Why bother?

A friend just pointed me to the new Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, a newly announced super zoom.

“Why bother with something like a micro four thirds camera?”, he asked. All he needs is the super zoom capability. “It has a 14.1 megapixel sensor; why do I care whether it is micro four thirds or not?”

Well… you know I’ll weigh in on that.

When not using an SLR, I like Micro Four Thirds cameras like my Panasonic Lumix GF-1:

Panasonic GF1, photo Michael Willems

Panasonic GF1, photo Michael Willems

And for some very specific reasons.

  1. A larger sensor means lower noise. The higher the pixel density (pixels per square mm), the lower the signal-to-noise ratio, and hence, the higher the noise in any given picture. That is why Canon very sensibly went down in Megapixels between the G10 and the G11 (by the way, the G12 was just announced).
  2. Hence, less ability on small sensor cameras like the Powershot to go to higher ISO settings. I can take good pictures on my full-frame camera at 3200 ISO. Forget even 800 ISO on a typical small frame camera. And that’s physics, so there’s not much to be done about this.
  3. Inability on small sensor cameras to go to selective depth of field. The aperture as a ratio of the sensor size determines “how blurry I can make the background”. Large sensor = ability to really blur the background. On my micro four thirds Panasonic, which has a sensor almost as large as many SLRs have now, I can create really blurry backgrounds at f/1.7. On a small point and shoot: forget that, even at the lowest “F-number”, your background is still crisp and sharp.

So that is why zoom ability and small size are not everything.

Dodo Lenses?

A student from the other day asks:

My son & I really enjoyed the course with you last night.  I do find myself a bit puzzled though about one particular matter when it comes to future investment.  I’m thinking about updating my 10D and then purchase another lens, yet you’re not the first person to praise their “Micro Four Thirds” camera – especially given the quality and additional lens options.  I’m wondering if this is going to be like the cherry-wood entertainment center I purchased years ago when wide screen tv’s were just on the way… but this entertainment center was not built for it.  Today, it’s still a beautiful piece of furniture, but it’s admittedly been sidelined since it’s unable to accommodate modern TV shapes.

What do you think? If this is the way of the future… perhaps my EF lenses may go the way of the dinosaur?

Good question: and yes, I d love the Panasonic Lumix I recently bought, and yes, it can produce work as good as the SLRs. So are we dumping those and going to Micro Four Thirds?

No – not at the expense of SLRs. SLR cameras will always be here. Why? Why lug about a heavy camera when a small camera can be as good? For reasons like these:

  • The availability of a much wider range of lenses.
  • The ability to shoot more quickly (ten frames a second on my 1D, 8 on the 7D).
  • Waterproofing
  • Focusing systems that do not rely on the sensor
  • The ability to use a viewfinder that shows “the real thing”
  • More buttons – yes, that is a good thing. Few menus needed. To change exposure, ISO, metering mode, white balance, and a host of other things, on my SLR I can press one button. On smaller cameras I often need to enter menu systems, which can be convoluted.
  • Micro Four Thirds is so special because it uses a biiig sensor: but it’s still not quite as big as a crop SLR’s sensor (and not nearly as big as a full size sensor). And sensor size matters greatly: lower noise, and more restricted depth-of-field possibilities.

Those reasons show why SLRs will be at the forefont of camera development for many more years.

Now, one thing you may want to do is use EF rather than EF-S lenses. More cameras are being released as full-sized snesors, and an EF lens can fit on any Canon camera, while an EF-S lens can only fit o the crop sensor camera.

EF lenses, then, provide great future proofing. You can go ahead and buy and not fear that five or ten years down the road, your lens will be worthless and (worse), useless..

Four more days

Saturday I’ll be here:

Mono, country home with flash

Mono, country home (with flash)

But it will be rearranged and full of lights. This is my Mono, Ont. Country home, where Joseph Marranca and I are holding our all-day Advanced Flash workshop.

That snap was taken with the little Panasonic GF1, with its built in little flash raised to very successfully fill in the shadows.

Blurring backgrounds

A quick tip, today, for new or inexperienced photographers. But one that some experienced photographers forget sometimes, too.

In a good photo, you draw attention to your subject. You can do that by framing, by using converging lines, by making the subject large, by surrounding it by negative space… or by blurring the background.

If like me you like blurry backgrounds, how do you achieve them? Using a camera with the largest possible sensor size, use any of these methods:

  1. Use aperture mode (A/Av) and select a large aperture (i.e. a small F-number, like 2.8). This is why lenses with those low F-numbers are so good, and so desirable, and worth paying for.
  2. Use a longer lens (zoom in).
  3. Get closer.

Or do several of these at a time, like in this snap I took during a tweet-up the other day:

iPad in hand, by Michael Willems

iPad in hand, by Michael Willems

The blurry background shows just enough to make the viewer work, to understand what is happening; but it also accentuates the iPad very nicely.

I used the Panasonic GF1 with its 20mm f/1.7 prime lens set to f/1.7 (yes, a very low F-number).