On a personal note: System decision – Why Canon APS-C?

Canon 760D

When you are new to photography, or think about switching to a different camera, the predominant question is which system to go for. A compact camera or one with interchangeable lenses? Single-lens reflex or mirrorless? Micro-Four-Thirds, APS-C or Full-frame? Each of those has its applications, its specific strengths, but also its particular weaknesses – there is no “one size fits all”. Of course, there are “all-round” cameras – usually, they turn out to be Jacks of all trades, masters of none. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you are looking for.

The decision for a particular brand comes later. The technical differences between comparable cameras of different manufactures have become almost negligible. Thus, the choice is often one of personal taste: What controls and menu system do I prefer? Which cameras did I own before? To come to a good decision, there is one central point to ponder:

What do I want to photograph?

Calendar 2018

I already went through all these considerations once, about two years ago, when I picked my current equipment. Now that I am thinking about switching to a camera with a wider range of functionality, all these questions come up again.

DISCOVER THE POSSIBILITIES

There are many different disciplines within the area of photography that all have their own requirements. The following – drastically simplified – list gives a short overview of typical criteria:

  • Landscapes – great dynamic range
  • Portraits – shallow depth of field
  • Nightscapes – good image quality (little noise) event a high ISO values
  • Wildlife – long range with telephoto lenses
  • All-round – wide selection of lenses
  • Travel – light-weight, compact size
  • Video – good video auto-focus, connections for peripherals

It is clear that some of these criteria contradict each other: if you want to take classic portraits with minimum depth of field, you will need a full-frame camera and a lens with a wide aperture. A Canon 5D Mark IV with just its kit lens already weighs around 3.5 lbs.; with a portrait lens such as the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 it’s over 5 lbs. This might not be a problem in a photo studio, but when going on a hike, you will think twice before lugging it along. A Sony RX100 III, on the other hand, weighs less than a pound, is about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and still gets highly recommended by many photographers as a very good travel camera. It has its limitations elsewhere.

For taking pictures at night, the best choice is a large sensor with low resolution, so that each pixel can gather a lot of light – such as the Sony A7S, for instance. This is a full-frame camera with just 12 megapixels, but outstanding low-light performance. For wildlife, a smaller sensor has its advantages, because it provides a longer reach with telephoto lenses due to its narrower field of view. A Canon 80D has 24 megapixels and a crop-factor of 1.6, which means that with a 300mm lens, it provides a view similar to a full-frame camera at 480mm.

Hence, the question you should ask yourself is not: Which camera is the best? You should ask yourself: Which camera is the best for me?

All packed up for the next photo excursion
All packed up for the next photo excursion

WHY I DECIDED FOR CANON APS-C BACK THEN…

Looking ahead on the upcoming upgrade, it is worthwhile to revisit the original considerations. Foremost: What has changes since then? Essential insight from back then: I am mostly an all-rounder. I do not have a particular area that I deeply specialize in. I photograph whatever I like: landscapes, but also people at events. Sometimes nightscapes, sometimes animals. A tiny detail here, the ‘big picture’ there. I want decent image quality, but I also want to be able to carry the camera along an entire day without it becoming a millstone around my neck.

After thorough consideration, I decided for the Canon 760D. In my blog-post about the camera, I have described in detail why. I’ve never regretted this decision.

The crucial points were the articulated touch screen, the (for me) intuitive handling, and most of all the huge range of lenses that are available from various manufactures. Last but not least, the price played a role as well, of course. The 760D has more than fulfilled my expectations, and I was able to take many great pictures with it – far beyond what I had originally thought of.

I have learned a lot over the past two years, and with skill, the requirements grow as well. Hence, I have asked myself increasingly often over the past few months: Is a camera like the 760D still the best camera for me?

…AND WHY I HAVE DECIDED NOW TO STICK WITH IT

Over the course of time, I have purchased numerous lenses of various brands (Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Samyang…). In order to keep the financial impact of an upgrade at bay, it was clear from the beginning that I would stay with a Canon camera. That still left three options: mirrorless, full-frame, or an APS-C upgrade.

Mirrorless cameras are clearly on the rise, not at least because their live-view auto-focus systems, for a long time the Achilles heel of this type of cameras, has significantly improved. A DSLM would certainly have advantages for me: the electronic shutter can take thousands of pictures for a time-lapse video without wear, and focus-peaking makes focusing manually a lot easier. The problem, however, are the lenses. In theory, I can keep all my lenses and use them with an adapter, on a Canon EOS M5 for example. Reviews from many sources show that in practice, it’s not so easy. Not every lens works with every adapter, and oftentimes, autofocus issues remain. Of course, there are lenses made specifically for mirrorless camera – but that would mean an additional investment. Also, the limited battery life of most DSLMs is a factor for me. Last but not least, there is a very irrational reason: the feeling to have a “real” camera in my hands and the clunking of the mirror are an integral part of photography for me. The bottom line is, mirrorless is not (yet) the way for me.

That leaves full-frame. When the new Canon 6D Mark II was released recently, the temptation was big to go for it. I compiled a list and compared the overall costs of switching to full-frame with an upgrade on APS-C, and the advantages and disadvantages of each choice.

On the assets side, I listed realistic (compared across several platforms) selling prices for my current camera as well as lenses that are for APS-C only, such as my “always-on“. On the spending side, I listed the costs for the new camera, as well as for the replacement lenses needed to complete my lineup again. For the APS-C upgrade, the price difference of the camera was the only factor.

All in all, I concluded that switching to full-frame would cost me around 1,500 € more, mostly due to the lenses. I asked myself: Is it worth it?

The headline already gave it away: No, it’s not. The gap between APS-C and full-frame has become significantly smaller over the past few years, much owing to lenses such as Sigma’s 50-100mm ƒ/1.8. This allows you to take great portraits and nightscape shots even with a smaller DSLR. Of course, some gap remains. But the occasions where this would really make a difference for me are so rare that this is not worth the extra 1,500 €. And there are other disadvantages as well: A Canon 5D with its kit lens is in every dimension (width, height, length) four fifths of an inch wider than my 760D with the ‘always-on’ lens, and it weighs one and a half times as much. What good is a great camera if I don’t take it with me because it’s too bulky?

Hence, I will stick with Canon APS-C DSLRs. For me, they are the ideal compromise between size, flexibly, functionality and image quality. Current rumors indicate that in the spring of 2018, the successor to the current Canon 80D will be released. If this comes true, I will take a very close look at that camera. The main reasons for the upgrade can be summarized quickly: increased functionality and vastly improved auto-focus. Until then, I will certainly enjoy my 760D, and the pictures I’m taking with it, a lot.

I hope these considerations have also been helpful for you.

– Jochen =8-)

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

On a personal note: My photo board 2017

Photo Board 2017

With photography, as with many things in life as well, you get better by setting goals for yourself, making your homework, accepting challenges, and doing things you didn’t do before – at least not that way. So I asked myself: What pictures do I want to make? How do I achieve that? And then: what worked as planned, and what didn’t?

In order to not lose track of my ideas, I resort to an idea by Stephan Wiesner: the photo board. I’d like to share my own photo board for 2017 with you here – and of course, I will report on my progress here as well.

RETROSPECT

When I think back how my photography developed, there were three stages: At first, I simply took snapshots – I documented where I was and what I did without thinking too much about it. At times, some really great shots would come out of that, which I still like today, but back then, those were mostly coincidental.

Then came the time when I started to think more before taking a picture: careful choice of the field of view, the main motivation or item of interest in relation to its surroundings and background, the lighting etc. I became pickier with my images. I no longer simply photographed everything, but cherry-picked the things that interested me most. And I also deliberately chose to not take a particular picture, for instance when the lighting was completely off. However, the motto still was: “Ok, now that I’m here, let’s see what pictures I can take”.

This leads us to stage three, where this is becoming reversed. Now I ask myself: “if I want to make this photo, where do I have to go to get it?”. “When do I have to be there?”. Thus, the image becomes the goal for a trip or afternoon, and no longer is a mere side effect. This requires planning, not only on the where and when, but also: what equipment do I have to take along? Which lens? Do I need a tripod, a filter, a remote shutter release, an external flash…?

When I have an idea for an image, I start looking for hints and tricks on the Internet, gather suggestions, and then I go out and try it. This way, I managed to create a number of great images over the course of the past year, which I certainly could not have created in 2015. And in 2017, I want to raise the bar even higher.

PHOTO BOARD 2017

NIGHT CAPTURE / LONG EXPOSURE: SYKLINE

I always like nighttime photographs, especially of larger cities. In that respect, I am fortunate to live close to Frankfurt. With the combination of the Main River and its skyline, it offers a number of marvelous motives. I made several attempts on this image over the last year, but so far, the result does not meet my expectations.

But these attempts were not in vain. For instance, I have found my preferred vantage point: on Flößerbrücke (‘rafter’s bridge’). From there, you can see the Ignaz Bubis Bridge in the foreground, which is nicely illuminated when it’s dark, and then the skyline of the financial district in the background.

Foto-Skizze: Skyline zur blauen Stunde
Photo Sketch: Skyline during the Blue Hour

In addition to selecting a good spot, I was also able to try out and optimize my equipment. I will definitely take the picture using my Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 lens, due to the outstanding sharpness it renders. Tripod and a remote shutter release are a given as well. In addition, I always take along a piece of black cardboard or something similar, because the Flößerbrücke is illuminated as well by strong floodlights mounted in front of the bridge – these will shine into the lens despite the lens hood and tend to created distracting artifacts in the resulting image. I also take along my neutral density filters. I have two of them: an 8x and a 1,000x. I will use them to slow down the shutter speed to make the water appear silky and smooth.

All that is missing is: a workday evening in winter, when it gets dark early and many of the offices in the high-rise buildings are still illuminated, and an interesting sky. No clouds at all is boring, and too many clouds isn’t good either – because then the sky doesn’t get dark, since it reflects the lights of the city and in particular the airport behind the city. I am mostly interested in the time period from sunset to about 45 minutes afterwards, the so-called “Blue Hour”.

CLOSE-UP / MACRO: EYE

Macros, or at least close-up images, are another area of photography that appeals to me. The reason is that these images expose details that are usually missed – either because they are simply too small to see, or because they move too fast to take a thorough look. This was important enough for me to get a dedicated macro lens: the Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC Macro. I went hunting for butterflies and bumblebees in the lavender bush with it, and took a magnified image of a dandelion.

While browsing the Internet for macro photography ideas and tutorials, one fascinating motive repeatedly came up: close-up images of eyes. This has become something I definitely want to try myself.

Foto-Skizze: Nahaufnahme eines Auges
Photo-Sketch: Close-up of an eye

Of course I’ve read a number of how-tos and tips, so what remains is to actually try and do it. I don’t know yet, for instance, whether it works better for me to take the picture outside in the sun, or inside with a flash. How does the light have to be set up so that the details in the iris are clearly visible, but the model does not squint from the glare, and so that I don’t cast a shadow on the eye with the camera or lens?

MACRO: ICE CRYSTALS / SNOWFLAKES

Let’s stay in the macro realm for another photo idea: ice crystals and snowflakes. However, this requires something that around here is a complete no-show for the third winter in a row now: snow. Or at least, long-lasting decent frost.

Foto-Skizze: Eiskristall-Makro
Photo Sketch: Snowflake macro

I was able to get a few “test images” with white frost on clear mornings at least – with promising results. But I am sure: there is way more to be seen. Preferably in the grazing light of the low early morning sun, but otherwise, a strategically placed flashgun will to the trick as well.

FREEZING MOTION ON A FOUNTAIN

This idea is basically the opposite of a long exposure: Here, I do not want to show the water in a silky-smooth way, but instead I want to freeze the motion with a high shutter speed so that every single drop can be seen floating in mid-air. With my Rebel T6s, this means: 1/4,000 second. Maybe I will manage the upgrade to the 80D, then I can even go with 1/8,000 – but there are other priorities to take into account as well. Anyway, because of its wide aperture and image sharpness, I will use the Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 for this shot.

Foto-Skizze: Bewegung einfrieren am Springbrunnen
Photo Sketch: Freezing motion on a fountain

While I am rather sure on the “how”, so far I am missing the “where”. I am looking for a well with a nice fountain. Unfortunately, many of the fountains here in Darmstadt are permanently turned off, even in summer. Either due to lack of funding for necessary repairs of the ailing pipes and basins, or due to wanton damage and pollution.  So far, I haven’t had the patience to systematically look for fountains in the nearby cities, but it’s definitely on my list for 2017. If you know any beautiful waterspouts, I will gladly take any suggestions!

CAR PORTRAIT WITH AN EXTERNAL FLASH

This idea came from rummaging in the Internet for the questions: “what can you possibly do with an external flash?”. In doing so I came across a YouTube video by Christian Adams and immediately thought: what a great idea! The concept comprises taking many pictures, in each of which a certain area of the car is illuminated by a hand-held external flash, and then afterwards compositing them in Photoshop to get the final image with a “showroom” feel to it. Fortunately, a worthy model for such a picture has been a member of our family for 20 years now:

Foto-Skizze: Auto-Portrait mit Aufsteckblitz
Photo Sketch: Car portrait with an external flash

I’m still thinking about a good location, where there are no distracting reflections or background objects. Most of all, I want to be undisturbed, and also do not want to irritate anyone with all the flashing. Aside from that, all I need is the right occasion – and of course a fresh polish for the gem.

PLANES AT THE AIRPORT

For me, planes are kind of special, because they are tied to a very specific feeling: wanderlust. Oftentimes, when I am sitting in the garden at home, or I’m looking out of my office window, and see the planes climbing into the clouds I wonder: where are they going? What would be like to be on that plane now? And even when I am actually sitting on a plane for business travel every now and then, it still feels special to me to be at the airport.

Foto-Skizze: Flugzeuge am Flughafen
Photo Sketch: Planes at the airport

I want to try capturing this feeling in an image. At and around the Frankfurt airport, there are a number of photo locations that are suitable for that purpose. So far, I stuck to theory and research on that topic. I want to change this next year – go out to the airport, get a feeling for the views the various vantage points actually offer, and take pictures. I’ll definitely pack my telephoto lens, as well as my “always-on” lens – and a tripod.

FURTHER IDEAS

Of course, there are more ideas than that – but they are not as concrete or thought-through yet as the ones listed above, so they haven’t made it to the sketch / photo board stage yet. For instance, Darmstadt has a small but pretty zoo, called the Vivarium. It offers a wide variety of potential motives, ranging from butterflies to kangaroos, hence I definitely plan to go “hunting and shooting” there.

And I’ll keep looking around the local Railway Museum, for special lighting moods – for instance, when the setting sun floods the roundhouse with orange light through the old windows. Or behind the scenes, capturing sights usually hidden from the public eye.

Apart from that, I’ll keep my eyes and mind open for new ideas throughout the year…

CALENDAR 2018

I definitely plan to work on a photo calendar project again. For 2017, I had composed a calendar with a “best of” my pictures taken between October 2015 and October 2016. Some of my family and friends really enjoy having one, not only because many of the images have a quite different effect when viewed in A2 size (roughly 16×24″) compared to a small screen. I particularly liked the challenge of finding a motive matching each month.

Hence, I want to repeat that for 2018. This time, I tasked myself with creating a calendar in portrait orientation. I have started by adding a few images from this year to a short list. Probably not all of them will end up in the final calendar, since the fire and forge images are very similar, but I will take the final decision only when I have the rest of the images as well, to make sure they fit together.

Kalender 2018
Calendar 2018: The first candidates

Of course, some ideas from the photo board will make it into the calendar as well – even though not all ideas can be done easily in portrait mode. But this challenge is also what makes it appealing…

Stay tuned!
– Jochen =8-)

Picture credits: All sketches and photos: own images.

Merry Christmas!

A merry Christmas to all of you – enjoy the Holidays with your Loved Ones, make yourselves comfortable, come to rest, and most of all: stay healthy and happy!

Jochen =8-)

Merry Christmas!

On a personal note: All aboard! Your next connections…

Pictures Overview

While I’m happily sharing recommendations for the blogs, videos, and books that helped me getting started with photography – and still do – of course the question comes up: So? What came out of all this? Did it actually help?

Personally, I can say: The pictures I’m taking today – one and a half years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it is possible for me to take them myself. And I want to stretch this boundary even further over the next one and a half years. In the meantime, I have gathered quite a lot of images. I maintain a small selection – what I consider to be a “best of” – on the photography platform 500px.

Some of that, mixed with older images and mobile snapshots, can also be found on Instagram.

And last but not least, from time to time I produce moving pictures as well, which can be found on YouTube.

So if you want to keep track of what comes out of all the things I find, share, and learn – have a look there as well  😀 You will find the various links always handy by means of the respective icons in the top right hand corner of the menu bar.


LINKS: ALL ABOARD…

On a personal note: All aboard!

Bitte Einsteigen!

“The problem with getting started with photography is not that you can’t find any information about it – but way too much of it.” – Own experience

At least that was my conclusion when I decided to finally get started with photography “for real”. Until then, all I had done with my first DSLR – an Olympus E-510 – primarily was to take snapshots. I had a rough idea of what I wanted, but things like aperture, depth of field, angle of view etc. always passed me by. I mostly trusted the automatic programs the camera provided. I did manage to get a number of really nice pictures – but admittedly, I often didn’t know why.

In the fall of 2015, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not I only could I visit the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, world’s largest host-air balloon event, but I also had the chance to drive up into the mountains and watch the stars – far away from city lights and above any haze. That was the primer: how do you photograph the Milky Way – and how do you do it right? What equipment is needed, which settings, how do you process the images afterwards?

So the odyssey started through the vast spaces of the world wide web. Initially, the sheer amount of information stunned me. Soon, though, I started to get an idea about which websites and video channels are actually useful, and which ones can be quickly discarded.

Now, more than a year later, I have a good feeling for which photographers, homepages, blogs, YouTube channels and software tools help me, and which don’t. Over time, this resulted in a positive list with collected bookmarks – and a negative list as well, of course…

Are you at the same point now? You’re interested in photography but don’t know where to start?

Then let my train of thought take you where you want to be, faster. All aboard!

Enjoy!
– Jochen =8-)

Title Image: Own image, 2012

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