen year old car and began the process of researching her purchase. She finally decided to get the premium model of the Subaru Impreza hatchback; not because she needed the nicest alloy wheels or the handling extras, and she certainly doesn't need the seat warmers (this is central Texas, after all). She bought the upgrade model because she wanted every single safety feature offered and that was the cheapest and most efficient way to get them.
I saw the car in the driveway when I got home from Iceland and thought it looked pretty cool. Then we drove down to San Antonio a week ago to visit my dad. Belinda drove down and I drove back to Austin. I was amazed. I don't know if it's the all wheel drive or just the relentless improvement of cars but I was in love with the handling of the car by the time I got home. 80 mph was solid and flawless. The interior was much more comfortable than my six year old car. Now the damage is done and I want one of my own. It makes no sense at all as I only have 60,000 miles on my car and it's perfect for hauling around all the photo-crap I sometimes take on assignments. I can even fit a nine foot long roll of seamless paper, in the box, in the CR-V and still close the hatchback. But the lure of a lower, grippier car is like a siren's song.... I'm sure I'll figure out some way to rationalize the purchase before too long... quick, someone tie me to the mast...
If MJ is serious about NOT wanting an SUV but wanting a car that feels perfect he ought to be looking at the little Impreza. But then I also think he should be shooting with a Panasonic G9 and the 12/60mm. But everyone has to come to these things on their own.
Finally, what have I bought to flesh out my Fuji "system"??? Well, we're sitting here with an X-T3, X-E3 (the back up camera/art camera), the 18-55mm, the 55-200mm, the 50mm f2.0, the 35mm f2.0, a funky Kamlan 50mm f1.1, and a Fotasy Pen FT to FX adapter, which opens up the door to a bunch of fun, fast lenses.... Oh, and a Godox dedicated flash. A few more additions and I'll have a real system here. But for now I have all my favorite focal lengths well covered. We'll see what happens in the great smack down. For now? I've veering back and forth like a texting millenial in a hubcap-less Toyota Corolla bouncing around the lanes on the freeway, desperately trying to stay connected.
Crazy travels start Monday at 5:30 am. Hope you stay in touch! Kirk