Each week, it seems that I spend a lot of time talking about the evolution of photography in the digital age with Raj Tavadia, our Technology Director. I’m coming from a long tradition of film-based, pre-Photoshop, photojournalism and corporate assignments — still somewhat romanticizing the way things used to be. At the same time, I’m trying to accept the legitimacy of Instagram and the billions of images taken each day that record all the minutiae as well as the really important moments that document our world.
I’m very lucky (at least I think so most of the time) to have worked for decades when I could own all the rights to my work, be well paid for my assignments, travel without post-9/11 constraints and anxieties, and when the outlets for my work were far more numerous than today.
A good part of our conversations is about the equipment we used and are using now. In the simplest terms, it’s about the iPhone vs. high-end DSLRs, and everything in between. I’ve written about this before, but Raj brings his own perspective, informed both by his fine skills as a photographer, technology enthusiast, and father. Here are his thoughts… — AG
A few years ago, my life underwent a major change.
I've been Tech Director for Visual Departures for some time now, which has allowed me to work on a wide variety of projects, from web sites to video production to social media and more. I'm lucky to be able to say I can talk shop with a CBS News director, TIME-LIFE Magazine photographer, and successful entrepreneur on a daily basis… and all at the same desk! Allen doesn't tend to brag about this sort of thing, but, well, this is a guy who's found himself skiing with President Gerald Ford (apparently, he was the only one in the press pool that day who knew how.) You're bound get a different perspective from someone like that (like: "what do you mean you can't ski?!") Well, what can I say? I grew up in Queens.
Joining the Visual Departures team wasn't the big change, though.
I've owned a Canon 5D Mark II for nearly as long as I've worked with Visual Departures. My "walking around" lens was the drop-dead gorgeous Canon 24-70 f/2.8L zoom. I know it's not the most beastly rig one can imagine, but even so, it's awfully large and expensive. Overkill? Perhaps. (To my credit, I don't own a Hummer or a big-screen TV.) My ophthalmologist once noted during an exam that I am a "clarity freak", so it seems I am biologically unable to ignore sub-par lenses. And I am flattered by Allen's rating me a "very fine photographer", as that usually goes beyond the ability to simply make a sharp image and balanced histogram.
At any rate, I'm a fit fellow, and I usually didn't mind carrying those seven pounds on hikes around New York City, various Hawaiian islands, and anywhere else my wife and I were lucky enough to find ourselves. I loved my "5D2", and it seemed to love me back. With practice, we reached that point where photographs were made without hesitation. I envisioned a scene 20 years into the future, with me admiring the worn-down spots where I had gripped that same camera for two decades.
Everything changed when we learned that we were going to have a baby.
Forty weeks later (just as my initial shock was starting to wear off) our baby was delivered. During labor, I remembered Allen's complaint about some people's failure to experience things with their own eyes; it seems that whatever monumental event they could be witnessing, they feel it more important to document it (essentially watching it through a 4-inch screen) than to live the moment. So, when I got to meet my son, I set my camera to a forgiving aperture, snapped away from chest high, and regarded him with my own eyes, exclusively.
The first year was very difficult for us all, but I was constantly grateful for the high speed and quality of the 5D2. I resolved that my son would have beautiful photographs of his early life, which, one day, he would treasure. Tens of thousands of exposures were made in the hopes of capturing just the right expression or pose to sum up that moment in time. I was digging a hole that my sleep-deprived eyes wouldn't be able to climb out of for years.
The second year was not easy, but manageable. We took the little guy to Oahu for a memorial service, and I hiked up craters and through forests with him on my back. Thanks to hefting the 5D around all those years, he didn't seem that heavy!
Now, he's closing in on his third birthday and is bigger, faster, and more independent than before. And I started to wonder: between his gear and my own, how realistic would it be to keep hauling it all around the Bronx Zoo, the National Mall in Washington DC, Diamond Head crater, or wherever else we might be spending our day? Might there be another option? As a technologist, I had to ask: where had the leading edge moved in the five years since the 5D2 was released (and had changed everything)?
Serendipitously, I had started to notice a lot of people talking excitedly about the new Fuji X Series cameras. Fuji's engineers claimed to have solved the moire problem of traditional Bayer-type digital sensors by using a new pixel layout, which they called "X-Trans". Eliminating the moire issues meant that they could now drop the low-pass filter, which has been a standard part of nearly all high-quality digital sensors. Naturally, the fewer filters you use, the better clarity of the image hitting the sensor. Both well- and lesser-known photographers were talking excitedly about these new compact, mirrorless cameras with great ergonomics and image quality… some even went so far as to say "Fuji is the new Leica".
It actually looked like there was a scene forming around these cameras. David Hobby took to YouTube for a 40-minute demo of the Fuji X100S, and, of course, posted great tips for how to take advantage of the X100 series' special features. Zack Arias openly mocked Canon and Nikon, characterizing them as out-of-touch geezers. He ran several blog posts on the topic, including one showing off his new, compact gig bag packed with four X-series cameras plus assorted gear. The kicker: it still fits under an airplane seat. Chris Cookley said he'd shot more often and more happily with his young X-E1 than his years-old top-line Nikon rig. Many more had similar sentiments. Fuji's marketing team could see what was happening, and started to adopt the "switcher" theme on their social media streams. As a 20+ year PC user who changed over to Mac last year, I was about to do about the same thing this year on the camera side.
In future posts, I'll talk about what was better, worse, or just different. I'd also really enjoy hearing about your experiences (or questions), whether you're a Fuji switcher, on the fence, or a DSLR die-hard. Please feel free to tweet @visdep, or drop us a line on Facebook or Google+.