On photo gear 2019

Leichtathletik Weltklasse Zuerich, 2018

Another nerdy blog entry… which camera should I/you buy?

While home cycling in our basement, I watched a few YouTube videos. Each year the same: it’s the end of the year, everybody has time, and the YouTube family thinks about market trends.

Orientierungslauf Florian Schneider Lobhorn Bern 2018 July-29, 2018

I’ll be straight. (If you want to have a full hour of entertainment on this question go elsewhere.) Buy ANY modern camera of the serious manufacturers, like Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Sony (in alphabetical order), and this camera will be excellent. Period.

It follows that if you buy a completely new system, the best thing is to go to a shop. Hold several models in your hands, and do some test shots of different subjects (if they let you). If you find the handling intuitive and the price is OK, buy the camera. If you have to guess how to find the right buttons, buy another one.

Niederhorn    July-11, 2018

If you have special needs, there is a little more to say. For instance, I shoot something like 3’000 frames on one single event. I need fast cameras with fast writing and reading capabilities. The autofocus must be excellent too. There are two manufacturers that provide this: Canon and Nikon. The full frame versions are the 1DXii for Canon and the D5 for Nikon (the predecessors will be excellent too). The corresponding APSC versions are the 7Dii by Canon and the D500 by Nikon. By construction the APSCs have poorer low light capabilities, but for outdoor sports my 7Dii is absolutely sufficient.

The only reason I shoot Canon, not Nikon, is that I bought a Canon some 10 years ago. Hence, I am stuck to the system. Would I be happier with Nikon? I don’t know, but I guess not. From what I know about Sony (I have friends with Sony) the reading and writing capabilities are inferior to Canon and Nikon. I have no information about Fuji, as I have never seen a colleague with Fuji in an arena.

UCI Cyclo-Cross Weltcup Bern  2018

What are the future trends?

  • Mobile phones will take over the market for snapshots and even landscape. The electronic capabilities of these cameras are incredible. Their main disadvantage is the missing tele lens. Nevertheless, all classic manufacturers will have big, big problems. Not risky to predict that some of them will die. If you have no special needs (like wildlife or sports), but just want a camera for your family photos: invest some 1’000 or more stones and buy a high end smartphone.
  • For the rest of the market, mirrorless cameras will replace DSLRs, but this will take some time. Manufacturers need that time to build the new lenses. The new standard will be F2 zoom lenses that will replace the current F2.8 zoom lenses. A lot of negative things have been said about Canon, but notice that Canon is the only manufacturer so far that has a completely new F2 zoom lens.

 

Not mirrorless

So I have a new camera, a dinosaur: another Canon 1 DX mark ii.

In the days of the mirrorless hype (“the camera revolution has started”) when Canon, Nikon, and Fuji introduced a generation of new mirrorless cameras, my photo friends and I decided to buy… good-old DSLRs.

Why? The reason is simple.

  • First: for our needs, there aren’t lenses for mirrorless cameras out there. Those lenses that have been introduced are not convincing (the only exception being Canon’s new F2.0 zoom lens – this one might be a game changer in the future).
  • Second: modern DSLR’s are 100% reliable. Brilliant autofocus, 14 frames per second, my old one has 376’000 shutter releases and is still working perfectly).
  • Third: Why do we need more of everything? 20 Megapixels are all we need, I recently even delivered even a 5x5m poster. The video capabilities are really good, and the weight… come on, We’re neither 7 nor 80: the weight is negligible compared to that of the tele lenses.

I unboxed the camera yesterday. Enjoy some first test shots.

I am convinced, the future will be mirrorless. But meanwhile the new DXiis will do the better job!

Sigma screwed me up

Back to Bundesliga. This blog is about my frustration with my latest football coverage.

For those who follow my blog for photography reasons: maybe you remember that I bought a new tele lens earlier this year, the Sigma 120-300 F 2.8 S. It had been introduced in a video by Stephan Wiesner and we were quite enthusiastic about the first results.

After a few months it is time for a report on its long-run performance. I’ll be short: the lens has a massive problem: the autofocus! Depending on what you want to do, the performance ranges between “good” and “absolutely not reliable”.

  • The lens performed really well on the first day when the video was made: why? Because I only did two sorts of shots that work with this lens. First, shots when things are not hectic. Second action shots where the distance is predictable. A good example for the latter are the volleyball scenes from the head-on position that appear in Stephan’s video. Below are examples of such shots.
  • However, the lens is absolutely not reliable, if the subject is running towards you, or the exact spot of the action is not predictable. The first is typical for head-on positions in athletics (a 100m sprinter is too fast for the lens) and the latter for football matches (where one intelligent pass requires immediate re-focusing to some completely new spot).  I cannot include these pictures, because I delete them immediately: believe me, I deleted many! Also: be grateful to my parents who educated me well. I won’t use strong words here. I was tempted to use them, though, when I missed important shots.
  • As an aside, the lens also has strong vignetting. This is not bad per se. Some of the pictures have a “cool” look. However, Lightroom is not able to correct this if you want to.  So this is worth mentioning.

Just Another Lens

Did you buy another lens? Why do you need another one?”

I recently bought the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 lens. Admittedly, this was a very though decision, as I have a lot of gear.  Why did I do this?

  • At many events my 400 was too long and the 70-200 was too short. Examples? Football when the play comes closer, athletics when athletes react after the finish line.
  • Moreover, I love the flexibility of a zoom to shoot the same scene close and wide at the same time. So a 300mm prime lens was no option (and far too expensive).
  • Finally, I needed a fast lens. F2.8 was a must.

There’s only one lens on the market that can do all this: the Sigma 120-300 F2.8

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Der Swiss MVP des Jahres Jovan Djokic im Schweizer Cup Final zwischen Biogas Volley Naefels und Volley Amriswil; VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

Critics on the lens were excellent. So I took the risk and bought it instead of renting it first.

I added a Sigma USB dock, because I understood that Sigma lenses almost always have either front or back focus problems. I downloaded the adjustment software and spent one very dull evening with the calibration of a heavy back focus problem (thanks Tobias Wagen for cheering me up via the facebook chat).

Moreover, the lens weighs more than 3kg. From my experience with my 400mm prime lens, I knew I could hold it for a while and use a monopod between the shots. I certainly would think twice if I had to carry it with me as a nature photographer (which I am not).

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Here’s a digital zoom into a picture. The lens is sharp until you approach the limits of my Canon 1DX mark ii. VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

The next event on my schedule was the Swiss Volleyball Cup Final. So I took the lens with me to this event. My friend Stephan Wiesner came with me and prepared a video.

So what is my verdict?

It is a great lens. Some “testers” have complained about this or that… I don’t care!

  • The pictures are sharp. Period.
  • The autofocus is working. Period.

The only serious complaint is about the initial back focus problem. Sigma stole me 4 hours to fix it. But here’s the second thought. I saved about 3’000 stones compared to a 300mm prime lens. In this sense, buying the Sigma 120-300mm lens instead of the 300mm prime is like receiving a daily wage of 2 x 3’000= 6’000.

This makes me feel good! I should go and buy another lens!

*** UPDATE: One month later I had many more opportunities to work with the lens. I stick to my verdict, but with a slight qualification. When the action comes close and I am shooting at 120mm at a distance of, say, 5-7m, the autofocus has problems. I missed some shots at Bundesliga matches. ***

*** UPDATE 2: It’s the beginning of June and I had the first serious issues with the lens. I used it at two meetings in midday sunlight and the results were… BAD. I immediately switched back to my old equipment which worked nicely. As this happened twice I will do further tests. Was it the sunlight? Was it me? Do I have to repeat the calibration? I’ll let you know, but it will take some time. ***

 

Better gear made me a worse photographer

Admittedly, the title is an attention grabber, but I have a point.

When I meet other “old” photographers, we start talking about the good old days after a while. We had cameras with a single shot only, manual focus, no auto exposure, maximum 400 ASA films (which is equivalent to 400 ISO) that we could push to 800 ASA, maximum. Pushing to 800 ASA was only possible with black and white films, of course. After 36 exposures we had to insert a new film. Back in the late 1970s sports photography was really hard. I shot Basketball Bundesliga games. I used about three films per match and went home with one or two good pictures. Moreover, when I look at those pictures today, they are all very soft. Given todays standards, I would just press the delete button.

VOLLEYBALL NLA PLAYOFFS 2018 QUARTER FINAL

Tiana DOCKERY (Viteos NUC #7) during the warm up for the quarter final between Viteos NUC and VC Kanti Schaffhausen; VOLLEYBALL NLA PLAYOFFS 2018 QUARTER FINAL am 24 March, 2018 in Neuchatel (Halle des Sports de la Riveraine), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

So, let’s be clear: Today my pictures are better! But still, I think my claim is true: better gear made me a worse photographerExamples?

  • I was more patient. In a basketball match, I pre-focused on, say, the position where the power forward typically shot. Why pre-focus? Because I had no autofocus. After pre-focusing, I had to wait. Guess, what didn’t happen? The guy did a lot of things, except shooting from the “typical” position.
  • I was more concentrated. Today my camera is like a machine gun. Back then, I had only one shot. Then I had to re-wind manually. So while I can shoot up to 14 frames/sec today, I had to press the shutter exactly at the peak of the action. Recently, I remembered this when I was at a cross run. I set the camera deliberately to the one-shot mode and tried to capture the strides exactly at the point where the back leg was in maximum stretch. I needed a few attempts, but it worked after a while. The advantage: nearly every picture was perfect whereas with the high-speed mode, I mostly have “almost perfect” pictures, shortly before or shortly after the ideal phase.
2015-12-05-langenthal-cross-17

Langenthal cross run 2015: single shot, fill-in flash

  • I cared about the background. Today, I have super lenses. My 400mm F2.8 has 140mm aperture. With such a glas, background is just irrelevant. It vanishes in the bokeh anyway. Back then, this was entirely different. So I was constantly looking for positions with good background. This was often in conflict with the lighting, though. I shot many bad photos, just because I could not solve this problem.
2014-05-bernerrundfahrt-66

Cyrille Thièry at the Berner Rundfahrt 2016 – 135mm F2 (the cars in the background vanish in the bokeh)

  • I was more selective. Today I often press the shutter although I know that I shouldn’t. The consequence are tons of mediocre pictures that get deleted immediately when I look at the results. Back then, I had 36 pictures on one film roll. I didn’t want to waste them, so I was much more cautious when it came to pressing the button. Again, this is related to the fact that I am less concentrated than I was back then.

So why do I care? Because I come back home with tons of junk. This stresses my shutter counter and my time budget. My aim for the next year is to remember the skills from the “good” old days (they weren’t exactly good), be more concentrated, shoot less, without missing the good pictures.