Less is more

I shot over 4.500 pictures over 3 weeks in asia. 2/3 of those with the Nikon D3S, the rest with the Leica M9.
Out of those, I got the exact same proportion of keepers. I hear you mumble “so what?”. Well, that means something to me, considering :

  • I’m a lot more used to shooting the Nikon and other DSLRs than the M9
  • I had only the M9 for less than 6 months, and am still doing the hours on it. I’m far from being as quick with the M9 than I am with a DSLR
  • The Nikon has autofocus, can shoot in the dark, has live view, and packs a whole lot of whizzbang features
  • The Leica is a minimalist rangefinder camera, and is all manual
  • I brought three nikon lenses : a 24-70, a 70-200 and a 50mm prime
  • The Leica was used with 50mm and 21mm prime lenses (I don’t even own a viewfinder for my 21, so I compose by guessing)

So, logically, I would have expected the Nikon to have an edge here, and turn out more keepers, comparatively speaking, right? Right?
Except it didn’t, and I find that both pleasing and surprising.
Pleasing because it means I was quite right in buying this Leica. I was attracted amongst other things by its discretion, its performance as a travel camera that can turn out excellent images despite a small size, and frankly the results exceed my expectations. Surprising, because, well, it is surprising. No?

So I hope I continue climbing up this M9 learning curve, and maybe one day I’ll be able to travel with only this one camera in a small bag if I want to.
That would be great – My back and neck would thank me.

Leica M9 + Summilux 50mm wide open at 1.4

Nikon D3S + 24-70 wide open at 2.8

Nikon D800-E

Disclaimer – I don’t have one.

Today, Nikon released a D800-E, which has two interesting characteristics:

First, it’s 36 megapixels. That’s twice the pixel count of my Leica M9, and thrice that of my D3S – but on the same surface (24x36mm).

Second, no Anti-Aliasing filter in front of the sensor. That’s bold. I will not go into specifics, so if you never heard of that, all you need to know is that an AA filter is also sometimes referred to as a blur filter. Now that should ring an alarm bell somewhere down your cortex if you like detailed, rich images. Thing is, an AA filter does not really blur – but it does remove information, so you lose some sharpness and some resolution. Its purpose is to avoid moiré effects, which I do not care at all about because it does not happen very often. On the rare occasions it does, it can be dealt with in post-production anyway.

Q: do you really want a layer of glass in front of your expensive camera’s sensor that will – by default – remove some information from ALL your images ?
A: maybe you do, but I don’t. I want my camera to record everything it can, with as little junk in between me and the subject as possible. I don’t want a silly piece of glass that messes around with my photons. I want to get the most out of my sensor, and deal with what it produces. I don’t want to rely on the guy who designed the camera’s firmware or the junk in front of the camera’s sensor to decide what’s best for me. Which is one of the reason I got a Leica M9, by the way – no AA filter- it’s plain and simple, an excellent camera.
So for me, the lack of AA filter is indeed a most welcome thing in a Nikon.

Now, the funny thing is – a high pixel count AND no AA filter are two characteristics of top-notch MF cameras or digital backs. Thus one can imagine Nikon is trying to position this into the MF market. I have read a few raving articles today explaining how this was a breakthrough, and this would be a MF camera killer. Well, I think it ain’t.

Since I own a nice bunch of expensive Nikon lenses, I’d like to believe the hype, and I hate to be a party pooper, but… Good luck to this. As much as I’d really like a 3.200 USD Nikon to deliver the same as a 20.000 hasselblad in terms of image quality, I think it’s not going to happen, for at least two reasons :

1. those nice nikon pixels are on the same surface as before, the chip is still the same size. MF cameras and digital backs use sensors that are larger.
Higher pixel density (and thus smaller pixels) usually results in problems (higher noise, impaired low light performance, etc) that are usually fixed by the camera’s firmware doing extra work to fix things up. Thing is, they can be fixed up to a point. Thus, I’d expect only a marginal bonus from the absence of an AA filter.

2. let’s say you’re Nikon, and you just found some brilliant new technology that lets you venture into MF territory, and really challenge some of the biggies in the game. Your biggest competitor has an equivalent product for 20 grand. Why on earth would you market your new Nikon at 3 if you know that it would fly off the shelves at twice (or more) this price? Seriously?

Bottom line is – unless Nikon really has managed to squeeze some seriously groundbreaking technology in this D800E, I don’t think we’ll see MF image quality at Nikon prices this year. This said, if you don’t expect it to replace your hasselblad or phase one back with this camera and get the same results, it will probably will be a landmark DSLR capable of doing crazy things in the studio or for landscapes.

For the record and the curious, here is one example of what a medium format back can produce, straight out of camera. And that was with 7 year old technology, mind you. If this new D800E can match this, please Nikon send me one for a review:)
In the meantime, I’ll just stick to my Leica M9.

Postcard from Nagaland

The internet connection is very slow, so one image from Nagaland, shot not far from the Burma/India border. More later.

Berlin

I was in Berlin in a workshop with a cool guy from Denmark.
It was a great time, and Berlin’s a really interesting city. Here’s a sample of the street life:

And now, I’ll get busy with preparing for my next trip to Burma. I leave on January 7th, on my own, and I haven’t quite many plans yet. Fun:)

Stone carvers

A series about stone carvers in Mandalay, Burma.

Just another morning

A little girl having breakfast in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I like the result of those blown highlights, it helps her stand out, and also induces some sense of the sweltering heat and very harsh light, and how barren and hostile her environment is. When I edited this image, it reminded me of kev carter’s famous sudan photo, but thank goodness mine is a lot less dramatic than his. I discovered Carter’s photo and its story when watching “the bang bang club” last week, a good movie about photojournalists.

Sweat shop

Shot this in Cambodia, artisans hand-making souvenirs for tourists.

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