On Sundays, the farmers take a bit of a break.
This article is a response to a lot of comments I’ve seen on forums about the Fujifilm X100F. It won’t interest you unless you own are are thinking of buying the X100F. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I bought this camera a month ago, to complement my Olympus Pen-F. (I’ll post a more thorough review of the X100F soon.)
It’s important to note that the X100F is a fixed-lens camera; it has a 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens. This limits its usage somewhat, making it an ideal camera for certain types of photography but not for all. In order to extend the use of this camera, Fuji sells two conversion lenses: the TCL-X100 II Tele Conversion Lens (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) and the WCL-X100 II Wide Conversion Lens (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). The former converts the camera to a 50mm equivalent, and the latter a 28mm equivalent; neither of these are a big change. If they converted to, say, 70mm and 20mm, then the difference would be a lot more obvious, and useful. But it’s possible that conversions of that magnitude would require add-on lenses that are even bigger and heavier.
When you hear the name Walden, you most likely think of some peaceful landscapes, a calm pond surrounded by green trees, and, if you’re of a literary bent, the two years and two months that Henry David Thoreau spent living in a cabin by the lake. And if you encounter S. B. Walker’s new photobook Walden, you might think that it’s just a bunch of photos of this calm locale. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
But it’s not. In many ways, this book shows the dark side of Walden: the way the world has changed and become crowded, dirty, how people have given up on the values that Thoreau presents in his book. Walker’s photos are the rural equivalent of street photography, showing people by the lake fishing, talking on phones, standing by their cars. There are photos of people at a landfill, a fallen ice cream cone, and a bag of trash by the edge of the pond. Even one of the first photos in the book, showing two people frolicking in the pond while a zodiac labeled Walden Patrol speeds by – most likely leaving behind a wake of noise – makes it clear that this book is not about the Walden Pond that is considered a national treasure.
But in showing the other side of Walden – all these photos were shot on or near Walden Pond – Walker shows how the world that Thoreau warned us of in his writings has come to be. How we disdain the beauty of a location that Thoreau felt was almost holy.
This is the dark reality of modern America, in stark black and white, a documentary built around a central idea, perhaps that the utopia of Walden never really existed, or it only existed in Thoreau’s mind. As good photography often is, this book is disturbing, but it is honest.
Here are a few photos from the photographer’s website to give you an idea of what the book contains:
In an article called Why Full-Frame is Overrated in Photography, Eric Kim discusses “bokeh.” When I got back into photography seriously a few years ago, I had never heard of this word. Back in the day when I shot film, it was simply called “shallow depth of field,” or “background blur.”
A lot of photographers, myself included, thought buying a full frame camera would give you better bokeh, which would make you a better photographer.
But, making photos with creamy bokeh doesn’t make a good photo.
In fact, most of the best photos of history were NOT shot wide open.
Henri Cartier-Bresson had a 50mm f3.5 Lens. His best photos had deep depth of field.
Richard Avedon shot with the smallest aperture possible, to get insane detail with his large format portraits.
Why is bokeh so popular in photography? My theory:
1. Photographers want to differentiate themselves from phone photographers, therefore they want the visual “wow” of bokeh photos. Because phone cameras cannot make bokeh, blurry background photos like high end digital cameras. There is software that can mimic it, but it doesn’t look the same.
2. Camera companies want to sell more expensive lenses (f1.2-f1.4 lenses). Therefore they pay photography bloggers, or give them free gear, to influence the market— to increase demand for fast Lenses.
3. Blurring the background while shooting wide open is an easy way to simplify the scene, and remove distractions from the background.
But to be frank, to blur the background is a lazy technique. A truly great photographer will consider the background, to make a strong environmental portrait. Or easier, just to use a simple black or white background is a good way to make a better portrait.
Takeaway point: Full frame is overrated, because the selling point of full frame is better bokeh. But better bokeh doesn’t lead to better photos.
As Kim says, this is a lazy technique. I see lots of photos on the usual photo sharing websites where it seems that “bokeh” is the point of the photo. I don’t think it’s always a bad thing. Here’s a photo I shot just today, where I wanted to highlight this fading rose against the background of a church and cemetery.
I think the shallow depth of field here works well to separate the foregrounded item (the flower) from the background. It also has, to me, a bit of a nostalgic effect. (Note that I shot this at f 5.6, not wide open; I didn’t want the stronger blur that would show with the lens at its widest aperture, f 2.)
But here’s a shot with pretty much everything in focus. I often see photos like this online with blur, where the photographer has focused either on the near elements or the center of the image.
Kim is mostly talking about portraits and street photography; you certainly need shallow depth of field with macro photography to highlight your subject. But this depth of field trickery is overused, and overrated, and it is often a cheap effect. Like any effect in photos, it should be used sparingly.
During an interview with CNBC, Andreas Kaufmann (the owner and chairman of Leica) said that it was a “personal dream” of his to reinvent the smartphone camera.
“Every smartphone is wrong for photography at the moment… the phone nowadays is not fit really for photography… it’s used as a camera, it’s used as a video camera, but it’s not built that way and I think there’s a long way to go still,” he tells CNBC.
Despite offering no clear solutions, he said that he was “not sure whether the company can do [this]…[but] one dream would be my personal dream: a true Leica phone.”
The problem with this is that, while it might be a good camera, it would likely be a crappy phone, because it would run Android. So what’s the point? Or is he subtly suggesting that he wants the iPhone to integrate a Leica camera? I can’t really see that happening; Apple has too much invested in its own camera.