Monday, June 22, 2015

Megapixel Mania. How many megapixels do I really need?

Do photographers need 50 megapixel cameras?  

Canon came out with the 50 MP EOS 5ds so what are the main benefits of shooting with this super resolution camera versus shooting at 24 MP?

1. Super large out of camera sized images.  Canon generally exports images from the camera at 240 Pixels per Inch. That means at 240 PPI---it puts out a 24 x 36 inch image natively from the camera!
A photographer knowing that printers only print at 150 DPI ( Dots per Inch)---you can lower the resolution to 215 ppi with no noticeable difference.  I've lowered the print resolution without resampling from 240 ppi to as 180 ppi. in Photoshop to create crisp 32 x 48 inch images!  This camera can produce absolutely huge images!  No problem.

In comparison-- A Sony full framed sensored camera produces at 240 PPI out of camera image size of 16.667 x 25 inches--that is still very large!  I can easily set the resolution at 180 PPI and get a 22x 33 image that looks tact sharp with lots of detail--thats not resampling the image.

2. The resolution is so high--there are details that you can't see with the naked eye in the photographs this size unless you zoom in at 100 Percent using a loupe or stick your face into the photograph closer than normal viewing distance. However at normal viewing distance---this level of detail remains hidden in the photograph, so the camera is capturing details that most likely, will never be noticed in the photograph when printed at 13x19 or smaller, unless your break out a magnifying glass to actually visually see the extra details in the photographs.  I was startled when I shot across Biscayne Bay Fireworks last July 4th--shooting 2.4 mile across the water with a 300mm lens.  I used a loupe at 100 percent to look at the images and could see into people's windows in high rises 2.3 miles away!--(you could clearly see individuals in the windows watching the fireworks from across the bay)---that is crazy resolution already at 24 Megapixels of information captured by the camera's sensor already.  When you shoot with a 50 MP camera--expect more surprises---hidden details captured in image that you will never know are there-unless you look at the images at 100 percent on screen enlargement or in the case of a print--pull out a magnifying glass to look.

3. The large size of the image out of 50MP Canon camera means that the image can be cropped significantly. You have a larger image, so you can crop the image more and not lose so much quality in the crop.  Try shooting a 11x17 inch magazine spread with an 20 Megapixel Canon 7D mk II and you'll soon find that you can't crop that image very much--- to make it work. You can shoot a two page spread with a Canon 7D mk II--but you will crop as you shoot--not afterwards. That why myself and other pro photographers soon learn to crop our photos during the shoot process instead cropping images in post production.  Even shooting with a 24 MP sensor, there is still very little leeway for cropping images for magazine spreads. This is why some photographers choose to shoot with a full frame sensored camera but I argue that if you shoot at 24 MP or higher, shooting a magazine two page spread is not a problem whether shooting with a full frame camera of cropped sensored camera--the key is the 24 MP " goldilocks range of resolution" in photography--where image details are captured that you can't see unless you look at the image at 100 percent or stick you face into the photo. You won't have the luxury of cropping afterwards as much in post production, but I argue that the approach of shoot first and crop later is just lazyness on the part of the photographer---I crop images as I shoot without even thinking about it that it has become second nature for me.  Cropping afterwards just doesn't work with my shooting style but if I had all that extra real estate of a full frame 50 MP sensor---maybe my shooting style would evolve and adapt to all that extra real estate and megapixels.

4.  Bragging rights.  I bet if you walk down the street with a Canon 5ds 50MP camera--you have some serious bragging rights---Just look at the Canon Ads---headlined, "50 Megapixels!) with just a highlighted photo of a 5Ds in the background of the ad!  Canon's marketing is all about its class leading huge 50 MP images the camera produces.
One can argue that compelling images are much more important than bragging rights but if owning the biggest, best and newest camera technology at 50 MP gives your bragging rights or impresses a client so much that you get hired for the job---good for you.  As for me,  I want a camera that meets my many needs as a photographer and luckily I discovered early on that I could save a bunch of money by shooting with a cropped sensor, high resolution camera in the 24 MP range and exited the camera upgrade treadmill awhile back.  For me, if the camera does everything I need it to do and meets my needs---I don't need the biggest and best camera to shoot with---I need a " good enough" camera that has all the bells and whistles that I need to complete assignments. In fact, I shoot with a cropped sensored Sony A77mk II professionally. Whats to not like?  $900 dollar camera competes with cameras thousands of dollars more expensive, saves me lots of money and performs like a champ.

Below are commercial images I shot that have been enlarged to billboard size from my Sony A77
( 24 MP) camera and my Sigma DP2M ( Approximately 28 MP) camera for a client in Miami Beach. In the first image, I stitched 4 images together from my Sony A77 producing a fence sized image. Not bad for a 24 MP cropped sensored camera---right? I keep reading articles where photographers claim that you can't really stitch images together because of moving element in the photo etc--but that is a bunch of nonsense. Fast moving objects will appear blurred in a panorama, so care should be taken in the subject, time of day and weather conditions. You may have to clone out some movement blur, but I rarely find a landscape where I can't stitch together the images afterwards and make it appear as a perfect panorama!

Sony A77 panorama ( Stitched image)
This next image was shot with a Sigma DP2M---which outputs an approximate 25-29 MP image. I know Sigma advertises it as a 40MP camera---but that is referencing the number of photo sites on the camera's sensor--not the actual resolution..but I'm not going to argue about the resolution of the DP2M---Just want to show you how large the images out of camera can be enlarges without serious degradation from an affordable APS-C crop sensored camera!  Remember--this is NOT a 42-50 MP camera---it is less than 30 MP--approximately.  The level of detail in this huge billboard sized image is hard not to notice.

Sigma DP2M APS-C cropped sensored image.( Approximate 25-28 MP)
So the argument that you can't shoot large images with an APS-C crop sensored camera is just not a trip down reality lane.   In my humble opinion---ANY camera that shoots at over 24 MP in resolution or higher, whether Full framed or APS-C  Cropped sensor in today's camera market, will probably meet the needs of the majority of camera users. In addition, those on the fence about buying full frame vs APS-C sensored camera can save some money shooting with a less expensive cropped camera versus buying a full frame model.  If you want to go really cheap-- You can buy a Sony A6000, 24 MP camera for $599 with a decent kit lens and shoot such a wide range of subjects, under so many different conditions, low light, high ISO with few limitations.  Shoot above ISO 3600 and you start to see some noise in the resulting image, but luckily, the noise pattern from Sony Sensors tends to resemble film grain, so the effect can actually be used to add drama to an image. But please remember--24 MP is the "goldilocks range of resolution" in my opinion. Anything 24MP resolution or higher will probably do just fine---full frame or cropped sensor.

So are there any advantages to shooting at lower resolution 24 MP versus buying a 50 megapixel sensored camera?

1. Cost!  A Sony A77MK II with 24 MP sensor costs $899.00 and includes a battery grip, whereas the super sensored  42 MP cameras like the Sony A7rII--costs $3200 for the that extra image real estate and the Canon 5Ds comes in at around $3600 range. So the 50 MP camera is more expensive to own.  I can own three Sony A77 mk II for the price of one Sony A7RII. However, you can also purchase full frame 24 MP cameras from Sony and Nikon for around $1200 or more or spend around $2000 for a full frame 22 megapixel Canon 5D MK III. Thats some serious savings over the hugely expensive Canon $3600 EOS 5Ds 50 MP camera by choosing a 24 MP full frame camera---about 1/3 to 1/2 the cost.

2.  Higher speed shooting. Shooting at 24 MP means for more frames per second---for example, the Sony A77 MK II 24 MP camera can shoot at 12 Frame per second The Canon 5Ds shoots at 5 frames per second. These large sensored camera require large buffers and don't shoot as fast as full frame 24 MP camera which can achieve 7 frames per second versus the 5 frames per second of the 50MP Canon.  I suspect that the Canon could shoot at higher frame rates, in cropped modes, but apparently when you shoot cropped sensored with the 5ds---it still captures all the image information--50 MPs of information---anyway----yes---it is processing all the information from the chip, then discarding the extra information afterwards. It would make better sense to me that if I set the camera on a 1.6 cropped mode-only the information in the masked area will be processed by the camera, with less data captured, faster frame rates could be achieved. this would dig into cropped sensor sales of the Canon 7D MK II which is sadly still languishing at 20 megapixels.

3.  You might need to upgrade your computer.  Those 50 MP files from the Canon are huge to process! Older computer models from just a few years ago, may need memory upgrades, added storage space or even a processor upgrade.  Upgrading your camera to 42 MP or 50 MP may force some users to have to upgrade their computers to handle the large files an you will fill up your hardrives much faster meaning more disk storage will be needed.  Having to upgrade your computer equipment because you bought a new camera is a hidden cost of a new camera purchase.  If I stick with a full frame or cropped frame camera in the 24 MP range--what I call the" goldilocks" range of resolution, I don't have to upgrade my computers and I capture loads of detail in my images already that can't be seen anyway under normal viewing conditions.

So do you want bragging rights of a 50 Megapixel camera, need that extra real estate of huge 24x36 image out of camera natively or  just need a practical affordable camera that meets your needs as a photographer and doesn't break your bank or force you to upgrade your computer?
Any camera full frame or cropped sensored  camera in the goldilocks range of resolution will most likely meet the majority of users needs.  Do we need 50 MP cameras?  As long as companies produce higher resolution sensors with more megapixels, there will be buyers. Marketing departments love megapixels even if the average consumer doesn't have a clue as to what a megapixel is.

You get better price/performance from shooting in the 24 MP" goldilocks" range of resolution. The brand of camera that you shoot with is a personal choice, but  24 MP is 24 MP and produces very large images. so shooting with the Canon 5ds really comes down to how big you need to shoot your images and I suspect many landscape photographers with dreams of large 5x7 foot photographs and murals like I shoot will really lust after the Canon, but I suspect it is overkill for today's camera market but only time will tell.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Interview with Roland Wolff,Vice President of Marketing for Leica USA at the Art Basel Miami 2013 Leica Lounge---Miami Street Photography Festival, 2013.

Background: Leica was the only camera manufacturer to show its support of the Miami Street Photographer Festival during Art Basel week 2013. Leica provided a VIP lounge, educational tent, educational programs, special promotions, dealer on spot and lectures from professional photographers that shoot with Leica cameras.

Note:  Leica was the ONLY manufacturer present at the Miami Street Photography Festival in Miami,Fl.  Leica provided a VIP lounge, Educational Tent, Extensive Product Displays, Knowledgeable staff and local dealers onsite. (Here are excerpts from the 30 minute interview with USA Leica Marketing VP Roland Wolff).
GDMC:  Welcome to Miami.  Can you give me your first impressions of Leica's involvement with the Miami Street Photography Festival during Art Basel here in the Wynwood Art District?   
Roland: I just relocated from Miami up to New England recently, so I know Wynwood better than most people here, because I lived here, not in Wynwood, but there are several galleries here, there are photo studios we used to work with that we did events. You could call it [ Wynwood] crazy without offending anybody as this used to be a district that you would feel quite uncomfortable coming into, you would not feel safe.
GDMC: Yes, you wouldn’t want to get caught here after certain hours..
Roland:  Absolutely not..every photo studio was fenced off with barbed wire, it was indeed not safe around here.  When you now see what’s going on out here, how many street cafes,bars,design stores, work spaces, galleries have opened here in the last two or three years and its a very colorful interesting neighborhood, when we were talking to the Miami Street Photography Festival about the right location, I actually felt that Wynwood had an interesting mix, Rougher Parts…
GDMC:  With a little bit of edge as we would say…
Roland:  If you go a couple of blocks, one way you can find maybe a burned out car, but then you go two blocks the other way, you are in a very nice urban environment with a restaurant
at the corner.
GDMC:  This district lends itself to street photography because there are so many interesting artwork on buildings everywhere you walk..seems to me that this would be a paradise for street photography and there are so many interesting characters to photograph here..
Roland: Absolutely, especially during art basel.  You don’t see this on an every day basis during the week, so it feels different now, its never been like this, I don’t know this Wynwood.
GDMC: Its certainly made a shift in a positive direction.
Roland:  Unbelievable.
GDMC:  Recently  Leica purchased the Sinar corporation.  Would you care to comment about this purchase and how it is going to be incorporated into Leica brand?  What are Leica’s future plans regarding Sinar?
Roland:  I’ll be honest that I have very little knowledge of what the master plan is behind the purchase or acquisition of Sinar, but it has been a company that we had our eye on for awhile, I think its about three or 4 years ago where we almost acquired them and then the deal fell through  last minute. Its a company whoever you talk to here, me personally, I learned photography on a Sinar P2---its a phenomenal company that made precision photographic instruments..When I was a young kid in a photo studio, still life photography and the owner would only swear by using the best equipment.  So Sinar with Rodenstock lenses at the time to him was the absolute best.
GDMC: Rodenstock lenses have always had a good reputation…
Roland:  We make really good lenses too, but Rodenstock lenses are also good, so its something that was probably in my blood, I do love the company, I think that in the large format world,they stand for very much the same that Leica stands for. So the business that they do is complimentary to what we do, we obviously with the introduction of the S system  are moving up not in terms of quality, but in terms of performance into the pro segments and its a bit of speculation on my part, I could see synergies between our high end S system, the technology that goes into the development of sensors,processors and  then maybe technology that is being used on the sinar camera and Sinar back, but thats future dreams.  Sinar at this point in time is very very lean, a small company with very little turn over, so its not going to have an immediate impact on our bottom line but I think it gives us another way of developing products using our core competencies and technology that we have developed to take it even a step further.
GDMC:   Lets talk about the Leica S System---a medium format camera in a DSLR form, not a boxy film based system adapted to take digi backs.  What is different about the S System that makes it stand out against the competiion?
Roland: I think the key to the S system and where we may have an edge over some of the other systems out there as it was a new system that we were able to develop from scratch. Ground up.   Completely new.  We could say ,lets optimize-- Lets go out there, talk to the  photographers, Lets ask them what they want and thats what we did. We did a market study with some of the leading studios, some of the leading photographers, did confidential interviews with them  where they gave us their opinions about what was lacking in that market segment, however I will say of course a lot of of studios and photographers are very heavily invested into certain products, so it certainly is one thing to give us advice on the product that we should make and we made that product, but then for some photographers to switch their entire workflow equipment to actively start using the S system takes a little bit more.   We are slowly changing that situation as the S system has been very well received.
GDMC:  Lets talk about the price.  The S body can be purchased for around $23,000 and a 70mm normal lens for around $6000.00.  Seems to me like a competitive price point for a system that is going used in a studio environment on a daily basis, when we talk about economies of scale, talking about the quality of lenses….
Roland:  Can’t disagree with you there.. We are educating on multiple levels and multiple fronts. We are making appointments with the photographers in their studio, we are talking to the rental houses, helping the rental houses, working with assistants, digital techs and we are working with colleges where we are very active in education.
GDMC: Makes sense to put the S system into the hands of the next generation of photographers in colleges…that makes total sense.
Roland: Thats why we put the S System into their classes. The interesting thing is that in a professional environment it’s obviously also about the workflow and there’s very established solutions out there and the software solution that we work with is Lightroom by Adobe which has improved dramatically in the last few years and we see it as an advantage for us.
GDMC: I really wish all of the manufacturers would follow Leica’s lead and use the DNG format as most professional photo editing programs play well with DNG raw files--Am I correct in understanding that Leica is using the DNG standard for its raw files, not some proprietary raw format?  
Roland: In all of our cameras for the raw file we use the DNG.
GDMC:  How would you describe a Leica in one sentence?  What makes it so special? There is a misconception that Leica is a brand only purchased by rich guys and snobs and at the same time a total lack of understanding of the cost of hand making a product versus high volume mass production.  So how would you describe a Leica to those naysayers trying to peg Leica as some elitist camera brand?  
Roland:  Its a little bit more difficult to explain what a Leica is in one sentence, but its interesting that we did an event with Rolls Royce and I saw some parallels between a Leica and a Rolls Royce, how the make their product, how they have specialist, one person who paints the interior of the car, like we have more than one person that paints the numbers and lettering that you see on the camera is painted on by hand.  When people come to the factory in Germany they see how the product in made, the clean rooms, white coats. They put every little piece of the camera together by hand with the greatest precision...Everyone that leaves the factory says “ Now I understand”  We have videos that show how the camera is made as well  but here is another aspect of it---we know that our camera is not for everyone. We consider it a tool--not a luxury. We are trying to make the best tool possible.  We don’t want it to be perceived as a luxury.   Yes we do have people that buy Leica because they can afford it, they see it as an investment.
If you look at the photographers that were here that shoot with Leica, Bruce Gilden, Alex Web and Maggie Stebber ,Constantine Manos, they use Leica and go where it hurts, there is nothing snobbish about any of them. They use the Leica to tell stories and are extremely socially engaged. They have a story to tell and they feel that the Leica is the best tool for them to tell that visual story.
GDMC:  The big camera manufacturers have paid professional photographers endorsers, hacks or pitch men pushing their cameras.  How is Leica different?  I was told that Leica features great photographers and photography but none of the featured photographers are paid to endorse Leica cameras.
Roland: We don’t do endorsements. We share a common mission with our photographers. We help them talk about their work which they are passionate about. We support projects that are genuinely what Leica stands for, like the Miami Street Photography festival-- it was obvious--their intention is 100 percent in line with what we are trying to promote but we don’t do sponsorships in the US, we don’t do sponsorships because we get so many requests.  If we have a photographer that goes on assignment and they have such an interesting project and they might need an extra body for a couple of weeks, we try to work on that kind of level to support the photographer but in return we ask that they share and talk about what they do, Can we do an interview with you, Show some of your work, the Leica blog, Do a lecture for us, Can we do an exhibition project, do a book signing?---this approach in turn helps both of us.  We have very direct feedback from our photographers and are a small company which allows us to have a close relationship with photographers shooting with Leica cameras.
GDMC:  Why should someone  buy a Leica body when they can cut corners, save thousands by purchasing a A7 or other brand, get a mount adaptor and use their existing Leica glass? Will they get the same results?
Roland:  This goes back to your earlier question of what is Leica is about.  I don’t mean this in any shape or form to dismiss other camera manufacturers but we always strive to do the best and thats not the market that Canon, Sony and Nikon is in. It doesn’t make sense for them as they are obvious more of a mass market product.  We always strive to do the very best in this segment and that comes at a price. We cut no corners.
GDMC:  Imitation is the greatest form of flattery..right?
Roland:  Yes. So actually whenever we have products coming out that were trying to copy us--it has helped us. It hasn’t hurt us because Its has opened the market and people may have entered into a market that before they didn’t consider.  What happens is that when you put a Leica lens on another camera--I have not done this so I can not say that this is going to happen when you put it on a Sony, Fuji  or any of the others but in past experience when you put that lens on a camera that was made to work with that lens versus a camera that was made to work with other lenses, its not going to be the same results. The sensor on the Leica body is designed specifically to work with Leica lenses with special micro lens offsets on sensor that is optimized  to work with Leica and lenses made since 1956.
GDMC: So the readers thinking about picking up a Sony A7 or other body, using a Leica mount adaptor and Leica lens are not going to get the same results as shooting with a Leica body and sensor specifically designed for Leica glass?
Roland: Again I haven’t tested this but with past experience with other products that was the result.  People will try this---and it will be interesting to see what results they get.  
GDMC: Thank you for your time and interview.
Roland: Thank you.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Art Deco Inspired Artist Show at the Art Deco Welcome Center--South Beach.

I prepared a video from the August Exhibition at The Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center.  It was a very nice show featuring some really interesting artwork of sculptures, portraits and scholarly research as well in addition to my art deco inspired images. Enjoy.

Purchase Gary Dean Mercer Clark Photographs Online

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I recommend that these photographs be printed on Metal---It produces outstanding colorful, vibrant images or having the images laminated under acrylic.  If you purchase the images framed or as stretched canvas---Alway have them printed on glossy paper, glossy sprayed canvas to bring out the the best of the images.

Sell Art Online

Sell Art Online

Photography Prints 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Custom Grip Needed for My Tiny Sony RX100--Enter Richard Franiec's Custom Grip for the Sony RX100

The Sony RX100---The Ultimate Camera Grip Design Challenge!

 Product Stock  Images © 2013 Richard Franiec
When I first got the Sony RX100 as a carry in my pocket all the time camera, I was really worried about it sliding out of my hands.  I have medium size hands with very long fingers and the beautifully finished smooth metal surface of the Sony RX100 seemed slippery to me.   I decided very quickly that I needed to find an add on grip as soon as possible.  I decided to go with one of Richard Franiec's custom grips.  I had put one of his grips on my Sigma DP2M which you can read about here in this article, so I was already familiar with the high quality of Richard's camera grips.  My selection criteria for purchasing a grip remained the same as before:

1.  The grip must not look like an add on camera grip. It must look as though it is part of the original camera design.  No clunky add on designs.  
2.  I didn't want a cheap plastic grip. Can't stand them.
3.  I didn't want a grip that would add substantial bulk or weight to the camera.  I bought this tiny camera for a  reason---so it fit into the front or back pocket of my blue jeans, shirt pocket etc.
4.  The grip must be precision made and high quality so that it can withstand years of use and it must match the existing camera's finish.
5.  It needs to be reasonably priced.

At first when I installed the grip, I had my misgivings about the design. It seemed large compared to the tiny camera body---but I was comparing this design to the grip Richard designed for the Sigma DP Merrill series compact cameras - like trying to compare apples to oranges.  Different sized bodies, different design criteria, so I wrote  Richard Franiec and ask him about the design choice and size of the grip in relationship to the size of the Sony RX100.  He responded :  "RX100 grip was possibly the biggest challenge to design to date. If you’ll look at the “naked” RX100, you can easily notice that the distance from the lens housing to the edge of gripped side is very short. To create space for the middle finger I had to move the ridge to the outside as far as I could and to raise the ridge area so it will provide the positive support. All that integrated with the camera control layout for best ergonomics. I think that the grip blends with the camera body quite well." --Richard Franiec
Fair enough.  The  grip met my #3  design criteria of not adding substantial bulk or weight  and it easily fit in my front and back jeans pockets and shirt pocket which was important to me. I had to take this grip and camera out and so some serious shooting!

Verdict:  This grip is a " must have" for the Sony RX100!

I couldn't have been further out in left field with my first impressions of this grip.  What was I thinking? After shooting hundreds of shots with the grip on the Sony RX100, I am satisfied that the grip is the perfect match for the RX100. Richard really did meet this difficult design challenge and designed the perfect grip of the RX100.  Did I mention that I have medium sized hands and very long fingers?  
 Look How Tiny this camera is in my medium sized hands!  Notice the wrist strap on my wrist! Not taking ant chances dropping this tiny camera.  The image quality coming out of this miniature point and shoot sized camera is amazing too.  
I have more confidence shooting with the Sony RX100 now as I don't feel like at any moment the camera is going to pop out of my hands and go crashing to the floor---and thank goodness for that wrist strap or it would have been a disaster when I first shot with the RX100. 
The aluminum grip molds perfectly to the camera and is held to the camera with space age two sided tape from 3M designed for hot and cold temperature use. It is not coming off easily, but can be removed without damaging the camera and reattached if needed.  The grip is made from a solid block of machined aluminum that is sealed using hot distilled water to seal the anodizing finish. Anodizing is an electrochemical process which changes surface structure of aluminum. Different dyes are used in the process to achieve the desired color. No paint is used per se. The anodized surface has vastly improved hardness and corrosion resistance compared to the base metal.
The grip is high quality and precision made. Once you install it and use it, you won't ever think about it again as it just becomes part of the camera.  Below is a short video clip I shot handheld with my iPhone, so I left the lens closed as to not obscure the view of the grip and its ergonomic curves .
The Richard Franiec Sony RX100 grip meets the criteria that I was looking for, it is light, doesn't add substantial weight or bulk to the camera, fits in my pants and shirt pockets and is  precision made of high quality machined aluminum with a finish matches the Sony RX100 so it doesn't look like an add on grip.  The price is also reasonable at $34.95 USD plus shipping.   Once you put this grip on the Sony RX100,  you will not want to take it off again.  It can be purchased via this website.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pro Photographer Ambush with the Sigma DP2 Merrill Camera

Scenario:  Hand a Top Pro Model Photographer a DP2 Merrill and get his opinion on the image quality.

John Fisher is one of Miami's Top Photographers and happens to be my neighbor.  He has photographed Presidents at the White House, covered the Olympics and shot for fashion magazines like ELLE.  I like his attitude about the pro photography business.  He said that hot new photographers come in, make a splash in the business with the newest " In" look and they really peak with amazing success then other photographers copying his look and after a while the artistic director decides he can go with photographer XYZ as the, "Look" is no longer " In".  Nothing worse than washing out of the business because you can't change to keep up with current trends or continue to be creative and grow as a photographer.  John knows how it feels to be at top of his game but has been consistent, knowing that its not being on top that is important, it consistently getting the commercial work that makes a great photographer--he doesn't need to be number one--just wants to be the one that gets called for the job. At 66 when most photographers are retiring, John loves what he is doing so much that he's hoping that he gets another five good years in the business and hopes to retire at the top of his game.  John has an amazing eye for color. His technical knowledge is superb, honed from years of experience.  An artistic director can describe to John what he is looking for and John intuitively always delivers. Whether shooting movie stars, Tv personalities or upcoming models or Presidents, he tells me that the key to being a photographer isn't being great   It about being "good"all the time and having the right expectations.

John asked to use my dogs as models in the photo shoot. "Buddy" and " Lucky the Gangster" agreed to do the shoot with the Actress.    During the break, John told me the parameters he wanted set on the DP2M (F4.0 Aperture Priority, Auto White Balance) and I handed him the camera.
He only had a couple minutes to snap some shots. It was ironic that he chose to photograph dogs as there is a joke in the photography world that the first thing photographers always do with a new camera in their hands is to photograph a pet.  Here are my pets below--you might recognize these famous dachshunds . If you click on the images, you should be able to see larger versions.
Raw image processed a the standard color setting
Raw Image processed with the new Monochrome and film simulation--very slight film grain was added for a retro look

Raw image above with a rough film image grain added to simulate black and white film.
Raw image above processed with the Monochrome with very slight film grain for a rich blacks and contrast.

Raw Image with Standard Color setting

Raw Image Above Processed with no film grain added with the monochrome setting in SPP 5.5.
The image above was processed in Sigma Photo Pro Software 5.5 raw in the Neutral colorspace.

The raw image above was processed using the Standard color setting.
Raw Image above processed with the Monochrome setting with film grain added.

 John added an artistic touch to the photos by lying on the ground, shooting at the dog's level and playing with the perspective of the scene, taking advantage of the slightly wide " Normal" 30mm f2.8 lens of the DP2M which is equivalent to about a 45mm lens on a full frame camera. He nailed the moving dogs with the tiny camera. Notice how Lucky the Gangster is having a party, barking, growling for attention and having a good time?  I thought for sure that the shoot with the DP2M was a bust. I was surprised that John got any images in focus--as the dogs never stopped moving. However this is where experience of shooting Olympic sports comes in handy and knowing how to shoot moving objects with a simple camera. You have to remember that many of us " Old Timers" spent years using manual focus cameras to shoot sports, so any autofocus is dramatic step up in accuracy and keeper rates.
Later on I showed him the edited images he was very surprised at the high image quality. I enlarged the images to 100 percent, then to 200 percent and John was amazed.  He had no idea that he was shooting with a camera that can produce an image comparable to one shot with a 30 MP camera. Here is the interview I did with John below.
One of the great things about being surrounded by great photographers like John is that I get to sit down, swap stories and  always learn something, a tip etc.  John said he'd been shooting with Paul C Buff Einstein studio lighting for years  and thinks it is just about the best available as these strobes give consistent color temperature as you dim them, saving having to redo custom white balance every time you increase or dim the strobes. Said these were the best in the business---so I thought that was a very nice tip for someone out there thinking about picking up some studio strobes.  I know when I upgrade my strobes, I'm going with Einstein strobes.
John is looking forward to when I get a DP3M and getting his hands on it and really put it to the test.  I'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Looking for a compact flash solution for your Sigma DP Merrill series compact cameras? The Sigma EF-140 DG SA-STTL and the Metz 20 C-2 are my two choices for use on Sigma's DP Merrill cameras and are the only compact flashes that I would trust to put on my Sigma DP2M or any DP Merrill series compact camera.

Sigma EF-140 DG SA-STTL Flash

The most advanced flash is the Sigma EF-140 DG flash which features TTL  which prior to the exposure, the camera tells the flash to fire a pre flash, then the camera measures the exposure and  decides what flash level output is needed to provide the right amount of light. This happens at a fraction of a second before the photo captured. This type of flash system works very well.  Just put the flash on the camera, turn it on, and  set your camera to use the TTL flash as a fill flash or as a regular flash---It is simple, not much thinking involved, etc. It can be used manually as well. The Sigma EF-140 sells for around $89.00 ( USD).

 Sigma EF- 140 DG TTL Flash

I have used Sigma flashes on my Canons and  Sigma DSLRs for years and never had any issues with Sigma's TTL flash technology. It works. The EF 140 DG has a guide number of 14 ( iso100/m) and 16mm focal length illumination coverage. It was designed for the original DP1 which had a wide angle lens.  Takes two AAA batteries and has a recycle time of about 5.5 to 6.5 seconds. It lacks any flash bounce feature. There were some complaints that Sigma didn't put a built in flash on the DP Merrill series.  I disagree. I dislike built in camera flashes. I prefer to have full control over the flash without built in limitations. I  want a compact unit that also enables me to bounce flash which is a desirable missing feature.

I notice that the EF-140 DG flash is no longer mentioned on any Sigma website but can still be purchased from internet retailers.  I don't know the status of this product long term. Is it being refreshed with a new replacement or is being discontinued?  The bottom line is that the EF 140 DG flash was designed for a wide angle camera, so it should work with the DP1M, DP2M and DP3M but lacks a bounce flash feature. No word on this from Sigma yet.  I've put an information request in on the status of the EF 140 DG.  If I get an update from Sigma--I'll share that with you.

The Metz 20 C-2

So if you want a compact flash with the bounce feature, would you brave using an old school Automatic flash?  Enter the Metz 20 C-2 compact manual ( AUTO) flash. It retails around $49.00 USD. 
Metz 20 C-2 mounted on the hotshoe of a DP2M with Richard Franiec's custom camera grip attached.

The Metz flash uses  older "auto" flash technology with the sensor located on the front of the flash. It doesn't use advanced TTL ( through the lens)  metering technology where the camera communicates with the flash.  It has a guide number of 20 at iso 100/m 21 degree coverage ( 35mm focal length)  You have two automatic apertures to choose from if you want to use the flash automatically--F 2.8 (green) and f5.6 (red) on the back switch.  
 Here is how it works.  Attach it to your camera.  Any camera that can trigger a flash with its hot shoe will work with this unit.  Any camera that has an X socket can use a cable to attach to the flash's own sync socket as well.  The Flash foot has a locking switch that attaches it firmly to the camera hot shoe.
Notice the locking mechanism on the base of the flash foot. Much better than a tightning wheel in my opinion. This securely attaches the flash to the DP2M or any standard camera hot shoe.
Set your camera on manual exposure. Set your camera at the base flash shutter speed at 1/125th of a second or 1/200th --whatever flash sync setting your camera uses (Remembering that this flash can be used on any camera).  Set your camera ISO at 100. Put your aperture ( lens opening) at either f2.8 or f5.6. Remember if you select f2.8, then you need to put the switch on the back of the camera to f2.8 ( Green). If you use f5.6, then put the switch on the f5.6  setting(Red)  The rest is simple.  Point the camera and shoot. The sensor meters the light and the duration of the flash is set for proper exposure.  Be careful not to block the sensor with a large lens hood. The flash does not get its information from the camera or communicate with the camera.  It is assuming that you set the camera on its native flash sync, set the F stop at f2.8 or f5.6 and the iso at 100.  There is a contact on the bottom of camera's hot shoe  that triggers the flash.  A synchronizing cable can be used with a camera's X socket ( if it has one) and Metz's own sync socket.  The DP Merrill series cameras don't have an X socket.  I wanted to include this information for those that might purchase this unit for other compact camera with standard flash mount or  X sockets.
The newest firmware update of the DP Merrill compacts allows flash sync speeds at 1/125th sec. I've tested flash sync speeds at 1/125 and 1/200th sec.  Both speeds work with the DP2M.   The flash also offers full manual control using the chart on the back of the flash. 
There is a nice camera calculator on the back of the Metz 20 C-2. Notice the Off, M-Manual, f2.8 ( Green) and the f5.6 (Red) switch positions. If you want to shoot at higher ISOs and use the flash manually, just set it on the M setting and follow the lines on the chart which will tell you based on how far away you are from the subject you are shooting, what the Iso and f-stop should be asssuming that you are using a standard camera sync speed which universally is usually 1/200th a sec. There is also an LED that turns green when the flash is ready and it also can be used to manually flash the camera.  The LED on the right side will flash red indicating correct exposure of the scene.  If it doesn't flash--you have under exposed the scene.
 For novices, these new terms may be confusing --ISO, F-stop, shutter speed etc. 
So here is a quick primer:
ISO--this is the setting that makes the sensor more or less sensitive to light. This term is a carry over from the days of using film.  You would buy Iso 100 film for shooting during the day and iso 400 or higher for shooting indoors or low light.
F-stop- This is simply the size of the opening of the camera lens aperture. This is controlled by little blades that you will see change the size of the iris in the lens by letting in more light or less. The smaller the number--the more light enters the lens( Example-f2.8). The larger the number , the smaller the iris which means less light reaches the sensor( Example -F5.6)
Shutter speed--This is the speed that the shutter opens and closes.  Most flash sync settings are 1/125th of a second to 1/200th of a second.

The Metz 20 C-2 has a LED on the right backside of the unit that briefly flashes red  to confirm the correct exposure.
Using the Metz flash is very simple but using the light bouncing feature can produce underexposure if not used in the right situation.  You will get underexposed photos if you don't have anything overhead to bounce the light off of.  In a house with an 8 foot high white ceiling--there should be no problem shooting with the bounce flash option, but you may have to increase your ISO setting from 100 to 125 or 200 respectively--or change your shutter speed from 1/200th to 1/125th as well.

The pop up bounce flash feature demonstrated on the DP2M. It tilts 30, 45, 60, or 90 degrees!

You can always use the chart on the back of the flash and shoot manually.  Pick the ISO you want to use, the distance away from the subject and the chart will tell you what the F stop should be used. Expect to fiddle with the controls and experiment if you are going to be bouncing the flash. It can be tilted to 30- 45- 60 or 90 degrees. The flash duration is between 1/1200 to 1/25000 of a second with a color temperature of 5500K.  It is designed  to be used at iso 25  to 400. The written manual has formulas that you can used  for more advanced features like fill lighting etc. Note: Read the manual. 

 The nice thing about the Metz is it's simplicity with its two Auto flash Fstop settings of F2.8 and F5.6.  The addition of having the ability to bounce the light and the low cost for this pocketable flash make it a good option for use with your DP Merrill compact series cameras or any camera for that matter.  If you need  through the lens TTL flash,  the only unit available is the Sigma EF-140 DG  with a slightly higher price tag minus the bounce feature.  You can still put a full size Sigma EF 610 Standard or DG super Flash on a DP Merrill series compact camera.  Some of the other manufacturers make smaller TTL flashes for their respective brands, so you might have a compact solution if you are using another brand.
Do I recommend the Sigma EF-140 DG over the Metz 20 C-2 ?  No--that depends on your needs. If you don't need to bounce  flash and want a small pocketable TTL unit, then the Sigma EF-140 DG will suit your needs.  If you need to bounce flash, the Metz 20 C-2 is a better choice.  The  downside with the Metz flash is that it can take up to 8 seconds to recycle the flash depending on what battery type you use and there is a stern warning against ever using Lithium AA batteries with this flash. Metz states that the flash must be turned on for 10 minutes ever 3 months to prevent the capacitor from degrading.
I should mention there are more powerful manual flashes available from Metz and Vivitar.  Both cost around $89  USD if you want to go the auto sensor on the flash route instead of the Sigma TTL options. Full size flashes  look mammoth on DP Merrill cameras (DP1M, DP2M , DP3M).   Pick what will work best for you. The Sigma EF-140 DG is the simpler more sophisticated solution  while the Metz requires more user input but offers the tilt reflector. Of course, you could own both. 
 Finally--the obligatory first pet photos!
Auto Mode ( RED) F5.6, iso 100 at 1/160th secAuto Mode ( Green) f2.8, iso 100 at 1/160th sec
Buddy agreed to model for me on short notice. I accidentally knocked the shutter sync speed from 1/200th to 1/160th or a second--Whoops!--but the Metz flash was very forgiving.