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This page of the site contains the latest 10 articles to appear on bythom, followed by links to the archives.

You Don't Really Need to Leak or Switch

I continue to be struck by how so many people come up with so many excuses explanations to Switch or Leak between systems. This is one reason why I started writing about switching and leaking in the first place: the explanations were lame and used as justifications for something that they just felt like doing for some reason.

The usual explanation is "Brand X hasn't done Y", where Y is a feature, a pixel count, a buffer size, or some other thing that Brand Z's marketing department has started trumpeting loudly. In case you don't get it, here's the sequence:

  1. Brand Z Marketing successfully reveals something unique and highlights its desirability.
  2. This is amplified in ways that are highly suspicious (paid shilling, basically), but also by influencers and fan boys in general seeking attention or self esteem.
  3. The consumer sees the #1 and #2 and believes they're missing out on something.
  4. The consumer buys the Brand Z product. 
  5. Brand X introduces the same feature, pixel count, buffer size, or whatever so as to be either equal or better to Brand Z. They often also add a new feature, pixel count, buffer size, or whatever.
  6. Goto Step 1.

If you're of the "he who dies with the best toys wins" belief (and about to die ;~), sure, go ahead and make a leap. The rest of you are probably interesting in taking photos (or videos), so until you maximize what you can get out of what you have, it's mostly a waste of money to play this never-ending switch game.

Lately I've been seeing a slightly different variation of the game repeated without actual facts on the ground. It has to do with "lens selection." For instance "The [Sony] lens selection alone is nuts compared to the Nikon lineup." Well, yes if you ignore the F-mount lenses, ignore the telephoto options, and don't mind counting near-duplicate 35mm and 50mm primes in your counts. Reality for a photographer is a little different, though. I'd say the one clear lens issue for the Nikon Z-mount happens only at wider than 14mm. Sony has two lenses that go down to 12mm. 

Okay, then there's some Tamron lenses that fill the lineup a different way, though three of those are already in the Z lineup with another known coming. 

So, even if I concede the "selection is nuts" contention—and I don't—it's probably very short-lived. 

A great deal of the excuses explanations I see these days for leaking and switching are actually attempts at self-convincing. If I can proclaim a clear win, then I made the right choice. The "right choice" has always been a challenge to make. And if you stick with a choice you make you may get tarred with the old "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" notion, i.e. that there is a "safe" choice by picking a leading brand and sticking with it. 

I first outlined my thinking almost two decades ago: 

A. If you've been using a popular camera brand for a reasonable period of time, just stick with the brand. The game of leap frog will eventually catch you up and move you ahead, and you won't be buying much more than a new body or have to learn more than a few new features and customizations. 

B. If you're just getting into cameras, then it pays to take some time and figure out what's the best current and future brand for you. 

Five years ago, I would have said A was a Canon/Nikon DSLR, while B should also include Olympus/Sony mirrorless. Today I'd tend to say that A is Canon/Nikon/Sony, and B might also include Fujifilm or OM Digital Solutions. 

To put it another way: staying with a brand has clear benefits over a long period of time. Bouncing between brands is a good way to waste money. 

Not that some pros don't do just that. Our need to stay on top of the game—for sports photographers quite literally—does have us wobble between brands at times because we can see a clear and useful benefit we can take advantage of short term. However, most of those pros doing that are writing off their cameras against their business and using them hard enough that they're rebuying in two to three year increments (the photography agencies tend to be on four year increments for big gear contracts). 

Yes, the frog-leaping between brands lately has slowed to a more leisurely pace. I suspect that will return to the two-year leaping cycles we've seen in the past. Meanwhile, what you own today takes excellent photos. I just reiterated that for my own benefit as I was preparing some images for an upcoming presentation:

bythom int ecuador gal 11-17 d7500 45295smallfix

Guess the camera and lens. Go ahead, guess, I can wait...







Hint, it's not a Nikon Z9.







And it's not a Nikon D6.








It's a Nikon D7500 with the 70-300mm AF-P lens (and the lens is at 120mm). I've done a little bit of processing to pull the bird off the background, but note that this is also at ISO 800 and with the camera doing the focusing (under my control, a point I keep making). 

So, no, you don't need a new camera. I'm very happy with that result, and you would be, too. 

How Long Will You Be Happy?

GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) is like an addictive drug. Over time the satisfaction with a "normal" dose lowers and you'll need more GAS to get the same level of pleasure.

So, as we head into the camera buying season—particularly since we have quite a few amazing cameras to consider—you need to ask yourself a simple question: "if I buy this new X how long will I be happy with it?" 

If you can't see yourself satisfied with any of the most recent cameras for at least four or five years of photography—and probably many more than that—you probably are a GAS addict and are in need of an intervention. 

That last paragraph, by the way, is the answer to those not interested in moving from a DSLR to a mirrorless system (additional commentary was posted today over at If you were to buy a Nikon D850 today, for example, I'd bet that you'd get four, five, six, or maybe even eight years of great photography from it. Amortized over five years, a new D850 today works out to the equivalent of a US$40 month subscription. So there's another metric you can apply: are you using your camera enough to justify paying US$40 this month for it? If not, why are you looking at cameras, at all?

Historically, if you were using about two-and-a-half rolls of film a month at the start of the DSLR era (1999), you'd have been paying about the equivalent of US$40 month (after accounting for inflation). That's today's equivalent of one Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte about every four days (less in states that tax it). What makes me think that some of you are going to use this in your defense of a camera purchase to your spouse? ;~)

Ultimately, you shouldn't be getting out the credit card and ordering up a new camera unless one of two things are going to happen: (1) it will make you happy; or (2) it will make you money. So for almost all of you reading this, we're back to the headline: how long will that happiness last? 

The marketing departments at the camera companies would probably answer "no more than two years." The CEOs at the credit card companies would probably answer "not at all, you need to buy another." Fan boys will agree with those CEOs: "not at all, you bought the wrong one."  Your significant other probably has the answer closest to right: "why did you need to buy a new camera at all?" 

Yes, Thom is playing Grinch this year (or almost any year ;~). But he also knows that come the end of February, when we've seen the next onslaught of amazing new cameras, you'll be looking at them fondly and thinking maybe you need another shot of GAS. 

More Questions Answered

"Does a better camera take better pictures?"

Ah, the trick question. The answer is yes. 

But the answer only applies if you (1) know what is lacking in your photos technically; (2) the new camera can help with that; (3) you take the time to learn what that is and how to apply that; and (4) you practice it so that it becomes second nature and muscle memory. 

I'll give you a recent example that puts that in dramatic clarity. The Z9 with firmware C3.00 is a better camera than a Z9 with C1.00 firmware. The image sensor didn't change. The image processor didn't change. The EVF didn't change. What changed are a lot of small nuances in the focus system (which you need to learn and practice to take advantage of), and better abilities to customize the camera (which you need to study, pick the ones that work to your style, and practice to take advantage of). Those two things improved my photography with the Z9. Imagine what would happen if the sensor, processor, and EVF changed ;~).

Are my pictures dramatically better now? No. But I'm much more in control of the focus system, which is resulting in more keepers and is pulling out every last bit of detail those new Z lenses are capable of. 

That said, if you aren't getting everything possible out of your current camera, all buying a new one does is kick the can further down the street. 

"What's the best AF-area mode to use?"

Most people asking this question want a set-it-once-always-works answer. You're not going to get one. Not from me, not from the camera makers, not from anyone else that understands focus systems well. 

We have multiple choices for a reason. 

My usual answer to the question the way it's posed above is this: "I'd have to know what you're photographing, how you're photographing it, how you have configured and are using the camera, and whether you're comfortable with any complexity to refine your results." In other words, the answer is situational. 

The most recent advanced cameras have all attracted attention from users for what is essentially Auto-area AF with Subject Detection. The marketing departments—particularly at Nikon and Sony as of late—are very good at the "it just works" voodoo answer, and people are swallowing that line, hook, and sinker. 

The reality is far more nuanced. As I've mentioned several times, with the Nikon Z9 (and Sony A1 for that matter), I tend to perform a four finger dance with controls these days to get focus exactly where I want it. Note that I wrote "where I want it" and not "where the camera thinks is okay." 

We have a lot of "good enough" going on in photography these days. And for many of you, that may be, indeed, good enough. Thus, the answer in those cases is Auto-area AF with Subject Detection, just like the camera makers keep suggesting. But then when you compare your work against someone who's extracting everything the cameras are capable of, you may find it wanting in terms of focus. 

"Within depth of field" is not the same as "focus is exactly where it needed to be." Small drifts in the focus plane on a moving subject are not the same as keeping the focus plane on a specific part of a moving subject. I should point out that while I want that focus plane to move with a particular detail, I don't always get exactly that, even with my four-finger dance. But I get it more often than I would just pressing one button and letting the camera figure it out. 

So I guess my answer to the question is a question: how precise do you want the focus to be, and are you willing to control something to get that? 

The short answer is this: start with all auto, and then when you find that’s not working for something, use a smaller area ;~). This is true for Sony cameras (“try using a smaller focus area”) and Nikon cameras (“try using a smaller size for Wide-area AF”).

"My opinion is just as valid as yours." 

Not a question, but what the heck, let me answer anyway.

It's fine to have an opinion. Everyone's entitled to theirs. But an opinion may not be particularly valid, may be based upon false assumptions or lackadaisical logic, and may not be supportable in a true debate. 

So while everyone's entitled to their opinion, everyone is also entitled to not listen to your opinion. All of us tend to seek out informed observations; opinions that can clearly state how they were formed and what they are based upon. Over time, we evaluate whether those opinions had any relevancy or usefulness as more information becomes available. If we keep finding that someone's opinions have no basis in reality or turn out to be wrong, we'll stop listening to that person (at least we should; I know a lot of people who are failing at this).

I'm now going to do something I generally don't do: honk my own horn. I've been providing informed opinions about photography for over 30 years on the Internet. My following grew to over one million readers and has stayed relatively constant—without any advertising or promotion—for the last decade. I know from my emails and interactions with site readers that most of you are still "following" me after many years of reading my tl;dr observations and opinions. I'd like to think that's because my opinions have been useful to you (and/or have proven to be basically correct). If I were to think that my opinions weren't well considered and useful, I'd simply stop publishing them. However, it is annoying that people who are uninformed and unreliable are constantly—and I do mean constantly—trying to use the quoted construct to challenge me. 

Most of the people I get this "my opinion is as valid as yours" construct from tend to be young. For them I'll just chalk it up to a relative of teenage angst ("my parents are against me"). The others tend to be angry fan boys (and note that I'm using the word "boy" for many people who are in their middle-age, which says something in itself, and yes, is an opinion ;~). Just remember, you can have an opinion and be wrong. Many of those challenging me constantly tend to be in this category. 

Note I'm writing about "opinion" as opposed to "prediction". I don't know anyone that does predictions that is anywhere close to 100% correct. Heck economists are generally 100% wrong, but sometimes close. Indeed, 50% correct would be a really high hit rate for any specific prediction that is generated from scratch (as opposed to making a Yes/No choice on an offered option, where you should be 50% correct ;~). I tracked my predictions for years, and that ranged from 40% to 60% right. I no longer do much in the way of actual predictions (though I have something planned for late this year ;~). 

"What are the best settings, e.g. ISO and aperture, for getting the highest sharpness and least noise?"

I can think of two answers to this question. The first answer is the theoretical absolute: the lowest numbered ISO on the camera and the tested aperture at which MTF is maximized. Personally, I ignore the theoretical absolute answer these days.

The second answer is: the ISO and aperture that net you the best results for the situation/conditions. Oh, oh. That means you have to think (and test). It seems that many budding photographers don't want to think, let alone test. They just want someone to tell them what to use and they then consider that golden advice that always applies. Often they really just want the camera set to "automatic". At least until they see the results, at which time they ask the question in bold, above. 

Then there's the additional issue of whether we're talking about JPEG or raw. If you want out-of-camera-perfect JPEG results, you have a ton of other settings that you must get absolutely correct, including things like Picture Controls, Saturation, Contrast, Noise Reduction, White Balance, and these days, perhaps a dozen more. If you want perfect raw conversions, then things become more dependent upon your ability to recognize issues that arise during the capture and use the right settings to optimize the data that's recorded.

Let me me re-direct your question. What are you trying to photograph? What's the goal of that photograph? Sharpness and noise are attributes subordinate to your answer, not the answer themselves. When I look at an image the first thing that comes to mind isn't how sharp or noise-free it is, but whether the subject matter immediately draws me in. Heck, if the photo is of a sandstorm, how would I even tell it's noisy? ;~)

For what it's worth, most of the photos you find memorable are neither perfectly sharp nor noise-free. Some are sharp and noise-free, but that isn't the reason why remember them. 

So try this mantra on for size: subject first, discipline second. 

"Are the camera companies all going to go out of business?"

No one is immortal, though Disney sure tries hard at achieving that for all their assets. 

I don't get the sense that any of the Japanese camera companies are in a problematic position at the moment, despite the strange and chaotic economic times we're in at the moment. The strength of the dollar and the overheated US market has helped them. They've shifted what parts they have available to the more expensive cameras they're selling, pushed much of that production into US distribution, and thus their gross profit margin numbers still look good. Demand is still higher than supply worldwide, so what shows up at stores tends to leave the store pretty quickly. Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony are are all uncanny at survival techniques in tough times. In many ironic ways, the current situation is making them stronger, not weaker.

The real issue for the camera makers is this: growth. Despite pent-up market demand, there's no meaningful overall market growth at the moment. There probably will be for a short time once the supply chain gets more reliable. Much of the unserved demand is at the low end, which the camera companies seem to be weening themselves off of for the moment. The long term health of the camera companies is going to be dependent upon them achieving meaningful growth, though, and at the moment I'm not sure how or when that's going to happen. Still, we're far away from having to worry about that issue at the moment. All the companies have shifted themselves into a strong position at their current sizes, and many are showing some modest growth (though this is relative to a not-so-great previous year or two). But true market growth hasn't happened yet. We've been at 5.3m ILC units for a couple of years, and this year isn't going to be dramatically different, it appears. 

Busting the Burnout

bythom US NV LasVegas 00897

A recent post on the Internet reminded me of something I've been wanting to write about for awhile and haven't gotten around to: burnout. 

Folk my age have been taking photos for many decades. Many of us got roped into being the documenter of life events because, well, we had a camera and (usually) knew how to use it. Family, pets, vacations, events, and holidays all became chores, as we were expected to be doing the "Kodak thing" and preserve them for posterity. 

The "Kodak thing" was drilled into our brains through advertising: "relive your memories for generations", "snapshots help your heart remember", "share moments share life", and so on. 

These days, social media has taken over the "Kodak thing" and smartphones are the drug used to fuel the addiction. If you don't share you're out of touch. (Hmm, maybe Elon should use that as a tagline ;~)

Like smells, photos are trigger reminders for our brains (if only someone had invented the smellocam ;~). Our brain is constantly optimizing its memory access, using most of its processing power for the most recent (and current) data, which tends to shuffle the older memories into some sort of long-term storage where they're harder to access. Get exposed to a smell or a photo and suddenly that long-term storage is instantly retrieved and put into currency (remembrance). 

As I noted earlier, those of us with cameras became chore-laden zombies, recording everything that our loved ones wanted remembered. It's pretty natural to burn out if you think that's your role and you're not getting some sort of immediate gratification from it. For some of you, though, you sublimated things and got gratification from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). That at least gave you something under your control to obsess about, and it's always shiny and new ;~). 

Even with new gear, though, pointing your three-pound+ technology wonder in some direction and pressing the shutter release probably is still a chore, right?

If you answered yes to that question, you're burnt out. 

Which brings me to another way that people deal with photography becoming a chore: they change specialties. You were mostly photographing landscapes from National Park scenic turnouts? Hmm. Try astrophotography. Or wildlife photography (which means you need to use GAS to buy a big lens, which will give you a double boost of burn-out-removal adrenaline).  Oh, your children are now actively participating in organized sports? Great, that's different than taking pictures of them standing in front of something; you're now a sports photographer. 

Famous painters are well known for having "periods," and those were often triggered by artistic burnout. Once they felt they had mastered something and were becoming only known for that, they looked at reinventing themselves. Why? Well, once you're deep into the minutia of brush hair type, stroke consistency, and so on attempting to make the same subjects look realistic, the big gains and the excitement they bring disappear. To be replaced with what seems like a repetitive, small incremental step process that maybe only they saw. If someone says "paint me another Mona Lisa," you know you've hit that burnout level.

The way you get out of burnout is to reinvent yourself and your processes, not buy gear! Are you doing the same thing every time you pick up the camera? Are you composing the same? Are you using a zoom instead of perspective? Have you really studied the subject you're photographing and truly found the right way to capture all its beauty/nuance/majesty? 

There's one important thing you can learn from the Instagram Influencers: they don't just pick up their camera and take a selfie every ten minutes. The best ones think through how to make a unique image—said image happening to include them and maybe a product in it—that will immediately catch your interest when you see it (a topic I'll be covering soon). They plan as well as the best pro photographers. They tell stories. They push boundaries. They try new things. The obsess about every detail in their image. They find excitement (and dollars) in doing something that others aren't doing. And doing it better than the few others that might have the same idea. 

So here's your holiday season homework: 

You're probably tasked with recording the holiday celebrations for your family or group. You've probably done that far too many times without really giving it a lot of thought. You see it primarily as a necessary task, and try to accomplish it as quickly as possible.

This year, break that pattern. I want you to create a photo that shows true holiday joy, that shows how a holiday is different from a normal day, that captures the excitement someone else has about the holiday. Sure, photograph the Christmas tree so that you can all reminisce about the year you added the XYZ ornament. With that task out of the way, now make me feel the holiday. 

I'm going to intentionally step out of the way now and not give you any more clues or instructions. This homework is all about approaching what used to be a chore differently. Attempt to document emotion rather than thing/place/people. If that doesn't bust you out of your burnout, nothing will.

Pixel Density Redux

It appears that a new angst has appeared in some due to Fujifilm's 40mp APS-C camera. I see all kinds of questions that are getting posed—ones that probably should have already been posed when Canon went to 33mp in APS-C—about how all this works in terms of image quality.

We're back to pixel density, folks. 

Fujifilm's 40mp APS-C is about the same pixel density per capture millimeter as 90mp full frame. Canon's 33mp APS-C is the same density as 77mp full frame. 

The problem starts showing up when people start comparing 40mp APS-C to 24mp, 33mp, or 45mp full frame. All kinds of math raises its head that trips people up.

Linear resolution—something we want as much of as possible, all else equal—is proportional to the square root of the pixel count. Oh dear. Square roots. That's the jiggly thing that goes over numbers you never quite figured out how to calculate in junior high. So, just to be clear, at the same frame size: (updated: I'm going to detail this in pixels on one dimension assuming same sized sensor, and rounded to nearest percent to be more consistent and clear; none of the changed numbers changes my comments, however).

  • 12mp (4288 pixels) — 43% more linear resolution than 6mp (3008 pixels)
  • 24mp (6048 pixels) — 41% more linear resolution than 12mp
  • 33mp (7008 pixels) — 16% more linear resolution than 24mp
  • 45mp (8256 pixels) — 18% more linear resolution than 33mp, 37% more than 24mp
  • 61mp (9504 pixels) — 15% more linear resolution than 45mp, 57% more than 24mp

As I've written before, a 15% in linear resolution is about the threshold at which most people can detect any change. Note that I didn't write "significant change." Just that the majority of viewers will see an image with 15% more linear resolution as starting to be better in some vague way. How much better is a good question unanswered by science at the moment. 

But there's that tricky bit to think about: pixel density. 40mp APS-C happens across a distance that is two-thirds that of full frame in each dimension. So suddenly 40mp APS-C (7728 pixels over 23.5mm) has 97% more linear resolution on an object framed the same size as a 24mp full frame camera (e.g. same angle of view; 6048 pixels over 35.9mm). Technically, that's a lot, and perhaps enough for even some 24mp full frame users to consider switching to 40mp APS-C. (Hold that thought...)  

Of course lenses have something to say in what happens in your data. A poor lens—as measured in contrast line pairs per millimeter—on a high pixel count sensor might just resolve that poorness better. And then there's diffraction, which absolutely would be in play at 40mp APS-C at even f/2.8 on a desktop inkjet print (19") judged at arm's length distance. 

But things are trickier than even just applying the basic math. When I bought my Sony A7R Mark IV (61mp), I thought that it would be my new landscape camera of choice (over the 45mp Z7 II or D850). Heck, the Sony 20mm f/1.8 lens even performed ever so slightly better than the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 S lens in some of my chart tests (both are excellent landscape lens choices). Thus, more resolution and a slightly better lens should show up as better pixel results, right? Didn't happen. There's something about the way Nikon obtains and places their DNs (digital numbers) on the underlying photon-to-electron conversion that makes the shadows clearly better for me. And I tend to expose for the highlights and re-work the shadows in my landscape work. Thus I eventually sold the Sony.

As I've written many times before, we're in an era now were we get small gains when we get them, and these gains don't always come without a cost. For instance, Canon is still using anti-aliasing filters on some of their 33mp cameras, for instance. For some, that would be a cost, while for others not having such a filter might be considered a liability (e.g. moire). 

I wrote way back in 2003 that 24mp was the end of the sweet spot for APS-C. Beyond that pixel count we'd be seeing other impacts—diffraction, for instance—start to become issues we'd have to deal with and we wouldn't see as much improvement as the increase in number might suggest. My statement back then was based upon a lot of low level math, and I haven't seen much really change to alter that work. One change that might impact that math was the removal of the anti-aliasing filter, but as I just noted, that doesn't come without a downside.

Information theory also comes into play. I won't get into the formulas, but basically the pixel information you ultimately collect is dependent upon both resolution and signal-to-noise, and any decrease in signal-to-noise produces a non-linear decrease in information. A 40mp APS-C sensor has a lower signal-to-noise ratio than a 40mp full frame one, all else equal. And we haven't gotten to camera or subject motion, either, which also would impact the pixel math in terms of ultimate acuity.

So be careful in getting too excited about "big numbers" when it comes to image sensors. Yes, they keep going up—and will continue to do so—but the direct improvements are going down in the amount of change they suggest. 

That said, what I've also written in the past still applies: all else equal, more sampling is always better in digital constructs. (Note the "all else equal.") Why? Because if the data is accurate, it gives you some more discrete information about the thing being sampled. It's only the amount of "more" that is changing. So yes, higher pixel counts are better, but they're now always less better relatively than they were the last time we got a higher pixel count. Put another way: we continue to get higher pixel densities, but these are giving us less new benefit.

I'm still picking up my 20mp and 24mp APS-C cameras and being very happy with what they produce. I'm still picking up my 24mp and 36mp full frame cameras and being extremely happy with what they produce. You should be, too. Of course, my main cameras are 45mp and 50mp these days, so why listen to me? ;~) 

If I were doing more landscape work, I'm sure I'd have a medium format 100mp camera, as the increase in capture size (higher signal to noise) coupled with increased resolution should mean significantly more information content captured. (Note the "should"; my experience with the Fujifilm GFX100 was that the lens I used and mount alignment was holding it back somewhat.)

Update: re-rationalized math to pixels/mm across a single dimension (because we have different sized sensors). Changes percentages, but doesn't change conclusions. Also, fixed wording in last paragraph.

Pricing is Unsettled

We’ve already had most camera companies raise prices in Japan and Europe at least once this year, with some adjustments in the US, as well. 

That re-pricing isn’t done. The continued parts shortages coupled with the strong US dollar is having a continued impact in Tokyo. Even though we’re coming into the holiday season, I see upcoming price adjustments that will happen right in the middle of the buying season. Canon has already announced a price increase for most products in Japan to take effect in November, for instance, and I’m hearing rumblings that others will follow, and other regions may see something similar. Update: Fujifilm has also announced a 5-30% increase on lenses in Japan.

Moreover, the list prices for cameras getting updates seems to be going up, too. The Sony A7R Mark V will have a higher list price than the A7R Mark IV it replaces, for example, and I expect Canon and Nikon to be doing the same thing soon.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be very interesting this year. I expect that overstocked products will get discounts, low stock items won’t.

We are in a classic inflation/recession cycle. Businesses are far faster at responding to changing costs than consumers tend to be. They’ll raise prices very quickly to attempt to keep profits even or growing. Eventually, consumers balk at the higher costs of said products, and stop buying them in the same quantity, which causes the business’s sales to go down, putting strain on profits again and perhaps triggering/extending recession, and we begin a vicious loop that eventually destructs any consumer or business carrying too much debt. That’s because the central banks’ one key control over inflation is to increase interest rates to pull down demand, so debt costs go up. Carry too much debt into a cycle like this and it will hurt. 

Eventually, prices have to relent (or wages increase, or both) and find some new point of stability. Unfortunately, until we reach that point, we'll get these gyrations that are much like watching bath water slop back and forth across a tub due to a big disruption. Eventually that will settle down, but until then, beware the waves.

And if someone tells you that a political party causes this, or that a political party can fix this, tell them they’re barking up something that isn’t even a tree, let alone the wrong tree. Inflation is triggered by herd instinct, particularly centered on money. You, me, and others coupled with the speed or force at which we overreact tend to be the real problem. 

The long term result is that we’re going to lose some suppliers of photographic gear. Dealers carrying too much debt. Software companies dependent upon constant upgrade money. Accessory companies that suddenly see sales volume decline and end up with excess inventory that their only real choice is to sell at a loss. 

No, the Japanese camera companies won’t be one of the casualties. The Japanese CES industry has a long history of dealing with local, regional, and global economy changes. Most of them do that better than just about anyone. And they still cooperate when necessary to keep the full set of supplier options available. (For example, Sony is a supplier to Nikon, while Nikon is a supplier to Sony, so they’re co-dependent.) 

However, pricing is one of the tools that the Japanese companies use to micromanage things when the economy in which they sell changes. So we’re going to see a lot of pricing adjustments, some permanent, some temporary, as they rebalance what they’re doing. Products already produced will perhaps see discounts, while new products just starting to be produced will have higher suggested retail prices. It might look haphazard, but a bunch of spreadsheets in Tokyo are tracking it all and being used to make every decision.

Take a deep breath. Make sure you’re not doing something that destabilizes your own finances. Buy what you need or can afford. 

Strange Things Said XIX

"How you can see [sic], the Fujifilm GFX100S matches the Hasselblad dynamic range at base ISO, but starting from ISO 400 and beyond there is not competition [sic] and the GFX100S beats the X2D in terms of dynamic range. So Fujifilm is able to take out more of the sensor [sic] than Hasselblad." --Fujirumors reporting on Photons to Photos Dynamic Range chart.

A better way to say this would be that the GFX100S tends to have about two-thirds of a stop more "photographic" dynamic range than the X2D above ISO 400. Bill Claff, who started and manages Photons to Photos has a specific definition of dynamic range, which is why the word "photographic" is in quotes here. 

Generally, the Sony Exmor sensors—which both cameras use, but manage slightly differently—are extremely good at recording the randomness of photons these days, so it's probably a bit more valid to look at the GFX100S and X2D a different way than the dynamic range chart. Look at the Read Noise in DNs (digital numbers) values. 

There you see things a bit differently. Hasselblad has aligned their use of the sensor data differently than Fujifilm. At ISO 64, the X2D's base ISO, the read noise is 2e- (essentially two electrons), while at the GFX100s's base ISO of 100, the read noise is 2.3e- in log2 numbers (which is used to better understand the noise implication).  That's a 15% difference at the ISO values most people are likely using these medium format cameras at. But as Jim Kasson pointed out on his blog, the real difference is how the two companies are positioning digital numbers to ISO. When you truly compare exposure apples to apples, the differences (mostly) disappear.

Frankly, I'd take either result. Both cameras appear to live above my usual cut-off for noise up through their stated ISO 2500 or so. I can't really imagine that I'd be using either in situations where I'm pressing ISO into higher ranges; these are not sports, PJ, or wildlife cameras, by any stretch of the imagination.

But the sloppy headline wording and the lead ("The web is full of professional reviewers suddenly discovering how amazing the Hasselblad X2D is...") is the giveaway here. Once again we have a brand-specific Web site that's showing its lack of confidence in their chosen brand, and apparently the site is worried that the X2D will steal the GFX100S's thunder. I'm surprised that it's Fujirumors doing this, as generally Patrick (the owner) is pretty level-headed about his reporting. Indeed, of the rumor sites, probably the least heavy-handed and most accurate.

So here's the real scoop: the Internet blogosphere already reviewed the GFX100S and found it to be a great camera (as do I). But that was over a year-and-a-half ago, which in Internet (dog) years is almost a whole generation of product. The X2D just came out, so of course it's now getting reviews, which appear to say it generates great images, too. I haven't yet used one, so can't tell you how it fares. 

It's worrying and puzzling to me that the world seems to have devolved into "there can only be one choice." In reality, no one idea, product, service, approach is the answer. Even if it was, it would only be the answer for a short time as new alternatives formed and evolved. The GFX100S and X2D can coexist in the same universe, have success, and satisfy different customers, simple as that. Any attempt to put up the shields and sling arrows over them is just wrong-headed.

“I lose too much money selling my old lenses.” — recurring complaint on Internet fora, Web posts, and in emails.

Nope. You already lost that money. It’s called depreciation of asset. It’s rare that an old thing retains or gains value over time. Usually, it would have to be something unique, in limited supply, and coveted by collectors to hold or gain value. 

Having a photography business forces me to look at everything through the perspective of its actual value to my use. If I pay X for a new piece of gear, I also want to know how many months (M) I’m going to get useful value from it. My actual cost of acquiring said item is X/M expressed as a monthly cost. The way I evaluate whether the product provides me useful value is whether X/M > Y, where Y is the income benefit I get from having it around each month. (It’s actually more complex than that, as the US government will let me immediately depreciate a purchase, which changes my business taxes. Nevertheless, the point is still the same: I have to use math—I’m sure you remember studying that in school and your teacher saying it would be important—to figure out whether something has value to me or not.)

Amateurs and enthusiasts can perform a similar analysis. How much does it cost, how long will you use it, and how does that average out on a monthly basis? Is that an implied monthly dollar cost you see as being satisfactory to continue enjoying your hobby/pursuit? No, then don’t buy that new gear. Also: don’t worry much about its residual value. Consider yourself lucky if it has any when you decide to sell it. 

Libertarian investor Harry Browne wrote a book back in 1983 called How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. I’ll ignore the political aspects of that book for the moment, but there are two sections in the book that are highly applicable to this situation: the Previous Investment Trap, and the Box Trap. In the former, people get hung up on how much they paid for something and not its actual value. In the latter, people get trapped by the cost of getting out of a situation, so they never get out. 

I believe some older gear will gain value over time. For instance, the exotic Canon/Nikon lenses that people paid US$7000-14,000 for and which are now netting them maybe US$2000 if they sell them. This low residual value is due to how many such lenses are coming onto the market as people switch from DSLR to mirrorless. The reason they’ll go up in value? Because they still work perfectly well on RF and Z bodies with the manufacturer’s adapter, and a new exotic will set the user back US$7000-14,000. There’s not a real US$12,000 difference in image quality ;~). So once the rush of trade-ins clears, I think the exotics will sneak up in price. Of course, that might not be more than the return you could get for one today on the same dollars over the same time period, as right now savings accounts have interest rates are back significantly above 0%. 

So, no, I don’t suggest that you keep your old exotic if you’re not using it. It’s not truly an investment, it’s become a bet on future value. Converting that to real dollars and investing those wisely are a better bet.

“Switch to Fuji [sic] to stop shooting RAW” — dpreview forum post title

In the post: “I’m looking to limit the time I spend on the computer editing pictures.” and “editing the m4/3 raw files takes quite some time, especially when Lightroom messes up the white balance.”

Three lines and we have a lot going on to talk about. 

First up is the "JPEG is easier” thought. We all want immediacy. Well, perhaps not all, but most people will sacrifice something for immediacy, and in photography this dates all the way back to one-hour labs and instant photography. While not talked about, this is another clear advantage that accrues to smartphones: even raw files taken by a smartphone look immediate (you can see and browse them immediately on the phone, and push them to social media immediately as well). Smartphones are the new instant photography. The Fujifilm Instax survives for instant photography because getting an immediate physical representation is seen as cool and engaging by some. It’s the hip thing to do at weddings and other events.

JPEG is not easier than raw. It requires you (or the camera/computer) to set the same things, make the same adjustments. Only with JPEG you must do this in the camera and can’t really change your mind after you’ve taken the photo. That requires either a really “smart” camera or you to pay close attention to what’s going on and what you (might) want. With raw you do it later at your computer, and can change your mind (within reason determined by the digital numbers). 

Fujifilm and Olympus both juice their out-of-camera JPEGs quite a bit at their standard settings. Both use hue shifts, both increase contrast, both use high saturations. All of those things have proven to be liked by consumers for quite some time. While I strongly disagree that Fujifilm’s film simulations are accurate to their film stocks, Fujifilm is applying consumer preferences they’ve learned over a long period of time to their JPEGs. 

But one of the things that most people leave on Auto is White Balance, which is important to JPEG satisfaction, and which might explain the Lightroom comment, as well. Some cameras do far better in more light situations than others with Auto White Balance. I’d probably stick a chart in here with my best-to-worst evaluation of Auto White Balance capabilities, but then I’d be arguing with too many people via email about why I put brand X over/under brand Y ;~). Let me cut to a chase: Olympus would be far down the chart, so it doesn’t surprise me that if Lightroom is picking up “White Balance As Shot” it would be wrong, too.

Here’s the thing I really want to write about, though: customers like the one who posted on dpreview are ones that are highly vulnerable for the camera companies. I mentioned above that people want immediacy. If you give them more immediacy (but not immediate), they’ll still seek out more immediacy if its available. And they’re always willing to sacrifice something that don’t consider overly important when they do. 

This particular customer is one future more-capable phone away from moving away from interchangeable lens cameras. 

It’s probably worth enumerating some of the sacrifices that people are willing to give up for immediacy: making settings decisions, pixel count, focal length range, accuracy and integrity of the pixel data, and more. As smartphones reduce sacrifices, they nibble further into the dedicated camera market. 

My guess? For the time being, this particular poster will switch to the dedicated camera that gives them the most immediacy through JPEG capability (probably mostly set once and left to “auto”). But long term, this poster is a candidate for a future smartphone that will nibble them away from the camera companies. It would be scary to be sitting on the Throne of Tripods in Tokyo right now.

The Lens Addiction

In recent years, the kit zoom lenses of many camera makers have gotten really good. The 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR DX on a Nikon Z50 does about as good a job in the 24-75mm effective as one could expect, while the 24-70mm f/4 S that comes with many Nikon Z6/Z7 kits is exceptional at what it does. Plus I’ve seen two or three other kit lenses from other camera makers that really make their cameras shine, too.

So what more do you need?

If I could transport you back to 1970 with those kit lenses fitted on a film SLR, you’d probably say “nothing.”

As Sontag and others have said, things move on, and so do the best photographers. 

By that I mean that the classic 35mm, 50mm, 70mm perspectives—all served by those kit zoom lenses—are pretty old school now. Well established and over-used. Most things (and people) you might point those lenses at have had plenty of time reflecting in said glass, and thus photos of them start looking the same when everyone uses the same lens(es) to photograph them. Even the wider Muench/Rowell/ landscapes start to look the same once you begin using the near, middle, far idea. Not too many nears exist for the far that’s distinctive, and middles are even more scarce. Thus, once Muench did the full set of US National Parks, all most of the rest could do with that idea is copy that, and thus, his image ideas.

What usually starts the lens buying addiction is one of two things: (1) attempting to duplicate the work of others; or (2) attempting to distinguish your work from others. 

Here’s a quick question to drive that home: what focal length do you use for astrophotography of the Milky Way? 

Answer: (1) 14mm; (2) something else.

I’m old enough to remember the full frame fisheye rush. Someone decided to use one to photograph a mountain biker rushing by up close, and then that became the go-to lens as every active-sport photographer piled on. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in some Rear Sync flash.

I still work with a few pro photographers. While a lot of that just involves dealing with technical issues, from time to time I find myself saying to someone who you’d all probably think of as at the pinnacle of imaging “uh, you need to find a new way to make your images sing.” That usually leads to a discussion of what I call compositional stagnation, how they got there, and how they’ll break out of it. At some point, there’s usually a discussion about perspective and lens use. As in “you’re always using the same lens and perspective, so your photos are starting to look the same.” The same thing often comes up with my workshop students, too, who probably could have done similar images at a really good zoo. Getting someone to stop taking long telephoto headshot photos of lions is more difficult than you think. 

I’ve triggered far too many B&H shopping sprees with my compositional challenges over the years. I’m reluctant to do so again, so a few words in counterpoint...

Many think by buying something new (lens) they’ll take new images. For a short period of time, that might be true. If all you’ve been using before was a 24-85mm zoom and I force you to use a 14mm or 300mm prime for a day, I’m pretty sure your photos will look different. For awhile. Until you once again standardize how you’re using the new lens. 

Lenses are an important part of a compositional construct. Focal length, position, height, and light are some of the key tools we use to create an image that’s ours. Literally, in the case of a studio photographer, who starts with a large, empty room and then positions themself and other things in it. Think Joe MacNalley, for instance. First, he finds interesting rooms. Then he finds interesting people to put in the room. Then he has them do interesting things. And finally he lights everything like a compulsive Speedlight addict. 

However, lenses aren’t necessarily the most important part of a compositional construct. I’m not sure Joe deviates a lot in the focal lengths he uses for his creations, for instance. Some of the deviation you do see seems to be driven mostly by showing off the new Nikon lens he was given access to, not his own compositional first choice.

Which brings me to how you’re using lenses. Are they a crutch to get something that looks different? How long will that crutch last?

One argument I hear all the time about lenses comes with bird photography, of all things. The common complaint there is “I need a longer focal length.” It doesn’t matter what focal length they already have ;~). What would probably make their photography more distinguished, though, is a movable bird blind. Most of the best bird photography I’ve seen has all centered around some kind of blind, not how big the lens was. Sure, collecting reference photos of as many species as possible in the wild is of interest to many (my species list in interesting bird images is well over 100 at this point, and I’m not a bird photographer), but the photos in my library that I’d point to as my best bird photos are all about what the bird is doing, and were taken with whatever lens I had at the time. 

Aside: I’m probably going to prove myself wrong ;~). I’ve just started an experiment with a ridiculous focal length (more than you’re ever going to buy). Just watch. I’ll probably disprove my thesis by proving I needed the ridiculous focal length all along. Darn that scientific method.

Thing is, as you try to figure out your photography, you’ll almost certainly start down the lens acquisition addiction path (LAAP, a specific genetic mutation of GAS [gear acquisition syndrome]). 

Once LAAP sets in, it is typically fatal. 

Fatal to your photography. Fatal to your back. Fatal to your bank account. Fatal to your marriage. 

I’ve been contemplating my historical LAAP recently. That’s because after nearly 50 years of using the F-mount, I’m now pretty much a Z-mount user these days. A clear-headed look in my gear closet found that I had numerous lenses that weren’t getting any use, but which I had at some point decided I needed. As box after box left the office for a second life somewhere else, I eventually got down to less than a half dozen F-mount lenses for which there is no Z-mount equivalent. Really only three of those are getting any use. Because I’ve been reviewing and cross comparing all the Z-mount lenses, my business has accumulated two dozen of these, but in looking at the way I photograph (and what), I really only need four or five of those personally. Which means that my gear closet really ought to be two bodies and eight lenses.

Which is leading me to question whether I really need even all eight of those lenses. Maybe. As I type this I’m off on another trip and I’m only carrying three lenses. My PJ backpack, ready at moment’s notice, is also a three-lenser. On safari I tend to be a two-lens user these days. That’s eight ;~). For three very different types of photography. What I’m spending more time on these days than lens choice is where I’m positioned and how I interact with the subject. What’s in the frame and why. What the light is and how am I exposing for it.

It’s the holiday buying season we’ve just entered. LAAP is about to hit its yearly peak. No doubt there will be tempting lens offers coming, ones that might “fill” some perceived gap in your needs. So, some questions to ask yourself as you contemplate that “Purchase” button (or hand your credit card to your local dealer):

  • How many lenses do you own?
  • Are you using all the lenses you own?
  • Does a lens you own fail you in any way?
  • Does a new lens correct that failure?
  • How often would you use the new lens you buy?
  • For what would you use a new lens that you buy, and would that obsolete another lens you have?
  • How do/did you get by without the newly coveted lens?
  • Are you actually going to carry this new lens with you? How often?
  • What photograph would you not obtain if you didn’t have the new lens? Why?

There’s that common phrase “the best camera is the one you have with you.” Repeating all over the Internet, the title of a book, guaranteed to give you a zillion results if you search for it.

Yet it’s funny how no one ever seems to have suggested that “the best lens is the one you have with you.” Yes, that’s just as true. 

I’d even go so far as to say “the best lens is the one mounted on your camera.” Why? Because great images are temporal. The peak moment comes and goes in a fraction of a second. You usually don’t have time to take a lens off the camera, get another out of your pack, and put it on the camera. Maybe landscape photographers can do that, but even there light can be fleeting and a moment missed. Most sports photographers carry two cameras with different lenses so that they can just drop one and pick up the other in the heat of battle. It’s pretty funny to watch, particularly as the camera/lens they’re “dropping” is usually a big pro body with a 400mm+ exotic on it. 

So, my final point: don’t buy that new lens unless it’s going to be on your camera body at the right moment.

Is That All There Is?

Sony today dipped their toes deeper into the vlogosphere, announcing a new variant of the ZV-1, the ZV-1F. 

bythom sony ev1f

Similar to the ZV-1, which in turn was similar to the last RX100 model, what we have is Sony recycling bits and pieces in a new form. Instead of a zoom lens, this time we get a fixed Zeiss-designed 20mm equivalent f/2 lens. With the older ZV-1 and its 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens, holding the camera in vlogging mode meant that you could get a head-and-shoulders view with your—well, actually my—arm fully extended. The extra width and the non-protruding lens will be useful. 

Most of the specifications beyond the lens are the same as the ZV-1. We get some improvements and simplifications in the ZV-1F, though. One now mandated improvement—Europe trying to exert their will over Silicon Valley—is the standard USB-C connector. We also have the newer Sony menu system and the ability to use 40.5mm filters. On the simplification side, we lose the ability to take stills in raw, there's no built-in ND filtration, we lose the hot shoe, and the weight drops 3 ounces (87g). We also lose phase detect autofocus, which in the samples I've seen so far—even Sony's launch video—will definitely show up at some point as an issue in keeping focus without getting the infamous CD wobble. Price is US$499.

We've now seen Sony dip into video with their stills cameras multiple times (ZV-1, ZV-1F, ZV-10, A7C to name the most recent), take the video side of cameras and build a dedicated camera (FX3 and FX30), and to continually push video features in the remaining still models (the upcoming A7R Mark V will get some video boosts). On the one hand, this is highly logical. I've been a proponent of the camera companies consolidating their efforts around a single lens mount (hey Panasonic, I'm still looking at you). 

The problem is that the stills side of cameras is basically in a full stall. The last minor RX update was in the middle of 2019, and it was truly minor. Sony has yet to add features such as focus stacking to their A7 line. I could probably come up with a long list just for Sony Imaging, but it's not just Sony that is stalling. Most of the still camera prototypes and development plans I'm privy to are in what I'd call low-key iteration. Even something like picking a sensor with more megapixels or speed is a relatively low-key iteration the way its been headed. True innovation in still photography is for the most part missing in action. 

I know I'll get hammered with people who say "what about the A1/Z9, what about the X-H2 twins, what about the R7?" Sure, a few models have instituted some larger changes in performance at the top of lines. The more cynical fingers hovering over my keyboard want to type "took too long to arrive." Many of the things we're seeing this year were possible far earlier. I'm sure the camera companies will blame the pandemic and parts shortages, but I'm not sure that's just pointing to the band-aid on the real problem. Just boosting performance in some way (resolution, frame rate) is not really adding anything to the still photography repertoire. 

That problem is that, for the most part, the camera companies aren't excited about the future of still photography. It shows, day after day, launch after launch. 

If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

The Coming Issue for Camera Makers

Sales volume is down. The camera makers have all gone upscale in response. Indeed, from a purely financial point of view, the camera makers all righted their ships by increasing their average selling price. Meanwhile, all the camera makers have also cut back on external-facing staffing, as well as marketing and sales expenses. The result of these things is that virtually every camera company is now making a reasonable profit on lower sales volume. 

There's just one fly in the ointment: people who pay more for a product expect more support. Support that has been constantly pared back recently in order to save costs. 

A customer who bought a US$500-800 DSLR was buying a consumer camera. Limited features, simpler user interactions, not a lot of things to learn, set, and keep from interfering with one another. Most of the questions these folk had could be answered by the store that sold them the camera. If the store in question was a Big Box that couldn't answer the question, this drove the customer to a dedicated camera dealer, who, when they answered the questions (and more), got a new long-term customer. 

Good camera dealers spend as much time on educating customers as they do selling them. Perhaps more. 

With the emphasis on moving to enthusiast, prosumer, and professional customers instead of consumers, the gear that's being bought today is more sophisticated, more complex, has more interaction effects, and generally takes me 1000+ pages to do justice in a book that fully describes everything about them (my Complete Guide to the... series). 

I'm seeing more and more customer questions on these higher end cameras that require much more than a quick call into customer support to answer. Customer support operators that aren't photographers, don't have that specific gear in front of them, and often have little to no idea what the customer is talking about. 

I'm seeing more and more real product issues that are subtle, and which are being dismissed by the camera company repair facilities. "Within specifications" or "no fault found" is the usual response, because all they did is put it on a test machine similar to the one that passed the product out of the factory in the first place. Actually, the repair facility test machines aren't as sophisticated as the ones at the factory, so may even miss something the factory should have caught.

I'm seeing more and more interaction issues, where X negates Y, or A also sets B, or the grandaddy of them all: you can't get there from here (e.g. can't set X and Y together). If the camera company's front-line support even understands these problems when presented to them, the response is almost always "that's the way it was designed to work." 

The list goes on. And on.

For the customer that just paid many thousands of dollars for their new gear, getting problems attended to is becoming more and more problematic. Yes, a good local dealer that has a good relationship with the camera company can help escalate an issue, but many of the problems I'm starting to have to deal with from site readers are ones that a dealer can't do anything about themselves. Some of them are incredibly subtle. These days, fly-by-wire lenses mean that lens problems often aren't mechanical, too. Yet it is often unclear whether what is being seen by the customer is a firmware issue (bad coding) or a real failure (digital part not working correctly). Add in an adapter—because someone is moving from DSLR to mirrorless—and we can also get into finger pointing as to what's causing the issue. Camera? Maybe. Adapter? Possibly. Lens? Perhaps. 

Those that work with me to assess a problem know that I'm highly analytical. I'll take a step-by-step walk with them where I try to isolate where the issue actually lies before suggesting what can be done about it. That takes time and patience. Patience is not something the camera companies tend to have, and time costs them money. Particularly because that time has to come from someone that has a high level of knowledge and experience with the equipment. That level of folk is now in short supply at all the camera company subsidiaries, and overburdened because of that. 

You might think that CPS, NPS, or SPS—the professional services programs at the various camera companies—takes care of such problems at the professional level. They sometimes do, but not without escalation more often than not. By that I mean that the issue is shrugged off at first, and it takes persistence and clear documentation to get the professional service program's clear attention. In the past year, I've had to quietly intercede using my contacts and try to get an escalation for professional service members several times, something that didn't used to happen in the past. 

High end cameras are complex. I've been using a Nikon Z9 for almost a year now and I'm still learning some very subtle things about it, and also seeing some very subtle issues and failures (both my own, and among other Z9 users). Ditto the Sony A1. 

The problem for the camera companies is this: someone that's bought a higher-end body and a quiver of decent lenses probably has spent as much as US$10,000. At the pro level, a Z9/A1, a full set of f/2.8 zooms, and an exotic might be more like US$30,000 spent. At those prices people expect satisfaction, and when they don't get it in some way, they'll expect answers. Or at least a response. My observation is that fewer and fewer consumers and pros alike are getting any response, let alone proper answers.

That doesn't bode well for the camera companies. Here's what happens:

  • The pros muddle through. They might just stop buying new gear and deal with the gear they have, or they might consider moving to another brand/mount if it looks like they'll get better support there, but that's a costly transition, so would generally only be timed to when they expect to update significant gear. As in a DSLR-to-mirrorless transition, wink, wink.
  • The enthusiasts get less enthusiastic. Most are pursuing photography as a hobby, so when your hobby gets burdensome, you just look for another hobby. Or you just stop buying new gear and use what you've got.  

The net result could very well be even lower sales volume. Which under the current Tokyo-think would mean "raise the average selling price." Yeah, that doesn't end well, does it?

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