Thoughts on the Sony RX100 V

Based on the specs it seems like the perfect camera. Small and lightweight, with an EVF, image stabilization and fast lens.

But then, I looked at the sample images at dpreview.com and, especially the ones shot at the widest end (where I would want to use it a lot), the images look soft, with purple fringing. Not very impressive. I know that Henri Cartier-Bresson says that sharpness is a bourgeois concept, and maybe once you reduce the photos to Instagram-size, you won’t notice the softness, but for a thousand dollars (which sounds like a lot of money to me) I want a camera that has a sharp lens.

iPhone 6 vs. real camera

iPhone 6
Ricoh GR (real camera)

I’ve seen the wisdom many times on the internet that if you are only posting small photos online, you don’t need a real camera, an iPhone is fine.

Maybe other people have better iPhones. My iPhone 6 takes ugly pictures with low contrast. Even when the photo is downsized to a small size, it’s obvious that the photo from the iPhone is inferior.

Things I hate on Instagram, part 1: watermarks

Adding a watermark signature to a photo instantly makes it ugly and tacky. Let people view your photos without some ugly watermark blocking it. Only painters are allowed to put visible signatures on their works.

Maybe people think the watermark will prevent their photos from being “stolen”? Indeed, an ugly watermark does make a photo less appealing to borrow. But so what if someone borrows your photo? There are tens of billions of photos on Instagram, and more are being posted every day. With so many photos floating around cyberspace, your photo isn’t anything special, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that a relatively low-resolution version of your photo is worth any money.

Is Leica a lightweight camera for landscape photography while hiking?

I read on another blog (I read it here) that a Leica M is a good camera for taking landscape photos while hiking because it’s allegedly light weight.

Let’s see how Leica stacks up against an Olympus Pen-F with the 12-40mm f/2.8 “PRO” lens.

Leica M (Typ 262): 21.2 oz
Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.4 ASPH (most lightweight Leica lens): 6.9 oz

Total: 28.1 oz

Olympus Pen-F: 15.1 oz
Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 “PRO” lens: 13.5 oz

Total: 28.6 oz

So it’s about the same weight (less than half an ounce difference), but the advantage of the Olympus setup is that you can zoom from 12mm to 40mm (equivalent to 24mm to 80mm). With the Leica, you are stuck at one focal length. Plus with Olympus you get image stabilization for sharp landscape photos when the light becomes more dim. Image stabilization more than makes up for the Leica having a full-frame sensor.

I previously tested the Olympus 12-40mm lens and determined that it was as sharp as prime lenses, although sharpness is a bourgeois concept so maybe you shouldn’t care about that anyway. However, if you are going to be a sharpness Nazi, then you should probably get another brand of full-frame camera that has a high-resolution sensor of more than 40 megapixels. The Leica M (Typ 262) has only 24 MP, so if you are imagining making these huge 40 x 60″ prints, the Leica doesn’t have the resolution that you really need for that.

* * *

If people were actually reading my blog and leaving comments I can imagine at least two types of angry comments.

1. You FOOL! The Leica is FULL FRAME! Any camera with less than FULL FRAME makes garbage photos! You MORON!

2. You FOOL! No lens is sharper than LEICA. NO LENS! You MORON!

Sorry, I don’t buy into either of these arguments. The real test would be to make some really big prints, one from photos taken with the Olympus setup, and one with the Leica setup, and do an experiment to find out if knowledgeable viewers can consistently identify that the Leica print is somehow superior without knowing in advance which cameras and lenses were used.

Is sharpness a bourgeois concept?

Often repeated on internet forums (generally by contrarians) is a quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson, “sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

What is meant by a “bourgeois concept” in the first place? I think that the meaning of “bourgeois” has changed quite a bit since Karl Marx used the term in the 1800s. I think of people who have a modest amount of affluence and career success, but are not members of the true upper class. They are not the CEO’s, but the people with six-figure jobs in middle management or sales. “Bourgeois” implies affluence without the refined taste or understatement of the true upper class. The bourgeois show off their affluence by driving unnecessarily expensive cars like Mercedes, living in McMansions, etc. It’s conspicuous but not sophisticated consumption.

In photography, we can imagine the fellow who can afford to buy a really sharp lens (like the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 which I recently reviewed), but lacks, the skill, creativity, vision, etc, to take any photos worthy of such a lens. Yes that would be me, however the worst case of the bourgeois photographer would be the guy who thinks that because he’s using a really expensive camera and lens, he must be taking great photos, when in reality his photos are cr*p. I am aware that I’m not worthy of the lens.

This quote originally appeared in Newsweek. Cartier-Bresson was in his 90s when he said it in conversation with photographer Helmut Newtron, and it’s helpful to understand the context of the quote:

“He had his little Leica,” Newton remembers, “and he simply would point and shoot.” Since Cartier-Bresson’s hand isn’t as steady as it used to be, some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. “Sharpness,” he told Newton, “is a bourgeois concept.” Newton sits back and laughs: “I thought that was just divine.”

The message is not to let gear or sharpness stand in the way of your photography. I think that Cartier-Bresson would approve of people using their iPhones to take photos. Cartier-Bresson was shooting 35mm back when nearly all serious photographers were shooting larger formats. 35mm was the iPhone of the pre-war era. Most of those old street photography photos, the kind for which Cartier-Bresson is famous, are unsharp and grainy by modern standards.

A new filter for my new lens

I picked up a filter to protect my new 12-40mm f/2.8 lens. That big front element looked very unprotected. (Read the review conclusion here.)

Filters are a strangely controversial topic on gearhead forums. Many gearheads go crazy at the idea of putting a filter in front of their lens.

I have found these B+W Digital MRC Nano XS-Pro filters to be the best at not causing any ghost reflections when there are bright lights in the frame.

Why do the marketing people put the word “Digital” in the name? Are they not allowed to be used with film cameras?

Nature photographs are not considered real art

Looking for an interesting read? Check out Niall Benvie’s article in which he complains that nature photographs aren’t considered to be real art.

Yes, he’s right about that. I would rate animal photographs as the most kitsch genre of photography, with nature and landscapes coming in second.

One of the author’s points is that a painting of the same subject would be considered worthy of display in an art gallery but not a photograph, but I would point out that, even in the medium of painting, animals and then landscapes are considered the least worthy of being considered real art. If you visit any serious museum of contemporary art, you won’t see any paintings of animals or landscapes. Although yes, the genre is still popular in certain types of art galleries because there will always be rich people who like looking at landscape scenes on their walls (objectively, a landscape is a lot more pleasant to look out every day than the vast majority of what’s being pushed as contemporary art), and a painting is a more sophisticated way of showing off a landscape than a photograph. But at the more edgy and serious art galleries you would find in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, or the Lower East Side, you won’t find landscape paintings there either.

The golden age of landscape painting was in the late 1800s when guys like Albert Bierstadt showed off huge canvases of scenes from out West where few would have the opportunity to travel by themselves. Before airplanes, before motor vehicles, before there were very many roads of any sort, you had to get to those places on horseback. While Albert Bierstadt’s paintings are on display in the most prestigious museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, if you painted like him today, it would not be considered museum-worthy. The curators at the Whitney Museum would laugh at you. (Although Bierstadt-quality paintings would definitely sell for decent money at art galleries that deal in that genre.)