Category Archives: iPhone Photography

2018 Purchases – Nikon D750, Apple XS Max, Apple MacBook Pro 15″& Sony A7iii – Reflections

2018 was a big uproarious year in the image and video creation business.  After going a couple of years with buying only new smartphones and a compact digital Sony I got caught up in all the changes and bought not one new full frame camera but two.  And I also went back to the full sized iPhone after saying the smaller one was a perfect size.  I also bought a new MacBook Pro.

Featured image above was taken with a Nikon D3200 in 2014 and edited in iPhoto

Foggy hill in Olympic National Park Velvia 50
Taken with Olympus OM2n 50mm f1.8 and Fuji Velvia 50 Edited in iPhoto

Early in 2018 I started using tripods again after years of mostly hand held.  My flower photos improved doing that.  I was bored after having my Nikon D5500 for 3 years so even though I really liked that camera I started looking for my next larger digital camera.  I wanted to get a Nikon and wanted to get their upcoming mirrorless.  But back in the spring of last year there were only rumors about when the new Nikon would be out and it looked like it might be the spring of 2019 before you could get one.  So when Nikon sent me a low price on the D750, 24-120mm, and grip I bought one.  I also got the Nikon 50mm f1.4 at the same time.  Total for everything including tax and shipping was about $2,500.

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Taken with Motorola Maxx cell phone and edited with iPhoto

After using the flyweight and very easy to use Nikon D5500 for several years when I got the D750 I did not like it at all.  Too big and heavy.  With the 24-120mm zoom on it the size seemed gargantuan compared to the D5500.  It hurt my 71 year old right hand with a little arthritis.  But I then got a Peak Strap and used the 50mm lens and the 750 started to grow on me.  The controls of the Nikon D750 were easy to learn and very intuitive after having two crop body Nikons.  The Peak strap was a big improvement over the strap that came with the camera.  I only shot stills with the 750.  For video I used my iPhone X.  I also tried using some of the FX lenses on my D5500 DX Nikon body.  The better lenses made the smaller Nikon a lot better.  Images from the 5500 and either FX lens were very nearly the same as using the D750.  On the other hand the 750 focused much quicker and the viewfinder was way better.

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Taken with Motorola Maxx smartphone

The Nikon D750 had buttons for most adjustments that were easy to find and when you needed to use the menu on the back screen it was obvious that Nikon had spent some time designing them to be intuitive.  But what the D750 did not solve was washed out mid day full sun colors.  Looking back on it now it is obvious that I should have stuck with the D750 longer and learned to improve this problem instead of jumping to the Sony system.  I did not find out till later that using live view on the Nikon you could see a histogram before shooting.  But I did use bracketing with the 750 and that worked well.

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Shot with Olympus XA compact film camera

The full frame Nikon came with us on our summer motorhome trip and after a while I just got used to the size of it.  The D5500 was still much lighter and easier to handle, but the D750 was OK.

My film photography in the first 6-7 months of 2018 suffered because I kept experimenting with different film stocks, using expired rolls,  and using labs that were not great.  This has now changed and I went back to using my preferred and unexpired film stocks plus two of the best labs and now my film shots look great.

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Shot with Nikon D3200 and 55-200 kit tele lens.  I have not changed these photos from my 2014 edits.  So when you see unleveled photos such as this one just know I was not as picky four years ago on editing.

We got back from our long summer trip in late August and by this time Nikon had set a date for intro of both their Z6 & 7.  Sony was selling lots of A7iii and A7riii.  After watching about 1,000 (exaggeration) you tube videos I decided in Oct to buy a Nikon Z7 or 6.  I called George’s photo and then went down with the intention of buying a Z camera.  While there I chickened out getting the new Nikon Z7 because it was expensive, new, and getting mixed reviews.  I have a number of Sony-Minolta lenses that will adapt easily to the A7iii, and made the spit second fall back decision to get the Sony A7iii and 55mm f1.8 and not the Z7.  Likely if the Z6 would have been available then I might have gone that way.  I figured, “If you don’t like the Sony you can sell it.  The price was not in the same range as the Z7 and the Sony was very very popular so no problem selling it.”  The next day I got the Sony A7iii, LA EA4 Sony adapter, and Zeiss 55mm f1.8.

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Nikon D5500 and 18-55 kit lens.  Edited with iPhoto

Right away after getting the Sony it was obvious that it was difficult to use and confusing.  I had had 4 Sony compact cameras over the years so I knew a little about the Sony menu system.

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Voightlander Prominent from 1953 and 50mm f1.5 Nokton lens, Kodak Ektar film

I did find that the sony adapter worked well with the Minolta A mount glass.  But while several of the Minolta lenses worked brilliantly on the film camera they were made for the Sony A7iii image quality with them was just not as good.  Why, I suspect these lenses were developed for film and the A mount.  They just don’t perform as well as when adapted.  This is stated over and over again by Ken Rockwell in his blog kenrockwell.com which you should read.  I agree with him.

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“Yellow flowers on hill in Olympic National Park”  Taken with Olympus OM2n 50mm f1.8 lens Velvia 50 film hand held.

Just before Christmas I bought the Sony G 24-105mm f4 lens for the A7.  It works great, $1,300.  I bought this as I liked the Nikon 24-120mm f4 and missed it’s abilities.  This Sony is essentially the same but does not cut the corners just a bit at 24mm like the Nikon did.  I only paid $500 for the Nikon and the construction quality seemed just as good.  Plus the D750 was quite well weather sealed and the Sony A7iii does not seem to be.

The switch to Sony from Nikon was painless.  I found willing buyers quickly for all of my Nikon gear.  I sold the D750 and 24-120mm for very little less than I paid.  But of course less the ebay sellers fee.  The D5500 I used for 3 1/2 years and sold it with kit lens for around 60% of what I paid.  The Sony HX80 sold for about 60% of what I paid and I only used it 1 1/2 years.

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Taken with Voightlander Prominent 50mm f1.5 lens and Ektar film

So what did I loose and gain by all of these transactions.

  • I gained eye auto focus.
  • I lost one camera I loved – D5500 and two I liked – Nikon D750 & Sony HX80 and gained one camera that is technically very competent that is growing on me a bit but so far I would have to say I only like it slightly.
  • If I had it to do over again I would go back to what I had.
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Eye auto focus is fine, but this great shot of my daughter was taken by a 65 year old Voightlander with a difficult to use rangefinder focus adjustment that has not been adjusted since 1979.  And to top it off Kodak Ektar is not supposed to be a very good skin color film.

Auto eye focus is not enough to make this worth it.  One of my New Years 2019 resolutions is to get rid of GAS and use what I have now for the rest of the year.  I will make two exceptions 1.  Olympus introduces a full frame camera that follows what I like about the Olympus OM2n of small size, high capability, and everything you need and nuthin you don’t at a price I am willing to pay.  2.  Nikon updates either the Z6 or D750 that fixes the obvious flaws in both bodies.  And I can sell the Sony for enough to pay for one of these two exceptions.  If neither of those two scenarios comes to pass I am going to live with what I have and improve my skills with that gear the complete year.

Expanding on my exceptions 1 and 2.

  1. Olympus – I am completely perplexed as to why Olympus has not followed up on it’s fantastic OM series and introduce a system with a full frame sensor.  The price of sensors has come down and I see no reason not to go with the advantages of a larger sensor for the same reasons I like full frame film cameras.  I like the perspective I get from 35mm.  I will not buy a camera with a small sensor like the micro 4 3rds.
  2. Nikon Z6 or D750.  The Z6 needs to get their auto focus to work as well as the 4+ year old D750 period!  Why do I want to pay a lot of money for a camera today that is not at least as good as their 4 year old comparably priced 750?  And for gods sake add another card slot.  Preferably with SD cards.  750 to 760.  I have never had an issue with a mirror or the F mount.  To make the D760 really desirable the live view focus needs to be as good as regular view.  And a touch screen.  4K video is obvious. I could live without the EVF if the back screen worked as fast as the Sony A7iii.
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Shot with Nikon D3200 and kit 18-55mm

My second new years resolution is not to use expired film and to stick with the films and labs I know and trust.  No cheeping out on bargain film or labs.  And to shoot more film.

Apple XS Max upgrade from iPhone X.  Meh.  The iPhone X was a great great iPhone.  The iPhone XS Max is slightly bigger and better.

MacBook Pro 15″ 2018 6 core 512 gb upgrade from 2013 MacBook Pro 13″ 2 core 256 gb.  Meh.  I have literally used the crap out of my old MacBook.  It still works fine and I am using it to write this blog post.  But I does show some of this heavy use in balkiness to start up sometimes.  It is also much slower to start now than 3-4 years ago.  But it is not slower to start than the new one.

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Taken with Nikon D3200 and 18-55kit lens

Pros of the new MacBook –

  • bigger screen
  • better speakers
  • newer

Cons of the new MacBook

  • $3,000
  • no variety of ports like the old one.  This one really pisses me off.  I delayed for two years getting a new MacBook because of this but finally caved because I need at least one reliable newer computer and wanted an Apple.  Not only did they take away ALL the old style USB ports but the idiots removed the mag safe connector.  They even obsoleted my Apple Thunderbolt screen so I had to buy a dongle for it.  And no SD card slot.  Something I used all the time with my old one.  So now I am switching over to the new style connector.  By the time I switch everything over it will be time for Apple to obsolete that connector too.
  • I really liked my older MacBook Pro.  My favorite Apple product of all time.  The new one I bought because I wanted to stick with Apple and I was worried about the age of my old unit.  I would have rather bought a new old style MacBook with upgraded chips.  Apple has made this device worse not better for me.  The old style keyboard is better.
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Olympus XA compact film camera with Ektar film

Conclusions.  New is many times not better and sometimes worse.  I have purposely used only photos from 2014 to show that with my old gear before I started spending a lot of money my shots turned out fine.  I really liked my old Motorola Maxx smartphone.  It worked well, it had some very slick features, and the battery lasted forever.  I bought my first iPhone the 6S after the Moto and in many ways the Maxx was a better device.  But now you cannot go back to 2014 because Motorola has been sold and they make just so-so phones compared to Apple.  

Back in 2014 I used Apple iPhoto, iMovie, and Aperture.  But then Apple obsoleted iPhoto and Aperture and gave us Photos.  Photos is a better organizer and works with on line better, but the editing functions work poorly with any photo that was not taken with an iPhone.  Or at least poorly compared to Lightroom.  Now I am still stuck sorting back and forth between Apple Photos and Lightroom.  And I also have to remember if I used Lightroom CC Classic or Lightroom CC.  My real photo collection system in 2018 was more of keeping photos on local disks out of any software.  And now I am going to go back and have prints made from my best photos of last year + 2017.

In this blog I have posted very good photos (or at least ones I like) from cameras up to 65 years old, film, digital, DSLR, smartphone, and compact.  All worked just fine.  The key to photography is the photographer and not the gear.  And that is going to be the same in 2019 as it was in 2018.

 

 

What Is Your Photo Style – Van Eyck or Monet?

Digital cameras today can give you very sharp clear images like the paintings of Jan Van Eyck.  Of course you can use fast lenses to soften focus and give you some bokeh, but sometimes Claude Monet and his style of soft images might be a better choice.

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Shot with Olympus OM2n 50mm f1.8 Kodak Ultramax film

Both the top photo and the above rose are similar subjects but the look is entirely different.  In my opinion it is easier to get the softer image of Monet using older lenses and film.

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Shot with Sony A7iii and Zeiss 55mm f1.8
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Shot with Olympus OM2n and 50mm f1.8 Olympus lens.  Film is Ektar

Which of these photos do you like best.  I like them both.  The Sony did an excellent job of balancing exposure and white balance and the film shot is the best one I have been able to get of this miniature Christmas tree with a lighted Christmas tree in the background.  I think in the case of these two shots the tools used were needed for this result.  I think to get the top shot with the Olympus camera you would need Portra 400 and the camera on a tripod.  Plus you would need a flash with a cap over it to diffuse the light, which I don’t have.  The Olympus does have TTL flash so that would be similar to the Sony.  The Oly does not have steady shot so to get this shot hand held might be hard.

I tried getting the bottom film photo with several digital cameras.  I was not able to get anything this good with the newer stuff.  My point here is that to get good photos you need a variety of tools and you need to keep shooting.  Keep trying and you will get some results you like.  I am not telling you to spray and pray.  What I am saying is to set up photos often and you will get some results you like.

Black and white adds a layer of mystery to draw you in.

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Both of these shot with iPhone XS Max.  IMG_0150

Do you like the black and white or color best?  Of these two I prefer the black and white because it removes us more from reality than the color.  The color shot is more like a Xerox of the scene.  I like the black and white pulling us closer to the photo to see if the white spot is the moon or just a light.  And the black and white adds a bit of sidewalk and street to pull us in.  But I prefer color on the stained glass window.  And I like color on the yellow street sign.  Would these two pictures have been better with film.  No doubt in my mind that both the color and black and white would have been better with film.  Film adds a layer of distance between you and the objects.  There is the analog chemical film process to make the image, and then the film image is scanned to make it a digital of the film.  What is very nice is that the scanning is a Xerox of the image the film created.  So all of what the film renders of the scene comes out in the scan.  Using film and then doing a high quality scan is a great combination that adds the film’s rendering and then when you digitize it you can do some editing digitally instead of working in a darkroom.  The best of both Worlds.

If you want clear clean sharp renders of the scene then digital is the best way to do it.  But on the other hand if you want to create an impressionist version of the scene I suggest film and then scanning.  Old lenses also help to give the impressionist look.  Plus throw in some black and white.  Every time I shoot a roll of black and white I always think that I should shoot some more black and white.  I generally do not get that same feeling when shooting black and white digitally.

Camerageddon = 2018 – Might Be The Biggest Year Of Change Ever In The Photo – Video Industry

This year has had one significant introduction after another in new camera bodies, systems, and film.  Sony has introduced the A7riii and A7iii.  Both mostly great and maybe the greatest full frame mirrorless cameras of today.  Nikon has put forward the A7 & A6 full frame mirrorless designs with new lenses.  So far to me this looks like the biggest contender of the Sony’s.  Canon EOSR.  A great camera, except, no ibis and big crop on video at 4K.  Both Nikon and Canon have only one data card slot.  This is a big omission.  Fuji XT3.  Another great camera, but crop sensor and no ibis.  Fuji again with the R version of their medium format camera.  This looks like a great landscape camera but lacks features that are in the full frames.  Panasonic now is talking about their S line for full frame mirrorless, but full specs are not available.  And then Zeiss and their ZX1.  Complete specs are not available and neither is the price.  As I said in my previous post I love this ZX1 concept.  I want one.  But I want one based on specs that I imagine but are not confirmed yet along with the price.

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Nikon D5500 – Using Lightroom to get B&W

I would like to buy a new full frame mirrorless camera.  I currently have a Nikon D750 DSLR and would like something smaller and lighter plus has an electronic viewfinder.  Of the ones above that we actually know the specs and price of I would say the Sony’s and the Nikon’s are the closest to what I want.  But here is the thing, I am not sure I like either enough more than the Nikon D750 to switch.  I like have tried the A7riii and did not like the way it felt in my hand and thought the menu-control system to be difficult.  I do like the dual SD cards.  The Nikon Z7’s are just now getting shipped to their buyers.  So far I have heard good feedback.  But I don’t really want to switch to XQD cards.  My three computers all have SD card readers but not XQD.  So dongle time would be the case with the Nikons.  And I like the dual card slots I have on the D750.  I don’t like the fact that Nikon is charging a lot more for a 50mm f1.8 than and F mount 50mm f1.4.  Actually I don’t like that a lot.

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Kodak Tmax 100 with Minolta 600si and 50mm f1.4

Or for that mater Nikon charging 50% more for the Z mount 35mm f1.8 than the F mount f1.8.  Even the 24-70 f4 is more than I recently paid for the F mount 24-120 f4.

And neither the Sony’s or the Nikon’s have settings adjustments for the all important aperture, shutter speed, and ISO dials.  Ones I can see at a glance like Zeiss and Fuji.  The Sony and Nikon do have quick change on aperture and and shutter speed but not in the elegant way Zeiss and Fuji do.

And then the Fuji XT3.  What a great camera with dedicated settings for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure compensation.  And it is a beautiful camera, far more so than the Sonys.  And a bit prettier than the Nikons.  Plus it is cheaper than any of the full frames.  But no 35mm sensor.  What were they thinking???  The whole World is going back to the best image size ever invented full frame 35mm and they stick with crop size? And no ibis to top it off.  But I have to say the simplicity of the Fuji and quality of materials, and the smaller size have great appeal.

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Shot with iPhone X and it’s wide lens

I have no experience with Canon cameras except that several of my friends and relatives have and like them.  Most prominently my professional TV and Movie cameraman son who is about ready to go back to a Canon DSLR after having a Sony A7S for two years.  His reason, “Canon has better colors”.  And this is a person who uses $100,000 camera rigs in his work.  So maybe when the Canon R is in the stores I will take a closer look.  Right now I don’t like the one card slot of the Canon or the no ibis.  Plus it is big unlike the Fuji.  But Canon has an extremely good reputation so maybe more on it later.

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Shot with Nikon D750 and converted to B&W with Lightroom

Like Canon I have no experience with Panasonic.  Their two full frame bodies look quite good, but no final specs or prices yet.  So more to come on these two later.

Kodak Ektrachrome is finally shipping.  After the unexpected Zeiss ZX1 this Kodak announcement was the most exciting of the German show.  I like shooting with film.  I like the look of the results I get from my old SLR cameras (4 of them with lots of lenses) and one very nice Voightlander rangefinder with a set of 3 lenses.  On our summer trip this year I did not shoot as much film as I had planned as I bought the D750 just before the trip and was still experimenting with it.  But one of the rolls I shot was Kodak Tmax 100.  I used my Minolta 600si for this film and all of the shots turned out.  I was being lazy and did not use any filters for the whole roll, which was a mistake.  I should have used a yellow, orange, or red for daylight shots.

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Both of these above shots were from this roll of Tmax.  The second shot was a lean out the moving train shot with 100 speed film and an unstabilized lens.  The camera was set to auto focus and worked perfectly.  It has 3 auto focus points and not 500 like modern cameras.

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The above 3 shots are from Portra 400 film that was about a year expired.  All were shot on a 40 year old Olympus OM2n and 50mm f1.8.  One of the best film SLRs ever made.

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And the above three were from inexpensive Kodak Gold 200 that was expired two years. I used my second Olympus OM2n to shoot these.  The Kodak Gold really did it’s job, but if I had it to do over again would have shot with fresh film.  Keep in mind these were shot with a very simple old meter in the Oly and then put through medium priced developing and only mid range scanning (3000 x 2000).

So I am thrilled to be able to get Kodak Ektachrome fresh again.  I fully expect that Kodak’s new formulation will be better than the old Kodak Ektachrome.  This film is being made in the United States in Rochester New York and is shipping from the factory now.  The new Ektachrome is the “natural” formulation and not the old “vivid” formulation as per an interview I watched yesterday from a Kodak spokesperson.  Why am I thrilled?  Slide film has punch you cannot get from negative film.  And you can project slide film on a screen without electronics.  One downside is reduced dynamic range.  As you can see from the three color photos above, the Kodak Gold has tremendous dynamic range.  I have already called one of the local camera shops to get an estimate as to when they are getting the film.  Guess is second week in Oct.

Travel Photography When You Can Take Everything

We travel regularly by motorhome.  We don’t live in a motorhome, but we do go for local and extended trips with one.  One of the benefits in doing this over either going somewhere by car or flying when you like to take pictures and video is you can take everything.  Another benefit is that if you are a hybrid shooter who uses both digital and film you have a refrigerator with you to store your unused and exposed film.  We left mid June and I had with me.

  • Nikon D750 Full Frame digital DSLR with two lenses
  • Nikon D5500 Digital DSLR with three lenses
  • 2 Olympus OM2n’s with six lenses
  • 2 Minolta 600si SLR’s with six lenses
  • 1 Voightlander Prominent rangefinder with 50mm f1.5
  • 1 Sony compact HX 80
  • 1 iPhone X
  • At least 30 rolls of film
  • 3 tripods.  None have been used yet.

We are now still on our trip.  Since I bought the D750 shortly before the trip I have used that the most so far to see how well it performs.

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Taken with a Nikon D750 with Nikon 24-120 f4

And the answer to that question is pretty dam well.  Other than the two little corner imperfections that I should get rid of with Lightroom the above photo from Bryce National Park is very nice.  Yes there is a little bit of sky issue caused by too wide of a lens for a polarizing filter, but when you look at the file in full size on a good screen the detail and color of the rocks is stunning.

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Nikon D750 with Nikon 50mm f1.4

The above shot was a couple of days earlier near Page UT.  This was taken at dusk and the file was taken raw and it allowed me to bring up the foreground of the photo so that it blended well with the top of the frame.  When you see this file full size it is very detailed.  Again I have not done as much Lightroom as I could and the top corners need a little fixing.

My experience using this camera when traveling is that if you put my 50mm f1.4 prime lens on it and one of the Peak larger camera straps you can carry it around pretty well without feeling weighted down.  It is nowhere near as easy to use like this compared to the Nikon D5500.

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Taken with a Nikon D5500 and 18-55mm P

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All three of these photos above were with my D5500 and the latest 18-55 P model zoom.  I took the D5500 with me this day because it is much lighter than the D750 and I felt like using it instead of the 750.  To me the 5500 files are as good as what would have come from the 750.  But when I work with files from both these cameras there is no doubt that the full frame 750 and full frame glass gives more details and less noise.  It seems like you can crop the 750 files forever and they still look great.

And a few times I have put the little compact Sony in my pocket and come up with these results.

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All of these were shot hand held.  You cannot do raw with the Sony so these were jpegs only.

Plus I did use my iPhone X some.

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For the iPhone X pictures I used for these three the native Apple app that comes with the phone.  Sometimes I use the Adobe Lightroom camera app which allows you to use raw.  This works very well with the Adobe Lightroom mobile app on the phone and my iPad.  But as you can see from these three shots that the standard Apple app works pretty good.  The middle photo is taken using Apple’s portrait mode.  This now gives what I would call excellent results in most of the times I use it.

Now here is the bad news.  No matter how many cameras you have with you you cannot control the weather.  We have been in the mid west USA mid summer heat dome and we have had bright overcast days for at least a month now.  Blue skies and puffy clouds have been as rare as Leicas.  Bright overcast skies are the enemy of good outdoor photos.  Bright overcast skies are almost impossible to shoot with a digital sensor camera as all digital cameras do not handle highlights that well.  Even if you shoot in raw you might have only two stops over on the best digital camera.  What happens is this.

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Wisconsin Dells shot spoiled by too much contrast in sky to land.   
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North Dakota grasslands spoiled by too bright sky

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So with too much contrast in the sky you only solution is to take shots without sky like the one above.  The problem with this is that when you are at places with natural things to see like National Parks you need to put some sky in the shots sometimes.

To me not being able to handle over-brignt highlights as well as photo film is digital photographies biggest weakness.  In one very well done you tube video I have watched a couple of time “The Slanted Lens” showed how the Nikon D850 compared with Kodak Portra film.  The Nikon shots were not usable at 2 stops over and the film was OK up until about 4 stops.  This is a very big difference.  Remember that each stop doubles the amount of light.

  1. Mirrorless cameras with good EVF’s and indications in the viewfinder are helpful at knowing when the highlights are too bright.  However, this does not fix the problem.  It tells you to turn down the exposure, but then you can plug your shadows.  Or if you don’t plug your shadows, you darken them.  And when you turn up your shadows in post it increases noise.
  2. Film tends to work better than digital in situations where you have very bright highlights and lots of contrast.  At least film with lots of dynamic range does.

Thats it for now.  Time to go shoot some film in the classic western town of Medora with classic old SLR.

iPhone X Close Up Photography Issues

I have had an iPhone X since last fall.  It has an excellent camera system both hardware and software for most situations.  This time in the area where I live we have a super abundance of flowers and I take lots of shots of my yard flowers, public gardens, and wild flowers.  Using the iPhone X for this can be frustrating.  It is certainly possible to get excellent shots with sharp focus and good color rendition.

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iPhone X using adobe camera app and raw (dng)
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iPhone X using apple’s camera app and jpeg edited in Apple Photos
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iPhone X using Adobe camera app and raw (dng) edited in Lightroom
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iPhone X using Apple’s camera app, jpeg, and Apple Photos to edit.

These were all taken in the late afternoon, but not all on the same day.  When using the Adobe camera app I activated the zebras to avoid any overexposure.  With the Apple camera app you just have to guess on exposure.  I usually turn down the exposure as Apple shows you in their camera videos.  These photos show that things can work out well with this camera.  But I have to say that many times the results are poor.  The Adobe camera app has a much harder time focusing using the longer lens on this camera than with the wide angle.  And the Adobe app has a great deal of difficulty in bright mid day sun.  Why?  I have no idea.

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iPhone X using Adobe camera app with flower bud out of focus.
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iPhone X using Apple Camera

The Apple camera app does seem to have more difficulty during mid day bright sun to focus too, but not as bad as Adobe.  The issue with using the Apple camera app that comes with the phone is that the Apple software sometimes smears the heck out of the finished image file.

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Apple iPhone X using Apple’s camera app and Apple Photos to edit.

This flower was too bright so I turned down the exposure.  When I brought it back up in Apple Photos the computer smeared the image significantly.

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iPhone X using Apple Camera app, import into Lightroom CC

You can tone down the noise reduction smearing some by importing the photo into Lightroom CC and doing the edit there.  But there is still some of the smearing issue, just less.

So what is my solution?  Right now the most reliable solution is to use my DSLR during the day for better focus and raw output.  That camera has no problems with getting good focus in any sun conditions.  I am also thinking about finding another raw camera app for the iPhone X and giving that a try.  I suspect that the reason the Adobe app does not focus as well as it should is that Adobe has just not tweaked their software as well as they should have for the iPhone X.

Travel Photography – What To Take

We usually travel by RV in the USA and deciding on what camera gear to take is easy, Take everything you want.  But in 10 days we are going overseas by plane and if you take more than you need then you have to lug it around.  So for the last few weeks I have been trying to decide what should go.  At first I watched Rick Steve’s video and he is a minimalist and says, “1 compact camera”.  I have a very good recent compact that is a Sony super zoom.  It does a good job and critically, has a viewfinder.  For sunny days viewfinders are a must.  But here is the thing, I asked myself, “when you are taking pictures of the Parthenon in Greece is a small Sony enough plus an iPhone 7+”?

Parthenon in Athens, Greece-Parthenon ruins tourism destinations
These are likely conditions in mid day, difficult.  Bright sun and blown highlights.

Travel pictures always seem to run into the “mid-day” problem.  Even though for best photos you are always supposed to go out before dawn and an hour before sunset, the reality is that this is not always possible, or something you want to do.  Last night I listened to a very popular and very good you tube couple talk about what they do when traveling and they said, “take pictures early morning and the golden hour before sunset, and spend the rest of the day in museums”.  (Tony & Chelsea Northrup). Thing is if you are on a tour you go when your tour goes.  Or maybe you want to have breakfast and a shower before going out.  Faced with the fact that many of our best shooting opportunities in our upcoming trip will be between early morning and late afternoon I have been testing my cameras to see (once again) which handle bright sun in mid day best.  The contestants were iPhone 7+, Sony HX80, Nikon D5500, Olympus OM2n (film), Minolta 600si (film).

Sailing on San Diego Bay
iPhone 7+ with significant time spent editing.

The picture above was taken with my iPhone 7+.  It was taken last weekend at mid day with mostly bright sun.  I spend a lot! of time trying to get this picture into any kind of decent shape.  The result is OK.

gaves overlooking coean
And this was a couple of days later with better color.

I then shot some photos a few days later with the iPhone and the colors were much better, but this required some work in Lightroom to get this shot to come out.

big yacht SD harbor
Sony HX80 in full sun.

The Sony HX80 to me is a slightly better camera than the iPhone.  It still struggles with mid day photos.  I spent some time trying to get anything out of the above shot that was passable.

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This was taken on the same day but came out better.

The above shot was taken with the Sony while I was sitting in the shade and at a different angle to the sun than the yacht shot.

Yesterday I went down to the same general area and got this shot with my Nikon and just the kit lens with a polarizing filter.

fog with graves leading to trees
The difference here is the polarizing filter and mostly the fog.

I like the above shot.  It is lightly edited and pretty much just came out of the camera this way.  I was just shooting aperture priority and fine – jpeg.  The key difference in this being a good shot is the fog.  So no bright mid day sun.

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Nikon same aperture priority and Polarizing filter.  And this is after editing.

Shortly after the cemetery shot the sun came out and the Nikon failed to take memorable pictures.  I got so frustrated with the color in this group I turned most of them into black and white.

bird on the cliff
Nikon shot with B&W filter.

The reason I was so frustrated is that I went to the same location the day before with one of my old film SLRs, a Minolta 600si, some inexpensive Kodak 400 negative film, and an Quantaray 50mm f2.8 lens.  I had this film locally developed and they fouled up the scan and only gave me tiny files.  But the fact is that this lower end film with poor scans gave a much better balanced color result, by a wide margin than any of the three digital cameras I have used this week.  Imagine if I had shot Kodak Ektar 100 and had a fine scan done.  The film would have won by a wider margin.

So after all this work, what is the best camera gear for me to take?  Very likely I am going to duplicate last year and take the Nikon DSLR with the 18-55 P kit lens & 35mm f 1.8 for low light, iPhone, & Olympus OM2n with my 50mm f 1.4.  I will likely add the Sony too as it is small and could fit in my pocket on the flight over.  We have booked a number of tours in places we are going to and many of these will be during mid day and sunny.  If I was to lighten this up just a little I would leave the Nikon home and add a couple of lenses to the Oly kit + a flash.  I would likely take the 28 mm f 2.8 and the 135mm f 3.5.  The flash is a T32.

I don’t know why I keep needing to re-affirm the fact that in natural light film usually gives a far superior result to digital.  If it is dark digital works better.  The iPhone 7 plus is a very good low light shooter.

6 Days later —–  OK, I just could not let this issue rest.  So I went down to the same beach cliff location today and shot my Nikon D5500 with raw and my iPhone 7 plus with Adobe camera raw in the iPhone.  The results from the two digital cameras was the closest I came to the film.  Of the two I have to say I preferred the results from the iPhone to the Nikon.  I edited both as with Lightroom as best as I was able and the color was just a bit more pleasing from the Apple.  But it does not change the fact that an 15 year old Minolta camera with and off-brand (but very good) lens and low cost Kodak print film gave superior results.  I am so disgusted with the whole effort I don’t even feel like posting samples.  If you want to see some write me a comment and I will do so.

Bottom line.  Digital daytime still shots suck compared to film.  Sure digital is better for more difficult lighting and interior shots, but in typical vacation type family shots film still rules.  I guess that is why more and more people are going back to film.  The scary issue for the camera makers is that this means for most snapshot /family shot shooters they don’t need a fancy digital.  Sure if you make your living with a camera you should get a high quality rig, but if you are a family shooter an iPhone (or better Android) smartphone camera is fine.  If anything my recommendation is for family shooters to consider a film camera, maybe an instant.  Polaroid is back with a new camera and Fuji Instax ones are all over the place.  Analog rules.  Digital is mostly for convenience not quality.  I am writing this as I listen to a 45 year old LP record on my good quality Hi-Fi system.  Analog music is easily superior to any digital I have heard.  Analog music is just not nearly as easy to use.  Same with photos.  Digital is easier and analog is better.

iPhone 7 Plus Camera Review

I got my Apple iPhone 7 plus about 3 weeks after they came out.  It was a replacement for my iPhone 6S that I had for just under a year.  The camera for the 7 plus is a system unlike any I have used before.  If combines two separate cameras, one a wide angle with about a 28 mm equivalent lens with f1.8, and a second camera with about a 56mm equivalent lens with f2.8.  And these two cameras are tied together with very sophisticated Apple software in the phone to give you many extra capabilities.  In addition, the phone camera is designed to work well with Apple’s own “Photos” app on the phone, iPad, Mac or other Apple device.

This camera system using the standard (And very good) Apple camera app takes still pictures in wide or square format.  Plus it takes video in up to 4K.  In addition, to those usual modes the 7 Plus also can take Apple “live” photos, time lapse, slo mo, and excellent pano shots.  And, “portrait” photos which have software that adds bokeh when used properly.

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Taken with the iPhone 7+ and edited with Lightroom 

The Apple iPhone 7+ system for zoom is brilliant.  It is a different level of performance from any other smartphone camera I have used and is likely far better than any other smartphone camera currently sold.  I am fully away that lots of you tubes and other ratings people, and camera magazines test this system and say that several other smartphones are better, but in my opinion that is in the lab and not the field.  My ratings system is based on the images or video I get and not lab test.  If you actually want to get great work out of your smartphone this is the one to get.

I started to realize how amazing this camera system was the first few times I shot zooms where I went well beyond the optical zoom.  The first few times I looked at the result and though, “wow that looks really good for digital zoom”.  I don’t know how Apple does it but their “secret sauce” software amazingly lets you use the two cameras to zoom a lot closer than the optics of the 56mm lens and get great keepers.

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Shot with 7+ and about 8x zoom at dusk into the sun – edited in Lightroom

The above shot was at sunset at about 8x zoom, which is about 4x the optical capability.  And it is shot in low light into the sun.  The result is frigging astonishingly good for ANY camera much less one that was included with a multi use portable computer.

Then there is the pano capability.

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Shot with iPhone 7+ and edited in Apple Photos on a Mac

The image above was taken at the Painted Desert National Park in AZ a few months ago.  It was very simple to take and what you see here is about 180 degrees, maybe a little more.  The Apple software stitched the whole thing together and then made it very easy to edit in Apple Photos even though it is a lot of mega pixels.  I basically just cropped it a little and hit the enhance button.

Then there is the bokeh software.  I tried this a couple years ago with an Android phone and google’s system at the time and it did not work very well.  I am sure google has improved it but the Apple system has to be the one to beat at this point.  The Apple “portrait” mode works extremely well when you use it right.

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Taken with 7+ using portrait mode
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Also taken with 7+ using bokeh mode

The Apple iPhone 7 plus is very compatible with the Apple Photos app on the phone, and iPad, or a Mac.  For most photos the Apple app is all you need.  I use both the Apple Photos app and Lightroom.  I have the monthly charge Adobe Lightroom CC which gives you both the latest version of LR and also Photoshop.  In my opinion this is a bargain.  The Adobe software is big, complex, and takes quite a bit of effort to learn it.  Plus many things are not intuitive.  But after using it a while LR becomes relatively easy.  I have tried organizing my photos with LR and really prefer to let Apple’s system do it.  Plus I always have my master set arranged in chronological order in a standard file set up.  I also like using the Apple system because it sends slide shows to my Apple TV so I can see my latest photos on the big screen.  Generally when I edit I use my MacBook Pro 13″, but like it much better when it is hooked up to my large Apple display.  That said, both Apple and Lightroom have very good iPad and iPhone editing apps.  The LR one is far more capable, but for most photos the Apple one works fine.  One other significant advantage of using Lightroom is that you can take RAW photos with the iPhone.  If you want the most detailed image LR RAW is the way to go.  Plus when you need to make adjustments having a RAW file allows far greater latitude than a jpeg.

I don’t take a lot of videos.  When I do I almost always use the iPhone instead of my Nikon.  Why, the results from the iPhone are usually better and a lot easier.  I do not use 4K.  The files get too big.  For editing video I use the standard iMovie app that comes with the Mac.  It works well and for the amount of videos I take it is good enough.

I have and use regularly a Nikon mid range DSLR.  If used right it does give superior results on still photos than the iPhone 7 +.  Having a viewfinder is very helpful in the sun.  Plus for quick action shots the Nikon is very fast.  When you want to shoot sea gulls flying overhead the Nikon is the way to go.  It freezes the sea gulls in flight even when hand held and not in perfect light.  Plus you do get more details.  As good as the iPhone 7 plus is for longer range tele shots a Nikon with a tele lens is better.  Plus you can put filters like polarizing ones on.  I use a polarizing filter all the time when taking flower pictures.  It cuts down on unwanted reflections.  You cannot do that with the iPhone.  So no the 7 plus as good as it is does not replace an SLR or DSLR, but the two together make a great combo.  And when you are walking the dog you will likely have your smartphone and not your DSLR.

Waiting for the next iPhone?  No, get the iPhone 7+ now.  It is that good.  If you think the next iPhone will be amazing you may be right.  So get the Apple plan that lets you upgrade in a year.  That’s what I did.  But so far I have heard of nothing in the rumor posts about any feature that is completely a have-to-get item for me.  I have already had a couple of phones with OLED and while I think OLED is great for a TV, I am very happy with the excellent screen on the 7+.  Full glass covering?  Who cares.  I use a case any way.  BTW, I have both the leather and rubber case for my phone and the rubber one is better for pictures.  Easier to grip when you want a shot.  The leather one looks better though.  So what is my rating on the iPhone 7+ on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the highest, it is a 10.  The best compact camera you can buy.