I couldn't let this milestone pass. Earlier today I published the 3,900th blog post on the Visual Science Lab. It was brilliant....

Noellia in red shoes and a red belt. 

Three thousand nine hundred captivating blog posts.
When I hit 10,000 I expect you people to throw me a nice party.....

My final assessment of the Panasonic G9 versus the Fuji X-T3.

Zach Theatre.

Earlier this year I bought two Panasonic G9 cameras to supplement my little collection of GH5 variants. The GH5 & GH5S are still the best hybrid video and still cameras on the market for actual, day-in-day-out video productions. The new stuff from Nikon (Z7), Canon and Sony is all flawed in one way or another when it comes to video but that's another story and one that will change soon. 
The G9 is the best handling of the family. The grip fits my hand perfectly, the camera is an extremely stable platform and the image stabilization is amazing; especially when using lenses that are supported by Panasonic's dual I.S. system. The capper is the wonderful EVF on the G9. In many respects it's a perfectly designed photography tool. 

I should have left well enough alone because the system is fun to shoot with, produces really pretty files and very, very nice photographs. Coupled with Panasonic's best lenses and a few of the Olympus Pro lenses the whole system should provide P.R. photographers, event photographers and art photographers with an amazing assemblage of powerful imaging tools. But then, there is a natural curiosity that seem to only be assuaged by hands-on experience, and so, I fell into the Fuji trap. 

I call it the "Fuji Trap" because it's set up with lures and encouragements to just dip one's toe in and give it a try. The constant marketing mantra is just how wonderful the color is in the files and how beautifully Fuji cameras and lenses render skin tones. 

Now that I've put 6,000 exposures through the X-T3 and have spent like a drunken trust funder on their lenses I think I can pen a few thoughts on which system I like best and which one I'll keep. 

Here are the arguments for each camera: 

Panasonic G9:

Perfect ergonomics. Which means that camera handles better than most and every button and control is intuitive and well placed. It may be the most sensible camera layout I've come across.

The electronic viewfinder is large and lovely to look through. 

The camera is very responsive. Using fast, V90 UHSII cards means the buffer clears quickly and the camera never slows down in use. 

The camera's AF is constantly an issue with writers and v-loggers, existentially. Most have bought into the religion of CD-AF being vastly inferior to PD-AF but my experience doesn't bear that out. In all but the lowest light the camera focuses quickly and accurately. Certainly, one of the bigger DSLRs, optimized for sports shooting will do better, lock on quicker and follow a moving subject better but for most photographers the G9 gets it just right and works well. In the studio, under good modeling light or LED panels I've never had the camera hunt for focus. The opposite side of the whole religion of phase detection is that the G9 is consistently more accurate in its focusing. If you've got the little square in the right place and it lights up green you never need to second guess that you'll get a sharply focused image with the nexus of sharpness precisely where you need/want it. 

The smaller image sensor has several benefits. In video use it doesn't generate as much heat as a larger sensor so the image are less subject to thermal noise. The second advantage of the smaller sensor is that its lower mass and smaller geometry make its image stabilization very effective. Much better than anything I was ever able to get from a full frame Sony camera, for example.

The one area in which all arguments end up is about the size of the imaging sensor. It's a micro four/thirds sensor and not an APS-C or full frame sensor. For some people this may be a deal killer. My experience is that in decent light and with great lenses the system holds its own for nearly every use imaginable. It will give up ground to bigger sensors as the ISO goes up and the light goes down. That's the ONLY trade-off for this camera. 

So, what about the Fuji system?

The Fuji X-T3: 

The X-T3 is interesting. The only parameter in which it beats the G9 is in the sensor technology. The sensor has twice the real estate and because of this can handle high ISO noise a bit better than the G9. In a raw to raw comparison there is little difference in the color; a skilled post processor can make either camera look like the other and so the only real imaging advantage beyond high ISO noise handling is one of preference: Do you like Fuji's Jpegs (SOOC) better than those of the competitors? The Jpegs are very nice. With much effort you can get the G9 Jpegs close but for the rest of us the X-T3 does it effortlessly and that's a nice thing to have if you are predominantly a Jpeg only shooter. I'll confess that part of my obsession with getting exposure and white balance as accurate as possible is my desire to use Jpegs for as much of my work as possible. I resist spending too much time fine tuning images. My early experiences with color photography mostly revolved around slide film and medium format transparency film where color accuracy and the exposure were locked in and unchangeable by the photographer once processed. It worked for us then by freeing up our time. 
It can work for us now for the same reasons.

While I like the retro controls on the X-T3 I think anyone would have to admit that the controls feel more cheaply made and more plasticky than those on the G9. A better made control interface may not affect imaging but it sure adds to one's comfort level with a camera and one's confidence that it will be reliable. 

Demerits for the X-T3 include: a less logically laid out menu and a kludgier interface altogether. A pixie size battery which definitely limits shooting time with stills and even more so in video. Where the G9 can shoot well over thousand frames without breaking a sweat the Fuji is probably best coupled with a battery grip. There is a reason the Fuji engineers made a grip that keeps the camera battery in the camera and then adds not one but two additional batteries in the grip. You'll want them.

Much has been written about the Fuji lens line up and Fuji users absolutely gush over their favorites. I'll agree that every Fuji lens I've tried so far is great but the line up is fallow just in the range where I wish it was lush. With the luxury, all purpose, standard zoom you get a nice, wide 24mm (equivalent) starting point but the lens only extends to the equivalent of 82.5 mm. For a portrait or lifestyle photographer one would hope for something that extends out at least to 105mm (equiv.) like the venerable Canon 24-105mm L lens, or even better, to 120mm like the Nikon version of the all purpose zoom. 

I could live with the limitations of their luxe zoom if they also had a portrait lens that hit the sweet spot around the (equiv.) of a 90mm to 100mm. In actual focal lengths I'd relish a 60-65mm or a 70mm with an f2.0 or faster aperture. But they don't have one. And I haven't found a good third party alternative that hits the range I want. Sad, because it would make a nice extension to their f2.0 primes to have a sibling that works for those of for whom shorter is not better. They do make a 60 macro but by almost all accounts its first generation pedigree delivers a slow and iffy AF performance. There are both an 80 and a 90mm (actual) lens but they are very expensive and just a bit too long. There is a reason why the traditional companies had lenses in the angles of view which photographers loved. They delivered; experienced photographers proved those focal length to be task perfect. 

So, in essence we have a camera with a great sensor, great colors, really wonderful files that by my estimation match the quality of full frame sensors and we also have a bunch of great lenses in some focal lengths (I could argue with myself that I should just skip the portrait primes and get the 50-140mm f2.8 but....... why can't I have both?) but we have a body with plasticky dials and wheels, parsimonious battery life and some weird interface issues (not insurmountable). 

Does the quality of the final files make up for the less lovely parts the equation? I'd say the raw files are just a bit more detailed and less fragile than the G9 files. You'll see a difference when you're operating at the edges of the envelope. Your choice is to get stuff really right in camera with a G9 or take advantage of the extra margin of safety with the Fuji. Used well the Fuji can really sing in making portraits. 

My take? For sheer usability, reliability and lens selection (across both Olympus and Panasonic), as well as great battery life and great ergonomics, the G9 wins hands down. If you need a robust camera system that can deliver great video and really good stills then the G9 is perfectly sorted. 

So, why would I want the Fuji? It's a slightly better portrait camera. One can see that Fuji's core market is portrait workers and they've worked to optimize the look and feel of their files to make photographs that make people look good. While the 55mm f1.2 is just a bit short for a portrait lens it is highly usable at f2.0 and makes gorgeous images. Used in a square format orientation it's just beautiful and this is the one area in which it just pulls past the G9. The extra pixel diameter, lower noise and wider dynamic range, coupled with Fuji's famously good color expertise tips the scales in its favor when it comes to making people look good. 

When it comes right down to it I can't decide which system to give up so I'm keeping them both. I've processed tens of thousands of Panasonic files this year and they've finally got the color really dialed in with the G9. It's the best color photography camera the company makes and part of the reason people prefer the Fuji is that the Panasonic is more (too) accurate. People like a richer, warmer and more flattering files and that's what the X-T3 delivers. I'll keep both systems. 

strange twist: I knew that cameras could be very lens dependent but the Olympus Pro line of lenses and some of the Panasonic/Leica lenses illustrate to me how much this aids or diminishes the look a camera system can deliver. I've always found the look of the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro to be special and highly detailed, in a very convincing way. Recently, I've been playing around with the same company's 45mm f1.2 Pro lens and find it spectacular. Funny that the right focal length and the right designs of a lens can make such a profound difference in whether one likes or dislikes an entire system. 

So far, I've only found a few lenses that deliver this for me in the Fuji line up and, interestingly, they are the three f2.0 primes I wrote about earlier today.

In my estimation the G9 stays as my all around system. The Fuji earns its place as my studio and environmental (fair weather) system. 

That's where I am on the two systems now that I have over 5,000+ examples from the Fuji to ponder and maybe 20,000 from the G9. Take it all with a grain of salt; I might warm up more to the Fuji after we get into five figures worth of experience. You never know. 

Added 12/30/2018: I found this video on YouTube which is also a comparison between the two cameras. His take is slightly different than mine but it's well done and I've enjoyed other reviews presented: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEAztipqsmE

A trio of lenses that remind me of my early days in photography; working with one old Leica and three prime lenses.

There's always another side to the argument. The photos here were all done with the amazing 
24-600mm equivalent zoom lens on a Sony RX10iii. Somewhat neuters my whole 
argument just below. Consistency is a vice......

When we photographers get together to jabber about equipment these days and mention the "holy trinity" it's mostly understood that we're referencing three lenses; usually fast zooms; and that they'll cover something like 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. It seems that everyone with any thought of being a "professional" is drawn to these lenses like addled moths singeing themselves on a naked 60 watt lightbulb. If everyone is using pretty much the same lenses (but with small variations between manufacturers) then everyone's work will probably have.......some vectors of commonality?

And what's old saw? That when one has a hammer everything looks like a nail? Never before have so many lazy photographer stood in one spot and zoomed in an out in order to make the most of their almost infinitely flexible choice of overlapping focal lengths.

I get it. There's a compulsion to "have all the important focal lengths covered." You'd use a prime but you might get agitated if your lens was a 50mm and what you really needed was a 45mm, right? So, with a spread of something like 16mm to 200mm in a seamless progression you now have the potential to cover everything without missing a beat because you have....the holy trinity of zooms. 

How did we ever do photography before these zooms were all perfected? And is an endless choice of no gap focal lengths a good thing or actually an impediment to interesting photography? I can see it both ways. If you are under pressure and are delivering images that have to fit a project instead of really exploring a personal vision then zooms are definitely the way to go. I often reach for an even simpler and more mentally boxing zoom, the 12-100mm. I can cover a lot of stuff quickly with that one but I often find myself staying stationary and using the zoom to compose and crop rather than investing a bit more time and energy in actually thinking about what particular focal length might work best in a given situation and then taking my time to implement that vision. 

The zooms are also practical when weather, dust or the jostling of crowds makes changing lenses dicey or inconvenient. And yet, I can't help but entertain the idea, bolstered by a bit of research in my archives, that discrete, single focal length, prime lenses that are well considered and used, might be better tools for the more creative parts of photography.

After a recent job during which I used my new Fuji X-T3 almost nonstop with the 18-55mm zoom (weather, dust, time, packing considerations, etc.) I walked through downtown carrying two lenses; neither of which could change focal lengths. These two lenses are very interesting to me because they force me to think about how I will compose and what I will photograph with them. 

These two lenses are the Fuji XF 50mm f2.0 and the 35mm f2.0 models. They are small, unobtrusive (in a way that the Sigma 50mm Art lens and the Zeiss Otus will never be) and easy to handle lenses and they are part of a diminutive trio of lenses that Fuji fans call, "Fujicrons," a nod to Leica's f2.0 lens family which are all called, "Summicrons." In the days when I shot with Leica rangefinder cameras it was de rigeur to build a system the core of which were the 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. Photojournalists modified that by selecting the 28mm instead of the 35mm but the intention was pretty much the same; have great optics that mostly covered the absolutely most important and most used focal lengths in a professional's arsenal.  When compared to zoom lenses both the Fujis and the Leicas are at least a full stop faster, are better corrected, have higher resolution and sharpness, and are much less of a burden to carry and shoot when out on the streets or in the middle of an event.

I bought the 50mm XF Fuji first and was delighted by the test shots I was getting from it; even wide open. It's a bit short, for me, to be the optimum portrait lens for the Fuji system but they seem to have a dead spot they need to fill in the fast, 60-70mm range. I'm sure they'll figure it out at some point. But with the nice sensor in the X-T3 I don't really mind cropping just a bit. And the 50mm is just about perfect when I use the camera's 1:1 crop setting (square format). 

I liked the 50mm so much that when the lenses went on sale I bought the 35mm (which is my favorite normal focal length on the APS-C sensor). It's also very good wide open and excellent everywhere else. When I got back from my whirlwind of shooting for my corporate client (in snow, sleet and rain. Now I'm starting to sound like the old postal service....) I thought it would be fun, medicinal, happy, restorative, etc. to get back to my roots as a primitive and naive, low tech, photographer. So today I ordered the missing link in my diminutive trio; the Fuji(cron) 23mm XF f2.0. 

While I'm sure clients will drop in from time to time in December, and I will do their work with my many zooms when appropriate, I thought it would be fun to create a formal construct for my own work during the month. To that end I'm putting together, in an small, old, worn Domke camera bag, my nod to the nostalgic (and very effective) systems of yesteryear in my collection of the 23mm, 35mm and 50mm f2.0 lenses along with the small and light (and rangefinder-esque) Fuji X-E3. Maybe I'll go all Robert Frank and just climb onto a Greyhound bus and head west. Maybe I'll drive somewhere. Oh hell, I might as well use up some frequent flier miles and fly somewhere... In any case I can't wait to subject myself to the formalist discipline of limiting myself to these three well spaced focal lengths and some additional shoe leather. Maybe I'll start a new counter trend to the standard zooms, giant perfect fast lenses and all the other stuff we routinely convince ourselves we need in order to be professional. Or at least to play at being professional. 

 I'm going to break with tradition here and put in some links to Amazon. You can ignore them and move on or click them and read more about the lenses. If you buy stuff on Amazon while you're there on a direct flight from my site I'll get a small commission which I'll use to buy more lenses..... but accessing Amazon from my blog and then buying stuff is penalty free. The prices are the same.

Here I go: The Fuji 23mm, the Fuji 35mm and the Fuji 50mm. I'm still not sure the X-E3 is as good a choice as an X-Pro 2 might be but it's a damn sight cheaper and the imaging performance should be just the same..... Time will tell.

Whatever your point of view you have to admit that's one cute dog......

Making sense of the current camera market. Why is it so strange?

Many years ago I started writing about the inevitable switch from DSLR cameras to mirrorless ones. It seemed obvious to me that once electronic viewfinders were perfected that there would be no one who would pass up the chance to have real time live view and a convincing and mostly accurate preview of what their final images will look like. But I did not predict that sensor size would become a fashion imperative. The “full frame” sensor is all the rage right now. And, to a certain extent, I get the emotional attraction of getting something that was either unattainable (Nikon) or brutally expensive (Canon) just a bit more than a decade ago, but the question is whether or not it’s still important, necessary or even that much of a differentiator for most people. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a good while you’ll know that I’ve vacillated back and forth between the pixie formats and three different camera makers’ full frame offerings. In the best of all possible worlds I can see a difference in absolute quality between the bigger sensors and the smaller ones but I can also see that it’s mostly a big, long game of diminishing returns. 

I do think that if you are truly concerned with ultimate image quality you should now be considering the even larger sensors in the new flood of medium format cameras from Hasselblad, Fuji and Phase One. My take is that the overall geometry and size of the sensor makes more of a difference in the look or visual style of files than whether or not the actual technical quality of one sensor is superior to another. Or whether the differences are worth the $$$.

The common comparison is generally between any of the new 50 megapixel mini-medium-format cameras, like the Fuji and Hasselblad and the flagship of 35mm style cameras, the Nikon D850. Techno-enthusiasts love to point out that the Nikon at least equals the dynamic range of the bigger cameras (but only when used at ISO64-100) and that the resolution differences are so small that they are mostly unnoticeable. I’m sure it’s true that it would be hard to discern any advantages as you spend more money to get into the big stuff, unless you want to take the big step up to the larger, 100 megapixel cameras and backs. 

But this misses the point of the difference in overall size. It’s the real estate. The need for longer focal lengths in order to get the same angle of view as the lenses on 35mm sized cameras. The different linear dimensions of different size classes of sensors impacts what I like to call the “focus ramp” of a lens/camera system.

But for better or worse the emphasis on full frame orbits around two parameters: How well you can drop stuff out of focus in the background and how high an ISO you can use before you get multi-colored, popcorn-sized noise in the files. It’s a small envelope of advantages for a nice premium in price.

I find it fascinating that everyone seems to have a conflicting sense of the current camera market now. The smallest segment, full frame mirrorless absolutely dominates the news and appeals to people who follow the camera industry daily.  Why is it so strange? Why have multiple companies set their camera manufacturer tipping point to mirrorless+full frame at the same time? All except for Sony, who have had a five year head start in this particular market. My thought is that the fashion for full frame started buzzing about four years ago on the internet and that the companies who make cameras anticipated a longer timeline for mass adoption of mirrorless and got caught with their pants down. But I think it's critical to remember and understand that this market segment (FF mirrorless) is actually a very small percentage of the overall market for cameras. APS-C and smaller is the bulk of what people actually buy.

If I had to guess I would conjecture that the market for mirrorless will continue to rise in relationship to DSLR cameras but the percentages of the overall mix between smaller formats and larger ones will remain the same unless and until full frame cameras drop in price dramatically and become as affordable. For the vast majority of users micro four thirds and APS-C cameras delivers results now that are mostly far above the abilities of most practitioners to wring out of them. I prefer the smaller formats for a number of reasons but foremost is the ability to do so many different things well: 4K video, high resolution stills, generous depth of focus and great handling. While premium m4:3rds doesn't represent the ultimate in price to value ratios the current flagship Panasonic and Olympus cameras are formidable imaging tools that deliver variations of image stabilization that bigger formats cannot currently match. 

Following the herd means stepping in a lot of manure. The right camera for one user might be another users least favorite. I council my friends who are camera shopping to pick the camera that feels best to them and does what they want it to do; regardless of sensor size. You might feel the same.