Friday, August 14, 2015

Hardware update

Cleaning the windows on Beverly Street.
I have been using the new Nikon 1 v3 to learn what I can learn. And I have to say, I'm impressed. Compared to the SOOC jpg's from the Fuji X100s, the jpgs from the v3 are head and shoulders better.  Above is shot from downtown of window cleaning that shows what I mean. Note that only parts of the sky are blown out while the rest of the image filling the exposure range very nicely. Details remain in the shadows of the brick wall and the highlights across the street. Well done.

I bought the 18.5 mm f/1.8 lens to replace the kit lens. Much sharper. Since the 2.7 crop factor also have a boost on the effective aperture, keeping the lens at f/1.8 seems to be working quite well. Nikon corrects for the mild distortion in-camera for the jpgs.

Buying olive oil.
There's a new olive oil and balsamic vinegar store in town and here's another large dynamic range image from inside the store. I like that there is detail throughout the image and the contrast is just what I imaged when I took the shot.

Lang Jewelers.
Even in a shot like the above where the shadows are so deep in the windows that nothing much is visible, the fade to black is pleasant and not quite complete.

This success happens with a bit of increased contrast and a yellow filter in the monochrome setting in the camera when it generates the jpg. In my two years of experimenting with the X100s I never found a setting that gave such satisfactory and balanced results.

Of course, I have been saving the jpgs and raw files both as I explore what v3  can do. With the raw file, I can explore other possibilities (such as color). An interesting example is the bumble bee in the agastache.

Lunch time.
Here I have desaturated the greenery in the background and punched up the flowers a bit. This was taken using the FT-1 adapter and the F-mount 85 mm f/1.8. With the small sensor, this works out to have the field of view equivalent to a 230 mm lens on a full-frame (35 mm) camera. I have created a preset for Capture One to make a correction for the lens distortion, sharpness fall-off and it gives a pleasant result. The image above was cropped to reframe the shot... about ⅓ to ½ of the image was cut out.  I was about 10 feet away when I snapped the shutter. I'll try out the 105mm macro lens next time to get closer, fill the frame, and avoid the crop. Even with this cropped image, the pixel density (pixels/sq. in.) is greater that the 36 mp D800E I normally use this lens on would give for the same field of view. I'm also looking forward to chasing some of our lepidopteran and avian friends with the 80-400 mm and this camera to see if my success rate there improves.

The really fun part of the bumble bee shot is that I tried out the electronic shutter and took a sequence of images at 20 fps of the bee. This is one of the sequence. The entire sequence was nicely focused. All pretty amazing and fun.

On the whole, I find that while the number of boring pictures remains the same -- after all it is still me behind the camera, the number of technically bad images has really dropped. Focus is spot on. the dynamic range is covered in a pleasing way. SOOC jpgs look great. The number of images motion blurred is essentially nonexistent (1 or two total so far!). [I think these were so numerous with the X100s because of the shutter lag...I was moving on when the image finally happened]. With the technical success rate up, I can now focus on the creative part and see if I can improve the part I control.

You can find hundreds of blogs that tell you that the camera you use really doesn't matter -- a good image can be had with any camera. This is mostly true. Subject matter, composition, and story-telling are all critical and hardware-independent. And it is absolutely true that any camera can take some image or other very well. But if a camera habitually produces flat, low contrast images, has a sensor with an oddly limited dynamic range, is so slow to focus that shots are missed, or refuses to focus in low light, then you are missing the shots and the camera absolutely matters. If the camera is not very good  in the situations you normally use a camera - i.e., it doesn't fit your style - then you will not take good pictures, at least not with any reliability. The x100s is good for some images, just not the ones I'm after. I find the v3 works better for me and that is what matters. For me the camera matters and this one is clearly better than the x100s for the kind of images I'm after. I'm sure others will disagree.

Perhaps I'm finally finding my 'voice' as a photographer. I'm learning what I like and don't and my preferences for the underlying hardware are beginning to make a difference.

There are many on the web with a nose to the sky who scoff at the small sensor and claim that the Nikon 1 series is an overpriced point-and-shoot. One part of the small sensor I must say I really like is that the crop factor simplifies things. I can, in nearly all situations, set the aperture at f/1.8 and leave it there. The depth-of-field limits are only apparent for close subjects and this is precisely the place you want it to matter. At 10-20 feet, the depth-of-field for the 18.5 mm lens is already so large that it just doesn't affect street shooting. If I really care about sharpness out to the edge of the frame I'll stop down a bit. But this is rare. Since the 18.5 mm lens has no focus ring (weird, right?) and the camera is blindly fast at focusing, I never even need to try to manually focus (this is possible, but awkward with the v3). I put the camera in aperture priority, auto-iso (800 max) and I'm always ready for the next shot with great monochrome jpgs and very capable raw images.

Shooting with the back screen is another advantage. Since the touch screen tilts and allows focusing and taking the image by simply touching the place to focus, I can set it on the table or hold it at waist level and get shots that would otherwise be missed. No one need know that I'd doing anything other that fiddling with the camera and being an obsessive geek. All you get is a faint 'click' when taking the photo even with sound on making the camera all but inaudible in any situation but an empty church. The change in shooting level also moves my point of view and improves my compositions.

Every camera has its limitations and this one certainly has them as well. The trick to finding the right camera is to find one where the limitations are ones that don't get in the way of creating the style of photos you are after. This one matches my needs and interest quite well. The one limit that is hard to avoid is that the small sensor has more noise.

Living with this iso limit means that I must be creative to get good images. Isn't that what limits in photography are all about...learning to be creative? One way is to keep the jpg from the camera where more specialized noise reduction has been done. I also limit the maximum iso to 800 or 1600 to reign in the maximum amount of noise. Finally, I can choose to keep on the monochrome image rather than color where the nicely rendered noise is much less objectionable and adds to the film-like quality of the picture. For me, this is a reasonable compromise. I'm not shooting landscapes in the dark here (I'll use the D800E for that): I'm catching furtive shots of people or moods that help me remember a place or situation. I'm more after what it felt like to be there when I shoot in low light than what it really looked like. Within reason, the noise is not a problem.

Every camera is a compromise. Limits on a photographer spur creativity. The Nikon 1 v3 gives me room to be creative and limits me in productive ways. Keep your fingers crossed. I may actually take a good picture one day.