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The Perfect Camera, GAS, IQ, Sufficiency, and Ergonomics: A Rant

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Turbofrog, Feb 2, 2016.

  1. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    So first of all, before I create another thread about GAS and cameras and sensors and yada, yada, yada, I want to legalize it with a photograph. You know, to keep myself reminded of the end goal.

    24649563031_48a566918b_h.

    It's also important to include because this is the kind of image I love creating, and where my perspective comes from. Your type of photography may have totally different requirements. For this shot, I was hiking with my friends, one camera (GX7) and lens (11-22mm) slung over my shoulder, no tripod, no filters, no other photographic accoutrements besides spare batteries. I was carrying food, water, a camp stove, and warm clothing instead.

    It's a handheld 5 or 6 portrait image stitch @ 13mm f4.5, merged and edited in Lightroom, and then re-stretched to fit and cropped in Photoshop. Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. There's more I could do to fiddle with it, but it's "okay" for me. But it was a fair bit of effort to get there. I bracketed the exposures to give myself latitude for working in post, and then tweaked and fiddled with the optimal exposures from each before merging to maintain maximum dynamic range.

    And I find that time and time again, dynamic range is the limitation that I find with M4/3. Resolution is not really that big a problem - handheld panoramas are easy - this is a 44MP stitch, and it wouldn't be possible to produce without a panorama, so that's plenty big enough for me as far as working files go. Low light could be better, but I've made peace with it - I've got fast primes, and ISO 3200 or 6400 are usable for me, though not nice for group shots where faces are made of relatively few pixels.

    But dynamic range is a killer. I feel like I'm always struggling to maintain the tonality I want in the skies. I like shooting into the sun, it makes for dramatic light, and often times the best compositions in my environment end up with the sun in the frame, so that's not something I can work around (nor is it something I want to, if we're honest).

    So it's times like this, after labouring over a file, that my mind starts to wander to other systems. But every time I do it, I always seem to come up with dealbreakers, usually in terms of features or ergonomics that don't justify the relative improvements in image quality they offer.

    1) The A7 is the obvious "step up" camera. But while the original model is available for under $1000, the low light performance is only marginally better than M4/3, the lenses are all expensive and heavy (and several are mediocre despite it), and they lack touchscreens and fully-articulated displays which I am discovering is my biggest pet peeve about my GX7. I also appreciate IBIS, though the GX7's is not great, and the A7 II is twice the price as the A7, with the same dealbreakers. No weather sealing is also bothersome for a camera at this price.

    2) Nikon FX DSLRs seem to do a much better job with the same sensor than Sony mirrorless, and in my city, I can buy a D610 for the same price as an A7, which spits out much better dynamic range and cleaner high ISO. But then I don't get any screen articulation at all, no touchscreen, a lame AF system, a big heavy camera, and none of my legacy primes - that are still quality lenses - are compatible, so I'd be rebuilding from scratch.

    3) The D5500 seems like it may be a sweet spot - thanks to Nikon's superior image processing, it has image quality from APS-C that pretty much matches the A7, and has a fully-articulated touchscreen! Still no weather sealing, only has 1 command dial, and no AF-fine tune. I'd also still need to get lenses to go with it thanks to the long-flange Nikon F mount, and there aren't a ton of great DX lenses. And the viewfinder is small, especially by mirrorless standards. No bigger than my GX7's in 4:3 mode. Still, this seems like the best option so far...

    4) Pentax SLRs like the K-S2 tick a lot of boxes and remain super affordable. Weather-sealed, IBIS, fully articulated screen (but no touchscreen!), 2 command dials, high quality OVFs by APS-C standards. But the 20MP sensor really gives me no benefit in terms of dynamic range, and barely anything in terms of noise compared to M4/3. Swing and a miss...Ugh!

    5) ...?

    And so it appears that there's not much out there for me that satisfies my very particular set of wants and needs. As it stands, that's probably for the best. Since ultimately, I can still make images that I like with my current gear, and while they have some compromises, the secret is that there is no perfect camera on the market, and certainly not at a price I'm willing to pay.

    It's nice to do this exercise every now and then and realize that while what you've got isn't ideal, the grass really isn't greener on the other side of the fence, the brown patches are just in different places.

    Maybe if there's a crazy sale I'll try and find myself into a D5500 (my first DSLR) but we'll see. Otherwise, the E-M1 II might be a siren's call from the future. If trends are any indication, it will almost undoubtedly have a fully articulated touchscreen with the touchpad AF I've grown to know and love on the GX7, weather-sealing, PDAF (to set my poor 11-22mm free at last!), deliciously effective IBIS, and a 20MP sensor with a modest bump in DR...and if it has a handheld high-res, that will be pretty hard to resist. That might also mean the opportunity for hand-held HDR with no artifacts! It still won't be perfect, but it looks like it may make the fewest compromises of any of the cameras on the market for me, and I guess that's saying something.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2016
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  2. Speedliner

    Speedliner Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 2, 2015
    Southern NJ, USA
    Rob
    I hear you. I'm not an expert but I often feel something is missing from the occasional image. DR, noise, DOF isolation and sometimes resolution seem to leave something on the table. None of these things ruin a picture, particularly simple ones like portraits, but I think landscapes can lose something. Shots in dim light can lose something...

    When I see the landscape shots in particular in other forums, or even here in the Full Frame thread, I'm amazed at the depth and detail in those images. I don't need it, but for the one on 20 shots that would have benefitted, I want it.

    I'll likely have a 2nd format one day. Don't know what, but every time I see a used D750 at a reasonable price I pause for an instant. All that DR, that AF system and all of those excellent, low-cost, used lenses to choose from...
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2016
  3. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    First off, you are shooting into the sun so conditions are challenging to begin with, but DR is not a big strength of M43 (they aren't bad, but they are "merely" good), so they are only adequate landscape cameras. If you plant your flag as a "landscape guy" you will certainly get better results from different cameras and a more elaborate approach (tripod etc), but the tradeoff is size, weight and flexibility. I wouldn't want to hike with an FX Nikon, and M43 are better street/travel/everyday cameras than most other systems. Maybe organic sensors will bring a big jump in DR, but other than that I'm pretty sure we will only see incremental improvement going forward. Maybe invest in a used second system if you can live with the size and weight.
     
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  4. robcee

    robcee Mu-43 Veteran

    289
    Jan 10, 2016
    Toronto
    Rob Campbell
    dynamic range is my biggest compromise with the m43 system as well, but I can live with it. I've been a nikon guy for 15 years but all I have left of it is an FM2n and a couple of primes. I just couldn't deal with the weight anymore. And really, we're only losing about 1 to 1.5 stops of DR anyway.

    When I first saw your image I thought it was an HDR shot. I guess it kind of is, given the tweaking you did to it. It's very nice, and I like the tones in the sky in particular.

    Photography gear is about compromises. I'm still tickled with my EM1 and amazing tiny lenses.
     
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  5. Generationfourth

    Generationfourth Mu-43 Regular

    172
    Sep 11, 2015
    5) Get a CPL
     
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  6. heli-mech

    heli-mech Mu-43 Top Veteran

    959
    Mar 9, 2012
    Vancouver Island, Canada
    Andrew
    Hopefully we will see some type of sensor developments in the near future centered around DR rather than small incremental increases in resolution. I still remember the Fuji SR SuperCCD, but I don't believe there has been any other sensors designs geared towards DR since and that was 12 years ago.
     
  7. snkenai

    snkenai Mu-43 Top Veteran

    523
    Sep 5, 2010
    I've been chasing that ghost for over 50 years. Can't be captured. But, the EM-5, at my time and personal situation in life, has come as close as I am ever likely to get, any time soon. At $300.00 for a new (just over 100 clicks) EM-5, it's just within my fixed income budget for the year. And, the IQ, IS, VF, size, lenses, variety of bodies, for different likes and needs, are so diverse. The over-all fit is so well, that my wife, son, 2 daughters, and daughter-in-law, all carry m4/3 bodies. we can trade lenses and other accessories at will, which is a very handy feature.

    Yes, I have strayed from the 4/3 - m4/3, camp a few times, but, the grass had too many brown spots, for my liking.

    Is m4/3 format ideal, for everyone and for every photography venue. No. But, it mostly works for me. And, that's good enough.
     
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  8. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, CA
    I've been eyeing the A7S since prices have gone down to use for street shooting, but all the lenses available are bigger, slower and cost more. Man, the low light on the A7S plus silent shutter is my dream street camera...but like you said, once you equate lenses and other factors, other systems start to lose their appeal.
     
  9. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    Alas, I may be mistaken, but I don't think that CPLs are an easy solution for this. They may be workable, but will result in even more work in post to even out the gradients and banding in the sky that you get in ultrawide photography when using polarizers. I think there's a good chance that it would cause stitching errors due to the extreme vignette-like effect it produces.

    An ND grad might be an acceptable option, but unless I'm using a clunky square-type filter, it really cuts down on the kinds of compositions I can do. And even with the clunky square filters, I need to have a relatively crisp, clean horizon.

    It certainly doesn't seem like a magic bullet. Maybe worth trying again, I guess.
     
  10. SpecFoto

    SpecFoto Mu-43 Veteran

    313
    Aug 28, 2012
    So Cal
    Jim
    Used Nikon D800 (or D810 with native ISO 64 even better) and used Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon and you will have all the DR that you could every handle. Landscape with my EM1 & EM5 MKII is good, even better with the new Oly 7-14mm I added in December, but not in the same class at all when it comes 36MP and DR.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2016
  11. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    I believe it, but at $3000+ CDN for used copies, those two purchases would be more expensive than all the M4/3 cameras, lenses, legacy lenses, adapters, and accessories I've purchases thus far. And then I'd have a 1.5 kg package that still has no articulated touchscreen, no image stabilization, and manual focus through a DSLR focusing screen (shoot me, please!). I have a 6x7 medium format and Ektar 100 when I feel like putting myself through that kind of masochism. ;)

    For the weight and usability hassles, I could haul around a tripod with my M4/3 gear and simply do bracketed HDR-panos to my heart's content.
     
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  12. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Dynamic range is the problem.

    Ansel Adams and Fred Archer (should that be Fred Archer and Ansel Adams?) built the zone system around a 10 stop dynamic range which was based more on print DR capability than negative DR capability. I'm uncertain what range we can currently expect from prints, or the DR we can expect from a screen but I don't think screen capability is much better than 10 stops. 10 stops is equivalent to peak brightness 1024 times as bright as the darkest level. The new HDR standard for UHD TV screens, which have more DR than a computer monitor, covers a range from 1000 nits to 0.05 nits which is close to 14 stops, and the UHD standard also requires 10 bit capability and that's up in the same range. Print range is going to be less than that. According to DxOMark my E-M1 has a DR of 12.3 EVs, or stops if you like. That's considerably better than a current HD TV screen, and better than the Adams 10 stop print range.

    I like shooting scenes like yours, at least as far as DR goes (I don't do panoramas). I often end up with files which on opening have a nice looking sky because I've exposed to preserve highlight detail and there's a lot of range in the sky, and everything else is in deep shadow initially. It's amazing what I can pull up out of that shadow. To get more range the file has to encompass more distinct steps in brightness because I don't want to lose good gradation in brightness and I want more detail in the shadows, and that means more bits. More bits means bigger file size to hold those bits. A lot of processing software can handle 16 bit files so the software is there. The limitations are in the sensors and the problems that come with larger file sizes so write times, buffer size, fps for burst shooting and so on.

    But get the files, open it in your software, and our current computer monitors can't handle the DR and our prints won't handle it. We're going to be stuck with what we've been stuck with since the start of photography which is reducing the range of a scene to the range of however we want to display our image can handle. More DR for the camera would certainly make working with the file and producing a better result easier, and I'd love to have that so yes, my ideal camera would definitely have more DR, but I do wonder how much more we need given that our cameras can pretty much match the range of current display technology and aren't far off the range of the coming generation of display technology, provided of course we expose our shots in a way that makes use of the full range we currently have.

    For me, more DR is really about having a bit more leeway with my exposure and having a file which is easier to work with, especially in the shadows where I'd like lower noise and the ability to get better tonal gradation plus having more choice about how I balance the highlight areas and shadow areas in the final image. I'm not going to end up with a wider DR in the eventual final image as viewed because the display technology doesn't really support much wider range at present and isn't likely to for some time. What we're really talking about is having an easier time working with our files rather than ending up with an image with a dynamic range that gets appreciably closer to the range of the scenes we're shooting. The dynamic range of the seen in your shot, from the sun shining through the cloud to the darkest shadow area in it, is orders of magnitude higher than the range our displays can deliver. Give me a sensor with a 20 stop range and a file with enough bits to handle that range really well and I'm going to have a sensor that even what follows UHD TV probably won't match and the sensor still won't be capable of capturing anything like the range of your scene or the scenes I like shooting. I don't need 20 stops or anything close to that, and I don't need more bits recording highlight data. I've got more than enough bits to get really nice results in the highlights. The problem is a lack of data in the shadows.

    More DR would be nice, but I actually think that we might be surprised at just how much happier we'd be if our files had the DR we currently but more of the data in those files was devoted to the shadows and less to the highlights. Even 1 bit more in data for the shadows and 1 bit less in data for the highlights would make a huge difference to working with a file like the ones you stitched for your example image. Our files would be a lot easier to work with, give us better results in the shadows, and let us work with the balance between highlight and shadow a lot more successfully.

    I think more dynamic range is only a part of the answer, and perhaps not the biggest part. Our sensors have a linear response which favours highlight data over shadow data. A less linear response might be a bigger step forward than more dynamic range.
     
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  13. Alan Yuen

    Alan Yuen Mu-43 Rookie

    15
    Nov 9, 2015
    bracket your exposure, merge in photoshop?
     
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  14. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, CA
    I'd considering looking into a refurb'ed or used E-M5 II. The 40mp hi res mode (60mp in raw) can easily handle that shot you posted. It's far more useful than people on here tend to think. I think for daytime tripod shots, you can get pretty big shots with lots of editing leeway. For nighttime use, movement just comes up as light streaks so it's not a problem in that scenario either.
     
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  15. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    I really, really don't want to make a tripod a part of my workflow. That doubles, triples, or quadruples the weight of any kit I'm carrying with me depending on the tripod. And the bulk and setup is a huge annoyance. I do it in some circumstances, but when I'm hiking or snowshoeing, it's not something I'm really willing to consider because there are cameras on the market that can easily accomplish what I need handheld. A tripod is a major compromise, and realistically is a larger one than some of the others I'd be dealing with to move to something like an A7.

    I understand that what I can do with HDR merging (and use that capability at times) but in the summer months even that is not a perfect solution because any wind means that I get artifacts in foliage that have moved in the split-second between shots.

    As above re: tripods, but like I said in the initial post, it's not really the resolution that is the issue for me, it's the dynamic range, which I don't believe the multi-shot mode helps with.

    But believe me, I am very curious about the possibility of handheld high-res with the E-M1 II...
     
  16. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    The crux of the matter here is that in the conditions described above, you wouldn't have brought the ideal camera for the shot. So it's not a comparison of m4/3 vs FF Dynamic range, it is m4/3 vs no shot.
     
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  17. SpecFoto

    SpecFoto Mu-43 Veteran

    313
    Aug 28, 2012
    So Cal
    Jim
    1.5kg is masochism, geezzzz. As far as focusing with a 21mm, that the beauty of it, set it a 8-1/2 feet and forget it. Hyperfocal works every time. D800 ISO is at least 2-1/2 stops better than my EM1, can't say for your Panys. Budget I can't help with but buying a APC camera, even the D5500, will not change much from what you have.

    Your example shot certainly did not need a tripod, but it could have used a ND graduated filter to allow for increasing the left side foreground exposure and balancing out the cloud brightness between the 2nd and 3rd tree.

    Tripods, filters and such are used by almost every pro landscape photog, there ain't no free lunch!
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2016
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  18. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    How so? An A7 + 16-35 (or more likely for my budget, something like a Canon FD 20mm/2.8) isn't any bigger or heavier than the GX7 + 11-22mm. Likewise with a D5500 + Tamron 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 (or similar).

    Obviously I can find much smaller and lighter lenses in the M4/3 world, but the 11-22mm fits a good place for me in terms of focal range, optical quality, and price, and it's still manageable weight-wise. But I find that once lenses get up much past the 700g range, I'm ready to opt out, so that obviously puts a pretty hard cap on the my FF options. That said, there are lenses like the Nikon 18-35 f3.5-4.5 that are reasonably light and not insanely priced.
     
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  19. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    Or an A7r with the new Loxia 21/2.8 - might just be a bit cheaper and will be a lot better. I almost only use the E-M1 for telephoto these days, because the A7r is just great for wide to normal. But not cheap. Or particularly lightweight. While Nikon may do a touch better I think the differences are really very, very minimal at best in terms of files, but significant in terms of handling (better for the SLR in all areas other than an EVF/MF and size/bulk)
     
  20. DaveEP

    DaveEP Mu-43 Top Veteran

    683
    Sep 20, 2014
    York, UK
    No education worth having is ever free. What I learned through many expensive mistakes over the years is that there is-no-perfect-system and likely never-will-be.
     
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