Limitations As Creative Catalysts

Scenes with bright light and dark shadows are an excellent opportunity to explore the dynamic range of a camera and lens. ISO 200, f/8, 1/400th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Learn the limitations of your camera. Know them well. Then, don’t simply work around them. Use them. Make them work for you.

Where I’ve Been

I’ve had the good fortune to own many film and digital cameras. From a Holga to the “poor man’s Leica.” From the original iPhone to a Sony A7rII. Every single experience was educational and enjoyable.

The A7rII is an amazing camera. Shooting with it was a joy. The image quality is excellent. One is free to fire at will, confident that any exposure miscalculations can addressed during processing. Shooting a bit loose, compositionally, was fine because: Lots. Of. Pixels. Cropping in post wasn’t a problem. Capabilities. That’s where a camera like this excels. Freedom. But, there are many kinds of creative freedom.

The Holga offers something else: freedom from features, freedom from chimping, and, to a certain degree, freedom from responsibility. If the images are bad, I can blame the hastily, sloppily assembled $24 plastic camera with the crappy plastic lens. If an image is good: I’m a flippin’ genius! Look what I did with a “toy” camera!

Looking at color, detail with the GF1/H-H020 camera/lens combination. The H-H020 is a 20mm, f/1.7 (40mm, f/3.4 full-frame equivalent). ISO 200, f/1.7, 1/1000th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Where I Wound Up

I sold most of my camera gear recently and found myself mired in the photography doldrums. I wasn’t getting out to shoot. And I needed a kick in the pants.

Challenging light and moving subjects demand much of a camera, especially if depth of field is to be preserved. ISO 800, f/8, 1/400th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Luckily for me, NYC-based photographer, master printmaker, and all-around nice guy, Ryan Speth, noticed a confluence of events: my malaise and another photographer’s generosity. Marcia Lippman, fine artist and educator, was trimming her camera collection. Mr. Speth made sure that one camera made its way to Colorado.

Through the generosity of these two people, I received a Panasonic Lumix GF1 with a 20mm (41mm equivalent) f/1.7 lens. An older but quite nice 12 megapixel Micro Four Thirds camera, I was warned that it liked a lot of light. That appears to be true, but the fast pancake lens somewhat mitigates this limitation.

Funny…but…I kind of want one.

But, honestly, the specifics of the camera and lens don’t really matter. It could have been one of these.

Where I’m Going

The images you see here were captured during my first walkabout with the GF1. Overall, I’m pleased. There are many more photographs but they’re pretty mundane test shots.

Anyone who has used a camera more than twice knows that backlit scenes are very difficult to capture…and a good test of a camera’s dynamic range. ISO 200, f/8, 1/500th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.

As I explore this camera and lens, I learn about working within the limitations of the technology. Even the most powerful, feature-packed tools are bound by physics.

The GF1 is small, light, inconspicuous…good traits for street photography camera. The auto focus is better than expected.

Shot a bit slower than some of the other examples, there’s a little motion blur here. ISO 400, f/8, 1/320th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.

The JPG output isn’t great, but shooting RAW is the way to go anyway. The GF1 delivers a fair amount of noise in low light; it gets pretty dirty if the ISO is set to 1600 or higher. So, I avoid the conditions which make high ISO shooting necessary, or…I embrace the noise. Shoot around the limitation. Or convert to black and white and pretend I was shooting James Dean on a cold, rainy day in Times Square.

The shutter speed, at 1/500th of a second, was faster than necessary for this shot, making the unprocessed RAW image dark. Recovering the shadows and mid-tones during processing results in digital noise. ISO 800, f/8, 1/500th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Thanks to life, the universe, Ryan, and Marcia, I’m on a new–unplanned but welcomed–photographic adventure.

More photos below…

Freezing the motion of walking subjects works well at 1/400th of a second. The ISO setting doesn’t result in a noise-free image, but it’s not off-putting at all. ISO 400, f/8, 1/400th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.
Why are we much more willing to accept “defects” like noise in black and white images? ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/200th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.
Went with the auto focus on this shot. I’m surprised how well it works. Not perfect but reasonably fast and usually accurate. ISO 200, f/7.1, 1/250th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.
Testing the auto focus again with the aperture a little more open. Works quite well. ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/2500th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.
Not a lot of light, but they were moving briskly, as was I. A faster shutter was required, resulting in a dark RAW file. Recovery during processing went OK. A bit noisy. ISO 800, f/8, 1/1000th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.
Some noise in this shot also. But it’s nice that we can see inside the shop. ISO 200, f/4, 1/800th. Processed in Adobe Lightroom.