Colour or not colour; that is the question

It won’t surprise anyone who has read even some of my blogs that I have my own views on whether to shoot colour or monochrome. You may have heard me express the sentiment that I generally shoot colour and then desaturate if I think the image would look better in B&W. It gives more choice, I feel. Other people prefer to shoot monochrome in the camera, and that is their choice. I do it myself occasionally, if I think it’s what the picture calls for. I’d love to be rich enough to have a camera “dedicated” to each, but that’s not very likely to happen.

Let’s face it: if the camera makers made it easier to flip between the two we wouldn’t be having the discussion, because a simple flick of a switch would give us either colour or B&W in a moment. Instead we have to paw through menus and push buttons, which rather spoils the fun. I’d like to see a combined ISO/Colour dial with speeds of 50 (please bring that back; the sun does shine sometimes) to 800 (above that doesn’t gain you much but noise) and half in colour half in B&W or maybe even thirds for high colour and low colour and B&W. I don’t know; if someone pays me to work out the details I will, okay?

Anyway the subject today is how and why I choose between the two. To start with, we have the Work Truck:

For me the colour is a distraction here, mainly because of the background blues competing with the subject which is practically monochrome (sepia) all on its own. In B&W the crazing on the panel is more prominent, and you might notice some of the smaller details of the form (such as how it sags on one side) because you’re not looking at the wide tonal range. I tried this in low saturation colour and didn’t like it. Shifting it to sepia (basically the colour of the dirt on the truck) however, works. Possibly the best version:

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The background colours are no longer a distraction, and the monochrome aspect of the road dirt (the main point of the image) is emphasized. Although you could argue that the colour version puts the road dirt into vivid contrast with the rest of the scene.

Now let’s look at a picture which works either way:

In the colour version we see the nice brass of the candlestick as well as the red and green remains of previous candle wax in the base. The blue background complements all of it, including the shapely shadows. In the monochrome version the image becomes one of shape and texture, of which it has a lot. In fact you could say it’s more poetic as the snuffed candle contrasts with the long shadow of the daylight (side note: this is not early or late light, it’s just the very low sun angle we have at this time of year. It stopped me taking it direct-on because it glared back horribly. “Angle of reflection is equal to angle of incidence.”)  Now here’s two more versions, low colour and “sepia” (actually trying to match the brass tone of the holder), both of which “work” in my opinion:

If someone asked me to pick between the four I’d have a hard time of it. Perhaps I should do a large image with the four versions together, like Warhol? *LOL*

Now a picture which could only be in colour. If this were monochrome it would be gray on gray, as there wouldn’t be enough contrast to show the fine details. This basically is a picture of colour contrast:

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Brush Strokes In The Sky

Finally here’s an image that only works in B&W. I thought this when I planned the shot, and so took it in monochrome to begin with which is unusual for me:

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Lonely Bear

If this were in colour you would see the bright blue of the background cloth, the bright red of the bear’s scarf, and the contrasting browns of the bear itself. All of which would remove the sense of melancholy generated by the image of a teddy bear that’s been left behind for some reason.

We have a mixture of images from the two Kodaks in this series: the P850 is responsible for the candlestick and the bear, the V1003 took the truck and the sky (with some post-shoot help for its failing sensor).

Evaluating my Kodak P850

This is not a review. This is an evaluation to see if I should continue using the old camera. I bought the P850 some time between when it came out in 2005 and when we moved to our current location in 2009. That makes it ten to fourteen years old now. Pretty long years in the electronic device timeline.

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It was my primary camera until I replaced it with the still astounding Nikon P610 (which I don’t remember when I bought either, but it was after 2009). At the time the Kodak was pretty remarkable with what was then state-of-the art specifications including 5 megapixels CCD sensor (stop laughing) and a 12X zoom (f2.8/3.7 6-72mm Schneider-Kreuznach) lens with image stabilization. Not so impressive today, even compared to most point-and-shoot cameras.

It had some other great features which I lament are missing from newer units, such as three user-programmable functions right on the main control dial, and ISO down to 50 (although only up to 400). The major complaint is that the controls are not terribly intuitive and if it weren’t for the ability to set C1-C2-C3 (and then try to remember how they are set) it would be quite a pain to make changes for different picture-taking circumstances.

Somehow I managed to take some fairly decent photos with it anyway:

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So here I am with this old, ‘primitive’ digital camera. Its battery is no good; barely able to hold a partial charge long enough to fire off a few shots. In fact while doing so the Voltage goes down and camera function becomes erratic. Is it worth investing $12+ for a couple (can’t find single) new batteries? How usable is it, really? And would I use it if I could?

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To find out, I’ve been repeatedly recharging the lame battery to get a few shots now and then and see how it performs. If it doesn’t produce ‘good enough’ shots there certainly isn’t any reason to go on, right? Well is 5MP ‘good enough’? Um, yes it is; 2592 x 1944 pixels is greater than my (1366 x768) computer screen, exceeds Kodak’s recommended minimum (1600 x 1200) for even a 20 x 30 print, and certainly exceeds the 640 x 480 I normally post on-line. So how’s the quality, then?

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Pretty damn good, I’d say.

For practical purposes I’ve imposed some limits on the camera. The battery is dying, so I’ve shut down the flash (which is broken) and turned off the 4X digital zoom (which the 5MP doesn’t do well with anyway as it reduces the results to around 1MP equivalent). I could turn off the constant autofocus, but I like it. True it eats battery like piranhas go through toes of the improvident, but it speeds up shooting. With the other two cameras I use you have to wait for them to focus before the shutter clicks. We’re talking photographs here; things that occur in a fraction of a second. In those terms focus time is significant. The zoom is another slow, battery-eating operation, but there I’m stuck. One great thing about the Canon is being able to twist that ring and get the framing I want faster than any motor ever thought of. (Oddly enough it’s the one lens ring they give you with numbers, despite the fact knowing the focal length is not important to producing the image.) Right. So all the many other menu-nested options ignored, let’s see results.

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My conclusion is that this ‘out-of-date, primitive’ camera with it’s ‘lack of features’ (I’m “reverse-quoting” how it would be described by professional reviewers today) holds up pretty good against the 16MP Nikon P610 and the 18MP Canon T100 for general picture-taking. I should also mention it can’t make use of larger SD cards, because they didn’t exist when the camera was made. In fact the manual lists cards measured in megabytes, but the camera seems to handle 2GB okay. But now the tough question: would I use it enough to justify buying the new batteries?

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Here’s one way of looking at it: for roughly $14 tax included the P850 could be the “take it everywhere” camera, even with its meager 5MP resolution, because the value (originally around $400, btw) has already been had from it: over 2,000 photos so far. Certainly cheaper than spending, say, $120 on a Canon ELPH 180 and having that get stolen. True the Canon has 4X the resolution, but slightly less (8X) optical zoom (they both have 4X digital zoom, but obviously the Canon would come out ahead there). Perhaps I should compare it to the Nikon W100 I bought to replace the ailing Kodak V1003. The P850 is larger and rather more awkward to use than either, or the Canon ELPH.

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In the end the problem appears to have ‘solved itself’: it seems the only places the battery is available from will not ship to my location, because lithium batteries are so ‘dangerous’. This despite the fact numerous electronic devices with batteries are shipped here without hindrance. It’s just some sort of selective silliness. According to the Zen, it means it’s not to be.

C’est la vie.

Addendum: I may be able to buy a set of batteries from a different source for about $10 more. I’m not convinced it’s worth it. What do you think?