Topic: Camera (7 posts) Page 1 of 2

A User's Report

A few posts ago I wrote a brief report saying I'd bought a new camera: A Nikon D850. Well, it's been a few weeks, I've been using it almost daily and I thought you might like to hear what I think.

Let me state at the outset that I find using a new camera unsettling and difficult. Although in this case, I've stayed in the same family and this camera has much that is the same as my previous camera (a Nikon D810) it has enough changes as to be hard for me to make what I would call "real pictures"yet. I really want the camera to disappear when I photograph, to become just the tool with which I make my pictures. With a new camera I can't do that right away. Because of those same similarities from the earlier camera I am unlearning some aspects while learning new ones with the new one. 

At any rate, some observations:

The files from the camera show increased dynamic range.

I don't know if you can see the shadow detail under the roof in this image or not but it's there. Try double-clicking on the photograph to see it larger. Dynamic range seems to improve each time I update to a newer camera. 

Notice anything else about these? They are square. For the first time in my experience, Nikon has included a 1:1 setting under its "image size" menu. This is a big deal for me, as cropping in post has never been a good solution, although I know some that seem to be able to do it. I worked with square format 2 1/4 cameras from 1971-2007 so square pictures are in my DNA. For instance,  virtually all of the black and white series works I made in those years are square.

What else?

The new camera appears to handle color a little differently and exposure as well. 

Colors seem a little more vibrant out of the box, or as I open the RAW files in Lightroom.

Regarding exposure, I seem to get more pictures looking underexposed in Live View. This is probably user error as I need to simply change the display on the rear screen to compensate. When I work the files in post they are fine.

Edgartown at dawn

Sharpness? Resolution? These look good, although to be honest, I'm not able to see big differences from where I was before (D810= 36mp versus the D850= 45mp). Yet. Will wait to make my first big prints from this camera. Use good glass and keep your camera steady is my motto.

User interface? Ergonomics? Mostly good, and very close to what I had before.  I am a system photographer and have been in Nikons for many years now. I appreciate them not reinventing the wheel each time they make a new camera.  Of course, it is way too heavy and lighter cameras are in store for us eventually. I can't for the life of me understand why the D850 needs to weigh so much and be so big. 

Last week in Boston we had our first snow. Before the wind came up the next morning the snow was stuck on everything. I got over the Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge to photograph early in the morning. The cemetery is a consistent go-to place for me. It's one of several I'll go to nearby to try out a new lens, camera or new process. 

Nikon D850

Pros: Image quality, touch screen, improved Live View, dynamic range, solid construction, familiar menu, tilting screen, focus, bright screen

Cons: Weight and size, can be difficult to hand hold for sharp pictures, Snap Bridge needs a firmware update as this seems to work rarely sending files to the phone. Did I say size and weight? I've succeeded in several blurry frames while hand holding at reasonable shutter times-1/125 and even 1/200, so beware, sharpness is not a given, as with such a big file it is hard to get really critical sharpness. This means more tripod work for me.

Have we now got a camera that can get close to rendering with as high quality as the 8 x 10 did? Probably. Remarkable.

Topics: Camera

Permalink | Posted December 19, 2017

New Camera

I have a new camera. If you've read the blog before you know it isn't very often that I discuss equipment. Mostly it seems not so significant to me what kind of camera is used. But there are shifts occurring once again in the industry and this new camera, a Nikon D850, is one of the new tools in digital photography that is moving us ahead.

Edgartown, MA

Although it is difficult to show how good images are online, this 300% crop shows little noise and is quite detailed:

My previous camera, a Nikon D810, had been my primary picture maker for several years. A very good camera, it made files that I could count on:  for quality, for color, for tonality, dynamic range and for sharpness, even at quite big sizes. It wasn't perfect but it never failed me and got the job done, really all I could ask for in a camera in which to make my art.

Since I've only had the new camera a week and made just a few prints, I can't speak to its inherent goodness yet. But it feels right and its MP size is significantly larger, which should allow bigger prints at higher fidelity. Odd that we are so very dependent on a tool to make our pictures, but that's photography.  In my analog days, I was dependent on three tools to make my pictures. Early on the Rollei SL66 was front and center in the 70's, then the Superwide Hasselblad. Then I was wedded to the Toyo Field 8 x 10 for 25 years, connected at the hip to a large, cumbersome and very heavy camera and the three lenses I used ( and the tripod to mount it on!). Now I can get virtually as high a quality image with a camera I can hold in my hand and sling over my shoulder. Dreams do come true sometimes.

Current thought seems to be that large chip DSLR  days are numbered and I can believe that. The D850 is too large and heavy. I also use a full chip mirrorless Sony camera (A7r MK ll) and find it very nice to travel with. It is not as refined as the Nikons but nevertheless capable of wonderful files.

Simply enough, the bar is now very high in terms of the equipment we can use. We are at a high level of maturity in digital imaging and the devices are increasingly sophisticated and impressive in the quality of the results. Is the hype we are barraged with everytime a new camera is announced a true guide of its significance? No, but this one, the Nikon, and the new Sony A7r MK lll are genuine steps forward, I believe.

I have already learned, for instance, that in order to capture everything at the highest of quality you must make sure this new Nikon is held steady. Bring your A game to this tool for it requires it. Marginal quality lenses will not cut it either.

So, my apologies for coming down to earth to speak about equipment in this blog. I assume most of the photographs I'll make for a while will be from this new camera. I am looking forward to sharing new work made from the D850 Nikon with you.

Stay tuned.

BTW: I'll have prints of these images and others at the Allston Open Studios coming up in December.  Hope to see you there.

Topics: Camera,Northeast,Digital,Color,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 29, 2017

Big Changes

Since recovering from my hip surgery back in November I have begun to work with a mirrorless camera: the Sony A7R Mark ll. This is turning into a difficult transition. I believe I've written before that I do not look forward to new equipment and have never adjusted well or quickly to something new in my camera bag. 

This time is no exception.

Neal's new camera advice. Do not buy a new camera just before heading off on a trip to photograph. Do not buy a new camera when starting out on a new project. Do not use a new camera to shoot a project on any kind of deadline. Get the new camera when you've got some weeks, or months, to become familiar with it, to work it into your way of photographing, your methodology.

Actually, I do enjoy new lenses, learning how they see and render, where they are best and not so good. But cameras, particularly current digital cameras with complex menus? Not one bit. There is nothing worse for me than being in front of something really good and not being able to get it because I don't know the tool used to capture it. 

The Sony has me in fits, excited by the prospects but still confused how to use it and work with it. The Nikon I know, have used for years and, although the D810 and the lenses I have are too heavy and cumbersome, these are tools that get me the results I want: excellent files with great resolution allowing big prints. 

The Sony is still an unknown not because of it but because I am not good enough with it yet.

I am persevering, reading tutorials and user experiences on line and reading Gary Friedman's Guide, which by the way is 630 pages!  For instance: there are 16 pages just to explain his setup. Argh!

I read and study, set the camera and go out and make pictures with it. Come back home, work the files and start again. Each time, learning the system a little better, understanding some new setting.

But the camera is major. The files are killer at 42 mp. The lenses so far are really good (with the possible exception of the Sony 24-70mm f4, which seems a little soft to me) and the camera is allowing me to do things I've never been able to do before. It is smaller and lighter by far and, although the setup and use can be confusing, it allows many presets and options. 

Photography is changing  in big ways (again!) and the advent of really superb  mirrorless cameras may predict the demise of the conventional DSLR. 

What's my plan? To become good enough and confident in my abilities in this new format (for me) that I don't need both systems, Nikon and Sony. To start to sell off the DSLR equipment and turn those dollars into more lenses for the Sony.  The only aspect that could change is if Nikon wakes up and offers a mirrorless camera of exceptionally high quality that allows use of their existing lenses as well as builds over time lighter lenses for the new format.  Not holding my breath on that one.

Both Canon and Nikon are completely asleep at the switch so far. BTW: I am writing (in January 2016) this after Nikon made a big deal of announcing the new D5 and the D500 at this year's CES show in Las Vegas. This is a yawn of major proportions as there is no new technology in either of these cameras. "Much ado about nothing" does not impress this career photographer one bit and probably shouldn't impress you either.

One caution: if you are somewhat new to photography, are unsure about your results or your work in relation to others, be careful of the "if I just had a new camera" syndrome. Chances are, you should work on your picture making skills and ideas more than investing in a new camera. Yes, newer cameras have all the bells and whistles and yes there are genuine technological advances taking place but for most these matter not so much in the reality of the actual photographs they make. For instance, there's little point in joining the pixel race of more megapixels unless you need to print large. 3K for the fancy new camera that you've been lusting after or 3K on that trip to shoot those stone walls that you saw that time outside of Bath, England in late afternoon sun in early June? Or driving to rural Pennsylvania to shoot abandoned steel mills, flying to Belgrade to shoot the weekly farmer's market on Saturday mornings, or to the tip of Baja to... you get my point.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Camera,commetary,Equipment

Permalink | Posted January 20, 2016

Rollei SL 66 Part 2

I know you've been holding your breath for the second installment on the Rollei SL 66 camera I wrote about last week. Well, here it is.

When I wrote Part 1 I said that the Rollei was a system camera, just as the Hasselblad was. But Rollei clearly was working to surpass Hasselblad with the SL66. Here's it is, dismantled a little to show you its various parts.

And here it is assembled in the way I would use it if hand holding

with the 50 mm Zeiss Distagon lens alongside. I didn't use the 50mm lens much as it was vastly inferior to the 80mm Planar that you see on the camera. The grip was nicely designed as you could focus as well as operate the tilting lens function with your left hand while steadying the camera and advancing the film with your right. You can see the cable release on the handle of the grip as well. This allowed tripping the shutter with the left hand. Many people almost never hand held this camera, but I did. I would wear a Pentax Spotmeter on a strap around my neck as the Rollei had no meter.

Actually, over the years I used two Pentax meters. I used one of the earlier ones for years, with a very nice Zone VI scale glued on it to show the Zones. That was fine, if large, until I was shooting one day in Portland, Maine on a bridge high above a road below. I distinctly remember leaning over the railing and watching the meter float down to the pavement underneath the bridge after it slipped out of my hand. It exploded into many parts just before it was run over by a truck. 

By that time Pentax made a newer meter.

Which served me well over many years. It was ridiculously expensive and tended to eat batteries but was accurate and smaller than the first one.

I can remember Ansel Adams standing in the woods holding an SL 66 in an ad for Toyota, saying that for every visit to a Toyota dealership you made the company would plant a tree. This must have been in the late 70's or early 80's as Ansel died in 1984. I don't remember ever seeing Harry Callahan with the Rollei, although I know he was using it (along with the Hasselblad Superwide) when he was making his Cape Cod pictures.

Other photographers I knew that were using the Rollei? Well, Aaron Siskind was very loyal to the camera in his later years. Both he and Harry came from decades of using large view cameras and were looking for something smaller and roll film based to make their pictures with. I believe Aaron always used his on a tripod. I borrowed his 120 mm lens occasionally. Closer to home my friend Fred Sway bought and used one. Fred had hired me to teach at NESOP (New England School of Photography) in Boston in the mid 70's. He was the director of the school. He and I made pictures one spring in Bermuda with ours, staying at a student's guest house. And lastly, Robert Goobler, now long gone, had become a close friend when we were graduate students at RISD. He lived in Toronto and taught at Ryerson. Rob bought one and we did a cross country trip together shooting with our Rolleis. I believe Brett Weston used a Rollei SL 66 as well. Brett was Edward's son and is famous (infamous?) for burning all his negatives before he died.

The Rollei had a built in bellows, allowing it to focus very close. It also had a guide on the left side

that acted as a calculator to tell you how much exposure to add to compensate for the lens being so far from the film plane. 

Lastly, the cameras were a little finicky. I remember being out one day in downtown Providence with mine after I'd fixed its focusing issues (see Part 1 ). I wanted the subject to be in parallel but it was up higher so turned the camera upside down to frame a storefront window and held it high above my head. When I tripped the shutter I heard a slight "click", but no "thunk" noise of the mirror going up and down. The camera was profoundly jammed and had to go back to Rollei for corrective surgery.  Do not, I repeat, do not ever take a picture with a Rollei SL66 upside down.

The Rollei was not my first foray into high quality photography, the 4 x 5 was, but it was the most profound as I made countless pictures with it that communicated my ideas and feelings and growth as an artist faithfully and beautifully. I used the camera to make my MFA thesis work in 1973,

which was a series of pictures made in junkyards.

The Rollei SL66 was a camera made to be many things and was, perhaps, a design ahead of its time. It was a technical tour de force and a superb tool for making pictures. Even though I no longer photograph with it, I am keeping mine for there is a great deal of history in the Rollei SL66 for me.

Topics: Camera

Permalink | Posted November 3, 2015

Rollei SL66 Part 1

I don't usually write about equipment but the Rollei SL66 was such an important camera for me and many others I think it is appropriate. Plus, I just gave one of my two Sl66's away. 

This from the site Rolleiflex SL66

First single lens 6x6 camera by Rolleiflex: the SL66
They conceived a camera based on the construction elements of a studio camera, with the focusing rail on the left side. This was done so photographers accustomed to Rollei Twin Lens Reflex cameras would feel comfortable to find all operating elements in the same places: focusing on the left side, film advance and shutter release on the right side. Weiss and Prochnow had the camera ready, in time for the 1966 Photokina photographic fair in Cologne. Hence the name of the camera, SL66 for 1966 and 6x6, the size of the negatives.
At the time, development of the camera had cost Rollei about 3.5 million German Marks, which, at today's value, would be more than $ 10 million. A very large amount of money for a small company like Rollei this is, and shows how dedicated Rollei was to this new 'super Rolleiflex'.
The SL 66 consists of almost 1,000 single parts, all metal with the exception of only about 10 plastic parts (apart from the leatherette covers).

The Rollei SL 66 with the 40 mm Distagon lens and the grip which helped in hand holding

I bought mine in 1971. In those days, photographers wanting to step up in format from 35mm and still be able to hand hold would look to 2 1/4 (120mm) for higher quality due to the larger negative. Twin lens reflex cameras were made by Yashica, Rollei, and Mamiya. Single lens reflex cameras were made by Hasselblad, Bronica, Mamiya and Pentax. Photographers' highest quality choice was Hasselblad. With Carl Zeiss lenses, superb build quality and a reasonable size the Blad was expensive and a system camera. You could work with different models, format backs, reflex finders, add on meters and a long list of lenses, all at high cost. It was used on space missions by NASA, microscopy, National Geographic and countless studio photographers all over the world. You get the picture: Hasselblad was the Leica of 2 1/4 cameras. Many people think Hasselblad is a German camera. But it's not. The lenses are of German design but the camera is made in Sweden.

The original Hasselblad space camera: the 500 ELM

But the Rollei represented another step up in the line of available 2 1/4 SLR's for it was designed to do many more things than the Hasselblad. 

In the spring of 1971 I had just been accepted to the RI School of Design for study in the graduate photography MFA program. Harry Callahan had been my teacher for the junior and senior years at RISD and had a Rollei. (If you don't know about Callahan and his photography I recommend searching for it on line.) He was making wonderful prints off of negatives shot with the camera and I was looking at buying one, with an 80mm Zeiss Planar, a right angle prism finder and the grip. But I was concerned about the cost. If I remember right this was adding up to about $2000 that I didn't have. I went to Harry and explained I'd bought whole cars for a lot less than that. He asked me if I was serious about making pictures over my career. No one had ever asked me this in such a straight forward way. I answered, "yes." He said $2000 was very little to pay for something that could serve a lifetime, for a tool that I would make my pictures with, pictures that had a place in my heart for me and perhaps others as well. I decided on the spot. I ordered one, had it shipped to a friend's parents in Worcester to avoid the sales tax and waited for what seemed like forever. As soon as they called I jumped in the car and drove right up there from Providence. When I got it I was in heaven, reading the manual, dismantling it, playing with focus and it's tilt function.

The Rollei SL 66  showing the camera's tilt function

Yes, it could tilt its lens 6 degrees up and 6 degrees down. Big difference from the Hasselblad which was always fixed in parallel to its lenses. As I was working on a senior thesis project I began running film through it and making prints for class. But I couldn't get a sharp picture out of it. My classmates thought it was a bad lens so I sent it off to Rollei in New Jersey. It took about a month to get it back and Rollei said all was well. More tests and the same problem. This went on for a while, with me feeling like I'd spent way too much money for something that wasn't any good. No way was I doing the thesis with this camera as the pressure was on to make the final prints. So I shot it with one of the school's 4 x 5's.

Finally we shook loose what was going on. The focusing screen, which is removable on the SL66, was in its housing upside down. Lots of people were handling this camera when I received it as I was the first in school to own one and we never did know if it came that way,  or if someone mistakenly reversed it or if I did. This meant I was focusing on a different plane than where the film resided in the film back therefore guaranteeing blurry results.  All became right with the world when I turned the screen over and shot and processed film. Bingo! I can still remember what that was like. I was in the word of clarity, transparency, depth and sharpness. Life became really really good again.

By the time I started graduate study the next fall I was making pictures that were right up there with my classmates and my expectations for the camera were fulfilled. Odd to think that the tool we use holds such significance in the manner of the work we make but it does. Photography has always been reliant on its tools, its technology. For some the camera is everything. But Harry Callahan taught me that it was important to use the best device you could afford, that this after all, was your work and that the tools we use needed to be bought in awareness to their intended purpose. The best paint brushes, the best and most permanent oils.  An enlarger that is rigid and stable. An enlarging lens that is faithful to the clarity and sharpness of the negative.These days the computer and storage that are up the task of handling files of large size, the display that depicts your work with clarity and depth, the printer that conveys your work in a full range of colors and prints a deep black, and so on. His advice has served me well over now a long career of making pictures. 

Thanks Harry for that.

My friend Gail now has a second Rollei SL66. I was honored to part with it as the Rollei is the primary tool she uses to make her art. And her first Rollei is showing signs of being very tired. 

Funny, I have often sold cameras to buy new or different ones. In 1984 I sold a Hasselblad Superwide that was about as important to me as my right eye to buy the one and only 8 x 10 camera I ever used: the 8 x 10 Toyo Field. 

But I still have my Rollei.

Neal Rantoul, 1972, made with the Rollei and 80mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Planar lens

Coming up: Part 2 of the Rollei SL66 experience. And some insight into who photographed with one.  Hint: think Aaron Siskind, Ansel Adams, etc.

Note: you can read about more of my early work here.

Topics: Camera,early work,Black and White,Analog

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2015