29 May, 2014


Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane

"The decisive moment." That sentiment will forever be associated with the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

HCB is one of the great figures of modern photography. The cover of his book of the same name was done by Henri Matisse. (That's something you don't see every day.)

Don't misunderstand, I've been to HCB shows, I have his books, I love his work. But, I've never come to grips with the idea of THE decisive moment. Not just A decisive moment, but THE moment. 
And, decisive?
decisive (di sī´siv). adj. 1. having the power or quality of determining...
New York photographer, Jay Maisel, talks about the essential elements of a successful photograph as, "Light, Gesture and Color." For Maisel, gesture is, "the thing that gives everything its intrinsic character." That makes more sense to me.

Later in his life, HCB said, "You see, you feel, and the surprised eye responds." That sounds a bit closer to the Maisel view.

20 May, 2014

In-Lens Stabilisation


If you have a tiptoe through the specifications of high quality primes from the most respected makers, you'll notice the absence of in-lens stabilisation at the non-telephoto lengths. For example, stabilisation isn't a feature on the Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus, the Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, or Sigma's new 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A. All of these are at the very front of the field in terms of quality.

In a YouTube post, Zeiss had this to say about stabilisation in the Touit line:
The ZEISS Touit 2.8/12 and Touit 1.8/32 lenses do not feature image stabilization. With shorter focal lengths, stabilization is not necessarily required and can even impair the imaging performance of the lens. For quality reasons, we have therefore decided to offer these lenses without image stabilization.
In-camera stabilisation can affect the bokeh as well as the distribution of colour casts induced by some wide lenses in digital (particularly mirrorless) cameras. What's happening, after all, is that an internal lens element is moving in directions not anticipated in classic lens design. 

I never had a stabilised lens before digital. And this included when ASA 400 seemed speedy. So I know unstabilised photography can be done.

Does in-lens stabilisation have serious side effects? For most captures, probably not. But sometimes you don't want to leave any quality element unexploited. You want everything that you can get into a print.

Of course, great technique does not make great art. But there's something almost magical when the detail, the exposure range, the colour depth and the contrast all come together in a print—when there's life in the image.

On the other side of this, there are some times when you just won't get the shot without those extra two or three stops that stabilisation provides. And once we're into the telephoto range or with zooms, they're a blessing. You won't find too many unstabilised 70-200mm zooms.

17 May, 2014

Not all pixels are created equal


It looks like Sony's new A7s is going to dramatically demonstrate (once again) that not all pixels are created equal. In the past there seemed to be a race to pack as many pixels on the sensor as possible. This provided large numbers of pixels, but in correspondingly small sizes.

I think the benefits of the A7s larger pixels will not simply be about high usable ISOs; although plenty of that. It will also be a matter of colour sensitivity and the exposure range. So, I'm looking forward to the DXOMark score. I think it's going to give the current, top-rated sensor, the (19MP) Red Epic Dragon (that scored 101) a run for its money.

While the A7s seems to be directed to video, it will help us to think about whether we really need 30MP+.

This isn't the first occasion in recent times when pixel quality drew some attention over the pixel count. Many who used the Fujifilm X100, reported that, yes, it only had 12MP – but what pixels they were.

I'm not interested in buying a Sony A7s, and I don't think there's any magic in 12MP as a number. I do think that this camera's performance will highlight some other sensor qualities that have been getting short-shrift over the last couple of years.

18 June Update: The DXO score is in and the A7s scored 87 — LESS than either the A7 or A7r. This does bring exposure range and colour sensitivity to the forefront of the debate, but not in the way I expected.

07 May, 2014

Professional vs Amateur

Spider outside the house

In photography (as in many things) calling someone a "pro" is a compliment. And to call them an "amateur," is the opposite.

Seemingly, aside from remuneration, "pro" has also come to mean someone who performs with great skill and competence. Yet, confusingly, if you call yourself a "pro," that's not what people understand you to mean. All this is complicated by the fact that photography can be practised as a craft or as art — and by some, both.

02 May, 2014

A stitch, in time.

Brisbane seen from South Bank

When your wide isn't wide enough, Photoshop can come to the rescue in post. I'm always impressed by the program's ability to seamlessly stitch images together while correcting for the vignetting and the geometric distortion.

The image above comes out of three 19mm frames. Because this allowed me to discard the extreme edges, the final image holds plenty of detail (not visible in this low-res rendition), even at the edges.

Story Bridge in Brisbane

The bridge picture, above, came out of 14 images stitched together. Because the resulting image was so large, the downsampling fixed up the problems arising from it being hand held, and the noise.

Interestingly, to make the same image of the bridge with a single lens, would require a 14mm at f/0.76. The depth of field is impossibly narrow for a single lens, but that can't be seen with a subject at this distance. 

The same effect can be applied to a much closer subject. The tactic to create a wide image with impossibly short depth of field by stitching multiple images together has come to be called the Brenizer Method.