I had the opportunity to photograph The Parlour Social, an amazing Canberra-based traditional jazz band. The most interesting part of this particular jazz photography was having the chance to photograph piano playing, which a rarity for me. However, the stage was so small and the Café so crowded which moving behind the piano or changing position as I liked was impossible, so I used a limited set of locations which I could hide and be less of a distraction and photograph. Canon 5D MKII shutter sound was at the threshold of being of noticeable, which was something new to me because my jazz photography experience with Canon 5D is mostly limited to big bands which are loud enough for suppressing the loudest shutter sounds. Perhaps a camera with a quieter shutter sound or an electronic shutter is more suitable for these environments. The light was adequate most of the time, so there was no focusing problem and use of extreme ISO levels, which is common in jazz photography.
On the technical side, this event coincided with the introduction of Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which has amazing specs and looks like a very balanced camera just like it’s predecessors. It’s amazing that even the old 5D MKII is so good that having the minimum light and paired with the right L lenses, there’s very little left to be desired technically. Being a Nikon user, I personally really like to try the 30 megapixels sensor and the more advanced AF system in the reliable and ergonomic chassis of 5D, provided that all this be paired with a near silent shutter.
Thanks to Robbie Hugh Mann of The Parlour Social, Tim Benson and Smith’s Alternative for help making this to happen.
If you are looking for latest and greatest, you will be disappointed. Here’s a list of some old equipment that I used long enough to feel confident to comment on them. (Some more than 4 years). Comments should be read in the context of my photographs, which is mostly low-light, black and white photography and not every use case.
Canon EF 17 – 40mm f/4.0L USM
Canon EF 24 – 105mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
A complete toolset for any Canon 35mm photographer. Dependable, robust and with great optical quality.
Sigma 70 – 200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM
A good low-cost alternative to AF‑S Nikkor 70 – 200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. Good build quality, beautiful out of focus rendering and very sharp. Not rugged and should be used with care.
An older generation of Nikon’s inexpensive general purpose zoom lenses. A very good lens in hands of an experienced photographer. Very silent and capable AF and VR. I use it 1⁄30 second at the telephoto end without blur.
It always amazes me what can be done with these inexpensive lenses.
If it was produced by Leica, people would have praised its sharpness, colour and out of focus rendering quality:
Nikon AF‑S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G
A must-have for any low light DX photographer. Sharp and inexpensive. Fast AF. Very good low light tool.
Build quality is not very good. MF is useless due to small OVFs of Nikon DX cameras and MF ring being unsmooth. It’s most useful when light levels are very low and you can get close to your subject. Out-of-focus rendering is dull. Don’t get this if you are looking for pleasing bokeh, or in other words, getting pleasing bokeh from this lens needs pre-planing. Lens is prone to flare if used toward the sun, however, sun stars are sharp and pleasing.
Nikon AF‑S Nikkor 70 – 200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
Your best friend for sports, concerts and nature in low-light. Built like a tank, with accurate, fast AF and reliable VR. Heavy. It brings out the best out of cheapest cameras.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
5D series are immensely popular for a reason. There’s not much you can’t do with this camera when paired with the correct lens. Pleasing colour, sharp, fast and reliable AF. Endless battery life, lot’s of controls, superb LCD and responsive UI. The only issue is the sensor: In comparison to sensors manufactured by Sony (in Nikon Cameras, never tested Sony’s own cameras), there’s a lot less latitude for shadow recovery. You have to be a better photographer than when using a Nikon and shoot in a way that doesn’t need much shadow recovery in postprocessing. In other words, ‑if you are a Nikon user-when working with this camera, you feel dynamic range is paper thin. The shutter is not silent enough for classical music performance or theatres. Silent-mode works only using the live view which is not the ideal form for using the camera.
This camera is light, small, fast, silent, ergonomic and with a very good dynamic range in its class.
Shutter sound is very low, making it ideal for street photography, music and other performances. Built in flash can’t work as a commander for Nikon’s creative light system, but supports SU‑4. Single control dial makes exposure compensation and manual mode difficult. No custom user modes. Other than these the UI is fast and easy to use. I could never make peace with the matrix metering, it always overexposes highlights, but center-weighted is reliable. Single SD card for storage makes me nervous. It’s a consumer grade camera that covers all the basics, maybe except a large OVF, which is a rarity these days anyway.
It’s unimaginable what can be done with this tiny camera. Reviews indicate that the newer models are equipped with better sensors. We are living in good times.
iPhone4 has a very interesting sensor. It’s like you cut a small piece of a Nikon/Sony sensor and put it in a mobile phone; pleasing, almost artistic noise, very low when you use base ISO, sharp, with no noise reduction overuse that plagues the latest iPhones. Shadow recovery latitude is considerable, so exposing for highlight usually gives very good results for post production. The JPEGs are so flexible you forget they are not RAW. Choice of post processing software is also very important: the best results I had with iPhone4 were from Google’s Snap Seed and Adobe Lightroom. Latest versions of Instagram also have good editing tools. I think if iPhone4 was a 35 mm DSLR, it would be one of the most timeless digital cameras ever made. Colour rendition is very pleasing, white balance is accurate and out of focus rendering (Yes, it exists!) is beautiful. If only Apple didn’t follow the high-megapixel crowd and kept the large-photosite, low megapixel trend for longer. As of 2016, I still can’t part with my iPhone4 and if I buy another iPhone, I don’t like to cross the 8‑megapixel limit.
The endless battery of iPhone4 also helps to walk for hours with the camera turned on and shoot and learn, and it remains reasonable cool in your hand. iPhone4 form factor is also important: not too big, not too small, solid, all black, it’s one of the least noticeable phones these days. iPhone4 has some rare flares if you keep a strong light source at the edge of the shot. Also, when shooting relatively straight at sunlight, you get a grid of round flares, six of them I think.
The rest is also true for any phone with a good camera: The best tool for street photography bar none: you can shoot people in their face without them noticing. Also mobile phone cameras are the best teachers for practicing to shoot from the hip. After a while, it seems like your eyes are equipped with frame lines for 24mm and you can see the composition frame without using any sort of viewfinder.
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