Monday, March 25, 2013

A Tale Of Seven Cameras, And One Subject

One camera to rule them all!

Welcome to one of my fairly long posts, but I promise you this will be an interesting one. There has been a lot of changes in my life recently, in some ways, I am re-calculating my priorities in my life, a lot of changes have resulted from this, selling all of my full frame gear was one of those changes, it's not about money, but rather time and much needed optimization, for example I sold my iPad since it consumes too much time that I could spend with my family instead, another thing I did was to remove a lot of blogs from my RSS feed. I am now giving less priority to photography (and photography blogging) than I used to do, that's why my last post was almost one month ago, and I apologize for this delay, but I admit I cannot spare time to blogging more than once or twice a month (there might be exceptions of course), and this takes us to the main topic of this blog, the tale of seven cameras, and my daughter.

Now that my older daughter is almost five years old, and since this is nearly when I started digital photography, I stopped for a while to take a look back, and see how how my photography has progressed through out the years, and throughout the different cameras, seven cameras in total, not including the various mobile phone cameras over the years. I wanted to see how getting more expensive cameras and lenses improved my photography, and how much did I lose by abandoning the full-frame club and carrying on with micro-four-thirds, as a lot of people would believe.

I believe this is one post that really fits the name of the blog, I give you the tale of the seven cameras, and the pursuit of better family photos, and we start with my first ever digital camera I bought from my own hard-earned money.


Sony T10, room lights (incandescent) + fill flash, 1/50, f/4, ISO 320

Sony T10, available evening light + fill flash, 1/50, f/3.5, ISO 125

As you can see, pictures were sort of mmm-kay, and mind you, I've picked the best two examples of the usual shooting scenarios, first picture is indoors, lit with room light and direct fill-flash, the second picture makes use of the soft evening light as the sun goes down.

I have had my share of horrible flash lit photos with the shadows on the wall behind the subject, mixed white balance and all that. The Sony T10, just like regular P&S, didn't have any advanced controls beyond the program mode, where you can select exposure compensation and other stuff like white balance and so on, this was the extent of my skills.

The camera didn't focus quickly, nor did it perform well beyond base ISO, the faster my daughter was able to move, the more I yearned for a better camera, until the day came where I broke the bank and bought the Canon G11, and sold my slim Sony T10 to one of my friends.

During the time, I used to shoot with good camera phones (Nokia N95 8GB, Nokia N86 & Sony Ericsson C905), the picture below is taken with the C905, I did a comparison once to one of the famous mobile phone blogs of yesteryear (wow, just checked now and the post is still up, check it here, you can see how photography-ignorant I was back then), and the C905 was as good as my Sony T10 apart from the fact that it didn't have optical zoom.

Sony Ericsson C905, evening light, 1/640, f/2.8, ISO 64

2. CANON G11

Canon G11, evening light + fill flash, 1/60, f/5.6, ISO 200

Canon G11, 1/25, f/4, ISO 1600

Canon G11, 1/100, f/4.5, ISO 100

I was very happy when I got the G11, I was learning all about aperture, shutter speed and ISO, I also heard about depth of field, and understood that I would not get the backgrounds blurred like a DSLR could, but I didn't care, I imagined the G11 would outlive me and that we'd be partners forever.

I learned advanced shooting and lighting with the G11, I bought a couple of Canon flashes (a used 580EX and a brand new 430EX) and went all strobist style, this was when I posted my first post here after I stumbled on Mic's blog when searching for flash tutorials. One other important thing I learned with the G11 was RAW processing in lightroom, thanks to Zack Arias, it made a huge difference in my photos.

The G11 lived a relatively long time with me, and after trying out a few of my friends' DSLRs, I finally decided to buy a DSLR because of the incredibly slow focusing speed and the usual back focusing issues. I was choosing back then between the Canon 550D and the Nikon D90 since their price were similar, and I decided to go for the new Canon sensor, better video modes, and keep both my Canon flashes.

3. Canon 550D

Canon 550D + 50mm f/1.8 II, room light + bounce flash, 1/80, f/2.5, ISO 400

Canon 550D + 60mm Macro, 1/800, f/3.2, ISO 200

I suppose my portrait shooting style have become obvious by now, I love shooting tight head shots and they are my favorite types of pictures, and sometimes I do wider shots when there is context that I want to show through the picture.

I learned Neil's bounce flash technique with the 550D, and it quickly became my favorite shooting technique whenever possible, I became quite good at getting the pictures I need with just one flash and started abandoning the more complicated light setups since they required time and space. My favorite lenses were the 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.8 and the 60mm f/2.8 Macro that replaced it.

Next came my trip to Malaysia, and I took the chance to sell the 550D and upgrade to the 60D with it's better focusing system, better controls, tilt screen, top LCD, and just about everything else, this was also when I bought my 3rd Canon flash, a brand new 580EX II.

4. Canon 60D

Canon 60D + 35mm f/2, available light + bounce flash camera right, 1/160, f/2.5, ISO 500

Canon 60D + Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 (adapter & manual focusing), 1/200, f/2.8 probably, ISO 800

Canon 60D + 85mm f/1.8, 1/1600, f/2.2, ISO 100

Canon 60D + 60mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 100

The 60D was a much better camera to use than the 550D ever was, and this was the second time I believed I'd live with the camera forever, it was really good, all I had to do to fulfill my gear lust was to buy more/better lenses.

One of those lenses that I bought against my own logic was the Canon 85mm f/1.8, I wanted to see for myself what was all the fuss about, what creamy backgrounds were people talking about, and after the initial wide-open-insane-purple-fringing shock, it quickly became my favorite portrait (read: head shots) lens, and I discovered that I enjoyed the background compression a telephoto lens caused.

Living happily in my Canon world, Michael started messing with my mind, until I surrendered against all my logic, once again, and bought into the full frame world, dreaming to go up another step in the photography ladder, little did I know. I sold all of my EF-S lenses and bought a 5D Mark II (the Mark III was just released and I didn't like the price) with the 24-105 kit lens and the famous Canon 50mm f/1.4.

5. Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 5D Mark II + 50mm f/1.4, 1/100, f/2.8, ISO 200

Canon 5D Mark II + 50mm f/1.4, bed light only, 1/60, f/1.4, ISO 3200

Canon 5D Mark II + 200mm f/2.8, 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 200

You can immediately notice the difference, shallow depth of field everywhere, even at f/2.8, a huge step up in the noise department, the 60D sucked at ISOs above 800, while the 5D Mark II had insanely clean files at ISO 800, and was very good up to ISO 3200, this gave me more opportunities which I would have discarded with the 60D. The best advantage for me was the excellent auto WB and the pleasant skin tones in mixed lighting scenarios.

I sold both of my 35 f/2 and 85 f/1.8 remaining from the 60D days, I didn't like these focal lengths, instead I got the 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS and the 200mm f/2.8L primes, both lenses are easily the best Canon lenses I have ever used, ever. I did enjoy shooting with the 50mm f/1.4 after getting it to focus correctly, but it had to be stopped down a bit to be sharp, not a problem for the high ISO capable 5D Mark II. This camera quickly became my favorite, and I really fell in love with it, and if I was in the market for another full frame, I would probably choose this one again.

However, life wasn't all flowers and chocolate, through the incremental upgrades, everything got slowly heavier and larger, the bag that used to take my 60D with two lenses and a flash can now only take the 5D2 and one lens, lenses became longer, larger and heavier, even the lens hoods became larger, people started being more alert when I got the camera out of the bag, but having my feet already deep in the mud, I only looked ahead, more is better, isn't it?

The internet kept messing more with my head and showing how radically better the 5D Mark III was compared to its predecessor regarding everything, focusing, speed, better noise performance, dual cards, better screen, better movie modes, etc... Once the price reached $3000 at my local camera shop, I bit the bullet and made the switch.

6. Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 5D Mark III + 200mm f/2.8, 1/400, f/2.8, ISO 800

Canon 5D Mark III + 50mm f/1.4, 1/200, f/2, ISO 3200

The 5D Mark III was technically better than the 5D Mark II in almost every conceivable way, but I never really warmed up to it. It handled high ISO really good that I never thought twice about choosing ISO 3200. Bounce flash indoors? ISO 3200. Hand holding the 200 f/2.8, even in good light? ISO 3200. Want a high enough shutter speed? Why think, ISO 3200. And so on.

AWB, colors and skin tones were slightly better than the 5D2, but I started suffering from the weight I had to lug around, the fear factor of losing expensive camera gear, or having it stolen, and the need to close down the aperture and lose valuable shutter speed to get adequate depth of field, mind you, apart from the 100mm Macro, all my other lenses that I used had no image stabilization, and this forced me to use as high a shutter speed as I can to get sharp photos, for example when shooting the 200mm f/2.8 indoors with available light, I had to increase the shutter speed up to 1/800 to get a sharp shot, etc...

Then in a sudden turn of heart, I decided to sell everything and switch to micro four thirds for the reasons I have stated in great detail in the full story of my switch.

7. Olympus OM-D EM-5

OMD + 45mm f/1.8, 2 light setup, I wish I had introduced any sort of catch lights, 1/200, f/1.8, ISO 200

OMD + 45mm f/1.8, 1/2500, f/2.2, ISO 200

OMD + 45mm f/1.8, 1/4000, f/1.8, ISO 800 (a mistake, forgot to reset the ISO from a previous shot)

OMD + 25mm f/1.4, 1/320, f/3.2, ISO 200

OMD + 25mm f/1.4, lit with an iPad with a white screen, 1/20, f/2.2, ISO 800

OMD + 45mm f/1.8, ugly street lights, it was too dark, 1/13, f/1.8, ISO 3200

Before I talk about the OMD, please, have a look again at all of the images I have shown here, and give me your honest opinion, have I lost, or missed anything by switching to a small MFT sensor, given my shooting style and the illustrative pictures shown here?

In my opinion, not much, maybe I have lost the obviously shallow DOF (especially at wide angles, and large apertures) a full frame sensor easily generates. The other loss is obvious, and it is tracking rapidly moving subjects.

On the positive side, the gains are HUGE, the whole system is really tiny, and the OMD is a fantastic camera:
  • Very quick to focus, even in low light.
  • Focuses on faces and the near-eye on its own, I don't care anymore about focusing points, I just compose and shoot.
  • Amazing image stabilization (the best I have ever used), I usually now shoot at 2-stops lower shutter speed than the "1/eff. focal length" rule dictates.
  • Amazing noise performance, I dare say it is almost as good as my 5D2 at ISO 3200, and it tolerates shadows pushing way better than all of the Canon sensors I have used.
  • Olympus colors, now I understand where did this phrase come from, I really like the colors I am getting out of this camera.
  • Magical AWB, the best one I have ever used, and it is the only one that gets accurate colors under tungsten lighting.
  • Did I mention it's small and tiny?
  • The EVF shows you real-time exposure and color effects, when I shoot in B&W, I see everything in B&W, it shows you a live histogram, it shows you blocked shadows and clipped highlights in real-time, it shows you horizontal and vertical levels, it plays back the picture in the finder without having to remove your eye.
  • For some reason the MFT prime lenses are sharp wide-open, I just checked all the pictures I've taken with the 45mm f/1.8, and 71% of the shots are taken wide-open, there is no reason for me to stop-down anymore, unless I need more DOF, obviously.
  • And that brings me to shutter speed, having no need to stop-down the lens, and a smaller sensor with adequate shallow DOF, I can easily shoot at higher shutter speeds or lower light conditions than a full frame camera could.
  • I can get shallow DOF if you want, not as difficult as the internet would make you believe.
  • Cheap, the whole kit I have bought (OMD + 12-50 kit lens + 40-150 zoom lens + 25 1.4 + 45 1.8 + FL-600R flash + Sony RX100) are cheaper than what I paid for the 5D3 body alone.
So, to draw a conclusion, by looking back at the pictures of my daughter over the years and the different cameras, I don't see a huge difference or advantage to one camera over the other since I started using DSLRs, of course each camera has its pluses and minuses, but the end result is the same, I like each of the pictures shown here since I started using a DSLR equally, and that is what matters.

If you are not a working photographer, and you seek better photos, then learn to use what you have and don't fuss a lot about what more expensive equipment will gain you, they all work just fine.


First Impressions: Canon 60D + 35mm f/2 in Malaysia
Canon 60D vs 550D (and 600D): Real World Usage

Canon 5D Mark II: First Impressions
Story & Review: Canon 5D Mark II vs Canon 60D & Canon 6D
A Tribute To The 5D Mark III

The Truth Behind The Migration
From Canon 5D Mark III to MFT: The Truth Behind The Migration
Olympus OM-D: First Impressions & Comments on DOF
OM-D: Macro Fun @ Home
OM-D, Bits & Pieces
Phone Photography, Mirorrless Happiness And The OM-D EM-6
A New Audio Toy: Zoom H2n

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 Summilux
Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 Mini Review
A Fish-eye, A Dell Monitor & Wireless Printing
Fisheye Fun
Fishing with the E-M1 and the 12-40 f/2.8
Olympus E-M1 Touch Focus for Stills & Video
Dorifto Kingu Egypt (or how well the EM1 can track drifting BMWs)

Review: Sony RX100
Sony RX100: Pocket Rocket
2013: The Camera Year

Canon Lenses Chat - Part 1: Standard Zoom Lenses
Canon Lenses Chat - Part 2: Telephoto Zoom Lenses
Canon Lenses Chat - Part 3: Prime Lenses
Canon EF 35mm f/2 Review
Hands On: Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake
Macro Talk: Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Quick Review: Canon 85mm f/1.8
Canon EF Lenses Chat: Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM Review
Canon EF Lenses Chat: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Review
Flash Series - Part 1: Canon Speedlites Chat (580EX II vs 580EX vs 430EX)