Category Archives: Photo Gear

The Ricoh GR is a stealth camera

The Ricoh GR is a seemingly simple, point and shoot camera that packs a big sensor, a sharp lens, excellent ergonomics and plenty of manual controls into a body that looks plain enough to make it easy to mistake it for a much simpler and less capable camera (stealth). I’ve been using it for a while and I can say without question that it is one of the finest, most enjoyable cameras I’ve ever used, bar none. I love this camera.

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Background

I’ve had a lot of cameras over the past ten years including some high end DSLR bodies and a lot of high end lenses. Over time, I got rid of my entire DSLR kit: it was spending too much time in a drawer as I used smaller and lighter cameras more, and it was too heavy. I take most of my pictures on hikes and while I started hiking when I still had my DSLR kit, I never took it along: too heavy, too involved to use quickly, and too expensive to risk an accident in the field. I haven’t had a DSLR for a few years now and except for a few instances I don’t miss it. It seems I’m not alone in this, there is a movement away from DSLRs in my category of photographer: advanced amateur, sometimes called “enthusiast” because we’re willing to spend some money to support our hobby. Luckily, as people have tired of the weight and expense of DSLR kits other types of cameras have come online.

Before I get into it I want to acknowledge the effect smartphones have had on this: there is no doubt that they have all but killed lower end point and shoot cameras for many people: the camera in my iPhone 5S is incredible. However, many of us who have smartphones still want dedicated (I was going to say “real” but thought better) cameras that allow more control and arguably, can record higher quality images. One of the many things people like about taking pictures with a smartphone is that they can immediately share them online and this is a plus (many dedicated cameras are now coming with this) but if you want to process your pictures with a larger screen on a computer and you want the manual controls of a dedicated camera, a smartphone can only get you so far.

These days there are many alternatives to DSLRs for making high quality images but the two most popular categories are:

High end point and shoot cameras, the highest end of which might be the Sony RX1r or the Fuji X100S but the group also includes the Sony RX100 (II), the Nikon Coolpix A, and the Ricoh GR. All of these cameras have excellent sensors and high end lenses that are not interchangeable.

Mirrorless camera systems like the Fuji X-E1/2 and its associated lenses, or the various micro 4/3 camera bodies from Olympus and Panasonic and their associated lenses. And, now Sony has two full-frame mirrorless bodies: the A7 and the A7R with associated lenses. These are all “system” cameras that are smaller, lighter versions of what we had with DSLRs. They have excellent sensors, manual controls and lots of lens possibilities.

Every camera listed here can make images that rival DSLRs of just a few years ago: they all have large, low noise sensors and excellent optics. Each of them could be used in fully automatic mode or in fully manual mode or anything in between. In other words, the high end point and shoot and mirrorless categories are taking a large bite out of the DSLR market just like smartphones are taking a large bite out of the lower end point and shoot market.

I’ve bought and returned or sold and/or rented many of the cameras listed here and while they all worked extremely well, none of them got me quite as excited as the Ricoh GR which is the one I’ve ended up with. The Ricoh GR is one of the best designed, easiest to use, and most capable camera I’ve ever used.

The Ricoh GR is not a great camera for everyone

First let me say that while I think the Ricoh GR is exceptional, it’s not for everyone. It has a fixed (non-zoom) 28mm lens so it’s not a great camera for closeup portraits and while its easy to use and can be used in fully automatic mode, there are other cameras that would be better for pure snap shooting. It’s also not an inexpensive camera: I paid $800 for it although I see that its price has dropped at both B&H and Amazon.

Size and ergonomics

For those of us who use the controls on cameras outside of the shutter button and on/off switch, size matters. If the camera is too small it can make the controls too small and in turn that can make them harder to use and so, they’ll get used less. If the camera is too big we’re back into DSLR territory. I had a Sony RX100 for a while and loved the camera. I also had the second version of the RX100. This camera has an excellent sensor and is very small, so small that for me, the controls were tough to use, especially in winter with thin glove liners on. Don’t get me wrong, the Sony RX100 is one of the best cameras in this class and it has a stellar Zeiss zoom lens on it but I found its small, flush mounted controls very tough to use in the field.

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For me, a camera needs to be big enough so that I can easily see the labels on the controls without glasses and use them without fumbling with or without thin glove liners on in extreme cold. All DSLRs and no doubt all mirrorless system cameras have big enough controls and the higher end point and shoot cameras like the Fuji X100S and Sony RX1 do as well. The Ricoh GR is a bit smaller and it too has excellent controls, so good in fact that it can be used and adjusted with one (the right) hand making it very popular among street photographers.

Some will look at the size and simple design of this camera and balk at such a high price (understandably) but I see things differently: I’m willing to pay a premium for a camera that comes close to my personal ideal and where the controls fall into the background allowing me to use it without too much confusion about which control does what. I realize that everyone’s learning and operating style’s are different but for me, this camera fits well.

Speed

The Ricoh GR starts up, takes a picture, and shuts down faster than any camera I’ve mentioned here. It is astonishingly fast. One reason for this is that it does not have a zoom lens but there’s more to it than that. A digital camera is really a computer that has to boot up, save a shot to disk/card and do other kinds of things a computer does. The GR just does all of these things blindingly fast so that once you get used to using it and want to change a setting, doing that is faster than almost any other camera. Formatting an SD card takes maybe 2 seconds.

For a nature shooter like me this isn’t as important as it would be to a street shooter and this is one of the reasons the Ricoh GR is so popular among street shooters: it can actually be controlled quickly and easily with one hand.

Large sensor

One of the reasons the Ricoh GR costs as much as it does is because it has a large APS-C sized sensor. The sensor is the part of a digital camera that records the image and its unusual to have such a large sensor in a point and shoot camera.

There is a difference between sensor size and resolution (the number of pixels on a sensor) and the idea that it’s better to have more resolution (measured in megapixels) needs to be combined with sensor size.

Most point and shoot cameras have extremely small sensors which means, cramming 16 or 20 million pixels on them puts the pixels (photo sites) very close together and makes them extremely small. Besides the physical limits on how small a photo site can be, one of the things that happens in the digital photographic process is in low light, the ISO (light sensitivity of the sensor) can be turned up (manually or automatically) and when this happens, the photo sites generate heat. That heat combines with the heat generated by adjacent photo sites and causes an artifact called “noise” in images.

Modern sensors and digital cameras have lots of built-in technology to limit noise or clean it up after the fact but the best way to eliminate noise is to have the right balance of sensor size and resolution so the photo sites aren’t too close together.

All of the cameras I’ve mentioned here have excellent low noise sensors but its unusual to find such sensors in cameras in this class, especially cameras that cost under $1000. This is one of the things that makes the Ricoh GR unique. The similar Nikon Cooloix A still costs over $1000 and it’s been out as long as the Ricoh GR. I had one and returned it liking the Ricoh GR’s controls better.

The other things that comes with the right balance of sensor size and resolution are: better color fidelity, more detail in images, less blown highlights in high contrast images, the ability to crop images without unacceptable loss of resolution, and lastly, the ability to make larger prints.

There are larger sensors in small point and shoot cameras: the Sony RX1 has a full frame sensor in it and having shot with one for a while, I can say that the image quality from that sensor is exceptional. But, the price for that (and the high end Zeiss lens that camera has) is $2700 which puts that camera in a different class than the Ricoh GR.

28mm lens

The Ricoh GR has a 28mm f/2.8 lens that retracts back into the body and is covered when the camera is turned off.

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Ricoh has produced cameras with 28mm non-zoom lenses before: the GR is the latest camera in a line that’s been around for a while (with smaller sensors). Nikon has now entered this territory with the Coolpix A (also 28mm). But, for many people the idea of a camera in this price range without a zoom lens is a show stopper and this is understandable. It takes time to learn how to “sneaker-zoom” (move your body to frame a shot) and 28mm is a rather wide angle view, not appropriate for all types of photography.

One of the things that many DSLR owners learn over time is that prime lenses (lenses with a single focal length) produce sharper images than zoom lenses. This is a generalization but its worth considering. Producing a zoom lens that’s sharp at all of its focal lengths is a very difficult thing for camera makers to do and because of this, high end zoom lenses are expensive. High end zoom lenses that have large apertures across their zoom range are even more expensive and tend to be heavy (more glass). It’s rare to find a constant aperture zoom lens among point and shoot cameras, most cameras in this category that have zoom lenses have variable aperture lenses. An example is the Sony RX100 which has a zoom lens that is 28mm f/1.8 on the wide end and 100mm f/4.9 on the long end.

A liability of a zoom lens in the point and shoot world is that when framing a picture with the LCD you’re holding the camera at arm’s length and its not easy to keep steady. As you zoom into longer focal lengths you amplify the effects of camera shake: it’s tough to take a sharp picture at 100mm with a point and shoot camera that’s not steadied on a tripod or braced against your face. When I had the RX100 I noticed that I rarely used the zoom, doing most of my shooting at 28mm.

The Fuji X100S and the Sony RX1 have fixed prime lenses as well but they’re both 35mm and for some, this focal length is a nice compromise between 28mm (wide) and 50mm (normal). I’m not sure how I feel about 35mm yet but for the nature photography I do on hikes, I’m finding 28mm perfect. Interestingly, the Ricoh GR has a setting that will crop the angle of view in the camera to 35mm (also resulting in less resolution in the image).

The Ricoh GR lens isn’t all that fast: f/2.8 is a large aperture but f/1.8 or f/2 would be better. For the kinds of photography I do I’ve not found this to be a problem: most of my nature shots are done at f/8 or even smaller apertures as I want the deepest focus and the most detail I can get without using a tripod.

More on ergonomics and controls

The power button is more recessed than the shutter button but not flush mounted so it can be felt. But, it has a green light around it so that it can easily be seen and differentiated from other buttons in the dark. That light can be turned off in settings if it isn’t needed. I leave it on and don’t notice any battery drain because of it. Extremely useful for quickly finding the power button.

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The mode dial has a button lock on it that makes it impossible to turn without releasing the lock. This means that you can’t accidentally move it when slipping the camera into a case only to find out you’re in M mode instead of P when you turn it on again. It also means that in cold weather with gloves on its tough to change the mode dial. Not a problem for me, I’m an AV (aperture priority) kinda guy most of the time.

In Av mode the front dial controls aperture just like on a DSLR. While it may be cool to control aperture on the lens (Leica, Fuji X100S, Sony RX1) it’s easier to do it with one’s finger on this dial. The front dial can control whatever you need it to determined by mode and setup. This is a great feature for a point and shoot camera.

Exposure compensation is controlled with a rocker and is easily changed with the right thumb. This is one control that can get bumped in normal use so one does have to keep an eye on its setting readout on the LCD screen.

ISO, metering, and other often changed controls are extremely easy to get at and change with the thumb toggle. This control takes some getting used to as its quite sensitive but it too can be used with the right thumb very quickly in normal use. I use it regularly with thin gloves on in winter.

Strap attachment points

Most cameras, even compact cameras have loops for a right wrist strap and maybe another attachment point on the top left so one could attach a neck/shoulder strap. Ricoh has those two attachment points and one more on the bottom right so the camera can be carried on its side around one’s neck.

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This is a brilliant piece of ergonomic engineering and I’m using attachment loops from Op/Tech for both a wrist strap or, if I want to switch, a shoulder strap. Brilliant.

I use these products from Op/Tech:

Mini QD Loops on camera
Cam Strap QD wrist strap
Bin/Op Stap QD shoulder strap

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I can leave two attachment points on the camera and attach a wrist strap or, detach that and attach a shoulder strap that keeps the camera hanging comfortably with the short side up. The wrist (cam) strap from Op/Tech is much more secure than the one that comes from Ricoh.

Batteries and charger

The Ricoh GR comes with a battery and a USB cable and AC adaptor for charging the battery in the camera. Many, including me, don’t like this method although one can use the cable to charge the GR in the car with a USB lighter adaptor like you might have for your iPhone.

I like to carry at least one extra battery and I like an external charger and the one I’ve got is this one: Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) and Charger for Ricoh GR.

The Wasabi batteries seem to last as long or longer than the OEM battery that came with the camera and the charger will charge both the Wasabi batteries and the OEM battery. It’s a great deal at $24.99 and a must have for this camera.

Image effects

I do a lot of my shooting in RAW mode (what the sensor records is what I work with in Lightroom) but lately I’ve been experimenting with the Ricoh GR’s built in image effects which only work on JPEG files. I’m getting the best of both worlds by setting the camera up to record both a RAW image and a JPEG for each shot and I’m using various image effects like high contrast black and white on the JPEGs.

One can also set the camera up to just record RAW images but display a high contrast black and white image on the LCD allowing you to compose more easily but use Lightroom to convert the RAW image to high contrast black and white. This will retain more detail as the camera won’t be compressing the image.

Issues

I haven’t figured out how macro mode works yet or, it’s got problems. Autofocus seems to hunt too much in macro mode. One feature that will be great for those who spend a lot of time in macro mode, less great for those who don’t, is that once you enter that mode the camera will stay there even when turned off. Many other point and shoot cameras will default to non-macro mode when turned off and then back on. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad, but if you forget to turn it off, it will be on when you start up the camera again. Because I’ve had problems with it, I stopping using it until I figure out what I’m doing wrong, or what the camera is doing wrong.

My Ricoh GR crashed a few times on me and this gave me great pause. But it seems I had an old and corrupted SD card in it, replacing the card seems to have solved the crash problem. We’ll see going forward.

I’m not ashamed to call myself a point and shoot photographer

What using the Ricoh GR has done for me, besides giving me a lot of excellent images, is hooked me on the high end point and shoot category of camera. I had various point and shoot cameras at the same time I was using a Canon 5D but those (mostly Canon S and G series cameras) never gave me the kind of depth in my images that I got from a DSLR with a decent lens. Now, with bigger sensors and better lenses, this class of camera is good enough for the kind of photography I do.

No doubt aspects of this camera can and maybe will be improved or, other manufacturers will produce cameras in this category that I like as well or better. What worries me is that the real money isn’t in this kind of camera. The real money (for manufacturers) is in system cameras where buying the body and a kit lens is just the start, one might buy many more lenses and attachments over time. While I could get into that again with the current mirrorless line, it doesn’t appeal to me as much as the high end point and shoot category which may or may not be a category the manufacturers want to support over time.

Here’s hoping that they do.

Resources

Here are some resources and sites that will give you some more information about the camera, including some subjective reviews. If you know of others, please post them in comments and I’ll check them out and maybe add them here.

Ricoh GR review at Steve Huff (Watch Steve’s video review to get a sense of how the camera works and looks in hand)
Ricoh GR Review at DP Review
Ricoh GR review at Imaging Resource
Ricoh GR review at Pocket Lint
Informal Ricoh GR Review: Discussion with 3 photographers
Flickr: Ricoh GR Digital (group)

Photographers I follow who shoot with the Ricoh GR

Gary Sharp
Helena Normark
Craig Atkinson
ledesma Photography (note all the links on his page)
Wouter Brandsma
Positively Fourth

Sony DSC-RX1 Review

Sony DSC-RX1 Review

James Duncan Davidson has put together an excellent review of the Sony RX1. Coincidentally, I’ve rented one for a week and have it in my possession right now and I can say without hesitation that his review is extremely worthwhile to read if you have any interest in this camera (which I do although with hesitation).

I’ve been using a Sony RX100 (smaller Sony 1″ sensor point and shoot) for a while now and I can say without a doubt that the image quality coming out of it has blown my mind. None of my various Canon S and G cameras come close to it. The RX1′s bigger sensor and extremely high end lens go much further in making incredible images. I’ve only shot a few so far on this trip but I can see already that the quality is there.

For me, the question will be whether I can live with a fixed 35mm lens. That’s it. The price doesn’t scare me off because I know what a full frame DSLR and high end 35mm prime lens cost (more) and I really like the size of this camera.

James is an excellent photographer with any camera but his images with the RX1 really shine and are a great example of what’s possible.

Update 1: Another very positive RX1 review by Andrew Kim.

Update 2: DP Review’s Sony RX1 review.

Update 3: Imaging Resource Sony RX1 review.

Camera Update

DSLR-less

For the past few years my Canon 5D and associated lenses have been sitting in a drawer, unused. I’m still taking plenty of pictures but I take them on hikes with smaller cameras; there’s no way I want to lug a big or even a small DSLR on a hike. I prefer smaller cameras without interchangeable lenses as they’re easy to turn on, get a shot, and put away so as not to disrupt the pace of the hike any more than is necessary.

There are times when my hiking partners and I agree that we’re going on a photo walk but for the most part we hike at a moderate pace and stop every now and then for a short break to take a picture. Hiking comes first, photography second. We have smaller cameras in small pouches connected to our pack’s shoulder straps and we can get to them easily without taking the packs off.

I’ve also been doing all of my street and architectural photography in New York with smaller cameras for the past few years and it’s great to not have all of that weight around my neck and on my back.

As many reading this know, there is a trend away from DSLRs for the demographic now called “photo enthusiasts” (not beginners but not professionals). A piece of this is the popularity of iPhones and other smartphones which is biting into the point and shoot market but the other piece of this is medium-sized camera systems: micro 4/3 from Panasonic and Olympus, Fuji X100, Nikon 1 system, and Sony making smaller cameras with interchangeable lenses that can take the place or bulkier DSLR kits.

A few months ago my friend the artist Joy Brown wanted me to shoot a ceramic mural she was taking to Japan to install. I brought three cameras with me: Canon 5D (older full frame DSLR) and a Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L lens, Canon Powershot G15, and Canon Powershot S100.

I took about ten shots (all RAW) of the mural with each camera and brought them home to process with Lightroom.

I mixed them all up in a Lightroom album, processed them all the same way, culled the losers and ended up with about ten decent images. I called Joy Brown over and we blindly went through and chose the winner and a runner up.

The winner was shot with the G15, the runner up with the S100. Amazingly, the images made with the 5D’s full frame sensor and the high end lens didn’t look all that much different from those made with the compact cameras. in reality most of the images were fine but there was a nice quality in the G15 files.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a G15 or an S100 is a replacement for a 5D and a high end lens, neither is. But for my purposes which at that point was shooting portfolio images for my friend, I didn’t see a need to keep the DSLR that I wasn’t using.

Given that the resale prices on Canon L lenses have remained good I figured I had an opportunity to turn over the DSLR part of my photo kit until the day I decide to get a Canon 5D Mark III or some other DSLR.

So, I sold my entire DSLR kit to two good friends at good prices for them and fine prices for me and that was that. If I decide to get another DSLR kit I’ve got the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II on my B&H wish list and while this combo is big money, I’d pull the trigger on them if I felt the need. So far I don’t feel the need.

Small Cameras

Because I have experience with the Canon 5D and a variety of high end lenses I have a good idea of what’s possible with decent equipment when I do my job and point the camera in the right direction at the right time and adjust the settings to make a nice picture. I know a decent image when I see one. Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed attempting to use my smaller cameras to make decent images and while they many times come up short, occasionally I get something I like.

The question isn’t whether I can get the same images out of the smaller cameras that I can from a full frame DSLR and good lenses, the question is can I get images that are good enough. My experience with Joy Brown’s mural showed me that I can and I have a number of large, framed prints on my living room wall that I shot last year with my Canon S100 that also show me that I can make images with small cameras that can be printed large.

So, after the sale of the 5D and lenses I was left with a Canon S100 and a Canon G15, both fine cameras although similar in that they share the same sensor and image processor. The lens on the G15 is a bit faster, the lens on the S100 opens up wider.

Sony RX100

Before my last trip to Los Angeles to visit my 97 year old mother I rented a Sony Cyber-shot RX100 from Lensrentals.com. I wanted to try a small camera that has a much bigger sensor than my small Canons and the RX100 has a sensor that’s close to four times as large.

I didn’t spend too much time learning about the camera and took a variety of images on the trip, including a nice one at the Getty Center that rivaled the series I did with the 5D and 24-70 lens:

Getty Center staircase

I took a similar image with the Canon S100 and it just did not have the detail of the RX100′s bigger sensor.

And one of my mother in very low light at 6400 ISO:

Frances

While the Canon G15 will shoot at ISO 6400 and even higher the files I’ve seen from it at high ISO did not look this good.

When I returned home I sent back the rental and decided to actually buy the RX100, thinking that I’d learn more about it on using it more but knowing that it’s capable of making spectacular images in very low light.

The RX100 comes with scant documentation but I downloaded the PDF of it from Sony and put it in iBooks on my iPad and I also bought an eBook that’s a full blown manual for the camera and I actually read much of it.

I took the camera on numerous hikes took landscapes and macros with it, shot in low light and decent light, and attempted to set the camera up and use it the way I’ve been using my small Canons for many years.

Here’s a list of observations:

The RX100 is a beautiful design but the flush mounted buttons and dials are difficult to find and use without looking at the camera. The physical design of the camera was fine in LA in great conditions but out in the field on a hike in winter was less than fine.

The metal body on the camera is aesthetically beautiful but in cold weather its tough on bare hands and given the flush mounted buttons it’s tough to use the camera with even thin glove liners on.

The camera is a bit slow to turn on and off, formatting an SD card of any size takes a very long time.

The camera’s general ergonomics: menu system, button layout and the like take some time to get used to.

The camera’s front control wheel does not click and sometimes seems to get out of whack with what it’s controlling. The front control wheel on the Canon S100 (which the RX100 is no doubt copying) has a satisfying click when using it to adjust things.

Autofocus (AF) is a bit slow at times although adjustments and familiarity would probably solve this issue.

When I get everything adjusted correctly the RX100 makes some of the best images I’ve seen on any small camera, they are outstanding in every way. However, making adjustments is not fun or intuitive for me and in the field, like on a winter hike, it’s very tough.

I like tools that are easy to use and once learned fall into the background; when I want to change a setting I ought not have to struggle, especially on a hike when it’s cold. I found the RX100′s ergonomic issues distracting and problematic enough for me that I’m returning it.

What’s interesting about this is that in the end I chose ergonomics over image quality and this choice will seem odd to some. There is no doubt that the RX100 makes better images than the S100 or G15 but for me, the cost of those images is struggling to use the camera. Will that struggle ease in time? Of course. But, given that I know what it’s like to use cameras that are a pleasure to use (for me) I don’t want to struggle, even for better image quality. Okay, some of you will think I’m nuts and I probably am, but this is very clear to me. I like what I like and in the end I’m the one using this stuff so I’d better be happy with it.

Update: On sleeping on it I decided to keep the RX100. I won’t be taking it on hikes in winter but it’s image quality is so good for a camera in this category it’s worth keeping for fair weather shooting.

I’m still not happy with its ergonomics but the images I took with it are in a different class from my S100 and G15 and that’s worth a lot.

My dream Camera

My experience with the RX100 has helped me better articulate what I want in a small camera and if Canon built the camera I want I think it would be a winner. Let’s call it the Canon GX.

Start with a Canon G15 body as it is.

Remove the optical viewfinder.

Offer a high quality electronic viewfinder that attaches to the hotshoe. Allow the eyepiece of the EVF to tip up to mimic a bit of the functionality of the older G series articulated LCD (which the G15 doesn’t have).

Give the GX a Canon CMOS APS-C sensor (same one used in the EOS-M). This would be a bigger sensor than is on the Sony RX100.

Give the GX a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. No interchangeable lenses, just one good constant aperture zoom attached to the camera.

If Canon offered this camera for $800 and charged $200 for the EVF I think they’d have a winner. I know I’d pay as much as $1000 for a camera like this.

So, in the end I’m left with two small cameras that are a joy to use but can’t give me the images that the RX100 does and the RX100 which is less than a joy to use but makes amazing images. The good news is that maybe at some point someone (hopefully Canon) will make a camera with the best qualities of all of these.

Getty Center staircase

Getty Center staircase

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, California. As some of you know I’ve been taking images of Richard Meier’s architecture at the Getty for over eight years now, almost all with a Canon 5D and a variety of high end zoom lenses. Today I had my Canon Powershot S100 and a rented Sony RX100 and I took a variety of images attempting to capture things similar to what I’d done with a DSLR. I must say, I was impressed with the way both cameras worked and while I’m not a big fan of Sony’s ergonomics, the image quality on this little RX100 is superb.

Compare this image to others in the set, I think you’ll be amazed at how well the point and shoot did.

Getty Center Abstractions set

SlingShot grip and tripod

The SlingShot: A Double Duty Phone Grip and Tripod

I don’t have one of these yet (ordering after posting) but it looks great to me.

Best part: the SlingShot’s flexible cradle holds any smartphone ever — from the new iPhone 5 to the oldest Android (with or without a case too)!

I have a 4S with a bumper on it so the current set of clamps don’t work for me. This will. Yes!

Setting up a Canon G10 for street photography

This is a great (old) video of professional photographer Gary Knight sets up his Canon G10 (now G12) as a street photography camera.

He adds a hotshot 35mm viewfinder

He presets the zoom lens to 35mm and locks it there

He sets ISO to 200 or 400 (film speeds he’s used to)

He saves all of those settings so he can return to them easily.

I love the G series ergonomics and I’ve not considered adding an external viewfinder to make up for Canon’s useless built in viewfinder. I do make various settings on my S100 (and have on all of my Canon cameras) that I return to easily because they’re saved.

It’s great to see a professional photojournalist using this type of camera instead of a Leica or a big DSLR kit.

A smaller walk-around camera kit

City walking bag, old and new meet up in perfect harmony

Flickr member Steve J Makin has posted an interesting shot of his current city walk-around camera kit and this is the kind of kit that interests me.

This is not an inexpensive kit but it’s a lot smaller than its DSLR equivalent.

Fujifilm X-Pro 1 Digital Camera $1699.95
Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Lens (on camera): $599.95
Fujifilm 18mm f/2.0 XF R Lens $599.95
Fujifilm 60mm f/2.4 XF Macro Lens $649.95
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Digital Camera $648

Total Fuji/Sony kit: $4197.80

There are other pieces to Steve’s kit but they’d be part of any kit.

No doubt some reading this will balk at the combined total cost of this kit but in fact, if one looks at this kit as a high end DSLR replacement kit that cost (with all the lenses) is about right. Here’s an example kit of Canon gear that might parallel Steve’s kit (keeping the Sony point and shoot

Canon EOS 7D SLR Digital Camera $1499
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Wide-Angle Autofocus Lens $1329
Canon Super Wide Angle EF 20mm f/2.8 USM Autofocus Lens $489
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens $409
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Digital Camera $648

Total Canon/Sony kit: $4374.00

Granted, I used a very high end Canon 35mm lens in the comparison so let’s substitute a cheaper one to even things out (I don’t know the quality of the Fuji lenses parallel to Canon’s line).

Canon Wide Angle EF 35mm f/2.0 Autofocus Lens $309

Total Canon/Sony kit with cheaper 35mm lens: $3354.00

If you pulled the Sony out and put in a cheaper Canon PowerShot S100 at $363.95 knowing that you’d use the Fuji’s bigger sensor most of the time and why blow an extra $300 on the backup camera the price drops a bit.

This is a fascinating study and while there are pieces of it that are subjective (does one like using the Fuji camera?) assuming that both camera systems make excellent images (they do) and one likes using them (many like each) and assuming that Fuji’s lenses are in the same league as Canon’s (I don’t know this but the reviews are good) we have real choices now. And, the Fuji kit is much smaller and lighter. This really appeals to me.

There is a lot of talk that the Fuji X-Pro 1 is slow to focus but so are some of Canon’s lenses listed above. There is the issue of few lens choices in the newer Fuji ecosystem but how many choices does one need? A few good zooms and a few good primes and a macro and one is set for everything short of birds and sports. The talk is that a firmware update for the Fuji X-Pro 1 will solve some of its AF problems. We shall see.

I have an aging Canon 5D and a few nice lenses left in my collection. Selling that gear could finance much of Steve’s kit above but I’d have to grow fonder of Fuji cameras to want to do this.

I do, however, want a smaller, lighter kit for walking around New York and possibly to take on hikes where spending some time shooting wouldn’t get in the way of hiking and what Steve has posted appeals to me a lot.

Serious compact cameras

I have three camera systems: Canon EOS 5D with some nice lenses, Canon PowerShot S100, and an iPhone 4S. The Canon 5D is the most capable camera but also the biggest, heaviest, and most difficult to have with me all the time. The iPhone is the smallest, easiest to have with me all the time but it’s the least capable camera.

As many reading this know, the iPhone has been eating into the point and shoot camera market enough so that people like my wife don’t carry and use a “real” camera anymore, they simply take pictures with their iPhones or other smartphones. While I think this is great and I use my iPhone’s camera often, as a photographer I want more control than a smartphone can offer so I still have a need for a small, point and shoot camera to live between my iPhone and my DSLR.

For the past few years I’ve been using the Canon PowerShot S90, S95, and now S100 more than my other cameras because these cameras can make excellent images and are small enough to have with me all the time. That said, there are many other cameras in the growing “smaller than a DSLR” category these days and in addition to considering upgrading my 5D to a 5D Mark III, I’m also considering other cameras in the small, “serious compact” category. There is no perfect camera that will please everyone but I’m getting a better idea of what I want in a camera in this category. I like Canon’s ergonomics, both hardware and software and while I’m not absolutely stuck on Canon brand equipment, to me it’s like sticking with Apple even as other makers come out with better stuff.

In earlier versions of this post, I listed numerous cameras in the micro 4/3 category and some of Fujifilm’s new X series cameras as well as Canon’s new EOS M but decided that all of these cameras are in a different category than the one I’m interested in: they’re more expensive, more complex, and more capable and are really a middle ground between point and shoot and DSLR and they’re closer to DSLR; many people are now choosing these cameras instead of DSLRs.

I think the solution for me, at least for now, is to continue with a DSLR and lenses for studio and higher end photo shoots and continue experimenting with higher end point and shoot cameras with fixed lenses (lenses that are permanently attached to the camera, either zoom or prime).

What I have now is the Canon PowerShot S100. It’s very small (maybe too small), sports a 24-120mm f/2.0-5.9 lens, has a modern and decent (although small) sensor and image processing system and has excellent hardware and software ergonomics. Yes, it has had some production problems with stuck zoom lenses on some copies (fixed in a recall by Canon) but it’s an extremely capable little camera and I continue to learn new uses for it. Still, it lacks some things that I find appealing on other cameras.

The Canon PowerShot G12 is a great camera and I don’t mind its size relative to the S100 but its lens only opens up to 28mm which is common in smaller cameras, it’s largest aperture at 28mm is f/2.8, and it’s got an older sensor and processor in it than the S100. There will be a next generation camera in this series and I’m hoping it inherits some of the S100′s capabilities: newer image processor and sensor, 24mm f/2 lens on the wide side. I like the ergonomics of this camera although it’s viewfinder is so bad Canon should just eliminate it, it’s useless.

The Canon PowerShot G1 X camera is a slightly larger G12 with a large, APC-C sized sensor. It too lacks the fast, wide angle lens of the S100 and somehow they forgot to give it decent macro capabilities. Put its sensor in a G12/S100 hybrid and I’m in.

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is probably the hottest point and shoot camera on the market right now. David Pogue gave it an incredible review and for good reason: it packs a very large 20MP sensor into a pocket camera and has a very good Zeiss lens. The lens only opens wide to 29mm which is a bummer for me. If it opened up to 24mm I think I’d be tempted to buy one. It’s also twice as expensive as the Canon S100 although the image quality from the big sensor might make the price go down easier.

The Ricoh GR Digital IV is actually the closest I’ve come to my ideal camera that’s not made by Canon. If it had a 24mm lens instead of a 28 I’d have one. I bought one from B&H and returned it after two weeks because I found I really missed the drama created by the extra 4mm of wide on the S100′s 24mm lens.

This Ricoh has a very nice, simple user interface, it’s lens is a 28mm prime (no zoom) and that’s fine with me and while it’s not quite as small as the S100 it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. I think if my friend Gary Sharp got his hands on this camera it would be his favorite of all time. I may have to try one again some day.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 came out recently and I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. It may very well be the best of the lot and it does sport a 24-90mm f/1.4 to f/2.3 lens. I’m not crazy about Panasonic’s ergonomics and I don’t like the fact that this camera’s lens must be capped (it has a lens cap) but it looks great otherwise. If it sported a bigger sensor…

The Fujifilm X10 is a camera I’ve not tried but it does belong in this category: fixed lens compact camera. I did try the Fujifilm X100 and wasn’t crazy about its software ergonomics although I was swayed by its loyal users who continue to make exceptional images with it. It’s considerably more expensive than typical smaller cameras and it’s bigger…. But, the X10 is small and capable and I rejected it by association. Best to get some hands-on experience with it at B&H before concluding a thing. 28mm on the wide end but still, worth a look.

I’ve no doubt left out a lot of cameras here but you get the picture, there is still a market for high end point and shoot cameras, maybe more than ever. As more casual photographers use their smartphones it will eliminate the lower end of the point and shoot market leaving the more serious photographers and hopefully companies will continue to push these “serious compacts” into new territory.

Canon EOS-M

First look at Canon’s new EOS-M camera, aimed at the red hot market segment between point and shoot and DSLR. This is a camera that appeals to me, it has a large sensor so image quality will be high and noise will be low yet is small and simple, not having the mirror and prism that DSLRs have for through the lens viewing and focusing that makes those cameras bigger and more complex.

Canon will be selling an adaptor that will allow mounting Canon EF and EF-S lenses on this camera.

It would be even better if Canon or a third party produced a hotshoe mounted electronic viewfinder so one could hold the camera up to one’s face to frame and shoot, maybe that will be available some day.

The touch screen menu and focusing system looks outstanding and for me, one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Canon for so many years and so many cameras is the simplicity and consistency of their cameras’ controls.

My initial impression of this camera wasn’t all that great but this video got me excited.

Canon’s information page about this camera: EOS M EF-M 22mm STM Kit.

DP Review has a preview of it: Canon EOS M: hands-on preview of Canon’s first mirror-less EOS.

The best (most complete, not necessarily most positive) review I’ve seen so far is here at the Imaging Resource: Canon EOS M Hands-on Preview. They (and others) talk about very slow auto focus, so slow in fact that the camera is almost unusable by any semi-experienced photographer. Let’s hope that these reviews are pre-production models and that the slow AF will be fixed by the time of launch in October.

Wouter Brandsma

Wouter Brandsma

Wouter Brandsma lives in the Netherlands, is a Ricoh compact camera fanatic and is an excellent photographer.

This was posted in 2009 but I’ve been following Wouter for a while and I’m bumping it up (changing it’s posting date) so those of you who don’t know his photography can take a look.

He’s one of the finest photographers of of the many I follow and he does all of his brilliant work with compact Ricoh cameras. There is no doubt that Wouter could make great images with any camera but I find it fascinating that a photographer of his caliber chooses these cameras, which by the way are’t all that popular except they do have a cult following among serious street photographers and photojournalists.

How to buy a camera

Everything you need to know about buying a camera

Vlad Savov has really done a great job of laying out the pieces of this puzzle you need to think about and in what order.

Ultimately, the number one lesson in photography is that there are always tradeoffs. If you want the best possible image quality, you’ll need specialized and bulky equipment. Should portability be your highest priority, you’ll simply have to accept that some photos and creative ideas will be beyond your reach.

In other words, there is no one camera that’s perfect. This is why I use three: iPhone 4S, Canon S100 (and S95) and Canon 5D (at some point upgraded to the next Canon 5X). Each has its place.

[via Kottke.org]

iPhone volume/shutter button

Use Your iPhone’s Headset to Take Pictures From Afar

iOS 5 brought us the ability to use the “up” volume button on an iPhone to take a picture but I just read in lifehacker that you can use the iPhone’s earbud remote volume control to do the same thing. This will allow the propping up of the iPhone and hands-free tripping of the shutter button, essentially a cable release.

I don’t use those earbuds (can’t fit in my ears) but I think I might start carrying them now.

Mottling the light from a flash with a “dingle”

Speedlight Mastery Trailer from Damien Lovegrove on Vimeo.

This is an excellent instruction video on how to make off camera flash more like mottled sunlight using some foliage taped to a light stand (he calls the foliage a “dingle”).

He using a Canon DSLR, a 70-200mm lens, a camera mounted IR controller to fire the off camera flash which is mounted above him.

Many of us (me included) find flash and artificially lit photography intimidating. The more we see stuff like this the more we’ll jump in and get it a go.

[via PetaPixel]

Canon PowerShot S100

Looks like Canon is about to come out with a new compact point and shoot which will replace the S95 which replaced the S90: Canon S100: The New Pocket Powerhouse Point-and-Shoot.

Here’s Canon’s “official” page on it: PowerShot S100.

Here’s DP Review’s Canon Powershot S100 Preview.

As yet we’ve only been able to handle an early pre-production S100 briefly, but initial impressions are positive enough. It’s as fast and responsive as we’d expect from a Canon Powershot, and the handgrip, despite its minimal size, goes some way to addressing one of the criticisms of its predecessor. The rearranged control layout means you can now initiate movie recording in any exposure mode, without sacrificing any particularly important external control over other functions.

Of course everything will depend on the image quality obtained from the new lens and sensor, and as yet we simply can’t comment on that in any sensible way. Canon is making some pretty confident claims in this regard, calling the S100 the best Powershot yet with 1/4 of the S95′s image noise at ISO 1600 (in its JPEG output, of course). So we’re very much looking forward to getting our hands on a finalized camera to see how this works out in practice – naturally we’ll bring you sample images as soon as we possibly can.

The most important updates for me are:

- Canon CMOS sensor (S90 and S95 use CCD)
- Slightly higher resolution (12 MP vs 10 for S90 and 95)
- Better ISO range: 80-6400
- New image processor (Digic V)
- 24-120mm, F2.0-5.9, (S90 and S95 have 28mm on the wide end)

Looks like they’ve moved the ring function button from top deck to the back which is great. I hit it by mistake on the S95 from time to time when turning the camera on and off. Nice improvement.

There are more new features as well but given the way I used my S90 and now use my S95 the best new feature for me is the 24mm end of the zoom lens. This will make landscape and other types of photography much more interesting from this camera. And, the fact that Canon has kept the aperture at f/2 even at 24mm is a wonderful thing. Of course, 24mm may introduce distortion where 28mm did not. Time will tell.

I’ve enjoyed these small cameras tremendously for travel and even though I’m using my iPhone quite a bit there’s nothing like a “real” camera with exposure controls and a decent sensor and lens for making better images.

This camera is no Fuji X100 but given the new sensor it will be interesting to see if it gives potential X100 buyers pause. Not that there’s not room for both of these cameras, there is, and I could easily see having both myself.

[via Steve Splonskowski]

Mountain Laurel on Guilder Pond

Mountain Laurel on Guilder Pond

Mt. Everett, Massachusetts. I took my wife Anne on a walk around Guilder Pond on the shoulder of Mt. Everett before the mountain laurel went by. I took my Canon 5D and a few lenses because the walk was short. Glad I did, the flowers were in perfect bloom and the light was great.

The tension between ease of use, low weight, and speed on a hike and wanting to get better images is meaningful. I usually hike with a Canon S90 and it suits me.

I don’t like to take much time to shoot when on a serious hike and when on a serious shoot I like to take all the time I want to get a single image. So, maybe best to keep the two kinds of tools separate. I’m not looking for a single camera that will do it all, but I’d consider something like the Fuji X100 if I thought it wouldn’t get in the way of fast hiking.

It remains an interesting conundrum and one that I’m enjoying considering as I continue to hike with my S90 and occasionally bring the 5D on short photo walks when no one will mind me taking my time in shooting.