My Leica Monochrom

Dogs prefer GMC.
Forest floor.
Enjoy the scenery.

(Yes the only way to get a decent image out of the Panasonic Lumix ZS60 is in B&W.)

One out of thirty-six

A knotty problem

Since I’m “re-learning” my cameras it was only fair to give the infamous Panasonic Lumix ZS60 another shot.

Actually it was a waste of a considerable amount of time. It’s a lousy camera.

Let me tell you what I did to try and overcome the built-in flaws. First of all I turned off the idiotic touch screen. All those things ever do is louse up the picture. Dedicated controls are what’s needed for photography, not infinitely nested menu options accessed by child-like behaviour.

Which brings us to the next issue; trying to get decent colour. I tried all the preset options and fiddled with the in camera contrast, sharpness, saturation … all to no avail. The sensor simply does not produce acceptable colour results. So I switched to monochrome. Hey, it has a ‘Leica lens’; will it be as good as a Leica Monochrom? Ha, ha, ha!

Next trouble was that even in B&W it produces poor results. Contrast and sharpness had to be turned up a bit. I also tried the included yellow, orange, and red ‘filter’ settings. Mediocre at best. Some of the problem can be attributed to the poor exposure evaluation: I found under exposing by 1/3 stop helped somewhat, but this camera over exposes in bright light and under exposes in low light. Frankly it has the dynamic range of a slug and needs constant over-riding of settings to get anything acceptable. Might as well be shooting manual.

Ah yes, manual. Have I mentioned that the autofocus is lousy? So let’s try manual focus. The ZS60 has a neat ’round-the-lens ring that can be used for manual focusing. *sigh* Unfortunately the photographer no longer has good enough eyesight to tell. The EVF is much brighter and higher resolution than the failing one in the venerable Nikon P610, but I still couldn’t use it. So I was using the LCD display, which doesn’t wash out as bad under bright light especially on B&W setting. It still does, though. Focus peaking? It’s got that. Makes a horrible mess of the view and does not aid in getting a sharp image.

So what did I do? Went back to autofocus, reset for single centre point. Honestly the ‘intelligent’ focus selection and multi-point function too often grabs on to the wrong part of the image. Hey you know what would work well for me? A rangefinder in the middle of the screen.

In the end I turned off/did not use more than 90% of the ‘features’ built in to this over-rated piece of junk. That is how I finally got one decent shot (with a bit of post-processing because even then it wasn’t good) out of it.

To sum  up: the lens isn’t sharp, the sensor isn’t good, the processor is poor, the exposure system is almost always wrong, and the ‘features’ are just an over-burden of technological gunk that get in the way of taking pictures (especially disappointing since none of the settings produce any better results than plain ‘automatic’).

Honestly, a camera that can’t take a good picture under normal conditions when set on ‘automatic’ right out of the box is a failed product. As a result of my bad experiences with this camera I will never buy another Panasonic model, new or used.

Seeing out the year

While most people are engaged in reviewing the past year and reiterating how awful it was or trying to pretend it really wasn’t that awful, I’m going to be different as usual and just go forward with some more new pictures instead. (And my late brother the English major would give me an award for constructing such a wonderfully awful run-on sentence as that one.)

The camera is, of course, the new-to-me “Zen Canon” PowerShot G11. Truly a fine quality device which I’m still ‘experimenting’ with. I would have taken more street shots when I went to town Tuesday, but it was all of -10˚C and also totally overcast – so no good for taking pictures or even being outside. Instead I had to sneak some shots in whenever I could to come up with the latest batch.

Lens testing. Wide-angle and close up, full automatic. The result is excellent.
A couple of the resident ravens.
Glacé. This is a segment of a shot which contains many potential images. I liked this bit best.

This camera looks and works like an old but automatic 35mm rangefinder. It has lots of controls on it, most of which I’ve tried and now ignore. For functioning on ‘automatic’ the G11 is second-to-none. I rarely even flip the LCD out and make use of that, much less dive into the menus and change settings. It’s like … using a film camera. So are the results.

It’s all about colour tonal range: CCD sensors!
Although not ideally suited to such extreme photography, the G11 performs well in skilled hands.
And away we go!

As you can see the G11 does a fine job as an ‘artistic’ camera, even though that’s not why I bought it. This is what the infamous ZS-60 was supposed to be capable of. Aside from the extreme difference in zoom capacity, the Canon is absolutely superior in every way to the Panasonic. Never mind the difference in price. The bargain PowerShot makes up for the waste-of-money Lumix. I’ll just pretend the prices were the other way around; that would make the cameras fit their costs. (For those who can’t follow my convoluted reasoning, I paid $12 for the used Canon PowerShot G11 and $300 for the brand new Panasonic Lumix ZS-60. In terms of performance the value is completely the other way around.)

Footnote: there is an optional ‘lens adapter’ for these cameras which twists on around the lens once you remove the protective base ring. It is a tube that sticks out and has a 58mm thread in front of the extended lens. To it you can affix filters or ‘accessory’ wide-tele lenses. The cheapest one I’ve located so far is 3X the price I paid for the camera. I don’t really think it would add much to the functionality so I won’t bother with the expense. Besides those add-on-to-the-front lenses don’t work very well, since the base lens was never designed to have the extra element stuck in front of it. A thin filter is one thing; a thick chunk of glass is quite another.

Bleak week

The weather promises to be truly awful all week. I got in a day of wood harvest and shutting down the water system at the cabin. In light of the forecast, here’s some images in black and white – which is how it will look the next few days.

Raven on the wing. (Canon T100)

Northern flicker. (Fuji EXR)

Plane in flight. (Kodak P850)

Moon, of course. (Nikon P610)

Layers of trees. (Panasonic Lumix ZS60)

Ghost dog. (Tesco trail camera)

The best laid plans …

Today was supposed to be sunny and dry; a good day for dropping a dead tree and bucking it up and loading the trailer and thus getting some more firewood in. Instead, it’s raining. Imagine my surprise that the forecast was wrong. I wasn’t. Nevertheless my plans are ruined and I have to sit here and wait out the weather before I can even slice up the logs I’ve already got out there and bring in another load.
I’m bored, and that’s dangerous.
It’s too wet to do any photos because I can’t afford an environmentally sealed Pentax K or anything like it. I tried to take some pictures of the eagles circling the lake before the rain got too strong, but the Nikon failed to focus correctly on each and every shot. This keeps happening. It’s one thing when the subject is still and you can go back to it. Flying birds are there then gone: miss them and you’ve missed them.
Anyway WordPress is still allowing access to this primitive editor that works, so I’m annoying you with a post while it still functions. I actually have a few images saved up and may even share some. But mostly when I’m bored I go “camera shopping”. And then have to stop myself from actually ordering anything. It’s difficult.
Let’s take a moment to make fun of camera reviews, shall we? Revisiting the Lumix GF2 and a certain web site’s evaluation of it I take issue with their opinions. Vis:
CONS:
No wireless connection (that’s a pro not a con)
No image stabilization (debatable: if you remember your “one over” rules IS isn’t really that necessary for still photography, and you hardly notice it)
No built-in viewfinder (now that is a con as the LCD screens are useless in bright light. Curiously they list the lack of VF as a con under “Portrait Photography” when in fact that’s one form where it is not needed and the LCD screen is probably better)
Low resolution 12MP sensor (uh, sounds like Spec Snobbery to me)
Poor low light performance (yeah – physics again. Seriously low-light performance requires full size sensor and big glass and it all costs a ton of money. Simply pretending that you can get ISO 6400 out of a MFT or 2.3 sensor doesn’t make it happen)

So remember not to use any commercial review’s opinion as an absolute. Half the time they are just parroting popular opinion and never are they understanding your personal needs. For example the particular site evaluates cameras for Portrait, Street, Sports, Daily, and Landscape photography but utterly misses Wildlife evaluation which is quite a different thing yet majorly popular.
Since this wandered off into comparisons, here’s the Kodak sunset vs. the Nikon sunset:

Taken with the Kodak P850, no adjustments other than sizing.

Taken with the Nikon P610, no adjustments other than sizing.

How to talk yourself out of buying a camera

I recently came across a pretty good deal on a Panasonic Lumix GF2 camera: $80 plus shipping. Not bad. I thought maybe I’d buy it. But why? Uh … because it was cheap and I was bored, frankly. Do I really need to spend money on anything right now? Nope. Not a good idea. Okay, so far these arguments aren’t steering me away from the purchase. Time to try harder. Get some Con Points going!

1). It has no lens with it. Even the cheapest lenses for this MFT mount go for more money than the camera. We’re talking “you could buy a decent lens for the Canon with that cash” levels. Oh you might find one used eventually, but a camera without a lens is useless. The Lens Is The Camera. Any other peccadillos you can work around, but not a bad or missing lens. Option: lens adapter that lets me put an EOS lens on it. That’s another $30 and the Canon lenses I’ve got aren’t great. Could then adapt again to use the Takumars, but in either case it would be manual all the way. Hmm. This is a significant Con Point.

2). It had no viewfinder, just an LCD screen. Bleah. My only complaint against the little Fuji is its lack of viewfinder. Those screens are useless in daylight, which is where and when I shoot most pictures.

3). It’s a Panasonic Lumix which I haven’t been impressed with. My one foray into that brand was the worst photographic experience I’ve had so far, and that’s saying a lot. Other people have had great luck with different P-L models, but I am soured.

4). It’s micro four-thirds format. I’m not sure this is Pro or Con. I’d like to see what the format can do, but it doesn’t really hold much promise of adding to my repertoire. A full-frame sensor would be of more use to me.

5). It’s mirrorless. Ah, sensor covered with dust! In just a few experiments with the Canon I have seen how easy it is to bugger up the imager on an interchangeable lens camera. Mirrorless models have not even a mirror to help keep the dirt off. Definitely a point against. And for those who say “leave the lens on”, well what’s the point of being able to change lenses if you don’t do it?

6). It has a touchscreen for most of the controls. Ew. And yuck.

At this point I was pretty much resolved not to buy it. I honestly couldn’t think of anything in its favour other than it being relatively cheap and something to disturb the monotony. That’s not good enough. Especially when my last cheap purchase was less expensive and delivers some fine photos like these (all taken with the Fuji EXR):

Corvair on the go
Dogs pretending to be innocent
Cloudbow
Rose hips

 

The Black Camera Gang

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Most of my cameras are black. It’s the traditional colour for cameras, mainly due to their having been made of leather-covered boxes for a long time but also to reduce unexpected light reflections. When I was young, the really expensive SLRs had an all black “professional finish” which eliminated the common satin-chrome trim. This cost the manufacturer less to build, but the customer more to buy. Go figure.

Here I am, then, with five black-finished ‘professional’ cameras. Okay, maybe not so professional, but mostly they work well for my purposes.

The Canon Rebel EOS T100

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Raven – a 640×480 segment taken from a 5184×3456 image
IMG_2359
Unlucky horseshoe – would also have worked in B&W but I like the warm red colours

This is my ‘experimenting’ camera as it has interchangeable lenses and a really wide selection of settings for … well just about anything. It is also the best in low-light because it has the largest sensor. Don’t be fooled by high ISO numbers as that isn’t all there is to getting decent nighttime shots.

Both of these were taken with the ‘long’ kit lens, 55-250mm, which is slightly sharper than the ‘short’ 18-55mm kits lens.

The Fujifilm FX80 EXR

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Don’t even try to understand this
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Crater Lake

This is my slip-in-pocket-take-everywhere camera. It replaces the ailing Kodak V1003, which I actually coerced into taking the group photo at the top (after a few false starts). It has a unique processor function which lets it ‘sacrifice’ pixels to improve the image. Not much good at anything besides snapshots, but it does those beautifully with film-like quality. And yes I realize I’ve just used it to present two “artsy” shots instead of the more-suitable-for-its-type documentation images.

The Kodak P850

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Contrail-wise
bubble
Bubble, bubble

This is an old workhorse camera I’ve had for many years. It’s not great under conditions other than good lighting, but it has the most ‘artistic’ rendering of any thanks to its CCD sensor. This gives it a wide tonal range and full-yet-soft contrast.

The Nikon P610

DSCN2140
A moon without friends
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The baby day

This camera has the best optics of all, save putting one of the Super Takumars on the Canon. It also has the most fantastic zoom range which is great for someone like me who does a lot of telephoto work. It rarely disappoints and I usually don’t have to play around with any settings to get a decent image out of it.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60

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Resin blob
P1000348
Stating the obvious

The worst of my cameras. I’ve given it all sorts of chances and tried every setting combination I can think of. Getting even a halfway decent image out of this is like pulling teeth – from a chicken. Its ergonomics are excellent, except for the near useless touchscreen. The EVF and LCD are the best of all my cameras, and it has the greatest manual focusing of any except the Canon with a manual lens. Beyond that … the exposure is consistently wrong and no simple EV ‘fix’ works around it, and the lens is so noticeably not sharp it isn’t even funny. Whereas the Nikon produces 90% successful images this thing doesn’t even make 10%. It’s so horrible I’m reluctant to even contemplate selling it on to someone else. Panasonic should be ashamed of themselves for making this camera; lots of glitzy features but it utterly fails to be able to take a decent shot most of the time.

I also have four silver cameras, and two blue ones. But they are not in regular use now due to various factors. At this point there are no other types of camera I particularly want, with the possible exception of a full-frame sensor. Other than the admittedly limited advantages they give, my photographic needs are so far met by the equipment I’ve got.

B-sharp

After the nice results with taking a picture of the wild rose thorn using the $6 Canon, I decided to try other cameras on the same subject to see how sharp they are. So here are the results in ‘alphabetical’ order.

CloseC1
Canon T100 – remarkably sharp
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Canon PS A70 – nicely sharp for a cheap old camera
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Fujifilm F80 EXR – no good at close-ups
CloseK1
Kodak P850 – pretty good for an old 5MP ‘bridge’ camera
CloseK2
Kodak V1003 – cheap point-n-shoot does better than some
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Panasonic Lumix ZS60 – epic failure; the worst of the lot
CloseN
Nikon P610 – knocks it out of the ballpark

The shooting method was consistent but not perfect: I set the ISO at 100 and let the camera pick settings (noticeable in variations of exposure). Focus was in automatic close-up mode, again trusting to the equipment. Not zoomed, but due to differences in wide-angle focal lengths and inconsistencies with framing from one camera to another (it would be nice to set a piece of this up on a stand so the distances would be the same for all) the composition varies quite a bit as does the size of the stalk represented. Some of the cameras could go much closer than others, for example. All pictures are 640×480 segments of 100% sized images, regardless of the total pixels. I tried multiple shots when needed and picked the best from the bunch. In the case of the Lumix, that’s pretty sad to report; it really doesn’t do good at this despite my having got the occasional decent close-up from it.

Collecting Cheap Cameras?

After playing with my inexpensively acquired Canon PowerShot A70, I got to wondering about the viability of cheap digital cameras and how they might fare as collectors’ items. Thus I did a bit trolling on Amazon and came up with a little information, some of which is presented here.

First of all, there is a huge number of brand new low-dollar not-really-brand-name and not-named-at-all offerings starting at about $12. With prices like that and specifications that can only be called “suspect” you can readily understand why you probably shouldn’t put your trust or dollars in something called “YTGOOD” or “Cobra” or “TEXXIS”. Many of these cameras are cookie-cutter copies of one another, and there’s no reason to expect any of them to work at all, much less work well.

However, a few old familiar names popped up too.

Argus

Argus. The name that brought us the venerable C3 35mm camera that every film photographer must have had at some point in their lives. Of course the company that built those cameras went bankrupt and obviously the name got passed along. The name, but not the quality. No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig it will never look like a horse.

Bell

Bell & Howell. In the days of film this name was best known for projectors found in schools, movie cameras, and a few clunky still cameras. Industrial strength and styling, and tractor-like quality – in a world that wanted sports cars. I had a few myself and they were not overly impressive in operation or image quality. Here we see the fine old name hung on more of those cookie-cutter cameras. They kept the worst aspects, and threw out the best.

Poloroid

Polaroid. Edwin Land must be spinning in his grave. The first self-developing cameras were quality units that worked. As years went by efforts to maximize profits saw metal bodies and glass lenses replaced with plastic everything, to the detriment of quality in both cameras and images. (Side note: while the instant camera market was clearly dying, Kodak saw fit to introduce their own. That was a not-smart move that didn’t help them at all.) Again we have a familiar name attached to regurgitated industrial rubbish. Besides, I can’t help but read that second model name as “Sociopathic”.

Vivitar

Vivitar. A company that used to make top-quality and reasonably priced photographic accessories such as lenses, filters, and electronic flash units. I’m sure I have one of their flashes in a box around here, and it probably still works. I know my 135mm M42 lens with their brand on it does! But alas, here is another great house that has sunk to the level of street beggar.

Should you buy any of these? In my opinion, no. The fact is even when they don’t look identical the specifications are so bland that there’s nothing really interesting about them. Largely these are the basic “Instamatics” of the digital world. Some may claim to be waterproof, some of the weirder ones come in odd shapes or colours, but on the whole they are quite frankly cheap plastic crap. Not even Diana F quality.

What should you look for instead? A name brand like Canon, Fuji, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, or Pentax. But beware of the odd image storage methods like xD cards, Sony  sticks, and Compact Flash as they can be difficult or expensive to obtain if not included with the camera. Even then you are up against the “Plain Jane” aspect for most of these cameras: the same X MP and Y zoom capacity without much else to say for themselves. Also, trolling through Amazon shows a large number of such cameras available for what we can only call ridiculous prices, as they meet and in some cases exceed the cost of brand new offerings that are better cameras. Look around a lot, and be careful with your money.

Here’s an example of something I would buy, albeit I’d prefer a lower price than the $106 it’s being offered for:

NikonS4

I wouldn’t expect it to be a great IQ performer, but the unique design configuration makes it collectible. The one used camera I did buy off Amazon, the Fuji F80 EXR, is unusual and collectible because of the different way it operates – the EXR function.

P1000268

I don’t think I’ll be getting back into camera collecting. At least not per se, but I seem to be acquiring them anyway as I try to fulfill my photographic wishes.

What would I buy to fulfill those wishes if I could? I’m not keen on mirrorless cameras, as some experiments with the DSLR I have show how easy it is to get sensors dirty on anything with a removable lens and mirrorless doesn’t have the extra ‘protection’ of the flip-up mirror, nevertheless some of the things I’m interested in come only that way.

Assuming money were no object, the ‘Holy Grail’ would be a Fujifilm X-Pro3. I seriously would like to try one of those because it is so ‘film-like’ in design and function. Using the EXR has really piqued my curiosity about Fuji’s X series.

Otherwise, for my own purposes it would be nice to try a high-MP (at least 24 to have a 1/3 advantage over my current Canon) camera just to see the difference. I know it wouldn’t be much, but just how much it would be intrigues me.

I’d like to have a full-frame sensor for the same reason; not that I expect either to make any spectacular difference in the pictures I take, but to see the subtle effects I expect to find.

Another addition would be something with a flip-up LCD (despite my constantly iterated objections to them) so I could do waist-level view pictures. None of these are great reasons to shell out hundreds of dollars for a camera.

Especially not when you can have fun for a few dollars with a little patience and searching.

GAS is not necessarily BAD

Let’s talk about GAS. We all get it from time to time. In some cases it’s chronic. It can be uncomfortable and it may alienate your friends. It also costs money. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. There; I said it.

But is it always BAD? In this case that would stand for “Blowing Away Dollars”. The answer is a qualified “no”. Here’s a couple of reasons why it might not be, or at least not to the level that requires ‘treatment’ (i.e. exercising some modicum of self-control).

First let’s define GAS. It’s basically buying stuff, in this context cameras and related equipment, often without sound reasoning. “That looks cool!” or “Ooh I want that!” are not good reasons to buy anything, never mind expensive photographic gear. The BAD form of this is when you buy things “just because” or find yourself making up justifications (excuses) for purchasing the desired item – which then sits unused in a box or bag or drawer somewhere. That’s when you know you’ve made a mistake. That’s when you’ve got really BAD GAS.

The other BAD form of GAS is when you make the gut-wrenching decision to ‘switch systems’, opting for the Nikon equipment over the Canon equipment you already have because you think it will suit your needs better. The trouble is you don’t know this for sure until you bite the bullet, write the (metaphorical) cheque, and take the plunge. (Did I get enough trite clichés in there?) By then it’s too late. Oh you may recover some of your dollars by selling your old equipment, but it will probably not be enough to do more than slightly reduce the expense – even if you’ve already got your money’s worth out of the old stuff. And if you don’t sell it off the stuff piles up around you: Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

However there are a couple of good forms of GAS. One of these is when you buy various types and brands of equipment that you do use, including things that expand your horizons and enable you to do things you never tried before (although you may also never try them again; there’s no guarantee of continuance). For example one camera may be better at low-light shooting and another superior for capturing landscapes. (It’s not always down to the lenses for this.) Many (most?) of us have at least one compact camera for toting along everywhere, and another, larger, more ‘professional’ rig for taking ‘serious shots’. As long as the gear fulfills a role in your photographic life it isn’t a waste. This we understand.

 

The other good form of GAS is when it isn’t done under the pretext of intended use. It’s called “collecting” and is a legitimate pursuit in itself. I should know, as I did it for decades and ended up with hundreds of cameras, nearly all of which I used at least once – if only for the experience of doing so (some were not usable at all, owing to various factors such as unavailability of film). I had to divest myself of nearly the entire collection a couple years ago, and have regretted it increasingly since then. Most of the items I don’t miss, but a few would still be useful at least in part – such as the old SLR lenses that could be adapted to the new DSLR camera. Oh well, history may repeat itself but we don’t get to go back and do things over.

Yet I find my collecting spirit lives on. As of this writing I have seven digital cameras, and am contemplating buying others. I find I am always contemplating buying others. Not because of any delusion about how they would add to my photographic repertoire, but just because I find the cameras interesting in and of themselves. So far the thing that keeps me from going full-blown-treatment-required GAS crazy is the huge delta difference between the cost of the items and my income. More than once I have found good deals on new equipment (the used stuff is usually priced insanely around here – people never look at what their old junk is worth in comparison to its replacement equivalent) and have succeeded in talking myself out of it, thus saving me a lot of money.

But believe me, if money were no object I’d be buying equipment like crazy just to have it.

Or maybe I already do.

Post Script:

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This is another digital camera in the house; a Nikon Coolpix S3100. I bought it for my wife years ago, but unfortunately its ‘extending’ lens system has suffered and it no longer closes up right (note the crack between the blades) nor opens reliably. It’s a shame because it’s a cute little camera (almost too small to hold) and takes fairly decent pictures. I worked with it Saturday morning and finally got it to take a shot in focus:

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Taken with S3100

Yes, it was that gray and it looking like it will snow more. It’s about spot-on in exposure and white balance, pretty good for an inexpensive automatic point-and-shoot camera!