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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Do we need it?
Old 08-26-2017   #1
Bill Pierce
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Do we need it?

There have been a lot of new digital cameras introduced recently, the Sony A9, the Nikon D850, the Fuji GFX, the Canon 6D , the Leica M10 and, I’m sure, a few I’m not aware of. For the most part, the most heralded improvements are based on improved sensors. It was easier when film was king. You just bought a roll of the new film and put it in your old camera. Super XX was superseded by Tri-X . HP5, by HP5+. And then P3200 and Tech Pan opened new worlds.

A new digital camera is a little more expensive than a roll of a new film; so, we should ask ourselves if we really need it. Face it; when your brand announces a new camera, It’s pretty exciting - more pixels, more frames per second, more tonal range. But my current camera has enough pixels to make a 16x20 print that you can press your nose against. And I’ve seen larger, poster sized reproductions that looked good when viewers didn’t attack them with their noses. I don’t shoot football anymore, and my most active subjects, my dog and people on the street, don’t need 20 fps. I shot a landscape the other day with detail in all but the darkest shadow and still had some tonal headroom. That’s not to say there aren’t scenes with a greater range than my cameras can capture. But a fair number of them look strange and unnatural in print when I just exploit the maximum my camera can currently do.

I love my toys, but they are more expensive than a roll of film. But the real reason I hold off a bit on new gear is that it doesn’t make my pictures any better.

Your thoughts?
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Old 08-26-2017   #2
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Agreed. And I prefer film and a darkroom. Digital technology is amazing and does stuff we could only dream of 50 years ago but I like my 1959 M2 and TriX. It gives me a fresh sensor for every photo and much cheaper than a Leica Monochrome.

May carry a Fuji X70 on an upcoming 192 mile walk across England because it is so much smaller and lighter than my Leica film camera.
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Old 08-26-2017   #3
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No..We don't need it.
There is plenty of performance in many different areas from many cameras.
There is Speed of focus and write to card/Network for Sports and journalist.
Oodles of Resolution and DR for Commercial and Art.
A camera for every purpose and many that cover all the bases.
We certainly don't need any more but the companies need us.
It's a fact of capitalism right? If we want the supply we need to give some demand.

I've become a second hand adopter.
Have not bought a new camera since the Xpro1 in 2012.
Last year I bought a $500 XT1. This year a $500 Sony A7.
Still use the GF670 and Olymups mju2 more than any Digital cameras.
I'll buy another digital camera when the fixed lens f2-ish/40-50mm model finally arrives (if it ever does).
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Old 08-26-2017   #4
fireblade
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Some-one mentioned Capitalism. That explains just about everything in this life. It's all about the feel good sensation/emotion of having the newest and best.
We all fall or have fallen for it.
Sigma, Olympus and Nikon have tried to suck me in during the past year, but i have not sinned
Personally, not long ago i went down the minimalist road. Life is simpler and better.
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Old 08-26-2017   #5
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Digital is fun, but I kept my M6 that takes ixmoo cassettes. My son got the other one. Both were from very early production.

During the last year I obtained 4 nikon F2`s in nice condition. The silver and black plain prisms so I could rid myself of the brick on top.

Sekonic studio deluxe does not need a battery

Score one for no battery for photography. Score another because I can make a print in my darkroom. No battery there. Even the metronome is mechanical.

Now we talk about the digitals, Leica M8 & M9. Small and easy carry. Too expensive at the volume I need.

Same for Nikons FX and DX.

What is nice is I do some high volume work in JPEG, DNG for personal, walk it over to the local finisher and he makes color prints ready in an hour with acceptable quality. Score digital.

Color darkroom is a pain plain & simple and gets worse every year. I am proficient and my prints are among the best, but materials yuck.

So all color is digital and I farm out prints.

Call me a hybrid photographer.
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Old 08-26-2017   #6
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Since I bought my first digital camera there is no thought about whether it makes my pictures better.

There are some technical advantages like higher sensitivity for light or image stablilizer the film gear doesn´t have.
So I have upgraded my digital gear from time to time.

I agree that the second hand market offers all you need and may want.
Capitalism has to be - who would buy this new gear we can get shortly after for half of the price instead
than this "early adopters"?

If you know what you want to photograph it's easy to get your gear.
The other way is expensive and never ending. And its an other hobby than
photographing - I´m sure
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Old 08-26-2017   #7
ellisson
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I love my toys, but they are more expensive than a roll of film. But the real reason I hold off a bit on new gear is that it doesn’t make my pictures any better.
Same reason I hold off, Bill. I'd rather spend my money printing my images with good quality materials - some up to 16 x 20 inches - for presentation. The costs for these add up, but the result of sharing the work is very satisfying. And for posting on the web, I see no reason to spend money on the latest and greatest gear that does not contribute to my image making.
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Old 08-26-2017   #8
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I stopped needing anything better after my D700 in reality but did move on to a 240 for reasons not really connected to capability or IQ.

I do muse sometimes on where film may be now if digital hadn't come along and spoiled the party. I suspect we would have emulsions offering minimal grain and excellent detail at 6400 or higher!
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Old 08-26-2017   #9
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I don't need it. But where are people who wants to buy new camera. Not 6D MKII instead of 6D, but new camera. New in the box and with warranty camera, recently manufactured. Just like new phone, new car. New toy.
You can't keep manufacture same old camera as new these days. Electronics are updated by manufacturers. It is different, very different from how film cameras where made. Or patephones.

Lenses are not as often updated as cameras, BTW.
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Old 08-26-2017   #10
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We don't. And that's why digital camera sales are declining.
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Old 08-26-2017   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fireblade View Post
...........Personally, not long ago i went down the minimalist road. Life is simpler and better.
Large format pinhole?

Least ways that is what I think of when I hear the word "minimalist".
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Old 08-26-2017   #12
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It depends on what you mean by "need". I can make do with most cameras, even if they're far different from what I use. Such as a Box Brownie instead of my Mamiya 645 or Nikon D800E. As could most folk.

I'm buying the Nikon D850 simply because it's a better tool - it will suit my kind of photography better, and be easier to use. I make large prints (a metre and more wide), so the 45 MP are welcome; and the two main weak weaknesses of the D800/E are fixed, the horrible screen that pixelates in live view and the shutter that feels like an earthquake!

Will my D850 images look different? No. Will taking and printing them be less frustrating? Yes.

I deliberately didn't buy the Nikon 810 - the interim model: it was too similar to my D800E.
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Old 08-26-2017   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I love my toys, but they are more expensive than a roll of film. But the real reason I hold off a bit on new gear is that it doesn’t make my pictures any better.

Your thoughts?
Ahhh...but the new toys are way cheaper than a thousand rolls of film + processing.
Example: A new Nikon D5 costs the same as 342 rolls of reversal film, based on the cost of film and processing when I last bought it, about ten years ago.
And having the capability to shoot as much as desired does make the pictures better.
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Old 08-26-2017   #14
Richard G
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Going out with my M2 in a minute. It is virtually the current model, the MA. Meanwhile for digital I am stuck with old technology, the M9-P and first Monochrom. Eight years and five years out of date, I think I can live with them for at least ten more years if they hold up. No new cameras for me any time soon.
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Old 08-26-2017   #15
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I went digital first, then played with legacy lenses on my canon 6d, and from there made the jump to film. At this point I shoot about 80% film to 20% digital and have built a fairly decent darkroom. It gives me far more enjoyment as well as tests my technical abilities, so that directs my decision to shoot it more. Oddly, I've gotten far more response to my film shots than digital from viewers despite its "lower technology". IMHO, the magic is in the moment first, placing the shapes in the right place is second, and the lenses doing what the photographer wants third. I won't buy a new digital until mine breaks or film is god forbid out of production.
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Old 08-27-2017   #16
Richard G
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Considering upgrading my M2 to an M7. More old technology. This evening the light was changing all the time and the M2 finder, good though mine is, still loses a little brightness and I couldn't tell if the light had dimmed slightly behind cloud or whether it was just the finder. Never noticed this problem with the M2 before. Probably won't ever actually get an M7 but it's something I think about from time to time.
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Old 08-27-2017   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G View Post
Considering upgrading my M2 to an M7. More old technology. This evening the light was changing all the time and the M2 finder, good though mine is, still loses a little brightness and I couldn't tell if the light had dimmed slightly behind cloud or whether it was just the finder. Never noticed this problem with the M2 before. Probably won't ever actually get an M7 but it's something I think about from time to time.
In my photography the manual exposure is still number one.
Nearly all my cameras are able to do infinitely variable exposure but often the mistake that they do it unwanted
Before juggling with metering methods, programs (every camera works different...) auto isos and
other intelligent automatics I rather trust my experience whenever its possible.

The other way is the complete automatic camera like the "do all pocket digitals" and smartphones.
But this is really not the field of photographing with an M

You can piick a nice lightmeter app and your M2 "has" all metering methods with equivalent ISObase you can imagine.
M7 never can do so...
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Old 08-27-2017   #18
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Quote:
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Ahhh...but the new toys are way cheaper than a thousand rolls of film + processing.
Example: A new Nikon D5 costs the same as 342 rolls of reversal film, based on the cost of film and processing when I last bought it, about ten years ago.
And having the capability to shoot as much as desired does make the pictures better.
Ok, I agree on the price of individual exposures when comparing film and digital but not on your last point. However, if you already had the D5, do you need the D850? That would cost a lot but the photos it takes cost you just as much as those of the still capable D5 takes.

I lust after a Fuji GFX. Would I be able to afford it? Probably. Does it makes sense? No way.

So yes, I replaced my 300D by a second hand 5DII but there was a very real upgrade. Would I upgrade to a 5DIV? Not if that 5DII continues to work as it is more capable than I am.

Now I do understand that just having new toys once in a while is nice. Even a caveman would have liked a new club from time to time. So I do from time to time buy an old camera just for being able to use such a camera. Like a TLR, or a 6x9. It also doesn't make sense. But it does change my photography as such a camera forces you to work differently (ok, I'm still lousy). And yes, I do have more cameras than I can use.
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Old 08-27-2017   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pluton View Post
Ahhh...
And having the capability to shoot as much as desired does make the pictures better.
No way. Who looks at this thousands of dead pictures?
Life´s too short and to interesting for such a boring sitting bull job
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Old 08-27-2017   #20
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If you think you need it, you need it. Even if you don't.

That's what advertising is all about, perception. Changing unfulfilled desire to necessity.

I bought my first digital camera about 10 years ago after shooting film for 30+ years. It was a Canon 8mp DSLR. For the first year I owned it, I hated it. Didn't trust it. Didn't like anything about it. Mostly just shot B&W with my Leicas and used the Canon for color. Then one day I shot a photo with that camera that I really liked. It had rich colors, excellent depth and beautiful lighting. At that point, I begin to slowly come around to using digital seriously.

I have a print of that photo on the wall and I've given copies to several friends. I print it to 12x18 inches on 13x19 rag paper. It's a little larger than the 11x14 paper I used to print my darkroom 35mm negatives. The prints I've made of that photo are approximately 1/2 of the full 8mp frame. Wouldn't stand up to a nose-against-the-print examination but it looks great at a normal viewing distance, hanging on a wall in the den.

That particular camera and lens are long gone, traded in for increasingly improved cameras with higher pixel counts and more modern processors and lenses with better resolution and function. None of my current cameras are in production anymore, replaced by "improved" versions with higher pixel counts and faster processors. It's the normal progression of technology these days. But, for now, I'm holding steady with what I have because I look at that 10 year old picture on the wall and know I don't really need the newest and best to take good photos.
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Old 08-27-2017   #21
Bill Clark
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The most important component of a photograph is the person making it.
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Old 08-27-2017   #22
Axel
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I am wondering why many of us here are using the oldest filmcameras but others are updating their
digital gear regulary as soon as there is a new model available.
That doesn´t correlate to the amount of good and interesting pictures. I mean that there
are some members who buy gear and others are taking good pictures.
Sometimes they are the same but mostly not
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Old 08-27-2017   #23
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I enjoy the excitement when the new cameras come out, especially versions of the ones I currently shoot with. My Nikon D4 is getting a little long in the tooth, when compared to the D5 I got to shoot with for a week, but I couldn't possibly justify the expense. And the D850 is lightyears ahead of my D700, which is still chugging along, though it appears I didn't protect it well enough when I was shooting lacrosse in the rain last spring. And I'm sure the new 6D Mark II has a superior sensor to my 6D, but my 6D is making me money, and it's just plain simpler without the tilt screen and other "improvements" so it's staying put.

Again, love the excitement of the new cameras, just not planning on spending any of my money on them.

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Old 08-27-2017   #24
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Here's an interesting piece on the subject by someone whose opinions I respect.

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.co...h-thought.html
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Old 08-27-2017   #25
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I read about 1/3 of the Tuck article until I realized I don't really care about new camera hype. Maybe that was his point.
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Old 08-27-2017   #26
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16mp is more than Enough for me ...

And who knows
I am learning to be more disciplined and creative with my iPhone
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Old 08-27-2017   #27
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Nobody ever talks about it, but more than half of the technical improvement of the internet, cellular net (now going to G5), video formats, flash cards and video enabled DSLR and mirror-less cameras is driven by the porn industry.

I don't think the needs of still photographers matter much

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Old 08-27-2017   #28
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How am I to know whether you, or anyone else, really needs their next new camera. I have no idea how you use it and whether you are either wearing it out or being limited by its feature set.

However, I am continually astounded by what my granddaughter is able to do with her iPhone.

She has it with her almost continually. She uses the camera several times a day. She prints on my big Canon regularly (at least once a week.)

And it shows. Over time her photographs have been getting visibly better and better. And I am not talking about the resolution.

She uses film but she prefers her iPhone, and I can't say she is wrong. She is doing exactly what teachers and photographers have been recommending since before Saint Ansel came along. She is shooting and printing all the time.

Will she need a new iPhone? Certainly, because she has about worn out her 5c.

Will I need a new digital in a couple years? Don't make me laugh. The shutter is barely getting broken in on my Leica Typ 262 and I certainly am not exceeding its capabilities.

Maybe I should take a cue from my granddaughter and learn to better use the camera in MY phone.
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Old 08-27-2017   #29
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Whether you need a new camera depends on what you have now. Stepping up from 5MP to 42MP might be just the thing to take your photography to the next level, not to say some great images haven't been taken with 5MP.
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Old 08-27-2017   #30
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I think the MP chase is silly. But clients, now being very camera savvy, sometimes request a specific camera or file size for their photos. I spoke with a local guy who told me that IBM requested a PhaseOne 65MP back be used on their job. If the new 100MP had been out then, they would have likely requested that one. This stuff is rentable locally and fees are billed to the client so, no big deal, as long as you're familiar with P1 and have a tether station with C1 running.

He said, he had absolutely no idea what they had planned for the files. The job was for a computer trade publication and web use, as I recall. Maybe they want to make giant prints for a trade show?
https://www.phaseone.com/en/Products...s/XF100MP.aspx

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Old 08-27-2017   #31
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I have been blessed to have and use virtually any camera I have "wanted". But there is indeed a point when we loose sight of the craft. I am now enjoying using my trust Leica Digilux 3, (a whopping 7.5 MP), and honestly, it is fun, and meets the requirements for what I am doing. And posting things on line, well it is enough. With care, I m get a 13x19 from an iPhone that when people look at them 1, don't ask what it was taken with , and 2, seem to enjoy the content for what it is.
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Old 08-27-2017   #32
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I tend to buy slightly older camera gear because the value proposition is usually not quite there (for me) when considering the latest and greatest (and most expensive) gear. I still try to ask myself the question "Do I need it?" even when buying last year's gear (or more often, even older gear). And of course the answer is usually "No, I don't NEED it!". But when I ask myself "Do I still WANT it at that price?" the answer for older gear is more likely to be "Yes". I am seldom disappointed when I buy older stuff. And once I have it I tend to hang onto it for longer. I am still happily using a Nikon D700 because it performs so well.

I don't do that much landscape work where a high megapixel count camera makes a difference to detail captured, so it is not really high pixel count that convinces me to buy something new these days. But I do get tempted by cameras that are billed as having good high ISO and high dynamic range performance - for me perhaps one of the greatest failings of digital cameras has been the way they tend to blow highlights in an ugly manner which is quite un-film like. Any technology that improves this is a big temptation for me. Such cameras do not have to be ultra expensive either. The above D700 for example still performs well enough for me to have kept it and I can get quite a lot of highlight detail out of it by shooting RAW and being careful with my exposure. And as another example, perhaps the best small camera I have in this regard is a Sony NEX F3. This is a consumer grade Sony NEX which I paid $250 for and is limited to 16 megapixels - not much by today's standards. But in low light it easily out shoots my Sony NEX 7 and matches my D700 in noise performance (I shoot both at 1600 ISO or 3200 ISO at a stretch in low light). I admit both of these cameras are outclassed now by newer models but I don't feel an overwhelming urge to buy something more expensive yet.
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Old 08-27-2017   #33
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I've come to find that I like APSC (for the added depth of field with longer lenses, but still being able to do a good job wide open), 24mp, and Fuji ergonomics. Very happy... and I don't think I'll feel inadequate with my choices for many years. These new cameras are amazing...but just not my style.
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Old 08-27-2017   #34
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I've come to find that I like APSC (for the added depth of field with longer lenses, but still being able to do a good job wide open), 24mp, and Fuji ergonomics. Very happy... and I don't think I'll feel inadequate with my choices for many years. These new cameras are amazing...but just not my style.
The camera cos have to come up with something to sell new cameras (lenses). I honestly thought that the limit would come around 20MP (DSLR/non MF), and then engineers would concentrate on better photo site tech. Higher DR, better low light performance (lower noise amplifiers), that kind of thing. But the marketing people rule. The first question I get asked when someone sees me with a camera..is, how many MPs?

I don't think this stuff matters much to many of us. As long as I can rent the latest greatest when needed, I'm cool. It's the same with golf clubs and tennis rackets.. and athletics shoes.. marketing. Use what works best for you, and ignore the marketing noise.
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Old 08-27-2017   #35
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Okay, I agree I'm old, and a bit set in my ways, and firmly believe in K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid), and when I see a new camera like the D850 has a NINETY PAGE brochure, which includes this image of it's viewfinder & auto-focus points, I freak out.



What a freakin' distraction. I still use only the center focus point on my 6D, and don't feel I'm missing anything.

Best,
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Old 08-27-2017   #36
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I use a Df and a Mt Fuji F2...what are these other dslrs you speak of? AF lenses? Really??? LOL
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Old 08-27-2017   #37
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Oh, to be able to afford a new model every time Nikon does an update. But then I'd just have more cameras sitting around not being used.

If I was a pro in need of replacing some aging bodies, the D850 specs are looking very nice.

But what I notice is that in order to use the D850 to it's fullest, you may also need to update your lenses. So that adds more cost into the system right off the bat.

Big honking 45MP sensor files are going to need more storage space, not to mention a better CPU and memory configuration to speed post processing along. So possibly a new computer will be called for.

I waited a long time from when I bought my first digital camera (Panasonic TZ-3) before getting its replacement (Nikon P7700). After dealing with that camera's faults for a couple of years I started looking to upgrade to a DSLR. It still took me quite a while before I got a Nikon D80 really cheap. I liked it so much I got another body just in case the first one would fail. Well, the second one failed first, and it pointed out a common problem with the D80 innards, so much that I immediately started looking for its replacement.

I settled for a D300s, since most everyone I know who has one feels it is a much better built camera, and I could still use the batteries from the D80, though I needed to get a different battery pack. It is a far better camera than the D80 by all means. My post processing times have gone down quite a bit, usually just consisting of cropping with no corrections, or minor shadow detail fixing.

But now I'm looking at having to replace my ageing computer and software because of the larger files, upgrade my Internet line, and get new printers. All collateral costs because of the D300s.

So where does it end? I wanted to get at least one or two of the new DX lenses from Nikon, but found out they won't work on the D300s or D80. I'd need to get a D7500 to use them. And Nikon is designing their new cameras with the mindset of obsoleting the older lenses, so you have to buy new glass.

It's why I still hang on to my film gear.

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Old 08-27-2017   #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by farlymac View Post

Snip

So where does it end? I wanted to get at least one or two of the new DX lenses from Nikon, but found out they won't work on the D300s or D80. I'd need to get a D7500 to use them. And Nikon is designing their new cameras with the mindset of obsoleting the older lenses, so you have to buy new glass.

It's why I still hang on to my film gear.

PF
Which lenses ? And, why won't they work on older DX bodies?
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Old 08-27-2017   #39
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342 rolls of 36 exposures = 12312 photos. or if taking 10 images per day that is 23 years. Of course, if taking 100 per day its a little more than 2 years. In reality I'd buy a new digital camera well before 23 years - only a film camera would be used for that length of time.

Commercial imaging makes digital worth the money. Amateur is cheaper with film. It's the ongoing visible cost (the hand in the pocket) that changes the feeling.

Like owning a new car (costs lots of money but none of it visible until you sell) versus owning an old car with recurrent expenses with repair, but probably about the same total cost overall.

I would guess that I have about $3000 sunk into a wide range of film photography equipment. With that I can use a 21mm prime out to a 300mm zoom, lenses from 120 years old to 5 years old, image sizes from 35mm to 4x5, every major camera layout (RF, SLR, view, P&S, guess focus...)

If I need to I can eat alive the quality of any digital. It's the speed I can't eat alive - and for image quality that doesn't matter. For professional imaging in this modern era it is certainly an issue though.

And as for quality - the image size for a roadside billboard is 1.5MP. That's all. So if 1.5MP can print at 6mx3m (apx 20ft x 10ft) its hard to see what 10 times as many pixels is really delivering in most real-world settings.
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Old 08-27-2017   #40
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I stopped needing anything better after my D700 in reality but did move on to a 240 for reasons not really connected to capability or IQ.

I do muse sometimes on where film may be now if digital hadn't come along and spoiled the party. I suspect we would have emulsions offering minimal grain and excellent detail at 6400 or higher!
What's a 240?
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