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Friday, 22 July 2016


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"ISO" is neither an initialism nor acronym:

Because 'International Organization for Standardization' would have different acronyms in different languages (IOS in English, OIN in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), our founders decided to give it the short form ISO. ISO is derived from the Greek isos, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, we are always ISO.

Except ISO is a word derived from the Greek isos meaning equal and not an initialism of the organization name which is the International Organization for Standardization.

ISO is pronounced "a ess a" hereabouts.

Your analogy about tools is somewhat awry. To build a table you can have hand tools or power tools. To cook, you can have basic hand implements or the latest, mixers, blenders etc. And so on.

Having the latter will in no way mean that you can make a craftsman quality table or a gourmet meal, but having the skills, knowing the ingredients and knowing how to put them together means that you will.

Having an old camera, the skills to use it and understanding the 'ingredients', will mean you have a much greater chance of producing excellent photographs vs the person with no skill, no understanding and the world's best camera.

I sometimes still use my E-1 and marvel at what that 5MP CCD sensor is able to produce.

Less glamorous but of importance, the evolution of raw editors.

You forgot the interaction, the dependence between camera and software. Lenses is built with flaws that are supposedly fixed in software in editing.

Hmm. It's moot now as didital resolution is so high, but I never quite bought the 6mp = 35mm argument. I always felt that with a good transparency and a good-ish scanner (think Nikon Coolscan V) results from my Canon T90 and Eos 1Ds (c. 12MP) were more or less equal, with slides having an advantage in highlight recoverability and digital an advantage in colour fidelity. The next step was 16MP and that is undoubtedly better than film.

ISO = International Standards Organization. The purpose of this august organization is of course to promote uniformity ('standards').

Thus, the "iso" from the greek, meaning equal (or standard!), and thus the "eye so" pronunciation.

I've been saying "eye so" for years, and people have been looking at me silly. Feeling better already :-)

I enjoyed the previous post and it's obvious that a lot of people feel the same way about these early digital gems. It also provided a bit of self affirmation that I was not alone in thinking that there is a lot of serious creative life left in these cameras.

I feel it's important to frame some of this conversation in exactly that rather than pure nostalgia and some rose tinted view of the past.

Modern RAW development and image processing can really bring something new to these camera's files.

I picked up my pristine E1 with vertical grip, spare batteries and (slow) kit lens (not the fabled 14-54mm F2.8-3.5) for £99!

Current cost is very cheap compared to film if you shoot much. Where some of us spent a fortune was during the transition from silver to digital. Not just the cameras, but the printers - it took a decade for the printers and papers to sort out. If you were along for that ride, you were buying cameras and printers and paper and ink, trying to do good work before the tools were really up to it. The cost of being an early adopter. You had to do it as a pro. Now the question is whether it is worth still doing film for the pleasure. Even with my LF architecture, I can do better work with digital with stitching and multiple exposures. With all the zone voodoo I could never get stained glass windows in churches balanced with the interiors - which is easy now with digital. With enough pixels, you do not need camera movements. (Assuming things are standing still.)

One thing not on the list was power/batteries. There is a Nikon D1x which was saved from full retirement for $175 and mostly sits on a bookshelf. Last week it was taken off the bookshelf with the intent of some exercise but alas the battery was dead so it now rests on a table while the battery was bugged into it snake of a charger. During the charging, the exercise was forgotten. For those who may not have direct experience with the D1x (or other early Nikons) the batteries were many due to lack of staying power (perhaps 100 exposures per charge), the fact that even when new they would go dead when sitting idle in the camera, and wouldn't even hold a charge when waiting as backup. All of these factors are multiplied now that the batteries are about 15 years old. Of the four batteries on the bookshelf, two don't charge any longer, the other two hold some charge but one has to work quickly for the idle camera sucks power. The camera still porduces a good image with an interesting but difficult to describe quality. Thanks for the interesting historic journey.

I recall sitting in an NPPA (National Press Photographers Association) seminar in Oklahoma City during the 1980s when digital photography was "the future". During a slide show, someone shot members of the audience in the dark with a digital movie camera and presented the results to the group. Quality was, by today's standards, totally unacceptable yet it was amazing at the time. To think it might someday be possible to shoot without film, without flash and without darkroom processing was awesome.

Because I'm always late to the game, I didn't own a digital camera until 2007--an 8mp Canon 30D. By that time, digital was considered as an acceptable alternative to film. Even so, I still held fast to shooting film for another year while only occasionally using the Canon. The first photo I made with that 30D that I truly liked turned out to be a heavily cropped shot that still looked good printed on 8.5x11. I've since printed it 12x18 and it holds up decently well when viewed at normal distance framed on the wall.

I seem to recall reading that part of the design brief for the Nikon D1 was that it look as good as film at 8x10 size (ie full page magazine).

Stuff you are missing

Many lens innovations - mega zoom, macro, sefie. I own a camera with a 600mm f/2.8* lens! Close to magical.

*you know what I mean.

Dust - who worried about that in the film era. Lots of early angst, but now seems trivial with material advances and vibrating sensors in interchangeable lens cameras.

Video - Canon may have given up on high ISO advances, but they crushed it again with the 5DII. Now you can create video that is better than broadcast quality with the same device that you use for phone calls

I can hold my cell phone camera to a microscope or telescope eyepiece and capture a video or digital image. All in all these devices have evolved well beyond the point where 'camera' is an appropriate word for them.

While not specifically addressing specs, I've always liked this quote as it pertains to how cameras have evolved.

"If you want to change your photographs, you need to change cameras. Changing cameras means that your photographs will change. A really good camera has something I suppose you might describe as its own distinctive aura."
-- Nobuyoshi Araki

Here is a big deal for me: small and very small cameras that take pictures comparable to classic 35mm in most ways.

The fact that I can carry a phone and a relatively tiny m4/3 camera (actually for most people the m4/3 is if anything still too big) around and, if I'm careful, get pictures that hold up to pretty large print sizes (certainly 11x14 or a step larger) is pretty cool.

Here is another aspect of what's coming in the future: more in-camera image construction from multiple exposures. Presumably we are not far from a world where you can metaphorically toss the camera in the air and capture a moment from multiple points of view at the same time and then decide on the best framing/focus/depth of field "in post". Purists and traditionalists will howl at the moon about how this sort of nonsense is not really "true" image capture. The people using the cameras will ignore them and get great pictures.

Related: capturing/constructing stills from video. People already use this technique to capture images through telescopes of far planets (Jupiter: http://jupiter.cstoneind.com) that are ludicrously detailed given that they are using mass market equipment and terrestrial capture. A few more jumps in processor power and the same kinds of techniques could trickle down to cameras that you carry around with you.

Everything was not about faster. Some of us wanted slower. Starting back in the 1990s, I was shooting a lot of Velvia. Fuji rated this chrome at ASA 50 but many of us greybeards often shot at 40. This was the single biggest thing that kept me on the digital sidelines. Waiting for the digital resolution revolution to rival a Velvia chrome shot with a great lens.

I remember my last international trip with the film cameras. We went to Rome in 2004 with 40 rolls of Velvia and 40 rolls of Tri-X. When I went back to Italy in 2008 with only digital media, it was freedom. By then, the Nikon digital bodies could accommodate the lenses used on my F4/N90 bodies.

The convergence of the best of both worlds means we can remember the past without missing the best of the present.

Another factor that should be considered in this mix is monitors. Moving from CRTs to digital monitors has made a significant difference in screen resolution and color fidelity; and also, the digital monitors seldom need to be recalibrated, while the old - and HEAVY - CRTs needed recalibration all the time. (And BTW, I love my 27" iMac, in which the computer and screen are one.)

I did used to get very excited when a big package of processed slides came through the letter box and I could put them on the light table, then less excited as I realised how many duds I'd taken, and what proportion of them were exposure brackets (don't need to do that anymore with live view histogram). I hate anything computerised, having spent a career in computers, and love mechanical and analogue things but I couldn't go back.

...oh, and I agree with another comment above, about the progress of editing software. Lightroom is just indispensible.

I like your accounting of the ways that digital cameras have progressed for (in my experience) about two decades now. (My first was the Apple QuickTake 150, a camera that was both amazing and much worse than what you started with!)

I'm often amused by the discussions proposing that some older camera produced better image quality than its successor, and by those discussions (much less common today) of how the upcoming thing simply must be worse than the current one. If things declined that way, by now our digital cameras would be truly awful!

However, it is obvious that each generation has at least equalled the previous and most often improved on it in every way, to the point today that we are far ahead of where we were with film back at the start of the digital photography revolution.

@mark I: I agree with about 90% of what you say - which is why I shoot film.

@Peter Croft: I agree with about 90% of what you say - which is why I shoot digital.

Could I be be a 100% guy in either direction? I tend to bring a lot of my film skills to digital but I can't think of much I do digitally I take back to film. However, I've found the instant feedback loop of digital to be an enormously good teacher though and that does feed into my film work.

Maybe I just don't understand digital enough yet to view it totally as it's own medium.

I shot with the Olympus E-1 for a month or so back in 2005. It was a nice camera overall, and I liked it's 5.6 megapixel sensor, which at the time had quite good dynamic range. The lenses, of course, were excellent.

Carneros District, Napa Valley

The AF wasn't particularly great compared to my Canon D60, and unlike Greg Mironchok's user experience, I found the controls to be fiddly and oddly positioned.

On the whole, though, I liked the camera.

I've reached my equilibrium.

I rushed headlong into digital in 1998 and careered on for 14 headlong years until I crashed out in a blaze of overkill with a Nikon D800.

Having wasted a good portion of my hard-earned income on the latest and greatest I settled on a camera/lens combination that worked, a sensor size that worked and a resolution that worked.

The fact that the technology has largely levelled off to predictable minor refinements, many in areas I don't need, I feel comfortable that my latest investment will last me until it ceases to function.

It's such a relief that I can start focusing on photography again, something that seems to have been missing in my life for a while.

I started shooting at the tail end of the film era. The cost and inconvenience of film wasn't what ended it for me. I didn't have the time/resources to set up a darkroom, so I felt like I hit a wall. Even when I searched out the best lab in the city - there was still a separation between the photos I (thought I) took and what I received (a week later.)

Now I can shoot as many shots as I want and photoshop away to get the "print" to look more like what I saw, at least on the screen where most of them are viewed/shared. On the rare occasions that I print to paper - the results are equal to what I could get commercially.

I realize that many people here have full-blown darkrooms and no-doubt got better print results than I ever did before or do now.

But for me - and I suspect for many millions of photographers - the dominance and steady improvement in digital has been a godsend.

My path was unusual and went through a lot of the development of digital photography. I got into photography with a Sony digital camera in 2000 (a S30 with 1.3 megapixels!) before turning to 35mm and medium format film while a photo student in the early to mid 2000's. At that time, we were working with Imacon film scanners in the digital realm and I still did a lot of traditional darkroom printing, both color and black and white.

I had a few digicams over the first few years (including a Canon G3 that I really liked) before getting a Canon 5d on a really good sale. That camera changed the way I worked, moving from a Hasselblad and tripod to a much more fluid handheld shooting style. I found I am much better when I move a little more quickly, and the 5d provided image quality that in many ways was equal to medium format film. When I went to start a major project in 2007, I started with medium format film and ended up using digital for the entire series.

Since then, I did go back to 35mm film once (Kodak Ektar) but found I liked the results from micro4/3 much better. I've shot a Nikon D800 quite a bit but have been working mainly with Olympus cameras for the past year or two.

I'm glad that digital has finally reached the point where almost every camera is more than capable in most situations. There are still compromises, but the resolution and dynamic range are all very good compared to most cameras from pre-2010 or so. Monitors are vastly better and more affordable. Printing is much more user-friendly and predictable. I know some people miss the darkroom, and I do miss it myself from time to time (black and white, but definitely not the darkness and difficulty of color), but much better quality imaging is possible now than ever before.

"Probably because it's a back-formation. That "explanation" came along later as I remember it. But all right, I stand corrected."

A similar thing is seen in the abbreviation of the most commonly used universal time**, what anglophones call, Coordinated Universal Time (e.g on WWV broadcasts) and the French called Temps Universel Coordonné. It was decided that UTC that does not prefer either language and so is not an initialism, should be used.

The same is true for other, less common, time measurements (e.g. Barycentric Dynamical Time is TDB)


** Yes there are several universal times but UTC is the most useful for ordinary people. It's the time on your cellphone offset by your time zone.


Hi Mike,
One issue that has yet to be addressed with smaller digital cameras is their ergonomics. The Olympus E-1 that you illustrate must surely belong the the last generation of digital cameras that allowed for the fact that we photographers have thumbs and need somewhere to rest them without setting off firework displays in our viewfinders.
I have worked with the Olympus Em1, and the Panasonic GX7 and 8 over the past few years and they all have buttons that are impossible to avoid, particularly the Display button which can produce all sorts of un-wanted information in the viewfinder if accidentally touched while shooting. The EM1 is the worst offender in this respect having, in addition, two buttons beside the the lens mount which, although they can be switched off, remain live and prevent the back-focus button from operating if touched.
I have resolved these issues by super-gluing rubber washers around the offending buttons, while a colleague has resorted to the liberal use of Sugru to make his cameras behave. Needless to say, these tactics have hardly helped the resale value of our camera bodies.
That's the downside of these cameras. Everything else is magic and they have allowed me to be both productive and fulfilled over the past decade.
PS. You've expressed mild concern recently about reaching the age of 59.....well, I've just turned 79 and am out shooting two book projects right now and have just had a third, "Being English", published, so I can assure you that the best is yet ahead!

Anthony Shaughnessy, two months ago I would've agreed with you completely. Today, two months into a new job where we use Capture One, I'm not using Lightroom again anytime soon. Give it a try for a while. It's fabulous. (I find it amusing when I have friends commenting on how my images have a different look and they're really liking it. I'm doing basically the same things I did in Lightroom just in Capture One. The results are just better. It's like moving from D76 to Microdol-X.)

mark 1 said it all...ditto...

If I was 18 and heading into college, there would be virtually nothing about modern digital photography that would be attractive to me, I would pick something else. I'm in image management now for an E-comm place, and there's nothing attractive about that either: I'm just holding on until I can pull the trigger on retirement. It's not about improving the quality of anything, it's constant software and computer snafu's (and back-ups!), coupled with the most mundane photography. 80% of the business now is technical process, and all it's inherent problems, including the constant failing of equipment or the need for replacement driven by the clients needing another megapixel; and the other 20% is trying to get verbal information out of the snot nosed 25 year old millennial who the ad agency put in charge of the job (and who virtually has no cultural education beyond what's been marketed to him/her on-line).

My life as a photo assistant for the best product photographer in town, in 1974, was far more artistically and aesthetically rewarding than virtually anything I've done in digital, ever. The digital process has attracted a whole group of people into the business, with a whole new group of buyers for the product, that wouldn't have been tolerated 40 years ago.

I'm not a religious man, but I pray to God every day that they still keep making black & white film, and chemicals to process it, at least ten years into my retirement, whenever that's going to be...

Bert Stern, Irving Penn, Avedon, where have our gods gone! How have they steered us down this wicked path! O'Lost!

I had a Kodak DC260 which had the word "Megapixel" proudly printed on the body. No number, just "Megapixel"

I enjoyed the tour. The funny thing is, as I occasionally review photographs I have taken over the years- film and digital- it is only on rare occasion I marvel over the technical excellence of the image. Instead, it is the fact I was able to get a decent image of a memorable scene, or event, that lends value. The cameras I carry with me, always, are the original Ricoh GR Digital, and an ancient Leica IIIA. Neither produces images that withstand modern web scrutiny, but both follow me around, in pants or jacket pocket, as I lead the life that may include moments worth photographing.

It is odd, it seems the IPhone camera should be ne new go-too; but, it does not feel like photography. I suppose, ultimately, all technical problems associated with digital photography will be addressed in the "smart device." I hope there is always something new to complain about. I need it to justify my stubbornness.

As someone who regularly uses a DSLR from 2005, I feel like I'm interacting with history every day. I would not be out-of-place in the digital camera equivalent of Colonial Willamsburg!

Just a nit to pick.

You talk about high ISO and you talk about noise and analog dynamic range.

However these topics are all more appropriately considered by thinking about the improvements in the analog signal-to-noise ratio when the shutter is open.

The most significant development in "the issues that have been dealt with over the years in our digital tools" is the real improvement in the data streams' signal-to-noise ratio.

Thinking about noise without simultaneously thinking about the signal leads to confusion and misconceptions.

Is this a good moment to point out that I'm still waiting for the digital Nikon FM?

Digital meant so much more to camera design than a sensor behind the lens; Twenty years of peculiar software, arcane connectors (USB 1.1 for the Olympus E-1, zzzzz). And now there's mirrorless, electronic viewfinders, wifi, gps, 4k, lens corrections, "film simulation", ... the list goes on and on. Sigh. If only it was just the sensor on the back of a trivial camera.

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