Re-learning curve: Canon 1Ds

“Re-learning”? Not with this camera! This is the ‘full frame’ DSLR, and as such has the largest and brightest viewfinder. Seeing what I’m trying to photograph is the biggest problem these days, and with the 1Ds it’s almost not an issue. Likewise the Canon G11 with its optical finder gives similar performance. Only the EVFs and smaller, dimmer optical finders present much difficulty.

Okay this camera still has poorly-thought-out controls, but I know where they are and don’t have to change them often. Also it weighs a lot. But what about the all-important results? Well I took 28 photos and only 6 of them are actually bad. That’s the best post-eye-problem ratio of any camera I’ve got.

All these photos were taken with the 75-300mm Canon EF lens. Some are the full image, some are cropped to varying degrees. This is not the best lens either, but it was cheap and it works.

Landscape view. Or ‘lakescape’ perhaps.


Shrouded in mystery.

Birds fly in the lake of the sky.

Natural guitar pick. (Stone full of mica.)

Bird in a tree.

First of this year’s wood harvest. (640 x 426 segment of full frame.)


The success with using this camera reinforces the validity of my revised plan. In fact replacing this camera and the T100 with a 5D Mk II would by viable, but unlikely to happen. At this point I’m aiming for keeping the Fuji F80, Canon G11, Nikon P610 (which needs replacing at a later date), Canon T100, and this Canon 1Ds. Also I will use various adapters to allow the use of classic lenses with either Canon DSLR (the full frame cameras are not quite as good with this due to some lenses getting in the way of the larger mirrors).

To that end I have purchased some new equipment which hasn’t arrived yet but will result in further posts when it does. I’m not doing so well at selling off the superfluous stuff, but then there’s a lot else going on around here now with the start of the annual wood harvest.

Equipment sidetrack

Sydney J. Harris used to write columns about “Things I learned en route to looking up other things”. This is something like that, but not exactly.

Idly I am poking through equipment for sale, wondering if certain items can be fit into the revised Master Plan, and occasionally bidding on whatever I think might. This has included some rather wild detours like Sony a6000 to get the hi-res sensor and mirrorless adapt-almost-any-lens ability to switching to Nikon DSLR for the same hi-res reason or even because I want to try out some of the older, CCD equipped cameras of theirs. None of that happened. A lot of lenses passed as well.

What I did buy was some more lens adapters for the Canon EF cameras, just in case I found a Canon FD or Nikon F lens for such a price as couldn’t be passed up. In essence, the redesigned plan is to reduce the DSLRs to Canon only, because then it’s all fairly interchangeable and a lot of old glass can be easily adapted to it. Also no need to memorize six or eight different control configurations. Makes sense, right?

The only change, then, was acquiring a Canon T7 to get a 24MP sensor (1/3 more pixels than the T100 so worth the switch). I haven’t succeeded in this either, as they mostly go for more money than I’m willing to put into this project at this point. For another thing, selling off the superfluous equipment is proving to be quite a stumbling block.

Anyway, that’s the plan now: Canon 1Ds (too big and heavy for anyone else to want), replace the Canon T100 with a T7 to get higher res on the hi-res camera, keep the Canon G11 and Fuji F80 carry-along cameras, and continue using the Nikon P610 as the “daily driver” until it fails entirely. Hopefully by that point I can save up enough for a replacement like a Canon SX70.

Oh and one other thing: try, try, try to avoid buying any more equipment just because it’s cheap or interesting (and cheap). Sensible, right? Right. Let’s see me actually manage to do it.

Now off to one side I come across this blog by favourite writer Eric L. Woods: A Sigma dp2 Quattro Fascinating camera. The Foveon sensor is built like a layer of colour film, and the results show. Several of the other X3 write-ups I found dismissed the design as though they were written by people with stock in other sensor manufacturers or something. Much of it was confused and contradictory so I guess maybe they didn’t understand it. Personally I like the concept and the results.

I also like the fact they didn’t go crazy on cramming “features” into this camera. It has some faults to be sure, like no EVF. Considering how expensive it is that’s just stupid. But largely it is a digital camera for a film photographer. Too bad about the price. In my “ideal” camera design I can see that Foveon X3 sensor as a key element.

That’s all as maybe. I have to try and focus on my current projects, including the wood harvest that has just started. It’s been difficult as the still-present smoke makes me cough almost instantly when I so much as talk, never mind work. I got a lot done yesterday when there was no smoke about, so timing is vital to success.

In the meantime there’s only a few more things on e-Bay I want to keep track of. Just in case.

First load of firewood for this year.

Loose ends

Time to bring you up to date on what’s been going on around here.

First of all, the picture I forgot to include in the blog about the Olympus E-410:

640×480 crop of full image.

This shows that the camera used with a good lens doesn’t have problems. You see grain, not blur. That means the Olympus lenses are where the shortcomings are with that system. Goes with this pic, btw:

Lorne’s boat using the 50mm Takumar on the E-410. It’s fine.

Second, we had a visitor on Thursday:

Mr. Otis Bear

He spent most of the day crashing around in the foliage by the creek, just beside the cabin. He was stripping off berries to eat and driving the dogs crazy. I believe it’s one of the cubs that were coming ’round here with their mama this Spring. Seems to have gone now.

Third item is that the smoke has rolled in again as of Friday. Along with a high of 97F. Fires are still bad and people are being warned to stay away from certain areas, not just the evac alert/order zones. Honestly anyone vacationing in BC right now must be certifiably insane.

Beautiful view, wasn’t it?

Fortunately I was able to do some photo work before it got like this. Can’t even breath out there now. It’s looking a bit “life crisis” for me in fact. Bad enough I have to re-arrange my camera arsenal without having to re-arrange my entire way of living.

So I forgot about ‘back button’ focusing of the Pentax, and can’t tell if something is sharp or not anyway. This is a ‘salvaged shot’.

I’m actually working on a new “Master Plan” to go with my failed eyesight. The best camera I’ve got for working with my vision right now is the Canon PowerShot G11, which not only has a purely optical finder and limited zoom range (so basically anything I can see I can shoot), but also the nice colour tones of a CCD sensor. Beyond that … well I’ll explain the equipment shift at a later date. It’s still in flux anyway.

Butterfly, taken with the Canon T100.

More to come …

Re-learning curve: Canon T100

Four weeks since having my retina welded. If there’s any further improvement it will be minor and slow, so I’ve got to work with how I see things now.

Last week, before the smoke filled the valley here and I started choking on every breath, I got a chance to try using the Canon T100 APS-C DSLR. This included some experiments with the manual Pentax Super Takumar lenses, not a one of which produced an acceptable picture. Curiously my ability to judge exposure has been affected, in that bright scenes seem darker and dark scenes seem brighter than either actually is. O-kay, going to need a light meter to do that now I guess. I mean I was off a good 2 stops on every shot regardless of lighting. That’s really bad for me. I can’t have an instant “do over” because I can’t see the camera’s LCD well either.

On to automatic lenses, exposure, and focus! I paid for those functions so I’m going to use them. In theory this eliminates many issues and leaves me dealing only with composition matters. In theory.

Sky before the smoke moved in. A ‘general’ picture that came out fine.

Then we started getting some weird clouds. Picture is still okay, though.

“Silver and Gold”. The smoke begins to affect the light.

“Bugsy sent me!” Experiment with close-up focus (mud wasps).

How to drive the autofocus nuts. It had a helluva time latching on to that web! The difference here was sufficient that even I could see if it had worked before pressing the shutter.

Artistic image achieved.

The issues with this camera are that its EF-S lenses are not the sharpest (and I need all the sharpness I can get now) and the ‘focal points’ are little black dots in the viewfinder; my eyes now have their own little black dots and I kept getting confused about which dot was which for trying to fix focus. In short the extra effort I need to go to now in order to get an acceptable image has slowed down my photography, whether I want to take my time or not. This is a problem for any rapid ‘grab shots’ of wildlife, for example. The lowered resolution of my vision makes spotting birds in trees extremely difficult, and even affects my ability to recognize a potential scene. ‘Obvious objects’ are much easier to pick out. They just aren’t always the thing I want to photograph.

I have my Olympus E-410 here as well. I’ve yet to buy the longest lens for it (70-300mm zoom) because they are always 3X as much as I paid for the camera and the two shorter zooms. However if the smoke would like to go away I can evaluate that for use with “my new eyesight”. The Pentax K100D Super should get a check too, although that camera had issues even without vision problems factored in. It is because of the changes and the fact I have four different DSLRs with five (or six if you count the classic glass) different lens systems that I’m rethinking how I do photography.

The two bright spots are the Canon G11 and Fuji F80, which are just point-and-shoot basically and not a concern. Likewise the Nikon is hanging in there, but its failings of focus and exposure are now exacerbated by my own. Thinning the herd to where I have fewer cameras which I can more easily use and that produce results I want is what I’m contemplating now.

Recovery week

Leftover shot from the Olympus E-410.

So surgery last Sunday. Doctor said I could go home and resume my normal activities. There were a couple of problems with that, starting with not coming out of the anesthesia well. Also, he must think my normal activities are sitting on the couch doing nothing. Got home Monday.

Then things got complicated. Called GP on Thursday who called the surgeon who called back and … there’s me rushing into town because bleeding isn’t a good thing to do at any time.

Right. Home again. Less pain, not bleeding. This is better.

Meanwhile about two weeks have been lost to this. Several important things have not gotten done, and I’m not sure I’m up to doing them yet.

But the worst part is I saw a lot of nice photo opportunities on the way to Kamloops and back, but couldn’t do anything about them. (“Stop the ambulance! I need to shoot that mountain!”) I also didn’t get to do any shopping, oddly enough. They really don’t want patients wandering around the city on their own.

Things should get back to normal now but … there’s a problem on my other side as well, it just hasn’t reached emergency-surgery level. Yet.

Nevertheless, life goes on. You can debate whether or not that’s a good thing.

In the meantime I polished the lens for the Pentax K100DS, and then realized I can’t go wandering around taking pictures with it to see if it’s any better now or needs another scrub. I spent some time marking fraud camera ads on EBay – same scam tried multiple times every weekend for months now and it never works; the perpetrator(s) is (are) dumb.

Still looking for a decent deal on a Canon 5D. There are many out there, and the prices they want for even the old ones is ridiculous. Supply and demand, I suppose. I’m not investing crazy money in a camera I’ll likely use only for a few occasional shots. The G11 and E-410 I picked up cheap have already more than earned their price, to me anyway. I’d like to be able to wander around town with the G11 some more too. It’d be nice to wander around Kam and maybe Williams Lake with it as well, but that’s two whole other safaris that will probably never happen. Time constraints, you see.

Also still looking for the long zoom that fits the Olympus E-410. Here’s why:

Full scene at 300mm equivalent.

640×480 crop – not as sharp as I’d like.

I think it would make a great birding camera with the 600mm equivalent on it. But they seem to go for over $300, and that’s kind of silly considering I got the camera and the two shorter zooms for a tad over $100. That’s a black-capped chickadee in there, by the way.

I’ve skipped a few ‘bargain’ cameras I’ve seen because I don’t need them. Better to spend the money towards the equipment I’m actually after than buy something just because it’s a good deal, eh? This included a Pentax K10, which I let go because it isn’t that much different from the K100DS – just more MP really, and I’ve proved that isn’t as important as manufacturers would have you believe it is.

The forecast says we will have above freezing every day and below freezing every night for the next couple of weeks, so the snow pack will continue to melt slowly. At this point it would be overly ambitious to think about getting back to the cabin and all the work awaiting me there. Best to take it easy for a while and slowly work my way back up to normal activities. Most of which I shouldn’t be doing at my age anyway, I’m told.

Another ‘leftover’ shot out of the Olympus.

Misc. and mystery

Raven between the lines.

“Lee” I said, “why are you here again?”

The Major sat on the counter and grinned his evil grin. “My purpose in life is to make your life miserable” he said.

“Well you’re doing a damn good job” I admitted, “so you should be promoted. To Glory, by preference.”

Now that we’ve got that out of the way …

Sun over moon.

You know what’s not fun? Getting home from shopping on Friday to discover that now there’s a package waiting at the post office. It will have to continue to wait until Tuesday.

You know what else isn’t fun? Having a COVID-19 outbreak not only at the nearby reservation (where the infection rate is 25% and climbing) but also at the hospital in the ‘big city’. Our “isolated” community is now a contaminated one, and there’s no vaccine in sight. As such I have adopted some of my wife’s pandemic paranoia for my very own.

When the snakes go marching in.

Another thing that isn’t fun is finally getting a lens that was ordered back before Christmas, and finding it is a C/Y mount (Contax/Yashica) not a PK mount (Pentax K bayonet) as was advertised. This means either a long-distance, cross-country exchange or buying an adapter to make the lens usable on the Canon (or the Olympus, which I’ve found also can take it). Because I need the hassle of that? No, I don’t.

Also it isn’t fun when the temperature drops to -12 every night as the weather gears up for that being the daily high. I must split more wood before it does. That means more pain, and I’ve got too much of that already. I keep waiting for remission but get increased symptoms instead.

Marley the Model Dog.

So while I’m bored I troll Ebay for no good reason, and worse. You do see interesting things though, and some laughable practices. Anyway I look at cameras. Despite insisting I do not collect them anymore. I do like to look, however.

Now, if I were to collect them again … well there are a few I’d add to the arsenal ‘just because’. In alphabetical order, then:

Canon; in addition to the Canon cameras that would add to my repertoire there are some that might be nice to have. The 40D for example, because it would be a second EOS body but in the 10MP size which is my preference for “low” resolution. Conversely something like a 90D would be nice for exactly the opposite reason: it is definitely “high” resolution at 33MP and I’d like to try that for myself just to see what observations I’d have about it. I could compromise on a T7, which is 1/3 more MP than my T100, but they’re all too much money – even the 40D – for cameras that I know would not get much use after the initial experiments. I’d also like to try the PowerShot Elph 135 to see how its CCD sensor compares to others.

Fujifilm; any X model. Really this is a range of truly nifty cameras with great styling (especially the retro-look pseudo rangefinder models) and excellent image quality. Not a one of which could I afford and none would add anything to my shooting. Owning one of these is a purely aesthetic pipe dream. The Fuji I have, an F80 EXR, is an amazing performer that’s just the right size for my shirt pocket to go along everywhere in case I need to take a picture. I’ll stick with that one.

Kodak; none. Sorry, George, but even though I’ve had excellent use of three different digital Kodak cameras over the years there is nothing in the now-defunct company line-up that has anything ‘special’ about it. Even the few with exceptional specifications are plagued by a reputation for premature failure.

Nikon; does “D” stand for “Dull” or “Don’t bother”? I’ve tried out a Nikon D80 that was my Dad’s and it didn’t ‘connect’ with me. On the plus side the retention of the film camera lens mount would be great, especially if I’d been able to keep even some of the dozens of Nikon lenses. But I couldn’t so … mute point. I chose the Canon digital system because it is better at adapting old lenses of many brands, it having a very large ‘throat’ compared to the Nikon or Pentax. If I were going to pick up a Nikon digital it probably would be a D80 or a D200. But have you ever noticed how many broken ones are offered? Partly this is due to high sales in the first place, although you also have to wonder about the quality. There seems to be a disproportionate number of failures compared to other brands. Anyway there are no ‘special’ aspects to them, they are just competent cameras. But they all cost too much, even broken.

This camera doesn’t shoot in B&W.

Olympus; well yes I’d still like an E-300 or other CCD version of the E-410 I have. It would be silly to buy one, though. In fact a PEN E-PL1 (or later version) would be better as it has the micro 4/3 lens mount which is more adaptable of classic lenses. But it would have to have the optional EVF as using just an LCD is a right pain in bright light. Besides, the T100 already does the job of adapting old glass. I wish I’d saved some more of that old glass. *sigh* If wishes were Porsches beggars would drive*. As for the OM-D models … well the touch screens put me off. Also the prices.

Pentax; a K10D for me, please. Old enough to have a CCD sensor but new enough to have 10MP and sensor-shift stabilization. The K10D is probably the pinnacle classic Pentax DSLR. It’s also one of the priciest. The other Pentax model I’d love to try out is the medium-format 645D/Z. I could make an argument that it would add to my photography, but what it would take away from my bank account would be scary.

Sony; well, something. I should have some model from this brand. I have looked at Sony bridge cameras and not bought any for various reasons. After that you’re into the a6000 or a7 series models and that means the kind of money that could buy a good used car. I doubt even the best of Sony’s offerings would help my photography in any way; my art doesn’t call for such levels of perfection. It’s just that I’d like to try it out to see what all the pros, and amateurs with too much money to spend, are talking about. The downside here is that I might like it.

I’ve skipped some brands. I’ve skipped many models. I’m just dreaming out loud here. I haven’t even given a hint (or have I?) about the Mystery Camera, which is what made the images for today.

More later, unless WordPress pulls the plug on the Classic Editor or I fill up the allotted storage space.

Uh, yeah.

*Original version: “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.”

PowerShot powered up

Having received the replacement battery charger for my Canon PowerShot G11 it is now back in operation. A quick review of the tool kit here shows six cameras ‘in use’ and another six put away, including the Kodak P850 which had developed erratic operation. The ‘Mystery Camera’ still has this problem and may be relegated to inactive duty, but there’s still a chance for it – if the sensor swabs ever arrive.

Meanwhile no luck at securing a Canon 5D or SX60/70. Sometimes you gotta run what you brung, so here’s some pictures from the G11:

Cat-wrapping paper.

Raven overhead. I literally bent over backward for this shot.


Wild dogs foraging in the snow.

Up on the roof.

I’m walkin’, yes indeed!

I have not done as much ‘street photography’ with this camera as I had intended due to the fact that every time I need to go to town the weather is heavily gray and very cold so I just want to get the trip over with as quickly as possible. It has to get better someday, right?


Or; things I came across while looking for other things.

Search engines aren’t what they used to be, especially on certain websites. They used to work. They still do after a fashion, but you have to want what they find for you. Logical operators no longer function, so instead of meeting specific criteria they return anything that has any part of your request. For example if you go looking for the rare four thirds lenses, you get micro four thirds* by the hundreds – as well as dozens of things you may have trouble figuring out the association with. Amazon is champion at this as almost any search will turn up women’s clothing. This is indicative of the other part of the problem; those listing items not categorizing them correctly, whether by accident or on purpose, in the first place.

As frustrating as it is when you’re really trying to locate something, it has its humourous side as well. And sometimes you find little nuggets of ‘gold’. Here are a few unusual items I’ve come across lately while looking around (for no good reason other than that I’m bored and can’t get out and about to take pictures).

Pentax 110 SLR lens

Back in the film days Pentax made a 110 cartridge SLR camera with interchangeable lenses. My Uncle Roger had a few of them because he thought they were amusing. They were cute little things and they were well made, but unfortunately the film wasn’t: 110C started out with high standards and quickly degraded to amateur camera status as it didn’t make a dent in the professional market. To be fair 126C was basically 828/135 film inside a plastic cartridge and it failed for the same reason (yes there were 126C SLRs such as this; Instamatic Reflex ). Here we have a lens for one of those Pentax 110C SLRs offered as “can be adapted to micro 4/3”! I’m sure it would be a good shooter. By the way, Yashica made a few high-grade 110C cameras too, but not SLRs:

Yashica Atoron 110C

Staying in the field of unusual lenses, we have this for those who can’t decide between a 28mm and a 35mm wide-angle lens; behold the Soligor Dualfocal! At 7mm, the shortest range zoom lens ever!

Soligor Dualfocal

This isn’t really a zoom lens per se as it just shifts between 28mm and 35mm. I can see where that might be handy. Or a zoom with detent stops at ‘standard’ focal lengths perhaps? Such would probably be pricey as manufacturers don’t like to be that accurate unless there’s a lot of money in it for them.

When looking at lens adapters I came across this most unusual one:

Kodak Signet 80 to micro 4/3

The Kodak Signet 80 was a rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses – to of the 1950s Signet line that included the venerable 35, 30, 40, and 50 models as well. Here we see some clever machine work done to adapt the lens to micro 4/3 cameras. Signet 80 lenses are fairly rare, but it just goes to show that if you want to use a lot of various vintage glass a micro 4/3 camera can probably take whatever antique lens you can find!

Now for the funny stuff. I found not one but two “ghost hunting cameras”! Better known as “full-spectrum” cameras. I have to wonder if they really are modified, or are just plain bad at accurate colour rendering! *LOL*

Olympus “ghost camera”

Fujifilm “ghost camera”

These lead us to ask two questions: 1). do ghosts emanate or reflect infrared and/or ultraviolet? (They don’t have corporeal bodies so they shouldn’t produce heat); 2). if they don’t reflect the visible spectrum, how can you see where to aim the camera? I guess you just point and click and hope for the best. There’s a lot of that style of photography around. *LOL*

If you’re wondering just what it was I actually searched for, you’ll have to go on wondering. When I find it I’ll let you know.

*The ‘four thirds’ sensor size started out with reflex cameras before the mirrorless ‘micro four thirds’ units came along. The difference is in the distance between the sensor and the lens mount: the original was about 39mm to have enough room for the mirror; the micro version is about 19mm because there is no mirror to accommodate and that means it is easier to build external adapters that can connect just about any lens to the camera as the extra distance gives plenty of space to ‘shrink’ a larger lens mount to the micro four thirds’ smaller throat. The other choice for easy lens adaptability is a large throat on the camera, such as with the Canon EOS; this allows a smaller lens to mount within the opening, thus not altering the lens-to-sensor distance and therefor infinity focus. Trivia: one of the tightest lens adaptations is M42 to PK; the Pentax screw thread lenses on to Pentax bayonet cameras. This is because the lenses and mount were adapted over to begin with to create the bayonet ‘K’ series, and are almost identical in size. They really just changed the mount. Why mess with the lens design when all you have to do is update the connection, right? Unfortunately it means the adapters are delicate metal rings and often come with an accessory ‘key’ to twist them out of the bayonet because getting a purchase on them with your fingers alone can be difficult.

Genuine Pentax M42 to PK adapter. Cheaper ones come from China now.

Types of photography

Advisory: this is a long, words-only post that won’t be of interest to everyone. Or maybe not to anyone. It is a prelude to future posts in that it contains certain references which will recur at later times.

Part I: Categories of photography and what they need.

In the past I have mentioned the Camera Decision website with its fine database of info on many (but obviously not all) digital cameras. They also have comparison tools to weigh one against another, and evaluations of individual units based on five types of photography: Portrait, Street, Sports, Daily, and Landscape.

These categories, in my opinion, fall short by three, and in any case the evaluations are somewhat subjective (as are all such reviews, including my own). The site has, shall we say, a certain techno-glitz bias that is unbecoming and unhelpful. For example; wireless technology may be fun to play with, but it does not really add to the camera’s ability to take a good picture. As for touch-screens – they rather do the opposite. I’ve seen the smartphone fanatics swearing at their marvelous devices as they struggle to get the things to perform a function with the flick of a finger that a simple button press would have done in half the time with none of the frustration.

But I digress. In fact certain camera functions are more helpful to some types of photography than they are to others. For instance a very high shutter speed is conducive to grabbing that perfect sports shot, but not so necessary when taking a picture of a mountain that is going to be sitting quite still in the same location for another few million years anyway. Camera Decision doesn’t always see things this way. As in their tendency to believe wireless connectivity and RAW file format are boons to all types of photography. I don’t know for a fact, but after reading many of their reviews I’ve come to believe they are written by AI algorithm rather than a human being; there is a sort of set form with ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ style to it.

So let this ol’ film photographer with his mere 50+ years experience using hundreds of different cameras have his say. I’m going to whether you read this or not. I’ll look at the categories and comment on what functions I think enhance performance for them, then I’ll explain my three ‘additional’ categories. Also we are not talking about video functions here, as I don’t do video. In fact that would start even more arguments, so let’s leave it alone.

Portrait.  Let’s take this to mean an in-studio (or perhaps impromptu studio) picture of a person. You have the advantage of being able to control the situation almost entirely, so high-speed capture and amazing automatic functions are not key here. It’s all about the image rendering. To my thinking, the ideal camera for this function would be a full-frame (as in 35mm film size) or larger CCD sensor of 20+ MP. That camera does not exist, as far as I know. But the principal is sound: a large, high resolution sensor because you need plenty of detail and you may be doing a lot more fine-tuning of the final shot than you would with more casual type photography. Manual focusing is advantageous, as is manual exposure (although you may choose not to use either), and a large hi-resolution LCD screen. Yes, that’s right: the big can’t-be-seen-in-daylight thing that essentially mimics a view camera. Squinting through an eye-level finder when you’re trying to compose a portrait is not the easiest thing to do; you can miss fine details of composition. Oh and external flash sync is nice because sometimes that’s the kind of light you want. Also this is one of two categories where the ability to save files in RAW is advantageous, as post-processing is more likely to be used here than in other categories.

Footnote on flash lighting: no flash function is more helpful than fill-in. Believe me, that can save many an outdoor shot that would otherwise be lost to strong shadows. Not all cameras have this, whether they have built-in flash or not.

Street. This would be classified mostly as candid camera work, where you’re taking shots of life as it happens. Certainly some architectural elements may be involved, but a lot of it is catching the moment of human interaction with the environment. Thus you want to be as unobtrusive as possible. I have a friend who does a lot of car-spotting photos and he has become a bit paranoid after too many instances of harassment and threats, sometimes by the police. Even though the legal standing in most free societies is that there is no privacy in a public place, and you only need a model release if the image is used for financial gain (a legally vague term). In the case of “news-worthy” pictures even that last item does not always apply. So stealth is the main characteristic for good street photography. Even with willing subjects, you get a ‘more realistic’ picture if they don’t know they’re being photographed. This makes the subjective function of “ergonomics” key to this category. In other words, a big camera that makes you highly noticeable is not what you want here. Pretty much any DSLR is going to stick out like a sore thumb, as will any compact you have to hold in front of you at “half arm’s length” to see the view. An LCD that can go horizontal like a waste-level finder is helpful (oh how I miss real waste-level finders!), but failing that a compact with eye-level finder will do the job. (Trivia: in the early days of photography there was a camera made which took pictures perpendicular to the direction it appeared to be aimed.) The other key factors here would be well-functioning automatic everything; you do not want to be mucking about setting settings. Let the camera pick the focus, exposure, et cetera – and it had better be good at it. Image stabilization, although not vital, can be helpful here as well.

Sports. Lights, camera, action! Sports photography kind of assumes there is going to be high-speed motion – and unpredictability. Here is where not just auto-focus but fast and accurate auto-focus is a godsend. This may mean the need for many focus points or a variety of AF types (there are several) so you can pick the one that works best for you. Also the ability to shoot at a fairly high frames-per-second rate so that you can follow that action and get that one-shot-out-of-many that is the “perfect moment” frozen in time.  Since you’re often shooting at telephoto lengths and quickly, image stabilization is almost a ‘must’. Needless to say, good auto-exposure helps too because as with Street photography you’re not going to have a lot of time to play with settings. In the old days, btw, we used to “pre-set” the camera for focus & aperture to try and get a wide range of sharpness in the image via depth-of-field. This coupled with the highest possible shutter speed to stop motion and ‘stabilize’ the image. It even worked sometimes. Otherwise this category also wants a light and easy to handle camera – an entirely subjective description which depends on what the particular photographer is comfortable with. And before you grumble about new cameras too much, pick up a Speed Graphic and carry it around awhile; that’s the way it used to be done.

Daily. The best way to describe daily photography would be “average pictures”. These are the average shots we take daily, get it? So how average is the camera? Not how well can it handle extreme situations, but how well can it handle typical situations. This category is why smartphones are displacing point-and-shoot cameras. Probably more pictures by more people can be described as “daily” than by any other category. It is why there is the huge number of mediocre-specification compact cameras. You know: average MP, average zoom range, average … everything. Now here’s the surprise: in the end it all comes down to image quality. This is the tricky part because the important specifications for this don’t show up in the brochure. You want a good glass lens that is sharp (high lens resolution numbers have been displaced by high sensor resolution numbers, and they are not the same thing), an accurate daylight exposure capability, a decent built-in flash for the evening and shadow shots (remember the comment about fill-in flash), and a processor capable of making an acceptable final image – without a lot of “post-processing”. Also a certain degree of ergonomics is involved, as who wants to use a camera they are uncomfortable using? Unfortunately you never really know how a camera will handle this category until you try it. It seems like it would be so easy to get right, and yet …

Landscape. This is Portrait taken outdoors. Or rather portraits of the outdoors. You have an advantage in that the landscape doesn’t change much in the short time it takes to snap a picture. Also you don’t have to apply makeup to scenery, and it never objects to how it looks in the final image. Curiously the best camera for this would be the same as for Portrait, with the exception of needing a black cloth over your head (and the camera) to see the big LCD in bright light – or else going for the eye-level viewer. You’ll also may want a tripod under it. This is take-your-time photography, in contrast to Sports or Street. What matters here most is manual control of focus and exposure (or at least having that option), and of course that excellent large sensor to produce the amazing final scene. Let’s face it: a 1/1.7 or even 4/3 size sensor is not the best choice here. This is of course the other category where RAW files can be an asset. Also the only one where GPS may be of some benefit.

Now about those other categories that Camera Review doesn’t use …

Wildlife. I do a lot of this. The key to wildlife photography is not getting too close to the subject. This means you need a lot of focal length most of the time, even when taking macro shots of butterflies. As such the ‘super-zoom’ cameras are a favourite for photographers on a budget. They lack the higher definition of larger sensor size (the use of a small sensor is how they get the large focal length range) which means resolution is noticeably lower, and unfortunately that works against the shot. Yes you can use a full-frame DSLR with a really long telephoto lens; that is what pros do. The pros who have lots of money to spend that is, because the camera body costs lots of money and the so does each lens. You aren’t going to get great wildlife pictures with a compact camera or a smartphone. What else should a camera for this category have? Quiet, fast shutter. Sometimes the wildlife moves. Wildlife photography is often like Sports, for example; fast and unpredictable. Spotting a bird in flight, tracking it, and snapping at just the right moment is not the easiest thing to do. So you want that quick and accurate autofocus too. You probably won’t have time to fiddle with settings, although often you get to choose aperture over shutter priority or vice-versa, depending on whether you want to control depth-of-field or motion blur. It’s a guessing game because you never quite know what you will find out there.

Nighttime/low-light. We could call this ‘astro’ as well. Pictures of the stars or the night scenes where light is low and a flash is not going to make up the difference. Obviously this is where the needs turn to ‘fast’ lenses, manual focus (auto tends not to work in low light), and the ability to manage long exposures. Tripods and shutters that will time in seconds (use the self-timer to trigger it without risking camera shake from your finger – or in this one rare exception a wireless connection to a remote trigger device), and even image stabilization can help keep the slower speeds from blurring. Incidentally, don’t be fooled by high ISO ratings: they basically increase noise rather than actual light sensitivity. The only way for a sensor to be better at gathering light is to be physically larger. And then you get the paradox where fewer pixels will work better for the same size sensor as each individual one is larger and therefor can grab more light for itself. Of course the final image is smaller, because everything is a trade-off. It may also interest you to know that pros take pictures at high ISO ratings with the lens covered to create an image of the sensor noise which can be used to create a mask to block that noise from the actual image. I don’t do this myself, but the basic process is turning the tiny coloured noise lights into black dots which then block the same noise in the final image when sandwiched with the scene shot.

Artistic. This is Daily inverted. Whereas that category is all about how average a camera can be, this is all about how exceptional it can be. Note that “exceptional” does not mean “biggest numbers from the advertising department”. Sometimes what makes a camera exceptional is how it doesn’t follow trends. People who are devotees of Lomography understand this. While manufacturers engage in a kind of ‘bidding war’ over ever-higher megapixel ratings, the artistic camera looks for the best sensor for rendering the image regardless of dots or size. When they try to sell you on a 50MP full-frame sensor, be happy instead with a 5MP 1″ one because it’s a CCD (which renders greater tonal range) not a CMOS (which tends to have higher contrast). The viewed picture will probably be under 2MP anyway. Truly miniatures is an art form in itself. (This is why I do “professional snapshots” at 640 x 480/427 resolution.) When the salesman boasts of ISO 51200, laugh and ask if it will go down to ISO 50. Sure f1.4 is nice, but does the lens stop down to f64? Sometimes the limitations of a camera force artistic interpretation upon us, other times not having those limitations is what creates artistic flow. What is not artistic is a dozen built-in special effects functions like “Toy Camera”. When it comes to such ‘presets’ draw the line at anything beyond, say, three colour and two monochrome choices. I know a lot of people like to use various “film simulations” but getting stuck shooting every one of 12/24/36 pictures on one type of stock was considered a problem in the film days. Carrying multiple camera bodies loaded with different films was the only way around this, and it wasn’t fun. The digital advantage of being able to shoot a shot ‘normal’ and then post-process to various film effects, whether simple desaturation to monochrome or something more complex, is a godsend.

Notice how things like wireless connections and touch screens did not show up a lot as advantages in any of those categories?

Part II: Evaluating the Nikon P610; Camera Decision vs. Me. (A hint at what is to come.)

Here is how my favourite camera rates on the five categories at Camera Decision, and how I feel it does in those same areas.

Portrait: Average. I think they are being generous. This is not a camera I’d pick for doing portraits. The sensor really is too small, the manual focus is terrible to use, and the resolution is low. They decry the lack of RAW shooting and external flash, and in this category those points are valid.

Street: Good. I agree. Although not the best choice, it is certainly capable in this area. Oddly we disagree on the why/why not: they like the (terrible) manual focus and dislike the small sensor and lack of RAW file. I like its versatility but think it’s basically too large and doesn’t fit well with the ‘stealthy’ requirements.

Sports: Average. More like poor. This is a case of “sounds good until you try it”. The P610 appears to have good specs for doing Sports photography, but in practice it is slow and inaccurate in its responses (such as focus lock) – this evaluation made before it started to fail, mind you. Funnily enough they commend its wireless abilities here (as if they matter) and again complain about “no RAW”. Maybe they could get therapy for that fixation.

Daily: Average. No, “Good”. This is my daily camera and it handles a multitude of tasks easily, especially the everyday ones, with good results. Oh sure the Fuji F80 has become my ‘take everywhere’ device, but mainly because it is smaller and therefor easier to bring along. Camera Decision whines about the small sensor, and again about the lack of RAW file! Would they like to lug a Pentax 645Z around all day maybe?

Landscape: Poor. I’m inclined to agree. If I did a lot of landscape photography, it would not be with this. The sensor is small, the resolution is not that high, and for once the lack of RAW is a valid complaint. Notice again how Portrait and Landscape requirements tend to align. Do you also see they are the two orientation descriptions of rectangular formats? 😉

Now what about how the P610 does in my own three categories?

Wildlife: Good. This is why I bought a camera with 60X zoom. The sensor shortcomings are made up for by the zoom capacity which allows me to shift from near to far subjects fairly quickly and without changing lenses. I’ve taken a lot of great bird, bear, and butterfly photos with this camera. The proof is in the pictures, right? The Nikon consistently delivers what I want in this category.

Nighttime: Poor. It takes good moon shots due to its telescope-like lens. Beyond that the small sensor, bad manual focus, and less-than-ideal aperture/shutter settings makes it impossible to take pictures of stars. I’ve taken lots of moon photos with it, though. When you can practically fill the whole frame with 1/6 daytime-level light, it works well.

Artistic: Good. There’s a lot of flexibility to this camera, and that can work to advantage. It is not as good as my Canon T100 (which Camera Decision doesn’t list, so you are spared that evaluation comparison) because it lacks the latter’s big advantage of interchangeable lenses. But it has created some great artistic shots over the years. When it comes to art, the key is the photographer moreso than the camera.

In future I plan to reference Camera Review’s evaluations when discussing a particular camera, if relevant. I also plan to reference the photographic categories as they apply. Furthermore I’m planning on addressing various features as well as specifications (they are not the same thing) to possibly give some insight into … well probably nothing more than my own opinions as a long-time film photographer now working with digital equipment. Whether there will be any images in these future posts remains to be seen.

This is what happens when I get bored.


3D’s new meaning: Dated Digital Devotees

Jet into the sun. (Kodak P850)

Are you one? Do you prefer the images from older digital cameras? Do you prefer using the older digital cameras? Maybe they’re all you can afford. There’s no shame in that. In fact you should be more ashamed if the first digital camera you buy is some ultra-expensive, loaded-with-everything, professional grade unit of which you won’t use a fraction of its capabilities.

Using obsolete, I mean classic, digital cameras has become “a thing”: the preference for CCD over CMOS sensors, an absence of techno-glitz like wireless connections and touch-screens, and the realization that the picture is what matters, not how you achieve it. So we sacrifice megapixels in favour of colour gradients. Most digital images are seen at less than 2MP anyway (on a computer screen).

As is often the case with my posts, this one started out going somewhere else so it’s bound to be a little incongruous at times. I was looking around at camera offerings (which is almost a pastime in itself) and noticed one or two (or ten, or twenty) interesting cameras that didn’t actually fit my current equipment needs but were nonetheless intriguing. I’ve got and sometimes use some older digitals, mostly the Kodak P850 – even though it has quite a few operational quirks these days (like a bad habit of resetting to +3 EV and not co-operating with changing this back to zero). I really don’t need any more old cameras. I am no longer collecting cameras. Say it louder: I AM NO LONGER COLLECTING CAMERAS! Nevertheless …

Let’s look at a few anyway. There’s no harm in looking, right? They can’t make you buy.

First let me say there are hundreds of models you can dismiss out-of-hand. Maybe thousands. All those ordinary ‘cookie-cutter’ compact cameras that have #MP and #X zooms and look like they’re all made in the same mold with different names slapped on afterward. It’s not that they aren’t adequate, it’s that they aren’t exceptional. If you’re going to use classic equipment it should be something with at least one unique property that makes it stand out from the run-of-the-mill production.

So in the category of compacts let me suggest a couple that I have: the Canon PowerShot A70 and the Fujifilm F80 EXR. They don’t have to be those exact models as there are many similar ones which will perform as well or in some cases even better. Why I like the Canon is that in addition to an excellent glass lens it has an optical viewfinder. Nothing like it for shooting in the sunlight. In fact that’s one area where the Fuji fails. Canon made several PowerShot cameras with optical finders, some up to 16MP and 5X zoom. Well worth it if you can find one in a thrift store for $5 or $10. Why I like the Fuji is the EXR processor function. It is exceptional. Again there are several Fuji EXR cameras, including the very nice (but rare and therefor expensive) HS20 through HS50 series ‘bridge’ cameras, which have significant zoom capacity.

Duncan the dog. (Canon PSA70)

Now let’s talk about some more advanced cameras. There are a few models I’ve come across recently which have caught my interest. If I were free to indulge myself however I wish, I would definitely buy these (or something similar).

1). Olympus Evolt E-300. This is a micro four thirds camera with pentaprism and interchangeable lenses. It’s only 8MP, but unlike the newer Evolt models it has a CCD sensor (one seller referred to it as a “Kodak sensor”). Some specs from Camera Decision: Olympus E-300

2). Pentax K100D. A mere 6MP APS-C DSLR using the Pentax KAF lenses, it has in body image stabilization (IBIS as it is known). An affordable way to use a huge number of quality lenses. Some specs from Camera Decision: Pentax K100D

3). Samsung GX-1L. You want something different? Samsung is a name you won’t see on a camera often. This one is a 6MP APS-C DSLR like the Pentax, but without the image stabilizer. The one I came across had a Schneider-Kreuznach 18-55mm lens which is bound to be sharp (the S-K on my Kodak sure is). Some specs from Camera Decision: Samsung GX-1L

4). Nikon Coolpix 4500. This is a weird little 4MP (in some versions less) camera with a twist: literally. You twist the body to move the lens into shooting position. They made several similar cameras, known as the ‘Coolpix 950 series’. Functionally it’s no great prize, but the body design certainly isn’t the usual motor-driven-extend-o-lens of other compacts! Wikipedia entry: Nikon Coolpix 4500

Antiquated technology. (Fuji F80 EXR)

Those are just some examples of classic digitals I’ve come across which intrigued me. There are many variations of these, and you have to look up which models have which features (for example the Fujifilm HS10 does not have the EXR processor whereas the HS20 through HS50 do, and the Pentax K110D doesn’t have IBIS like the K100D).

Now we have to talk about prices. For one thing, you may be choosing a classic camera because you’re no relation to Bill Gates and can’t afford multi-thousand dollar Fujifilm, Sony, or Leica machines. Even if that’s not the case it’s too easy to overspend on an old one. Always remember the camera that is working today may not be working tomorrow, especially if it isn’t new. The cameras I mentioned above range from $6 I spent on the Canon to $60 on the Fuji, and the ‘numbered’ ones were all listed for between $100 and $200 CDN (that’d be a lot less in the US, believe me). Ultimately the price should be what you feel you can afford and not a penny more. Beware auctions like Ebay: make your maximum bid and then stop; there will be another one along if you miss out. Patience is a virtue. So is frugality.

Side note: I’ve seen offers of groupings along the lines of “20 untested digital cameras for $60 – plus shipping” (shipping often being as much or even more than the price). You know what 20 untested digital cameras are worth? Right: $20. It isn’t that hard to test a camera, so assume “untested” means “not working”. I tested a couple of dozen that my Dad had picked up cheap and found all but one – which happened to be a Fuji and the best in the bunch – did work once you stuck batteries and an SD card in them. I still had to give them away. It’s not like fixing one of these is a practical option, after all.

If there are a lot of photographers near you, get together and form a club. That way the group can more easily afford a larger selection of cameras to work with. Just watch out for people hogging one model to themselves! Most importantly, have fun.

Ol’ Olds. (Kodak DX3900)

As for me, I will continue to “put the brakes on” when looking at old cameras. Especially as it looks like I will need a Canon SX70 to replace the ailing Nikon P610: since it is my “main” camera replacing it with another used machine is courting disaster, and the Canon best fits the specifications – aside from being pricey at $600+.

But hey; you never know when the ‘brakes’ will give out, eh?

Addendum: CCD means Charge Coupled Device, whereas CMOS means Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. They are the two types of image sensors you will find in digital cameras. The former is usually fewer megapixels in resolution, but generally has a greater tonal range. The value of this is subjective. One curious side effect of fewer MP for a given size sensor is that it is more sensitive to light as each pixel covers a larger area. So a lower MP but same-size sensor can yield better low-light results.

Also, be aware of what kind of memory card your used bargain camera takes. Not every one uses the now-standard SD card. Olympus and Fuji, for example, often used xD cards which are now somewhat hard to find. There are adapters for these to use micro SD, but the reviews on them are mixed as to fit and quality for any given camera. Likewise Sony used a variety of “memory sticks”, and in the Mavica 3.5″ computer disks – good luck finding those or a machine to read them. Even the Compact Flash cards can be difficult to obtain at a reasonable price these days.

Remember too that a working used camera may not work as good as it originally did. The screen/EVF may have faded, the sensor may not deliver full contrast/correct colour or may have hot/dead pixels, and the exposure may be off or inconsistent. All this in addition to the fact it probably did not perform to the high expectations of today in terms of speed and accuracy in focusing – or even snapping the shot (a lot of older cameras have quite a noticeable delay between the button being pushed and the image being captured). You have to expect these things.

Well that wandered a bit!

Since writing this I note that the camera offerings mentioned above have all sold but one, so I guess they were pretty good deals for someone!