#813. Monday Post (28 Jan 2019) – Another way of thinking about shooting envelope

By pascaljappy | Monday Post

Jan 28

Regular readers know me as the ranting luddite with his knickers in a twist whenever technical features come at the apparent expense of ergonomics and subjective qualities. I’m sure I deserve the reputation. But here are some more positive and useful thoughts on the subject. Hat tip to Ted Forbes for those thoughts. He has released a video entitled Creative Photography vs Technical Photography and, as most of his videos, it is both insightful and interesting.


In his video, below, Ted argues that we don’t realise the power of what we have today. And I can only agree with this. It’s why I’m always so baffled when people comment negatively when a new camera offers 4K but not at the highest framerate or when others deem 20 frames per second or 14 bits of dynamic range isn’t enough for their needs. And Ted’s examples of Martin Munkasci’s sports photographs made with a large format view camera (3’40”) are a wonderful illustration of what can be achieved when the goal is more important than the gear.


Ultimately, though, I think that’s not the point. Ted’s sentence “Munkasci had enormous talent. He was able to take the tools that he had and work with them” is what this post is about.


Ted defines Munkasci’s talent as “His ability to find the limitations of his gear and move beyond them“. And, obviously, that speaks to me because I practise photography to become a better photographer, not for the photographs I make along the way.


But that’s me. What if your goal is to produce a football portfolio for a project and you don’t give two hoots about learning how to do that with a view camera and sheet film? It makes no sense to do things the hard way. It makes total sense to use the best suited gear for the task. All this is obvious.


However, what’s changed with modern gear is that the concept of cameras optimised for a specific task has become less important than producing a camera that can do everything. Yes the A7s is better at sports than the A7r, for instant. But you’d be hard pressed to go to a football match with either and not return with great images. Today’s flagship cameras are pancraftic cameras. And there lies the rub.


Ted describes the utilitarian benefits of smartphone photography (note taking) and the ease of sharing, instant feedback … pointing out that a lot of rubbish photos have been made with phones but also a lot of interesting ones. He goes on to describe the rising use of smartphones as cameras, rightly insisting on the fact that, as small cameras, they provide intimacy that eludes higher end stuff (5’30”).


I find it amusing that phones are becoming a more specialised tool for creative photographers than “mainstream” digital cameras. And worrying, that the marketing argument behind all recent launches is shooting envelope. When you think about it, a new camera has to check so many boxes to succeed : great IQ, really advanced video abilities, outdoor worthiness (weather sealing), a great choice of great lenses (even for a brand new line of cameras with a brand new bayonet), low light abilities (high ISO, great IBIS), security (dual card slots), connectivity, price (yeah, all of this has to be cheap), stellar and fast and light and AF glass and plenty of other contradictory or unrealistic stuff I’m probably forgetting.


And why not, you ask …


Here’s why. I don’t use zooms. It’s not because they are too slow, too heavy, too expensive, too blurry, too … anything. But my photographs have never been good with a zoom. Some people have an innate ability to remain vigilant with a zoom, and walk up to the point where the composition is just right rather than use the zoom to frame the main ingredients of the photograph from wherever it is they are standing. Those people are *very* few and far between. It’s *a lot* easier to make good photographs with just one prime than with a zoom.


And the same goes for a camera that can do anything. Because it’s not designed to do anything special and you have to rely on menus and sub-par adhoc ergonomics to set it up for your needs. And – more importantly – because it enourages you to let it do all the thinking.


This is where the market’s headed. Now that most influencial youtubers are arguing against the pointless tech race for higher specs, AI will be the next big marketing tectonic shift. Sony’s new firmware makes excellent AF even more excellenter. Because, you know, mountains move so fast and you never know when that pyramid’s gonna sprint and all good photographs are photographs of pets, goal keepers and children with ADD. Next step is framing. Why not digitally edit out a lamp post for you, rub that tree off the horizon to conform to a textbook rule of composition and remove those wrinkles from grandma’s ugly mug? Don’t laugh, photo apps in Asia are already changing your face for the ‘better’ in selfies. Very soon, we will become the complacent carriers of our AI’s cameras. Point ‘n shoot meets deep learning.


And this is where Ted’s final question is essential: “we have all this affordable and amazing technology at our fingertips, but what can we do to move our photography beyond that? Is that even possible?” (10’30”)


I’d rather look at this from a slightly different angle. Here’s a fun challenge. Are you able to analyse your photographs and map them on a radar diagram of your camera’s abilities? Are you using all features equally or are you pushing one aspect to the limit and ignoring the others?


Take a close look at two sets of photographs : your most recent 200 pics on one side. And you all time faves, made by you or anyone else (or those you’d really like to make). Then try to grade them for bokeh, lens neutrality, lens character, dof, lens price, camera size, camera weight, the ergonomics that would have been needed, the stealth that would have been needed, the resolution, the fps, the iso rating, the ibis … wha’ever feels appropriate.


Do the two graphs look similar? Is you gear cramping your style? What could you look for in gear that would make it easier for you to make those pics you’d like to create ? What’s unnecessary? Are your graphs flat (all scores very similar) or very pointy in some areas and hollow in others? All this may seem very obvious, but charting is always an eye opener.


What’s your chart like? Are you underusing some features (that’s not a problem)? Are your needs greater than what you camera offers? This is when the analogy with Munkasci’s talent becomes so interesting. How can you move past the limitations of your camera? If it’s limiting in too many ways, maybe a change can help you. If it’s limiting in just one or two, how can you think creatively about work arounds, training, accessories … that will let you go beyond?


Before I close : I’ll soon be reopening the Stuff for sale page. My gear ruminations are drawing to a close and a lot of my existing stuff will soon be up for grabs on fleabay, but I’ll give readers first pick by publishing the listings on DS first.


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  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thanks for a very good read!
    And for that video link – but your summing-up already said it all!

    Very nice photos !
    And so apt at illustrating your theme:

    Two b/w proving that everyday scenes can make great photos,
    and showing how lenses with and lenses without flare can be used to their advantage.

    And the photos of rime (love those) taking the advantage of a sharp lens.
    ( But I think the wooden boards with the hole is my favourite, for its humour, its shift in colours and the blend of simplicity and complexity.)
    – – –

    > “[using AI to] …remove those wrinkles from grandma’s ugly mug?”

    In the 1950s it was called a portrait lens, with built in spheric aberrations to soften the skin when used wide open.
    Now all lenses *have* to be sharp and a softening filter doesn’t work as nicely – enter AI! (Brrr.)

    ( There are, of course, lensbaby etc. with rather too unsharp lenses and an occasional remake of an old portrait lens design – and for users of mirrorless: adapting vintage lenses.)
    – – –

    > “.. photo apps in Asia are already changing your face for the ‘better’ in selfies.”

    Like in the old times, when a portrait painter often enough was asked to do just that!

    ( Do we ever change, we humans?)

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Kristian. The board with the hole is also my favourite. It’s actually a screw hole, very small, taken with an 85mm lens and an extension ring to get really close. It’s was cold too, so I didn’t want to linger. The sun had just come out and this was about to melt (you can see the yellow on the left side) so I rushed out with the camera bare footed. Brrrr.

      Do we ever change? That’s *exactly* the point. We don’t change much in a couple of generations ! Only the toys around us.


      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Bare footed !
        And you could still hold the camera still and focus while focusing on not getting cold feet!
        🙂 , sorry, sometimes I just can’t help myself.

        But, seriously, that’s a sign of the *true* enthusiast!

        ( I doubt if I’d succeeded with freezing toes..)

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    > “It’s *a lot* easier to make good photographs with just one prime than with a zoom.”

    That may be, I haven’t tried that discipline since my pocketable Vitessa – 24x36mm being too small for zooming by cropping.
    I want to photograph what I happen to see and that’s a lot easier with several primes (risking dust) or with a zoom (and I use it from where I’m standing only when snapping to document or when in a hurry).
    – – –

    Your Challenge:
    I seldom study my photos in enough detail to be able to make that graph.
    But I bounce at two limits:

    High ISO: It’s often dark in the wood even at daytime and I hate carrying and taking the time to set up my tripod, I’d much prefer the aid of IBIS.

    No tilt: I dabbled with tilt on my SLR with a Zörk adapter and a lens with quick shift between wide open and preset aperture, so I could do some tilt photography (for DOF) handheld – and I haven’t yet found gear (that I like) for that with digital.
    ( I’d like a tilt adapter with electronic connection camera-lens; the available 26mm with Canon M to EF is probably a bit short – but Canon patented one a few years ago! And perhaps a future Canon, or other, will have tilt built in with IBIS.)

    And tracking eye AF *might* be nice.
    – – –

    Allow (also, 🙂 ) me to rant – about evolving cameras, about simple avoidable mistakes slipping through with the new technologies:

    The Canon M series, good image quality, first electronic curtain (no shutter shock, no mirror slap), smooth shutter release and a lot of (EF-) lenses to choose from, *but*:

    The first M was too much of a point & shoot and useful only after firmware upgrading of autofocus – and really useful only with Magic Lantern (exposure zebras & focus peaking & …) installed.

    The first *really* useful M was the M5, but with a bit haphazard arrangement of buttons and dials, and with no proper evaluating/matrix exposure metering – even that is heavily biased towards the focusing point – making Aperture mode hardly useable with single point AF, so I use only Manual mode relying on the histogram (but with Auto mode set when not in use).

    But it’s the combination of the range of (M & EF) lenses, the DPAF (even though it probably costs about half a stop of high ISO), focus peaking and the 4 dials (3 are enough) that keeps it with me.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Kristian, have you tried the Mirex ? (https://www.dearsusan.net/2015/01/06/307-tilt-shift-lenses-worth-k-mirex-adapter-review/) It’s not easy to use hand-held but probably doable. It’s very well built and uses cheap lenses. But, in the end, I gave it up. Too much of a time guzzler 😉

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Thanks for reminding me of Mirex, I have considered them, and for the link to your review!

        They also make an adapter for Canon EF lenses (a lot of mounts including some of my old lenses have adapters to EF), but only for Sony E and M4/3; I’ve been hoping some time for a Canon M one.
        I have even considered bying a Nex 7…

        ( And there is Kolarivision to replace the Nex 7 sensor glass with a thinner one if needed with non-telecentric vintage wideangles… but I’ve no luck with lotteries!)

        With the Mirex for Pentax/Mamiya 645 I’d probably also be OK, even with the 35mm limit on APS-C.

        The more versatile Zörk adapter with up to 30° tilt would be short enough also for 645 lenses when mounted on a mirrorless camera, but they don’t make a mount for those. The enlarger lenses they sell for it (used to) have a quick aperture preset, but they’ve no short lenses. And it’s probably easier to fine-tune the angle on the Mirex.

        ( I was recently tempted by the price to buy a film Pentax 645N to play with some time, but the 35mm lens which I’d find ideal to start tilting with is missing… – there is a 45mm though.)

        I think it will depend on what lenses are most easily switched from wide open to the selected aperture without looking or shaking the camera.

        I’ll have to do some research at the latest (hm) before next winter’s frozen lakes…

        • pascaljappy says:

          Kristian, let me be mischievous and suggest the Rollei SL66 (http://www.sl66.com/pg/sl66models.shtml). Great lens range (http://www.sl66.com. /pg/lens_index.shtml), tilt, and you can probably attach a “cheap” (3k+) to it if you want digital. With the Mamiya 7, the other greatest camera of all time in my adolescent mind 😉

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            Yes Pascal,
            great idea, really!
            When it first came I lived in Germany (using a Vitessa) and I was really tempted as I understood the reason for tilt without yet having heard about it. And a chance of switching film easily… the complete SLR…

            But I found it to big to carry around, for me it was a camera you brought to a project, not a camera for a photo walk as I wanted. The large screen would be nice for finding the right tilt angle though. And there was the price, now probably different.

            ( I used a Linhof Technica 6×9 for a time (much smaller and lighter with 3 lenses), great fun, but I found the screen to dark except for slow work.)

            But it stili isn’t a camera I’d take along (in my rucksack) skating or for a walk along the shore to catch patterns on the ice with large DOF.
            ( That 645 is a bit big too, but will be OK for occasional use..)

            • pascaljappy says:

              Actually Kristian, I think the distinction you make between “walkaround cameras” and “project cameras” is fundamental.

              I wanted to post an article on “dual speed photography” around this very topic. It got changed into a “what’s in your bag” series instead, because there weren’t enough opinions to make it interesting. But I do believe the gap between the project camera and the walking camera still exists today, in spite of technological advances. Simply because project cameras are those that allow you to slow down and fine tune everything about your shot whereas modern point and shoot cameras do the exact opposite by being extremely fast and making a lot of decisions for you. It’s hard to find a good compromise between the two. I believe the X1D can be a good candidate for this but it doesn’t offer tilt/shift (except with adapters, and we’re back where we started 😉 )

              • Kristian Wannebo says:

                to me also the X1D with its compact size seems like *both* a project and a walk around camera!

                And the better p&s cameras can also be used slowed down, I think it’s more a question of wanted sensor size.

                ( Ming Thein in a blog post mentioned using a (good!) small zoom one on a serious assignment as the small sensor gave the large DOF needed, and the client was happy.)

                There’s the H’blad (optical) tilt adapter for their HCD lenses + adapter to X1D.
                Perhaps they’ll make one for the X1D lenses?

              • pascaljappy says:

                There’s an adapter for H lenses on the X1D. It lets you use that tilt/shot gem. But the price is eyewatering and – as always with those adapters – you get no short lenses. I’m telling you, you’re better off with an SL66 😀 More seriously, the Aptus field cameras are brilliant for tilt/shift.


              • Kristian Wannebo says:

                Yes, I was thinking of that additional adapter, but not for me (price etc. as you say) – only in general.

                No short lenses?
                The H’blad HTS 1,5 gives t/s for 6 H lenses 24 – 100 mm.
                1.5x24mm =36mm ~28mm FF-eq.
                Also that Mirex 10° t/s adapter for Sony E to Canon EF can adapt to most FF SLR lenses.
                But for other t(s) adapters you are certainly right.
                – – –

                I’ve read about that Aptus, very nice idea, but it doesn’t seem right for a quick handheld tilt for DOF.
                You are certainly right, an SL 66 would be preferable.

                But I think it’s time for a simpiler digital version. E.g. a mirrorless with tilt /(shift) built in together with IBIS.

              • pascaljappy says:

                24mm, huh. I didn’t know. That’s wide enough 🙂

                A mirrorless with tilt/shift on the sensor ? Now *that’s* a fun idea 🙂 It’s not the same as lens tilt/shift and would not allow keystoning control, for instance, but would still be very useful. Sony, are you listening ? 😀

              • pascaljappy says:

                Or Canon, yes 🙂 whoever does this first will start a trend. That would be so cool!

              • Kristian Wannebo says:

                24mm, not really,
                don’t forget the 1.5 multiplication factor of the HTS 1.5.
                – > 36mm ~28mm FF-eq.

  • John W says:

    OK. Confession up front. I really like Ted Forbes and I’m very much in the Luddite camp with Pascal. The “luddite” undoubtedly has to do with the fact that I cut my photographic teeth in the era of film – 1962 to be exact. Photo-psychologically, I still think and photograph like a film photographer … the camera is a tool to capture the the information; 95% of the time the image is resolved on the computer (my digital darkroom). Thusly, I don’t give a hoot about film simulations, AI learning, dual card slots, …. , whatever. I do care about the quality of the sensor and the durability/reliability of the camera. That is also one of the central reasons I dumped my Canon gear after 22 years and jumped all over Fuji. Fuji’s cameras are fundamentally film camera analogues with a sensor instead of film. Everything you need is out in the open; the lenses actually have functional aperture rings; ISO, shutter speeds and exposure compensation are rotating dials on the outside of the camera – you can still operate the camera with light gloves. The only arcane feature of the camera I’ve ever used is the intervalometer for long exposures at night.

    All my lenses are zooms (sorry Pascal) but the majority of my images are shot between 24mm and 135mm so theres still a lot of foot work involved. My street camera is a traditional compact mirrorless with a 27-270mm zoom – not because I have any great love for the brand or the particular camera; it just happens to suite my style and “preferred habitat” while being small, fast, quiet and unobtrusive. The long zoom means I have plenty of “reach” to shoot across the street. I’ve also used the 15-36mm zoom for street work in confined spaces.

    What I’m really saying in a long winded roundabout way is I’m firmly in agreement with Ted and Pascal. Cameras have evolved from basic working tools to technological wonders. Along the way some of us have become more enamoured with the technology than with how can we use it to grow and evolve as better photographers. We are rapidly approaching the point where the tools will be doing all the learning … not the photographer.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi John, we luddites need to stick together 😉

      Sensor quality and build quality. In other words lasting qualities … which is so unlike what we’re beeing force fed.

      What a pain not to have aperture rings on lenses any more. You have them with Fuji and I have them with my adapted Zeiss lenses. But they are getting rare.

      Hey, I’ve seen your work 😉 If you manage that with zooms, even more power to you. It would take some self discipline and systematic conscious warnings for me not to just point and zoom. I guess, it’s just a matter of getting into the right habit, much like anything else. Also, primes can make you lazy too, because you don’t want to change all day long. So some shots get missed or not even attempted.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    WOW – food for thought!
    Well I wouldn’t simply know, is the best answer I can offer, Pascal. At one extreme, I just recently got the gear to do the job – you already know that. Mid range, I choose from the gear I have, and select the gear I want for the job. Much of the time, I grab a camera at random just so that I don’t go out without one, and photograph whatever I feel like, with what I have around my neck.
    Then there’s special purpose junk, like my tilt shifts & the Cognisys rail for macro work – but I don’t see them as relevant to your article.
    The w’angle – architecture, tight spaces, both correcting and distorting verticals or other perspectives.
    Tele – ROTFLMHAO – well once again, you are perfectly aware that here I go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Anyway I do use tele to blur backgrounds, for portraiture and similar.
    FPS, WIFI etc – one man’s meat is another man’s poison – all that crap does for (to?) me is to increase the cost of camera bodies. But this morning I did decide to give FPS a try, with AF on one of my unspeakable zooms, to go birding. I love shooting birds (with a camera!) and my current pair of zooms should do well, for this – but birds move so quickly that a burst of 10, 20 or even 30 frames will offer opportunities that even Munkasci might envy.
    And I’m quite unapologetic about my zooms. The VAST majority of my photos are taken with primes, because I love working with primes. But to do that, I use zooms to “measure” landscapes etc that I am planning to shoot, to help select the perfect prime for the actual shoot. And for moving subjects, like pets – or into the future, birds.
    Besides, you can muck up just as easily with primes as you can with zooms – primes are “better” (at least historically) but they don’t make the photograph any more than camera bodies do. Another thing zooms assist is practice – and “practice makes perfect”. True, you can also practice with primes – but when you’re just practising, the convenience of zooms comes into its own – and these days an increasing number of zooms are actually quite good glass. Their two worst failings are a) they are generally slower (smaller max ap.) and b) except for the “chosen few”, they act like vacuum cleaners, sucking dirt into the camera and mucking up the sensor – soluble – but unpleasant.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Yeah. And I’m not trying to diss zooms. They simply require more willpower to operate well.

      “and photograph whatever I feel like, with what I have around my neck.” Knowing your long-end kit, I sure hope that never hangs around your neck 😀

      It’s great if you’re trying out fast frame rates. I think all these features are fine, so long as they are not just excuses to become lazy. Shoot 30 hoping one will be great, for instance, when you could have been more deliberate and made do with 3 frames. As long as we use them for experimentation and try to push their limits as you are doing in long-distance photography, what’s not to like? 🙂

  • Brian Nicol says:

    This is a brilliant post. I am tired of most people and blog “experts” that usually have never used a camera extensively or probably even touched it bashing things such as a camera does not have 2 card slots or it does not have ISO 100,000 and it costs too much. Even Ming Thein does not use a second slot for backup. I am trying to remember how I got by using a Nikon FM2 and Kodachrome 25 and 64 (ISO) and ISO 100 B&W film and ISO 400 B&W for low light and high speed subjects. I find most cameras have so many buttons and key functions buried in deep incomprehensible menus that I miss many photos with them that I used to be able to grab with my ancient FM2. I found the Leica M has the best haptics but I wanted autofocus at times and could not reliably shoot fast glass wide open and nail focus and the ancient overpriced add-on EVF was not integrated smoothly into the haptics and was no comparison to the Leica SL but it was too heavy for me to carry with a system of lenses. I recently purchased the Leica Q-P and it is the most perfect camera I have used. It is limited to 24MP but hey I do not need more and the image rendering is pure magic – what more do I want ( an interchangeable lens version with no video to complicate the camera). As Ming Thein says, cameras have way passed sufficiency and the big issue is haptics. Try using most cameras without having to dig into menus and find the right button to press without taking the camera from your eye – especially with light gloves on in winter. I have the Hasselblad X1D and it has perfect files but the haptics would be improved dramatically if they took a look at the Leica SL. Yes the Hasselblad does not have state of the art autofocussing but I am not taking photos of my grandson playing with it ( hey, why not use a cell phone for that) but use it for street photography, international model photography, landscape photography and its images blow me away and I will not be upgrading it when new camera comes out as I am developing muscle memory with this camera and can get into the zone and focus on the subject and capture the decisive moment. I am a retired high tech electronics and software engineer and technology does not improve as fast as the marketing hype says. I always wait five years as a min for possible meaningful improvement. Sensors have not improved much in practical terms over the past 5 years and people get sucked into “upgrading” to the latest camera model that is going to take them to the next level when they instead should have invested in education and maybe gone on a workshop to work on the practical application. Anyway, enough venting, we have amazing technology available and the issue is to get the haptics right so you can harness the technology that is really important to capturing the image and its rendering. In 100% of the cases, the technology is adequate for competent people to capture amazing images. The incompetent people focus on specs on paper and camera each camera to see what is missing or lesser. This has lead to the manufacturers putting bloatware into the cameras when it actually is adding complexity and interfering with getting the job done for real enthusiasts/professionals (those that get off P mode and get educated on technical and artistic aspects}. It seems as in everything, the noisy incompetent people drive the features and ruin it for all. I probably will offend a few or many people but I used to shoot film successfully and Ansel Adams and others would turn in their graves if they saw people whining about what we have today. It used to be that photography was limited to those that took the effort to learn. Automation has made it easy for anyone to get a focused reasonably exposed image a lot of the time. This has made making a decent income off photography as people believe anyone can do it. I do photography as I can no longer do watercolour painting due to car accident 20 years ago. I can assure you I had to do much education to get anywhere with drawing and painting but it has made me a better photographer aesthetically. I think the camera/glass market above cell phones will shrink and plateau to the enthusiasts and pros (similar to the film days) and we will see a much slower rollout of new cameras and glass as there was years ago and people will realize they do not need every upgrade but would be smarter to get more real education (actually pay for it) and practice more (get off the couch) and best of all hire some one to critique their “amazing” images and start taking images with real meaning. Well, I must go get another bottle of fine red wine so off I go.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Brian, thanks a lot.

      Yeah, Leica appeal to photographers and are disliked by technophiles. I hope you have a lot of fun with that Q-P. 24 Mp seems to be a sweet spot and the ergonomics are spot on. It’s the lack of grip that doesn’t appeal to me.

      Your words concerning the X1D are reassuring. I’ve just received one and now live in fear that I have made a mistake. So far the files are glorious and the handling is really nice. I’ve yet to master a PP process that feels natural. But … give it some time 😉

      Sensor improvements are now in the realm of frame rates, AF speed … all very interesting but IQ hasn’t budged for years. And the manufacturers know it.

      “Automation has made it easy for anyone …” exactly. So you do not need to be dedicated and willing to put in the introspection and effort to become a good photographer. There aren’t more good photographers, just more photographers.

      Enjoy the red wine 😉

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