Who Needs A Real Camera…?

So this week I purchased the newly released iPhone 11 Pro. I bought an iPhone XR about a year ago, together with Moment telephoto and wide angle supplementary lenses, and although I thought the quality of images from this combo was great, it was always a bit of a ‘faff’ to take a lens out of my bag or pocket and fix it in place. Also, the special phone case that was needed to fit the lenses did make for a rather bulky setup. Consequence was that I didn’t really end up using them that much.

I was excited, to say the least, at the announcement of the new iPhone 11Pro with its 3 built in cameras – wide, super-wide and telephoto, and further improved processing capabilities.

iPhone (portrait mode)

With a holiday imminent, I decided to take the plunge and grab one as I saw they were available direct from Apple if I moved quickly. So, £1400 lighter for a 256gb version and Apple Care, I had it all set up in a couple of hours and good to go.

First impressions? – amazing! The wide lens is about the same focal length as the single lens on my iPhone XR, ie about 26mm (35mm equivalent) which is pretty wide anyway, the super wide is a staggering 13mm equivalent, while the tele lens is a useful 52mm, great for portraits. The super wide has to be seen to be believed – it’s not just the ability to get much more into landscape shots, it’s about being able to get so much more in the frame where space is tight. There’s a whole lot more I won’t go into in detail here, such as the ability to automatically apply perspective control to fix converging verticals – suffice it to say the imaging and processing rivals a ‘serious’ camera and dedicated computer…

iPhone (tele lens) – verticals corrected

So what are the images like? – in a word ‘fantastic’…! OK, from a tiny sensor and lens combo you are never going to get definition and clarity to match a dedicated APS-C or Full Frame camera, so mega size prints are out of the question. But let’s face it, how many of us non-professionals use our photos on anything larger than an iPhone or iPad screen anyway? What impresses particularly is how close the output matches what you thought you saw when you took the photo – whereas my Sony camera often needs images tweaking to get back to ‘as it appeared at the time’ the iPhone seems to hit it bang on, straight off!

iPhone (super-wide lens) – cropped slightly

So where does this leave my ‘real’ cameras? – the SonyA7iii with its zoom and prime lenses, and my quite recently bought Fujifilm X100F? The Sony is smaller than good old fashioned DSLRs, but still quite chunky when fitted with its 24-105mm lens, and the whole kit needs a decent sized rucksack to carry it all. I find I go out with it less and less these days just due to the weight – my back is no longer up to trekking around the countryside with camera and lenses, filters and tripod!

The X100F is pretty small by comparison (but still a whole lot bigger than an iPhone) and has no interchangeable lens facility. I bought it as an ‘everyday’ carry around camera, thinking it would offer quality close to the Sony, but in a compact form. As you would expect, with its much bigger sensor it’s much better than any smartphone, and I’ve achieved very acceptable 30″x20″ prints from the earlier X100T version. BUT, it’s definitely not pocket sized, so not quite sure what it’s place is going to be – if I want absolute quality, and can cope with the weight etc, or want maybe a proper telephoto lens, I’ll use the Sony; if I’m prepared to sacrifice quality for sheer convenience, then it’s the iPhone… The X100F is an expensive piece of gear to hold on to if I’m not going to use it…

iPhone (tele lens)

Guess I’ll see how it goes – if, as I suspect, the Sony kit proves in the next year or so to be just too big and bulky to take out, then I may just give up on having a system camera altogether, or get something a bit smaller like a Sony A6xxx series outfit which would save maybe 40% of the weight without too much loss of image quality or functionality.

For now I guess I’ll concentrate on learning how to get the best out of my shiny new iPhone and then decide!

Partial Colour Images…

Standing near Shrewsbury Abbey a few weeks ago to take a photo of the Victorian letterbox, I spotted a guy walking towards me with a red jacket and cap, and I could see that his red outfit, the red letterbox and the nearby red phone box could make a good photo. I literally only had a second as he walked past, but fortunately the camera was set to f8 and auto-everything – my default settings when wandering around – and I just got one shot off, and it was in focus! Nice enough in full colour, (I was shooting Acros mono on my Fuji X100F, but always take a RAW shot as well) I figured it could look good in partial colour, ie all mono, other than the red elements.  Cameras I have had in the past can be set to partial colour, but then it’s a conscious choice when shooting, and not something you can instantly set so I‘ve really only used it a few times in the past.

100F1223No such feature on the Fuji, but fortunately it’s so easy to do in Lightroom. Taking the RAW image, I first cropped it to square as that suited the alignment of the three red elements.  Then I increased the saturation of the red colours by +30 using the slider in the HSL/Color panel, and moved all the other colours to -100, pretty much removing all the colour except red from the image.  There were just a few odd little areas where I could still see some hint of colour, so used the adjustment brush with saturation set to -100 to tidy it up, and a nudge of the texture slider to increase the sharpness and contrast a touch.

And there you have it – partial colour in just a few seconds!

So when you are out and about, watch out for interesting colours that will really ‘pop’ if they are isolated against an otherwise mono image.

 

A Tale Of Two Bodies…

I’ve really enjoyed using my Sony A7iii camera and lenses for the year or so I’ve owned them, except for one  (not so small) issue – the weight of it all.  OK, if I am just using one of the smaller prime lenses, like the 35mm f2.8 or 55mm f1.8, it’s just fine, but when I’m fully tooled up to go and take landscape photos, complete with 24-105mm, 16-35mm, 100mm filter kit, and tripod and ‘L’ plate, all in my backpack, the whole thing weighs a ton – well, actually about 12 kg.

A6300058

Porthleven Harbour – A6300

As I get older, that really does start to be a problem, especially if I have to walk any distance, or climb any hills to get to where I want to shoot… In truth, it’s limiting my enjoyment of my hobby.

So it seemed natural to see if there was a lighter weight option, even if it was only for these outdoor treks. (I sold my last camera, a very competent Olympus OMD kit, because it didn’t really deliver the landscape image quality I was looking for, and knew the full frame Sony was going to be bigger and heavier, but guess I underestimated it…) So what to do? Rather than get something completely different, I figured the smaller Sony A6000 series camera might do the trick – same lens mount, so I could (with reservations) swap lenses, and the body would act as a useful backup should the A7 fail.

A6300107

Valerian – A6300

The latest A6400 body looked very nice, with excellent AF, and menus and features very similar to the A7iii, but the best price I found was a fairly substantial £800+ for the body only. What I did drop on though was the previous model – the A6300, still a very competent camera, but with the latest Sony cashback and some odd price matching going on, this came in at just £455 net, including the kit 16-50mm pancake lens – not bad at all.

Next thing to get was lenses and filters… The Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f4 lens would give me the same field of view as the 24-105mm on the A7iii, and the 10-18mm near enough the same field of view as the 16-35mm f4 on the A7iii, but physically very much smaller and lighter of course. I picked up very tidy used copies of both for decent prices, and then a Nisi M75 filter holder and a couple of grad/ND filters, again much smaller than my usual 100mm kit, and fine for these smaller lenses. With my smaller Manfrotto Befree tripod, and a smaller rucksack I already had, the whole lot came in at barely 6kg, just half the weight of the equivalent A7iii kit…  Good so far!

A6300066

Porthleven – A6300

Our trip to Cornwall was a great opportunity to try it all out, and I took both kits with me for comparison. I have to say that for ‘walking around’ the A6300 and the 16-70mm lens was a revelation – definitely manageable, although big enough to still need some kind of bag to carry it around in.  The shots from it were all good – lets face it, handheld shots aren’t really much of a test of absolute image quality, and any modern camera is capable of that.  But it was nevertheless still a ‘proper’ camera to carry around, and certainly overkill for ‘holiday snaps’ – I love using my iPhone for that.

A6300179

Hepworth Sculpture – A6300

But later on, I decided to try some ‘serious’ photography – sunsets, and some wider shots around Porthleven harbour and Kynance Cove. What was immediately clear was that the  daytime shots with lots of detail in were simply not as sharp or contrasty as I expected, especially towards the edge of the frame – ‘OK’, but not the superb quality which  I was used to with the A7iii. And then the evening shots… Hmmm – very noticeably lower dynamic range on the RAW files, and any significant amount of post processing to lighten shadows would see them break up somewhat, with lots of ‘noise’ in the darker areas.  Much harder files to process and ultimately not as good as the A7iii (to be expected, but I didn’t expect the difference to be so great.) Even the shots using grad filters to balance exposure weren’t perfect, whereas with the A7iii I could often get away without bothering to use filters, just tweaking everything needed in Lightroom.

A6300236

Lizard Point Lighthouse – A6300

So that rather put me off, and I reverted to using the A7iii for the rest of our trip. I took several panorama shots, and also some HDR merged sunset shots with the A7iii, and was very comfortable all round with it, accepting that the heavier weight was worth it for the quality.  When I got home I did some comparison sharpness shots at various apertures on both the smaller ‘E’ series lenses and the ‘FE’ full frame lenses and I was shocked at just how much better the full frame lenses are – even in the centre of the frame the 16-70mm wasn’t as sharp as the edges of the 24-105mm, and the contrast was lower too.  To be fair, the 24-105mm is a hard act to follow – it is excellent, and only a little less sharp than the primes at some settings. A similar story with the 10-18mm too – not as crisp as the 16-35mm f4, with some obvious smearing at the edges and corners. I did look at the possibility of prime lenses for the A6300, but there isn’t really a lot to choose from.

A7303975-HDR

Porthleven Sunset – A7iii (merged in LR)

Now I guess that for most folks, the A6300 and it’s lenses would be fine, but with my obsession for image quality, it just wasn’t going to cut it, so both lenses have gone back…  I still have the A6300 itself and the kit lens just now, and may well keep that for when I want something better that my phone, but don’t want to go out fully ‘tooled up’.  I think it was a steal at the price. I’ll probably keep the M75 filter kit too – if I choose to use the prime lenses I’ve got (24mm f2.8 Samyang, 35mm f2.8, 55mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8) on the A7iii, it will work fine with those and I can get a body, a couple of primes and the filters all in a shoulder bag.

So after all that, I’m back to where I was a few weeks ago – I reckon I will just have to put up with the extra weight of the A7iii and it’s lenses, and maybe not try to climb so many hills!

A7303937-Pano-Edit

Porthleven – 11 shot merged panorama – A7iii

 

From Dawn to Dusk (2)…

moment_photo_b1c73e1e

Sunrise, Market Drayton – iPhone XR & Moment w/a

I’ve been taking at least one photo a day so far this year for my 365 project, but these have nearly all been iPhone shots. This morning started off pretty cold and frosty, and although I took the Sony A7iii for a spin, my iPhone did a pretty good job of capturing the morning light just across from our house. I love the wider perspective that the Moment 18mm wide angle lens produces. Good as a decent compact camera is, I reckon they have been been rendered obsolete by this latest generation of smartphones. For me, it’s either my iPhone, or for more ‘serious’ photos, the Sony.

So after that we went for a steady walk into Market Drayton (it’s about a 4 mile round trip).  In 1245 King Henry III granted a charter for a weekly Wednesday market, giving the town its current name, and although the market was on (today is Wednesday), it was pretty quiet overall.

moment_photo_f9d00c2d

Farm hand, Market Drayton – iPhone XR

Bumped into the local farmer on the way back home – they have 700+ dairy cattle and his pickup truck already bears the scars from contact with the cows. The Land Rover they used previously had lasted some 30 years – somehow I don’t think this pickup will last as long!

a7302407

Sunset, The Roaches – Sony A7iii & 16-35mm

The promise of some decent clear skies, and the fact that I haven’t used my Sony camera in earnest for several weeks encouraged me to nip up to The Roaches in time for sunset. It’s a fairly brisk 1/2 mile scramble from the road to the 1st level, but the views even from here are amazing (better still from the top). Pretty impressive colours in the sky tonight! Managed a few decent shots, for once using grad filters to balance the key and foreground. It’s a bit of a faff using them, but it really makes a difference. The Sony has amazing dynamic range, and it’s easy to extricate detail from deep shadows, but somehow getting the balance right in camera still yields a better result.

All in all a busy photo day…

Coast and City…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Perch Rock Lighthouse

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a few spare hours in the Liverpool area, so decided to check out the lighthouse at Perch Rock, New Brighton. This lighthouse has stood at the mouth of the River Mersey since 1830 and was only decommissioned in 1973. I misjudged the tides, and with the tide almost fully in when I got there, I wasn’t able to walk out to the lighthouse itself, but had to be content with taking photos from the edge of the promenade.  A stiff breeze meant there were waves 3-4 ft high, so it very much suited a long exposure treatment. Locking down the ISO to 64, and using a 10 stop filter gave me a decently long exposure, and I was pretty pleased overall with the result.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tate Liverpool

From here I used the Wallasey Tunnel to ‘pop’ into Liverpool and spent an hour or so around the Albert Dock area. I’ve taken photos before of the hundreds of padlocks affixed to the railings on the edge of the dock, but there are now so many its virtually impossible to get a ‘clean’ shot of the padlocks.  However the railings around the entrance to the Merseyside Maritime Museum were nicely lit by the afternoon sun, and made a good ‘frame’ for the sign outside the Liverpool Tate Museum. A wide-ish aperture softened the lettering on the sign, and created some useful separation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Museum of Liverpool

With construction work going on, there are barriers up all around the iconic front elevation of the Museum of Liverpool just now, so I had to be happy with a reflection of the The Three Graces in the picture windows at the end of the building.

Given that I only had a couple of hours altogether, and was ‘traveling light’ with just one lens (12-40mm on my Olympus E-M1ii) and a couple of round filters I was pleased with the results from the afternoon.

It’s been a while….

Well, here I am again after a lengthy time since last posting.  Other priorities (mainly family) took over most of last year, but at least I have found time to take a few photos, so lets have a little update and take it from there…..

Shadowy figures

Colwyn Bay Promenade – Fuji X100F

In terms of photo gear its been all change – I started 2017 using Fujifilm kit – X-T2 and X-T10 bodies, an IR modified X-E1 body, and most of the Fuji X series lenses then available. To be fair this was overkill, and I couldn’t sensibly carry it all around (too heavy), and then couldn’t decide what to take each time I went out…. Not an unusual photographer’s dilemma! I needed to simplify things – one main body, a backup which would also do for travel/family when I wanted to travel light, and just a couple of good quality general purpose zoom lenses. So the search was on for a more compact kit that would still deliver the quality I was used to.

Until then I’d been looking at getting an X100 series camera again (I’d had 2 before) and while on a touch and try day at Cambrian Photography (see the photo I took using the X100F) I got to also try an Olympus PEN-F. Instant attraction! It does pretty much everything the X100F does (and some more too), but has interchangeable lenses, so I could pop a small prime lens on and have a really portable camera.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunrise – Bassenthwaite Lake

So, PEN-F and 17mm lens bought, and all my Fuji gear moved on… simple eh?  Well, not quite.  I still needed those zoom lenses (much more practical for landscape photos) and after a couple of false starts, ended up with the amazing Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens, and the PanaLeica 8-18mm super wide zoom. Both incredible lenses, but they don’t sit very well with the diminutive PEN-F body, which of course isn’t water resistant either – a bit of a worry when I was out in the rain.  So that resulted in the purchase of another Olympus body – the pro-spec E-M1 mkii.  What an incredible camera! – fast, tough, great quality images (despite the tiny sensor) and so many features its taken me a good few months to master all the options. Other than the occasional ‘wobble’ when I wonder if a full frame camera would give me better images (probably not, and too many other issues to contend with) this is my ultimate camera for landscapes. To be fair, its not a small camera, and my full kit with lenses, tripod and filters is still as much as I can manage, but at least there are no compromises.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Duke of Sutherland Boathouse, Ullswater, Lake District NP

Still have the PEN-F, although I’m still pondering what lenses work best for me – the small primes are neat, but don’t have the flexibility of a zoom, and the ‘travel’ zoom I currently have (the 14-150mm) does have a few limitations, so watch this space…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Roach End – Peak District NP

Despite time constraints, I have been out and about quite a bit with the camera in the last few months – I’ve been on several photo workshops and a ’tour’ in the Lake District, and discovered that the nearer parts of the Peak District are close enough to pop along for a few hours shooting, as is the North Wales coast.  I have images from both areas I’m happy with.  With more time hopefully available in 2018, visit plans include Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland, and maybe some more photos from Southern France, so watch this space!