Size Matters II

A theme seems to be emerging in my recent blog posts and conversations - it's all about size.

I blogged about moving to bigger prints for exhibitions (which is a good thing), I waxed lyrical about how modest my camera bag was, at least in comparison to Samuel Bourne's (again a good thing) and most recently I got into a conversation with a fellow photographer about big lenses.

In that conversation I found I kept coming back to the weight of kit that was involved.  I did, at one time, have a 400 mm lens but kept leaving it behind because I didn't really want the extra weight that the camera represented or the big tripod that it demanded. Time after time I've found that I want to limit myself to kit that can be hand-held, and that doesn't require weeks of extra gym work before I can move it.

Nikon D700
If I flip open my camera bag today I'll find four cameras. They've all got Nikon badges and they've all got different sized sensors.  At the one end there is a D700 (full frame - 36mm,12MP sensor, well over 1 kg in weight), then a D200 (10MP, 24mm sensor and about 900g), then a V1 with a 10MP (13mm) sensor (but less than 400g) and finally an AW100 (for when the going gets really wet) with a 16MP 6mm sensor but well under 200g.  And the AW100 weight includes the lens, all the others need glass added.

So how would I rank the cameras, by weight or sensor size (which also reflects price)? By pixel count? Or by convenience, on the basis that the best camera is the one you have with you at the critical moment. Or perhaps we get into more esoteric measures like auto-focus or shutter response times. Is there anything more frustrating that pressing the shutter only to find that the event you want to capture has passed in the time it took the camera to respond?

My default behaviour so far, which perhaps reflects the financial investment, is that for serious photography I reach for one of the big cameras.  The big camera and big lens is part of the uniform; big camera, he's a real photographer.  Almost all the pictures I've taken for exhibitions or sales have been taken on the D700 or D200.  The AW100 is for fun, wet photography on zodiacs or on windswept beaches. The V1 is for trips or outings when photography is incidental.

I think it's time to give the V1 a chance to compete.

If I look back through my daily pictures on Blipfoto, I see that since I acquired the V1 in late 2012, almost exactly half of my daily pictures have been taken on that camera. I first looked at the V1 when it came out in 2011, and decided that it was too expensive and didn't have a good enough range of lenses.  A while later Nikon slashed the price just when I was looking for a compact-size camera that could take RAW images and I joined in, but have really just been using the V1 as a compact with the bundled 10-30 mm lens.  There was a period of time when I thought the signs coming out of Nikon were that the 1 series was an experiment that wasn't going well. At that time further investment in the few 1 series lenses that existed didn't seem like a good move.

Nikon V1
More recently however there have been additions to both the cameras and lenses in the range, including an all-weather camera and lens set, and also a couple of much better (for which read expensive) lenses. And there is much speculation about improved cameras and lenses to match in the near future.

So what’s the conclusion?  I was right that bigger prints are better. It’s certainly true that having camera kit that doesn't need a team of porters to move it is better, but what about the camera and sensor?

The physicist in me says that bigger pixels should be better, i.e. the image quality should be better on a big 12MP sensor than on a small 12 MP sensor, but that an experiment to see what this means in actual use would be a good idea. The wimp in me says that a lighter camera would be better.  The photographer in me says I need to get out and take pictures rather than think about sensor sizes.

So when I next head out to make pictures, I'm planning to concentrate on using the V1. I’ll be interested see the results.

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