Monday, December 28, 2009

The Endless (and Futile?) Search for the Ideal Compact Digital Camera

I've bought and tried out a number of compact digital "point-and-shoot" cameras for taking photos of my children. Many of these photos take place indoors (especially during the winter) and many of them require fast auto-focusing in order to take the photo *before* my kids move or alternatively *while* they are moving; they seldom stay in one place for long!

I recently acquired the Canon S90, which has made vast improvements in low light performance. I had the Canon S60 whose images were unusably noisy at 400 ISO. With the S90, even the 3200 ISO images (if properly exposed) can be used to make small prints or reasonable web images! Another improvement: the S90 is much more pocketable than the S60; you really can get the S90 into a shirt or pant pocket, whereas the S60 needs a coat or jacket pocket. One last improvement: the largest maximum aperture of the S90 at the wide end (28mm) of the zoom range is f/2; the S60 only opened up to f/2.8 at 28mm.

However, that's where the improvements end, at least in terms of what's important to me. The lens quality and auto-focusing speed of the S90 seem no better than the S60.

I miss a *lot* of shots with these cameras that I routinely get with any of my digital SLR cameras because the former don't focus fast enough and can't focus on a moving target. Also, the lens quality and sensor size yield images that I would see if I were using the cheapest, crappiest third party lenses on my digital SLRs--really uninspiring.

I owned the Panasonic Lumix LX3 for a few months this past summer. Compared to the S90, the autofocus speed and lens quality on the LX3 were better, but the low light images on the S90 are much cleaner (i.e., less digital noise). One of the reasons I sold the LX3 was that it wasn't very compact...significantly less so than the S90.

Again, however, the auto-focus speed and image quality on the LX3 were nowhere near those of my digital SLRs...even my old 20D.

In a word, I'm disappointed in the S90's performance as I was in the LX3's. I'm inclined, instead, to either carry my old Canon 20D around more, even though it's obviously not as compact. Or get a cell phone with a better camera.

I currently have a Blackberry, and the camera on it is terrible...much worse than even the S60, for sure! I've heard all the buzz about the great camera on the iPhone (even though it's only 3 megapixels) and, I'll just say, I'm tempted! But I just bought the Blackberry and feel like I can't switch to a new cell phone just yet.

In any case, it's quite clear to me that I'm a SLR guy. To me, much of the magic in photography comes from capturing moments that exist for a split second in dynamic, changing situations.

The only exception to the "SLR rule" for me is using compact 35mm film cameras with high-quality fixed focal length lenses. They're not great for dark indoor shots (unless you don't mind flash photos) and not as flexible as digital (e.g., digital allows changing the ISO setting from shot to shot), but I find the results I get from using film and a high-quality lens makes it a worthwhile endeavor; many of my favorite shots of my family last summer were taken with film cameras! And a much higher percentage of my film shots were "keepers" compared to my digital captures. At the very least, the different look and feel of film photos compared to digital photos makes it worthwhile addition to my collection of family photos each year just because of the aesthetic variety it provides.

What's the purpose of this post? Mostly, I think, it's to tell photographers (including myself) who are endlessly searching for a pocketable, digital, point-and-shoot camera that can rival the performance and image quality of a digital SLR that it's a time-wasting "holy grail" that you'd/I'd be better off side-stepping in favor of either: 1) making peace with carrying around a digital SLR more often and making it as convenient as possible, or 2) going back to some 35mm film photography because the payoff can be so gratifying.

Sure, I'm aware of the in-between offerings of interchangeable lens, four-thirds sensor, digital cameras from Olympus and Panasonic; but they're just a compromise; their sensors are bigger than the digital point-and-shoot compacts, but smaller than even the APS-C size digital SLR sensors; and though their "form factor" is smaller than a digital SLR, they're still not as pocketable as a point-and-shoot compact. And none of them--including the upcoming Leica X1 (which actually has a APS-C size sensor)--can autofocus as fast as a digital SLR, period.

So, stop searching and get out there with your SLRs and 35mm film cameras and take some pictures!...:-)

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Weddings, Existing Light, and Authenticity

So, I fell *way* behind in my 2009 wedding blog postings! I photographed many great weddings in 2009, so I thought I should finally put up some of my favorites from the 2009 wedding season...:-).

Before I do that, however, I wanted to mention that I'm really looking forward to the 2010 wedding season. Why? Well, I sold off a bunch of my camera equipment in order to purchase two new pieces of equipment for 2010:
  1. The new $5000 Canon 1D Mark IV digital SLR camera, which promises to be the best low-light professional digital camera Canon has *ever* made
  2. A Canon 35mm f/1.4L of the best quality, low light lenses Canon has ever made
You may be noticing a theme here: Michael is really interested in camera equipment that takes great photos in low lighting. Yes!

I've gotten *much* better at using flash photography than when I started photographing weddings 4 years ago. I've also gotten quite good at using remote flashes in dark reception halls. This is all well and good and as it should be for a professional wedding photographer. The thing is, I still prefer making photos in existing light when possible.

"Existing light" is the lighting the wedding participants are actually experiencing at the ceremony and reception. When I go and trigger a flash--either one attached to the camera or a remote flash not attached to the camera--I am altering the lighting and changing the ambience or "atmosphere", or whatever you want to call it. Also, those bright lights going off in people's faces is quite likely altering their behavior.

Here, I think, we encounter a philosophical question: Is the goal of wedding photography to capture things as "authentically" as possible? Or is the goal to make things as easily seen as possible? I should note that the goal of making the event and the people involved look as good as possible isn't exclusive to either of these. This latter goal may, in fact, require a mixed bag of lighting techniques, including simply using existing light.

To be totally honest, I'm usually trying for either authenticity or beauty, and am quite happy when I accomplish both simultaneously. With the exception of a short portrait session I sometimes do with the wedding couple on their wedding day, I very seldom go that extra step toward beauty (or "eye candy") over authenticity and stage a bunch of shots where I'm dictating poses, actions, and lighting. This is not the way of wedding photojournalism and I am, in fact, primarily photojournalistic in my approach.

A camera like the Canon 1D Mark IV combined with a lens like the Canon 35mm f/1.4L gives the photographer the ability to capture images regardless of lighting conditions or movement in the image. This is Canon's fastest focusing camera (the 1D series has always been a top-choice of sports photographers) with the highest light sensitivity of any camera made. Sure, I will still have a flash attached to it; but *using* that flash will become much more of an option than with any previous camera.

The light at the church or reception hall--or the lack thereof--will cease to be the overriding determinant of the lighting techniques I must use to capture photos. This camera plus the large aperture of the 35mm f/1.4L lens will keep lighting options open and let my sense of authenticity and/or artistry lead the way instead...:-).

Now for those 2009 Wedding Photos...

Okay, so I ended up with a *bunch* of choices from the first wedding I looked at from early in the year! I'll have to follow-up this post with a few more in order to cover more of my 2009 weddings...:p. By the way, thanks Rachel and Stephen...:-).

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Favorite 35mm Film Cameras for 2009

During the Summer of 2009, I went through a 35mm film camera buying frenzy. After testing/using them, I'm keeping the "winners" and selling the "less than winners" (I don't want to call them "losers", because they were quite nice too!).

So, which ones did I pick as the "winners"? And, what made them the winners? First, let me list the 35mm film cameras I bought:
  • Canon Canonet QL17 (lens: 40mm f/1.7)
  • Konica Hexar (lens: 35mm f/2)
  • Leica Mini II (lens: 35mm f/3.5)
  • Leica Mini III (lens: 32 mm f/3.2)
  • Ricoh GR1 (lens: 28mm f/2.8)
  • Ricoh GR1s (lens: 28mm f/2.8)
  • Yashica T4 with the 35mm f/3.5 lens
You may notice that all of these have fixed focal length (versus zoom) lenses. The best way to get a high quality lens in a "point-and-shoot" 35mm film camera is to get one with a fixed focal length lens.

Let me rank/order these cameras on a few different scales....

Physical Size (in order from largest to smallest)

  1. Konica Hexar (largest)
  2. Canonet QL17
  3. Leica Mini II and Leica Mini III
  4. Yashica T4
  5. Ricoh GR1 & GR1s (smallest & most pocketable)
My Cost (most to least expensive)
  1. Ricoh GR1s (most expensive: around $450)
  2. Ricoh GR1
  3. Konica Hexar
  4. Yashica T4
  5. Canonet QL17
  6. Leica Mini II
  7. Leica Mini III (least expensive: around $50)
Autofocus Performance (from fastest to slowest: *very* approximate!)
  1. Konica Hexar
  2. Leica Mini II
  3. Leica Mini III
  4. Yashica T4
  5. Ricoh GR1 and GR1s (note: there's a prefocused "snap focus" mode that is faster than any autofocus)
  6. Canonet QL17 (slowest: doesn't have autofocus)
General Observations

Even though I'm used to using zoom lenses on digital SLR cameras, I found I was able to become accustomed to having a fixed focal length quite quickly and could get awesome photos. Also, I found (more like "reminded myself") I really like the look of film.

I tended to like my results using B&W film better than using color film. However, I was quite pleased with the grain structure of some of the color negative photos. Color slide film was clearly best for capturing bright colors, but the cost of processing slide film versus negative film is significantly more.

Comparative Observations

The photos I got from the Ricoh GR1s, the Leica Mini II, and the Canonet QL17 stood out the most in my "experiments". They simply had some extra special "quality" that endeared me to the results. I should caution that this wasn't a well-controlled comparison (I was shooting with various types of film I had available in different settings); regardless, these three stood out for me.

I was disappointed in the Yashica T4 (I actually had two different copies of it), primarily because I missed a lot of shots with it. It turns out that pressing the shutter button halfway doesn't actually physically focus the lens; exposure readings are made and locked in, and maybe even the focus distance is locked in, but the lens doesn't actually move into focused position. When you finally press the shutter button the rest of the way down, it physically focuses the lens and takes the picture. It's amazing how easily you can miss shots of children and people due to their moving during this short delay! And even though the optical quality of the T4's 35 f/3.5 lens is quite nice (you'll hear many photographers touting it in Internet forums), I found it no better than the Leica Mini II--which also has a 35 f/3.5 lens--and the Mini II doesn't have the T4's pre-focus lag (i.e., it actually moves the lens into focused position when you press the shutter button down halfway).

I shot one roll with the GR1s, was blown away by the results, but then sold it because I had spent $450 on a used point-and-shoot film camera that I wasn't going to be using for photography income! Also, I found the autofocus somewhat slow and unpredictable. I've since discovered I could have make the autofocus a little more predictable by changing one of the camera's settings; but I think I would have still sold it because of the cost.

I ended up finding a cheaper GR1 which is *very* similar to the GR1s. Both are the most pocketable of all the film cameras I bought; so I'm holding onto the GR1 for now. I need to experiment with the snap focus mode to get past the reservations I have about its slow autofocusing.

Because I liked the Leica Mini II, I had high hopes for the Leica Mini III, which had a slightly wider and faster fixed lens...and which I also picked up for a *great* price. However, it focusses a little more slowly than the Mini II (it's not a *huge* difference, but there's definitely a difference), and the subjective quality of the photos isn't quite as nice as those I got with the Mini II. There's nothing wrong with the photos I got with the Mini III, they just weren't quite as rich or deep or...something like that!

Even though the Konica Hexar is kind of large for a point-and-shoot, it's solid and focuses faster than any of the rest of these cameras! I only ran one roll of film through it and got mixed results (the film didn't work well in the high constrast lighting conditions) . However, some of the photos were quite awesome, so I'm sticking with it for another few rolls...:-).

The last of the group I'm keeping is the manual focus Canonet QL17. It's not particularly small or light--and it doesn't autofocus--but:
  • it feels good/solid in your hands
  • having to manually focus it really keeps you "in the moment"
  • it's got the fastest lens of all of these cameras (f/1.7)
  • the images I shot on the one roll of B&W film I ran through it definitely had a special "quality" to them
So--for now--I'm keeping the Ricoh GR1, Leica Mini II, Canonet QL17, and the Konica Hexar. The rest have either been sold or are currently being sold by me at eBay.

If you've had experiences with any of these "point-and-shoot" 35mm film cameras--or some I haven't mentioned--please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below...:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Physical Fitness and Equipment Strategies for Wedding Photography

Photography, especially photojournalistic wedding photography, requires a significant amount of physical stamina and prowess.

This past wedding season, I was somewhat plagued with back problems. It was fairly evident that carrying 2-3 cameras--as I had been the previous season--was taking its toll on my back.

Why hadn't I had these back problems the previous wedding season? Of course, I was one year older and I could have blamed it on age. One more year added to my 40+ year old body, though, shouldn't have made *that* huge a difference!

I think the more likely cause was that early in 2009, my home workout equipment broke down and I didn't replace it. I still exercised *some*, but definitely at a reduced level.

The physical strength and stamina that had easily carried me through 8-10+ hour long wedding days was waning toward the end of weddings. I was experiencing physical and emotional/mental lows during receptions. And halfway through the wedding season, my lower back went out and made weddings even more physically grueling.

Instead of going right out and replacing my exercise equipment at that point (partially because I didn't attribute my physical problems to reduced physical stamina and strength), I tried taking one of the cameras off my shoulders and sticking it into a "holster" on my belt (I have this padded belt to which I can fasten pouches and cases to hold lenses).

Getting this weight off of my shoulders helped significantly. It worked great for the two weddings I did right after my back went out. At the very next wedding, however, I had problems with the camera falling out of the holster; it happened 3 times...once on the concrete right in front of the hotel where the bride was getting ready! Luckily, the camera and lenses survived the three falls.

Well, that was near the end of the wedding season and I never did find a good solution to having the second camera on my belt. (I've since heard of fellow wedding photographer in my area coming up with a novel solution to this problem which I hope to learn more about and perhaps report on in a future blog post.)

Even if I do find a good solution, having too much equipment hanging at your waist--even while much easier on the back--makes you "wider" and less able to get around crowded reception rooms without banging your camera or lenses into the wedding guests seated and standing around the reception room!

So, why don't I just eschew the 2-3 cameras and carry only one?! For the very reason I worked up to carrying 2-3 around in the first place!--to cover wide, normal, and telephoto ranges simultaneously with high-quality constant f/2.8 zoom lenses and prime lenses.

Ever notice that no high-quality constant f/2.8 zoom lens--or even a constant f/4 zoom lens--covers the whole gamut?? Sure, there are consumer grade zoom lenses with variable, smaller than f/2.8 maximum apertures that can cover the equivalent of 28 or 24mm to 200 or 300mm (35mm full-frame equivalent). But the combination of their lower quality optics, slower autofocusing, and smaller maximum apertures makes them inadequate for non-flash indoor wedding photography in those all-too-common dark churches and reception halls...and I *like* to photograph as much as I can without flash, or at least without direct flash.

Even the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS, although professional "L" grade, doesn't engage full operation of Canon's higher end DSLR autofocusing systems...*that* is reserved for lenses with f/2.8 maximum apertures and larger. So, this lens may be okay for outdoor weddings; but you need all the help you can get for lowly lit indoor affairs!

Ultimately, then, you've got three choices as a professional wedding photographer:
  1. Photograph with more than one camera and put different lenses on them so you can simultaneously capture people and events happening from both a wide and close-up perspective as needed.
  2. Photograph with one camera and multiple available lenses and try to *anticipate* which lens you'll need to capture the key moments. And whenever you've got the wrong lens for the moment, shake it off and try to anticipate the best lens for the next key moment.
  3. Photograph with one camera and one lens--either per stage of the wedding or for the whole day--and totally commit to that one perspective and make the most of it.
I should note that, of course, it's easier to commit to a one camera and one lens strategy--or even a one camera + multiple lenses perspective--if you're working with a second photographer who is covering a different perspective with a different lens!

Regardless, let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of these strategies.

In the past, I have tended to go with the first strategy: photograph with multiple cameras and lenses simultaneously. This strategy is the "safest", but certainly comes with some potential problems:
  1. the weight can take a physical toll that may affect the quality of the photography and the photographer's emotional and physical well-being
  2. decreases photographer's mobility in a crowded space, which can lead to missed shots
  3. can lead to missed shots while changing between cameras that occasionally get tangled or whose settings get bumped and altered while not in use
The second strategy (photographing with one camera + multiple lenses) helps to ameliorate some of the negative aspects of the first strategy: especially in terms of physical toll, mobility, and missed shots due to tangled or altered settings on the camera not currently being used. However, you're still carrying around extra equipment (multiple lenses), which is still having some impact on physical energy, mobility, and missed shots while changing between those lenses.

To me, the third strategy (one camera, one lens) is the "holy grail" of a seasoned wedding photographer. I've heard some wedding photographers discuss how they photographed a whole wedding with a 24-70 f/2.8 zoom lens. That's not bad. However, a more impressive move would be to photograph a whole wedding with a single prime lens and do an awesome job of it!

At a more realistic level, one could "cheat" a little on the third strategy to take away some of the riskiness of it. First, instead of committing to one lens for the entire wedding day, you could commit to one lens per stage of the event (e.g,. one for getting ready, one for the ceremony, one for group formals, and one for the reception). I'm often in my car between stages where I could swap out my lens for the next stage. Second, carrying one other lens in a small camera bag on your back can help to hedge your bets and/or give you an appropriate lens for the next stage if you can't get back to your car,,,without limiting your mobility significantly or adding a significant amount of additional weight.

I'm still working my way from Strategy One (multiple cameras, multiple lenses) to Strategy Three (one camera, one lens), but I've still decided to finally replace my home workout equipment anyway...

...because, well, it's always good to hedge your bets, right?...;-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dimensions (Size) of the Canon Powershot S90 versus Canon S60 and Ricoh GR1

Just a quick post showing the size of the Canon S90 compared to my previous smallest (most pocketable) camera, the 35mm film Ricoh GR1:

Now, how about a quick comparison with the 5 megapixel Canon Powershot S60, which I also own:

The S90 is clearly thinner and more pocketable than its predecessor, the S60.

The S90 turns out to be *very* similar in thickness/depth to the Ricoh GR1 (35mm film camera...which fits nicely into a front jean pocket, for example); but it's quite a bit smaller in the width and (especially) length dimension versus the GR1.

All in all, I'd say the S90 is clearly the most pocketable. Now, how "usable" is such a small digital camera? More on that later...

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best Compact Digital Camera to Buy for Image Quality and Pocketability

I was at a friend's house the other night for a party. They live in the city (it's a small city, but it's a city) and there were lots of young children in attendance. The children needed running space and so were in the backyard on a dark and chilly evening, along with a few of us adults to monitor their activities. Someone decided it would be nice to have the light and heat of a bonfire back there; so they lit a nice big fire in a metal fire pit. The kindling was especially effective because the fire quickly flamed way up and threw lots of welcome heat into the backyard.

Well, it wasn't long before two fire trucks show up in response to a phone call by a "concerned" neighbor. It turns out you can only have small contained cooking fires (e.g., a Weber grill) in the city and the firemen and accompanying policeman informed us we had to put out the fire.

The firemen and policeman could have easily been jerks about all of this. However, they clearly felt bad about this seemingly overblown response to our reasonably contained bonfire. So, seeing all the young children around, they invited the children to come aboard the fire truck and see the inside firsthand. Of course, the children *loved* this and the adults were thrilled with this free entertainment for their kids. (I think some of the adults were themselves entertained by the spectacle of these trucks and their flashing lights in the darkness of the night as well!)

Why am I telling this story in a blog post titled "Best Compact Digital Camera to Buy for Image Quality and Pocketability"? Because I had failed to bring a camera to this party. All I had was my Blackberry, and I couldn't get a decent picture with it to save my life! This very photographable nighttime spectacle was clearly beyond the reach of my cell phone camera.

The next day, this thought entered my brain: "I must get a good compact digital camera that I can always have with me." And so started a rekindled effort to find a quality compact camera.

If you've followed my postings at Lightmanship, you've probably seen me talk about using compact film cameras more than once. The great thing about a compact 35mm film camera is you get the equivalent of a "full size" sensor in a compact form factor.

I have a Ricoh GR1 that fits into a front jean pocket, has a great lens (28mm f/2.8), and gives me great pics. I'm quite enamored with it. But there's a catch.

When you're loading a roll of film into a camera, you're making a prediction about the types of photos you'll be taking that day and/or in the near future. If you'll be photographing in the middle of the day with plenty of light, you may select some 125 ISO or slower film. If you'll be photographing late in the day or at night--or indoors with low lighting--you might select 800 ISO or faster film. If you've loaded slow film and find yourself in relatively dark conditions, you can use the camera's flash to still get the photo...though, with the "flash aesthetic"...which may be good or bad.

One of the great things about a digital camera is that the ISO is adjustable from shot to shot. This provides an important degree of flexibility for a camera you want to have with you at all times in a wide range of shooting conditions.

So, I've decided that if the digital camera on my cell phone can't hack it (it's also painfully slow at saving images and being ready for another shot), then I need to find a quality compact digital camera to carry around in addition to my Blackberry--perhaps I can fit them both into a slim and compact pouch--that I won't find burdensome.

It turns out that this compactness + high image quality combination is quite tricky! Most compact digital cameras have *very small* sensors and mediocre lenses that yield pretty awful image quality...especially for someone used to the images coming out of a full-frame DSLR camera.

Camera companies like Olympus, Panasonic, Ricoh, Sigma, and Canon (to name a few) are starting to come out with small cameras with relatively large sensors. (Large sensors improve things like image quality, low-light shooting, and image depth-of-field characteristics.) However, many of their offerings are not truly SPS ("Shirt Pocket Size").

For example, I bought and owned a Panasonic DMC-LX3 for a while. I published a short review of it some months back. Once I customized my settings, I was pretty happy with the images I was getting. I ended up selling my LX3. Why?

Despite what DPReview has published at their website, the Panasonic DMC-LX3 is not a mere 1.1 inches thick. It's actually closer to 2 inches thick where the lens barrel sticks out. In fact, it's "thicker" than a Canon G10 which is definitely not a Shirt Pocket Size (SPS) camera! (here's a photo showing the G10 next to the LX3)

There's been a lot of press around the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic GF1 which are like small DSLRs, in terms of having relatively large sensors and interchangeable lenses. (They're actually not SLRs because they don't have the flip-up mirrors of a single lens reflex camera, etcetera..but the sensors are almost as big as the APS-C size sensors you find in 1.6 crop DSLRs and you can change lenses like you can with a DSLR.)

If you look at the specs for these cameras, you'll find that they too are not Shirt Pocket Size, *especially* with the standard 14-4Xmm zoom lens they usually come with attached. If you opt for the more expensive "pancake" lenses instead of the zoom lenses, you can definitely reduce the thickness of the camera plus lens. But by how much?

I'm going to present a table comparing the lengths, widths, and thicknesses of the compact digital cameras I've been considering as true competitors when it comes to the Image Quality + Pocketability market. But before I do that, I'd like to discuss some criteria for the cameras I've included...

Most compact digital cameras have very small sensors that yield poor image quality and lots of digital noise at all but their lowest ISO setting, regardless of how many megapixels they might have. (Actually, jamming more megapixels into these tiny sensors exacerbates these image quality problems!) It turns out that there is substantial variation in sensor size, quality, and number of megapixels; so all compact digital camera sensors are not equal.

I mentioned the Panasonic DMC-LX3 whose image quality I found to be relatively decent. It turns out its sensor is (approx) 8.8 x 6.6mm and the megapixel density is 24mp/cm2. Now compare that to a typical pocketable digital camera, a Canon PowerShot SD980 IS: the sensor is 6.16 x 4.62 mm with a megapixel density of 43mp/cm2. So, the LX3's sensor is a bit bigger and the megapixel density is lower. Both of these tend to contribute to higher image quality all other factors being equal.

I have found other recent compact digital cameras with similarly slightly larger sensors and relatively low megapixel densities: the Ricoh GRD III, the Canon G11, and the Canon S90.

Of course, there are other factors to take into consideration when comparing compact digital cameras: 1) lens quality, 2) lens focal length, 3) fixed focal length vs. zoom, and what the zoom range is, 4) auto-focussing speed, 5) lens aperture range, 6) whether there's a built-in flash and/or a hot shoe, 7) whether it has an optical viewfinder, and so on. Each person has to decide which of these factors is most important to them and how they should play out in their decision.

For me, I'd prefer a reasonably good quality lens (of course) that can go at least as wide as 28mm, has good auto-focussing speed, and a maximum aperture at least as large as f/2.8. I want a built-in flash and would prefer an optical viewfinder, but will live without the latter if necessary.

Okay, so let's get to the table of sizes. One caveat though: it's *really* difficult to get a depth or thickness dimension that includes the protruding lens and/or grip parts. I've had to estimate some of these based on various inexact indicators. But it'll be better than going by the depth/thickness specs the camera manufacturers are providing!

The "Full Depth" below is an estimate of how deep or thick your pocket needs to be in order to contain the camera--lens and all--when the camera is turned off.

Full Depth
Canon G11
Canon S90
Leica X1
Olympus E-P1 w/ 14-42 zoom
Olympus E-P1 w/ 17mm pancake
Panasonic DMC-LX3 and
Leica D-Lux 4
Panasonic GF1 w/ 14-45 zoom
Panasonic GF1 w/ 20mm pancake
Ricoh GR Digital III
Ricoh GXR
Sigma DP1
Sigma DP2

Now, personally, I find that 1.5" is the maximum thickness that I'd still consider pocketable in a shirt or pant pocket, and even that is pushing it. I have a 1.25" thick Ricoh GR1 that actually fits quite nicely into a pocket, even a relatively tight-fitting front jean pocket.

Many of the cameras above will fit into coat or jacket pockets. However, much of my photography is outdoors when the weather is nice and I *really* don't like wearing coats or jackets when I don't have to. (If I were willing to go up 0.5" in thickness, the 2" deep Leica X1 with a
36 f/2.8 [36mm in full 35mm frame terms] Leica lens and an APS-C size sensor--the biggest sensor in this group--would really be tempting. Of course, being a Leica, it's pretty pricey!)

By the 1.5" or less thickness criterion, only two of these cameras are shirt & pant "pocketable": the Ricoh GR Digital III and the Canon Powershot S90. They're both thin (actually even thinner than 1.25"),
have relatively wide lenses (28 mm on the Ricoh, 28-105 on the Canon), and both have large maximum apertures (f/1.9 on the Ricoh and f/2 on the Canon).

I suspect the quality of the lens on the Ricoh is better, mostly because of the well-known rule of thumb in photography that prime (fixed focal length) lenses tend to have better optical quality than zoom lenses. Of course, the strength of zoom lenses is that they cover more focal lengths.

What about price? The Ricoh GR Digital III retails for about $700; the Canon Powershot S90 for about $430. So the Ricoh sells for about 63% more than the Canon; that's pretty significant.

I think I'd be pretty happy with either of these for my pocketable, relatively high image quality camera needs. But it's a relatively clear choice for me: the Canon S90. Why?
  1. I'd rather spend $430 than $700 on a walk-around camera that is not meant primarily to make money for me; my professional DSLRs and lenses are my primary camera tools for generating photography-related income. The image quality on the S90 is sufficient, though, when I get a lucky shot that I want to publish at my website for marketing purposes or to make small prints.
  2. The zoom is more flexible than the fixed 28mm lens...and I think the quality of the lens on the S90 is good enough for my purposes. Canon usually puts good lenses on their compacts, and the Powershot S-series (I owned the 5 megapixel S60, which I was quite happy with; but it's performance above 100 ISO was really poor) is at the high-end of their compacts.
  3. I own a 35mm film Ricoh GR1 with a 28mm f/2.8 lens that helps to satisfy my appetite for a compact Ricoh point-and-shoot camera when I need it...;-).
So, I'm going with the Canon Powershot S90! I'll publish some of my photos and experiences with the S90 in future posts...:-).

To see more about the S90:

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Instruction Manual for the Canon 1D Mark IV

Canon has posted the instruction manual for the new Canon 1D Mark IV, even though the 1D Mark IV isn't shipping yet. I guess it's good to familiarize yourself with a piece of camera equipment before you buy it so you can be up and running as soon as you get it!...:-)

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography.His main website is:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with our Holga Giveaway Winner!

One of our Lightmanship readers, Jennifer in California, was the winner of our Holga Giveaway last month! I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her background and interest in photography, what she likes about Lightmanship, and how she plans to use the Holga...

Lightmanship: How would you characterize your interest in photography? Are you actively
photographing? If so, what is your favorite type of photography to do and what
equipment do you use?

Jennifer:  Photography was my first passion and I naturally gravitated to film, where I've been for many, many years. In the last couple of years, I re-discovered my love for photography. Professionally I take shots of artwork for 2D & 3D artists, and have done some weddings, although, that is not really my thing. Mostly, my photography is personal and/or fine art. I've never really classified it. The most important thing is that it brings me joy. I realize that sounds cheesy, but it's true.

My camera is like an extension of my arm and brain. I carry either my point and shoot or DSLR with me at all times.

If I had to classify my photography I'd say documentary, with experimental and fine art mixed in. I shoot with a 50D and have a two lenses, 50mm and 28-135mm. It's a pretty basic set up, but it does what I need. I also have a Canon D10. I bought this fantastic little point and shoot a few months ago. I love being in the water, so this camera is a perfect blend of Surf and Turf. I have other cameras, but I'm not doing much with them these days.

Lightmanship: What is your favorite type of blog post here at Lightmanship?

Jennifer: I enjoy the pondering posts where you ask philosophical questions; What makes a good photograph, etc. The way you work through the answer is very apparent, and I like seeing which roads you take to get there. I usually agree with your findings as well.
I really liked the recent post about shooting 35mm. I'm a filmmaker and I love shooting Super8 and 16mm. Because of that, I understand the frugality of film and thinking before pulling the trigger. I also remember this when shooting video, because I don't want to fish through extra footage when editing. With photography I feel the same, although I do tend to snap of a lot more images when shooting digitally.

Lightmanship: What subject matter do you plan to photograph with the new Holga?

Jennifer: If the camera comes by the 27th, I plan to take it with me to Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos. I haven't thought much father than that.

Because the Holga is so compact, I plan on carrying it around loaded and see what I come upon.

Lightmanship: Thanks Jennifer!

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography.His main website is:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Canon 5D versus Canon 5D Mark II Noise Comparison at 1600 and 3200 ISO

4-5 months ago, I did a comparison of the noise in the images from my Canon 5D at 1600 and 3200 ISO against those from a Canon 5D Mark II, also at 1600 and 3200 ISO. I found the differences to be negligible.

As you can imagine, this annoyed some photographers (especially, I assume, those who had purchased a 5D Mark II) and they said my tests were flawed...especially, since my test images had some blur from camera shake. I actually thought that the camera shake might help to force people to look purely at image noise instead of image detail.

I've come to agree that loss of image detail is in fact related to image noise, because image noise can obliterate image detail.

So, I finally got a hold of the Canon 5D Mark II again and re-did the tests. I braced the camera on the back of a chair and used a Canon 50 f/1.4 lens at an aperture setting of f/2.8 (because I did the test in relatively low light--which is normally when one uses ISOs of 1600 and 3200). I did 100% magnification crops from both cameras at their highest resolutions in RAW image format. I used Canon Digital Photo Professional software to create the jpegs directly from the RAW files. (Note: the point of focus was right between the 3 strawberries at the top of the image for all images.)

Here are the test images:

Canon 5D, 1600 ISO, 100% magnification

Canon 5D Mark II, 1600 ISO, 100% magnification

Canon 5D, 3200 ISO, 100% magnification

Canon 5D Mark II, 3200 ISO, 100% magnification

Am I seeing any huge differences now? I wouldn't call them "huge", but I *am* seeing some noise improvements in the 5D Mark II images versus the 5D images. Are they enough to justify paying twice as much for a 5D Mark II versus a lightly used 5D? In my opinion, these differences alone would *not* justify paying so much more for the Mark II.

That said, if you really need to be able to shoot at 6400 ISO and maybe (occasionally) at 12,800 ISO, need the higher megapixel count of the Mark II (21 mp versus 12.8 mp for the 5D), and could really use the video recording capabilities of the Mark II, then the 5D Mark II may indeed be a worthwhile purchase.

I decided not to purchase the 5D Mark II in 2009 and I don't regret my decision. The 5D Mark II still has the antiquated 9-point AF system that the 5D and Canon's 1.6 crop factor DSLRs have and it's not really very usable above 6400 ISO.

Recently, however, Canon came out with the 7D, which finally goes beyond that 9-point AF system. And the announcement of the 1D Mark IV (due to start shipping in December) has created a *huge* temptation for me. ISOs up to 102,400 (seemingly quite usable up to 51,200 ISO) with the best auto-focusing system on any DSLR Canon builds.

Now, if I can just dig up the $5000 I need to purchase it...:p.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography.His main website is:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The New Canon 1D Mark IV: the end of flash photography (for those who hate it)?

I was just photographing a wedding over the weekend and, again, I was spending too much time "fighting" with proper exposures when using my on-camera and off-camera flashes (a 580EX II on the hotshoe and two 550EXs as slaves). The more time I spend trying to fix suboptimal flash performance, the less time I spend focusing on the actual wedding activities going on in front of me!

When I heard Canon's official announcement about the new 1D Mark IV coming this December today, I was intrigued. When I read that the high end of the ISO range was expanding past the upper limit of 6400 that was present on the Mark III to a whopping 102400, I was more than intrigued!

Now, it has been my experience that the highest ISO available on a Canon DSLR is seldom that usable--i.e., you only want to use it when you have no other option. Now this fluctuates a little, depending on the camera. I have generally found the maximum of 3200 ISO on the 5D to be pretty usable and the maximum of 6400 ISO on the 1D Mark III long as the image was properly exposed; if you underexposed it, forget it.

My experience with Canon's 1.6 crop factor DSLRs (i.e., the Digital Rebels and the 10-50D series) was that you really wanted to stay away from the top ISO if possible, *even if* properly exposed. And the 5D Mark II is very noisy at the top ISO (25600), and I'm not even sure I could call the second highest ISO on it (12800) all that usable either.

The other thing that pains me about the 5D Mark II is that it can't possibly focus without a flash or wireless transmitter attached to it in darkness requiring 12800 or 25600 ISO. Its 9 AF point autofocusing with one cross-hair point is very primitive and not good in low light; so, what's the use?

Well, if Canon has ever made a camera that can focus in low light without AF assist, it's been the 1D series; and according to the specs for the 1D Mark IV, that autofocusing has been improved. But the thing that gets me most excited is combining Canon's most advanced autofocusing camera with an upper ISO that is 4 stops higher than the 1D Mark III! This means those shots I could barely get of the wedding couple dancing on the dark dance floor at f/1.4 with the ISO cranked to 6400 and the shutter speed down to 1/30 sec, I would now (theoretically) be able to capture with a shutter speed of 1/500 sec instead!

Now, I don't want to be Pollyanna-ish. Until I see some image samples from the 1D Mark IV, I'm going to figure that the top ISO of 102400 and maybe the second highest ISO of 51200 aren't going to be very usable generally. That would leave me with the next highest ISO of 25600. 25600 is two stops faster than 6400. So, in my example, instead of using a quite low shutter speed of 1/30, I'd be able to increase it to 1/125 sec...*much* more reasonable for catching a wedding couple slow dancing on a dark dance floor.

Being able to crank the ISO up two stops will also make it easier to catch those wedding processions down the center aisle in dark churches (with high ceilings and walls that are too far away to bounce your flash off of) without creating "deer in the headlight" photos with your flash.

Another feature that I'm quite interested in is the Auto ISO setting that enables automatic 100-12800 ISO coverage. Now, I've been a bit frustrated with the Auto ISO on the 5D Mark II because you can't set a minimum shutter speed and in Auto ISO, the 5D Mark II will sometimes choose really low shutter speeds, like 1/15 or 1/20 sec if you're shooting in P or Av (aperture priority) mode. The 1D Mark IV, however, lets you set an acceptable shutter speed range in the custom settings, which should eliminate those unacceptably low shutter speeds.

Here are some sample high ISO images shot with a pre-production 1D Mark IV.

You can read more about the Canon 1D Mark IV at Canon's website. And you can pre-order it at B&H's website!

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beyond Lens Envy

I've seen this pattern over and over...people get into photography as a new hobby, experience some initial successes, then start yearning for better and more expensive equipment in order to continue on a trajectory of better and better images.

I followed this route for a while myself. After borrowing and/or owning the best digital SLR equipment Canon makes, I experienced just how far the equipment could take me. I'll admit the equipment helps, but there's still a gap toward success that can only be filled by the photographer's skill and vision...and ultimately it's the skill and vision that yields the success.

If an equipment-related problem is blocking the ability to achieve a particular vision, then it may be quite appropriate and necessary to buy (or make) some equipment.

I get the impression, however, that photographers tend to resort to equipment purchases/upgrades as a default, rather than really thinking the problem through and coming up with a free solution that uses their existing equipment--for example, a change in technique.

Of course the photography equipment manufacturers and retailers--and top photographers enlisted by the photography equipment manufacturers--encourage this type of thinking! But if you're just a little clever and resourceful, you can loosen their grip on your photography-related purchasing.

You don't need the best or most expensive equipment to make great or successful photos. It's much more important that you really get to know the equipment you have and learn how to get the results you want using that equipment. *That* is what you need to know to become a truly successful photographer.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Film-Like Performance of the Canon 35-350 L Lens

I like the look of film. When I've used a film camera, it strikes me how different the photos look compared to the ones I normally get from my digital SLR.Film often has a smoother, "analog" look to it.

Well, this past weekend, I did a high school senior portrait session. Often I bring two DSLRs with two lenses: one covering the wider end of the spectrum (e.g. 24-70mm), and one covering the telephoto end (e.g., 70-200mm). At the last moment, I decided to just take one camera and use one lens: my Canon 35-350 L.

Sometimes I hesitate to use my 35-350 lens because it's not particularly fast (max aperture is f/3.5 at the wide end and f/5.6 at the telephoto end), and it's relatively heavy without image stabilization. (My 70-200 lens is heavier, but it's faster--constant f/2.8 max--and has image stabilization.)

I've noticed, however, if I increase my ISO setting one stop over what I would use with a f/2.8 lens, the shutter speed is usually fast enough so that blur doesn't become an issue.

So, anyway, I photographed the whole portrait session with the 35-350 attached to my full-frame 5D. (I had my 24-105 f/4 IS along in case I was having issues with the 35-350; but it stayed in my camera bag.)

Well, having the 35-350mm range available in an instance is *really* handy. No matter where my portrait subject was and where I had to stand--which was sometimes not very close due to the terrain--I could zoom out for a full body or environmental portrait; and the next minute fill the frame with a tight headshot. I love that.

Canon 5D + Canon 35-350 L

The thing I forget about is the "analog" look of the images I get when I use the 35-350. They're smoother and more film-like than the images I get with my other lenses. If you like lots of sharp detail resolution, you probably won't like what this lens delivers; stick to prime lenses.

But lots of sharp detail is often not very flattering for portraiture. A smoother film-like rendering is.

I'm not sure if Canon's newer 28-300 IS L lens (which replaced the 35-350 L) gives a similar film-like performance. I suspect it doesn't, but I may try to borrow it one of these days to compare. If you've used the Canon's 28-300 IS L, please share your experiences with it in the comments area below...:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Large Sensor, Digital Compact Cameras are Coming!

If you follow this blog, you have probably read about my using compact 35mm film cameras in part because there haven't been any compact digital cameras with large, DSLR sensors...or at least not any that seem to work that well, especially in terms of autofocus performance (e.g., the Sigma DP1/DP2 and Olympus E-P1).

Well, both Panasonic and Leica (who often work together to produce digital cameras), are coming out with some new compact digital cameras sporting DSLR-size sensors that may finally lure me away from my compact 35mm film cameras...!

Panasonic announced the new GF1 which sports a 17.3 x 13.0mm four thirds sensor in a compact camera body that is similar in size to the Olympus E-P1 (note: a APS-C sensor--e.g., as used in Canon's Digital Rebels and 10D thru 50D DSLRs--is 23.6 x 15.8mm). The GF1 allows interchangeable lenses and initial reports indicate the autofocusing system is significantly improved over the Sigma DP1/DP2 and Olympus E-P1...more akin to the ones you find on DSLRs.

The GF1 will sell for $899.95 with a 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens (35mm equivalence: 28-90mm) and is reported to be shipping in October 2009.

Leica has announced three new digital cameras: one with a medium format camera sized sensor (the S2), one with a full 35mm sized sensor (the M9), and one with a APS-C sized sensor (the X1).

While all of these are interesting entries into the digital camera marketplace, it's the X1 that most interests me. It's a true compact digital camera with a true APS-C DSLR size sensor. The lens is a fixed 24/2.8 Leica ELMARIT ASPH lens (equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm film camera), which may not appeal to people who have become accustomed to zoom lenses.

The compact 35mm film cameras I use are all fixed lenses as well--usually somewhere in the range of 28mm - 40mm--and I have found I like having the higher quality optics you can get in a fixed range lens for my more personal, fine art work anyway.

The Leica X1 will sell for $1995.00 and begin shipping in January 2010.

Of course, I've got some high-quality compact 35mm film cameras I've picked up used for under $100! The differences in price ($899.95 - $100 = $799.95 and $1995 - $100 = $1895) pay for a *lot* of film and film processing...:p.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Camera Giveaway! A Holga 120 GFN Medium Format Film Camera

I recently--kind of mistakenly--bought two Holga cameras with glass lenses. The original Holga has a plastic lens; the glass lens is supposed to yield sharper image detail than the plastic lens. Even though it has a glass lens, it still has all the other quirks that make Holgas beloved: light leaks, vignetting, focussing and framing irregularities, only two aperture settings, etc.

I decided to keep the one without the built-in flash and sell the other (the one *with* the built-in flash). Well, it went unsold on eBay.

Instead of relisting it, I've decided to give it away right here on my blog!

There are two requirements to enter this giveaway:
1) You must have a shipping address in the United States.
2) You must subscribe to this blog by email (just click the link in the righthand column that says "Subscribe to Lightmanship by Email").

On October 15th, 2009, I will randomly select one email address from this blog's email subscribers and notify that person of their free gift. The person I notify will have 2 days to email me a valid shipping address in the US. If the person isn't interested in receiving the Holga or doesn't return my email message with an address, I'll randomly select another person from the list of email addresses and repeat the process.

If you decide to enter, good luck! Feel free to notify anyone else you know who might be interested in getting a free Holga too...:-).

Here's more about the Holga camera:

This is a genuine Holga camera with a glass lens (instead of the usual plastic lens) and a built-in flash: model 120 GFN. The glass lens is reputed to give sharper images than the plastic one. I bought this new and have never used it (except to put 2 AA batteries into it to see if the flash did!). It comes in the original box with the camera, strap, frame insert (that switches between 6x6 and 6x4.5), and instruction manual.

The new Holga 120 GFN is a medium format camera with integrated flash and a glass lens. This new model has a standard tripod mount, a bulb exposure selector for extra long exposures and comes with two frames to take pictures in 6x4.5 cm or 6x6 cm size. The format arrow has been revised and slides smoothly between 12 and 16 exposures.

- Bulb exposure selector for extra long exposures
- Standard tripod mount
- Revised format arrow
- Includes now two frames for the 6x6 and 6x4.5 cm format!
- Multiple exposures
- Vignetting
- Soft focus
- Integrated flash can be switched on and off
- Film to be used: 120 mm colour/bw film, instant film (only with polaroid holder), 35 mm film (modification)
- Glass lens
- Leaf shutter

- Lens: 60 mm
- Aperture: f/8, f11
- Shutter speed: 1/100 s, B
- Focus range: 0.9 m to infinity
- Dimensions: 140x102x76 mm
- Weight: 0.2 kg

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: