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Thursday, 13 January 2011


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In the "old days," before photoelectric exposure meters, both film (plates) and paper were designed to accomodate lots of exposure latitude.
I don't know how they did this, probably a combination of very thick emulsions incorporating Silver Halide particles of different sizes.

I'd like to add that quite often the fringe situations provide the photographs that matter, that stand out from the crowd.

However if the part behind the viewfinder meets the fringe at the same time, the better camera will not provide any added utility.

Then there's the Holga--a camera so neurotic that picking it up stresses it out.

these things you mention are certainly true. It's also true that specific requirements dictate more professional equipment. What's happening with iPhoneography doesn't really challenge these things but offers another direction.

The limitations of the device force another method onto the photographer and rather than a handicap this becomes the point ...the entire point I am once again forced to work a scene. And working the scene is not altogether different from working a scene with my view camera...except of course for the 20 pounds less weight, and the instant review, and of course the Apps. The question then for me wasn't ...can my iPhone compare to my DSLR but rather could my DSLR perform where my photography was taking me. The answer it turns out is a resounding Yes But. In most instances it can but it requires more work both before the shot and after.

As an aside...while advances in technology and software improve the image quality of large sensors, the law of diminishing returns dictates that small sensors improve even more...quite a bit more actually.

I think thats where the average person has trouble, they don't know that sweet spot even exists, and get upset when the camera doesn't perform. I had a friend who bought a digicam just for party pics, and thought his camera was broken when all he got was crappy blurred pics, turns out he had enabled the flash off - long exposure setting. And up to that point he never took any daylight pics. I think it is your own responsibility to learn your tools, just like you learn about your car. (My wife's old style VW beetle can do 100mph on a hill, going down of course, I drove it once like that, just to know what it could do.)

Conversely, a lot of "pro" gear is designed to function really well in a very narrow range, and is pretty silly outside the studio

A Hulcher, a RB67, or a Nikonos wouldn't be my first choice for a birthday party where a point and shoot would be just fine. (I have been to a few parties and performances where a Nikonos would have been a good idea, but that's just me)

... interrupted by some emergency dog walking, but come to think of it , I used to use a 4x5 RB Graflex as my party camera, and that big green thing DSC03915
but for different kinds of parties.

Oh, and that 1Ds doesn't hold a candle to the image quality and usefulness with flash of a Sony R1, but the 1Ds makes a much better hammer and shoots a lot faster.

About stressing a camera: I though I would mention that the camera at the end of the list I posted yesterday, the Kodak Vest Pocket Model B, only $92 new (2009 dollars), was the model taken by Irvine and Mallory on their unsuccessful 1924 climb of Mt. Everest.

At that price, they took two.

But, nobody has seen their photos yet, as neither camera has been recovered. So we don't know how well the cameras performed.

(More at http://basepath.com/Photography/KodakVP.php )


While most photographers recognize that all cameras have their individual sweet spots and lighting is a more important determinant than the camera or lens, I think your post misses the mark.

The appeal of images from the iPhone rests more on their qualities rather than quality. Patrick Perez nailed this in his comment on Hipstamatic in The End of Cameras?. While resolution in and of itself is a preoccupation for (too) many photographers, it's generally not for the viewing public who look more for an involving subject given interesting treatment. Ready availability of the iPhone, a creative eye and the special magic that soft-cameras like Hipstamatic impart trump endless me-too pictures that only appeal to other resolution-focussed photographers.

The tide has turned.

Posted by: Ramon Acosta: "I think thats where the average person has trouble, they don't know that sweet spot even exists, and get upset when the camera doesn't perform."

To that observation I append this. Behind every flash you see in the seats of a nighttime sporting event there exists a camera owner with not the slightest idea of how their camera operates. "Fringe"? Boundary conditions? "Stress"? Pffft. It's called mashing the button and hoping for the best. (And, these days, getting far,far better results from that pocket daddy-cam than grandpa ever got from his crappy ol' film Nikon or Leica at a game.

"Every camera and lens imaging system has limits. It's knowing where they are that's the key."

I would also suggest that knowing "where the limits aren't" is important. Leaning into the strengths is just as important, and less limiting, than just avoiding stressing the weaknesses.

If I say I can't get this shot with this equipment, it's likely to be true. If I ask how I can get the shot with this camera, I'm more likely to do so.

Example: Tiny sensor digicam, shade, distant, candid subject. Classic solutions of tripod, higher ISO, shorter FL with cropping, etc. won't avail. If I know my camera, I could lean into its exceptional IS and shoot at ISO 80, 360mm eq. and 1/20 sec, hand held.

Sound insane? 1/20 sec. at 360 mm? Got the shot.

The other piece not explicitly mentioned is processing and darkroom skills and familiarity with the sensing medium. Just as intentional exposure outside nominal film speed, together with altered development processing and creative darkroom work, extends the center for film, analogous technique and procedures can extend the center for digital.

Those who chose to believe the camera knows best about exposure and processing to JPEGs simply narrow their center beyond what's available from their system.

Example: The endless sea of shots of red/orange/yellow flowers in direct sun where all tonal and textural detail in the petals is lost in a broad swath of undifferentiated, slightly 'off' color where the red channel has clipped.

Not limited to digital, indeed very common in slides, it's an example of not knowing one's image capture system and how to adjust it to broaden the center.

It's bright sun, for crying out loud. At base ISO, even your compact digicam has low noise in shadows. Use that EV adjustment to hold the highlights and bring up the lower tones in post.


Dear Bill,

Not sure how far back you're pushing the "old" days, but you're right. Several factors.

One is that the old standards for proper exposure were VERY generous. Essentially, the watchword was "overexpose for the shadows, and let the devil take the rest."

The downsides of doing that-- poor acutance, long printing times, weak highlight separation-- were ameliorated by the large sizes of the negatives, different tastes in what people thought looked good, and different tools. Go back before the middle of last century and enlargement becomes less common and printing-out papers become ever more common. POP's can handle negatives with insanely long density ranges.

If you've ever tried to work with plates or film negatives from the early 20th century, you know what I'm talking about. The damn things are usually bulletproof, and very hard to print or scan today. And, should you choose to enlarge them, you quickly discover they don't tolerate very much before they start to fall apart. We expect modern film negs to handle 8X enlargement without even breathing hard.

pax / Ctein

I think it IS end times for standalone digi point and shoots, and a lot of other standalone devices as well.

My Blackberry Storm also has a 3MP camera, with geotagging built-in...acts as a decent (off-grid) GPS device, a bar code scanner. Is a wireless 3G modem that works with my MacBook Pro laptop (using my unlimited data plan with Tether)... Little and cheap apps for it replace a tide-table, a sunset/sunrise calculator.

(Wouldn't mind if someone would offer a program to catch Live-View off my Nikon WT4 and D300 and to remotely trip the shutter. Similarly a light-meter program for my large format work would be similarly handy.)

Oh, and it makes phone calls too. But I was alreadyy spending $40+ mo for one without all the other goodies, something like $65 now. Relatively trivial dollar amount to a power user.

Stephen Best: the special magic that soft-cameras like Hipstamatic impart trump endless me-too pictures

...right up until every other dratted photo you see is a Hipstamatic. The tide is bogus. :)

I've recently been carrying my GF1 skiing... (and I used a Ricoh GR Digital before it) and it works fine. It's been dropped, saturated, frozen, unfrozen, frozen again, fallen on (which is what cracked my last lens hood), etc. The old Ricoh died after a skiing trip and I expect my GF1 to probably do so as well -- however, I don't see myself carrying a DSLR skiing, nor do I see a compact camera having enough dynamic range to capture contrasty subjects at altitude.

In closing, I'm certainly impressed at how consumer equipment has in many cases over-achieved its design limits. We often ignore how durable some of these products actually are (even if they aren't rated as water proof, etc.).


...right up until every other dratted photo you see is a Hipstamatic.

I'm certainly not advocating that every photograph needs to be taken this way, but it is constructive attempting to understand the appeal. Maybe there's more to photography (the medium, not the practice) than image quality and how big you can print things.

Dear Ken,

Amen. Dunno if that's always been true, but it has for at least 40 years.

Back in the early 70's, when I was working for a company inventing electronic and digital photo printing processes, we got approached by Agfa to come up with electronic photofinishing for them. (That's what led to me making the first ever electronic print directly from a color neg.)

What interested them was that we could produce, in color, the same range of print contrasts you had in B&W; IOW, we could print anywhere from Grade 1 to Grade 5 by appropriate adjustment of exposure, voltage and amperage. The Agfa folks looked at that and figured it would cut the customer reject rate due to misexposure to almost nothing. A big win for photofinishers, since customers didn't get charged for bad prints.

Point being that people back then just picked up their cameras, pushed the buttons and assumed the photo would come out OK... because 90% of the time it did.

Less auto-flashing in stadiums, though, because you had to BUY flashbulbs! No free photons like today.

pax / Ctein

"As old-time studio photographers know but some readers might not, you can also tailor the contrast ratio of the lighting to match the latitude (or "dynamic range") of the camera."

This fundamental aspect of lighting and contrast is now old time knowledge? What is this world coming to? You match yer lighting to what the camera can do. Even rank amateurs knew enough to stand with the sun behind their backs when taking family snaps.

And what on earth is that enormous military green rangefinder, Hugh?

"Getting to know a camera consists of a number of skills and capabilities. Learning its settings and practicing until you're able to handle it quickly, to name two. But an important one is the gradual process of exploring the boundaries of its capabilities, so you eventually learn what it can do and what it can't. Every camera and lens imaging system has limits. It's knowing where they are that's the key."
...and then that camera is replaced in the manufacturer's product line

I bought a D700 specifically because it is such a good all rounder. There are very few conventional photography tasks it won't handle with ease.

Except the photography paradigm is expanding. Pictures are now an integral part of life online and a camera you can carry in your pocket and which connects to facebook in seconds has a totally different but equally valid purpose and appeal.

Many of the old photographs we so admire are not admired for their technical qualities but for their content. An iPhone is no handicap to creating interesting images, especially if they are destined for online viewing. For social imaging, it's a perfect solution and the quality is rapidly reaching the stage that it could be the tool of choice for street photography.

I think the real issues are, firstly, that one camera will never do it all and, secondly, that IQ is not always the primary requirement when competing against size and convenience. Indeed, was this not the main driver for the widespread adoption of 35mm cameras in the first place?

I will always own a DSLR. The output quality of all current cameras in this class is good enough for almost any purpose, but that does not mean I won't also own a compact camera, and my next compact camera may well be a new generation smart phone. Sometimes, I really just dont need to be weighed down by all that image quality!

I mostly use my Iphone for photography anymore because it lets me be a "photographer" a lot more often than my 7D: I always have it with me, and while the mechanics are different, I still go through the same process of composing, and "thinking" about photography a lot more often than I do with my higher-quality gear. And that seems important to me.

A few thoughts...

A compact digital camera definitely has a smaller "sweet spot" than a DSLR but it's slowly and surely expanding. My Canon S95 is a good example. Further, it's good to see Olympus entering the fray with the XZ-1 (IMHO it's a touch large for a compact camera).

As phone-cameras get better, I wonder if the [specialist] camera manufacturers will drop their entry level compact models and focus on the "enthusiast" model?

The lesser capabilities of the compact camera mean you have to work harder to create a good image ... I think it's a great tool for improving your photography skills & mindset. Reminds me of Mike's post some time ago about "One camera, one lens, one year".

As a hobby photographer, it's optional whether I carry a camera or not. But practice makes perfect and a compact camera is easy to carry on me, more often than not.

There is also the issue of what the photographed subject considers the "fringe". Two days ago I was covering a university event and the subject took offense to what she claimed was "jamming a huge lens in her face". The lens in question is a 17-55m Canon and the distance was 7-8 feet away. Not a big lens and not very close. Considering that this was the first response of this type in shooting for over 30 years, my guess is that the current standard for non-threatening camera size is likely the camera phone.

The big green camera is a 75mm Combat Graphic , sort of like a 4 times life size 35mm Contax rangefinder with a spring motor drive. Designed by the same guy who designed the 35mm Contax as a matter of fact.

RE: "overexpose for the shadows, and let the devil take the rest."
That was one of the reasons I love my Combat Graphic. I'd shoot aerial photography Pan-X over-exposing and overdeveloping in dilute D-19, then use a diffusion enlarger to print the enormously long scale negatives. The apparently cost no object lenses and super accurate rangefinder helped too.

I never had any problems enlarging 20x and larger; the dilute D-19 made for very high accutance. The open crisp shadows were worth the slightly crushed highlights, but I hardly ever had a problem except for the occasional accidental overdone strobe fill.

Dear Hugh,

Errrm, I presume you meant to write "underdeveloping."

Coupla thoughts-- first, the old stuff I'm talking about is a lot older than Pan-X, and is much more drastically overexposed than your film. It really does have crappy acutance, and no development compensation would fix that-- there's simply too much flare and fill-in scattering in those old emulsions when you heavily overexpose them.

Second, I'm gonna be bursting your nostalgic bubble, but...

Overexposed and underdeveloped Pan-X was my fave film combo, so much so that when Kodak discontinued Pan-X 120 in 1973(?) I had friends scour photo stores all over the country and I laid in a stockpile of many hundred rolls of the stuff. Finally, by late 80's, there were other films as good or better for my purposes, which was a good thing, because I was down to my last coupla-dozen rolls.

But here's the thing-- when I compared characteristic curve plots back then, I discovered to my immense surprise that Pan-X actually had a pretty lousy exposure range. It exhibited such severe rollover in the highlight portion of the curve that it's practically-usable range was a lot less than I'd thought. Made it very easy to print, fer shure. But them negs weren't half so long-scale as we thought.

pax / Ctein


Actually I did mean "overdevelop" , but let me put that in context. Most of what I was shooting at the time was either studio portraits with one big shoot through umbrella pretty close to on axis with the lens of the camera, or outdoors with more or less the same setup, or outdoors with a vivitar 283 as close as I could get to the lens. For the outdoor stuff I would expose for the ambient light and overexpose the subject with strobe by about 2 stops. Then I'd develop in d-19 diluted one to one 75 degrees f for 5 or 6 minutes. The biggest variable was in the agitation which is kind of hard to describe but probably had the biggest influence. I don't know whether that counted as "overdeveloped" but the negatives were really really dense. As I recall , extending the time made a lot less difference than you would expect so I think the developer was exhausting. I know people who souped Pan-X in D-19 for 6 hours, so compared to that I was under developing but still...

But just like you said, it exhibited severe rollover in the highlight portion of the curve , which in my photos was usually someones really harshly lit face. I'd get lots of contrast and adjacency effect in the generally out of focus shadows, and much less overall contrast but still a lot of adjacency effect in the highlights once again depending a lot on the highlights. The hint of grain in the highlights was nice too.

The overall effect was similar to the tone mapping techniques we have in digital, so the steep toe flat shoulder worked great for me. Printed on portriga rapid, you got prints where all the shadow detail came out if you took the prints out into direct sunlight

Most of the studio and portrait stuff was done with a Hasselblad, and the Combat Graphic was more of a outdoor parties, iceboating, fires, and rock club sort of camera, (you could use it wearing mittens or drunk!) but I was running the same Aero Pan-X through both of them and developing them the same. I was able to get similar results with the slow Agfa B&W 120 film and 120 Pan-X in the Blad, but not quite the same. I'm pretty sure Kodak discontinued Pan-X 120 just after they started selling that !@#$%&* T-Max junk , I know I bought some in 1987 for a project then it went off the market while I was working my way through a big batch.

The same thing happened with the 70mm stuff, I had maybe 500 feet of it and when I ran out you couldn't buy it anymore unless you placed a $15,000 minimum order.

I'm the first to admit that I didn't do any quantitative testing but just stumbled into a recipe that worked for me and was loath to mess with it.

So, what did you switch to? I have been looking through some old negatives and prints and found that some of the c-41 B&W films like overexposed Agfapan Vario-XL had a similar steep toe flat shoulder look but I never pursued it on account of the hassle of c-41 processing. All that you can get in 70mm now is some infrared so I'm looking at 120 films, maybe over exposed chromogenic film or just a lot of post processing after scanning.

On the other hand the kids shooting 8x10 xray film look like they are having fun...

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