The above title shot was taken a couple of miles from my house with a Nikon Z 50 and Z 50-250mm DX Z lens at 200mm. Shot raw and edited with Lightroom Classic.
2019 was a great year in my photography and also some improvement in my video ability. I shot a little bit of everything including film, iPhone, Sony, Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, and Voightlander. I mostly shot stills, but also some video with my iPhone XS Max and then iPhone 11 Pro, plus Sony A7iii & Sony HX 80 and HX 99, Nikon Z 50 & Z 7. Up until buying the Z 50 I almost always used my iPhones for video. The exception was our trip up the California coast where I was able to get some good video with the A7iii and especially the HX99.
Here are the two photos that shocked me the most.
They were taken within a couple minutes of each other. One was taken with the Apple iPhone XS Max and the other with a Sony A7iii using a Sony 24-105 mm G lens. Can you tell which is from what camera? The top one is the Apple. I put these photos in Lightroom and looked at the distant small mountains in the middle foreground. Even though the Sony has twice the pixels and a very high quality lens the iPhone made a slightly better photo. The sharpness on the distant mountains is slightly better in the iPhone and the exposure over all is definitely better in the Apple. And this happened a few days after going down to an area where there is a beautiful cemetery overlooking the Pacific Ocean where I took 14 Sony raw shots and merged them in Lightroom for a panorama. Then as kind of an afterthought I shot a pano using the iPhone XS with the simple pano setting in the standard Apple camera app. Results, the Apple was as good as the Sony-Lightroom shot. After this five day period I had to reevaluate the iPhone’s place as a photographic tool and consider it to be capable of some of the best files of any of my cameras.
Later in the year came the new iPhone 11 Pro. Without a doubt one of the best features of this camera was a super wide view.
The widest I had with me on my Sony A7iii or Sony HX99 was 24mm. Both of those could only get in either the actual mountain or the reflection, but not both.
And the iPhone 11 Pro added night sight. This added the ability to photo stars with a cell phone. I was able to do this with the Sony A7iii, but that was with a far larger camera and much bigger lens. Both phone and camera are on a tripod and exposed for about 30 seconds.
As incredible as the iPhones are there are limitations. When I looked over the photos from this workshop close up the full frame Sony gave clearer results of the huge mountains that surround the valley. When you use the regular camera you can avoid much of the image smearing that some of the auto enhancement adds to the iPhone shots. I know I just showed that iPhone was better looking down the mountain into the desert, but when I went to Yosemite I could not consistently get sharp iPhone shots.
But the iPhone had another trick up it’s sleeve.
By using the “live” photo setting and then choosing long exposure you can get this type of long exposure without using a tripod. All of this and excellent 4K video. A great package. Many people could get an iPhone 11 Pro and just call it a day and not buy any additional camera gear. That would not be me though.
On this same trip I shot two rolls of Kodak Color Plus.
All of the above shots were taken with a 20 year old Minolta 600si camera and Minolta 50mm f1.4 lens and Kodak’s least expensive film, Color Plus. All of the film shots were hand held. All were developed by my go-to lab, North Coast Photographic services in Carlsbad CA. The Minolta body is sublimely easy to use and I took all of these shots using either P or A mode and auto focus. The 20 year auto focus is super easy to use and dead on accurate. All this talk about how much more accurate focus is on mirrorless cameras is not what I have experienced. My old Minolta SLR cameras are spot on even when shooting 1-1 with macro lenses.
The lovely 12 shots above were all taken with my original Olympus ON2n and 50mm f1.8 lens. I used Kodak Ektar 100 film for these shots, and again North Coast Photographic Services to develop and scan.
I would like to take a moment to reflect that film is still very relevant in 2019 and tomorrow 2020. 1. It looks different than digital shots. This is especially true for black and white. Digital does not obsolete the art form of film photography. 2. The process is better. Digital you are always fussing with it. You make a bunch of adjustments even if it is an iPhone photo. Then you check to see if it came out. Then you edit it, usually right away or that evening to make sure the work came out right. With film you shoot, send it to lab, they do most of the adjustments, you get it back and make final adjustments. 3. I would have saved a bunch of money in 2019 if I had stuck to film for stills and iPhone for video. In no way would my quality of work suffered.
Right after the Yosemite workshop in October my one year with the Sony A7iii was up. I had been planning since I rented the Z 7 in February to go back to Nikon as I like their cameras better. The Sony camera worked fine, but the Nikon grips fit me better, I like touch screens and the Nikons have them and Sony’s do not, Nikon menus and controls are simpler and easier to use, I like Nikon colors better, Nikon files both jpeg and raw work better and much more easily with Lightroom, Nikon adds little things that matter to the experience of the person using them. So I sold my Sony A7iii and lenses and bought a Nikon Z 50 plus the two new lenses, and a Nikon Z 7 and two lenses. I am happy with the change. The Z 50 is my new favorite digital camera of all time. An absolute winner. The Sony HX99 I had I gave to my daughter for her long trip to Asia. She only had an iPhone and the Sony added a lot to the iPhone.
DSLR vs Mirrorless. I have now used both Sony and Nikon mirrorless. And I have used Nikon DSLRs, three of them, and still have film Olympus and Minolta SLRs. DSLRs are not dead like many YouTube people would have you believe. I almost never shoot fast moving animals like birds. And I almost never shoot sports or fast outdoor action. If I did any of these things frequently I would prefer to shoot with a DSLR than mirrorless. DSLRs have optical viewfinders and with them there is no lag in what you see. With all of the EVFs that I have used there is lag. Fast moving objects work better with no lag viewfinders. Second, of the cameras I have used DSLRs have faster focus on action, sports, birds, outdoor action. My Nikon D750 was easier to shoot action with than either of the new Nikon mirrorless I have or the Sony A7iii I had until six weeks ago. The D750 was much easier to set up tracking a moving object. In addition DSLRs usually have mechanical lenses rather than electronic lenses. I like mechanical ones better. They are much easier to focus manually than electronic. DSLRs almost never get dust on their sensors. I had a Nikon D5500 for three and a half years. I never cleaned the sensor. With my Sony A7iii the sensor was frequently collecting dust. So far it seems like the Nikon Z 50 and Z 7 are much less prone to sensor dust than the Sony A7iii. DSLR lenses are almost always lighter and cheeper than mirrorless lenses.
On the other hand mirrorless with a good EVF makes it easier to get the look you want for landscape shots. My experience is that newer mirrorless collaborate better with flashes than DSLRs. And by far mirrorless is easier to shoot video with than DSLRs. DSLRs have ridiculously long battery life. I think I went through 3 weeks in Europe in 2017 with a Nikon D5500 and I don’t think I ever charged the battery. I really really like the Z 50. To me it is the perfect upgrade from the Nikon D5500/5600. If I could have only one camera other than my phone I would choose the Z 50 over the Z 7.
Full frame digital vs crop sensor digital. For most people crop sensor is the better choice. I can say this with the introduction of the Nikon Z 50. For several years I thought the Nikon D5500 was about the perfect mid range camera, but the viewfinder and video could be improved. The Z 50 does both of these things. The Z 50 for almost everyone is a better choice than a 24 mega pixel full frame. Why. The Z 50 + 16-50mm lens weighs 18 oz. The Sony A7iii with kit lens (the light one you really don’t want) 34oz. The Z 6 Nikon with 24-70 kit lens 40oz. Both full frames cost twice as much. Why do you want to pay twice as much and lug around twice the weight for the same results. On the other hand I can see high mega pixel full frames if you are into shots that can use fine detail like some landscape. But my Z 7 plus 24-70 cost three times as much as the Z 50. So you better make sure you need those extra pixels.
Can you get by with just a smart phone? I wondered about that a lot until I bought a Z 50. The big A7iii was no fun to use. It did not bring joy to me to carry it around. The fact that the grip did not fit me was likely the biggest reason. But since I have bought an excellent camera that I really like to use the benefits of the traditional shape of a camera vs a smartphone has put me in the camp of wanting to use a camera. It is just so much easier and more fun to use than a smartphone. A great fitting and working body brings back my old joy of when I first got my Olympus OM2n in 1980. The OM2n was a joy to use and it still is. The Nikon Z 50 is also a joy but with more capability.
On into 2020.