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Category Archives: Equipment

There is no question in my mind that the camera in a smartphone dies not compare in image quality to an SLR.  Nonetheless, with the recent purchase of an iPhone 5c, I find myself quite pleased to be able to make competent photographs regardless of where or when I am.  Sometimes, nature offers an opportunity for which one has not planned.  Out comes the phone.

On a recent flight to Washington, D.C., I was reminded of the benefit of carrying some glass on a trip.  I was traveling for a weekend conference, and after some thought had left my camera gear at home in order to minimize the weight and size of my backpack.  The colors of the sky were sublime above 30,000 feet on the way east, and I had no real camera with which to shoot out the jet window.  Such situations continue to prompt me to consider purchasing a secondary camera, specifically a point-and-shoot with manual exposure controls.  This is not the easiest piece of equipment to find, certainly not at the price and size points I would consider validate such a purchase.  Thus, the search goes on.  The photo below was taken on an iPhone 3GS, which has a substandard camera, even for a phone.  However, as I am fond of saying to myself, what matters is to make the shot.

For years I have assumed that I lacked the necessary equipment to shoot the starry landscapes I had seen from others.  In Badlands National Park, I learned the problem was actually that I had never before stood under a truly dark sky.

I recently purchased a new wide-angle lens to replace my previous primary lens, and have been very pleased with the initial results.  The new lens is so sharp and has such better control of chromatic aberrations compared with its predecessor in my camera bag.  Needless to say, I am pleased.  This recent equipment upgrade has also motivated my thinking about sharpness in photography.  I realize this is a topic to with I (too) often return.  However, this time I have been pondering the historical treatment of sharpness in nature photography.

I began in nature photography about 7 years ago, when John Shaw’s print books were still relatively new and Galen Rowell’s death was still felt by many in the photographic community.  I read many of these gentlemen’s books, as well as the works of a number of other gifted and knowledgeable nature photographers.  Never do I remember anyone giving significant attention to the concept of sharpness beyond:  (a) use a tripod, (b) use the sharpest lens you can afford, and (c) use the finest-grained film (i.e., Fuji Velvia).  Indeed, since (a) and (c) were often given as assumptions, the written discussions often appeared to focus on lens choice.  I do not think anyone today would seriously argue with this point that the lens is the ultimate arbiter of image quality.

What was entirely absent from the discussion was which camera was sharper than the others.  Everyone seemed to shoot one of a few choices of chrome, be it on 35mm or large format.  The issue was how steady one could keep the camera and on how well they could focus (hyperfocal distance not withstanding).  Diffraction was something understood to be a tradeoff with depth-of-field.

Today, the landscape is different.  The molecular composition of film offered amazing potential sharpness in the emulsion.  This was not true of the original digital sensors.  Digital sensors were more obviously limited in their sharpness than was film up until the past year or two with the 20+MP cameras.  There are therefore now more issues to consider when debating sharpness.

Yet, at the end of the day in the real world, color is still color.

I am not a fan of compact cameras (to include the four-thirds format), and would choose an SLR over a compact for essentially any intended purpose.  Nonetheless, I am impressed with the initial specifications regarding the Canon PowerShot SX30IS.  For how much longer will the 35mm/APS format will reign supreme as realm of the most capable single-lens reflex cameras?  My initial response is:  For as long as compact cameras incorporate smaller sensors that are resultantly more susceptible to the effects of diffraction than our their larger 35mm/APS cousins.  Nonetheless, things continue to become more and more interesting for photogs.