Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Month: September, 2012

DSLR is Dead, Long live DSLR

Gene Simmons of Kiss, still spewing blood after 40 years.

The grumblings of this rumor started with my friend Brandon a few weeks ago. We’re both “photo industry” guys and we are privy to charts, numbers and insider information (of course this is photo industry insider info so we wont be chillin’ with Bernie Maddox) about cameras and the technology that drives them. In the past few days after the big Photokina show (photo industry trade show in Europe where half the new camera’s of the year are announced) a flurry of “Mirrorless” cams were announced. Also back in January 2012, photo blogger and all around good guy, Trey Ratcliffe posted “DSLRS are a dying Breed”. Seems a lot of attention is being mentioned online about the future of camera gear and it seems the poor old DSLR is getting it’s mirrored rump slapped.  However, I disagree whole-heartedly with these predictions.  The DSLR is a vital tool in photography, it has its place and shant be replaced with a Mirrorless camera they way the DSLR made the film based SLR obsolete. On the contrary, DSLR lenses and functionality will continue to increase and become much more popular as the coveted full size sensor becomes more affordable. For a long time I believe, at least a few more generations of photographers. Many of my students ask which is better? I don’t believe one is better than the other inherently, but which is better matched to the user. I do get rankled when I hear that DSLR is dead. I think far from it. Very far, like galaxy far.

First I’m going to characterize the users, the photographers who will be making images so we can establish what they need. The first letter will act as code applying to the following lists, the strong points and weak points of DSLR vs. Mirrorless and which photographer can benefit. This is a very fair way of evaluating the merits of each class of camera.

Types of Photographer

<PP> Pro Photographer: Someone who pays for their food and shelter with money generated by photographs they make. In most cases, they will specialize in genre such as journalism, fashion, portrait, event (weddings and such), sports, commercial (companies need photos of all the time), fine art, and the a common one, the “freelancer” who will shoot just about anything to make buck. Often they may have studied photography in school and fallen in love with the medium. Pro Photographers often blur the lines teaching, lecturing, testing and taking on new projects as they present themselves. But for all, this is their primary source of income.

<AH> Advanced Hobbyist: Someone who loves photography including the images, the gear, and the simple act of clicking a shutter and capturing a slice of time and place. They can be fanatical in their pursuit of photography. They purchase the latest gear, they take photo trips and join clubs and enter photo competitions. If their 2.0 minded, they might also have a heavy online presences with social media such as Flickr, Pinterist and such. I’m also going to put the fine art photographer in this category. The emphasis is on vision with a solid versatile camera for the needs of these shooters.

<CS> The Casual Shooter: They would never call themselves a photographer, they just seek to document important people and occasions in their life. They are the vacationers, family, and friends. They are not usually artistic nor the have the inclination to really care about the finer aspects of a good photograph. They often know a good photo when they see one, but their quest is to record a slice of time and place sharply, well exposed and with a minimal of effort and size.

What cameras will this generation be shooting with? BadAss I’d say!

Merits and Shortcomings of DSLR and Mirrorless

Long lenses: Long and fast telephoto optics is plentiful for the DSLR. Since these lenses tend be long and heavy, having a larger camera on the back of them really helps your maneuver the whole package to get what you want. PP, AH

Easy Ergonomics Due to Larger Size Camera: DSLR are indeed larger, and that can help by providing more space to put buttons and larger buttons at that. The Olympus Pen cameras in particular have very small and annoying buttons to navigate menu and camera features. Having a good grip on the camera can help make it more easy to use and less fumbling. This rings so true when working with heavy fast optics. PP, AH, CS

WYSIWYG or “What you see is what you get”: No matter how good a EVF (electronic view finder) is, your still looking at pixels. Movement, gain, grain is all presented in the viewfinder if your lucky and even have one on Mirrorless cameras. That archaic mirror reflex system found on DSLRs lets you see in analog, like the world was meant to be seen. I don’t want to compose looking at a TV screen, because that’s exactly what an EVF is, a miniature TV. I’d rather look at the real world when I’m making a photograph. I want to “feel” the place and find the image. I have never been a huge fan of video games and seeing the scene gives it more tangibility.  PP, AH

Pros shoot with Pro “looking” Cameras: Show up to shoot a wedding with the same camera that Uncle Bob has will make the Bride wonder why they are paying you the big bucks. It may be superficial to make this claim, but it’s true. There are different levels that a pro photographer can attain. Lets say the highest is shooting for Vogue, you will need to project an image to have access to this type of photography, and yes, a Hassalblad H4 will impress the art directors, models, and most important, the client. Show up with a Panasonic GH3 and your going to get laughed at. PP

Value: $500 bucks gets you a really nice DSLR. $3000 gets you’re an extremely capable camera. I think that there are great values in the range of DSLR’s out there. CS

Compact and Light Weight: For the photographer who travels, this is fantastic. Hauling around lots of heavy and cumbersome gear is annoying and for some folk prohibitive. Many of my female students have small hands, and the smaller cameras fit into them better. Some of my students have been older and between arthritis and other physical reasons a smaller camera is easier on their wrists and back. The photographer Bob Krist who is known as a travel photographer likes to use these smaller cams because he is restricted often by weight limits on bush planes. CS, AH (and sometimes the PP if travel is their specialty)

Performance vs. Cost: Bigger sensors provide more information and can yield a better image. Especially if your printing large or will be cropping. Larger sensors to tend to also have a greater dynamic range to capture highlight and shadows. As of 2012, it is less expensive to purchase a DSLR with a APS-C size sensor than a comparable mirror-less camera. The Canon Rebel T3  costs $479 which is the least expensive DSLR on the market. The least expensive Mirrorless that has a APS-C size sensor, the Sony NEX 5n is $499. All the other models of Mirrorless that have APS-C size or micro 4/3 are much more expensive. CS 

Lens Selection: You can mount more lenses without adaptors onto the DSLR system. While this may be true you may never venture out to using a 1970’s vintage Canon FD, Nikon AI or maybe that hip Russian Zenit lens. Mirrorless cameras can use various mount adaptors that can be costly but usually the focus will be hampered by the EVF. The only one that does it well is Sony with their focus peaking feature, but I don’t care to evaluate focus with shimmering white dot matrixes personally. PP, AH

Cool Factor: DSLR cams hearken back to the golden era of film based 35mm photography. There is nothing like making pictures with a SLR, the clicking sound, the heft of the camera and the strapping on of a camera that says Nikon. Mirrorless cameras are radical and hi-tech. they often don’t even look like a camera. AH, CS

Talk to the skull, er I mean hand.

I hope this post sheds light on the recent debate. As for me, I chose the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 mainly because it gave me parallax corrected viewfinder, performance, and size plus a whole lotta cool factor. I stand by saying that any camera in the hand of a person who has vision and some technical skill can make a great image from that camera. Can they make many? Then it takes the right camera to photographer combo.

The place is really jumping to the Hiwatt amps,
‘Til a 20-inch cymbal fell and cut the lamps,
In the blackout they dance right into the aisle,
And as the doors fly open even the promoter smiles,
Someone takes his pants off and the rafters knock,
Rock is dead, they say,
Long live rock, long live rock, long live rock

The Who

~David Brommer

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Finding Photographic Style In Italy

Vespa rider in Milan

Achieving photographic style and understanding the traits that make imagery posses its own distinguishable idiom that resonates with the photographers voice is a daunting and difficult artistic undertaking. As each devotee explores photography and builds their visual vocabulary inevitably certain photographers will rise to the top. Highly crafted and odd works by Joel Peter Witkin, Perfect landscapes of Ansel Adams, snippets of time expertly caught by Bresson, they all share their own unique photographic style that differentiates and identifies the photographer to the photograph. There are many more of course, but those three come to mind as evoking strong, and yet vastly different styles. I’ll invite you later to watch a two hour lecture where I delve deeply into the anatomy of photographic style but this moment I want  to show off an exercise if you will, a self assignment that I give myself every summer for the past decade.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo bucolic, Florence

Every year my wife Barbara and I spend our vacation in Tuscany. We have this wonderful home that was Barbara’s grandmothers and has been in her family ever since. The back room is used as a dark room, and there is even a “camera ready room” for coating cyanotypes, loading film holders, and organizing gear for shoots. This photo “mini” project starts in Milan, and then migrates to a small village below Cortona. For a decade now I have spent weeks of my summer in this bucolic medieval countryside and the narrow streets of hill top towns.  I have shot sun flowers (warning: an August trip is a bit late for sun flowers, if you are into shooting them, then I suggest a early July visit), cipressi trees, castles, farm houses, and graveyards. In many ways it’s a photographic paradise and the hordes of tourists with all manner of cameras will surely stop and shoot these unique characteristics.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore aka Florence Duomo

I am interested in having my vision standing out from the crowd. I seek to create images that capture the subject, yet show it in a way that is uncommon and unique. I have to look deeply into my photographic skill set, decimate the technique, subject matter, capture, post process and imagine a way to complete the project with a single voice. It’s hard work and for me, I had to really delve deeply and think about it.

vicolo in Cortona

VIcolo in Cortona

In the past, I have worked on projects such as “Italy Looking Up” where I only shot aiming the camera upwards. No straight on shooting what so ever. I have shot “Adams” style large formate with my Deardorff 8×10, Lensbaby and 35 mm film, Toy Camera with a Black Bird Fly, Nikon Rangefinder with Ilford XP2, and Hasselblad 2 1/4 color print. The project “Instant Italy” was captured using Fujifilm Instax cameras exclusively. By creating sever restrictions on gear you can emerge with a unique style, simply because your confined to something that allows less visual options.

Cortona

Cortona

This year I resolved to shoot with my new and trusty Fujifilm X Pro 1. I would get a chance to explore the nuances of the 35 mm 1.4 and of course, old faithful, the 18 mm 2.0. On the road to photographic style, shooting with primes or limited focal lengths add a common visual denominator, that of the angel of view. No sloppy zooming back and forth here… its either wide or normal view. If I can’t get close to a detail, then its going to be small in the frame.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

I also decided to make a dramatic choice that would really effect the way I composed my images, I set the camera aspect ratio to 1:1. I’d be working in square format, like my beloved red Hassy. I would also assign a B &W or monochrome film simulation mode. This also means I would be capturing less information on each picture I took. The files went from being 45.7 megabytes to 15.2 megabytes under these setting parameters. I know, I could shoot Raw and have both the big fat files and also the smaller “assignment style” files, but I like to live on the photographic edge.

Either I make this work or I have nothing. I love drama, so the B&W film mode I used most often was the B&W Red filter.

Snack cart, Milan

Snack cart, Milan

It’s not easy to shoot this way, by not falling back on Raw + Jpeg capture you are showing a level of conviction on shooting using a specific technique. Square and B&W however is an interesting choice, because a perfect square is geometrically pleasing and lets face it, B&W is cool like the Fonzie.

Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll

Time was limited, and I had other projects also on the burner. I thought about how the technique could apply to more specific subject matter, like hands, or people. In Camucia, on Thursday mornings the market attracts lots of genuine local flavor. In particular is a vendor who I call Senor Porchetta. His porchetta wagon always has a long line of bustling Tuscans getting their porchetta fill. He is jovial, equally good with pig or knife and knows his fegatini like Silvio Berlusconi knows a 17 year old.

Senor Porchetta

Senor Porchetta

Hands in the Cortona Market

Hands in the Cortona Market

I can’t recall the name of the photographer who said, “if you’re not sure, get closer”, but they were was certainly on to something. Engage your macro, and come in close. I love the macro on the 18 f2.0 is 7.09″ (18 cm) as compared to the 35 f1.4 which is 11.02″ (28 cm), the 18 lets you get in a little closer, but beware, the lens takes in a lot of the scene.

Detail of locks on the Ponte Vechio, Florence. Shot with 18mm f2.0.

Moms sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana.

Mom’s sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana, 18mm f2.0

Fujifilm also has a macro 60mm 2.4. I’ve yet to test this one, but as I continue to work with the 35 1.4 I’m sure to add it to the arsenal later in the year.

35mm 1.4 with a 200% crop

If you have read this far and are liking these images and wish to develop your style or just hear more ranting from me on style, here is a link to the 2 hour program on Youtube, “Finding Photographic Style” recorded in the B&H Event Space this year.

Cortona Cops

Cortona Cops

I also brought my Speed Graphic 4×5 on this trip loaded with Fujifilm Acros to do some cyanotype work. But thats a post for another day.

Ciao!

~David George Brommer

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