Monday, May 14, 2007

Help Me Decide What Book to Write

Okay, another little mind game—and for me, market research. (I just read a fascinating article about publishing that points out several times, albeit obliquely, how little the publishing industry really knows about its customers.)

Let's say you like photography (a safe assumption, since you're here) and you rather like the writings of this fellow Mike Johnston (at least a reasonable possibility, for the same reason). So now let's say you're in your favorite bookstore, in the Photography section, looking for something appealing to read. There, you would encounter only one of the following books:

Proposal No. 1: Camera Lenses. A discursive, chatty, historical / scientific / anecdotal / enthusiast appreciation of the camera lens as an object of lore, fetishism, and usefulness. Includes everything from optical aberrations described in layman's terms to how to test camera lenses by looking at pictures to reviews or appreciations of individual lenses.

Proposal No. 2: Game Theory for Photographers. A book exclusively devoted to how average-to-good photographers can get better and "improve their game." A how-to book with nothing technical in it, but lots of commonsense discussions and many exercises that are concrete and practical rather than theoretical.

Proposal No. 3: Classic 35mm Photography. A book designed to do for 35mm, black-and-white film photography what Ansel Adams's New Photography Series did for large-format black-and-white photography in the early '80s, formalizing everything about the art from cameras, to shooting technique, to darkroom practice.

Proposal No. 4: How to Choose a Digital Camera. My idiosyncratic take on what matters about cameras and how to narrow down your options to what works best for you. To get a sense of what such a book would be like, how it might read, look no further than the point-and-shoot discussions of the past several days.

So my question is, if it were entirely up to you—that is, not based on your guess as to what would sell best to others, but purely based on a selfish appraisal of what you yourself would most want to buy—which of those four books written by me would you most like to find at your bookstore?

Thanks in advance for any answers....

Note: I will eventually post all the replies but I want to hold off for a while until I get a few responses so that peoples' responses are not colored by the consensus (if there is one) in the comments. So don't worry if your comment doesn't show up right away.

Le Grand Jackpot

Amazon.com has purchased dpreview.com, according to BusinessWire this morning (our link is to TMCnet, since the BusinessWire page is a popup). According to the terms, the dpreview site (the name is short for "Digital Photography Review") will continue to operate as a stand-alone, and editorial content will be unchanged, although I would presume you could look for, er, more Amazon-specific vendor links. In other news, Phil Askey and Simon Joinson will soon be driving even nicer cars.

Doomed

"Burden's most trenchantly significant work was 'Doomed,' performed in April, 1975, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He set a clock on a wall at midnight, and lay down on the floor under a leaning sheet of glass. Viewers came and went. Burden didn't move. Inevitably, he soiled his pants. ('It was awful,' he recalled.) Forty-five hours and ten minutes passed. Then a young museum employee named Dennis O'Shea took it upon himself to place a container of water within Burden's reach. The artist got up, smashed the clock with a hammer, and left. He never again undertook a public action that imperilled himself. It wouldn't have made sense. 'Doomed' unmasked the absurdity of the conventions by which, through assuming the role of viewers, we are both blocked and immunized from ethical responsibility. In O'Shea's case, the situation was complicated by his duty to maintain the inviolability of art works. There should be a monument to him, somewhere, which would commemorate the final calling of the bluff of art as a law unto itself. (Would Burden have lain there until he died? 'Probably not,' he said.) I have in mind Robert Rauschenberg's famous intention 'to act in the gap between' art and life. There isn't any gap. Art is notional. There is always only life and death."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Recommended Point-and-Shoots

Here are a few recommendable point-and-shoots and the reason for recommending them:

• Fuji F20. Tiny size, good image quality, and good low-light performance.
• Nikon S10. Unusual and handy form-factor.
• Canon A640. AA batteries, articulated LCD screen.
• Casio EX-S600. Simple controls, decent shutter lag, not too expensive.
• Olympus 770SW. "Shockproof, freezeproof, waterproof."
• Ricoh RDC-7. Very slim, doubles as voice recorder.
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 (a.k.a. Leica D-Lux 3). Image stabilized, 16:9 ratio, good lens with true wide angle, fast at the wide end, shoots RAW.

Any others anybody wants to recommend?


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Withering Fast

A digital point-and-shoot picture by David A. Goldfarb

In response to the previous post, "Lazy Aussie" wrote:
"You are right—mostly, the only people able to get good photos out of [point-and-shoots] are the people least likely to want one. Yes, there are superb images out of pinholes, Holgas, point-and-shoots, etc., but these are usually from those who learnt their skills from other cameras. But maybe your complaint is that more people don't care that their images could be better?"

My complaint is that more people don't care that their cameras could be better.

I'm perfectly sympathetic to people who use digital point-and-shoots. I know nice work can be done with them. They do have advantages, of course (low cost, handy size), and there's nothing wrong with striving to work within the limitations of the breed.

Overall I'm increasingly disappointed about the direction that digital camera design appears to be taking. Paul Leidl mentioned something that's been a sore point with me for the last half year or so (actually I don't remember when I started getting cranky about this, but it's been a while now): has anybody noticed the demise of the entire "prosumer" or "bridge" class of cameras? As long as the cheapest DSLR was $3,000 and up, there was plenty of room between lowest-common-denominator point-and-shoots and DSLRs, and the manufacturers for a while had some very creative offerings in the middle there. For a while it looked like there was a sort of renaissance in camera design occurring. There was some real creativity going on. Not all the attempts were equally successful, but companies were "thinking differently" and taking fresh approaches and trying new things. I was very encouraged by it.

I also assumed it was going to continue. But the most creative, fresh-thinking company—Olympus—has gotten spanked time and time again for daring to be different. And of course as soon as the APS-C-sensor DSLRs fell to $2,000 and then to $1,500 and then to $1,000 and now to $500 or even less, the intense price pressure simply vaporized whole classes of cameras. Oh, I know there are still quite a few interesting and different cameras out there. And the consumer mania for those absurd 12X zoom lenses is keeping one class of "different" cameras from dying, at least so far. But what it's looking like more and more, to me at least, is that the market is heading straight toward exactly where it was just before digital came along: namely, divided between black-blob Wunderplastik SLRs on the one hand and crappy little cookie-cutter point-and-shoots on the other. (And the BBWP category is divided strictly in terms of better = bigger and smaller = cheaper, just like film BBWP used to be. Arrrgh.) Nothing but a straight copy of where film cameras were in, say, 1995. Digital's not there yet, but it's sure heading there fast.

Even Leica, which is in the near-unique position of being able to charge luxury prices for its products, just copied its own most popular film camera. No newthink at all.

Hell in a handbasket. It would be a real shame if, after just a ten- or twelve-year renaissance of creativity, variety, and fresh thinking, we were to be consigned once again to a dull wasteland of sameness, conservatism, and unoriginality.

People react with great umbrage when I decry excessive choice, because in their view choice = freedom, but the truth is that, at the low end of the market, product proliferation isn't motivated primarily by the desire to give consumers more choices. It's done for that reason, yes, but also for other reasons, which I won't go into here. And the truth is, product proliferation amongst digital point-and-shoots is largely false choice. There may be 150 digital point-and-shoots on the market—I don't know what the real number is—but from the consumer's perspective you could probably boil that down to eight or ten cameras without effectively compromising consumer choice.

And yet look at all the choices we don't have. The Nikon 950-style bodies, largely gone (partially resurrected recently in the S10, I admit). The Sony F-7XX line made it all the way to the large-sensor R-1, but is now gone. The Olympus c-XXXX series, long-running, but basically gone. The Olympus E-10/E-20 series hangs on in the form of the inexplicably orphaned E-1, one of the most successful overall camera designs I know of, film or digital—but it's not going anywhere from here. There won't be an Epson R-D2. The Canon G7 is a definite step down from the more capable G6. (Why? Because you're supposed to buy a Digital Rebel if you want the features the G6 had that the G7 doesn't.) Articulated LCDs are getting scarcer. Of the brands tracked by dpreview, Agfa, Contax, HP, JVC, Konica-Minolta, Kyocera, Sanyo and Toshiba have entirely or effectively fled the field, and Ricoh doesn't sell its cameras, including the well-regarded GR Digital, in North America. It's been sixteen months since I published "'DMD': The Digital Camera I'd Like to Own" on The Luminous Landscape, and the first reasonable approximation of a camera like the one I described, the Sigma DP-1, is slowly making its way to release only now.

We'll see how that does. Frankly, I think the "window of opportunity" for a DMD has come and gone. There's probably no longer a place for a fast, responsive, large-sensor miniature camera in the price hierarchy. (There was probably never a place for a fixed-prime-lens camera, but let's leave that topic alone for now.)

The cameras today are better now in some ways, naturally, because of engineering progress that's been made in the meantime, and the DSLRs are certainly cheaper, but in terms of inventive designs we have less choice now than we had four years ago. Moreover, the welcome spectacle of camera designers rethinking whole categories and types of cameras and styles of shooting, and the great promise it held for the future, seems to be withering fast. I hate to say it. I hate to see it.

I don't deny that there's a place for a digital point-and-shoot even in a seasoned photographer's bag of tricks. They're useful little buggers. (I've got a Fuji F30, although I can't seem to remember how to use it in between the times I try.) But they're not the only kind of non-DSLR that's useful. What I'm afraid of is that point-and-shoots are soon going to be the sole option south of entry-level DSLRs, because Joe Sixpack and Jill Boxed White Wine won't want, need, or care about anything else.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment by Ken Cobb: "I think the innovation is now coming from the smaller DSLR models, like the D40 and the E-400, where they're trying to pack DSLR features in ever smaller bodies. Which is fine by me, since while I loved my C7070 and made many very nice photos with it, it was frankly very sluggish (RAW mode was unusably slow), hard to use, and noisy above ISO 200.

"Where I would like to see more innovation is in smaller lenses for these smaller DSLRs. In other words, get back to the bridge camera size, but come at it from the DSLR end rather than the P&S end."

How To Choose a Digital Point-and-Shoot

Mulling over the topics of the past several days, I thought I would revisit for the digital era my thoughtful, carefully considered advice about buying a point-and-shoot. A "point-and-shoot," a.k.a. "Ph.D. [push here, dummy] camera," is a miniaturized camera with a flash and a zoom lens built in, small enough to fit in a purse or pocket. Choices of digital ones have proliferated in recent years to the point that buying one has become a task that looks almost insurmountable at the outset. But you're in luck! You can take advantage of my thorough familiarity with the market, my years of experience as a photographer, and my subtle understanding of photographic technique and camera technology.

I won't keep you in suspense. Here's the upshot: they're all shit. And I don't mean "shit" as a pseudo-hip way of registering a connoisseur's disapproval of the demotic or an enthusiast's disdain for the democratic. I mean that despite their cunning little shiny bodies and technologically marvelous innards, as cameras they're little stinking turdlets of fresh, steaming excrement. Yageddit? Poo. Stool. Just north of camera phones. And when I say they're all shit, I don't mean most of them are shit. Eighty percent of them are horrible, outrageous, awful, a swindle on the public and a fraud perpetrated on their purchasers. And the other twenty percent are really bad. Bah-dum-pah.

These disreputable little excuses for cameras can kill the ardor of any budding enthusiast or extinguish the desire to learn in any noob or neophyte. They exist to prevent accomplishment, stymie satisfaction, and permanently obfuscate the acquisition of relevant knowledge. You can hardly be a photographer with a point-and-shoot (the occasional exception proves the rule), and you cannot learn photography with a point-and-shoot, and if a point-and-shoot is your only experience of photographing, you will most probably neither want to learn more about photography nor be a photographer anyway.

Point-and-shoots came about as a category in the 1980s because consumers wanted to buy cameras like any other small appliance, such as, say, hair dryers or electric toothbrushes. They were meant to be so small that they could be carried effortlessly, and so simple that even people missing a section of prefrontal cortex the size of a scoop of ice cream could use them. Moreover, they were meant to function entirely behind a veil of ignorable-ness, meaning that they would not communicate to the user what they were doing or how they were doing it, and could not be induced to do anything differently in any case. Nowadays, they have completely lost that virtue of simplicity, while at the same time retaining all of their formidable and varied drawbacks and acquiring nothing in the way of compensating virtues. But they are even smaller, so that if you'd like to carry a camera that's frustrating to use and often doesn't take good pictures, at least you don't notice the weight.

Accordingly, the best advice I can offer with regard to choosing a digital point-and-shoot is: don't waste your time. I am not speaking colloquially—I don't mean you should forego the activity altogether. No. I'm saying if you spend long hours reading reviews, comparing features, gathering opinions, and agonizing over slight advantages and disadvantages, weighing pros and cons, you will be losing precious minutes and hours of your time on Earth that you will never get back. It doesn't matter if you have three choices, or thirty, or three hundred: if every option is crap, then the option you choose is going to be crap, and that's that. Therefore, the best course of action is to not worry about it. No matter which point-and-shoot you choose, it's still going to be a point-and-shoot. So go to any big-box store where they have rows and rows of point-and-shoots on display, spend five minutes (ten or fifteen if you're a gentleman or lady of leisure), and pick one because you like its look, color, size, or feel. Take the advice of the teenager with the colored logo-embroidered shirt on if that reassures you, go by name recognition, or pick one blindfolded. Regardless, at fifteen minutes you're comfortably into the region of diminishing returns. Effort beyond that is wasted. Pick one. Go home.

Once you get your new camera home, then spend some time. Spend an hour or two carefully and thoroughly reading the instruction manual, all the way through. Try everything. Concentrate on really learning how the camera operates. Work out how to hold your new camera horizontally and vertically, which settings you prefer, which settings are in effect on turn-on, and how you personally are going to use the camera. Go over it enough times so that you feel you've got it mastered. This effort is far, far more predictive of eventual satisfaction with your purchase than is the make and model of the particular camera you have purchased. Good photographers can actually learn to use point-and-shoots reasonably effectively, and you can, too. But only if you try.

Finally, you're going to be frustrated. Why? Because digital point-and-shoots are lousy cameras. The lesson here is simple, too: deal with it. Don't worry about the fact that your camera is often fiddley to use, only semi-capable in some circumstances and near-incompetent in others, and that it completely defeats your intentions from time to time. If you allow this to trouble you, again, you will be wasting worry on the inevitable. Better to chalk it up to death, taxes, and digicams. Don't think for two seconds that because your camera is lousy, it means you should have bought a different lousy camera—because any other point-and-shoot would frustrate you too. Don't think that if you had just gotten a Brand Y instead of a Brand Z your pictures would look better. They probably wouldn't. And even if they would look just a little better in some ways and in some situations, they'd look just a little worse in others.

Mind you, I'm not trying to talk you out of buying a digital point-and-shoot. I'm just advising you how to get the most satisfaction and the least frustration out of that purchase. To summarize:

• Don't agonize over the choice. Pick one and stop worrying.
• Take the time you would have spent obsessively shopping and spend it mastering the camera you did buy.
• When (not if) you get frustrated while photographing with one of the little beasties, don't let it get you down. They're all imperfect. Just shrug and say "oh well" and move on.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment by JanneM: "I had a couple of P&S digital cameras for a couple of years, realized their limitations, and picked up a Canon 350D. After a year and a half, I realized that camera (and the system), while fine, wasn't really perfect for me and so I sold it to a friend to buy a Pentax K10D. The sale went pretty quickly, though, and the K10D got delayed, so I found myself without a camera for about a month and a half.

"Well, except for the 1.1 megapixel camera in my phone. Which I proceeded to use. Now, that kind of camera makes even Mike's lousy P&S look like large-format view cameras by comparison; I had no idea it was possible to actually have so low-contrast, smeary image quality on a camera. As a comparison, my first P&S had the same resolution, but because it was a dedicated camera (and because the price was hefty at the time) the actual image quality was far better.

"But surprisingly, I had a great time with my phonecam. It was amazingly frustrating at first, but once I started to learn its limitations and think within them, I found I could get some half-decent images out of it. Not many, true, and even my best attempts still took heroic amounts of postprocessing to get anywhere, but still, it wasn't always hopeless.

"And it reminded me that for a hobby, the amount of fun is not necessarily connected to the quality of your tools (look at Lomo users, where the relationship is if anything inverse). My 'keeper' average may be in the single percentages, but I had at least as much fun trying to think my way around the severe limitations of the phone cam as I have using my DSLR with far less effort."

Featured Comment by Stephen: "Mike, I understand your points on philosophical grounds, but disagree on empricial grounds. My late-lamented little Canon Powershot S45 took wonderful images when used with skill and when shot in RAW mode. Maybe because I spent 23 years learning the craft of photoggraphy shooting Olympus OM-1's and manual focus OM lenses before I bought my first digital camera (as late as 2002), but I got wonderful images from the little S45...images that I have printed large format on my Epson 2200 that were beautiful prints.

"Unfortunately, my little Canon died this year, probably because it was in my CamelBak when I took one too many headers over the bars mountain biking at Mammoth. Alas, it now rests in peace. But, the key point is that it was with me all those glorious rides at Mammoth, which an SLR or larger camera would not have been. It's pretty tough to get images ripping down singletrack with a DSLR, but you can with a P&S. I ride motorcycles too, and a P&S is just the ticket to always have a camera in the tankbag ready for a photography


"Here's a snapshot I took last year while out on a bicycle ride with friends...I whipped out the S45 and snagged this while waiting for my friends to catch up.

"My biggest gripe lately is that the camera mfrs have taken RAW out of almost all of the P&S cameras, unless you want to drop $600 for a Leica D-LUX3. That has really irritated me.

"Like you, I really wish a camera mfr. would get real and make a compact camera with a proper optical viewfinder and a large CMOS sensor mated to a really good lens, like the one on my Contax T3."

'Sustainable Jewelry'


Amanda Vandermeer and Paul O'Grady have collaborated on a photographic project called "Sustainable Jewelry"—"marrying nature photography with fashion," says Brendan Seaton—and Brendan has posted some of the pictures on his blog.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

'Sustainable Jewelry'


Amanda Vandermeer and Paul O'Grady have collaborated on a photographic project called "Sustainable Jewelry"—"marrying nature photography with fashion," says Brendan Seaton—and Brendan has posted some of the pictures on his blog.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Friday, May 11, 2007

We Have a Discrepancy

My first digicam, purchased for $700+ and now worth nothing, was an Olympus C-3040z. Its shutter lag from a standing start—autofocusing machinations included—was about four seconds. Okay, I exaggerate. It wasn't four seconds. I might have told you this story before: once I was downtown sitting in a pub by the Milwaukee River, and I took a full-press shot of a boat going by. It wasn't some speedboat, either. It was one of those low-wake river-tour boats. I pressed the shutter when the boat was in the middle of the viewfinder. This is what the shutter lag felt like:

[Shutter press]

Camera: Whoa, what? You want me to take a picture? Sure, sure, just let me do a coupla things first...gotta focus...measure the ol' exposure...'kay...almost got it...hang on...workin' on it...ready! Here we go!

[*click*]

I got a shot that was half boat ass and half empty river.

But that wasn't the way I used the camera. The shutter lag when I prefocused with a half-press of the shutter button was pretty good—I have a poor memory for numbers, but I want to say a tenth of a second, maybe? 100 ms? Does that sound right? I can't remember how long I actually used that camera—eighteen months, maybe—but I always prefocused. It was just the way I used the camera. After a month or two it got to be habit. So shutter lag didn't bother me.

A reader named Yishon pointed out that Cameras.co.uk's shutter lag figures are nowhere close to Imaging-Resource's figures, in some cases at least. So who's right? I have no clue, although my prejudice would favor I-R. But maybe it's not critical. As with many things that appear to be a straight case of compare-the-numbers, sometimes it's best to try before you buy and go with your gut. There are two ways to get a camera to do what you want it to: follow it or fool it. Maybe a camera that scored a good number doesn't feel responsive to you, or maybe you can take a camera with a bad number and make it do what you want it to. Anyone who's never used workarounds in this business probably hasn't done much work.

Even the EOS RT, which had the shortest shutter lag I've ever heard of, 8 milliseconds, had a special mode you could switch it to that would change the shutter lag to 60 ms. Why? Because Canon's top pro camera at the time had a 60 ms shutter lag. The best pros had learned to anticipate the action by 60 ms, and Canon didn't want the faster RT to throw their top guys' timing off.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

We Have a Discrepancy

My first digicam, purchased for $700+ and now worth nothing, was an Olympus C-3040z. Its shutter lag from a standing start—autofocusing machinations included—was about four seconds. Okay, I exaggerate. It wasn't four seconds. I might have told you this story before: once I was downtown sitting in a pub by the Milwaukee River, and I took a full-press shot of a boat going by. It wasn't some speedboat, either. It was one of those low-wake river-tour boats. I pressed the shutter when the boat was in the middle of the viewfinder. This is what the shutter lag felt like:

[Shutter press]

Camera: Whoa, what? You want me to take a picture? Sure, sure, just let me do a coupla things first...gotta focus...measure the ol' exposure...'kay...almost got it...hang on...workin' on it...ready! Here we go!

[*click*]

I got a shot that was half boat ass and half empty river.

But that wasn't the way I used the camera. The shutter lag when I prefocused with a half-press of the shutter button was pretty good—I have a poor memory for numbers, but I want to say a tenth of a second, maybe? 100 ms? Does that sound right? I can't remember how long I actually used that camera—eighteen months, maybe—but I always prefocused. It was just the way I used the camera. After a month or two it got to be habit. So shutter lag didn't bother me.

A reader named Yishon pointed out that Cameras.co.uk's shutter lag figures are nowhere close to Imaging-Resource's figures, in some cases at least. So who's right? I have no clue, although my prejudice would favor I-R. But maybe it's not critical. As with many things that appear to be a straight case of compare-the-numbers, sometimes it's best to try before you buy and go with your gut. There are two ways to get a camera to do what you want it to: follow it or fool it. Maybe a camera that scored a good number doesn't feel responsive to you, or maybe you can take a camera with a bad number and make it do what you want it to. Anyone who's never used workarounds in this business probably hasn't done much work.

Even the EOS RT, which had the shortest shutter lag I've ever heard of, 8 milliseconds, had a special mode you could switch it to that would change the shutter lag to 60 ms. Why? Because Canon's top pro camera at the time had a 60 ms shutter lag. The best pros had learned to anticipate the action by 60 ms, and Canon didn't want the faster RT to throw their top guys' timing off.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Hall of Shutter Lag Shame

Eolake has found a page on Cameras.co.uk, a digicam review site, that helpfully lists shutter lag times for a variety of digicams. As I hope I don't have to remind most readers here, shutter lag, a camera feature that is "hidden" from most nonphotographer consumers, is the measure of time between the button push and the actuation of the exposure. It's a basic aspect of camera responsiveness.

The Cameras.com.uk page mainly points up how really awful most digital p/s shutter lag times really are. I'd consider any shutter lag time north of a quarter of a second to be unacceptable for any type of general-use camera, no matter how basic or inexpensive. To put you in context, a "standard" pro film SLR has a shutter lag of about .06 sec., an amateur film SLR about .125 or .150, a mechanical Leica .018, and a Canon EOS RT with the metering plate pre-fired, about .008! Autofocusing times have complicated this measurement somewhat, but Imaging-Resource pegs a pre-focused Canon XTi DSLR at .105 sec., and a pre-focused Nikon D200 at .057.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has the dubious distinction of having the worst shutter lag of any camera listed by Cameras.co.uk. Between pressing the shutter release and the time the camera actually fires, the poor clueless buyers of this wretched excuse for a camera have plenty of time for a sip of coffee and a little idle conversation.

More than a half-second of shutter lag is really atrocious and makes photographing even slow-moving action a hit-and-miss affair, but the hall of shame awards go to the following woeful cameras: the Fuji Finepix A500, 1.6 sec.; Nikon Coolpix L3, worst of all at 1.8 sec.; Nikon Coolpix P3 and P4, 1.62 and 1.65 secs. respectively; Olympus FE-170, 1.62, and FE-270, 1.73; Pentax Optio S7, 1.61, and the Sony S500 at 1.08 sec. Educated consumers would drive these pathetic products right out of the market, so do your bit and continue to advise your friends and relatives about this too-often-overlooked aspect of camera performance.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Eolake Stobblehouse

Featured Comment by Hoainam: Coincidentally, the New York Times recently had an article about shutter lag. Hopefully raising awareness about the issue will make consumers demand less shutter lag and manufacturers will respond accordingly. (Sheesh, why does it sound like I'm trying to save baby seals or something?)

Hall of Shutter Lag Shame

Eolake has found a page on Cameras.co.uk, a digicam review site, that helpfully lists shutter lag times for a variety of digicams. As I hope I don't have to remind most readers here, shutter lag, a camera feature that is "hidden" from most nonphotographer consumers, is the measure of time between the button push and the actuation of the exposure. It's a basic aspect of camera responsiveness.

The Cameras.com.uk page mainly points up how really awful most digital p/s shutter lag times really are. I'd consider any shutter lag time north of a quarter of a second to be unacceptable for any type of general-use camera, no matter how basic or inexpensive. To put you in context, a "standard" pro film SLR has a shutter lag of about .06 sec., an amateur film SLR about .125 or .150, a mechanical Leica .018, and a Canon EOS RT with the metering plate pre-fired, about .008! Autofocusing times have complicated this measurement somewhat, but Imaging-Resource pegs a pre-focused Canon XTi DSLR at .105 sec., and a pre-focused Nikon D200 at .057.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has the dubious distinction of having the worst shutter lag of any camera listed by Cameras.co.uk. Between pressing the shutter release and the time the camera actually fires, the poor clueless buyers of this wretched excuse for a camera have plenty of time for a sip of coffee and a little idle conversation.

More than a half-second of shutter lag is really atrocious and makes photographing even slow-moving action a hit-and-miss affair, but the hall of shame awards go to the following woeful cameras: the Fuji Finepix A500, 1.6 sec.; Nikon Coolpix L3, worst of all at 1.8 sec.; Nikon Coolpix P3 and P4, 1.62 and 1.65 secs. respectively; Olympus FE-170, 1.62, and FE-270, 1.73; Pentax Optio S7, 1.61, and the Sony S500 at 1.08 sec. Educated consumers would drive these pathetic products right out of the market, so do your bit and continue to advise your friends and relatives about this too-often-overlooked aspect of camera performance.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Eolake Stobblehouse

Featured Comment by Hoainam: Coincidentally, the New York Times recently had an article about shutter lag. Hopefully raising awareness about the issue will make consumers demand less shutter lag and manufacturers will respond accordingly. (Sheesh, why does it sound like I'm trying to save baby seals or something?)

Pentax Retrenches

The news is filtering through from Japan that Pentax is scrambling to resist the takeover bid by Hoya. Imaging-Resource is reporting that Pentax will sell its valuable headquarters and research facility properties to raise cash and concentrate its business on the most profitable areas, including DSLRs. For one thing, this will probably spell the end of the company's film medium format camera lines. Still uncertain is the fate of the previously announced medium format digital camera.

On the other hand, the company is profitable and apparently no layoffs are planned, which bodes well for employee morale.

An official announcement from Pentax is expected today.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Pentax Retrenches

The news is filtering through from Japan that Pentax is scrambling to resist the takeover bid by Hoya. Imaging-Resource is reporting that Pentax will sell its valuable headquarters and research facility properties to raise cash and concentrate its business on the most profitable areas, including DSLRs. For one thing, this will probably spell the end of the company's film medium format camera lines. Still uncertain is the fate of the previously announced medium format digital camera.

On the other hand, the company is profitable and apparently no layoffs are planned, which bodes well for employee morale.

An official announcement from Pentax is expected today.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Last Word on the Ikomat

(From Stephen Crowley of the New York Times)

Mike,

Last word on the Ikomat. I own two; one made around 1930 that has limitations (no flash sync, separate viewer for composing and focusing), and the 1952 model I mentioned earlier. Great cameras that you can fit into your back pocket. I've been shooting video for a New York Times project, American Album, since last August. I've used the Ikomat for the print edition and later began incorporating some of the snaps into the video. One of the videos was shot entirely with the Ikomat. So, it's the best of all worlds. (I'm opposed to "frame grabbing.") We're lucky to have a boss, Michele McNally, who supports any method if it makes for more effective story telling. Angel Franco is using film for his weekly feature with Dan Barry. Fred Conrad, who I think is doing his best work these days, uses everything from early Speed Graphics to tintypes. I'm glad you pointed the way to his "Harley's Heros" story. David Burnett's Katrina essay in National Geographic, shot on 4x5, was simply amazing.

Magazine editors seem to be rediscovering some of the forgotten schools of photography.

Wonderful site you have Mike.

Cheers, Stephen


Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, many thanks to Stephen. Photo: Ritz Camera

Last Word on the Ikomat

(From Stephen Crowley of the New York Times)

Mike,

Last word on the Ikomat. I own two; one made around 1930 that has limitations (no flash sync, separate viewer for composing and focusing), and the 1952 model I mentioned earlier. Great cameras that you can fit into your back pocket. I've been shooting video for a New York Times project, American Album, since last August. I've used the Ikomat for the print edition and later began incorporating some of the snaps into the video. One of the videos was shot entirely with the Ikomat. So, it's the best of all worlds. (I'm opposed to "frame grabbing.") We're lucky to have a boss, Michele McNally, who supports any method if it makes for more effective story telling. Angel Franco is using film for his weekly feature with Dan Barry. Fred Conrad, who I think is doing his best work these days, uses everything from early Speed Graphics to tintypes. I'm glad you pointed the way to his "Harley's Heros" story. David Burnett's Katrina essay in National Geographic, shot on 4x5, was simply amazing.

Magazine editors seem to be rediscovering some of the forgotten schools of photography.

Wonderful site you have Mike.

Cheers, Stephen


Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, many thanks to Stephen. Photo: Ritz Camera

Quote o' the Day

"In college, I remember telling one of my teachers, 'I have an idea for a great film. I just need to get access.' The teacher said, 'That's all you ever need. It's always just about access.' I took that to heart."

Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield
in an interview in Focus magazine issue 11, February 2007

Quote o' the Day

"In college, I remember telling one of my teachers, 'I have an idea for a great film. I just need to get access.' The teacher said, 'That's all you ever need. It's always just about access.' I took that to heart."

Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield
in an interview in Focus magazine issue 11, February 2007

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Excremental Value

By John Miller, Tate Etc.

"If you stuck a piece of shit on the wall, it would be all the same to them as long as someone told them the shit was worth money. That's the nouveau-riche approach."

—Andrea Fraser, performance script for May I Help You? (1991)

Fraser's statement issues from the mouth of a supposed patrician, a woman who might serve on a museum's board of directors. Hers is a provocation meant to distinguish between old money and new, between those with a vast store of cultural capital and those in the business of acquiring as much as they can in the shortest time possible. For the patrician, the acquisitive efficiency of the nouveau riche is odious because the very prospect of ready exchangeability jeopardises long-standing traditions of cultural inheritance. This efficiency, as such, produces a relative indifference to deeply ingrained aesthetic experience. Curiously, her rhetorical substitution of shit for art recapitulates the logic of Piero Manzoni's legendary work Merda d'artista (1961), a provocation of an entirely different order.

Piero Manzoni, Italian, 1933–1963: Merda d'artista (Artist's Shit), 1961

Merda d'artista is an edition of 90 signed and numbered works that Manzoni said he made from his own excrement. Each is a 30-gram can of shit, measuring 4.8x6.5cm, "freshly preserved, produced and tinned," as stated on the label. This information appears in Italian, French, German and English, against a background pattern produced by repeating the artist's name in block letters. Because Manzoni sold each can by weight at gold's daily market price, the shit literally became worth its weight in gold. In retrospect, this has proved to be a bargain. At $35.20 (£18.07) per ounce—the price at which the London Gold Pool (an international consortium of central banks) wanted to fix the precious metal—a tin originally would have cost about $37. That was 1961. Thirty years later, Sotheby's auctioned one for $67,000. Then, the price of gold had climbed to $374 per ounce. If Manzoni's initial pricing scheme still held, it should have cost only $395.77. In other words, in 1991 Merda d'artista had outperformed gold in price by more than 70 times....

READ ON

Posted by: DAVID EMERICK


Featured Comment
by David Bennett: Wonderful—that's the kind of thing that makes this site worth coming back to—this educational shit is great.

Excremental Value

By John Miller, Tate Etc.

"If you stuck a piece of shit on the wall, it would be all the same to them as long as someone told them the shit was worth money. That's the nouveau-riche approach."

—Andrea Fraser, performance script for May I Help You? (1991)

Fraser's statement issues from the mouth of a supposed patrician, a woman who might serve on a museum's board of directors. Hers is a provocation meant to distinguish between old money and new, between those with a vast store of cultural capital and those in the business of acquiring as much as they can in the shortest time possible. For the patrician, the acquisitive efficiency of the nouveau riche is odious because the very prospect of ready exchangeability jeopardises long-standing traditions of cultural inheritance. This efficiency, as such, produces a relative indifference to deeply ingrained aesthetic experience. Curiously, her rhetorical substitution of shit for art recapitulates the logic of Piero Manzoni's legendary work Merda d'artista (1961), a provocation of an entirely different order.

Piero Manzoni, Italian, 1933–1963: Merda d'artista (Artist's Shit), 1961

Merda d'artista is an edition of 90 signed and numbered works that Manzoni said he made from his own excrement. Each is a 30-gram can of shit, measuring 4.8x6.5cm, "freshly preserved, produced and tinned," as stated on the label. This information appears in Italian, French, German and English, against a background pattern produced by repeating the artist's name in block letters. Because Manzoni sold each can by weight at gold's daily market price, the shit literally became worth its weight in gold. In retrospect, this has proved to be a bargain. At $35.20 (£18.07) per ounce—the price at which the London Gold Pool (an international consortium of central banks) wanted to fix the precious metal—a tin originally would have cost about $37. That was 1961. Thirty years later, Sotheby's auctioned one for $67,000. Then, the price of gold had climbed to $374 per ounce. If Manzoni's initial pricing scheme still held, it should have cost only $395.77. In other words, in 1991 Merda d'artista had outperformed gold in price by more than 70 times....

READ ON

Posted by: DAVID EMERICK


Featured Comment
by David Bennett: Wonderful—that's the kind of thing that makes this site worth coming back to—this educational shit is great.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Jimmy's Assignment

Feeling like a hotshot this morning? See how good you really are.

(This is silly, but fun. Hey, it's Monday. If you're looking for more substantial fare, check the new links under "Film Ain't Dead, Part LXXXVII," below.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to David Emerick

Jimmy's Assignment

Feeling like a hotshot this morning? See how good you really are.

(This is silly, but fun. Hey, it's Monday. If you're looking for more substantial fare, check the new links under "Film Ain't Dead, Part LXXXVII," below.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to David Emerick

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Film Ain't Dead, Part LXXXVII

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times: Kunal Sah’s parents had been seeking political asylum in the United States, but last year they were sent back to India.

Here's some work by one editorial photographer who's still using film. That's not a Hasselblad; I wonder what it is? Anybody know Stephen Crowley?

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Richard Sintchak

Featured Comment: by Stephen Crowley: Yes, journalists shooting film are in the minority but I keep at it best I can. I'm using a 1952 Ikomat. Wonderful camera. Conrad continues to do amazing work on film.

Cheers, Stephen Crowley

Mike's Comment: Very cool. By the way, by "Conrad," I assume Stephen means Fred R. Conrad.

Film Ain't Dead, Part LXXXVII

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times: Kunal Sah’s parents had been seeking political asylum in the United States, but last year they were sent back to India.

Here's some work by one editorial photographer who's still using film. That's not a Hasselblad; I wonder what it is? Anybody know Stephen Crowley?

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Richard Sintchak

Featured Comment: by Stephen Crowley: Yes, journalists shooting film are in the minority but I keep at it best I can. I'm using a 1952 Ikomat. Wonderful camera. Conrad continues to do amazing work on film.

Cheers, Stephen Crowley

Mike's Comment: Very cool. By the way, by "Conrad," I assume Stephen means Fred R. Conrad.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Street Sense

Street Sense, Calvin Borel up, comes from 19th place to overtake leader Hard Spun in the stretch at the Kentucky Derby. Photo by Jeff Haynes/Agence France-Presse

The best two minutes in American sports takes place once a year on the first Saturday in May. This year's race was a dandy. Street Sense is aptly named if it refers to moving through traffic; he should have been called Moses, if that overhead shot of the sea of horses parting to allow him to pass is any indication. And then to have those afterburners to turn on to actually take advantage of the gaps. It was like magic how he moved through the field—and what speed at the end! Hard to imagine, but the race Street Sense ran was in some ways just as impressive as Barbaro's lovely win last year. Made a fan of me. Wow. What a race. I can't wait for the Preakness.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Street Sense

Street Sense, Calvin Borel up, comes from 19th place to overtake leader Hard Spun in the stretch at the Kentucky Derby. Photo by Jeff Haynes/Agence France-Presse

The best two minutes in American sports takes place once a year on the first Saturday in May. This year's race was a dandy. Street Sense is aptly named if it refers to moving through traffic; he should have been called Moses, if that overhead shot of the sea of horses parting to allow him to pass is any indication. And then to have those afterburners to turn on to actually take advantage of the gaps. It was like magic how he moved through the field—and what speed at the end! Hard to imagine, but the race Street Sense ran was in some ways just as impressive as Barbaro's lovely win last year. Made a fan of me. Wow. What a race. I can't wait for the Preakness.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Sci Fi Tech Gets It Right

As Marv Albert used to say, YESSSSS!! I was delighted to see this article by S. E. Kramer at Sci Fi Tech. It addresses a longtime pet peeve of mine—no, worse than a pet peeve, a veritable sore spot—and it's one of the few articles I've read that addresses the issue directly. Briefly, the idea is that manufacturers of small personal electronic devices have adopted the strategy of flooding their categories with multiple models, which is a supermarket strategy, meant to crowd competitors off of limited shelf space, when what they should be doing is focusing brand awareness by limiting choice.

I've written about this before, though not specifically where cameras are concerned. But S. E. Kramer's article comes along at an appropriate point for me. Only a few weekends ago, I helped my non-photographer cousin Linda buy a digital camera. We went to a local store that had banks of long rows of nearly identical digicams, which naturally seems totally off-putting to any rational consumer—the job of making a choice prior to purchase is almost as bad as the job of learning all the proliferating and confusing features after purchase. My function was to narrow Linda's choices down to three, at which point she lasered in on her favorite immediately. My further function was to reassure her that she had chosen a good one. Sale. Elapsed time: no more than 15 minutes. Happy retailer, happy customer.

Read at least the last two headers in the Sci-Fi Tech article—from "Phones Are Just the Beginning" on. This is a really important idea that some big name in the camera industry is someday going to find the cojones to try. Choice is good; too much choice is bad.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, thanks to Eolake

ADDENDUM: For more on this, see Barry Schwarz, "The Tyranny of Choice," Scientific American Mind, December 2004. (Thanks to Seungmin).

ADDENDUM: Not that it really matters, but Linda bought this.

Sci Fi Tech Gets It Right

As Marv Albert used to say, YESSSSS!! I was delighted to see this article by S. E. Kramer at Sci Fi Tech. It addresses a longtime pet peeve of mine—no, worse than a pet peeve, a veritable sore spot—and it's one of the few articles I've read that addresses the issue directly. Briefly, the idea is that manufacturers of small personal electronic devices have adopted the strategy of flooding their categories with multiple models, which is a supermarket strategy, meant to crowd competitors off of limited shelf space, when what they should be doing is focusing brand awareness by limiting choice.

I've written about this before, though not specifically where cameras are concerned. But S. E. Kramer's article comes along at an appropriate point for me. Only a few weekends ago, I helped my non-photographer cousin Linda buy a digital camera. We went to a local store that had banks of long rows of nearly identical digicams, which naturally seems totally off-putting to any rational consumer—the job of making a choice prior to purchase is almost as bad as the job of learning all the proliferating and confusing features after purchase. My function was to narrow Linda's choices down to three, at which point she lasered in on her favorite immediately. My further function was to reassure her that she had chosen a good one. Sale. Elapsed time: no more than 15 minutes. Happy retailer, happy customer.

Read at least the last two headers in the Sci-Fi Tech article—from "Phones Are Just the Beginning" on. This is a really important idea that some big name in the camera industry is someday going to find the cojones to try. Choice is good; too much choice is bad.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, thanks to Eolake

ADDENDUM: For more on this, see Barry Schwarz, "The Tyranny of Choice," Scientific American Mind, December 2004. (Thanks to Seungmin).

ADDENDUM: Not that it really matters, but Linda bought this.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The M8: Coda

A final wrap-up regarding my comments on the Leica M8.

It, um, drew a lot of responses, from all over the internet. Overall, responses seemed to be about evenly divided between people who thought my reports were reasonable and fair, and people who had complaints. (The former included some M8 owners, and the latter included some people who obviously didn't even read the articles, but never mind about that.) The complaints, in turn, were divided between those who thought I was overly critical and/or needlessly provocative, and those who felt I was not critical enough.

For the most part, the complaints can be explained by the fact that it was only a brief user report based on brief experience, not a full review. Many years ago it was my personal policy that I would use a camera exclusively for a minimum of three months—for "real" work, not just tests and trials—before I'd write a review of it. That was a good policy, but it's not always practical.

Complaints part A: Cons were too con
1. Shutter lag. Writing a brief review based on a week's experience is problematic, though, that I can't deny. One of the stickiest problems arose because of one friend who felt that something I'd said wasn't factually accurate. He thinks that the shutter lag of the M8 is actually very good, when I reported it as being not very good. He's right that this is a measurable property (shutter lag is defined as the time between the press of the shutter release and the beginning of the exposure) and shouldn't be misrepresented. Others who've tried the camera—even including some M8 owners—didn't disagree with my conclusion that shutter lag was only so-so, however. But it's quite possible that I was fooled by the poorish shutter feel and/or by the various noises happening after the shutter press; perhaps image capture happens earlier in that sequence of noises that it seems to.

If I'd been able to look into this, I would have. My problem is that by the time I heard this from him, the camera was long gone. It's not a happy state of affairs to realize a conclusion you've put into "print" might be wrong, but maybe this one was. On the other hand, I reported my impression accurately, as far as it went, and I think I have to leave it at that for now.

2. Comparisons to the XTi. Another common objection to my reports was that people felt it was needlessly provocative to compare the M8 to the Canon XTi. While I can see their point, I don't agree at all. If you look at it the other way around, you can imagine that Canon might be offended if anyone said that a tiny little company building only its second digital product (rebadgings aside) could better the expertise of the world's leader in the category.

If it were possible to look at the two cameras totally objectively as tools, putting aside their relative positions in their makers' lines and their relative status, the contrast/compare on the XTi vs. M8 could be fascinating. On the one hand you have the biggest, richest camera company in the world, that makes its own sensors, and enjoys the best economies of scale of any DSLR manufacturer, creating its most affordable (and hence most important!) DSLR, the #1 selling DSLR in the world. The engineering, materials science, and manufacturing expertise that goes into such a camera is staggering. On the other hand you have an impecunious, struggling old-World manufacturer of hand-built mechanical cameras, one that has essentially no firsthand expertise in digital sensors and actually fairly little in electronics, making a low-volume, partly hand-built, one-off, large-sensor rangefinder for the carriage trade and its loyal existing customer base. The prices don't begin to tell the story, because if Leica had to develop the XTi, it would have to sell for $10k (or more), and if Canon made the M8 it would sell for $2k (if not less). In various ways, one camera runs rings around the other, and in other ways, vice versa. I don't think it's necessarily an insult to either company to compare the two. It's legitimately interesting. Of course I was aware that it would make some of the snobs see red, but then again, if I ran my life based on what they think, I would have had to kill myself long ago.

3. Off-axis LCD viewing. Some readers felt I made way too much of this. Who needs to look at the LCD off axis? One M8 owner wrote to say that he never looks at his LCD off axis. Well, duh—but what comes first, the chicken or the horse? (Sorry—old yolk.) If you can't see the image off axis, naturally you'd better learn to look at it on axis. Maybe I made too much of the whole issue. Maybe a $4,800 camera should just have a better LCD. You decide.

4. The importance of lenses to digital. The single thing I said in either review that drew the most violently negathve reactions was the statement "my experience so far is that digital de-emphasizes the importance of optics to the final result." It's ironic that Leica aficionados would object to this so strenuously, since it's one of the few things that Erwin Puts and I apparently agree on. But in any event, this requires a more extensive article to explain, so I'll write about this topic in the future.

Complaints part B: Cons weren't con enough
1. IR/color issues. A number of people felt I let Leica off too easily, and that there are serious issues with the camera that I hardly touched on. It appears that a number of people feel that the color and IR sensitivity issues are inexcusable, and that an expensive camera that requires IR filters as a band-aid, after-the-fact fix to a problem that never should have existed in the first place is outrageous. Well, I don't know. I guess it seems to me that if the company says you need to use IR filters, then you just use IR filters. I didn't, and it's doubtless what caused the uncorrectable pinkish cast of some of my interior shots. So I didn't make a big deal about that. Again, a full review that didn't treat this issue thoroughly would be remiss, but I wasn't writing a full review.

2. The distorting of the purpose and applications of the legacy focal lengths. Several people took me to task for not addressing this issue, and perhaps I should have. One of the main purposes of the M8, these complainants felt, was to be able to use the lenses you already had; but your old 35mm lens is no longer a 35mm, and your old 50mm standard lens is suddenly a decidedly non-standard, and much less useful, 65mm. The most-used lens on 35mm Leicas is the 35mm Summicron. To get the same thing on the M8, you need to spend $3,200 for a lens that's bigger and heavier (the 28mm Summicron) and feels different. (Leica introduced a slower 28mm with the M8 to ease these folks' pain.) Moreover, you may already have a 35mm Summicron and not a 28mm Summicron, which means you either have to change the way you see or buy a new lens. Well, okay; I see the complaint. Maybe it is indeed more of an issue with a camera that accepts mainly primes, and is less of an issue with DSLRs, which take zooms. But I guess my feeling is that we're all used to dealing with "magnification factors" with digital sensors by now, so you just figure this stuff out as part of your purchase decision, and then deal with it.

3. High failure rate and "recalls." I gather that a fairly significant fraction of M8 buyers have had to return their M8s to Leica, or have had their cameras stop working, necessitating a trip back to Leica. Again, while a legitimate issue for a full review, this just isn't something that I think ought to be reported in a user report. Simply stated, I was giving my impressions of my own personal experience during the short time I had the camera, and that just wasn't part of my experience. If the camera I was using had stopped working while I had it (alarming thought!), you can bet I would have written about it. But it didn't—it worked fine.

Conclusion
The worst thing about writing about Leicas is that once you say anything negative, some people completely ignore anything and everything positive that you also said. So it was with my M8 posts. The M8 is a cool camera. People are doing good work with them. Some people really like them, and I understand why. If you're accustomed to rangefinder viewing or just really like rangefinder viewing, it's close to the only game in town.

It's also a deeply flawed product that probably hadn't reached a true v.1.0 at the time of its release, and that provides such spectacularly bad value that you'd best be rich enough to be able to shrug off the cost if you intend to buy one. And it's going to be outdated in no time, hopefully when Leica itself brings out a v.2 that fixes all the problems it learned about from its own early adopters a.k.a. beta testers. I'm glad the M8 exists, and I hope it's successful so Leica can build the M9 and M10 and M11, and so other makers are encouraged to bring competitors to market—I'd love to see a Zeiss Ikon digital and an Epson R-D2, for example, just as I'd love to see digicam-sized cameras with large sensors and real optical viewfinders that are large and usable. We'll see.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

The M8: Coda

A final wrap-up regarding my comments on the Leica M8.

It, um, drew a lot of responses, from all over the internet. Overall, responses seemed to be about evenly divided between people who thought my reports were reasonable and fair, and people who had complaints. (The former included some M8 owners, and the latter included some people who obviously didn't even read the articles, but never mind about that.) The complaints, in turn, were divided between those who thought I was overly critical and/or needlessly provocative, and those who felt I was not critical enough.

For the most part, the complaints can be explained by the fact that it was only a brief user report based on brief experience, not a full review. Many years ago it was my personal policy that I would use a camera exclusively for a minimum of three months—for "real" work, not just tests and trials—before I'd write a review of it. That was a good policy, but it's not always practical.

Complaints part A: Cons were too con
1. Shutter lag. Writing a brief review based on a week's experience is problematic, though, that I can't deny. One of the stickiest problems arose because of one friend who felt that something I'd said wasn't factually accurate. He thinks that the shutter lag of the M8 is actually very good, when I reported it as being not very good. He's right that this is a measurable property (shutter lag is defined as the time between the press of the shutter release and the beginning of the exposure) and shouldn't be misrepresented. Others who've tried the camera—even including some M8 owners—didn't disagree with my conclusion that shutter lag was only so-so, however. But it's quite possible that I was fooled by the poorish shutter feel and/or by the various noises happening after the shutter press; perhaps image capture happens earlier in that sequence of noises that it seems to.

If I'd been able to look into this, I would have. My problem is that by the time I heard this from him, the camera was long gone. It's not a happy state of affairs to realize a conclusion you've put into "print" might be wrong, but maybe this one was. On the other hand, I reported my impression accurately, as far as it went, and I think I have to leave it at that for now.

2. Comparisons to the XTi. Another common objection to my reports was that people felt it was needlessly provocative to compare the M8 to the Canon XTi. While I can see their point, I don't agree at all. If you look at it the other way around, you can imagine that Canon might be offended if anyone said that a tiny little company building only its second digital product (rebadgings aside) could better the expertise of the world's leader in the category.

If it were possible to look at the two cameras totally objectively as tools, putting aside their relative positions in their makers' lines and their relative status, the contrast/compare on the XTi vs. M8 could be fascinating. On the one hand you have the biggest, richest camera company in the world, that makes its own sensors, and enjoys the best economies of scale of any DSLR manufacturer, creating its most affordable (and hence most important!) DSLR, the #1 selling DSLR in the world. The engineering, materials science, and manufacturing expertise that goes into such a camera is staggering. On the other hand you have an impecunious, struggling old-World manufacturer of hand-built mechanical cameras, one that has essentially no firsthand expertise in digital sensors and actually fairly little in electronics, making a low-volume, partly hand-built, one-off, large-sensor rangefinder for the carriage trade and its loyal existing customer base. The prices don't begin to tell the story, because if Leica had to develop the XTi, it would have to sell for $10k (or more), and if Canon made the M8 it would sell for $2k (if not less). In various ways, one camera runs rings around the other, and in other ways, vice versa. I don't think it's necessarily an insult to either company to compare the two. It's legitimately interesting. Of course I was aware that it would make some of the snobs see red, but then again, if I ran my life based on what they think, I would have had to kill myself long ago.

3. Off-axis LCD viewing. Some readers felt I made way too much of this. Who needs to look at the LCD off axis? One M8 owner wrote to say that he never looks at his LCD off axis. Well, duh—but what comes first, the chicken or the horse? (Sorry—old yolk.) If you can't see the image off axis, naturally you'd better learn to look at it on axis. Maybe I made too much of the whole issue. Maybe a $4,800 camera should just have a better LCD. You decide.

4. The importance of lenses to digital. The single thing I said in either review that drew the most violently negative reactions was the statement "my experience so far is that digital de-emphasizes the importance of optics to the final result." It's ironic that Leica aficionados would object to this so strenuously, since it's one of the few things that Erwin Puts and I apparently agree on. But in any event, this requires a more extensive article to explain, so I'll write about this topic in the future.

Complaints part B: Cons weren't con enough
1. IR/color issues. A number of people felt I let Leica off too easily, and that there are serious issues with the camera that I hardly touched on. It appears that a number of people feel that the color and IR sensitivity issues are inexcusable, and that an expensive camera that requires IR filters as a band-aid, after-the-fact fix to a problem that never should have existed in the first place is outrageous. Well, I don't know. I guess it seems to me that if the company says you need to use IR filters, then you just use IR filters. I didn't, and it's doubtless what caused the uncorrectable pinkish cast of some of my interior shots. So I didn't make a big deal about that. Again, a full review that didn't treat this issue thoroughly would be remiss, but I wasn't writing a full review.

2. The distorting of the purpose and applications of the legacy focal lengths. Several people took me to task for not addressing this issue, and perhaps I should have. One of the main purposes of the M8, these complainants felt, was to be able to use the lenses you already had; but your old 35mm lens is no longer a 35mm, and your old 50mm standard lens is suddenly a decidedly non-standard, and much less useful, 65mm. The most-used lens on 35mm Leicas is the 35mm Summicron. To get the same thing on the M8, you need to spend $3,200 for a lens that's bigger and heavier (the 28mm Summicron) and feels different. (Leica introduced a slower 28mm with the M8 to ease these folks' pain.) Moreover, you may already have a 35mm Summicron and not a 28mm Summicron, which means you either have to change the way you see or buy a new lens. Well, okay; I see the complaint. Maybe it is indeed more of an issue with a camera that accepts mainly primes, and is less of an issue with DSLRs, which take zooms. But I guess my feeling is that we're all used to dealing with "magnification factors" with digital sensors by now, so you just figure this stuff out as part of your purchase decision, and then deal with it.

3. High failure rate and "recalls." I gather that a fairly significant fraction of M8 buyers have had to return their M8s to Leica, or have had their cameras stop working, necessitating a trip back to Leica. Again, while a legitimate issue for a full review, this just isn't something that I think ought to be reported in a user report. Simply stated, I was giving my impressions of my own personal experience during the short time I had the camera, and that just wasn't part of my experience. If the camera I was using had stopped working while I had it (alarming thought!), you can bet I would have written about it. But it didn't—it worked fine.

Conclusion
The worst thing about writing about Leicas is that once you say anything negative, some people completely ignore anything and everything positive that you also said. So it was with my M8 posts. The M8 is a cool camera. People are doing good work with them. Some people really like them, and I understand why. If you're accustomed to rangefinder viewing or just really like rangefinder viewing, it's close to the only game in town.

It's also a deeply flawed product that probably hadn't reached a true v.1.0 at the time of its release, and that provides such spectacularly bad value that you'd best be rich enough to be able to shrug off the cost if you intend to buy one. And it's going to be outdated in no time, hopefully when Leica itself brings out a v.2 that fixes all the problems it learned about from its own early adopters a.k.a. beta testers. I'm glad the M8 exists, and I hope it's successful so Leica can build the M9 and M10 and M11, and so other makers are encouraged to bring competitors to market—I'd love to see a Zeiss Ikon digital and an Epson R-D2, for example, just as I'd love to see digicam-sized cameras with large sensors and real optical viewfinders that are large and usable. We'll see.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Random Excellence

Roark Johnson, Sailor from Great Lakes Naval Base visiting his family from Ohio in Chicago

Roark Johnson's "Stranger A Day 2007."

Great stuff—well worth a look. I hope it's going to continue.

(Just as an aside, this may be one project that might easier to do with a view camera than a digital one. It might be easier to persuade strangers to pose for a big, non-moving, serious-looking camera on a tripod than it would be to enlist their cooperation with a dinky digicam.)

Roark Johnson is a commercial and editorial photographer from Chicago. You can see more of his work at his website, including lots o' shiny happy commercial portraits and a nice series of school kids.

And finally, if you don't already know (I'm apparently one of the last people on Earth to find out about this project), here's a link to the original Stranger A Day.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Charlie D. and to Kathryn

Random Excellence

Roark Johnson, Sailor from Great Lakes Naval Base visiting his family from Ohio in Chicago

Roark Johnson's "Stranger A Day 2007."

Great stuff—well worth a look. I hope it's going to continue.

(Just as an aside, this may be one project that might easier to do with a view camera than a digital one. It might be easier to persuade strangers to pose for a big, non-moving, serious-looking camera on a tripod than it would be to enlist their cooperation with a dinky digicam.)

Roark Johnson is a commercial and editorial photographer from Chicago. You can see more of his work at his website, including lots o' shiny happy commercial portraits and a nice series of school kids.

And finally, if you don't already know (I'm apparently one of the last people on Earth to find out about this project), here's a link to the original Stranger A Day.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Charlie D. and to Kathryn

The Existential Sandbox

The existential sandbox—perfect thoughts for a Friday morning. (You need to start with the post "Now This Here Is a Sandbox.")

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

The Existential Sandbox

The existential sandbox—perfect thoughts for a Friday morning. (You need to start with the post "Now This Here Is a Sandbox.")

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Buying Digital: Too Much Shopping!

by Ctein

I have a bunch of film cameras gathering dust. My standard carry-around camera is a Fujica GA645, a fully automatic medium-format point-and-shoot with manual overrides. I've a Canonet G-III 17 and an Olympus XA with flash that I haven't used in 10 years, and an Olympus Stylus Epic that I haven't used in four. They're not more convenient to use than the GA645 and the negatives are just too small to really make me happy. Why make photos if I don't get pleasure out of them?

So, they're off to eBay, along with some Wallace ExpoDiscs, etc. I'm gonna finally buy a low-end digital camera for its convenience, and researching this is giving me a serious headache. There are too many damn compromises unless one spends lots of money. I'm not going to spend over $400.

Is this the stuff that dreams are made of...or nightmares? The camera may prove to be the former, but buying is definitely the latter.

I'm a color negative, available light photographer. Low image noise in dim light and low contrast in any situation are important to me. I know a cheap digital camera isn't going to have the capture range of even slide film, let alone negative film. So I want either really low image contrast or RAW format. And I'd like some decent degree of sharpness, so that when I make 8x10 prints I don't feel the same way I did with my dinky 35mm negs.

I looked at the Fuji Finepix F30/F31. Fabulous low light performance and sharpness more like a 10 MP camera. But dpreview says daylight photos are very contrasty with clipped highlights and shadows, and no RAW to circumvent that. Forget it!

Next came the Olympus SP-550 UZ. RAW, image stabilization, and a big zoom (size matters). But the lens is lousy; an awfully fuzzy image for 7 MP. Low light quality is poor and there are weird performance issues. Feh.

Third time's the charm...maybe? The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 looks plausible. Good lens and good sharpness, very good image stabilization and RAW quality, even usable RAW quality at high ISO's. But...

I can't seem to find any review sites that provide "characteristic curves" ("dynamic range," if you prefer) for different cameras. Pretty basic and important info, that. Give me a graph that plots exposure on the x axis and output value on the y axis. Is that too much to ask?

Headaches, really!

Posted by: CTEIN

Buying Digital: Too Much Shopping!

by Ctein

I have a bunch of film cameras gathering dust. My standard carry-around camera is a Fujica GA645, a fully automatic medium-format point-and-shoot with manual overrides. I've a Canonet G-III 17 and an Olympus XA with flash that I haven't used in 10 years, and an Olympus Stylus Epic that I haven't used in four. They're not more convenient to use than the GA645 and the negatives are just too small to really make me happy. Why make photos if I don't get pleasure out of them?

So, they're off to eBay, along with some Wallace ExpoDiscs, etc. I'm gonna finally buy a low-end digital camera for its convenience, and researching this is giving me a serious headache. There are too many damn compromises unless one spends lots of money. I'm not going to spend over $400.

Is this the stuff that dreams are made of...or nightmares? The camera may prove to be the former, but buying is definitely the latter.

I'm a color negative, available light photographer. Low image noise in dim light and low contrast in any situation are important to me. I know a cheap digital camera isn't going to have the capture range of even slide film, let alone negative film. So I want either really low image contrast or RAW format. And I'd like some decent degree of sharpness, so that when I make 8x10 prints I don't feel the same way I did with my dinky 35mm negs.

I looked at the Fuji Finepix F30/F31. Fabulous low light performance and sharpness more like a 10 MP camera. But dpreview says daylight photos are very contrasty with clipped highlights and shadows, and no RAW to circumvent that. Forget it!

Next came the Olympus SP-550 UZ. RAW, image stabilization, and a big zoom (size matters). But the lens is lousy; an awfully fuzzy image for 7 MP. Low light quality is poor and there are weird performance issues. Feh.

Third time's the charm...maybe? The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 looks plausible. Good lens and good sharpness, very good image stabilization and RAW quality, even usable RAW quality at high ISO's. But...

I can't seem to find any review sites that provide "characteristic curves" ("dynamic range," if you prefer) for different cameras. Pretty basic and important info, that. Give me a graph that plots exposure on the x axis and output value on the y axis. Is that too much to ask?

Headaches, really!

Posted by: CTEIN