Photo thoughts

There have been a few photo related blog posts and twitter conversations that I wanted to comment on.

First, buying digital SLR’s. Tim Bray commented on Dave Sifry’s Beginners Digital SLR buying guide, and ranted on the insanity of buying a camera based on the number of megapixels, which is a very common metric. Buying a digital SLR is a sizable task — I wrote about it last year. I didn’t recommend specific cameras, but I did try to point out a bunch of things that I wish someone had told me, in addition to the initial purchase of the camera. One thing that I would note is that there’s a lot more to taking photos than just the camera. Technology people tend to get obsessed with the specifications and features of the gear, but the most important piece of photographic equipment is between your ears. People think that having a good camera will automatically result in good pictures, but that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s like saying the buying really good paintbrushes will make one a painter, or that buying really good pots and pans will make one a chef. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a nicer/newer camera, just be aware that you aren’t going to turn into Ansel Adams when it arrives.

Second, post processing software. This one is a result of a late night Twitter storm between Stephen O’Grady, Tim Bray, and to a lesser extent, me. Steven wanted to know about choosing between iPhoto, Adobe Lightroom, and Apple’s Aperture. People on a Macintosh probably have iPhoto lying around, and it is decently competent for people are not photography enthusiasts. The cost of trying it is pretty minimal, since it is bundled with Mac OS X, although if you have an older Mac and haven’t upgraded iLife recently, it’s probably worth it to do that after giving it a try. iPhoto leverages OS X’s system wide RAW conversion, so it can even handle RAW files from DSLR’s and high end point and shoots.

That leaves Lightroom and Aperture. I was an early fan and adopter of Aperture, and I was pretty happy with it until recently. Since October, I’ve stopped running Lightroom and Aperture side by side and am only using Lightroom. I’ve now had a chance to really work with the Photoshop integration, which works decently well – I wish there was a way to go back and re-edit a Photoshopped version instead of Lightroom creating another copy, but you can work around this by opening the Photoshopped version with Photoshop directly — Lightroom correctly updates once you save the file. The Lightroom API’s have started to show, although not as quickly as I thought they would. Right now you can mostly get export plugins, which means there is now a way to publish to Flickr directly with Lightroom, although none of the plugins (or Flickr’s on Uploadr 3.0) is anywhere near a match for Frasier Speirs’ FlickrExport, which doesn’t have a Lightroom version.

More importantly, I’ve really lost a lot of faith in Apple in terms of the future of Aperture. I thought for sure that there would be an Aperture 2.0 when Leopard was released. We might still see it at MacWorld or PMA in late January, but it doesn’t build my confidence that Aperture is an important product. When I got Lightroom, on the other hand, it was at version 1.1 and is now up to version 1.3.1. Adobe was very public about Lightroom/Leopard issues, and has been relatively quick to address them. Apple, on the other hand, is following its usual tight lipped policy. Both of these programs are first versions, and each needs additional development. Apple is leaving me with a reasonable amount of doubt as to whether they are really committed to Aperture.

4 thoughts on “Photo thoughts

  1. rick

    Ted, I’m pretty sure we had some discussion about the camera and the system last year when you were shopping around. You may not have been ready to hear it then for whatever reason. (What do you think swayed you in the first place, and now what’s causing you to want to change?)

    (The megapixel obsession is somewhat maddening, especially from certain relatives, but it seems to be the one thing amateurs can easily understand. And certainly more is “better”, but only to a point.)

    Obviously, all the camera systems are useful, and any technological lead one has is sure to be rebalanced sooner or later. You’re doing great work with the Canon, I’m pretty happy with the Nikon (just wish their good glass didn’t require such an “investment”!)

  2. Ted Leung Post author

    When I bought the Canon 2 years ago, high ISO performance and IQ were definitely to Canon’s favor. I think that is actually still true until you get to the D3 level. But we all know that the D3 sensor is coming to a D4/500. Nikon has been very aggressive and there’s no way they will leave the 5D standing alone.

    The big factors for me right now are pretty much all related to focus problems, since out of focus problems are accounting for more of my rejects than any other problem (at least for those problems that the camera can do anything about). So that would include: autofocus system, viewfinder brightness/coverage (which impacts ability to check focus and or manual focus), and low light autofocus lamps. Beyond that, there’s the new LCD’s and CLS – which means less bulky ETTL, which counts at events. The D3 sensor comes after all that.

    I have a moderate investment in my equipment now, so if I am going to switch, I want to do it before I start dropping lots more money.

  3. rick gordon

    regarding IQ, I think at their respective price points they were pretty comparable. I certainly have had little to complain about in IQ working with Nikon gear. The high-end Canon was the best for awhile, but its not for everyone. Neither is the high-end Nikon now (although it might help shave the price of the Canon!)

    The focus thing may be a technical problem. I ran into someone lately who said that they had a specific focus point on a D70 go awry but local tech was able to fix it.
    I’ve been experiencing a similar problem, but mainly with particular lenses. Whether that lens is out of whack, or it simply shows the problem more easily I don’t know yet.
    I’ve got to run some more tests, but I think I will be sending my D200 body in for a CLA anyway.

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