More on the Scott Bourne piece - tradeoffs - Plan B?


The piece I linked to yesterday by Scott Bourne was a thoughtful piece. It did make me think again about which two cameras I want to keep. Those who have been reading here for a while will know that I have often written about how much I would like to use m4/3 exclusively, for many of the same reasons that Scott writes about. This is particularly relevant with cameras such as the Olympus OM-D and Panasonic GH3 now available. And Scott is right to write about "trade-offs". There is no camera that combines all the advantages of DSLR's and CSC's, though maybe the GH3 is the closest, so choice comes down to what you can live without.

Those who have been reading here for a while will also know that despite my repeated wish to "go m4/3" I've never done it. Never once had m4/3 cameras exclusively. So why is that?

Well its historical and its conditioning. When I started in the late 1980's to send submissions to picture libraries / agencies, it was a requirement for people who shot what I did, mainly landscape and travel, that a submission would include medium-format transparencies. Libraries always preferred the larger formats. Since clients would view images on lightboxes the bigger size would make them look more impressive. It was of course assumed that they would reproduce better also. My film stock with most of these libraries was usually about 50/50 between 35mm and MF but the MF always sold better - about 70/30. So ever since then I've always had the notion that bigger is better, more resolution is better, and both of these things lead to higher quality, more market potential and higher fees.

Now this is a hard thing to shake. Despite the changes in the marketplace, with probably around 50% of my images now being sold for web use, of all the criteria I use for what gear to shoot with, the most important to me is "How many pixels can it give me?" There is obviously still a market for print reproduction and most prospective clients will still I'm sure, be working on the principle of "If its got more MP's, it must be better", whether thats true or not. In the early days of digital, we as photographers were expected to upsize our digital images so that they were compatible with scanned film sizes. This lead obviously to some pretty poor images, but that was the requirement.

And this of course is always in the back of my mind when I consider going to m4/3 exclusively. "Its just not big enough" is what stops me doing it. Like Scott I love the portability, I love the lenses. He's quite right to write about the wonder of the Olympus 75mm f/1.8. Just think about a 35mm equivalent, 150mm f/1.8, and how big and how expensive that would be and the advantages of m4/3 become obvious. And yet the maximum m4/3 can offer me is only 16MP. Only 16MP? Yes I know all the arguments about how its the quality of the pixels rather than the amount, but none of the potential buyers of my images have a clue as to what gear I use. Even when they buy the image they are none the wiser since all the exif data is stripped out. For example if I upload an image taken with my Sigma DP2 Merrill, no client knows that this is probably the sharpest, best defined image you can get this side of Digital Medium-Format, so what do I do? Do I add a little note to the caption saying what its shot with and why its so good? Well no I don't since it would be meaningless to most picture buyers. What I do in fact is upsize the file to 24MP, which the Sigma files do really well, and that immediately gives the impression that this is a "better' quality file. And yes there are all sorts of faults with this argument, but thats pretty much how it works.

So this is the position that I start from that decides my "tradeoffs". What it means to me is that I will continue to use a large heavy camera like my Nikon D800E with large heavy lenses, so I'm trading off portability for file size. I'll trade off lens choice, speed and versatility to use my Sigma DP2M because of the file sizes I can create from it. For photographers who shoot basically for themselves, none of this is particularly relevant, but I shoot for a marketplace where size does matter, and I doubt that things are going to change much. It may of course be possible that I could convince myself that the advantages of m4/3 are the most important and instead of opting for my Nikon and Sigma I could come up with a plan B. Something like OM-D and GH3 plus the great lenses I have. But I know that even if I did that, how long would it be before I started thinking about how the file size just isn't big enough again? 

Its a constant dilemma but again as regular readers will know its one that I decide to deal with by generally opting for the larger MP option. If I can have a lot of cameras then I will always have m4/3 around, but that is going to have to change, and my instinct is to eliminate it from my options. It will be difficult because I really do love the system, but in a harsher economic environment, and recently it was announced that the UK government has still to implement 80% of its proposed cuts, and one thats not liable to get any better for some years yet, I have to make the decision that will put me in the best position to survive this. 

It is true that whenever I go somewhere new, or am in a place that I see will yield some special images, my instinct is to grab the highest MP camera I have. Of my four trips away last year, the first was shot with my NEX-7 (The D800E wasn't available then) and the next two were shot exclusively with the D800E and I didn't even take my m4/3 cameras with me. The fourth trip did have some m4/3 shooting involved but I was pretty selective what I used it for. So in many ways I am making the decisions already. It is pretty much the case, and always has been that I use m4/3 mostly for my fun, experimental work in locations that I've visited before. The implication of course being that I will use my "bigger and better" cameras when I've got something new or special to shoot. 

All of the above is why I've bought and used Medium format film cameras, Pentax 645 and Rollieflex 6x6, and why I've bought and used digital cameras such as the Canon 1Ds MkII, 5d Mk II, Nikon D3X and D800/D800E and three Leicas. These are the cameras that give me the "best" in terms of how I see that. Much as I would love to be satisfied with walking around with an OM-D or GH3 only, I doubt its going to happen. "Never say Never" is obviously something to be borne in mind when I'm talking about gear, but I'm pretty sure that when push comes to shove, that I'll opt for MP's over handling. 


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