Nikon D80, Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS for the flower and Nikon 35mm f/2 for the rest. Both lenses I can only recommend.

Medium format shots yet to come.

Thanks to Gillian :)


F@#&in' Finally ! Nikon D800

The D800 will be announced on February the 7th.

It's aiming at pros doing landscapes and fashion, requiring very large prints, hence the 36MP sensor. It will indeed cost 4000$ more or less.

Since it's totally useless for the casual art shooter, I'll be waiting for the D400 announcement. I have the secret hope that it will be a full frame (although I have absolutely no insight)...I want to use my 35mm as a 35mm, not as a 50.

Until then, the best DSLRs for a non pro remains the Nikon D7000 , and I have to admit, the Canon 5D MKII . At this price tag, the Canon 5D MKII is no less that a Nikon D800 with a little less innovation for half the price.

I am actually a bit skeptical about the price, why would anyone want to pay 4000$ if Canon pulls a 5DMKIII at 2500/3000$?
According to recent leaks, the 5DMKIII would be a 22MP camera, which makes a lot more sense for an amateur than the 36MP D800, also leading to better low light performance.

Last interesting piece of intel: the D700 and D300S are officially discontinued. It may be time to search for a cheap D700.

Wait and see...

Why you should buy used equipement.

Photography is an expensive hobby. If it was your job, the cost of gear would actually pretty low. A camera cost far less than a restaurant ! But as a side activity, it can cost you an arm if you get carried on into a gear frenzy.

Luckily, a lot of people are totally obsessed by buying tons of gear, certain that they will get better photographers. That makes camera manufacturers very happy ! As a consequence, they do sell a lot of used equipment. As for many other things, Ebay will become your best friend :)

 If you truly want to reach the heights of proper landscape / portrait photography,  this is how much it costs.

Why should you buy used?
Obviously because it is much cheaper, but also because cameras, unlike computers, haven't fundamentally improved since the 80ies. In 1995, a Nikon F5 has faster AF, FPS and metering system than 99% of the actual DSLR production. 
Of course marketer at Canon and Nikon will tell you the contrary, and no, I am not denying significant improvements occurred. You can shoot faster, more conveniently, in more extreme light conditions than ever before. However the question is: do you need any of that?

It is very likely that you don't. 

For example, if you want to shoot landscapes, or artistic portraits, nothing justifies buying a brand new camera. Of course if you are rich, forget it. You can also stop reading this article :) 
Shooting landscape of artistic portraits (with a posing model) non professionally can be done with an entry level DSLR and any tripod. It can be done marvelously with a film camera for much less money and better results too. Let it be very clear: a 400$ D3100 will do the same as a 5000$ D3 if you shoot with proper light and set your camera right. The same. The D3 is just faster, more resistant, more convenient; picture quality however won't be better if used properly.

If you shoot landscape in particular, you must - I insist you MUST - go for a larger format than 35mm (that is to say bigger than DSLR). A medium format camera, a really great one, will not cost you more than 1000$ all included on Ebay, when they still cost 3000-5000$ new ! Why? Because pros are selling their own for the convenience of digital, a convenience you don't need as an amateur. Also because it out performs 35mm cameras.

If you shoot wildlife or action, then yes, modern cameras are worth it. They perform faster, they can shoot well up to ISO 6400.
If you like making movies, a modern DSLR can be a great all in one tool for both. But how many of you actually shoot then edit movies?
If you back pack, maybe a more recent lighter camera is also a good idea.

If you are a pro of course, a state of the art camera can reduce your effort, make you more productive, but it's a totally different logic and need.

An other reason why to buy used: most of japanese or german gear is extremely durable. Nothing to do with you plastic XBOX 360. I own 30yo cameras that work as good as new, not one part moving or shacking. Consider it is like a very nice swiss watch. I personally apply that to everything: I bought my car like that, why paying full price when a as good as new model is 50% off with 30 000 miles? It can still go for 100 000 miles easy !

Last but not least, you won't targeted by thieves if your gear looks like it's already been stolen twice.

I shot these for the brand Zumo with a Nikon D80 & Nikon D700 , it was printed Xlarge on their shops here in Dublin although they are 10 -12MP cameras. My point: the used SLR you can get now for cheap was the pros' camera of 5 years ago ! If they were happy with it, why shouldn't you

What should you buy used?
Mostly camera bodies. First of all they are less risky to buy than a lens. Then buying a lens can be a 30 years investment worth the extra bucks, when a camera body will need to be replace long before the lens.
I however did buy used lenses, but not online. I could inspect them in the store, test them and return them in case I had a problem. If arguing with online sellers doesn't scare you, go for lenses as well but pay attention to where you buy !

Example of great products you can get used for much cheaper.
Any Nikon 35mm SLR: Nikon F4, Nikon F5 for auto focus bodies, FE, FE 2, FM 2 , FM3A and all from that line up for even cheaper manual focus cameras. They work with your modern lenses, and they do great.

Any DSLR if the shutter count is not too high. A camera is usually recommended for a given number of shots. For example, my old D80 was covered by warrantee up to 80 000 shots. More premium camera can go up to 200 000 or 400 000 shots without a problem. Most cameras have a counter built in, check it out ! It in good condition from a certified seller, a camera with less than 40 000 shots is a great deal.

If you want a very low light camera for wildlife or sport, even now you can get some used product that perform brilliantly. A Nikon D700 is fundamentally the same as a D3S. It's a non video version of a D4. Many are dying from intensive professional use, but find an rich amateur who can't live without the latest gear, and get one for half price used ! I guarantee that with moderate use, unless you decide to make video, you'll be able to keep it for a decade with seeing any desirable improvement coming from new products.

Finally, medium format gear. It cost half a car new, and the price of a compact used. It's like a guy selling a Ferrari half price after driving it 2000 miles.

My D80 in India in February. I dare you to tell me you can see a difference between this an any more recent  DSLR.

Where to buy used ?
  • Ebay: if you pick the right seller (99.9 or 100% happy buyers)
  • Adorama: take only item in excellent -, excellent or demo condition. They do deliver quick, but they also do try to rip you off sometime. They once sent me a camera that was obviously broken before packing (they paid back). They also tried, in store, to convince me that an obviously damaged viewfinder was perfectly fine. They overal cover for their crap, but it's a bit annoying.
  • B&H: so far superbly happy with them, but they have less choice than Adorama for used gear.
  • Amazon: sometimes great used stuff but less choice
  • Keh: avoid. Very very dodgy customer service, sometimes months to get delivers a bad product, more to get it exchanged. 

Learning photography

I often get that question: how did you learn photography? Usually implying "did you take lessons? Where?"

Well I haven't, I actually haven't looked at an other photographer's work during the first 6 years of me shooting. Not one picture. Now that I come to think about it, I even wonder how I achieved that. Anyway the fact is I had little clue about mastering a camera (the one I had left little room for manual controls anyway), exposure or anything of that kind. A lot was left to randomness. However I did take some of my best shots back then, surely more original than the ones I take now. Why? Probably because I was free of rules and daring a lot more, following some elementary creative instincts.

One of my earliest shots, also one of the most creative in my point of view (shit compact camera)

This is why I want to share that quote from Ken Rockwell (.com for his site, don't be afraid of the poor site design, content is excellent):

"...when you start by trying to master camera, lens, Photoshop and computer jockeying, you never finish. Attempting to master all this before just going out and enjoying taking pictures will prevent you from ever having any time to learn about photography itself. Instead of learning photography, you'll spend a lifetime learning about cameras and computers. This makes lots of money for the people selling you all the new cameras and computers you'll think you need, but never helps you make better pictures."

Yes. I will add an other point to this, also raised by Mr. Rockwell somewhere on his site but we can never repeat it enough: nearly any camera is good enough, getting a much more expensive one just makes things a little easier and simpler, but it certainly doesn't make you a better photographer. 

I am a living example of that: I did professional jobs with my old D80 (a 2006 SLR) and Nikon full frame DSLRs, in normal light conditions with comparable lenses I could never tell which pictures were coming from what camera. I still do studio jobs with the D80 and I still can't see a difference with a D3 picture once on the screen. I even had shots taken with a D80 on bus stop size ads in the street. 

Look at the next 3 shots: one taken with a D80, one with a D300, one with a D700. Can you tell ? (No I won't tell you which one, try to guess in the comments)

Expensive gear is more reliable, tropicalized (rain & dust proof), faster to operate, pre-programable, can shoot better in extrem conditions, but it doesn't make better pictures. It's exactly the same as having a really nice clean well organized tool rack as opposed to a bunch of screw drivers in a shoe box. You'll still be able to built whatever it is you are building, but in one case the experience will be better and less annoying. Pros buy super fancy stuff because they shoot all day, they need to save time, efforts, carry less gear. Also they can expense it, they have insurance on the equipment. 

If you have money, and love the gear, why not getting it. Why not. But I have never met a non pro photographer that gets tons of expensive gear AFTER learning photography. I however know a zillion guys that have the huge Lowepro bag full of big lenses and a full frame DSLR, expensive flashes for "strobist" work (sorry but if you like artificial light work, you buy proper flash units). They walk around street with a 70/300mm on a 5D mkII to take picture of bikes attached to fences. They can't take an original, personal properly composed shot but damn those pixels are sharp ! 
Having lots of good gear often allows the bad photographers to market themselves as pros. I could give you a list of people who charge a lot, brand themselves as recognized photographers, while their work looks like a 5yo discovered photoshop for the first time. 

As opposed to this, I know plenty of pros that still shoot the same old 35mm FM3A or even early digital gear (4MP DSLR) because well, why changing? They do all they want with what they have already and they focus on the pictures. Of course reporters, wildlife photographer will go for the edgy gear, but the fact that many talented guys don't even bother using that kind of equipment means something.

Jan Sholtz is an amazing portrait photographer, here he used Nikon FE2 (30yo film camera)

Steve McCurry is probably the most famous photo reporter alive, most of his major shots were with a 35 film camera.

What about me? I shoot all of my stuff with 5 cameras, here they are ranked from the most used to the least:
  • Mamiya RZ67, 10yo, bought used 900$ with the main portrait lens
  • Nikon FE, 30+ yo, bought used for 109$, I used it with a 50mm 1.2 AIS
  • Nikon F5, 17yo, bought used for 300$ to a war reporter (it's got cool vintage impacts on it) 
  • Mamiya 645 manual focus, 30yo, bought 246$ on Adorama
  • Nikon D80, 5 yo, bought refurbished on Ebay.
  • Olympus C5050z (a good compact from 2002, 5MP, slow but great lens)...ok that makes 6 cameras, but I don't use this one anymore
All my gear could not get me a full frame DSLR if I was to sell it. However for photography, you do need light, so I bought a set of Elinchrom 400W studio strobes, so I have proper light when shooting inside. I was dumb enough to buy a SB600 flash because I wanted to save bucks on light, I haven't used it in years. 

The next three shots have been taken with a fully manual, old and used  RZ67:

Now that you feel bad about your impulse to buy better gear all the time, let's get back to our original point: learning photography. 

As a famous editor once said, it's not because you've done the best schools in NYC that you are any good. Unfortunately most wannabe photographers will end up flipping burgers or doing any other job they wish they didn't need. It's like gravity, you have talent (and a bit of luck), or you don't. I would always recommend you teach yourself by trying things as they come to your mind. You'll quickly figure out if you have any talent by being honest with yourself. Keep in mind that it's a process, it takes time, it's iterative. Do it for a while and you'll see. Have a camera with you as often as possible, challenge yourself to try different angles, shoot a lot, try things on silly intuitions, avoid courses at all cost.

Done? Ok so you should have figured out if you have talent or not. If yes, keep ignoring everything until you've matured your own art to the point that you can't find creativity anymore. Then you are probably ready for sourcing externally.

You realize that you are, let's say, limited talent wise. Keep trying. You might be wrong. But if you really are unable to avoid the same mistakes over and over again, it might be worth getting a few basics right. I insist, just a few basics, and then see how it goes from there. Don't let anyone teach you how exactly you should shoot, how a good picture looks like or not. There is no such thing. 

An image I personally like a lot although it goes against many "rules"

You can have a look at my shooting tips for portraits section. I try to give away some essential yet elementary tips there. It covers composition, exposure and much more. For landscape I am no good advice, but I invite you to check those links out for general photography:
Otherwise, you best friend is and will always be Google. For inspiration, check this link it's full of very talented photographers to get stimulated by.

Long story short, my tips: 
  1. A photographer is someone who...takes pictures. So go do that, only way to improve.
  2. Take the picture the way you should in the first place, don't do it afterwards in photoshop
  3. Force yourself not to redo the same thing that worked before
  4. At the beginning, put the camera in full auto, just work on the subject, your angle to it, your position towards light. And shoot. Approach the same subject in different way, dig for the great shot.
  5. Flickr is full of shit. Don't post half your memory card and get fake confidence from blind people lamely flattering you every time there is a bit of bokeh, a sunset or a hot girl. You will get addicted to this, and never challenge yourself. 
  6. In line with point 5: only constructive criticism will be useful. Also keep in mind that it's art, so one might not like something you adore, it doesn't matter. You'll think about it, question yourself, mature. It's always good. 
  7. Avoid  hanging out with photographers that are just masturbating on gear. It will pollute your creative mind.
  8. Buy a vintage camera, it will make you respect the crafting and enjoy better :)

Canon S100 or Fuji X10 ?

In my winter 2011 recommendations, I had the Canon S100 as the compact camera of my choice. I've also been following closely the new Fuji X line, and now that the X10 has been out for a little while, time for a comparison.

First of all, let's see what they have in common:

  • bright F2 lenses, 24-120mm for the S100 and 28-112mm for the X10 , so pretty much the same here
  • full HD video capabilities
  • good under the hood software, both cameras process images pretty well
  • both are from real camera brands, which means a proper experience in lens manufacturing
  • 12MP sensors, but that doesn't really matter

Now let's have a look at the essential differences, starting with what's in favor of the S100 :
  • It is significantly smaller, and the lens folds flat when off
  • it has high speed video recording (240fps), a gadget surely but it can be fun if you shoot action with it
  • Cheaper, but at least 100$
  • better dynamic range on the paper

What does the X10 has for himself:
  • larger sensor, leading to better low light performance
  • bigger = better handling, I find the S100 a little too small for my long fingers. It's a matter of choice
  • normal video recording is at 30 fps VS 24 fps for the S100
  • 10 fps shooting
  • much faster to operate, in particular shutter response time is significantly better
  • built quality and looks, it does looks really good
  • better battery life (although not amazing either)
  • more manual controls

Looking at this summary, it looks like there won't be an obvious choice here. If the X10 seem to win in several areas, differences are minor. For example, ISO performance is better, but it's already very good on the S100
The most important part being the lens, both are a really good choice since both lenses are about equivalent, and smart. They avoided the ridiculous X72 zooms that ruin image quality and are totally useless.

Be sure of something: YOU WON'T TAKE BETTER PICTURE BY PICKING ONE OVER THE OTHER. It's purely a matter of ease of use, preference in regards to ergonomics. I'd say try them in store and pick the one that comes in hand best. However, you didn't read all of this to be told "go see in the next Best Buy". So here is my personal call:

I have DSLR, SLR, Medium format gear. If I am to buy such product, I want a pocket fitting camera for mountain biking, skying, etc. I also wouldn't like to put to much money in it. I would still pick the S100 . Differences are so little that the size and feature / $ ratio wins.

If It was to be my only camera, it would be the X10 . Because it reacts much faster, and having a delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being taken sucks big time. It also offer more manual controls, which for experimenting is nice. It's overal a little better, and looks much prettier which as irrational as it is, would matter a little. I also do have a little preference for the way it processed dynamic range: photo with heavy contrast tend to come up a little more flattering on the X10 for my taste, even though the S100 has in theory better dynamic range.

Be sure you don't make a mistake buying any of those 2 cameras. Also know that ergonomics and software on the X10 is better than on the $1200 Fuji X100!
 An other good trick: the S100 and S95 are the same. It's like getting the 2012 car instead of the 2011. It's just a marketing thing. So go find a S95 for cheaper :)

Olympus OMD ?

After the big splash of the Fuji X Pro1 - it will be a commercial success I'm sure, bit slow AF @ 1700$ and no manual focus assistance for a camera taking M mount lenses is a splash in my book - Olympus as some leaks and we hear of a digital OM all over the Internet.

What is an OM originally ?

About a decade after Nikon and Canon created a range of SLRs (all the Fs for Nikon and the likes of the A1 for Canon), Olympus launched the OM1, followed by many more, as a directly competing line up of SLR cameras. This was good stuff (long story short). Getting one these days wouldn't cost you much, and with the proper film and a negative scanner, you'd be able to do some pretty cool work.

What about the OMD?
Surfing the trend of "let's use our historical line up names and add a bit of vintage to sell very expensive  compacts", Olympus is on the edge of announcing a digital OM. 

Now let's cut the crap from the beginning: unless they make it with a SLR viewfinder and a proper sensor (I'm not even daring to hope for full frame), the only thing from the OM will be the name.

Fuji has really opened a market niche with the X line up (Fujifilm X100 , X Pro1). Those products, even if far from perfect (slow AF, poor ergonomics) are indeed something to the landscape: some of do us want premium compact with terrific built quality. 

Unfortunately, prices for those cameras are ridiculously high and unjustified. At 1200$, the Fujifilm X100 offers only 35mm and slow operation. It is excellent image quality wise, but not enough. The X Pro 1 has some major flaws (to be updated once I have one in my hands) and costs really too much (1700$ body only). 
Most of all, Fuji is alone in that segment, Leica not having launch anything in that field recently. I welcome a new player in that niche !

So far features of the OM D are pure speculation, but 43rumors has that list:

  • "Camera has a classic OM design
  • It has a magnesium body
  • It is weathers sealed
  • weight 373 g (body only).
  • 16 megapixel sensor optimized for High Dynamic Range
  • 200 up to 25.600 ISO
  • Built-in electronic viewfinder 1.44 million dots (positioned in the center of the body liek the old OM optical viewfinders and same resolution as the external VF-2 viewfinder (Click here to see on Amazon).
  • 610.000 pixel OLED swivel 3 inch screen.
  • Five-axis image stabilizer in body.
  • FAST AF and 3D tracking
  • Comes in Balck or Silver.
  • Price: Around $1.100 in USA or 1.000 Euro in Europe."

 Of course it's missing sensor size. Electronic viewfinder? Really? Well let's wait and see, should be fully announced by the 8th of February.