Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sensors and good sense

A lot has been written about Full Frame versus APS-C sized sensors in the last months. Specially after Nikon came out with the D700. The discussions have been so intense (and fruitless) in some forums, that many now feel nauseated when they see the two acronyms (FF and APS-C) together.

Many Nikon and Sony users are questioning themselves whether they should switch to FF, since the D700 and the Alpha 900 seem to be excellent (yet expensive) cameras.

Many Pentax users are questioning themselves whether they should switch brand, since Pentax does not seem to be interested in introducing an FF camera in the nearest future...

Many Canon users are laughing heartily, since they've been using an advanced amateur FF camera since 2005 (the Canon 5D).

This post most probably doesn't add much to the whole discussion, but I couldn't resist... The December issue of French magazine "Réponses Photo" has an interesting article titled "APS-C against 24x36". It lists "10 good reasons" in favor of each format and doesn't really take a side, so that the reader is free to make his/her own mind (or remain desperately undecided!). I'm presenting a loose translation of that list below.

In favor of APS-C cameras:
1. Low price
2. Low weight and inconspicuous look
3. Promotional body+lens kits abound
4. Integrated flash
5. Gain in terms of focal length ( a 300 mm lens behaves as a 450 mm, keeping the maximum aperture)
6. Gain in terms of depth of field (about 1 stop gain for the same aperture)
7. Cameras as full-featured as the FFs
8. The photo uses only the "best portion" of the lens (common problems like lack of border sharpness or vignetting are minimized when using a cropped sensor)
9. The image quality has reached a very satisfying level
10. Before, there were the medium and large formats and, still, we bought "low resolution" 35 mm film cameras and were happy about it...

In favor of FF cameras:
1. A former film photographer will meet his old lens choosing habits
2. Thanks to larger pixels sizes, record high sensitivities are attained
3. Top quality view-finders
4. Beautiful out-of-focus renditions at full aperture
5. Wide angle views can be obtained with light and relatively inexpensive 24 mm lenses
6. Top quality construction
7. Higher weight allows for better hand-holding stability and balance
8. With resolutions above 20 MP one can zoom into portions of the image and keep enough resolution
9. A long term investment, as a FF camera should maintain a higher resale value
10. "Once you try it, you'll never go back"

None of the previous arguments is new, but it is interesting to find them rounded up for both sides. I pretty much agree with most of the list for the APS-C cameras. However, the thing about the focal length advantage (item 5 in the first list) is outdated, since an image from a 20+ MP FF sensor can be cropped and zoomed in to obtain a 10 MP image, equivalent to the apparently longer focal from an APS-C (see item 8 in the second list). The only problem with this might be the "guilty conscience" of the photographer...

On the other hand, some items in the second list seem a bit far fetched. The higher build quality in FFs is a consequence of the price level and market segment associated to these cameras (advanced amateur and professional). If a FF camera could be made for a significantly lower cost, then we would see a whole range of quality levels in the market. By the way: Pentax DSLRs, namely the K10D/K20D, are examples of very good construction and very reasonable price.

The major argument in favor of FF cameras is the high sensitivity attainable with these larger sensors. An usable photo taken with 6400 ISO is something one wouldn't even dream of a few years ago. Some might ask: "But do you actually take that many photos in such low light conditions?" Well, I probably would if I could! But, as it is mentioned in a final portion of the article, humorously titled "Are we schizophrenic?", the FFs will remain quite expensive for a probably long time. They will increase in resolution but not decrease in price. That will demand lenses with a matching high resolution, which are also high priced.

Cropped sensors are an economic and versatile format that yields good quality images. Would I make better photos if I had a full frame camera? I'm afraid there are still other (more important?) things to be improved in my photo technique. But that's just me.

Duck pond

Show an amateur photographer a duck pond and he will rush for his telephoto and start shooting for the "Best Duck Photo Ever."

Sadly, I forgot to bring the 135 mm on our last visit to Porto's City Park, so I had to manage with the 50/1.4. But next time I'll be better prepared...

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fallen leaves

By this time of the year, every single photography blog out there must be showing photos of fallen leaves. This one is no exception.

Last Sunday, walking along the banks of river Lis in Leiria (Central Portugal) with my family, fallen maple leaves abounded. These are a couple of the shots I took, thanks to my wife's patience in looking over the kids...

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

And now, something completely different:

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

This is the ground of a open air children's playground, shot in the same day. The leaves fell from the surrounding trees. It is an artificial looking combination, I know, but that's how it was...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My "new" Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

Thanks to Leitax converters (once again) I've now added a new (used) lens to my setup: the Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm f2.8 AE, converted from Contax to Pentax mount. I got it as a replacement for my cherished Planar 85/1.4, which cannot be adapted due to its slightly different bayonet size.

Even though 85 mm was my favorite focal length for shooting film, with the K10D's APS-C sized sensor the 85 turns into something like 128 mm. I find this is an awkward length for portraits, having to stand too far away from the subject (useful if snapping a photo inconspicuously is intended, though). For some reason the Planar 50/1.4 is now my favorite lens on the K10D, being equivalent to 75 mm focal length on 35 mm film.

But an 85 on the K10D works well for isolating objects and framing details. I think I will be using this lens mainly in this context. And this lens must definitely be used! It produces sharp, well contrasted, images and is remarkably compact.

I think there will be quite a number of photos labeled "Sonnar 85/2.8" showing up on this blog...

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

Thursday, November 13, 2008

B&W roses

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 + extension tube

I still have a long way to go concerning macro photography. However, the photos above surprised me quite favorably. The soft fluidity of the petals enfolding the chaotic entanglement of filaments creates an interesting contrast.

I like these specially because they were taken just to kill some time, while waiting for my baby son to finish his nap in the car, at the end of a Saturday afternoon. The camera was handheld. I like to imagine someone will think these were actually carefully prepared studio shots, in the line of Robert Mapplethorpe's excellent flower series! OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hiking in Autumn... better not!

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8

Last weekend I went hiking with a few friends. We went to a particular area in the Peneda-Gerês National Park that is remarkable for the immense granite rock formations. A great chance to take some nice photos and test my brand new Tamrac Adventure 9 photo backpack, I thought.

Well... let's just say it was not exactly a pleasant experience. It started as a moderate hike in a mild overcast day. It ended as a strenuous undertaking, involving walking for 17 km and 10 hours in heavy fog, under freezing wind, through dense wet vegetation, over slippery rocks (I'm not even exaggerating!). The last 1,5 hours were done in the dark, using flash lights to find the trail. We had slightly miscalculated the time necessary to complete the path and were a bit too optimistic about the weather forecast...

Now, back in the warmth of my living room, I can say that it was a lot of fun. However, it was a failure as a photographic expedition. The only photos I took were during the first stretch, before we started ascending. The fog then became so dense that my glasses were dripping, so I thought it would be better to keep the camera in the backpack. There would not be much to photograph, anyway, considering the almost null visibility.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8

And how did the Tamrac backpack do? It was remarkably comfortable to carry, despite being quite loaded. The lower compartment has several dividers, attached with Velcro, and pockets, providing plenty of space for the camera, 3-4 lenses and cards. The top compartment is not divided, and that's where I put the food. There are two side pockets for medium sized water bottles. There is also a back compartment for a laptop, which I used for the battery charger and a few other slim items (mobile phone, for instance). In terms of weather resistance, the extreme conditions of our little adventure were a bit too much for the exterior fabric and some humidity passed through. Not much though, and it didn't even touch the camera or lenses.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8

Now I'm going to get up slowly and go to bed. Does any one know a good anti-inflammatory for muscle pain?...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Every photo is the first frame of a movie

French maverick director Jean-Paul Godard once said: "Photography is truth. And cinema is truth twenty-four times a second." The relation between cinema and photography is quite obvious and there are several noteworthy examples of directors that have developed a serious interest in photography.

The title of this post is actually a quote from German film director Wim Wenders. He authored a couple of my all time favorite movies: "Paris, Texas" and "Wings of Desire." He is also a photographer, with a few books published (in case you're wondering: he uses a Leica M).

I particularly like one of his books, titled "Once". It is a book of memories, in the form of photos and text.

The photos were taken all over the world, from America to Japan, along several years. Some are of well known actors or directors, in unusually informal contexts. Some are of anonymous people and forgotten small towns. The accompanying texts (always short) are written as intimate recollections of scattered memories. This, combined with the almost "snapshot look" of many of the images, makes me feel as I'm going through a friend's album of travel photos while listening to his stories about each image.

Those photos are extraordinary because of what they have to tell.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 + extension tube

In my explorations with the new extension tube set, I discovered that cactuses have porous surfaces that come out wonderfully in close ups. Ok, probably every owner of a macro lens new this already... I'm starting to sound like a kid with a new toy.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 + extension tube