Tag Archives: digital

The Workhorse

Canon 60D

In the world of cameras, only Sony are doing anything that really interests me right now. By putting big(er) sensors into small(er) cameras, they’re improving image quality without sacrificing portability. They’re improving low-light and noise performance without having to go to ridiculously high ISOs or invest precious R&D into new noise-reduction algorithms. They’re doing the right thing, or at very least, moving in the right direction.

It all started with the RX100, released just last year, a compact camera with a non-detachable zoom lens and a comparatively massive 1-inch sensor, the largest in its class. It was the first camera to put a big sensor in a body that was still extremely pocketable, and it was the first camera that offered anything close to the low-light performance of cameras with much larger sensors.

Not surprisingly, the RX100 received rave reviews despite the slightly higher price point — it was decidedly an “enthusiast compact” camera, and the price reflected its status, but it was still on the expensive side for people looking for an alternative to similar cameras such as the Canon S100 or S110, both of which retail around the $300 mark — by comparison, the RX100 is easily twice that price.

Regardless, the RX100 was a big hit with the wider photographic community. Someone at Sony must have decided this was a worthwhile path to pursue, because half a year later we saw the introduction of the RX1, the first camera to put a full-frame digital sensor in a compact camera. Not much bigger than the RX100, the RX1 is stil a hell of a lot more compact than any other camera with a large sensor, let alone a full-frame DSLR.

Like the RX100, the RX1 comes with a non-detachable lens, but unlike the RX100, the lens on the RX1 is a fixed-focal length lens (commonly referred to as a prime). The lens permanently attached to the RX1 is a 35mm f/2 Zeiss, and I for one am glad Sony chose to go with something decent for their choice of lens. Thanks to the combination of quality glass and a full-frame sensor, image quality, low-light image quality and noise performance all improved markedly.

The only real downside for consumers was the price: at close to what you might pay for a comparable full-frame DSLR, the RX1 is out of reach for anyone who actually wants a full-frame sensor in a compact body without the convenience of interchangeable lenses. You’d have to be a serious enthusiast (or flushed with cash) to fork out for a camera you bought for its size alone, especially when you can get a professional DSLR for around the same kind of money.

Nevertheless, like the RX100 before it, the RX1 was heralded as a breakthrough in digital camera technology simply because it was the first camera to include a full-frame sensor in a compact-like body. It, too, received rave reviews, despite its expensive price tag.

By this time, Sony had caught onto what consumers really wanted: DSLR-like image quality from compact cameras. The RX100 II followed with improvements to the general formula, including a new image processing chip for even better noise performance, coupled with the same big sensor in a compact body. Around the same time, Sony also released the RX1 R, a variant on the original that removed the anti-aliasing filter in favour of more effective resolution and slightly sharper images at the cost of possible moire when capturing certain lined patters.

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Thirty Six Shooter

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Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t feel pressured to take photos all the time? Because digital is cheap, it means we have this idea that we have to capture everything. It’s terrible if you even have the smallest of compulsive tendencies, because you’re probably taking photos of the most random things possible in your never-ending quest to document anything and everything.

Yours truly:

I’ve felt this pressure myself, too. I’ve often found myself saying: “hey, this costs you nothing and means you can remember every detail of this moment every time you look at this photo in the future” on more than one occasion, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. As humans our memories aren’t perfect, so if we need a little help remembering our kids’ first steps, or that time when bird poo landed spontaneously on our friend, or that time we saw our friend at that place, what’s the harm in taking a photo to remember the occasion?

Enter film photography, stage left.

Paul Miller returned to the internet yesterday after a year of no internet, and a lot of what he talked about was how the internet has trained us to give us that instant hit. Click a link, get a webpage. Google something, become enlightened. Hit a keyboard shortcut, send a tweet. Of course, a lot of other stuff happens behind the scenes to make those things happen, but this instantaneous feedback loop that the internet provides is something we should be more cautious of, in my opinion. I mean, It’s probably why people get burnt out more than they used to — in fact, it’s probably why burn out is a even a thing. No-one got burnt out before the 20th century, and you know why? Because they didn’t have the internet. They didn’t have the internet to give them that instant information hit they so badly craved.

Film photography is kind of like that. Not like the world without the internet or anything, but a world where photography teaches you patience. You’re not crimping every shot to see if the lighting was right, to see if the focus was okay, or because you didn’t expose to the right. You’re not re-taking shots because you didn’t like the direction the wind was blowing, or because a car got in the way of that building. Well, maybe you are — but you’re not doing it over and over again, just so you can make sure at least one of your shots is useable. You’re not firing off bursts of shots just to make sure you get that one shot that you can actually use.

And when it does come time to finish off a roll of film, you’re waiting for the development process. If you develop your own film, I tip my hat to you; I don’t think I could without going insane waiting for all the various steps. I’d much rather just give it to someone else to handle, forget about it for a day or two, then come back and grab the processed film and the scans, which I can then just load into my computer.

No mess, no fuss.

It seems that a good 85% of my photography these days is film. In a world where digital SLRs can shoot crazy numbers of frames per second (seriously, have you heard the burst rate on the 1Dx?), it’s even crazier that at times, 36 frames is too many. Having to shoot random frames to finish off a roll of film that I’m itching to be developed isn’t exactly uncommon. I’m not sure whether this is poor planning on my part or just a reality of film photography, but I do it all the time.

I find it nothing short of weird that 36 frames is at the same time too many frames, and yet, not enough.

Too many frames because film teaches you this idea that every frame counts. You only have so many shots before you have to reload your camera with another roll of film, so you make every one count. But then you finish shooting whatever you’re taking photos of, and what happens? You’ve still got a handful of shots remaining on the roll. So what do you do? Do you shoot a few fun ones just to finish it off, or do you wait until you actually have something worth taking photos of? Because I’m impatient and have more rolls of film stockpiled than I know what to do with, I usually opt for the latter. Being able to see my eagerly-taken photos is also a plus.

But at the same time, 36 frames are not enough. It’s nothing compared to any recent-ish DSLR. My 60D, for example, can do 5.3fps quite happily — whereas I can probably manage perhaps one frame a second on my manually-advanced film rangefinder. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand where a high burst rate comes in handy. Sports photography, for example, or if you’re an amateur like me and want to make sure that you’ll get at least one photo worth using, and the more shots you take, the larger chance that has of happening. And if you happen to capture more than one frame that is usable, well, what’s the big deal? Digital is cheap, remember?

Revolvers are described as six shooters. Film rangefinders, then, are thirty-six shooters.

So, you wanna be a photographer? →

A great illustrated explanation of what being a photographer means.

I see the word “professional” thrown around a lot when it comes to photography, and while I like getting paid for stuff I enjoy doing as much as the next guy, photography is somewhat unique in that it has enough mass appeal (and is now accessible and easy enough) for anyone to pick up a camera and start going for it.

Making money, though, and doing so sustainably, is another matter entirely.

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Digital is cheap. But why does that matter?

My desk, circa mid-2008

My desk, circa mid-2008.

I guess it all started when James posted a picture of his desk back in 2003. Anthony joined in with a desk from 2005, and it was all downhill from there.

As far as I can tell, the oldest photo that I can find of my desk is from July 2008. I can remember having a desk that goes back even further than that, but that sounds about right: around 2008 was when I got my first computer, the first computer that was well and truly “mine”, as opposed to the computer I had previously shared with other members of the family.

If I cared, I could probably look through a few archived hard drives that contain backups of previous computers to see if a picture earlier than 2008 existed, maybe from an old camera-phone, or maybe even an older camera. Come to think of it, we had an old digital camera from around that time, but I’d be damned if I knew where to look to find photos from it.

In an increasingly digital world, everything becomes easier. More accessible. Everything and everyone is interconnected thanks to the world wide web, and in terms of photography, that means anyone can pick it up and press shutter buttons to produce photos.

But here’s the thing: digital is cheap. Digital photography has evolved into us taking better photos, for sure, but it has also meant we’re constantly taking photos. You’ve seen it yourself: people Instagram-ing their lunch, people taking pictures of their cat, their dog, a new vase of flowers, their new outfit, a messy room, their unmade bed, a new toy, the list goes on and on. As much as we’re taking better photos, some of that can be attributed to the fact we’re taking a lot more photos than we used to — our keeper rates might not have gone up, but because we’re taking so many photos, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

“If we screw it up we can just delete and re-do.”

Digital (photography or otherwise) has created this culture where it’s as if there’s this unsaid message, one that says “if you don’t capture the memories now, then they’ll be gone forever”. It’s not uncommon to hear people saying things like “if we screw this one up, we can just delete it and re-do”. Or “take a few photos, so at least one will turn out okay”. I mean, high-FPS burst mode on digital cameras was practically invented so you could fire away bursts during group shots, so you can be 100% sure at least one of the shots will feature everyone with their eyes open — when was the last time you heard a photographer saying “now, everyone close your eyes and open them on the count of three”, at which point he’d click the shutter? Never, right?

Which brings us back to this idea that taking more photos can often lead to better photos, and the reason we take better photos is because digital is cheap.

I’ve felt this pressure myself, too. I’ve often found myself saying: “hey, this costs you nothing and means you can remember every detail of this moment every time you look at this photo in the future” on more than one occasion, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. As humans our memories aren’t perfect, so if we need a little help remembering our kids’ first steps, or that time when bird poo landed spontaneously on our friend, or that time we saw our friend at that place, what’s the harm in taking a photo to remember the occasion?

And so, as I continue to click away, to fire off burst shots, to take photos of seemingly the most random things, I remember the universal truth:

Digital is cheap. But it doesn’t matter, because memories aren’t.

The Benny Ling 2012 Photographic Year in Review: By the Numbers, An Introduction to Film, and Just Taking Photos

One of my favourite photos of the year was of this pink bike. Not this particular photo, but one of them.

2012 marks the first year I’ve taken photography seriously. I’ve always been interested in photography, but haven’t really gotten as involved with it as I did this year. It probably had a lot to do with the acquisition of my own DSLR kit late last year, and even more to do with doing my own photography — the shots I’ve seen other people take but have always wanted to apply my own spin or interpretation of, combined with the creative control a “serious” camera like a DSLR allows.

By the numbers

Lightroom says I’ve taken 7343 images with my 60D this year Of those:

  • 3493 were taken with the Sigma 30 1.4
  • 2105 were taken with the Canon 17-55 2.8
  • 662 were taken with the Canon 18-135 3.5-5.6
  • 632 were taken with the Canon 24-85 3.5-4.5
  • 200 were taken with the Canon 50 1.8
  • 251 were taken with a Samyang(?) 6.5mm fisheye

The Sigma’s high numbers are pretty easy to explain: it’s the lens that got busted out at my first ever wedding reception, and it’s usually the one that’s attached to my camera the most often. It’s usually the lens that I take when I’m going to an event at youth, and of course, being the fastest lens I own means it gets used quite a lot. Overall, I quite enjoy the Sigma — it’s a great piece of glass when you consider the price. Fast, with a great focal length for a crop sensor.

The 17-55 is easily the most expensive piece of glass that I own, and in a few respects it’s a better lens than the Sigma. Its numbers are lower than the Sigma on a pure photos-taken basis mainly because I don’t use it as much. I’m not sure why, because it can produce some truly great photos. It’s the lens I took with me to Melbourne that one time, the one I used at the Relay for Life, and what I do most of my landscapes with. But I seldom use it at youth events, purely because it looks (and feels) intimidating; people tend to shy away from it. It may produce some excellent photos, but it’s not exactly subtle. It’s heavy, too — almost a full kilo. In an ideal world I’d like this lens to be the one permanently attached to my 60D, but such is the advantage of an interchangeable camera system.

The rest of the numbers aren’t exactly special: the 18-135 was the first lens I owned, along with the 50 1.8, the latter of which doesn’t get much use due to the slightly longer focal length and the fact that I have the much better (sharper, faster) Sigma to use instead. Maybe when I go full-frame I’ll use it more, but that’s definitely for another time.

An introduction to film

Around April, I bought an old film camera, and experienced film photography for myself. Our family had an old film point and shoot before the days of digital, of course, but I rarely used personally. But the Yashica Lynx 14 I bought off an OCAU forum member made me realise that maybe there was more to this photography thing than just pressing shutter buttons. Perhaps it was the fully-mechanical nature of the camera, or maybe it was having to wait to see if my photos were any good, but film photography made me start enjoying photography all over again.

I ended up loving that Yashica Lynx — non-operational/slightly temperamental light meter and all — so much that it ended up with a stuck shutter, which was the end of that particular camera.

But by that stage I couldn’t give up rangefinder photography, which has more advantages than just looking the part with a fancy film camera. Long story short, I ended up buying a Voigtländer Bessa R2A camera, paired with a Voightlander Nokton 40 1.4 to replace the old (like, late 1960s-era old) Yashica Lynx.

The story continues…

Back in the Saddle

There’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

It encompasses the period from October to November this year, and represents a two month period where very few photos were taken.

Why? I’m not sure myself, actually. It could have been any number of things: the iPhone 5 was released during that period, Uni exams were during that period, I got into the Twilight series, and many more reasons (some even more ridiculous than the ones I’ve already posted) besides. Maybe it rained a lot. Or maybe I didn’t leave the house because I was too busy studying for exams and/or re-re-re-watching the Twilight series.

Whatever the reason, there’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

And it’s such a stupid thing to get hung up on, but it’s more than just a time where I didn’t take photos, film nor digital. Perhaps that gap represents something entirely different other than just “a period where very few photos were taken”. For example, perhaps that gap points to a period where I was felt so uninspired that taking photos felt like the worst possible thing to be doing at that time. Perhaps I just didn’t feel like competing with others when it came to taking photos.

Or maybe — and I suspect this is closer to the real reason than any any excuse I’ve offered up this far — the gap represents a time where I was questioning my own photography compared to the photography of others. By this I mean: what sets my own photography apart from those taking photos with iPhones? Or with their Polaroids? What makes my photography special? Why should I bring my camera out to events when someone else can document it just as well with their iPhone, and share it instantaneously with others?

And, you know, it’s great that we live in a world that can be documented and shared instantly with others. It’s great that iPhones now approach the capabilities of the more advanced point and shoot cameras, and it’s even better that they have the advantage of being able to share their photos instantly via the ever-connected web.

But then I think about things like Instagram, and realise that as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Cute girls post pictures of themselves on their social network of choice garner more likes than should be possible in the blink of an eye, and the more popular individuals on one social network will be equally as popular on others. Haters gonna hate, and so on, and so forth.

I’m not sure why there’s a gap in my Lightroom library. Whatever the reason, I’m glad there is — otherwise I might not be taking pictures now, and maybe, just maybe, my photos wouldn’t be nearly as good as a result1.


  1. Both photos you see in this post are from September. Bonus points if you can name the place where the second one was taken. 

Prints

Shocking photo, let down by my iPhone.

It intrigues me that in a a world where the entire process is digital, there’s still intrinsic value to be had from a distinctly analog concept; the concept of prints.

Film is so unique in that traditionally, people have just made prints directly from their negatives or slides. But then the digital revolution happened, and people started digitising their negatives so they could view them on their new-fangled computers. Prints kinda, sorta, fell out of fashion as costs for developing and printing soared with the digital revolution. For many people, digital was all about convenience — being able to instantly view photos and share them to others was a huge plus. Having to wait an entire hour before photos could be viewed was a thing of the past. Our time grew more valuable, and film was all but forgotten.

Not so in the film industry, apparently, where film still holds a special something over digital:

No wonder, then, that directors like Christopher Nolan worry that if 35mm film dies, so will the gold standard of how movies are made. Film cameras require reloading every 10 minutes. They teach discipline. Digital cameras can shoot far longer, much to the dismay of actors like Robert Downey Jr. — who, rumor has it, protests by leaving bottles of urine on set.

There’s something about film which makes it command a certain amount of respect, a certain reverence. Digital is cheap. Film is not:

“Because when you hear the camera whirring, you know that money is going through it,” Wright says. “There’s a respectfulness that comes when you’re burning up film.”

I do quite a bit of shooting for my youth group, and while I’m definitely getting too old for a “youth group”, no one really seems to mind, or at least they’re not telling me about it (a topic for another time).

At youth, we have this wall that shows off photos of the youth. Photos from past events, photos from trips to Planetshakers, photos from previous Relay events, and things like that. It’s pretty cool, but the photos are a few years old now.

I was recently approached by the youth leader, to see if we could put a few new photos up. As I was the one who had been taking photos for the better part of the year, I was the one who would provide the photos. It made complete sense, and yet, to be asked of such a thing felt like a huge honour. I know it was probably inevitable and just common sense, but still, this was a Pretty Big Deal for me.

I had already uploaded a few photos to our Facebook group, and I already have a collection in Lightroom that has all the best shots from youth, so choosing which shots to print was a non-issue.

Numbers kind of were, but I ended up being ruthless and culling mediocre photos from the ones that were worthy of being printed. There were a few exceptions to this rule, and they were mostly photos that were good in terms of subject/composition/emotion, but perhaps technically flawed (slightly missed focus, limbs cut off weirdly, etc). It was interesting finding a line between choosing photos that were interesting and showed the “right stuff”, and photos that were perhaps not that good in terms of subject, but were still interesting, like the photo below. One night we played with a strobe, and that made for a cool photo, even though you can’t make out anyone in particular.

Anyway. 105 photos later, with about 7 enlargements of the group shots, and I’m happy with how the photos turned out. It was interesting seeing the difference between how the photos looked on-screen and how they looked when printed out, but for the most part things were pretty good.

All in all, a good experience. It’s kinda funny, because photography enthusiasts and hobbyists don’t really print out their digital images all that often, but mums, dads, and grandparents do it all the time.

Funny how things work like that.

Film, continued

Red Awning

One of the crazy things I love about film is that your photos can change depending on what film you’re using, how it’s developed, and if you’re getting scans done, how good the scanner is.

It’s like each kind of film has its own character. Each kind of film is unique, different to the next, and I’m not even talking about the difference between B&W, slides/transparencies, or colour negatives, I’m talking about differences in grain type and amount, colour reproduction, dynamic range, and so on.

The differences between different brands and even different labels within the same manufacturer is crazy. Buy Kodak Portra, and you’ll get different/better skin tones than, say, Kodak Gold. Buy Kodak Ektar and, you’ll get much nicer grain than Kodak Ultramax (ISO differences aside). And so on.

It’s one of the things that appeals to me about film: digital is very predictable in terms of what you can expect straight out of the camera, whereas with film the kind of film you’re shooting can have a much greater impact on your photos than what kind of lens you’re using, for example. The differing characteristics from one film to the next give it that special edge over digital. It just adds a bit of variety, you know?

One of the realities of photography is that as you increase the sensitivity, you increase the amount of artefacts that appear in your image. With digital, as you ramp up the ISO you get more noise. With film, as you get a higher-rated film you get more grain. But here’s the rub: film grain resolves detail much better than digital noise does. Not only that, but film grain is much more evenly spread out across the image. Compare that to digital, where noise is essentially just a whole lot of random pixels, and can differ in appearance depending on where it appears in the image (i.e. it’s more pronounced in shadows than it is on subjects).

Don’t get me wrong, film is “worse” for grain at the same sensitivities when compared to digital. My DSLR can practically see in the dark when I’m shooting at ISO 12,800, but things are, not surprisingly, pretty noisy at those kinds of ISOs. At the same sensitivities, digital beats film hands down — but I much prefer the look of film grain to digital noise.

I’ve been asked if I develop my own stuff, and the answer is: no. Not because I don’t want to, but because that’s a whole other can of worms. For now, I get my C-41 (colour negatives) processed and either scanned or printed locally (i.e. Hobart), and I haven’t shot any E-6 (slides/transparencies) but I know that no one in Hobart commercially develops it anymore, and same goes for B&W.

I mean, developing your own film does have its advantages; you’re the only one that gets to see your “work”, you’re totally self-sufficient, and apparently it’s extremely cheap to DIY, but — and here’s the kicker — it’s a lot of extra work. Developing your own negatives requires messing around with chemicals, temperatures, not to mention the fact you need to arrange some kind of total-darkness environment. We haven’t even touched on the problem of needing to digitise your own negatives/slides, requiring a half-decent scanner if you want any kind of quality scans. Consumer flatbeds just don’t cut it.

Make no mistake, developing your own negatives is a whole different ball game. It gives you total control over your photography, but it’s a lot of extra work on top of just taking the shot.

Maybe I’ll start thinking about developing my own if I start taking this any more seriously than just what I’m doing at the moment, but for now, the local lab does acceptable scans, even if they’re not as high a quality that I would like (only 3 megapixels!).

I have a new camera on the way, which is a nice little Olympus point and shoot. I’ve been wanting a film camera as a daily carry for a while now, and maybe this little Olympus will be a good compromise for the time being. At least until I work up the courage to fork out for a Bessa, anyway.