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Thursday, 28 March 2013


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You've said before that no great photo ever depended on sharpness, so I'm tempted to add that "no great photo ever depended on sensor high dynamic range" or "low noise high ISO+". So why are we fixated on these things, and why does almost every camera review these days concentrate on comparing these factors, and whether they rae better on the latest model, or whether the holy grail is just around the corner? Has the concept of taking the next "great photo" simply disappeared?

What is the total circumference of the earth, and if one were to take a photo of the total globe what distance would one need to be for any given lens, I am planning a trip next summer. :)

More seriously:

Tell me something I don't know.

That might sound a bit arrogant but what I mean to say is that photography is less about finding answers to your questions but more about learning of questions you should be asking. I look forward to reading the questions as I bet there are a few I never even thought about.

What are the essential user differences between CLS and ETTLII, every time I think I have my head around it I stumble. iTTL-BL, fill flash for bright scenes, is automatic with Canon in Aperture priority mode, right? So what does a Nikon do in iTTL and Aperture mode at different EV's?

Probably not the sort of question you were after Mike, but food for a web search or twenty!

Do you have any recommendations on exposing and developing black and white negative film specifically for purposes of scanning the film to create digital files? Would it be the same as exposing for darkroom printing, or are there other aspects of scanning that could benefit from a different exposure?

Also, as a man of books, I'm curious if you have any references that you could recommend on the topic of photogrammetry. I'm an engineer who uses photogrammetric analysis for forensic purposes, and I'm always looking to learn a bit more.

Thanks for the great blog, I enjoy it daily and have learned a great deal from yourself and your contributors.

Who was the best Black Flag singer?

When can I expect to be able to buy another compendium of your writing? Maybe even just a selection of the longest/best TOP articles? Lenses and the Light Tight Box and The Empirical Photographer are absolute favourites of mine.

When are you going to produce a nice monograph of your 35mm black and white work? Have you considered entering into any sort of editorial partnership to gain an external perspective?

Have you considered adding a forum to TOP? Your comments and commentators provide some of the appeal of the site, but in this format it's easy for interesting topics to die out, and true conversations between readers are hard.

Have you considered a classifieds section on TOP? You could charge a fixed small fee to post an advert for a camera or book or print? People around here have similar (exemplary) taste in these things.

What are the five most common questions you get asked (from non-photography site readers) about buying a new camera? I'm in the process of developing a website as a side project, to guide people who don't want to read dozens of reviews and hundreds of posts before choosing a digital camera.

If prize-winning photographs can be taken with DX cameras and lenses (and beat out the FX shots), why does FX continue to be the holy grail? Seems like its just a case of "bigger is better" and a lot of hype. If Nikon or Canon made DX cameras with the all the bells and whistles of a D4 or 5DMkIII would anyone need FX? With the advent of M4/3 its been shown that small sensors don't necessarily mean lesser quality. Pros especially can appreciate the lower weight burden so why cling to those big and bulky cameras? If pros started adopting smaller sensor cameras no one would buy FX. I think that time is coming based on the response to cameras like the OMD's, NEX's and Fuji's on various pro blogs.

I know you love that big dragoon and over on Thom's site it will probably win his version of March Madness but that's exactly what it seems to me - madness to cling to the past with FX.

Then again, it makes more money for the manufacturers so maybe it keeps DX costs lower. I'll shut up, now.

You've shared that you found out just a day in advance that you were to be a single father. That sounds like an interesting story. Can you add some more details?

I've got a Panasonic GF-1 tht I'm generally happy with, but I'd like to be able to stretch to higher ISOs a bit to better handhold in low light. Will moving to the GX-1 get me much, or should I be looking to the Oly E-PL5?

If it matters, the only lens I use (or have interest in) is the 20/1.7.

In regard to your comment reply re b+w conversion:

" But maybe I could concentrate on the aesthetic judgments rather than just the technique and make a post or two that are interesting that way. Again, I'll take this under advisement."

I think this is a great idea that would appeal to many b+w enthusiasts.

Does a digital monochrome camera such as the Leica M9-Mono handle the subject brightness range as with B&W film, or do you have to bracket/multiple exposure as with other digital cameras?

Mike, I can give two additional answers to James Hildreth's question: noise and focal lengths (for people buying into Canikon, anyway).

My first DSLR was FF because I shoot at night and my first lens was going to be a 100mm-ish stabilized macro. I seriously considered buying a crop sensor camera, but I knew I was going to have trouble with the 100mm's FOV on a crop sensor.

Most of the black backdrop photos in my creatures gallery ( http://www.dementlieu.com/galleries/creatures_1.0/ ) could not have been shot with a crop sensor camera--with a light in one hand and the camera in the other, I was seriously constrained by how far I could be from my subjects.

When it comes to noise, I've shot a lot with both the 5D Mark II and a 7D, and the 5D has a clear advantage at ISO 800, it demolishes the 7D at ISO 1600, and higher than that and the 7D is not even worth considering.

For long exposures, I haven't used the 7D enough to get a good feel for it, but my gut says that the 7D is about a stop noisier than the 5D for 30-120 second exposures with dark frame on.

Concerning your trying to figure out ways to find portrait subjects: How about turning to your readership here? Surely there are a lot of TOP regulars within a reasonable distance of TOP World Headquarters who would be willing to make the trek on their own dime to have their portrait taken by you and the Big Dragoon?? It would be an interesting series of posts too, to see some of the faces behind the names. Worth a shot.

Here is an answer to the file size thing from the point of view of the maths of it.

An image file consists of a bunch of buckets (pixels or whatever you want to call them). For a naked file from a camera the contents of those buckets are the (considerably tarted up) values from the sensor's pixels.

Just thinking about a monochrome sensor (a colour one is not conceptually harder, it's just more fiddly), each pixel's value consists of two parts: the actual value of the light it saw, and some random noise added by the pixel (some of that noise being avoidable by better design, some not being so). You want the first of these, but not the second: unfortunately you have to live with the second.

Now, if you "shrink" a file, what this actually means is that (assuming you are not working with some inherently lossy format like JPEG, which makes things stupidly more complicated) you are reducing the number of pixels in the file. What happens to do this is that each new pixel is constructed from a number of old ones. Again there are complexities here which make no real difference, but the way this is done is to make each new pixel the average of a number of old ones.

And now some magic happens: the noise part of the sensor pxel's value is random, and it turns out to be the case that if you add random values the total you expect to get goes up as the square root of the number of values you add. But the part of the sensor pixel's value corresponding to the light which fell on it is not random, and neighbouring pixels are highly correlated. So when adding a number of these values you get a result which goes up roughly linearly.

What this means is that, if you average n pixels, you reduce the noise by a factor of roughly the square root of n. And because the number of pixels goes like the linear dimension of the image (meaning, here, number of pixels the side of the image) squared, this in turn means that noise goes down roughly linearly with a linear scaling of the image: so if you start with an image which is n pixels on a side and reduce it to one which is n/2, you get about half the noise.

Note that this assumes that the original sensor pixels were about as good (ie about as noisy) in the image you have scaled and the image that started out small. That does not have to be the case: there's nothing to stop someone making a sensor with a rather small number of very high-quality pixels. However I suspect that the stupidity of most camera buyers means, sadly, that this does not happen ("my camera has more pixels than yours" being something which seems to be important to people, along with "my camera weighs more than yours" (very important to Leica users), "my lens is bigger than yours", "I have more lenses than you", "my camera is missing the bit which avoids aliasing effects in the image" and all the other idiocies).

I should have clarified in my last comment that I meant "speciality" focal lengths, where you need a specific type of lens (macro, tilt shift, f1.4/1.2) at a given FOV.

Mike, will be great if you could take a look at my pictures and let me know what you liked :)

Hmmm. A question. How about this: Why prints? Why go through all the trouble when in a couple of years you'll be able to look at your picture at 300dpi on a 27 inch LCD screen that has a wider brightness and color range than that printer can do anyway? What is it about the human psyche that makes us emotionally attach ourselves to *processes* versus results? How's that?

Also, about "why does FX continue to be the holy grail?"

This might not be the place to offer my own answers... but IMHO FF is a priority for the major makers because

1. It allows a level of sensor performance that is above what crop-sensor cameras were doing around the D3 time frame. This is much less true now. Now even the 4/3rds cameras are close enough to D3 performance that you aren't given up that much by "downgrading" the sensor size. That's why I actually just broke down and sprung for a new Olympus.

2. Allows the development of only a single line of lenses.

Using "full frame" lenses on crop sensor cameras is a bit of a compromise in various ways. But, N and C have both been slow in developing the cropped lens lines because they've been assuming that the ultimate destination is full frame. The result is that you can buy APS-C bodies that are nice and small but then your are burdened with comparatively large lenses that all have the wrong field of view. And, it's hard to find a good wide angle.

How come you never, never, EVER, have a typo or grammatical error in your posts? Do you outsource your proof reading to a team in India or something like that?

[That's the nicest comment I've gotten in a while. If you only knew how I do bitter endless battle with the ever-present, ever-insidious typo trolls.... --Mike]

@ Mike: "Should we do this again sometime? "

Yes, because it was very entertaining.

@Sal Santamaura:

I have no experience with the Hartblei superrotator, but a more economical alternative is to look at the Mirex tilt-shift adapters (available through mirex.de), which allow you to shoot using medium format lenses on 35mm bodies. If I remember correctly, they have the options of Mamiya 645, Pentax 645, and Hasselblad 6x6 on the front end and Canon, Sony Alpha, and m42 on the back end. You buy one adapter and then can use different lenses with it. I use it with Mamiya lenses stuck on to Sony Alpha. I'm happy with the results, but I think other photographers who use Canon are a bit better off, because of Canon's better implementation of Live View (at least compared the absence on my a850).

I think there are also adapters that will let you do similar things going from 35mm lenses down to Sony NEX, but I don't have any experience with them.

You're an extremely good sport, thank you.

I'm sorry I missed this. It was fantastic — thanks!

Are you dating your organizer? :)

[No, she's happily married, although, by complete coincidence, she happens to be the ex-wife of an old high school friend, and we have friends in common. I had no idea. I found her through a referral on the Internet. --Mike]

Mike, it was entertaining. But it all happened between me going to bed and getting up the next morning!

I'm disappointed for you that your Mamiya 7ii 80mm lens died. And so quickly. In all the posts on various sites, including photo.net, that I've read on the Mamiya 7 system covering more than 15 years, I can't recall ever hearing of lubricant fouling the internal elements. (Just to make you feel better!).

I recently had scans done of the B&W rolls I shot with my Mamiya 7ii and 80mm during the the Makalu to Everest traverse I completed two years ago. They make me wish I'd used more B&W instead of E6 colour. Several LF users at my photo club were very impressed. So my suggestion is to buy another 80mm lens. Soon, while you can still get one new. Remember that it's a nice cloning of a Symmar.

What a great "Spring Cleaning" kind of post! While some questions were pretty specific or esoteric, there are answers in there to the questions I would've asked had I checked the site earlier. Cleaned things up in the dusty corners of "what ever happened to?" and "what does Mike think of...?"

I can't believe that no one asked what the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is. The answer, as we all know, is 42.

A subtitle (much longer than the entire post) for this blogpost: Things you've always wanted to know about Mike, photography, gear, etc... but were afraid to ask.

Had I stayed up late and caught this post before the first batch of Q&A's were published, I would have been stumped.

Difficult to ask questions without context, given TOP's broad swath.

It's gonna be fun divining the context, subtext, intertext...whatever, of this thread. But that sounds like work.

"Got any questions?" What a pre-text!

As to why prints and the idea of a fixed permanent record of the artist's thoughts:

Years ago I was at a Christies auction in NYC to see an Albers painting go up for sale. At one moment, you could see the painting, the catalog, and the projected image on a screen all at once and compare. I swear I thought they were selling three different pieces, they were so different.

Take your pick, make your choice, but only one thing can be the recording. The rest are mere references.


D) is a very bad choice Mike for three reasons:

1) You're neatness coach will find it....she read your blog and now knows it exists.

2) You have dollars invested in that thing that could be invested in buying gear you use.

3) There are people around that would trade in some bodyparts for a 7

4) You will miss it....sure I miss my Les Paul heritage standard 80 to the day, but it will not be a painfull miss, it will be a miss coupled with the satisfaction of wisdom.

Mike replies: Sure. I mean this in the gentlest possible way: I think the food industry is trying to kill us.

Nope it's a far more ellaborate scheme. First the food industry is driving is un in the hand of the medical industry (if insured of course)....then the insurance industry will try to kill us (damned you can even insure yourself against non-dead personel these days).

Greets, Ed.

@Ed Hawco and @Mike....

User settings change....somewhere in the underdeveloped jungle of a OS is a setting to turn of the rediculous preset (if Oly needs a real nice critical user acceptence tester they should drop me a mail, Japan seems to be nice enough to migrate to) of the 4 ringed buttons to focus area. Now that at least halves the problem.

The problem is caused not by the camera but by the user though. When in sleep mode the buttons are wide awake, for some time. Now when you are a slob like moi and Mike (therefore a natural born user acceptance tester) you have the camera dangling from a leach or in a pouch without actually turning it of. And that is were the magic happens. You push a button and presto....things have changed. But since the display is black and the eye of the beholder is not on the viewfinder but on the scenery, though will not notice, until oogling the next shot....which then is accompanied by a 4 letter word followed by name Olympus. By the way, the G3 my father ownes shot at 6400 iso a day for the same reason and on a G3 that means end of pipe for those efforts, so things can be worse.

Greets, Ed.

@ James Sinks,

I don't know........


Smaller sensor......60 mm micro 4/3 FOV nearly identical to 100 mm on FF.

Smaller sensor DOF is bigger so aperture can be bigger (thus (over)-compensating for lesser low light performance....a 50 mm 2.8 delivers the same image as a 100 mm at 5.6 thus needing 4 times less iso (my 800 is youre 3200 James) and correct me if I'm wrong but DOF is something I struggle with in macro.....more being the somewhat desireble commodity over less.

Greets, Ed.

@John Y.

As a previous GF1 owner I know the 1.7 20mm has a small but nasty banding problem with the OM-D on high ISO (above 1600 as I recall) by the way it's software related and Olympus is trying to fix it. I don't know if this is true of the new PEN's as well but I should consider it. If low light performance is what you want, i'd consider a Olympus 17 1,8 coupled to an OM-D or Pen....for a few reasons.

A) Your combination has no image stabilisation what so ever.

B) The Oly 17 is great lens....on my want list so to speak.

C) The IBIS of the OM-D is build by gandalf.

Thus coupling a great lens, with nice camera adding IBIS that can travel to 3200 with no harm and can add three stops to the EV (eh, if the object plays along of course), would be a winner in my book.

Greets, Ed.

Yes- do The Answer Man again! These questions and answers are very interesting and helpful. Thanks.

No need to answer this, Mike, but have you considered raising the roof and putting a second story office up there?

(If, however, that would necessitate destroying any oldish growth trees, however, this suggestion never happened!)

Your Bradford Cousin a zillion times removed,


Ed, I had forgotten Panalympus. I do that. Often. In my defense, when I was camera shopping (mid-2009), M43 was very new and there were four serious impediments to the M43 system for macrophotography: questionable future, lousy sensors, lousy autofocus, and no macro lenses (heck, there were hardly any lenses at all except the kits). I'm also not sure if Olysonic had a wireless flash system. They must have, right? I've tried off-shoe cords, and they catch on everything and get tangled up in my subjects.

These days you're correct, M43 could work for my nocturnal field macrophotography. I'd probably prefer the Panasonic 45mm to the Oly 60mm though--120mm equivalent would be a touch tight..

Don't think M43 would be adequate for my other shooting though. Or at least, I would certainly be a very unhappy camper shooting architecture and landscapes without a TS and concerts with a M4/3 sensor. To say nothing of the lack of replacements for my other bread and butter lenses--the Canon 50mm Compact Macro and the 65mm MPE.

Regarding noise, I shoot all my strobed creepy-crawlies at ISO 100 or 200. No worries about noise there, even if I was using a P&S. It's all my other shooting where noise is a worry. My current favorite location is dark enough that my test shots to check composition and focus are 30 seconds wide open at ISO 1600. There have been plenty of nights where my final exposure at ISO 100 was 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes.

Do you own a passport and would you consider using it?

Yeps James,

the Panalympus world needs a TS solution...agreed mis it too. I'd even want two a 14 and a 17.....there is talk about a solution based on a Nikon adapter (not the Kippon one which well, is not a solution it is in fact a problem).

Having said I use the extra space in 4/3 frame to simulate a ST lens by using the bottom or the top part of the frame in 2/3 or 16/9 mode. Or I'll get out the Panasaurus and a tripod and shoot the crap out of my OM-D and create Gigapixel landscapes using Autopano Pro.

Long exposures are a bit of a pain indeed noise wise, I agree, there a nice fat FF sensor beats the shit out a DX or a 4/3 sensor.

My Oly has a 3 channel (in fact four with the flash on the hot shoe) infrared wireless system that is fully TTL. Haven't tested it though, no dedicated flash yet to test it with.

Greets, Ed.

Mike: It's me! Have had a tough couple of years, but am still a camera and lens junkie. He Leica R lenses converted to my nikons, and have Zeis ZF lenses. Still love film, and really don't understand why people need to photoshop so much. Wish we were back in analog times. Am 80, and a few medl. probs., etc., I really miss the old days. Am a member of the Dancing With Speeds group, and have a couple of Aero Ektars on an SG and a Graflex. Photography was and still is my raoson d'etre, Send me an e-mail and I'll give you my schedule. Let me hear from you. Best-Arnold

[Well, well, well! Hello, Arnold! How nice to hear from you. I do count on you resurfacing every now and then. Are you living in Chicago or New York or Paris or--? Such fond memories of seeing your marvelous old penthouse on the lake, stuffed with art of every description! Hope you are well, and yes, I will email you. --Mike]

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