It's 2015 Now What?

The dial has clicked over from a four to a five. Two thousand fifteen, say that out loud a couple of times with me. I find saying it a bunch helps dispense with the annoyance of writing or typing the wrong year. At the end of a calendar year and the beginning of the next I take some time to look back as well as make a list of things I’d like to accomplish in the next. No resolutions really just thoughts of things I’d like to do, explore, try, or maybe even complete.

Items on the what’s next list range from the mundane or silly to the massive. I don’t take them too seriously but I do look at the list frequently throughout the year. I’ve never crossed everything off as done. In some cases I carry a few over, other items I cast off never to be thought of again. Does everyone have some form of this? I certainly have a photography specific list. I’ll stick to the photography part of things for this post. The image at the top is something that wasn’t on last year’s list nor this year’s list — in fact there’s no 2015 list yet. It just happens to be the first picture I made in 2015 as long as I don’t include the two exposure tests immediately before this.

I made this picture by accident — I don’t mean that in the way you might think. The accident was that a friend of a friend of a friend of a relative recommended my particular brand of photographic services to a mother of four boys. She wanted a few portraits made immediately. The youngest of those boys was a newborn. This picture is of the oldest. The accident was me getting business for things I don’t really do.

I hope Mom is happy with what I made. The circumstances were not what I personally consider optimal. On the few occasions I’ve agreed to photograph other people’s children as a job I’ve done it the way I liked to do it with my own daughters — spend all day just following them around. Getting to know them, make pictures doing what they do, interacting with the environment and each other (if there’s more than one), and eventually forgetting about me. For this job I had two hours to make pictures of four individuals as well as a few group shots. I’ve never ever, ever agreed to that kind of thing before. Two hours sounds like a lot but that’s from the time I showed up in the drive way until the time I left. The only people I’ve ever agreed to posed shots of kids with is relatives that insist on it. I hate it, never works out, not the kind of thing I gravitate towards. Not the kind of pictures I love.

What does any of that have to do with 2015, lists of things I want to do, etc? Two things crossed my mind while I was making pictures. The first is that I would much rather help parents with just a couple of concepts/techniques/etc to make better photographs of their own children. That notion is now on my 2015 list of things I would like to do. I personally find it rewarding to help other people make the pictures they want to make. I also consider the photographs one makes of people close to them the most important images.

The other thing that crossed my mind is more technical and more general. The point of sufficiency when it comes to gear. That notion might sound odd given that I was using a camera that costs a lot of money and is absolutely state of the art when it comes to image quality in low-light. I used my Nikon Df. On the other hand the lens I used could be considered obsolete. A crappy, completely useless Nikon 85mm 1.8D. The dispersions cast about are sarcastic. They’re a reflection of the general consensus if one were to ask for recommendations on a Nikon 85mm lens.

I’ve had that particular lens since I bought it new in the 90’s for use with my F5/F100 cameras. Typically I ended up using my AIS 85 1.4 much more for two reasons. First was because the manual focus felt better (and I opted for a MF camera instead of the F5;/F100) and second was that due to the rear-focus design. It acts strange compared to other short tele lenses at that time. The AF-D makes the image get smaller when used closer and closer instead of bigger. A minor point.

The sufficiency point comes into play when you consider that I happened to shoot these images at ISO 1600. The Df/D4/D4s performs like no other camera when it comes to high-ISO. Not from a noise perspective — forget that for a moment. The images feel dense and meaty from a color and tone point of view. I would have been perfectly happy to shoot these on 400 speed film, let’s say TRI-X, Portra 400NC, Fuji 400H, or any of that ilk. They would have had the same meaty feel with a bit of grain. I was okay with that even back in ancient times. The question is why I happened to use ISO 1600? The answer is merely because I could. I used it for insurance against how much coffee I drank. The techno-data was 1/500s @ f/2 ISO1600. Reality is I could have made this with any recent camera at 1/125 and a tiny bit less coffee.

I could have used a D700, an XPro-1, a D7000, a 5DmkII, a 6D, an OM-D, well maybe not. There would have been a substantial difference in DOF/look with micro 4/3.

Looking back at 2014 and forward to 2015 we just might be at a point where new gear isn’t all that exciting. I’ve been bitching about the same crap camera/lens size for over a decade but we might be at the point where it just doesn’t matter when it comes to techno-crap. I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone but for myself and maybe a few others that’s great news.

Looking back at my quest I’ve got almost what I want at almost a reasonable price point. A small camera with imaging aesthetics I like that can mount glass I like with controls I like. Not so bad I think. Why would I buy another upgrade to my Nikon Df? Only if it was closer in size to a Nikon F3. Glass? Honestly, I want smaller lenses not bigger ones with better performance. I use AIS manual focus glass most of the time. I have no desire for the Nikon 35mm 1.4G or even the 35mm 1.8G. Too big. If Nikon makes a smaller Df I’ll probably get that.

I had a Fuji X100 then an X100S — both of those cameras are great. The only reason I don’t have one any more happens to be that I found myself wrapped up in endeavors during 2014 that precluded my using it for months at a time. I never let techno-gear lay around. Far less expensive to get rid of it and reacquire it over again later. I love those cameras. I’ll probably get another as soon as I know I’ll be using it again. Which one? Probably the “S” unless the “T” happens to be the same price by then.

I take a look out over the camera gear landscape and think it’s not a bad thing that Nikon and Canon are “boring” in the DSLR form-factor. Let’s see, why is boring bad? Oh I know, you don’t get a lot of page-views for writing about your D3, D4, D800, D4s, Df, 5D MKIII, etc. Yep, very bad for people that make money telling you how much more awesome-er the next one is. If you are okay with the size grab a D700 — fantastic camera, same goes for the D600 or whatever. Boring is good.

The X100S is boring now too. So is the XE-2. The A7 and A7R are both very, very boring. Is the XT-1 still exciting? I have no idea. Probably not now that there’s a silver one. The Olympus OM-D EM-5 or whatever mish-mash of letters is so boring they’re giving them away. Remember last year when you couldn’t get one… or was that the EM-1? I forget.

Here’s a prediction for 2015 and a few things you might want to think about. I’ll divide this up into a few arbitrary categories.

Camera Size Not Important

If you are okay with medium to large cameras but want stellar performance across the board you’ve got it made. Get any recent DSLR from Canon or Nikon used. Boring is good. They will probably continue to be boring except for a minor blip here and there that’s also good for reducing prices on used perfectly fine cameras.

Camera Size Important — Hate EVF’s

Hmmm, that’s me. We’re sorta screwed here. We have the smallest thing available right now in full-frame in the Df. I’ve got one. Has the bonus of being great with cheap/decent AiS manual focus glass if that’s okay. Still a tad on the “big” side of my own perfect F3 size but not too too bad. Like shooting manual focus? Like the full-frame imaging aesthetics in terms of DOF to aperture ratios? Surprise the Df/AiS glass kit is the same size or smaller than a similar Fuji APS-C EVF kit. Want AF too — there’s the rub, AF-glass is huge for full-frame. Actually, it’s not bad at all if AF-D glass is okay with you. Boring, cheap, but fine.

Camera Size Important — EVF’s Okay

Well, you’ve got the Sony A7 cameras. Here’s the problem — no glass, or very little glass in terms of native, good, auto-focus stuff. How about manual focus… Hmmm, not a bad option if you’re okay with MF and lens adapters. Actually the best thing going if you are into that.

When it comes down to it unless the A7 cameras are super-de-duperty cheap they are kind of a stupid idea. Well at least if you want a full-range kit. Full-frame fast AF-glass is crazy big. So big it soon trumps any minor body size difference by doing away with the expensive mirror/prism parts. Oh yea, and EVF’s still kinda suck even if you are “okay” with them.

Then we come to the only APS-C specific camera system ever made — The Fuji X-series. You may pooh-pooh me on that declaration but it’s true; Especially as of 2015. Nobody has a better or more complete APS-C specific lens line up. If there’s any reason to buy into the Fuji system it’s the glass. It is smaller than the full-frame equivalent. It’s bigger than manual focus but still worthwhile right up until you start looking at all the new really big zooms. Depending on your choices you really might do better off with a smaller full-frame zoom (think f/4-ish) and a slightly bigger body. If you’re talking fast primes, no contest.

You might be thinking — but the 2.8 zooms are smaller than 2.8 full-frame glass and we all know magic X-trans APS-C is just as good ISO wise. Ummm, ummmm, no, it’s not even close in side by side if you count the fact that the Fuji ISO 3200 number is more like dialing up a Nikon/Canon ISO 800-1600; That’s being generous. Hence Fuji tiny body with huge fast zoom glass might not make as much sense as say a bigger body with a small-ish zoom on full-frame. Image’s will look the same.

Oh yea, and it seems as if Fuji has gone entirely EVF. Again if that’s okay with you great. How come everyone that was ecstatic with the XE-1 EVF went ape-shit over the XE-2 EVF and then once that was perfect went and jumped on the now perfect XT-1 EVF?

My prediction is that for anyone that cares Fuji, my prove to be the most exciting place to be for the next few years. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Actually anything that uses EVF’s/mirrorless will probably be the most exciting place to be for the next few years. Fuji just happens to be positioned the best out of all of them from my point of view. Here’s why…

  • EVF’s suck right now. They suck in the same way all digital sucked when it started to become mainstream. Year over year tech upgrades actually matter. They are laggy, they are relatively low resolution, they look nothing like an OVF. There are no good EVF’s just varying degrees of lousy to less-lousy. Will they get better, and better, and better, and better. Probably, I’ll keep waiting and trying them to see. Yes, yes, yes I’ve tried the XT-1. Yea, same pixels just magnified more. Yea, it still makes me seasick.
  • Nobody ever did a decent lineup of lust-worthy APS-C glass until now. Kudo’s to Fuji. I love Fuji’s glass line-up — really I do. My advice, buy into the glass and use the perfectly fine really bargain bodies as they will continue to pile up faster than you can imagine.
  • APS-C has a long way to go to catch up to state-of-the art full-frame IQ. Really it does. It’s certainly good enough but I swear full-frame has achieved who-cares for just about everyone. Don’t need or even want shit-tons of pixels, who-cares was probably the D3s/D700. Want a few more pixels and even better D4/Df/D4s. Honestly so good it’s who cares in terms of upgrades so I imagine all but a few will be in the who cares category. Fuji OTOH has at least 2 or three stops of performance in terms of dynamic range, noise, color, etc, where most people will really really really care a lot. They also have a resolution gap that should keep a fairly large segment excited with bumps for a while.d
  • Movies… yep, they will probably get better and better at the movie thing for that segment where bumps make a big difference. So if you are into excitement of new movie stuff Fuji has a long way to go there as well.
  • Updated glass. What, I just said it was a great line up. Absolutely but… we’ll see faster AF motors in the older lenses, maybe even some of the newer ones, etc. That will be exciting even if unnecessary.

For myself, the most exciting thing is that I can focus on only caring about how much enjoyment a particular piece of gear brings me in use. For some of you the most excitement may be in grabbing some of the bargain basement totally awesome, perfectly sufficient gear that rings your bells.

You could grab an X100S for dirt cheap. Fantastic, I might do that… How about an XPro-1 and a fantastic prime for the same or less than an XT-1… or buy into the whole EVF thing if you’re ready. Just grab an XE-2 and be happy, wait until later in the year to get the XT-1 at fire sale prices with the XT-2 comes out. I mean really, if it’s so so so fantastic and great now, it will certainly be exactly as fantastic in six or eight months. I’m not being sarcastic at all. The most exciting thing about Fuji at the moment isn’t grabbing the newest best stuff, it’s grabbing the previous versions dirt cheap.

In a way there are a few reasons to hop on board Fuji as the most exciting place to be in 2015 when it comes to gear.

  • For the blogger, affiliate sales guy, etc. There will be way more exciting stuff to declare as way way way better and enough room where normal people will actually care.
  • For the person that loves being the first on the block with the new, never before seen, have at it.
  • For normal people you can ride the pile of upgrade cast-offs for dirt cheap and just pretend you are in last year. Will make not a huge difference in 99% of circumstances. I might just do that myself. Maybe I’ll grab an X100 or X100S and not give a crap it lays around for 2 months not being used. I might even fill a whole I have with a special need like macro. Instead of getting a new full-frame macro lens I’ll buy a dirt cheap XE-1 and none-too exciting 60mm Fuji or something… why not. Don’t really give a shit about EVF’s when locked down doing macro. Don’t really give a shit about 1:1 life size either. Yea… dirt cheap special circumstance gear. That’s right up my ally and really exciting. Bring on the XT-2, bring on the new linear motor versions of the 35mm, the 23, etc, etc.

Have a great new year.

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