Aug 04 2010

Cameras

Randall Kelley @ 16:20

Leica M Monochrom black and white only and M9-P color digital rangefinder cameras, Sony RX1 “Point and Shoot”, and a Fuji GF650 2 1/4 film camera.

How we got here:

I first learned photography in an art class in college in 1975. For the class I used two cameras, a Mamiya twin lens reflex camera I bought used for the class, and an Agfa Isolette 3 I had been given by my dad. The Isolette was a folding rangefinder. Neither of these cameras had a light meter. I loved both of them, but felt I learned the most from using the Isolette. With it you used the rangefinder to determine distance on a scale. Then you transferred that distance to focus the lens by using another scale on the lens. Then you took your light reading with a separate meter. Then you set the aperture and shutter speeds and then last, you cocked the shutter. Not quick or easy, by highly educational. The Mamiya was way fast compared to that. Just get a light reading, set the shutter and aperture, focus and shoot.

After school we had a few point and shoot cartridge cameras, and I would use the two from school as well, but never seriously got out with them like I had in my college days. Rita always liked taking pictures, as did I, but we did not shoot much as for many years, developing a lot of film was not in the budget. Things didn’t really change until the digital revolution.

I started a web site, and doing the equivalent of blogging about our trips before there were blogs. Mostly I would email while on the road, and then post more images on web pages when we got home. When I saw I could get an Olympus digital camera, and send digital photos to the kids while still on the trip, I got one. Out first digital camera was less than a megapixel. I loved it. It impressed the heck out of people to get a picture in an email, as it was not happening yet to any large degree. This would have been early 90s.

The first thing that happened was I rarely had the camera as Rita loved to shoot. Liberated from the cost of getting pictures developed, she took off. I was doing all the downloading and any editing, though with image resolution what it was, there was mostly just downloading.

Then, I decided Rita deserved a better camera, and by then they were coming out with two megapixel cameras. TWO! Wow, I was impressed. We grabbed her a Nikon Coolpix as a friend’s dad had a Nikon and liked it, and the camera shape was one Rita liked. It was the model with the body that swiveled in the middle.

The next addition was to add an early 2 megapixel Canon Elph for me. This happened because A) I was tired of having nothing but shots of me on vacation, and B) I had decided I found the canon jpegs rendered too blue for my taste. AS any editing was in Photoshop and not as simple as a dedicated photo software, I didn’t want to have to tweak everything. That was when I fell in love with Canon colors. I really found I liked their reproduction a lot better.

Then, as the point and shoots crept up in quality, I kept upgrading. But Rita never wanted to give up the Coolpix. Still I wanted her to have something with higher resolution. About that time was when Canon released the first Rebel in the states. I grabbed one, figuring she’d adjust. She sure did. She really fell in love with the DSLR. She’s a viewfinder girl all the way, and the what you see is what you get nature of the SLR design had her sold.

Then I was jealous of her image quality and tried a bigger Canon point and shoot with a long zoom for out trip to central Asia. Man was I disappointed. The camera had an ISO button that was easy to bump and would keep incrementing the ISO higher, and with not checking the settings constantly I ruined a lot of images with noise. Plus it did not handle the noise as well as Rita’s DSLR. So after that trip I got the next Rebel upgrade when it came out.

At some point I wanted something a bit more robust in frame rate, and I wanted the ability to have custom settings, so I moved Rita to the newer Rebel and picked up a 40D. I liked it a lot. By this time I was really starting to get into it again, but what I was really missing was manual focus. I know, you CAN manually focus the 40D, but my vision sucks and more so fro contrast focus. I tried a special screen to improve it, but was still not satisfied.

Then I developed vertigo and after fighting it for a long time, decided it was time to retire my motorcycling, at least until I get some form of cure. Now I had been whining about wanting a rangefinder for a while, but as the M8 had been out of my budget, I hadn’t made any move. Then I heard the M9 was coming out, and I was thinking I could use part of the money from selling off the motorcycle and gear to snag a good used one when the M9s hit the market. Lucky me, I have a nice wife who convinced me that, since the motorcycle had been my hobby and was all paid for, I should use all that for the camera I want, and just get the M9. It was a race to see if I could get it in hand and practice with it before we went to Eastern Europe on our next trip. I got lucky (with some help from the guys at Glazers and the dealer rep) and had it in hand about 6 weeks before our trip. After some practice, the first thing I found was it was hard to work on the M9 files and the 40D files together and not always end up choosing M9 shots over the 40D.

As I edit our travel photos, I try to just use the best shot for capturing the place or mood of the place, etc. But with Rita shooting the 40D it would be much harder to use hers. Not knocking the 40D, it was just side by side they didn’t stack up. So before we flew off I decided I had to upgrade her, and I wanted to do a 5D, but a couple of things stopped me. I could have swung the price difference, but I would have needed new lenses as well (as what we were using was a Tamron zoom that was proprietary to the crop cameras). Plus the 7D had just come out and was in many ways an upgrade from the D mark 2, except for the crop factor. So the 7D won out.

I was really impressed at the better image quality of the 7D, and am in no way dissatisfied with the camera. However, I did find that the files were now good enough I was really noticing the lens was NOT. So I decided to upgrade her lenses before our next big trip, and chose to stick to full frame lenses, so that when the 5D mark 3 comes along, new lenses won’t factor in the decision.

Later, after using the M9 for nearly a year, I sold it for not that much less than I paid for it, and upgraded to the M9-P. It is the same sensor and body, but with more subtle markings and a more protective sapphire glass over the LCD on the back.

But after enjoying the size factor of the Leica, I decided to get Rita into something smaller. First move was to the Sony NEX-7 when it came out. All the Canon gear was sold to pay for new Sony gear. This is the gear we took on the last big trip to Scandinavia. And I was very satisfied with Rita’s results. Fully equal to the Canon stuff. However, I still hated the fact that her files were still smaller and of slightly less workability than the M9-P.

Most recently Leica came out with a black and white only version of the M9 that I felt I had to have. I’ll explain that (though insanity is a pretty simple explanation) in a separate page on that camera, what happened with film, and what I’m trying to do with it and film now. It is really pretty much full circle back to my first days in college learning photography, and I went through a few film cameras (the Fuji I still have was part of that process) on the way to the M Monochrom. That’s Leica’s name for it, and it’s there spelling. I don’t know if that’s German speak or market speak.

That almost bring it up to date, except Sony came out with a full frame camera and I decided to upgrade Rita to that. It is not with interchangeable lenses, it’s a 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens and the thing is incredible. However, I found right away it could not be left in automatic mode for Rita to “just shoot” and get decent results. It does far more than decent if you do it all manually. However, by the time we took delivery of it, Rita was getting used to the M9-P and was so proficient with it that I decided to leave that to her, and just keep the Sony on me as a “color backup” for when I felt I had to shoot something in color, or when we wanted video, or for color in extremely low light (where it beats the M9-P).

That is the configuration we are at today, and you can see the four remaining camera in the pictures below.

First a couple of Rita with the M9-P. These are black and white as I couldn’t find any of her with it I shot on the Sony. I rarely use color anymore. More on that later.

Next up is the Sony RX1. First the camera, then the way I usually use it. Around my side “just in case”. And the case is very rare.

And last, my babys, the M Monochrom and Fuji Film camera.

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