Advanced digital cameras with automatic features are great for action, low light, and video. They are not that good for shooting spring flowers and other things that bloom in the spring. For me spring has arrived. My first California poppy bloomed today and I have early roses coming out. Half of my yard is fields of blooming Alyssum and other wildflowers. I record spring happenings like this every year.
Shots like the above are just far easier with manual cameras. I had to fiddle with the Sony A7iii to get the focus on the orange poppy and not the background. My iPhone absolutely refused to get sharp focus. But my almost 40 year old Olympus with manual focus only was completely simple. I have negative film in it so I know that the highlights will not get blown easily. But from past experience I know flowers tend to be about 1 stop over a center weighted meter. So I just set the Oly -1 stop. Put it on a little light tripod, took maybe 30 seconds to focus precisely on the flow and took the shot. Of course the disadvantage of film is you have to wait for it to be developed to see the results. So I can remember how I shot the photo I keep a photo log in my iPhone notes app.
Then I loaded a roll of Ektachrome into one of my Minolta 600si’s. Getting that set up was about twice as hard as the Olympus because the Minolta has auto focus and no manual focus aids in the viewfinder. But no menus to putz with so maybe 10 times easier than my full auto Sony A7iii.
Film. I have a bunch of film (maybe 25 rolls) left over from last year. None of it has expired. I just have not shot much of it lately because I have been too busy playing with my full frame Sony and iPhone. But now that spring has arrived there are all kinds of beautiful subjects that will be available and I want to use some of my older cameras. I have heard some disquieting news that Kodak Alaris is selling the film business. As I mostly use Kodak film I hope there will not be any problems with supply. Overall I like the look of Kodak film better than any other. I would have to say Ilford makes excellent black and white. The last roll I shot was Ilford 50 speed and it was just a great result. And Fuji has announced they are raising their film price 30% soon. So I don’t know how to read that. 30% + of their consumer film is not that much, but 30% on Velvia or Provia is a bunch. That would make Velvia about 20 bucks a roll and that is too much. The current price of $15 bucks is already too high. BUT.
BUT continued – if I had just used my film cameras this past year and my old Nikon D5500 and Sony HX80 it would have been far far cheaper than what I spent to get two full frame cameras. New full frame cameras and especially full frame camera glass that is good is soooooooo expensive it just makes my head swim. New full frame lenses are being introduced left and right by Sony, Canon, Nikon, Sigma, and a bunch of others. The latest for my Sony camera is a 135mm f1.8 – I am sure it is a great lens, but it costs $1,900 US dollars!!!! And it weights over 2 lbs (almost a kilo). Good grief Charlie Brown that is a lots of dough and very big and heavy. I have an Olympus 135mm f3.5. These sell for about $40 on eBay and it weighs about 8 oz. If I wanted I could get an Oly 2.8 for about $75. Or I could get a Minolta AF 135 2.8 that would work on my A7iii for about $140.
I have bought two Minolta lenses from eBay that are supposed to arrive tomorrow. 1. 100mm f2.8 AF macro. This lens is rated as about 9.5 on a scale of 1-10. I paid $220 for it including shipping. Condition is rated as mint. 2. Minolta 100-400 f4.5-6.3. I am curious to see how good this lens is. The reviews I read on it said it was good to excellent. I paid about $250 including shipping. Rated Excellent + condition. I have been thinking about getting this 100-400 for a while now but was trying to decide if I wanted to pony up the $2,500+ for the Sony new one. Then I tested the Minolta 70-210 f4.5-5.6 that I have against my Sony 24-105 f4 I bought new a couple of months ago. I thought the Sony would blow it away. It did not. I shot some houses on a hill opposite out house that are about 2-3 miles away and the Sony and Minolta are about equivalent. I paid $32 for the Minolta lens about 2 years ago. Just before Christmas I paid $1,300 for the Sony. The Minolta lens is smaller and lighter than the shorter zoom Sony. The Minolta 100-400 I have coming is much smaller and far lighter than the new Sony 100-400mm.
I bought the 100mm 2.8 macro because spring is here. I have been using various 50-55mm lenses on my Sony and Minoltas and 50 & 135 on my Olympus bodies. The Minolta 100 has been rated as a great lens by a number of people including just last week the “Casual Photographer” blog. Ken Rockwell has raved about how good the lens is. So I am looking forward to it. 100mm in macro is just easier to use than 50mm macro. My Zeiss 55mm lens is excellent and I can get pretty close with it and then just crop the image. Hopefully the 100mm will be better. A Sony 90mm 2.8 macro is about $1,000.
Even though I keep thinking that I will get away from using any film I keep going back to using some. I like manual cameras. I like being able to set them quickly how I want them without having to delve into any deep menus. For landscape manual focus is fine. There is the problem of getting a good lab to develop, but that is solved easily by just paying more to a good one. Enough for now.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pros of the new MacBook –
Cons of the new MacBook
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.
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.
If you cannot see the back LCD on your DSLR maybe it is not a good time to take pictures or video? Or you should stick to film that has huge room for bright highlights in full sun? 95% of my best digital outside photos or video are taken when it is not bright overhead sun. So instead of a new camera with EVF or reading the zebras to make sure your highlights are not blown you should just take your shots or video when the light is good? Even if you turn down the exposure on digital so you don’t blow your highlights in full sun you have to pull your shadows up so much that you get a lot of noise. The best digital cameras like a Nikon D850 only have about +2 stops of highlights before the pictures are unusable. The best film like Portra have about +4 stops. Many times when the photo is overexposed a stop when you try to improve it in post you just don’t get a good result even using raw.
The flower below was taken with a digital camera about an hour before sunset and mostly in the shade.
The shot below is what happens to many digital photos when taken at mid day.
On the other hand here is some film shot at mid day with full sun.
Right now you have a ton of people switching to buy mirrorless cameras from DSLRs to get an EVF. That way you can control your exposure better when you can’t see the back screen. My suggestion is that if you cannot see your back screen maybe your camera is telling you it is not a good time to be taking pictures.
Now if you are switching to mirrorless because you want to take more videos with your camera then I think that is a good reason. But if you are going to take mostly or all photos and not video there is no reason to ditch your DSLR or not buy a new one. Both Nikon and Canon offer very good DSLRs at modest prices. I have a several year old Nikon D5500 that takes sharp clear detailed photos and is half the price of a comparable mirrorless.
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+”?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Digital information technology has changed the World in the last 50 years. Much of this change is beneficial and here to stay. I have embraced advances in digital for decades, but now when almost everyone predicted that photography, movies, music, newspapers, magazines, and books and much more would go digital there is an analog counter revolution happening as you read this post.
This week I realized that the analog counter revolution is here to stay and going to get bigger. I got fed up with trying to read the news on digital and started getting the newspaper delivered again every day. This is after a two year break of getting almost all of my news via TV & Internet. I live in a big city and we have a good local paper. When I stopped getting the paper newspaper two years ago I kept getting their digital version. I finally realized that it is just not as enjoyable to get your news digitally compared to print. Why, because it is organized, you don’t have a light box staring you in the face, and you just pick it up and read it without worrying about charging the batteries, anywhere. Plus source shopping from 100,000 outlets is just a brain pain and your head spins after 12 youtube videos of people shouting at each other or complaining about Trump or Clinton or immigrants or 50 other current topics.
The fact is that unless you are the President you don’t need to know about every news story in the World. You only need to know about the news that affects you. If there is some time left over you can look at some special interest news items. That said digital news is very good for looking up special interest pieces or specialty news like dog news, or audio news, or news on the planet Pluto. So for me the best thing is to mix analog and digital. Does this mean that newspapers will get as big again and as powerful as 50 years ago, no. But it likely means that a lot more people than I are not happy with digital only.
Lately I have started buying records again, vinyl records. I bought a new phono cartridge and bought several LP’s from eBay. As in getting the news, digital music is great, but I missed the other benefits of buying analog records. Some of those benefits are, an album that is organized by someone other than me, usually beautiful covers, lots of times words to the songs on the inside envelope, I own it no monthly fees, oh and it sounds better. If you have a good turntable and cartridge a vinyl record has more information in it than either on line or CD’s. It helps to have good speakers too. In speakers size matters. Bigger ones are usually better. Sure you have to clean the records and be careful with them, but many of my 40+ year old records sound better than CD’s of the same music or high quality on line. For me, and I have older ears, it is very easy to tell the difference between vinyl, CD, and on line music. The difference is hard to describe but easy to hear. I am not alone in this opinion as vinyl record sales last year I believe totaled to more money than downloads.
I have no intention of only listening to vinyl. I like digital music if the quality is good and I don’t have to be bombarded with ads. I have an Apple Music and Pandora subscription to listen to ad free music at home or in the car. But when I want to sit down and enjoy some music I think I am going to mostly go vinyl.
I have never switched to reading books on digital except for things like wikipedia. If I want to read something I just buy it. When I finish I sell it on Amazon.
I have written a number of blog posts about analog vs digital photography. To me these are two different art forms. Of course they are close substitutes for each other so they get compared a lot. But when you shoot film the structure of the image is just not the same as a digital image. You can clearly see this if you enlarge the photos enough. And of course with film you have to scan the image if you don’t print it. That means you are once removed from the initial image and the result is it just looks different. Most images in my opinion look better from film than digital. However, photos of children, pets, friends, and action are just so much easier to do with digital that most people should stick with that method. But for pictures of things and in many instances people (street photography) just comes out way better using film. Kodak, Fuji, and other film makers have spent a lot of time getting the result to come out well. Again last year my best photos mostly came from film shots. And I took way more pictures digital than film. On the other hand I have never taken super 8 movies, which are coming back. I shoot most of my video on either my smart phone or DSLR. I am not going to change that.
On the other hand I find movies shot with film and not digital to be much more pleasing to view. I can easily tell the difference and I would expect that the movie business is going to go back to more film and less digital. There are ways using software to make digital look more like film. In some cases when this is not done I find the resulting product almost unwatchable. Netflix original movies being a case in point.
The other really strong advantage of personal film photos is that there is so much really good gear still at great prices. Good digital lenses for a DSLR can run over $1,000. Many good lenses for film cameras can be bought for under $100. Improving your skills with new digital gear is very expensive when you start buying news lenses and bodies. If you buy right older lenses can work on newer digital bodies.
So to sum up, the digital counter revolution is upon us and I suspect this will continue as people realize that not everything new is better than everything old.
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