16 Feb 2013

Photography is so easy now...

My recent post on Kodachrome made me realise how much photography has changed in the past 20 years and how today's generation of photographers do not realise how lucky they are because photography today is so easy and so accessible.
Film used to be expensive,slow- particularly colour slide film-and difficult to use to get good results .Cameras did not have autofocus until about 25 years ago and even built in automatic exposure metering was not widely adopted until less than 30 years ago.The photos of the 1987 Australian Grand Prix in a recent post were taken on my Leica M4P which had a separate exposure meter fitted in the accessory shoe.I transferred the exposure settings to the camera and I focussed it manually using the coupled rangefinder.Nothing automatic about it .

The design and manufacture of sensors which are the electronic equivalent of film and which are at the heart of a digital camera has made very rapid progress in the past 5 years - particularly in terms of sensitivity.Now some cameras can take pictures in almost total darkness.

This picture of Phoebe taken last week in late evening, just lit by a table lamp,was taken on my Leica X1 handheld at 1/30th second at F2.8 at 3200 ISO.I just picked up the camera,composed it and shot it -something which would have been impossible even with a digital camera even 5 years ago.
 If I had taken it on Kodachrome 25 film it would have needed an exposure of over four seconds at F2.8.Clearly not possible.And the image quality (IQ) of the X1 photo is excellent and the X1 is not in the frontline when it comes to sensor sensitivity .Now ISO 32000 and even 64000 are available in the latest top end cameras.
Kodachrome slide film was available in ISO 200 but most colour films were ISO 100 or 125 and ISO 64 was pretty common.Also colour films were either daylight or tungsten and really tungsten or artificial light was for the pros as amateurs found it impractical to switch between different films. Now you set your digital camera on AWB (automatic white balance) and for most situations that is fine.

Despite all the improvements size still does matter when it comes to sensors and as a friend recently discovered there is nothing for free.He purchased one of the new generation "superzoom " cameras which offer a massive zoom range on a very small camera.What he did not appreciate that this trick is achieved by using a tiny sensor so that the lens does not end up extending 20cms from the camera.The so called "superzooms" sacrifice image quality and in particular low light performance for their extreme zoom range capabilities.

Despite all the improvements in sensor technology the basic rule that the bigger the surface area of the sensor the better the image quality of the camera- all other things such as lens performance being equal -still holds.You can determine the surface area of the sensor for all cameras on the market -past and present-from

A few months ago I was reading a camera review and I inadvertantly started reading the banal comments that people who are socially disadvantaged submit in the comments section below the reviews.One idiot said that he could not consider buying the x camera as the autofocus speed would totally inhibit his photography.What utter drivel.For starters the autofocus speed of this particular camera was nothing special but was not really an issue and secondly before autofocus became widely available thousands of brilliant photos were taken using cameras with manual focus.Indeed even today many superb images are being made by photographers using the Leica M9 - a digital camera with only manual focus with a coupled rangefinder.

Peter de Rousset-Hall has sent me this photo of the 1988 Le Mans 24 hour race and it was taken on film with a 400mm lens which he had to manually focus whilst he was tracking the cars.No autofocus for him.

However perhaps to disprove the point I have just made below it is another of Peter's photos,perhaps featuring one of those same Jaguars,taken at the Silverstone Historics in 2012 using a full frame sensor Canon DSLR with,of course, autofocus.Bitingly sharp but remember this is an original big digital file whereas the 1988 shot is aged slide film scanned in and converted to digital.Both great photos-thank you Peter.I prefer the 1988 shot but I'm a Le Mans fan so hardly objective.

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