Moving My (Optical) Cheese

When it comes to coping with change, I’ve had my cheese moved many times. This is especially true in computers where I have moved from punch cards and mainframes to a smartphone over 50 years.

The same sort of process is at work in my photo technology. Above is a photo taken last year with my DSLR and an ultrawide lens. This is the best camera kit I have owned to date – lightweight body with three excellent and compact lenses that feature autofocus and optical stabilization.

And yet if you read Nikon’s marketing info, they’d try to convince you that this kind of camera is totally passe and that a new mirrorless format will be the future. I’d have to start over with all new technology, and no guarantee I’d get better results.

This wouldn’t be the first time I have moved to a new system, of course. For example:

  • In 1970 I ditched my old paper roll based film camera for a 35mm rangefinder.
  • In 1983 I switched to a manual SLR and got some manual lenses.
  • In 2001 I got an autofocus SLR because I was unable to manually focus any longer. My old manual lenses didn’t work with it so I gradually built up a system of Nikon autofocus lenses to make a nice film system.
  • In 2006 I switched over to digital almost completely and the SLR and its lenses went into the closet.
  • In 2015 I got my digital SLR and new DX autofocus lenses. My old Nikon film style autofocus lenses still metered with the camera but I was back to manual focus with those units.
  • In 2016 I got a small travel zoom camera to take on holiday.

That brings me up to the present, where after cataract surgery I can see to manually focus again. My old school film AF lenses work just fine on my current digital SLR if I focus by hand. It’s great fun to use them now.

However, it looks as if Nikon is moving my cheese (again.) There are rumors that they might discontinue the DSLR lineup and go exclusively with mirrorless in the future. To use my newest lenses on a mirrorless camera would require an adapter, since Nikon has changed its lens mount for mirrorless. This lens mount change is the first in 60 years.

Even with an adapter, it is unlikely that all my oldie goldie lenses from the 1980s would work. Some of them could not be focused – even manually.

The bottom line is this: should I be forced to go mirrorless at some time in future, I would be starting over – my current lens collection would have to be sold at fire-sale prices. I would be tempted to give up 35 years of experience with Nikon and go with Sony or Panasonic.

Alternatively, I could just ignore this whole situation and just go out and shoot with what I have. I’m not a pro photographer; I don’t use my equipment harshly. Assuming I don’t drop or submerge my Nikon DSLR it’ll serve me well for some time. If it fails, there’s always the used market for camera bodies if Nikon doesn’t continue with the DSLR.

Either way, it does not look as if my cheese will get moved too far away. That’s a good thing at my age.

G.A.S.

It’s not something you hook up to the BBQ, add to your tank in the car, or use antacids to combat. G.A.S. stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and it affects, guitarists, audiophiles and photographers alike.

Now I like reading about new cameras and photo equipment as much as anyone. But there is a big difference between looking stuff up on the Internet and actually putting out the cash to buy it. Here’s an example:

 

This is my Lumix ZS50 from 2016. I’ve written about it before. It’s been on a number of holidays with me and generally works well. It has a smallish sensor that can be noisy in low light, but it also has a huge zoom lens, is lightweight, features a viewfinder unlike many cameras in its class.

Panasonic has put out a few newer models but they mostly upgraded the video capability and that’s not something I use much – if at all.

Where I have problems with G.A.S. is when trying to take these low light photos such as this one inside the Gesu in Rome. Once in a while the combination of very high ISO, slow shutter speed, and wide aperture doesn’t work and I get blurry or very noisy images.

Panasonic has come up with another model that has a bigger sensor. In theory that should make the lower light photos more practical. However:

  • The camera is significantly more expensive, heavier, and doesn’t have as good a zoom range.
  • I already have a camera which would completely solve the problem of low light. It’s a DSLR that is bigger and much heavier – but I don’t want to travel with a heavy kit any longer.
  • I am lucky to get photos as good as the above in low light. 20 years ago, even with a heavy film-based kit, I would not have been able to take a photo in the church. at all. I was constrained by low film ISO and slow zoom lenses.

There are creative ways to take an image in low light inside a church. I could use a slower shutter speed, lean up against a pillar, take a few exposures to see if one of them is less shaky, or prop the camera on a chair or front of a pew. Lots of options to avoid G.A.S.

This picture was taken without flash by my nine-year-old granddaughter Veronica. She didn’t like my focal length so zoomed in a bit.

Veronica has an aptitude for photography – but let’s face it – if a kid can get decent results with a camera I already own, what’s the point of upgrading?

There is no one camera that can combine light weight, good low light performance (larger sensor), long zoom range, fast lens, and affordable price. Such a model would defy the laws of physics and economics.

Since I already have a good model that features affordability, compact size and great zoom range I’ll have to make the creative compromises to use it in low light situations.

If and when the camera needs to be replaced, I can revisit the list of criteria above. In the meantime I’ll do my best to avoid G.A.S.

Besides, I already have another way to get creative; I can figure out how to take good pics with my smartphone.

 

 

 

 

 

Smartphone Photography?

Taking photos is one of my favorite things to do when on vacation. It’s not as if I need to photograph my travels like National Geographic, but a photo record is handy for this blog and for keeping track of the memories.

I’ve been at this travel photography stuff for close to 50 years, moving from film to digital. I have used a rangefinder camera, an SLR with manual focus, an SLR with autofocus, various compact digital cameras, a bridge camera, a digital SLR and now a compact digital superzoom.

One thing I will not do again on holiday is to schlep a big heavy interchangeable lens camera with a flash and a bunch of lenses. I might not get the great image quality and low light performance of a DSLR, but carrying a 300g camera beats 3 Kg of gear.

But what if I simplified things further, left the camera at home and just used a smartphone? So many folks have made that choice today. I hardly ever see a compact camera on the cruise ship these days. Some dinos are carrying DSLRs or a mirrorless system but that is it.

My current smartphone is the modestly priced Samsung A50 shown above. It has a camera, of course – two in fact. The front one is for selfies. The rear one is a triple-lens model.

The rear camera has a main lens, a funky wide-angle lens, and a depth-sensing lens for focus and “computational imaging.” That is pretty good for a moderately priced smartphone.

Of course, the real photo enthusiast who wanted to use a smartphone exclusively would probably opt for a top of the line unit like a Pixel 4, an iPhone 11 Pro, or a Huawei p30 Pro. Those phones cost as much as a top-shelf travel camera. It’s not likely I’ll be in the market for one of them, at least not yet. So let’s just consider whether I could replace my travel camera with the one in the A50.

Reasons I’d Use a Smartphone on Holiday

  1. The best camera is the one you have with you. In North America, that’ll be the smartphone for sure. I just stick it in my pocket and I’m good to go. Bringing a dedicated camera is more gear to tote along.
  2. The camera is easy to use and has wide-angle capability. It works well in good light and probably 95% of my vacation images could be taken with a smartphone.
  3. It’s easy to take photos and share them online, or back them up online.
  4. The camera uses the smartphone software capably to add effects like focus blur. More expensive smartphones add some telephoto possibilities up to say 5X and with digital telephoto up to 10X. This can come in handy, especially the telephoto.

Not the greatest picture, but see how the smartphone’s camera blurs the background here and isolates the candle in the foreground. This is strictly a software effect. To do it optically you would need a very fast lens and a very wide aperture.

Reasons I Would Not Use a Smartphone on Holiday

  1. The best camera is the one you have with you. I’m not sure I’d be taking a smartphone on holiday in Europe or on a cruise. Costs for communication are high and Maria has a smartphone too. One should be enough. It’s better I bring along my tiny travel camera.
  2. The A50 wide-angle is OK for group photos but it has very limited control over composition and is quite high in distortion. My travel camera does wide-angle better.
  3. The 30X travel zoom I have absolutely blows away the smartphone when it comes to telephoto. There’s no digital enhancement that adds noise and crops the image. Even the most expensive smartphones cannot compete with a $400 travel camera.
  4. The camera has much better battery life and I can bring a couple of extra batteries as well.
  5. I’m not sure about picture storage capacity on the smartphone – it doesn’t appear to be an issue – but the travel camera can store thousands of images. Backup is easy on the laptop I’ll bring along.
  6. The camera has optical stabilization; the cheaper smartphones do not. I can use it in low light situations with more chance of success.
  7. The camera has a viewfinder so I can compose pictures in very bright light. The smartphone would be washed out and I’d be guessing about what I was photographing.

The above photo was taken in dazzling sunlight and was easy to compose with a viewfinder. Not so much with a smartphone or LCD camera screen.

Right now I lean toward taking holiday photos with a real camera, and using the smartphone for casual photography around the house and around town. Smartphone technology is always improving; perhaps I could join the many vacationers who now use a smartphone exclusively. I believe I’ll wait and see though.

Easy to Hard, Hard to Easy

I have been messing about with website development for 20 years now – ever since I first staked my claim to a spot on the Geocities web hosting site.

It was easy to come up with a list of things I wanted to publish back then. What I found difficult was actually getting them online. When I got my first website space, all I knew about online communication came from participation in forum discussion. I had to learn a new coding language called HTML to do anything with a website.

Later on, I got an HTML editor to help with the mind-numbing basics of website coding. But I was handicapped by the lack of good graphics and sound. I have kept my early attempts online as a historical curiosity – not that anyone but me would be interested in such a Wayback Machine.

After a few years of frustration, I realized that my real interest was not in programming but in content. That’s when I discovered blogging.

Fast forward to today, and I have my own domain, a blog powered by WordPress, and a nice theme to present my posts. I also have the benefit of thousands of my own photos to add in. So what was once hard has become rather easy.

I keep all my blog stuff along with the WordPress software in a subdirectory of the domain. That is why the blog’s Web address is https://104vaughan.ca/wp. This is a smart way to do things as it keeps all the working parts of the blog in one place. However, I do need to have a webpage at https://104vaughan.ca so I can serve anyone who arrives there from a search. This particular site is called a “landing page” and all it needs to do is direct web surfers to the blog on the subdirectory. Got that?

When I first located Almontage Blog here in 2014 I hand-coded that landing page 1999 style. It was strictly amateur hour and it showed. The landing page looked terrible on smartphone screens – it was unreadable as well as ugly.

Recently I discovered a free piece of software called Mobirise which looked like a good way to fix up my landing page.

You don’t need to do any coding with Mobirise. A little drag and drop, some typing and mouse-clicking, replacing the stock photo background with one of my own and Badda boom, Badda bing I was done. I just had to save the files to my PC and later transfer them to my domain.

The new landing page is professional-looking, readable on any device and it was easy. What once was hard is now a piece of cake.

To be honest, technology is the least of my problems in blogging today. To blog, you also need to have something creative to say. After close to 500 posts and 17 years, I am sure I have repeated myself many times. That probably goes with being a senior as well as a blogger. But once in a while I get writer’s block. So bear with me.

What was hard is easy. What was easy is hard. And so it goes.

Last Camera Syndrome

Last Camera Syndrome is a term coined by Nikon guru and camera market expert Thom Hogan.

Basically LCS is a state of mind you have when the camera in hand is good enough and you’ll likely never buy another one unless:

  1. You lose or total your camera or it breaks and cannot be repaired.
  2. The camera makers come up with something that solves a problem for you.
  3. You are convinced by marketing hype or Internet reviews/chatter.

When it comes to single lens reflex cameras I have never had a problem with (1.) I always protect my photo gear in a solid carrying bag, I wear a strap, I don’t go in dodgy areas, and Nikon SLRs have been a bulletproof option so far.

The above photo was taken in 2001 with a Nikon FE “automatic” camera – manual focus, manual aperture adjustment, manual film advance – only the shutter speed was automatic. At the time I had been using this camera for close to 20 years and for me it was my Last Camera. Then my eyes started to fail and I could no longer focus it properly.

Fortunately, Nikon had come up with (2.) in the form of autofocus. So I got a new Last Camera – F80 autofocus film. This camera had a lot of features I liked – Program mode, autofocus, automatic film advance. I complemented it with a bunch of real Nikkor lenses – not the third party stuff I had been using with the FE.

Here’s a photo taken with the F80 in 2002.

I liked the F80 system a lot and probably would be using it today, except for one minor problem – digital photography happened.

My film Last Camera got stored away in 2006 and I went through a series of fixed-lens digital models. None had the requisite number of megapixels or the shooting performance to suit me. The closest product was a tiny Canon S90 purchased in 2010.

Finally, in 2015 Nikon came up with another (2.) moment and solved the sensor dust problem that had been keeping me from interchangeable lens digicams. So I finally gave in to (3.) The Nikon D5500 and a set of DX lenses accompanying it was a very nice system indeed. Did it become my Last Camera…well…

By now I was getting older and traveling a bit and the idea of carrying around a big clunky DSLR and a bunch of lenses on a cruise ship did not appeal. The S90 was very nice but it did not have a viewfinder and was hard to use in bright sunlight. I was running into a lot of bright light in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. So after a TransPacific voyage, the S90 was retired in favor of my current travel camera – a Panasonic ZS50. This one has a small sensor, big zoom lens, electronic viewfinder.

So perhaps in my case, it’ll be a Last Two Cameras Syndrome. Here’s the rationale:

DSLR: These types of cameras are losing sales and the manufacturers want to market mirrorless replacements – especially in the APS-C segment like my D5500. I don’t want to dump my camera and the 9 Nikkor lenses that I can use with it. So Nikon’s effort in (3.) marketing hype above isn’t working for me. The D5500 may not be my Last Camera but it’s likely the last DSLR I’ll buy.

Besides, there’s no way I could take a photo like this with anything but my DSLR.

Travel Zoom: I could never imagine needing a bigger zoom range than I have with the ZS50. It’s also light and easy to pack. There are plenty of megapixels, and the electronic viewfinder works well in bright sunlight.

Here’s a photo taken inside a church in Rome with the ZS50. It’s in these situations where the small sensor gives mediocre low light performance. Either I have too slow shutter speeds, or too high ISO to get really great pictures. It’s OK though. I can work around it most of the time.

To improve the situation I have to either:

  1. Get a larger sensor and smaller zoom range, plus pay a lot more money for a faster lens.
  2. Start lugging more weight and gear around.

I think over this problem from time to time but I’m not optimistic the camera guys have a total solution. There’s only so much you can do before running afoul of the laws of optics. You can have light weight, decent low light performance, and affordable cost. Pick two.

In decent light I get this, so I can live with the odd church scene that isn’t perfect.

Now Panasonic does offer a larger sensor model with a pretty good travel zoom but the current price premium is a bit more than I want to pay. That would probably be a better Last Camera candidate so I’ll continue to follow this segment of the market.

There is a third candidate for Last Camera and that would be no camera at all – simply use a smartphone.

Yes, I have a smartphone. Yes, it has a camera. But to get a real state of the art photographic tool in a smartphone I would need to pay more than twice what my Samsung A50 retails for. Even then I’d get nice results at wide-angle and very short telephoto ranges. OK if I were posting photos on Snapchat/Instagram or using a selfie stick to place myself in front of the Colosseum. But I’m not.

So what’s the bottom line? I will never have Last Camera Syndrome if that means having only one camera. I am pretty close to LCS with two cameras. I won’t upgrade my DSLR system because by the time I might want to, Nikon won’t be making them anymore – they’ll be going Mirrorless. There’s a chance I might get a new travel zoom if I can get improved low light capability and keep the tiny size and low weight.

Besides all that, at my age it’s a difficult decision to buy green bananas.

Almonte Before the Snow

I don’t have that many November photos and I need some for my homemade fridge calendar next year. Today is a cool crisp day in Almonte (snow forecast for tonight) so I thought I’d get out and do some late fall photography.

Just for fun, I took along my 4-year-old DSLR and a 30-year-old 35mm lens from my former film kit. The old lens acts like a 50mm one on the smaller sensor DSLR. It also doesn’t autofocus, so I was focusing like it was 1980. I can do this now thanks to cataract surgery and my bionic eyes.

The river above the falls flows placidly past Tait McKenzie’s bench.

Most of the leaves have gone away by now – even on the willows.

The power stations are sucking the upper falls dry in November.

And the pub is using some of that power to light up the night at holiday time.

The town’s power plant has completed a little mini-park just beside the main falls. You can see an old turbine in the middle of the flower bed.

Nice view of the falls from here.

There is a bit more show business going on with the lower falls, but still a lot of river flow is headed into the power plant.

Joe’s Kitchen gearing up for lunch. They serve great panini.

Pretty soon this walk is going to get a lot trickier.

The little dam at the Thoburn Mill is still flowing well.

No CPR trains will ever rumble across the old trestle again. But it does make for a nice hiking trail.

I enjoyed taking photos the old fashioned way, and I hope you enjoyed the results. Now on to winter tomorrow.

Another November

Here we go again – the most unpleasant month of the year. The clock’s turning back and it’ll be dark at 5 PM tomorrow. It’s cold and wet tonight – first rain , then maybe some snow flurries.

We have somber celebrations this month like All Souls Day and Remembrance Day. Mr. Oates and I celebrate birthdays – he probably doesn’t care and I always have a lack of enthusiasm for mine.

Once in a while, things turn out OK in November if we can schedule a cruise. For instance 12 years ago today we were in Barcelona getting ready for a Mediterranean cruise that ended in Venice.

It was about 20 degrees C (68F) in Barca and everybody was wandering around in fur coats. Go figure. The geese at the Cathedral were happily diving in the pond. We enjoyed getting away from the grey skies.

Of course, we came back to one of the worst November snowstorms ever, and we had a record winter snowfall that year so maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to fly away for a few weeks.

Other times we have taken Caribbean cruises from Baltimore and New York and in 2016 we came back from Rome to Ft.Lauderdale. Nothing this year though.

I guess I’ll have to go over to Walmart in Carleton Place and watch them putting up the Christmas decorations. There’s nothing like hearing “The Little Drummer Boy” in November to get my juices flowing. Say what?

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