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.
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.
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.