The Apertura Wishlist – 1 Inch Sensor Smartphone

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At this time within the smartphone sphere, the camera is king. The pace of development is rapid and the number of lenses is a technological arms race. The variety of focal lengths allows the manufacturers to work around the limitations of a fixed focal length in a small body. Just recently we have seen Huawei add a wide angle lens to its Mate 20 Pro, whilst Apple used their second lens for a somewhat telephoto focal length. As a means to an end, dual, triple and soon to be quad camera arrays make sense. However, the sensors remain minuscule and although to their credit, IQ could be better still if the sensor grew in place of multiple lenses. I have cameras of multiple sizes, from full frame digital, to APS-C, 1:2/3rd of an inch et al. My everyday camera happens to have a 1″ sensor type, giving it an advantage over the usual size for compact cameras. The more light that can meet the sensor, the easier it is for the camera processor – an area where phones have really hit their groove in recent years.

So, what if a mobile firm decided to use this existing advantage to its advantage and paired one, larger lens opening with a 1″ sensor? Given the space required for three lenses and their processor, I can’t imagine the footprint would be significantly larger, especially with the size of current flagship phones. Given their work with Leica, I’d love for the inevitable Huawei P30 Plus to take a bold step and offer this set-up. A real giant leap in pushing mobile photography – which I genuinely enjoy – and one achieved with photography in mind. Sure, I’d miss the dedicated monochrome sensor, but it appears they have removed this in lieu of the wide angle already on the aforementioned Mate Pro. Using a larger lens and a sensor better equipped to gather light would provide enough comfort, however.

 

Cheers, Matt.

16:9 – The Widescreen Appreciation Post

South Devon Railway

Aspect ratios. Not a thrilling subject in themselves, but fairly important as a consideration when taking photos. We’re used to the 3 to 2 ratio of DSLRs, or 4:3 as can be found on compact cameras and Micro 4/3s. Instagram initially only offered a square ratio for posts, which would have been a consideration that made sense within the realms of the app, but they relented and offered a scalable space from anywhere between 1:1, 3:2 and 16:9. The latter is an interesting one, especially useful for emphasising the scale of your scene, or otherwise aiming for the cinematic look. Films are almost exclusively widescreen now; of course, this has little baring on stills photography, but it does mean the widescreen ratio is chosen less often.

As a photographer, it is one I like to use, in the same way I use 1:1 sometimes. By changing the aspect ratio, you are having to alter your composition and this is a good thing. By adjusting how you look at a scene, you are aware of what fits within the image, what detracts also. Photography is very much an art form that thrives within constraints. Where a painter can move something to enhance a scene, with a photograph, you can only capture what is in front of you. Sure, you can remove it in post, but there’s a joy in getting as much correct at the moment you press the shutter. It is why I like prime lenses, because you can only get what is directly in front of you in the scene. When I switch to the 16:9 ratio, I have to look to see that the top and bottom of the frame are exact. When using 1:1 you have to keep all sides in mind. It’s just another way to enhance the thought process behind taking a photo.

I’ve set my Sony RX100iii to 16:9 now, just another way to set individual cameras to individual purposes. The photo at the top of South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh is one of the first I took in this way. Shot in RAW and processed in Photoshop Camera RAW, the scene offers a broad look at the trains in the yard. I shoot RAW with this camera because I find the Sony colour science to be appalling, certainly having bought into Fuji and coming from Canon and Nikon DSLRs, but that is a whole can of worms for another time.  Back to the image, I like that with this aspect ratio, there’s little sky to detract from the subject and the first carriage is very much in the foreground, but it also leads into the image; as do the rails, too. If I’d taken it in 3:2 ratio, then you’d have sky to contend with and the dynamic range would alter. For this scene, 16:9 suits it well. As a shooting choice, it definitely has its place and Instagram now displays it properly, to boot.

Cheers, Matt.

 

Prime Numbers -Why I Love Fixed Focal Lengths

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Taken on my Nikon D3300 with the 35mm f1.8 DX lens.

Zoom lenses are one of the more developed areas of modern photography, covering ultra wide angle to extreme telephoto and with increasing capability. They provide convenience and less compromise with each new version. This is to be applauded, more quality glass is always a good thing. I’m not without zoom lenses myself; I have the Canon 17-40L and 70-200 L F4 in my collection. However, my most favoured lenses have become primes. It all started with the Canon nifty fifty, that plastic, noisy lens that just happens to be good quality and at the bottom of their price range. Auto focus was loud to begin with, but stray sand got into the barrel to the point where it sounded like a robot with arthritis. So I began to manual focus it and I loved it. Prior to this, I often shot the Sigma 10-20 on my 20D and my style at that time was decidedly wide angle. That 50mm lens changed my style, for the better.

Shorn of bending perspective to my will, with results that don’t often look good to my eye a decade later, I was now shooting in a more standard way. Of course, that 50mm lens was 80mm in APS-C money, but I was now looking at potential images differently. More abstract, wooed by the fast aperture. More often stark, black and white to go with it. Primes made me change drastically from stock landscapes and long exposures, and 10 years later, had a bigger influence on my style. My next prime love was the Helios 44M. With a screwmount adapter for EOS, I was able to make use of a lens I’d idly collected when I went through a phase of buying cheap film SLRs. Wow, what a creative spark it ignited. On one trip with it I re-imagined a leaf as the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and the light between two tree trunks as the Hot Gates from Spartan mythology. I was thinking more about the final image, because I had one focal length and that was anything but a limitation.

Fast forward to this year and I bought the Fuji with its 35mm equivalent focal length. I also bought the Sony RX with its 24-70. It’s not that I’m zoom averse, but I just prefer the tactility of primes when manually focused. The reason I have so many different options is because I’d rather shoot with something designed for that purpose, more often. The Sony is perfect for my work bag, but unlikely to be my choice if going out specifically to photograph. This also ties in with my recent posts about smartphones and the fully manual Canon I wish existed; disparate notions, but both speak to my preferred approach to photography. That is, work within confines to boost creative thought and shoot manually as much as possible, so the act of taking the photo is all part of the experience. A good prime ties-in both of those ideals pretty well.

 

Thanks for reading. Matt.

The Apertura Wishlist – Cameras I wish existed (Part 1)

Canon M

There have been many cameras throughout the modern era, from mainstream hits, to obscure, fascinating oddities. Something I love is obscure and fascinating things, so naturally they pique my interest. One of my favourites – and one I’d love to own – is the Canon EF-M. Before this became the acronym for their mirrorless lens mount, it was used on an export-only, manual version of the EOS 1000 35mm SLR. Without an LCD screen or typical mode selector dial, this was a manually operated, manually focused SLR from a company who had made a concerted effort to embrace auto focus with their EOS line. The wiki article here will fill in more detail for you if you’re unfamiliar with this particular Canon.

Since discovering the EF-M, I’ve often wished Canon would engineer a modern, digital equivalent. Leica can create monochrome, display-free bodies almost at will and given their following, surely Canon could stand to do the same thing too. If nothing else, it would be an alternative for purely stills shooters who don’t necessarily need the 4K, mic-input trappings of a 5D Mark IV; however, they would very much benefit from DIGIC 7 and some of the better lenses out there, all of which have a manual setting.

By removing some of the features, it could also lower the price. This I feel is an important consideration. I’d always buy just enough camera you need, so I could spend more on lenses. With a £1000 full frame, manual DSLR, you could spend the extra £1000+ an EOS 5D model would cost on more lenses, of which Canon has the most varied line-up of all. A niche product that would still drive their lens business? Sounds fairly low risk, but potentially headline grabbing work, eh Canon?

Whilst I appreciate it is not a camera for every photographer out there, that’s fine – they are already very well catered for. Sure, you could just shoot everything manually on your DSLR, which I often do, but the change in handling, to include some of that Fuji tactility could make it a really sweet product. As can be seen in my mock-up (pardon the Photoshop, it’s been some years since I last dabbled) there are two selector dials. On the right you have ISO, with a Drive and WB button familiar to the EOS range. On the left, your shutter speed dial with a range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds and Bulb mode.  The  right-hand jog wheel that normally functions to alter shutter speed is now the Exposure Compensation. Otherwise, no bells or whistles. My perfect Canon digital camera.

 

Thanks for reading, cheers. Matt.

Pocket Photography – why is the smartphone so heavily stigmatised?

The above image is similar to the header of this site – no coincidence as they were shot on the same day. The B&W was taken on my Fuji X100F, whereas this colour shot is taken straight from my Huawei P10 Plus with the Leica Dual Lens set-up. At 28mm it’s a little wider than the Fuji at 35mm, but the composition is similar. However, I read a lot of negativity about smartphone cameras and it’s something I feel quite strongly about.

“Want to get a decent image, buy a DSLR” – yeah, my 5Dii with the 17-40 L slips so readily in my trouser pocket. “They’re toy cameras” – at £700-£1000 the latest top models are expensive toys, then. “Pros use full frame only” – is that why billboards and magazine covers have been shot with iPhones? Honestly, the rhetoric you see against camera phones is asinine. Sure, it might not have the print fidelity, but I’d say it’s professional enough if you’re seeing them on billboards and covers. The funniest line I see is “get a real camera” – to which I always think, why would I use my Canon Ixus that takes less satisfying images than my phone?!

The rate of development in this corner of photography should be celebrated, not decried because everyone happens to have one. That’s a good thing. The more photos taken, the more drive for innovation, the higher chance this hobby continues to grow and develop. If you’re a professional photographer worried about these phones eating into your market, up your game. Don’t belittle these cameras just because they’re social cameras. Be glad you can capture usable images in a highly convenient way. It’s not as if ‘back-up’ cameras haven’t found an audience with hobbyists and pros and those haven’t always been the ultimate in image quality, either.

And on a significant point, if you consider a smartphone to be inferior to an interchangeable lens camera because it lacks features, or optical zoom etc, then how about embracing the limitation to inspire your creativity? The fixed focal length means you think more about the image. Heck, if operating a decent camera manually wasn’t so enjoyable, I’d set my camera to auto and just focus on the composition – something I have done with the aforementioned crappy Ixus. The only limitation that truly matters to any camera is the user, be that full frame, mirrorless or the smartphone.

As a parting shot, one of the most pleasing colour photos I’ve taken in a long time is the one below. Straight from the Huawei, inside the rainforest Biome at the Eden Project. Cheers, Matt.

Fuji – the monochrome shooter’s colour camera.

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What is it that makes monochrome photography so alluring? The street masters shooting Leica? The chance to see the world in a way our eyes cannot? Or is it simply because capturing light and shade is so darn aesthetic it’s almost impossible to not love it? For me personally, it’s definitely the latter two reasons. I don’t practice street often and I certainly don’t have the confidence to take candid portraits more or less against the subject’s will, but that’s just me; power to those who create the compelling images I could not. My Huawei phone has a black and white sensor, which feels liberating – not having to shoot colour and desaturate afterwards. I definitely make regular use of Monochrome because of that feature.

My Fuji X100F has the Acros film simulation, with colour filter options and whilst it is not a B&W sensor, the camera has been engineered to capture light and shade in a most beguiling way. I find it difficult to shoot in colour with this camera, because the pull of Acros is so strong. The contrast, the dynamic range. Even with grain effect set to weak these are lovely images. I’ll attempt the odd street shot, I’ll point it at daytime clouds. I’ll find quiet nooks with beams of light, just for the heck of it. It’s just the perfect digital camera for mono photography.

However, colour is useful. Colour can inspire emotions just as well as black and white. More upbeat, vibrant emotions. A sunset in mono would be wasteful of all that natural splendour. A tropical sea would be rendered in fifty shades of grey with none of the Moana charm. So with Velvia and Astia film simulations, Fuji cameras offer colours that really pop. Colours perfect for the occasion. I prefer Velvia, as it is saturated but retains the clinical look of monochrome. Astia smooths in the way the film might, which would be nice to try on a misty Autumnal morning no doubt. In Velvia, I have a camera setting that pulls me from mono, but in essence, offers everything I enjoy about black and white. The tonality is there, the contrast. The rich, hard to quantify appeal is there. Some people would call it micro contrast, perhaps. Whatever it is, between Velvia and Acros I have found the camera that inspires the creativity in me as much as my old EOS 20D with Sigma 10-20 did a decade ago.

Cheers, Matt.

One Hundred – A Tale of Two Cameras Part 2

As I wrote in the first part of this article, there are cameras I admire and those I truly love. In the Canon G10 I had one that really sparked my imagination and was dependable for a long time. It was an extension of my creative process almost, as I would use it every time I didn’t need the Sigma 10-20 on my trusty EOS 20D. They were great times, a one-two punch from the Canon camp that offered me everything I needed. Fast forward a few years and my aging gear was joined by a Nikon (gasp!) and thus started a slippery slope of upgrading that has now blossomed into a real eclectic arsenal – but more on that another time.

This process of upgrades led me to purchase the Sony RX100iii to replace the G10 as my work camera, because I didn’t want to compromise too far and it seems a lot more impressive than the Canon offerings (a similar feeling that saw me get the Nikon D3300 when I needed a new, budget friendly DSLR). It’s well built, has decent Dynamic Range and a modest zoom that doesn’t interfere too much with my prime lens sensibility. It also shares part of its model name with my one true love – the Fuji X100F.

Is it a coincidence two solid, attractive and somewhat compact cameras share a larger sensor and a good reputation? Of course it is, but humour me. The Fuji joined my collection only a few months ago, but it instantly ingrained itself in my affections. It is built like a tank, takes beautiful images and looks like a Leica but better, in my humble opinion. Of course, I went for all black rather than the silver option, because the Zenit Soviet chic is way more aesthetic. I genuinely can’t find fault with it.

And this is something of a problem in itself, as there really aren’t any cheap alternatives with fixed focal lengths on sale right now. I know Fuji make one, but it’s still nearly £500 and because it isn’t an X100F I would only cast it in a harsher light. So I chose the Sony for my work bag and I appreciate that it’s capable and I accept I’ll never love it, and that’s OK. It performs a role and means I don’t risk the Fuji. That is the kind of balance I look for when buying cameras. Every one has a purpose.

One way they do share a similarity is I shoot JPEG only on them both. For the Sony, it’s for convenience. On the Fuji it’s an aesthetic choice and I’ll touch on that in another post. However, its refreshing in 2018 that we have reached a point where JPEG is just fine and RAW isn’t a necessity. It’s very freeing.

If you own either camera and enjoy them, feel free to comment and start a dialogue. Thanks for reading. Cheers, Matt.