Beginning in the mid 1980’s we noticed all cars started looking the same. They’d all been through the same wind tunnel. Yes, ads all look the same. Phones too. Fashions persist particularly in user interface design (via dangerousmeta!), but devices tested in similar ways yield similar results and convergent design.
Now camera lenses seem to be getting huge and heavy:
At 136.2mm long (5 1/3 inches), with 17 elements in 12 groups, with a filter size of 86mm (bigger than any medium format lens I ever owned), and tilting the scales at a staggering 1,090g (38 1/2 ounces, not far short of two and a half pounds), it’s got to be a big zoom, right? What, a 28–200mm?
Wrong, aperture-bouche. It’s a 35mm normal prime. “Prime” being, of course, slang for single-focal-length lens.
I assume that optical bench software combined with digital camera sensor characteristics led to common considerations: make the lens mount as big as possible and stuff the big lens full of fancy glass. Thus we get the larger mounts of the Leica SL and Nikon Z mirrorless cameras. Then for best edge to edge sharpness, that hulking barrel of a lens holds precisely aligned specialty glass that’s been molded just so.
And so we’re presented with huge, heavy primes and zooms of astonishing quality. Personally I think the Nikkor Z mount lenses are the best they’ve ever made. I get the impression the Leica SL primes may be the best lenses ever made. All very pricey, but very sharp, very high contrast. Thankfully still with some personality in how the scene is rendered, leaving some art in the design for sure.
Why not compromise at least a little bit? After all, the Jeep still looks like a Jeep. These big systems are specialty outfits used for the best possible capture when the subject is aware and generally allowing their picture to be taken; these are not cameras optimized for stealth or style. Or carrying around all day.
For the casual photographer there are a range of other systems like the Fujifilm retro styled cameras or the Leica Q2, M or CL. Or the iPhone for that matter. I’ve found that the big professional tools are now only welcome in places where photography is expected- family events, national parks, tourist attractions. They are not welcome in residential neighborhoods or on most city streets. Big cameras draw suspicion and hostility in equal measure.
For casual photography, documenting life and environment, a more casual camera is needed. We still need to work on once again accepting that cameras can be used in public. I’d like to see the return of casual photography driven by social media sharing. Perhaps we can get back to a place where the guy with the camera is a bit odd, but no longer a threat.
Shooting with the Leica Q2 has pushed me out of my exclusive use of the 50 mm focal length lens for shooting. I seem to still be stuck with the idea of putting a particular prime lens on a camera and then seeing at that focal length for the duration. So I’m trying the 35 mm view for a while
Now this is not true of event photography, when shooting a family gathering or party. Then the Nikon with a zoom comes out- currently the Z7 with the 24-70 mm f/4 zoom. The relationship of camera and subject is completely different and I need the flexibility of changing point of view in a physically constrained space.
I feel like I’ve taken advantage of the quality of the lens in this image, being sharp edge to edge, with focus falling off quickly when wide open at f/1.4. And the winter light of the low sun even in early afternoon renders a suburban park in beautiful light.
The quest for casual photography, capturing my daily environment in some ongoing documentary fashion has led me back to looking at the suburban landscape. When traveling, looking at the novel environment is a natural partner with photography. But when home and running errands, the environment fades into the background. Hopefully looking for the image is helpful in being more present and appreciative of a more ordinary world.
After my trip to the Netherlands and Sweden last week, I’ve thought a bit about my casual photography workflow experiments I tried during the trip. I brought just the Leica Q2 and my iPad Pro. No laptop, no interchangable lens camera- just the 28mm wide angle camera and the SD card reader for the iPad’s USB-C connector.
I’d like to thing that I’m still here writing in that spirit of using using imagination as the path to better decision making. I’m way less enamored with the technology of computer simulation, but have to recognize that 20 years on, AI and Machine Learning have brought a lot of that promise into the world, but create algorithms that tend to diminish our active imagination rather than augment it. When my phone can make better images than I can, I have to admit defeat before ascendant computing as deciding.
I had hoped to create some longer form writing to mark the occasion, but instead I’ve simply renewed the writing and image posting habit, putting out a pretty steady stream of posts. Looking back as the initial months of the Edit This Page sites, I’m impressed at how much like Twitter it was. Pointing at content, making short remarks. Never thinking to create evergreen content to build a search audience.
Every smartphone is a GPS device. Every smartphone is a camera. So the images we save are all geotagged; the location is saved as metadata as part of the image file.
You might think that for competitive reasons, camera manufacturers would put one of those cheap little GPS chips in their cameras to enable that $3000 full frame camera to geotag like a smartphone. You might think so, but you’d be wrong. Most of the high end, full frame cameras from Nikon, Sony, Canon and Leica depend on a smartphone connection to geotag images. Mostly you’ll find GPS chips in lower end compact cameras. Leica had GPS in their SL full frame mirrorless, but removed it in the just released SL2.
Why? As far as I can tell, GPS chips are just too power hungry to run continuously in cameras. Smartphones get GPS fixes at intervals plus can use cell tower info to figure out where they are. So it makes sense for camera manufacturers to rely on a smartphone app to pass a GPS location for geotagging. Plus geotagging has never been a feature of these cameras, so unless you look for it, it’s not missed. Probably wouldn’t be used by most users in fact.
Since my casual iPhone images are all geotagged, I’ve looked at a few approaches for geotagging images from my current group of cameras from Leica and Nikon. For now I’m making do with inconsistent apps and manual input. But it’s clear that Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connections between camera and phone has become the favored solution.
I’m now finishing my fourth year using the Hobonichi Techo as my daily journal. The Hobonichi is a one page per day, fountain pen friendly journal from Japan. As I wrote last year, I open it every morning to plan out the day, record a few notes and capture key actions for the day. Sometimes it’s a shopping list, sometimes phone calls or appointments that need to be made. If the daily pages are my roadmap for the day, the big monthly calendars at the front are my longer range planning tool, knowing when trips, holidays and other blackout dates are going be coming up so I don’t make mistakes about committing to being somewhere or taking on a project. As much as I’ve tried over the years to use digital systems for this, for me paper is a better way to see what I’m doing and when at a glance.
I’ve made two changes this year. One is adding in just a few photographs. And the other is becoming a bit more systematic by including some Bullet Journal conventions into my daily jottings.
Our phones opened a new era in photography. We’re all able to take quality pictures and transmit them instantly to friends and family through social media. As a lifelong serious image maker, I’ve let my image making drift away my new casual iPhone photostream, reserving my dedicated camera equipment for deliberate, mindful creation of quality images that I mostly share on Flickr.
Now I’ve been writing about creating a cloudbased workflow: bringing images into the iCloud Photos database for sharing socially, using the iPad as a tool for image transfer from card to cloud, and mobile post-processing of images on the iPad. Is there are camera that can also provide the capabilities of the iPhone camera to feed images to the photostream?
An iPhone is about a 28mm equivalent, so it would make sense to use a 28mm lens on a full frame camera for the same casual photography. And so I’ve bought the Leica Q2 with its 28mm fixed lens as my casual photography camera.
I was impressed with the initial release of Photoshop for iPad as a mobile companion to the desktop workflow. I dismissed the criticism regarding lack of features as premature as Adobe seemed to be planning a rollout of features in a measured fashion. I’m convinced the iPad and cloud based image storage is the future of our photographic workflow and Adobe is working on being a player in the space. Lightroom and Photoshop will be available as mobile tools, adapted to the mobile environment.
In a blog post, the Adobe iPad Photoshop team has provided a bit of a preview of what they call “The Journey”. I’ll admit that I’ve been around long enough to appreciate just how long it takes for the journeys. Way longer than anyone wants. In June 2007, the iPhone was introduced. There was no app store. Just a few native apps and the browser. The first iPad was 3 years later- and appeared to be a big iPhone. It’s the iteration over years that builds capacity and I find it easiest to follow along on these journeys, building skills as the capabilities of the system improve. Photoshop on the Mac is my native language for image processing. I can translate it to several other workflows pretty well, knowing where I’m going and learning how a new tool may work to get me there.
The promised addition of curves will provide an essential part of the workflow because I use it as my method of selective change in tone and contrast. Pressure sensitivity for masking will also be a big step toward reproducing my Mac workflow. Other steps in Photoshop are via the NIK set of filters, unlikely to be integrated into an iPad workflow anytime soon so finished product will still be in the full digital studio, not the mobile setup on iPad.
Nevertheless, this looks like the road ahead and should help get the pictures out and being seen here and on social sites.
My photographic workflows have long been split between serious and casual. Really a split between my camera workflow and my iPhone workflow. I’m discovering that the key to bringing them together is using Apple’s native Photos app as a unified image database.
Once images are in the Photos database they are available everywhere and backed up not only on Apple’s servers, but also downloaded to my desktop Mac which backs them up to a local hard drive plus a cloud repository. A few years ago, these services were unreliable, but now we rely on them to store the photographs that document our lives taken with our phones and shared via social media.
It’s time we merge the images taken by our cameras with our phone photography in the cloud.