A photography journey – The tale of film and digital

Nikon FM3A

The next part of the photography journey that I would like to talk about is on the medium… film and digital. For the younger generation or those who just started photography in a more recent years, it is very likely for them to begin their journey with digital camera, and most of them will continue to stick with it throughout their journey. However, there are a curious bunch who are either started way earlier in the old days or deeply rooted into the art of creating pictures, who ended up ventured into something else… which is shooting with film.

For me, it’s more of a nostalgic feeling I get when shooting with film camera. It reminds me of the days when I used the point and shoot film camera and take pictures in my school. There are certain experience (and frustrations) that you will get when shooting with a film camera as opposed to digital. The well known quotes of “every shot counts”, “no more spray and pray” and “get it right in camera” are some of the key reasons why I felt shooting film, or the limitation imposed when shooting film, is actually a good training ground to hone your skill and craft.

I have enjoyed my time shooting with film cameras, be it rangefinder or SLR, and I have enjoyed the use of various film stocks, manual focusing, reading the light meter and so on. I don’t think it is necessary for everyone to go through the use of film camera, but for those who really enjoy photography, it’s a good way to experience the history and origin of it. And for those crazy one, they would go as far as developing the film themselves, hacking their scanner in order to get the best film scanning result and so on. Darkroom skill is a different territory all together, and I had been wanted to experience it but sadly have not been able to do so.

If you are on the fence considering whether you should try using a film camera, just do it. It may not be your cup of tea in the end, but I believe the experience is worth while for your photography journey. Till then.

A photography journey – The camera lust

In order to kickstart your photography journey, you would require a camera for sure. It can be in any shapes and form, from smartphone to point and shoot, from mirrorless to DSLR. Whatever it is, its a tool that you will be using to capture a picture, to turn your vision and imagination into a still art form.

For me, it all started with my very first Canon PowerShot G12, followed by PowerShot G1X. Later on, I switched to Fujifilm and used X-Pro1, X-E2, X-T2, and the X100 series cameras. I have also used Leica M9 and M240 before I finally switched to Sony A7 III. Well, that is… of course, only half of the story. I have also owned a few film cameras along the way, like the Nikon FM3A, Zeiss Ikon, Fujifilm GW690 and Hasselblad Xpan.

That’s a pretty long list for the past 10 years. There are those who argued camera is not important, it’s all about your vision. While there are those who argued camera is equally important as your skill, as it entice you to go out and shoot. Whatever it is, I believe for most of us, especially hobbyists are inevitable in owning all sorts of cameras along our photography journey. Some call it gear acquisition syndrome, well, I agree that there are those who are into camera buying and not photography itself. But for most of us, it’s more than just gear buying.

We started a new hobby, stepping into the world of photography. We wouldn’t know for sure what we like and what we wanted. Hence, a lot of trial and errors may occur along the way. Trying out cameras from different manufacturer, different form factors between SLR and rangefinder, trying out different sensor size and technology and so on. Eventually, we will find what suits us the best and settle down (or we are running out of money to fund our hobby). Also, as your shooting style changed, your skill evolved, your requirement changed, it’s totally normal that one may need to switch to a different camera in order to keep them going.

As we settled down in our hobby, getting matured, have better understanding on the world of photography, I believe most of us will end up sticking with a camera for a longer period of time. Do you have any confession to make on your long list of camera used?

Camera technology… what’s next?

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In recent years, traditional camera technology has not changed much. You get better sensor performance with better noise control, you get higher speed performance that allows blackout-free shooting through EVF, you get better auto focus performance in the form of eye and animal eye AF… other than that, there seems to be not much going on.

Whereas for smartphone camera technology, computational photography has evolved and allows user to capture HDR image and video with live view, night mode that allows handheld low light photography to be possible, blurring background without the need of large aperture lens, creating lighting effect without the need of studio light and so on.

It’s an obvious threat for sure to the traditional photography industry, smartphones have been eating their piece of pie ever since they were introduced. To photography geek like us, we jolly know the difference between the two in terms of what each can achieve and their limitations. However, for the vast majority of average consumers, it simply doesn’t make sense to buy a camera anymore.

So, can traditional photography platform catch up and make a come back? Or it will slowly fall into a niche? I wonder. Maybe they can add computational photography into traditional cameras, but that would require a crazy amount of processing power that current technology simply couldn’t deliver. Maybe they can innovate by adding internet connectivity and adding apps on their camera to ease content sharing, but that would probably eats in their battery life and annoy some purist along the way.

We are already seeing camera sales dropping year over year, it would be interesting to see how one would react to stay relevant in the business. What do you think is necessary for traditional camera brands to survive the storm?

Innovation?


What is innovation? This word has been used so loosely that every single thing that appears in front of us nowadays need to tie themselves to it.

“This is an innovative solution!”
“This is an innovative design!”

For example, people hyped about curve edge on phone screen, but is that innovation? How about foldable screen? More megapixels on your camera? A camera with no LCD screen or one that folds inward? My personal point of view is that innovation can only be “innovation” when it brings value to users and solves problem.

Take the very first iPhone as an example, it was an engineering marvel back then, and I think all of us would agree that it is innovative. It solved the problem of clunky user interface, putting a computer and browsers on your palm, allowing you to be always connected to the internet and ultimately blurs the line between a smartphone and computer.

As Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Mix Alpha (the all screen phone from front all the way to the back) and calling it innovation, I can’t help but to wonder what innovation is there. Maybe from engineering point of view there’s a breakthrough in developing such screen. But from a user point of view, such design will only generates more problems than what it could potentially solves. Foldable screen on the other hand, is something I felt is legit innovation. However, the current implementation by both Huawei and Samsung are just lack lustre, as both device companies are just trying to be “the first” and didn’t spend time to refine and wait for the technology to mature.

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In the case of camera, mirrorless system was innovative when it first launched. It brings in features which were not available on DSLR during that era, great live view experience, electronic viewfinder that enables “what you see is what you get” and so on. It solves the weakness of videography on DSLR, and had now blurred the line between still and video camera. However, there seems to be little innovation breakthrough (at least meaningful innovation) thereafter. There was in-body image stabilization, some improvement on sensor technology (stacked sensors, backside illuminated sensors etc.) and that’s about it. In fact, most of the innovation in photography came from the smartphone space, namely “computational photography”. I wonder if traditional camera manufacturers are able to adopt some of those technologies into their camera?

The world is flooded with yearly refreshed gadgets, where most of them didn’t have much of a leap in innovation to begin with. I do know that companies need to survive by selling us stuffs, and sometimes stuffs that we don’t need. But I can’t help but to think that such frequent and minor refresh had killed our sense towards “innovation” and diluted the excitement of some real innovations. Anyway, I do hope companies can bring in true innovations that enrich our life, solve our pain points, and allow us to truly enjoy technologies in the days to come.

Style vs Spec

 

Day after day, more and more products are gearing towards “lifestyle” products that are essentially blend into your life, making it apart of your routine, something that you can’t live without, something that resembles you, something in style that fits your personality, look and character. It’s not hard to see these products are getting more attention and sales as compared to “traditional” products that compete with specifications and reliability.

An easy example that can be drawn will be Apple. Apple had never produced any products that are superior in terms of specification. However, people used to say “it just work” on Apple products, and that their design aesthetics adhered to what they are looking for: simple and minimalist. Apple has a huge crowd of followers, and I’m one of those who purchase their product, though I don’t classified myself as their cult follower as I don’t appreciate every single thing they produced.

In the world of photography, it has always been a race of superiority in terms of specifications. With every product launch, you will only hear about how many stops of dynamic range, how many frames per second, how large is the buffer, how fast the camera auto focuses and so on. There was once a megapixel war, followed by mirrorless versus DSLR war and so on. Much of it still revolves around the technical aspect of the product. Well, it’s hard to deny that as we are actually talking about a rather technically engineered product here.

However, there were those who seek to breakthrough and go the other way. Leica was one of them. Their camera has never been “the best” in any class of specification that you can think of, unless you are saying highest price is one of the attribute you are looking at. But still, Leica managed to develop a cult of followers that believes in their philosophy and approach in photography, hence they are able to continue to survive until today. Moderate specification that command premium price tag and yet still able to sell. They are selling “feeling” and “lifestyle” more than anything else.

 

Another company that kind of follow this approach was none other than Fujifilm. Their camera has long been accused of copying Leica’s rangefinder design. Seriously, looking at the X100 series and the X-Pro series, it’s hard for people to say they are not. Fujifilm has never been the “best” in any of their specification. They were late in the digital camera business, they were late in the mirrorless craze, but yet, they managed to develop a group of cult followers that believed in their “passion for photography”.

My point of view is, Fujifilm has been pretty successful is differentiating themselves and building their own group of followers. They started off with retro design on their camera bodies, differentiating their camera with “X-Trans” sensor technology, adding in dials that provide tactile control resembling those from the film cameras and so on. They did gathered quite a lot of interest, but in order to continue to grow further, apparently it’s not enough.

Sony on the other hand has always been a company that focus only on specifications over form and functions. Sony cameras in particular has always been leading the edge in some key development areas, particularly those surrounding the imaging sensor. A7 has revolutionized the mirrorless camera line by bringing full frame sensors with it, followed by the recent launch of A9 which wiped out most of the advantages that DSLR holds against mirrorless. Their camera has never been a looker, but their performance will keep you wanting to go back for more.

 

It’s been pretty clear that lately Fujifilm has emphasized more on specs lately and started to detour themselves away from their retro-ness. They started to adopt top plate LCD, they talk more about specification than anything else, they started to venture into videography business for their X-series camera line-up and so on. It does make business sense for these decisions. However, the current state of of products from Fujifilm makes me feel that they are not sure where to go. The GFX and X-H1, to some extent are good initiatives from Fujifilm to grow their product lines. But the fact that they tried to innovate but at the same time still kind of afraid to let go of their retro styling, makes the GFX and X-H1 look just weird. I believe they could have just gone all out with both of these camera and ditched all the dials if they were to incorporate the top plate LCD, just make them with futuristic design to differentiate from the existing retro styled offering. I believe they had built a strong enough cult followers for their retro cameras, is time to move on with something more modern that opens up a new market segment for them.

It seems to be that all manufacturer has bowed to specification over style. Even Leica has been busy with a slew of “modernized” camera like the SL, CL, TL and Q. It remains the be seen whether this will be the way moving forward. I would really want to see if any manufacturer can strike the balance of the two (the Hasselblad X1D is pretty close in my opinion, but I have yet to see or try one in person for myself to comment). Anyway, I’m just contemplating on this while I’m thinking about where should I move on next in terms of my photography gear. Style or spec? Let’s wait and see what else 2018 has to offer for us. Till then.