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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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Phenomenon
Old 01-15-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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Phenomenon

I recently played with some files from the Fuji GFX 50R, a camera with a medium format sensor. While there was a difference in image quality between images from Fuji’s APS-c half frame sensor in the X-T3, it was a difference that was only clearly visible with close inspection of large prints. And then I came across an article on the web from a landscape photographer that said the same thing. That’s kind of terrifying - until you realize how differently we work with big cameras and little cameras.

Whether it’s a big sensor digital camera or a big sheet film camera, we tend to use them with a tripod and lenses at their optimum aperture in a way that maximizes sharpness. Not so that little fellow that we hand hold and shoot wide open. But when that little guy gets the big camera treatment - tripod, low ISO, optimum aperture - the results are amazing. There’s just one problem. You are not going to street shoot on a tripod at ISO 100 with the lens at f/8. Well, actually there is another problem. Some of us aren’t going to shoot on a tripod at ISO 100 with the lens at f/8 anytime, even when we are taking a picture of a building or a tree. We erroneously think we can handhold 1/125 or shoot close to wide open and not degrade the image. But when we treat a little camera like it was a big camera, the results are amazing. Anyone have any experiences with this phenomenon??????
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Old 01-15-2019   #2
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I think the word you are looking for is laziness.
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Old 01-15-2019   #3
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Horses for courses as they say.

Any photographic image benefits from a steady camera and a sweet spot aperture setting.

A small camera with a fast lens and relatively fast iso film or sensor setting can preform more adequately for say photojournalism use than a view camera.

I mean that was what the innovation of the miniature camera (ie: the 35mm camera like the Leica and the Contax) revolution, starting in the 1930s was all about.
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Old 01-15-2019   #4
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Lazy? Maybe. Probably. At least in some cases.

I've shot large, medium and small format cameras from tripods in the past. But I hated carrying and setting up the tripod and grew to dislike the static shots I was getting. Yes, the images were technically sharper and the compositions were more studied. It's just not the kind of photography I'm into anymore. I haven't used a tripod in years and I like my pictures better for their spontaneity. I give up some technical image quality for that.
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Old 01-16-2019   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
...Anyone have any experiences with this phenomenon??????
Yes, I have.

At every interiors photography gig the camera was on a tripod with a gear-head. Camera ISO was always at the native (base) value. Bright interior lights were always overexposed. Windows were always slightly overexposed. Indirect, off-camera flashes selectively lit darker areas. Shadow regions were always pushed in post production. Focus was always manually set to about 1/3 the distance between the camera to the most distant interior feature.

I started with a D200, upgraded to D300, D700 and finally an X-T1. Each upgrade was a real time saver. The gain in signal-to-noise ratio meant more dynamic range, using lower external flash light levels and much less time spent optimizing rendering in post-production. The lenses (ultra-wide zoom) got better with each upgrade too. This saved time and effort as well.
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Old 01-16-2019   #6
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Yep, have too and my problem is how to carry a tripod or even a monopod on a motorbike. OK, I'll give it a try and just strap it to my body and see how that goes.
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Old 01-16-2019   #7
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I do not care about getting the best maximum quality because I`d prefer to be mobile and active and getting shots all around my city. I use high shutter speeds and if my ISO has to go up a few notches, I`m not going to stress it. Museums and galleries are full of images that were not made at optimal settings.
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Old 01-16-2019   #8
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Museums and galleries are full of images that were not made at optimal settings.
This. Technical image quality matters a lot less than camera makers and internet discussion forums want you to think.

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Old 01-16-2019   #9
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True, until it does. Landscape photography is generally not done at f/2.8, ISO 800 for a reason.

Seems like a lot of folks talk about "mobility" and "city," which of course is different.

Pick the right tool for the situation and your vision. Nothing else matters.

6x17 pinhole image, 8 second exposure on a tripod at f/200 or so:

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Old 01-16-2019   #10
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Absolutely had that experience... with the Sigma SD Quattro H camera. Even though its a small camera with a cropped sensor, it pretty much had to be used on a tripod and at ISO 100. The foveon sensor really isn't useful for color unless one uses it at its base ISO. Any higher and the noise becomes nasty. So slow shutter speeds are a must. But the results are amazing! The camera forces its user to treat it like a big camera. :-)
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Old 01-16-2019   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
... when we treat a little camera like it was a big camera, the results are amazing.
As Fonzie would say: "correctamundo".

For me it's mostly the Nikon F3 or Mamiya RB67 (albeit the latter less often). Yes I can hand hold the SLR or x100t when using NDGrad filters but it's better with a tripod and cable release... printing at 20x30 cm the results are very nice.

A light weight tripod makes all the difference and after a few outings it really is second nature...

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Old 01-16-2019   #12
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True, until it does. Landscape photography is generally not done at f/2.8, ISO 800 for a reason.

Seems like a lot of folks talk about "mobility" and "city," which of course is different.

Pick the right tool for the situation and your vision. Nothing else matters.

6x17 pinhole image, 8 second exposure on a tripod at f/200 or so:

You are right, but we all knew that tripods are used for this... we were giving the counter argument. It is as useful me due to yes, the city. Nothing wrong with doing both...

But your own photo shows that we don't always use a tripod only due to wanting the best IQ. We can use it for other reasons as well... i.e. long exposures.
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Old 01-16-2019   #13
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A normal lens on big format has the dof of a tele on a small format. This is the main difference and wonīt change no matter how advanced are the files.
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Old 01-16-2019   #14
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A normal lens on big format has the dof of a tele on a small format. This is the main difference and wonīt change no matter how advanced are the files.
Yep. But large format cameras (and some medium formats as well) allow adjustments to DOF with swings and tilts.
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Old 01-16-2019   #15
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Yep. But large format cameras (and some medium formats as well) allow adjustments to DOF with swings and tilts.
A Fuji apsc "normal" lens is 35mm. A normal lens on a MF is 80mm. Thatīs a huge difference in lens character.

Otoh that particular aspect of picture taking is not what drives my attention right now.
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Old 01-16-2019   #16
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A Fuji apsc "normal" lens is 35mm. A normal lens on a MF is 80mm. Thatīs a huge difference in lens character.

Otoh that particular aspect of picture taking is not what drives my attention right now.
A common misconception. So as to avoid differences between lens designs, consider a Tessar lens of 45mm on 35mm film or digital FF (cropped to 4:5 aspect ratio) , 180mm Tessar on 4x5, and a 360mm Tessar on 8x10. All 3 will render the scene identically if they are shot at comparative apertures (say, f/8 on 35mm, f/32 on 4x5, and f/64 on 8x10).

The rendering of the objects in the frame does not change. That only happens by moving the camera. These lenses produce the same field of view in each situation. The optics and commensurately the image circle increases between them to cover the larger film.

Of course a modern lens with 10+ glass elements designed for APS-C may render differently than a similar FoV lens with 4 elements on larger formats simply due to the vast differences in lens characters, just as different 35mm lenses will render slightly differently on the same camera. But it's not the format causing this.
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Old 01-17-2019   #17
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... But it's not the format causing this.
It certainly is not the format or focal length.

Beside the optical design differences you mentioned, newer lens coating technologies are also a factor.
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Old 01-17-2019   #18
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Bill -- you didn't mention image stabilization. Tripods are arguably unnecessary. I ditched small format digital for two reasons:

1. Size of the image plane. More gradation of in focus/out-of-focus areas. More "bokeh" stops to play with. To me there is not a helluva lot of difference when shooting in good light at f-11 between formats. But even at f-8, f-5.6 I can get some subject isolation out of a full format sensor. And when I shot MF, definitely. Has nothing to do with resolution. You can always pick out MF film shots out of a crowd. More depth, more 3D feel over smaller formats. Had nothing to do with resolution even in the film era.

2. Low light performance. Period. Larger sensors, better low-light performance.

I will never go back to small format. I bought 2 used D600 full-frames. If I want to cut down on size I shoot with a small D series lens -- 35/2 AF-D., 50/1.4 AF-D I carry it around a nice camera strap slung low or flipped to my back. Walking around I resign myself to play with one lens. A good strap. No strain, camera at the ready. Simple solution to larger cameras. I carry a plastic bag in my back pocket in case of rain.

No need for smaller sensors and smaller sized cameras and the IQ sacrifices in terms of subject isolation, 3D "pop", or low-light performance. You can keep'em all.

A final note. Full frame is the sweet spot in terms of size and performance. MF sensor cameras are simply too big. Smaller sensor sizes have too many IQ compromises -- one of those compromises is not resolution to the extent it matters.
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Old 01-17-2019   #19
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Quote:
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I think the word you are looking for is laziness.
Or restrictions due to environment.
Or considerations and sacrifices in regards to load logistics.
Or impact of your presence on subject matter.
Or actual legal restrictions regarding tripod use.
Or....
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Old 01-17-2019   #20
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A common misconception. So as to avoid differences between lens designs, consider a tessar lens of 45mm on 35mm film or digital FF (cropped to 4:5 aspect ratio) , 180mm tessar on 4x5, and a 360mm tessar on 8x10. All 3 will render the scene identically if they are shot at comparative apertures (say, f/8 on 35mm, f/32 on 4x5, and f/64 on 8x10).

The rendering of the objects in the frame does not change. That only happens by moving the camera. These lenses produce the same field of view in each situation. The optics and commensurately the image circle increases between them to cover the larger film.

Of course a modern lens with 10+ glass elements designed for APS-C may render differently than a similar FoV lens with 4 elements on larger formats simply due to the vast differences in lens characters, just as different 35mm lenses will render slightly differently on the same camera. But it's not the format causing this.
No. False notion.

I donīt want to argue but there is an optical rule that equates the impact of print size to lens focal length.
Thatīs why we use long teles to shoot magazine covers: the bigger the focal length, the more impact a 20x30cm page will have.
This impact is part of what should be called lens render.
Itīs the same rule behind filming on 70mm film format.

This should be the major reason for medium format sensors. It has very little to do w/ quality. Apsc sensors have plenty of information already.

Itīs not about the size of the sensor but the lens you will use to cover a field of view. The common misconception is believing 120 film gives better quality per se or due to enlarging factor. The lens optics play an important role.

Interesting how you guys ignore such a basic rule of photography.
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Old 01-17-2019   #21
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It certainly is not the format or focal length.

Beside the optical design differences you mentioned, newer lens coating technologies are also a factor.
Nothing to do w/ coatings. A longer lens as a normal gives a sensation of volume to the subject unequaled by smaller formats.

Thatīs why there is medium and large format.
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Old 01-17-2019   #22
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....And when I shot MF, definitely. Has nothing to do with resolution. You can always pick out MF film shots out of a crowd. More depth, more 3D feel over smaller formats. Had nothing to do with resolution even in the film era.
This^^^^^.
he knows. Itīs about the rendering of volume and space. It has to do w/ lens, optics.. not resolution of any emulsion or sensor.

A panF 35mm film may have the same resolution of 120 panf or more than 120 trix but the 120 film pictures will give more of a feeling of space and volume
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Old 01-17-2019   #23
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colker, you're quite simply wrong.

I can use a 210mm lens on 8x10 and get the same perspective distortion as a 28mm lens on 35mm or a 18mm lens on APS-C. This is simple optical science.

The look of a "telephoto" lens is simply a longer distance to the subject. This doesn't change with format. If you want the telephoto look (ignoring the fact that most long-focus lenses on larger formats aren't telephotos), you'll need an 800mm+ lens on 8x10 (equivalent to about a 100mm on 35mm).

This is just simple facts and having shot 35mm up to 8x20 I have seen it. There's no difference in "rendering."

Now you can argue about larger formats (film) having smoother tonality and that kinda thing but this is a moot point in digital, where megapixels make up for sensor size (more sampling points).
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Old 01-17-2019   #24
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colker, you're quite simply wrong.

I can use a 210mm lens on 8x10 and get the same perspective distortion as a 28mm lens on 35mm or a 18mm lens on APS-C. This is simple optical science.

The look of a "telephoto" lens is simply a longer distance to the subject. This doesn't change with format. If you want the telephoto look (ignoring the fact that most long-focus lenses on larger formats aren't telephotos), you'll need an 800mm+ lens on 8x10 (equivalent to about a 100mm on 35mm).

This is just simple facts and having shot 35mm up to 8x20 I have seen it. There's no difference in "rendering."

Now you can argue about larger formats (film) having smoother tonality and that kinda thing but this is a moot point in digital, where megapixels make up for sensor size (more sampling points).
There is an optical rule that says a picture taken thru a 24mm needs x more size than a picture w/ 50mm to create the same impact on your sensibility.
Itīs based on this rule that magazine covers are made w/ long lenses.

No one shoots a portrait for a cover w/ 50 or even 85mm. Itīs 105 mm up. This rule is way more determinant of lens use than optics formula. Tessar or Sonnar or Planar.. it does not matter. Itīs the big lens that makes the magazine cover jump from the news stand.

The sensation you get from pictures taken w/ large format mostly comes from this rule. Landscapes done on 210mm lens jump from the print.
This is not opinion. Itīs a rule. As far as i know it was never debunked. Thatīs the reason why the 300mm Nikkor has been used on fashion and swim wear catalogues. Maybe thatīs why slrs are used in fashion and not RFs.
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Old 01-17-2019   #25
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I suggest you go take a portrait with a 105mm on a digital camera, then shoot another image with a 50mm lens at the same position, and then crop that image to the same relative composition as the first image.

You'll see that you have the same image and nothing has changed. If you want to get a bit more exact, use the same aperture diameter in each image (for example, f/4 with the 105mm would correspond to an aperture of 26.25mm. That would give about f/2 on the 50mm, so use that). This will equalize the depth of field.

This equates the usage of a larger format. The ONLY thing that matters when it comes to a longer lens is the different distance to the subject.
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Old 01-17-2019   #26
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colker, you're quite simply wrong.

I can use a 210mm lens on 8x10 and get the same perspective distortion as a 28mm lens on 35mm or a 18mm lens on APS-C. This is simple optical science.

The look of a "telephoto" lens is simply a longer distance to the subject. This doesn't change with format. If you want the telephoto look (ignoring the fact that most long-focus lenses on larger formats aren't telephotos), you'll need an 800mm+ lens on 8x10 (equivalent to about a 100mm on 35mm).

This is just simple facts and having shot 35mm up to 8x20 I have seen it. There's no difference in "rendering."

Now you can argue about larger formats (film) having smoother tonality and that kinda thing but this is a moot point in digital, where megapixels make up for sensor size (more sampling points).
Commercials are shot w/ long tele lens for the same reason. The TV screen used to be small. So directors would chose long lenses to compensate and draw attention. Sets in studio are designed so you can use long lenses.
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Old 01-17-2019   #27
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Back when, early 70's for me, we had a saying; 'The best lens is a tripod.'
Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but close enough in many situations.
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Old 01-17-2019   #28
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I suggest you go take a portrait with a 105mm on a digital camera, then shoot another image with a 50mm lens at the same position, and then crop that image to the same relative composition as the first image.

You'll see that you have the same image and nothing has changed. If you want to get a bit more exact, use the same aperture diameter in each image (for example, f/4 with the 105mm would correspond to an aperture of 26.25mm. That would give about f/2 on the 50mm, so use that). This will equalize the depth of field.

This equates the usage of a larger format. The ONLY thing that matters when it comes to a longer lens is the different distance to the subject.
I did the experiment already. The longer lenses amplify the image to your perception. Thatīs why the 180mm 2.8 and 300mm 2.8 are so popular within the fashion and advertising industry.
Itīs not subjective. There is even a rule where you can calculate the difference of impact between focal lengths. Note: the film format, sensor format makes no difference in the rule.

Why people kept shooting 8x10? Itīs way heavier, more expensive. They kept the format because of the optical rule.
Why do camera manufacturers do full format? Because the image is more powerful than crop.
I donīt care anymore... but the rule is there.
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Old 01-17-2019   #29
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There is an optical rule that says a picture taken thru a 24mm needs x more size than a picture w/ 50mm to create the same impact on your sensibility.
Itīs based on this rule that magazine covers are made w/ long lenses.

No one shoots a portrait for a cover w/ 50 or even 85mm. Itīs 105 mm up. This rule is way more determinant of lens use than optics formula. Tessar or Sonnar or Planar.. it does not matter. Itīs the big lens that makes the magazine cover jump from the news stand.

The sensation you get from pictures taken w/ large format mostly comes from this rule. Landscapes done on 210mm lens jump from the print.

This is not opinion. Itīs a rule. As far as i know it was never debunked. Thatīs the reason why the 300mm Nikkor has been used on fashion and swim wear catalogues. Maybe thatīs why slrs are used in fashion and not RFs.
Where did you find these "rules"?
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Old 01-17-2019   #30
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Back when, early 70's for me, we had a saying; 'The best lens is a tripod.'
Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but close enough in many situations.
??... thatīs silly. no one needs a tripod when shooting 1/250th of a second.
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Old 01-17-2019   #31
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Where do you find these "rules"?
Books.

I read it a looong time ago. It makes total sense.

Why buy a D850???? Just use a crop sensor. Why is the full format better? pixels only? You believe that?

I am a photographer. My knowledge is optics. Not electronics.
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Old 01-17-2019   #32
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When I shoot MF, I always use a tripod and f/8 to capitalize on MF's ability of outstanding image quality. But the benefit of small sensor cameras is mobility and I sacrifice optimal image quality for that mobility that I don't have with a MF camera anyway. Two systems for two different approaches.
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Old 01-17-2019   #33
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Quote:
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There is an optical rule that says a picture taken thru a 24mm needs x more size than a picture w/ 50mm to create the same impact on your sensibility.
Itīs based on this rule that magazine covers are made w/ long lenses.

No one shoots a portrait for a cover w/ 50 or even 85mm. Itīs 105 mm up. This rule is way more determinant of lens use than optics formula. Tessar or Sonnar or Planar.. it does not matter. Itīs the big lens that makes the magazine cover jump from the news stand.

The sensation you get from pictures taken w/ large format mostly comes from this rule. Landscapes done on 210mm lens jump from the print.
This is not opinion. Itīs a rule. As far as i know it was never debunked. Thatīs the reason why the 300mm nikkor has been used on fashion and swim wear catalogues. Maybe thatīs why slrs are used in fashion and not RFs.
Unless you're Jeanloup Seiff.
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Old 01-17-2019   #34
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I still shoot 8x10. Reasons? Tonality, resolution, contact printing, manipulation of the plane of focus (in all larger formats of course), etc.

Again, you are simply wrong. Here's the proof.

These were shot with a Nikkor 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.8, and 135mm f/2. Each was shot at correspondingly larger apertures to match DOF - specifically the 35mm at f/2.8, 50mm at f/4, and 135mm at f/11. To match exposure, I changed only the ISO, which also gives slightly better image quality to help lessen the effect of cropping in of the shorter lenses (same reason why smaller sensors can give the same image quality of larger sensors when shot at lower effective ISOs).

Which is which? I simply matched exposure and also put on the proper lens correction profile so as to lessen the effect of distortion differences between these lenses, which is not in question. All were focused at the tip of the dog's nose. The only difference I can see is slight differences in contrast and color, normally attributable to small differences in any two lenses, not formats.

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Old 01-17-2019   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by giganova View Post
When I shoot MF, I always use a tripod and f/8 to capitalize on MF's ability of outstanding image quality. But the benefit of small sensor cameras is mobility and I sacrifice optimal image quality for that mobility that I don't have with a MF camera anyway. Two systems for two different approaches.
Just use 125th or 250th of second on MF. Shoot Pentax 67 handheld. So does Bruce Weber. Helmut Newton. Avedon. Ritts.
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Old 01-17-2019   #36
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colder -- all you are referring to is shallow DOF, correct?
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Old 01-17-2019   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corran View Post
I still shoot 8x10. Reasons? Tonality, resolution, contact printing, manipulation of the plane of focus (in all larger formats of course), etc.

Again, you are simply wrong. Here's the proof.

These were shot with a Nikkor 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.8, and 135mm f/2. Each was shot at correspondingly larger apertures to match DOF - specifically the 35mm at f/2.8, 50mm at f/4, and 135mm at f/11. To match exposure, I changed only the ISO, which also gives slightly better image quality to help lessen the effect of cropping in of the shorter lenses (same reason why smaller sensors can give the same image quality of larger sensors when shot at lower effective ISOs).

Which is which? I simply matched exposure and also put on the proper lens correction profile so as to lessen the effect of distortion differences between these lenses, which is not in question. All were focused at the tip of the dog's nose. The only difference I can see is slight differences in contrast and color, normally attributable to small differences in any two lenses, not formats.

The rule of viewing distance. A 50mm is a normal lens because there is a normal viewing distance of pictures.

A 180mm lens implies a longer viewing distance.

By manipulating this optical rule and using the 180mm lens for a picture to be seen at a normal viewing distance, the size "seems" bigger and the subject jumps from the frame.
Da Vinci wrote about this: the ideal distance to see a picture.
I believe this video touches on the subject.
https://www.khanacademy.org/science/...oof-of-formula
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Old 01-17-2019   #38
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so. If a 50mm lens implies a 50cm viewing distance and an 80mm lens implies an 80cm viewing distance, what happens when you view an image made w/ 80mm lens at 50cm distance? You feel closer and the image feels bigger than itīs actual frame.
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Old 01-17-2019   #39
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What you appear to be saying, and is confirmed in that video, is that the only thing that matters is the distance to the subject, which I have continually said. Of course the look of an image is different with different focal lengths, if you move closer or farther away from the subject to get approximately the same composition/framing. This is called perspective distortion and is well understood.

The confusion you have is because you think perspective distortion is tied to focal length, which it is not - only to distance between camera and subject. When you use a longer focal length with a correspondingly larger format, but at the same camera position and field of view, you get the same rendering of objects in the frame. This is proven by the above examples. There is some distinction to be made with larger magnifications but for ease of understanding we will leave that aside.

You are also muddling the waters with viewing distance. That is irrelevant within the scope of the argument. Again, just look at the images above and answer my question. These images correspond to the image being shot on a 36 x 24 millimeter FF sensor (they were, a Nikon D800), and then a 13.33 x 8.88 millimeter sensor, and finally a 9.33 x 6.22 millimeter sensor. Which is which?
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Old 01-17-2019   #40
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