Samsung Note 4 Ricoh GR ?

I’m going to take a photo as I write this with both my Ricoh GR and Samsung Note 4 cellphone.

Samsung Note4 compared Ricoh GR
Samsung Note4 compared Ricoh GR

Photographers will be able to tell the difference.  The Ricoh has more detail (photo, right), blurs the background a bit (f 2.8), has more natural colors, etc.  However, both photos would be deemed the same quality to most people.

When I took my first comparison shots I expected the GR to make a joke of the Note4.   I was surprised.  For any photo I would take in auto-mode, the Samsung Note 4 did very well.

There are times when camera comparisons help me become a better photographer, and other times, like this, when they send me into a depressing spiral of self-doubt.   If the Note 4 is good enough for everyone else in the world, why not me?  If the qualities of my cameras are not obvious to others, have I made a fetish of little black and chrome machines?   Am I more interested in the technology or the emotional value of the image?

I have to look at the win-win here.  People who might not even buy a point-and-shoot, let along a DSLR, now have very nice cameras in their pockets.  In the camera line, I can now look at images with my old eyes with focus peaking, overlaid histograms and zebras.  I can use some nice lenses made in the 60s on my Sony cameras made in 2014. These are some very exciting times for photographers and filmmakers.

Here’s a photo taken with the Ricoh GR.  Could the Samsung 4.0 taken something similar?  Probably.  But I know the GR brings out the most photographic quality in situations like this (where the camera must be with me in a pocket).

Taken in my sister's bathroom during my Mom's 80th birthday
Taken in my sister’s bathroom during my Mom’s 80th birthday

While I’m here I want to recommend FastRawViewer.  I’ve been shooting both RAW + JPG with the GR and the workflow has been  a pain for me.  I want to view the DNG files quickly and then open in PhotoShop if I want to pursue them.  Until now, I haven’t found a fast solution for dealing with DNGs (without using the embedded JPG which is not good enough for me).  FastRawViewer is made by the guy behind LibRaw I believe.  It allows me to quickly go through RAW files and then open in PhotoShop with a quick keystroke (“R” for me).  It’s well worth the $20 to me.  I also use it for my Sony ARW files.

f 3.2 1/40th sec ISO 800
f 3.2 1/40th sec ISO 800

With the GR I can make decisions not possible with the Note 4.  I rested the camera on the table so knew I could shoot at a lower shutter speed than normal, 1/40th.  I focused on the bottle and opened to 3.2.  The ISO ended up at 800, which I knew will be just before noise began to overcome the camera.

Well, I believe my Ricoh GR has finished charging, so back to it!

 

 

 

January 2014

I could never get Magic Lantern to run on the EOS-M without some difficulty.  So I bought a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC).  What I didn’t expect was how easy it is to shoot with the camera.  Davinci Resolve, software primarily designed to color grade footage, can now create time-line edited videos.

There are many blogs that point out shortcomings of the camera.  The people at Blackmagic must cringe and scream every time they read one.  I’ve been shooting film/video since super-8.  The last time I witnessed such a jump in technology is when Sony came out with Video-8.  That was in the 1980s I believe.

What I’ve come to realize, over the past six months, in working with RAW video, is that most people, for one reason or another, don’t want to engage in the technology.  It’s still a small world.  Also, video is, at heart, a narrative medium.   A well-written, prepared video is more important than the recording medium.

Anyway, I just wanted to post something to say, I’m still as deeply distracted in the tech as I ever was.

On the camera front.  Nikon replaced the shutter assembly of my D600.  I keep wanting to sell the camera because it’s big and I like to travel light.   However, every time I pick up the camera it whispers in my ear, ‘don’t blame me when you need to shoot low light or want a super-rich portrait and your other cameras fumble around’.

I now have a 24mm, 85mm and 24-85 (amazing how much distortion is in that lens; I just have to get over it and fix in post).  Miss the Tamron 24-70/2.8.  Was that lens sweet!

My Sigma DP1 is acting weird.  I’m close to pulling the trigger on a DP1M.

I absolutely love the EOS-M with the c-mount adapter and $30 Fujian 35mm 1.7 lens.  Yes,  I now reach for the cheapest camera I have for most of my shots!  Though I still use the Sigma DP2S a fair amount.

I’ve noticed that you can’t get discount Sigmas on Amazon from the U.S. anymore.  Canon doesn’t sell the 11-22 STM lens in the States.   Andrew Reid of EOSHD pointed out that Americans like big stupid cameras (or their iPhones).  So sad and true.

I still want a take with me everywhere camera.  Been considering the X100s, but it’s a little bit too cute for me.  Maybe the GX7?  Most likely I’d end up with the Sigma DP1M.  No other camera brings tears to my eyes, both joy and sorrow, like those cameras!

Wasting Time On DSLR Video

But A Used $100 Panasonic GF3 and $30 Lens Win My Heart

For the past couple of weeks I have been looking for a small video camera to complement my Sigma DP1 and DP2S, which take superlative photos, but unusable video.  Knowing I’d want short focal-length, shallow depth of field, I ruled out a camcorder. Having an all-around utility camera to complement the Sigmas, and the ability to use separate lenses, would also be helpful.

Having read a lot about Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras, especially the Panasonic GH2, I bought Panasonic’s lowest-end camera, a GF3, with 14mm pancake lens, for $245 on Craigslist (CL).  I then subscribed to Vitaliy’s PersonalView.  For $10 (you can do $5) and downloaded and installed a hack (first Cake 2.3, then Driftwood) for the GF3 which can double, even triple the bit-rate.

I was very impressed with the GF3, but noticed on a YouTube video, Kim Letkeman’ s Video Hacks Compare Four Panasonic Bodies — VLOG4  that the G5 provided as-good, if not better video, without a hack.  It also has a viewfinder and articulating screen.  Since Panasonic has a new G6, the G5 were being dumped on Amazon.  I picked one up with the kit lens for $350.

[Dear GH2 users.  I understand that none of those cameras is a match for a properly hacked GH2.  However, I’m going for small and cheap here].

I also bought a $20 adapter for my old Nikkor 50mm 1.4, siting in a drawer.  Wanting something less telephoto, I found a Minolta-mount 28mm/2.8 lens for $30 on CL, bought the adapter, and now had a couple of MFT cameras with a 14mm/2.5, 14-42mm, 28mm/2.8 and a 50mm/1.4.

Santo, who I met buying the 28mm lens from CL, uses an un-hacked GH2, and put up some very impressive videos on Vimeo.  Here’s one of a model train and the NMRA Model Train Show.  I watch his videos and think, ‘Max, you waste all your time comparing cameras instead of just using them!’

Then I saw an Olympus E-P1 for $150 on CL, that had a c-mount lens and Olympus 50mm/1.8 with adapter.  I bought it mostly for the c-mount lens (not knowing it was only $30), figuring I’d give the body with a lens to one of my children.  It turned out that the Olympus lens didn’t flare as much as the Nikkor, all the way open, and the E-P1 is a nice piece of metal hardware.  My daughter even said she wanted it!  Nice going Olympus.

I discovered that the C-Mount TV lens (Fujian with effective 35mm 1.7 for $30) delivers beautiful video, which is fun and easy to shoot.  I never would have tried that lens if it weren’t for the inspiring GH2 Shooter’s manual from Andrew Reid’s EOSHD blog and mini-publishing company.  I highly recommend his blog and publications.

There is only one limitation that bugged me.  On the GF3 (or, I believe, any Panasonic consumer MFT below the G6, you can control aperture, shutter speed, but not ISO).  In other words, if you expose for a brightly lit porch and pan to a darker area the camera will boost the ISO to better expose the picture.  In “iA” mode, you can slow the camera’s desire to change ISO if you pan from one level of light to another. Except for that exposure-lock limitation, everything else about the GF3 is superb (as a really inexpensive camera that does video).

With the GF3 I can use almost any lens, and it even has focus-peaking before I shoot.  For a couple of hundred dollars more, the G5, provides a view-finder, hot-shoe and articulating screen. (The current G6 adds true exposure lock and a mic input.  Currently, it is a hot camera so I’m waiting for prices to drop.)

The biggest weakness of MFT cameras is their color depth.  However, they are as equally sharp as any DSLR (if not sharper after hacks are used).  Also, you can get shallow depth of field with a fast lens (the $30 c-mount lens is f1.7 !).

CurrentLineup
DP1 28mm, DP2S, 42MM, Panasonic GF3 with Effective 35mm TV lens, and the D600 for a sense of size.

Can’t Leave Well-Enough Alone

Instead of going deeply into my new GF3, G5 and lenses,  I broadened my tests and began comparing them to my D-600.  Big mistake!  Here is some video I took during my honeymoon period with the D-600.

A DSLR is capable of better quality video, but in real world use, I ended up with problem-filled footage that, net-net, is worse than that from the MFT cameras (like Panasonic). Almost every time I shoot video with the D600 I score it ‘10 for color saturation, 2 for focus and 2 for basic exposure, white-balance, etc.’  When I shoot with the GF3 I score it 8,8 and 8.  Again, that’s now a $100 used body!

I wondered, would Santo’s work have been improved if he used DSLR video?  I think the answer is no.

The more I tried to get good footage out of the DSLR, the more disappointed I became. As many bloggers have said before me, DSLR video quality is a mixed bag.  The cameras work against you, not with you.

The following is a quick test, the Nikon D600 vs the G5 indoors. The Nikon has the Tamron 24-70mm/2.8 and the G5 the 14mm/2.8 pancake.  I don’t caption either video with which camera is being used.  If you’re a video nut like me, you’ll know which is which.  If you can’t figure out which is better, then believe me, stay away from DSLR video 😉

Here is a test of the two cameras outdoors.

FULL-FRAME DSLR VIDEO IS A TEASE

Yes, coming from camcorders, shooting slow-moving subjects, with shallow depth of field, during a nice bright day, and using LiveView under the shade of an apple tree, brought near tears of DSLR joy to my eyes.  In every other situation I cursed a whole range of annoyances and shortcomings: moire, rolling shutter, artifacts, false colors and equipment not really designed to shoot video.

Perhaps I could work around all that.  However, it would never cure the fact that I’m used to getting perfect RAW images in photography.  At the end of the day, DSLR video is a string of middling-quality JPEG images (video).  And the rolling-shutter effect is very irritating.

Perhaps only RAW video, from the 5D Mark III, hacked Canon 50Ds or Blackmagic will give me the real color look I want.  As much as I am amazed at the video that comes out of the D600 on a good day, it is still no match for the video that others are getting from raw-based video.  DSLR video, especially of faces, is blotchy and pasty.

For now, I’m sticking with Panasonic MFT cameras for video (and photo backup).  RAW beckons, however.

QUICK FINDINGS

Nikon D600

PROS

CONS

DOF (large sensor, shallow depth of field)

Very large

Lock Exposure

Very heavy (seriously, a brick)

Saturation

Lenses very expensive (and big)

Mic Input

Non-articulating LCD

Low Light (large sensor)

No video viewfinder focus

Fast Operations

Expensive!

Great Photo Stills

Remote Tethering

Stabilization

G5

PROS

CONS

Light

Limited Exposure Lock

Small

Poor Color Saturation

Articulating Screen

No Mic Input

Inexpensive Lenses (with adapters)

Stabilization weak

GF3

PROS

CONS

Really cheap (used $100 body)

No viewfinder

Very light and small

Limited exposure lock

Takes Hacks

Low color saturation

Cheap lenses (with adapters)

No mic and weak stabilization