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.

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