Getting Caught in Details

As we enter the last stage of the holiday buying season, I’m seeing the usual angst-driven queries that are deep in the details and missing the big picture. 

For instance, is a BSI sensor better than an FSI one? Is it worth the difference in price between a Z5 and Z6 II? Should I get the 50mm f/2.8, f/1.8, or f/1.2? 

Sometimes details are indeed important. However, if they are important to you, you already know the answer. That’s because you hit a limit or saw an issue that you need addressed. But if you have to ask the “which” question, you’re probably not at a level where you need to know the answer ;~). You’re really just FOMO-ing, not finding the right product for you. 

I’ve written the same thing now for over 15 years: if you can’t get excellent maximum size prints from a desktop inkjet printer (basically 13x19”), it’s not the camera that’s the issue. 

I was reminded of this at my recent Galapagos photo workshop. Several participants were initially going to show up with one camera. As you probably know from my published Galapagos advice, I don’t recommend heading into one or two week tours there without a backup strategy. Equipment is vulnerable to both the ocean and the lava. I convinced several to carry a Z50 as a backup. Guess what? Some of the best photos taken during the trip by the fourteen students were taken with a Z50. And yes, we had one Z9 failure (lens lock pin refused to engage). 

We went through a period when the smartphones started to take over basic photographic duties where the oft-quoted statement was “the best camera is the one you have with you” (implication: smartphone). That’s almost true. The correct statement should be “the best camera is the one you have with you that you fully understand how to use.” 

Most of us overbuy. Including me. As I think I’ve demonstrated, I can take perfectly fine sports and wildlife action images with a Nikon Z6 (pre Z6 II). Yet I carry a Z9 these days. That gives me some additional capabilities and flexibilities, but it doesn’t necessarily make me a better photographer. It’s the seeing, understanding how to capture what I see, and the timing of the capture that’s the main ingredient in my photography (and should be for yours, too). A Z50 can do what I need in a pinch; a Z9 simply makes it both more complex and easier ;~). 

One aspect of “detail” I personally need to revisit is apertures. The smaller size and weight of some of the recent quality optics has me using mid-range apertures a lot. I’m losing some of the depth cues I prefer in my images (e.g. shallower DOF, isolation of subject). Do I like the 400mm f/4.5 VR S lens? You bet. It’s a bargain for what it can do. Do I like my heavier and larger 400mm f/2.8 VR TC S? Absolutely, and I need to be using it more often than I currently am, as the “detail” of that faster aperture is something that is important to me (and not having to dig for and mount a TC nets images I wouldn't have gotten otherwise).

So the question you have to ask yourself (before asking me a question about A versus B) is this: do you really understand what it is you’re seeking in dropping into the details, or are you just picking up on all the social hype about some detail and worried about missing out? 90% of the questions I get are the latter, not the former. A Nikon Z6 II and a 24-120mm f/4 S is a very, very excellent general combination that’s easy to carry (ditto a Sony A7 Mark V and 24-105mm f/4G). Do you really need more?

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